Tucson, the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians, is a little off the beaten path of the national sporting press.

Since the Indians' second-place finish in 1959, there hasn't been much reason for baseball journalists from New York or Chicago or Los Angeles to visit Tucson in March. Until 1987, that is, the Year of Rebirth.

Suddenly, Tucson was swarming with writers and television mini-cams. By the time the season began, Cleveland's players had become cover boys. Sports Illustrated proclaimed the Indians No. 1 in the American League and No. 3 in all of baseball.

The rest, as they say, is history. The rebirth turned out to be a myth. At the all-star break their record was 31-56 -- worst in the American League -- and Pat Corrales was fired as manager.

After losing 10 of their first 11, the Indians' hopes quickly disappeared. Since then, they have lost a four-hitter by Ken Schrom; they have gotten 18 hits in a game and lost; they have hit five home runs and lost; they have lost a three-home run game by Brook Jacoby and a three-homer game by Joe Carter. At the present rate of failure, they will lose 104 games, breaking the franchise record for futility (102 losses), tied only two years ago.

The Indians' top baseball executives, senior vice president Dan O'Brien and vice president of baseball operations Joe Klein, did not share in the lofty expectations. But Klein was hoping to improve on last season's 84-78 record -- best since 1968 -- by five or six victories. If that could be done, he might have a contender.

He believed in his offense, which led the majors in batting average (.284) and runs (831) a year ago, but knew his pitching staff was a liability.

The Indians haven't come close. Their earned run average, hovering around 5.50, is worst in the majors. Tom Candiotti, who led the club with 16 victories and led the league with 17 complete games last season, lost nine of his first 11 decisions. When the Indians signed him as a free agent before the '86 season, he was on the verge of quitting baseball. But a knuckleball saved his career. Now he's having difficulty controlling the trick pitch.

Greg Swindell, the No. 2 choice in the 1986 draft, was rushed to the big leagues after only three games in the minors. Nevertheless, he was 5-2 in the last six weeks of the season and was being counted on for 15 victories this year. But with a 3-8 record and 5.10 ERA, he is another major disappointment. Shoulder and elbow injuries have put him on the disabled list.

One of four recent moves to shore up the pitching staff included "reassigning to scouting and player development duties" pitching coach Jack Aker. He charged that the pitching woes stem from catcher Rick Dempsey's poor pitch-calling. "We have a backup catcher {Chris Bando} who has done a good job and another catcher {Dempsey} who was so incompetent in calling a game that, when he was with the Orioles, the pitchers called their own game," Aker said.

Dempsey seemed surprised that Aker would single him out. "Sure, there have been times when I shouldn't have called this pitch or that pitch," Dempsey said. "Earl Weaver used to tell me about it, too. But the stuff I'm getting now comes from the fact we're losing. I don't want to take credit for anything, but I don't want to take the blame, either. At least not all of it."

The bullpen has been no bastion of excellence, either. Ernie Camacho, who saved 20 games last year, bowed to the pressure of rising expectations and was demoted to Class AAA with an ERA over 9.00.