When the Indians lost center fielder Rick Manning to an injury early in the 1980 season, they purchasedáMiguel DilonÚ from the Chicago Cubs where the switch-hitting outfielder had been playing for their Triple-A affiliate in Wichita. By that time,áDilonÚ had been in pro ball for nine years but managed only 454 at-bats at the major league level. His batting average in The Show was .214 with 11 extra-base hits to that point. He was known for being able to steal bases but he had a hard time getting on base in the first place.
But sometimes an unlikely player catches lightning in a bottle, and that’s what DilonÚ did in 1980 with the Cleveland. In place of Manning in center,áDilonÚ had two hits in each of his first three games, going a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts too. Just like that he was a fan favorite in Cleveland, which was starved for anyone to cheer for. That year the Cleveland faithful really had something to cheer for, asáDilonÚ and rookie outfielder Joe Charboneau both had excellent seasons with the bat. An unremarkable hitter in the minor leagues, DilonÚ batted .341 for the Tribe and he was remarkably productiveáfor them despite being moved around the lineup and the outfield when Manning returned after nearly three weeks on the sidelines.áDilonÚ was famous for his patented “lean and swing” technique, a method of hitting that was similar to what Ichiro Suzuki was known for years later.
In 1980 the Dominican native got his hits in bunches: he had 21 multi-hit games in the first half and was batting a lofty .364 at the All-Star break. Though the Indians had a stable of outfielders in Manning, Charboneau, and Jorge Orta, manager Dave Garcia had to keep DilonÚ in his lineup, and Miguel rewarded that faith by continuing to hit. From July 23 to August 8 he put together a 15-game hitting streak while appearing at all three outfield spots and designated hitter. In that hot stretch, DilonÚ had six consecutive multi-hit games and another streak of five straight multi-hit games. He batted .448 during the 15-game streak with nine steals as he sparked the Tribe to a 12-3 record. But though he raised his batting mark to .356 with his torrid stretch, DilonÚ ranked only third in the American League in hitting behind George Brett (who was over .400) and Cecil Cooper. A few days after his streak was halted by Moose Haas of the Brewers,áDilonÚ started an 11-game streak in which he batted .404 with 19 hits, 16 of them singles.
Another reason thatáDilonÚ became a favorite at Municipal Stadium with the hometown fans was his success in games played in Cleveland in 1980. That season in 70 games in the home uniform for the Tribe, the peskyáDilonÚ batted a blistering .378 with a .413 OBP and he even managed a .489 slugging percentage, mostly helped by his seven triples in the park. He didn’t hit a single homer during his great season, and of his 180 hits, 141 were singles. He mostly batted leadoff for Garcia, when the manager wasn’t stubbornly penciling Manning’s name into that slot. The fleetáDilonÚ swiped 61 bases.
Garcia decided to giveáDilonÚ most of the playing time in left field in 1981 with Manning in center and Super Joe in right, and that’s how the season started. But when Miguel got off to a slow start in April and early May, Garcia started shuffling his four outfielders again.áDilonÚ’s average languished below the Mendoza Line for weeks but he was just getting hot when the players went out on strike after the game played on June 10th.áDilonÚ had batted .419 with ten stolen bases in the last ten games before the walkout, raising his average to .309 as the season halted.
When baseball returned two months later,áDilonÚ was in left field and he performed well in August before slowing a little bit in the final month. He finished 1981 with a .290 mark in 72 games with 29 stolen bases. But the following season was the last time the switch-hitter played regularly in the major leagues, appearing in 104 games, again as part of a platoon arrangement, this time with super sub Alan Bannister.áDilonÚ batted .235 in 1982 for the Indians, but that season he did finally hit a home run for Cleveland, actually hitting three, two of them coming against future Cy Young Award winners: LaMarr Hoyt and Dennis Eckersley.
In 1983 a new Tribe manager, Mike Ferraro, had little patience for the poor showing ofáDilonÚ with the stick, and with Miguel sporting a .191 mark he was shipped to the White Sox late in the campaign to complete a previous deal between the two clubs. From the Windy City,áDilonÚ went to three more teams in three years and only stuck that long because he could still steal bases. He pilfered 44 bags in 1984-85 between the Expos and Padres. It was due to his legs that he made hism last appearance in a big league game. On October 6, 1985 heápinch-ran for Graig Nettles in the ninth inning and swiped second base off the Houston battery of pitcher Dave Smith and catcher Alan Ashby. It was the 267th and final stolen base of his DilonÚ’s career. He was only 30 years old.