We all have reasons as to why we started becoming fans of certain pro sports teams. For baseball, I started liking the Cleveland Indians because of the "Major League" movies starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger. Because of that, when I saw that the Indians were in the World Series in 1995 against the Braves I wanted them to win as my admiration for the team translated from the movie to reality. Unfortunately they ended up losing, but that is how and when I officially became a fan of the Cleveland Indians.
The Cleveland Indians were suddenly contenders after being at or near the bottom of the standings for over 30 years. The 1994 strike shortened season saw Cleveland only 1 game behind the White Sox in the Central Division. The following year Cleveland went on to win their division (they would win 6 during a 7 year span from 1995-2001) and won the Pennant for the first time since 1954, ultimately losing in 6 games to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 World Series. Despite falling short of a world championship, Cleveland's future looked bright, being lead by the core of :Thome, Vizquel, Alomar, Ramirez, Nagy, Wright, Mesa, the Indians were destined to become real time contenders for the future of the organization.
Despite having the best record for the second year in a row, Cleveland was knocked out in the 1996 divisional series against the Baltimore Orioles. However, the following year Cleveland would get revenge by defeating the Orioles in 6 to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and return to the world series for the second time in three years. As a fan, I felt this was our year! I was confident and sure we would beat a young unproven Florida Marlins teams. After all, the Indians beat the defending world series champions(New York Yankees) in the Division Series and the American League runner up in the ALCS. After a back and forth battle between the two teams, with Florida winning games 1, 3, and 5, while Cleveland won games 2,4, and 6, it all came down to one final game. Game 7 of the 1997 World Series was the Indians chance to not only win the franchise's first world series in 49 years, but bring the city of Cleveland it's first title in 33 years.
Cleveland forced the 1997 World Series into a decisive Game 7 after tying the series back up at 3 games a piece. The Indians came into the game facing a very hostile environment with a ton of support from the Florida Marlins' fans. After two scoreless innings the Indians came up to bat in the top of the 3rd. With two out and two men on base, Tony Fernandez drove in Jim Thome and Marquis Grissom to give the Indians a 2-0 lead. I remember my mom suddenly saying "Oh my gosh" (She wanted Cleveland to win since I was a fan) I quickly rushed over to the T.V. to see Cleveland up early in the game! I was ecstatic, as I felt confident that not only the lead would hold, but Cleveland would also add some insurance and expand on their lead. Cleveland couldn't expand on their lead, but still held a 2-0 lead heading into the 7th inning. When the Marlins came up to bat during their half of the inning Bobby Bonilla hit a home run that cut Cleveland's lead in half. Being a young kid and in elementary school, I had a bedtime, therefore couldn't stay up to watch the rest of the game. I went to bed thinking about what was taking place and if I would wake up in the morning to see that the Cleveland Indians were World Series Champions.
As I went to bed, I was anxiously awaiting for morning to come and when I woke up at 5 A.M. I quickly went out into the living room to turn on the T.V. and see if the Indians had won. I was confident that the Indians came out victorious until the reality of it came across the T.V. as I read the score 'Florida 3 Cleveland 2 F/11 inn." I was crushed. I just couldn't believe they were so close, yet ended up falling short. As a fan I felt numb and just motionless. As a young kid, it was hard for me to accept defeat but I knew nothing could be done and had to accept the fact the Indians lost. Now all I could do as a fan was wait for next season and hope for another chance at a World Series Championship.
Despite coming off a season that saw the Indians reach the World Series for the 2nd time in 3 years, both times resulted in a series loss for Cleveland. Nevertheless, I still felt good about this talented group of players and knew they would have another shot at a championship. Cleveland would win their division once again, make the playoffs, and would face the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. Despite losing Game 1 of their series, Cleveland was able to shrug it off and win three straight, returning once again to the ALCS for the 2nd year in a row and for the 3rd time in 4 years. Cleveland would face the heavily favored New York Yankees, who reeled off an impressive 114 wins in the regular season, a then record at that time. Just like in their first series, Cleveland lost Game 1, however Cleveland answered back the next two games and took a 2-1 series lead. Unfortunately Cleveland could not keep the momentum in their favor as New York rolled off three straight victories, thus ending Cleveland's chances at another World Series. The 1999 season however looked more promising than Cleveland's 1998 campaign as they improved their record from the previous year and would become the 1st team in modern era to produce 1,000 or more runs during the course of a season.
1999 appeared to be an even more promising year than 1998. As cliche as that sounds, it was true. The Indians won 8 more games than they did the previous season, produced over 1,000 runs by a potent offense, and saw a young Bartolo Colon emerge as one of the top pitchers in the game. Cleveland would once again face the Boston Red Sox for the second year in a row in the ALDS, and the third time since 1995 when the Divisional Series was added to the MLB Playoff format. Cleveland jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead and were coming off of a dominating 11-1 win and looked to close out the series in 3. Cleveland however could not put Boston away and the series would go back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5. I remember watching the game that night, in what was one of the more wild playoff games I remember seeing. Boston scored two in the top of the 1st with Cleveland responding by scoring 3 and 2 in the bottom of the 1st and 2nd respectively. It looked as if Cleveland would prevent a collapse and holdoff the Red Sox to finally win the series. But in the top of the 3rd, Boston exploded for 5 runs, with the aid of a Troy O'Leary grand slam, giving Boston a 7-5 lead. Cleveland would however answer right back and score 3 runs to retake the lead 8-7, thanks to Jim Thome's 2nd home run of the game. Boston would come up in the fourth though and tie it up all at 8. Again though as a child, I had to go to bed at a certain time because of school and again have to wait and see the fate of the Cleveland Indians the following morning. When I woke up and saw that Boston won 12-8, I was once again as a fan in complete denial and frustration.(It also didn't help that my teacher at the time was a Red Sox fan and he said the series was over after Cleveland took a 2-0 lead) Once again, Cleveland found itsself on the wrong end of the stick and had to play the "maybe next year" card once again.
The 2000 season saw Cleveland's string of 5 straight Division championships snapped as the White Sox won the division with a 5 game lead. Cleveland's run of consecutive playoff appearances was ultimately stopped at 5 as well, missing out on the wild card berth by 1 game. However, Cleveland rebounded the following year and won their 6th Division title in 7 years. Cleveland made history, as the 2nd time in four years they would face a team that set the record for regular season wins(1998 NYY 114 Wins) This time set by the Seattle Mariners with 116 wins. I still had every bit of confidence that Cleveland would come out on top in the series as not more than 2 months prior Cleveland made history after being down 14-2 in the 7th inning to win in a game against coincidentally, the Seattle Mariners, 15-14. The game simply became known as "The Cleveland Comeback" Cleveland went up 2-1 in the series, after wins by proven pitcher Bartolo Colon and Rookie Sensation C.C. Sabathia. With Colon scheduled to pitch Game 4 at home, Cleveland looked to upset the Mariners and advance to the ALCS once again. But true to form, Cleveland would collapse and ultimately end up losing the series. Not only was it the end of another disappointing outcome to a season, but 2001 marked the end of an era in Cleveland.
The 2002 season started off with a quick bang, as Cleveland jumped out to an impressive 11-1 record. That was also the sudden end to the Indians we knew and came accustomed to as they finished the season 74-88, missing out on the playoffs for the second time in 3 years. Unlike in 2001 where Cleveland bounced back to win their division and appear in the playoffs again, the Indians would remain near the bottom of the league as the core of the Indians team from recent years began to disband. Manny Ramirez left after the 2000 season and signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox, with Sandy Alomar Jr. also moving on, signing with division rival Chicago White Sox. Jim Thome was let go after the 2002 season which also saw the departure of ace pitchers, Jaret Wright and Charles Nagy. While Bartolo Colon was dealt at the 2002 trade deadline. Omar Vizquel was the final Indian from that group to leave, as he ended his 11 season stint with Cleveland, signing as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants after the 2004 season.
The Indians were moving on and were building for the future. Cleveland would continue to struggle, and despite a late run in the 2005 season, they ulitmately came up short after a final 3 game regular season series against the Chicago White Sox knocked them out of playoff contention. It did however, for the time being put back hope that Cleveland was ready to move on and would have a strong 2006 campaign. Cleveland though, would end up struggling and went from a 2005 campaign that showed signs of promise (93-69) to a complete 2006 disappointing season finishing with a losing record of 78-84. Cleveland would however give the fans another chance at hope though following the 2006 season.
The 2007 season saw the Cleveland Indians once again win the Central Division for the 7th time in franchise history, but the first time since 2001. The Indians finished with a 96-66 record who were led by 2 Cy Young candidates C.C. Sabathia(who would go on to win the award) and Fausto Carmona (whose real name is Roberto Hernandez). The Indians met the New York Yankees in the Divisional Series. Cleveland was able to win the series 3-1 behind solid pitching and a productive offense and returned to the ALCS for the first time since 1998. Cleveland would meet the Boston Red Sox again in the playoffs (first since 1999) with Boston having home field advantage. After a poor peformance by C.C. Sabathia in Game 1, Cleveland quickly saw itsself down 1-0 in the series and were in danger of heading into an 0-2 hole. In Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS, Cleveland and Boston battled back and forth and were tied at 6 after 6. The game wound up going to extra innings. It was not until the 11th inning when Cleveland broke the game wide open by scoring 7 runs and then holding off Boston in the bottom half to win Game 2 by the score of 13-6. I remember waking up the next morning seeing the score and I once again had that feeling that 'this may be the year'. The series was heading back to Cleveland with the Indians having all of the momentum. Cleveland jumped out to a 4-0 lead which saw longtime Indians Kenny Lofton, who was reacquired at the trade deadline, hit a 2 Run HR in the bottom of the second. The Indians would hold on to win the game by a score of 4-2 and take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 was scoreless through 4 innings. After Boston failed to score in the top half of the 5th, Cleveland, just like they did in Game 2, broke the game wide open with an identical 7 run inning. Cleveland would give up 3 runs (all were solo homeruns by; Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez) However despite giving up the homeruns, Cleveland would manage to hang on for a 7-3 win and take a commanding 3-1 series lead and were 1 game away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1997. Cleveland looked primed and ready to advance to the World Series, having three chances with Game 5 still being in Cleveland. But everything that could go wrong, would and did go wrong.
The Indians once again gave the fans false hope. Game 5 saw a rematch between Game 1 starters Josh Beckett and C.C. Sabathia, with Sabathia hoping to bounce back from his poor performance. After one inning the score was tied at 1, and Boston would take a 2-1 lead after three. Still in the game, Cleveland was unable to manage any offense and Sabathia would again get rocked as Boston would blow the game wide open and win Game 5 7-1 with momentum back on their side going back to Boston. The series was never close from then on, as Boston would out score Cleveland 30-5 in the final three games of the series. Just like in similar fashion in 1999, Boston came back from trailing two games in the series by rebounding and winning three straight to move on to the World Series.Once again, I felt the agony and frustration much like I did in the late 90's when the Indians kept coming up short, and once again gave false hope as the Indians only finished with a .500 record the following season thanks in largely part due to Cliff Lee's dominating 2008 campaign. What makes the 2007 season even more difficult to digest was that Cliff Lee had such a terrible year, that he had to be sent back to the minors. As an Indians fan I was always left wondering what could have been if Lee had performed in 2007 like he would do in 2008. Cleveland again would see the depatures of key players from another solid group.
C.C. Sabathia was traded at the 2008 deadline, with Lee being traded at the 2009 deadline. Cleveland has since again been trying to build around a core of young players who would get off to strong starts in the 2011 & 2012 seasons. Only to have consecutive 2nd half of the season collapses and finish under .500.
For as long as I have an Indians fan, I'm still waiting for that World Series title. Now granted, I'm only a fan of the Cleveland Indians and not just a Cleveland sports fan in general, I am able to understand the pain for the city of Cleveland as the cities' teams continue to keep coming up short. (Cleveland had a shot at a championship twice in 2007 with the Cavaliers making it to the NBA Finals, only to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs) I often go back to the root of what made me a fan of the Cleveland Indians, which was the movies "Major League" and "Major League 2" and say they need to make one more (not counting "Major League 3 'Back to the Minors'). Since where after the first movie they were able to make the playoffs after a disastrous start, would make the playoffs with the second movie showing them winning the Pennant. I will tell fellow fans and friends of mine who are baseball fans that Cleveland can't win the World Series because they need to make a 3rd movie with Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn.(Charlie Sheen) as an aging pitcher who wants one more shot at a World Series title along with fellow teammates Willie Mayes Hayes (Snipes/Epps,) Rube Baker( Eric Bruskotter) and the crazy Japanese star outfielder Taka Tanaka(Takaaki Ishibashi). With former teammate Pedro Cerrano(Dennis Haysbert) returning to the team as the Hitting Coach. Roger Dorn(Corbin Bernsen) becoming the owner once again. With Jake Taylor(Tom Berenger) returning
again as the head coach. Bring in younger stars to portray young and developing players of the
organization to finish the team roster off. Of course, we can't begin the season without Harry Doyle(Bob Uecker) calling the games. As odd and ridiculous as this idea sounds, the Cleveland Indians didn't become a contender until the movies had been made, so maybe they need to finish the story with a World Series title that way it can translate over into reality once again.
Pictures courtesy of: 1. forbes.com
2. Bleacher Report
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