Baseball Notes: The Team From Cleveland
Last night I went out to a chilly night game at Target Field where the Twins played the team from Cleveland whose logo isn't offensive at all. It was one of the first chances I have had to wear the hat I picked up in Cleveland just before I moved out to Arizona for law school. I had to drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to open up a Chase bank account because Arizona and Pittsburgh didn't have any banks in common so I also made a visit to my aunt and uncle who took me to an Indians game. It was an enjoyable park to go to but the surrounding area seemed a bit empty of activity. Nonetheless I bought a Cleveland hat with the relatively new "C" design.
When I was in middle school I also had an Cleveland Albert Belle t-shirt that I got out of appreciation for the insane character he was (there were stories he ran down kids who egged his house on Halloween in his car) and because he was one of the first players to hit 50 homers in a season for quite a while. I enjoyed the 1995 team at the time although I didn't really root for them. Looking back they had an amazing team for the players they had at the time and what many of them ended up doing later. They lost the '95 Championship to the Braves, but the '95 team was worth remembering.
Their catchers were Tony Pena and Sandy Alomar Jr. Pena Went on to manage the Royals from '02 to '05 and Alomar briefly managed the Indians in 2012. Both players have done a lot of mlb level coaching as well and they were both successful in their lengthy careers. The '95 Indians also had future managers Bud Black, and John Farrell, pitching coach (and UConn alum) Charles Nagy, future Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. (whose high school days were also portrayed in an episode of The Goldbergs), and MLB network personality Billy Ripken.
That '95 lineup saw the power likes of Jim Thome (612 career homers), Albert Belle (381 HR), Manny Ramirez (555 HR), Eddie Murray (504 HR), and Dave Winfield (465 HR). Murray and Winfield are in the Hall of Fame, Thome is almost certain to join, and Ramirez has a chance despite the taint of PED's. Albert Belle, the best hitter of any of them that year will never make the Hall because of his anger issues, and a corked bat incident where a teammate stole the bat back from the umpires by crawling through the ceiling ducts.
That team was also notable for the speed and defense of Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, and Carlos Baerga. Vizquel was the defensive start of the '90's crop of super shortstops. He may be the best defensive shortstop ever as note by his eleven Gold Glove awards which he earned through a flawless yet flashy style on the field. He wasn't too shabby at the plate either, he finished with 2877 hits and 404 stolen bases and he should have no problem getting into the Hall of Fame when he is eligible. Kenny Lofton was a favorite of mine growing up because I was a stolen base master in little league. He was a role model for having more than 50 SB's in six seasons and 622 in his career to go with his four Gold Gloves.
The height of Baerga's career was not quite as prolonged as many of his '95 teammates but his impact was pretty great as a veteran leader. He was the heart of the '95 team, an All-Star coming off of two Silver Slugger seasons. He only played as many as 140 games in a season four times in his career that spanned 16 years but by 2002 he joined the Red Sox and became a bit of a leader on the bench. That team just missed the playoffs but Baerga made an impression and was referred to as "Papi" by his teammates. The next year he moved on to Arizona and the Red Sox picked up David Ortiz. From what I have seen, the origin of Ortiz's nickname of "Big Papi" is a mystery, but I have always speculated that his Red Sox teammates saw something in him that they saw in Baerga and carried over the nickname.
The Red Sox and the '95 Indians had another player in common aside from Baerga and Ramirez. Julian Tavarez pitched for the Sox in the 2000's and I didn't realize he was a bit off until I saw him playing more often.
The '95 Indians also sported in their rotation notable pitchers Dennis Martinez who was the winningest Latin pitcher, Orel Hershiser 1988 Cy Young winner who holds the record for the longest scoreless streak and Ken Hill who was a personal favorite for his incredible 1994 season with the Expos when he finished second in Cy Young Voting.
This year's Indians team has their own Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber and other notable pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer who is still trying to work his way back into the rotation. Kluber has been knocked around a bit in his first three starts but his latest start he settled down with 8 innings 1 ER outing against the Tigers to bring his ERA and WHIP down to 4.67 and 1.07.
The hitters for the Indians have a little more promise and their break out star Michael Bradley has just returned from injury after receiving AL MVP votes the last two seasons. Jason Kipnis has established himself as one of the best hitting 2B's in the league and Francisco Lindor, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, threatens to be the dark horse best in a crop of great young shortstops in the league. The rest of the Indians lineup is made up of early season overachievers or chronic underachievers. While they are sitting at .500 now, I don't expect the Indians... or as they were nicknamed earlier in history, The Naps... to do much of anything this year and they might be a contender for a big drop off this year if they don't get batting averaged and ERA's to level out. They have turnarounds from Kluber and Bradley as hope the team will be sparked to life, but I think their luck may run out this season.
For more team overviews check out: