With today being Opening Day, many fans of the Cleveland Indians remember wistfully the Tribe teams of the 1990’s, when Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field just opened, and the Indians were built around a powerful offense.
We all know the names: Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Hall of Famer Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel. They ruled the American League Central Division and went to two World Series, although they lost in both 1995 and 1997.
Now, Tribe fans are experiencing a second golden age for the franchise, with five consecutive winning seasons under the tutelage of Terry Francona. They’ve won two division titles, a wild card spot, and won the American League pennant in 2016.
Yet somehow, it feels like this group of Indians doesn’t get the respect around the city that the guys who played in the 90’s get.
We heard a radio talk show expressing surprise that Francisco Lindor was one of the favorites in Las Vegas to win the American League MVP.
It wouldn’t be a shock around the nation. Lindor is one of baseball’s best players, with two top ten finishes in the MVP voting before he turned 24 years old. He’s a gold glove winner and a silver slugger winner in less than three full seasons in the big leagues.
We have said it before, but it bears repeating. If the young shortstop plays ten seasons in a Cleveland uniform, he will be regarded as the greatest position player in Indians’ history.
Tribe fans also get to watch another of the young, exciting players in the sport in Jose Ramirez, who by the way, finished third in the AL MVP race last season.
The switch-hitter has been overlooked because he wasn’t the highly regarded prospect like Lindor, but over the last two seasons, he has batted .315 with 40 home runs, 159 runs batted in, and has 141 extra base hits.
All that while being moved around between second base and third base.
Those two give the franchise a solid base for excellence over the next several seasons.
Unlike those 90’s teams, this group has one of the major league’s best pitching staffs, led by Corey Kluber, who is the only Cleveland pitcher in history to win multiple Cy Young Awards.
A third such award puts Kluber among the all time great hurlers in the game’s history, and without question he is one of the four best starting pitchers right now in the sport.
We also get to witness a great bullpen, led by Cody Allen, and perhaps baseball’s best relief pitcher in Andrew Miller. Miller and Kluber had the Tribe on the precipice of a world title in ’16.
Since being acquired from New York at the trade deadline that season, he has pitched 91-2/3 innings, striking out 141 and allowing just 45 hits.
We haven’t even mentioned Michael Brantley, who was in the top three of the MVP voting in 2014, Jason Kipnis, a two time all star, and Carlos Carrasco, who was 4th in the Cy Young voting last season.
Oh, and don’t forget Francona, who is probably headed to Cooperstown as a manager with two world titles in Boston, and a third appearance with the Tribe.
As someone who watched this team with great interest from 1965-1994, a horrible stretch of mostly losing baseball, it was great to see a fairly quick turnaround after the original Jacobs Field group disbanded.
The Indians are back as one of baseball’s best teams. Now, about that World Series title drought…