Once Upon a Time When Cleveland Baseball Meant Something

Ryne E. HancockCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2009

CHICAGO - JUNE 18:  Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox looks on during the game against the Chicago Cubs on June 18, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A long time ago, in a world seemingly different from the one we occupy today, the Cleveland Indians were only known as the team that was portrayed in the "Major League" movies.

Instead of Andre Thornton and Joe Carter, the most famous Indians around the late 80's were Charlie Sheen and the guy who is now known as the Allstate guy, Dennis Haysbert.

The stadium the Tribe called home, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, otherwise known as the "Mistake by the Lake", looked like a cavernous tomb that only was good for one thing, depressing baseball funerals, many of which took place in the old stadium during the four-decade pennant drought.

Then it changed.

In the 90's, Cuyahoga County taxpayers approved of building a brand-new ballpark for the Tribe, which in turn would attract big names to play in Cleveland and improve the team's bottom line.

Names like Albert Belle, Carlos Baegra, Sandy Alomar, and Jim Thome would come of age and by 1994, when the new ballpark opened in downtown Cleveland, things seemed to be looking up for the Tribe.

There was also Kenny Lofton and a guy by the name of Manny Ramrirez who completed the core of young players who would emulate the movie Indians and do something that hadn't been done since 1954.

Win the pennant.

While it could have came in 1994, when the strike occurred and canceled the World Series, the Tribe and their fans had to wait another year before their long-awaited World Series and while the Indians didn't (or haven't to this day) win the big prize, it became cool to be an Indian fan.

From 1995 to 2001, the Indians made the playoffs six times in seven seasons and sold out Jacobs Field every night.

Not to mention that the popularity of players like Thome and Omar Vizquel made Cleveland a great baseball town, something that could only be said in places like St. Louis and Chicago.

And then, like Belle's or Thome's homers into the Cleveland night, the magic was gone.

After 2001, the Indians returned to their losing ways until 2005, when the White Sox and the Tribe contended for the AL Central title, only to see the Sox prevail and win their first World Series since 1917.

Two years later, the Indians would reach the ALCS, and with an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the series against the Red Sox, the Tribe would collapse down the stretch and lose the pennant to the Red Sox, who in turn won their second World Series in four years.

Since that October night, the Indians haven't been the same.

Right now instead of making money hand over foot, the Tribe is on pace to draw 1.7 million fans, a far cry from the two million during the Tribe's heyday in the 1990's.

Pretty hard of a fall, don't you think?