NEW YORK (CBS SPORTS) – Two items from Cleveland in the summer of 1988, and you choose which one is less likely.

  1. A UFO was sighted.
  2. Five members of the sixth-place Indians would move on to manage big-league clubs during the 2013 season.

Tough call, right? But here’s a hint. As the Indians host the Phillies in an interleague series this week, those are not UFOs managing the two clubs. Unless, of course, you really stretch the definition so it somehow casts a net over Charlie Manuel. “They probably saw that I became a big-league manager and thought, ‘Hell, if Charlie can do that, I can, too,'” cracked Philadelphia’s Manuel of the other four managers comprising this summer’s bizarre Cleveland connection.

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“That’s funny,” said San Diego Padres manager Bud Black, another 1988 Indians alum.

The 1988 Indians actually did spawn five men managing this season: Manuel (Cleveland’s hitting coach in 1988) and four players — Black, current Indians manager Terry Francona, John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox and Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers. There appears to be neither rhyme nor reason as to why Cleveland, circa 1988, became the cradle of managers.

“If you’d have told me that a bunch of managers would have come from that team, all of us would have told you you’re crazy,” Francona said. “We were just trying to hang on. We were on a bad team, and we were all just trying to hang on. Me, Blackie and John Farrell used to hang out a lot and talk baseball. I just think it’s a coincidence. It just happened.”

The Indians that summer were a bumbling bunch that finished 78-84, sixth in the AL East.

Washington was a 36-year-old utility man hanging on to the twilight of a career he built through sheer determination and hard work. Black, then 31, was a left-handed pitcher who joined the Indians on June 3 in a trade with the Royals. Farrell was a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher in his first full season of what would be an eight-year career. Francona, a 29-year-old a first baseman and outfielder, was better known as the son of former Indians star Tito Francona than on his own merit. And Manuel was a longtime minor league manager who was in his first season with the Indians.

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“One night, I made an error. And a fan made up a sign just that quick: ‘To err is human, but to error is Ron Washington.'” He roars at that memory. “It sure didn’t take him long to make a sign,” he said, still marveling all these years later.

Manuel looks back fondly of Washington. “I called him ‘Sweets,'” Manuel said, “because of how he played. He had a passion and love and desire. He took it real seriously. He had a lot of fun, and the players loved being around him. He had charisma.” You can still see all of that on display in Texas, where the Rangers players have developed a fierce loyalty toward Washington practically since general manager Jon Daniels hired him to manage before the 2007 season.

“My locker was next to Julio Franco,” Washington said. “I talked lot of baseball with Julio. The one thing I wanted to do when my career was over was coach. I never wanted to be a manager. I wanted to be an infield instructor. I wanted to be a third-base coach. That’s what I wanted to be. Managing was something that happened upon me. I had really thought I reached pinnacle of my career when I was third-base coach in Oakland.”

Instead, Washington soared higher, managing the Rangers into the most successful era in franchise history with World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

The five managers from that 1988 Indians club have combined to lead teams to six different World Series (Francona, Manuel and Washington have two each), with three titles (Francona has two and Manuel has one). Alas, none of them has been in a Cleveland uniform.

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