The first baseball year we can remember is 1965. As a lifelong Clevelander, our dad was a fan of the Indians, and we have never changed allegiances.
It wasn’t easy to stay loyal.
In that ’65 season, the Tribe finished 81-81 in fifth place in the ten team American League. Little did we know that was kind of the norm for the first 29 years we followed the Cleveland Indians.
1968 was the year of the pitcher, and it was also the best finish by Cleveland between the time we started being aware of the team and when they moved into Jacobs Field in 1994.
The Tribe went 86-75 in the last season of the true pennant race, when you won your league and went to the World Series, or you went home.
Even then, Cleveland finished 16-1/2 games behind the Tigers, so they weren’t really in contention.
The closest to being in the race we experienced was 1974, when the Indians were in first place as late as July 12th, and were just two games out on August 6th.
However, they went 20-35 the rest of the way and finished 4th, 14 games out of first.
The Indians had good players, guys like Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Buddy Bell, Ray Fosse, Bert Blyleven, Graig Nettles, and Chris Chambliss, but of the franchise’s top 20 players of all time in WAR, only McDowell played in Cleveland between 1965 and 1990.
Remember, the franchise played in three World Series in its history from 1901 through 1994.
Since the move out of old Municipal Stadium, everything has changed. First, the Tribe has appeared in three World Series in the last 22 seasons.
We’ve seen great players, such as Jim Thome, who likely will be the first Cleveland player who spent the majority of his career as an Indian to be elected to the Hall of Fame since Lou Boudreau in 1971.
Other great talents wearing a Tribe uniform in that time frame are Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel, and Kenny Lofton, and it continues today to Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Corey Kluber.
We have already said if Lindor plays the majority of his career in Cleveland, he will be regarded as the best player ever to where an Indians uniform, and Kluber may rank behind just Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon as the best starting pitchers in the Tribe history.
There were no players of that caliber when we watched the Indians growing up.
Since 1995, we have seen ten teams (including this year) that will advance to the playoffs. We understand baseball is different now, they split to two divisions after expansion in 1969, and to three divisions in ’94.
And while just two teams made the post-season before ’69, now ten teams in the majors advance. However, outside of the major market behemoths in Boston and New York, the Cleveland Indians have made the post-season more often than any other American League team since 1994.
That’s a tribute to the organization and it’s really incredible considering that from 2002 to 2012, a period of 11 years, they made the playoffs just once.
So, to older fans, these are the glory days for the Cleveland Indians. Great players, very good teams, excellent organization.
There is only one thing missing…eliminating the shadow of 1948, currently the longest World Championship drought in the game.