I Am Sick of the 1995 Cleveland Indians

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I am sick to death of the 1995 Cleveland Indians.

That year was a wonderful moment in the history of my beloved franchise, the return from the wilderness after decades of aimless wandering. The heroes of my childhood, from Jim Thome to Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga and Omar Vizquel to even my twisted love of Albert Belle, they were a hurricane. A horrifying force of nature that terrorized pitching staffs across the league, it took a tri-bladed buzzsaw to fell them in the World Series. It turns out Hall of Fame pitchers are real tough in their prime. It was fun, but that was 20 years ago. It wasn’t even a once in a generation collection of talent either, all coming up at the same time. It was a once in history situation. Even the role players were studs. Russell Branyan came up a couple years later and couldn’t find playing time. Troy Glaus was a bench guy. It was amazing, a singular happening that was unprecedented and unduplicatable. But it’s time to move on.

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As we watch the 2015 version of the Indians wile away a disappointing season and curse the name Sports Illustrated around Northeast Ohio and Indiansdom, all too often we wish for that one tipple of the offense that we got such a glut of in the mid-90’s. It’d make the Indians contenders in a second. But offense like that doesn’t exist anymore, unless it’s the All-Star Game. Only one guy hit 40 homers last year in the American League. We might get two or three across all of baseball this season. Numbers like that don’t exist, whether because the players or the ball aren’t juiced, we don’t know. It’s a new world of pitching and defense, and that is coming along in Cleveland.

It’s not like the Tribe is really bereft of bats. In terms of wRC+, Jason Kipnis (142) and Michael Brantley (138) compare favorably to Manny’s 145 that he logged in 1995. He was very young and they’re in their prime, but numbers are numbers. Even Carlos Santana’s struggles this year give him a 107 wRC+, exactly the same as Carlos Baerga in 1995. He is a guy I irrationally blamed for all the struggles Cleveland faced in the mid-90’s, but that’s because we all need a scapegoat. But there I am doing what I didn’t want to, comparing the two teams. The 90’s Tribe was incomparable offensively. To try to stack the current iteration is an affront to both teams.

The team that SI thought was going to the Fall Classic this year isn’t like that 90’s squad, depending on just enough pitching while the offense mercilessly shells the opponent. They have three legitimate aces in Kluber, Salazar and Carrasco, and a few nice pieces of hope for the future, too. If anything, they’re built more like the Braves team that offed the Tribe in 1995. Having a young Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones would be nice, but the offense is there, and it’s coming down the pike, too, with Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, some of those other young outfielders and even what Francisco Lindor has surprised us with this season. People act like this trip-up of a season is the end and the demolition should be planned, but it’s just a beginning. The uber-prospect Lindor has surpassed all hopes anyone had for him, and if that’s a hint of what’s down on the farm, then the AL better get ready for a new overlord.

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The thing I pine for that the mid-90’s Indians had was an owner who was just a baseball fan, not people trying to run a business. I can’t fault the Dolans for not wanting to dump their entire fortune into a baseball team. It’s not like they invented Microsoft or anything – they’re lawyers. Realistically, if I ever ended up owning a team, I’d more likely be their kind of rich than Illitch and his ill-gotten pizza money. I’m sure the Dolans aren’t out to destroy the franchise and move it to Miami or anything dastardly like that. I don’t even want the idea of a cutout of Larry Dolan in a thong and pasties to exist in my head, but it’s there now. So thanks, Major League. But really, they do seem to do what they can. The Bourn/Swisher outlay was a bust, but it was something. And they paid to lock down all these good players they have now.

I do miss the way the Tribe could just blast away other teams like they did in the old days. Even in 2007 when Hafner and Sizemore and V-Mart were running away with the division, it was a lot of fun to see crooked numbers every couple innings. Scoring is fun. But at the end of the day, I just want winning. We all do. But this team can do that. There’s a goal, a vision to this construct. It’s building toward something that could be great just as an opening is forming. The Tigers are on the precipice of disintegration. The Royals are good, but the entire division also happened to collapse as they matured and their pitching isn’t that great. The White Sox… I have no idea. And the Twins are the Twins. Always pretty good at best. The Indians could be great in a year or two though, it just takes some patience. I could be alone in this, but I’ve always thought hoping for a brighter future is more exciting than pining for a sepia-toned past.

I do miss Thome though. And Manny. And Belle, I suppose. Ah well.

Next: Wroundtable: Which Prospects Deserve September Call-Ups?

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