Omar Vizquel was one of the great players on the Indians roster.
While the late 90s belonged to the New York Yankees, let’s not forget that there was one of the most talented and balanced teams in recent baseball history playing as well—the Cleveland Indians. It began in 1994 with the opening of Jacobs Field, a ballpark that would end up becoming the sellout king of baseball and a new GM in John Hart.
1995 saw the team reach 100 wins. The Tribe also introduced us to their talented lineup that included Manny Ramirez (before Manny was “being Manny”), Jim Thome and Albert Belle. The infield and outfield were great; they included Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar Jr. The pitching balanced the team with guys like Charles Nagy, Orel Hershiser and Dennis Martinez. Let’s not forget Jose Mesa, the best closer in the game prior to Mariano Rivera.
The Indians made it to the World Series but ran into the best starting pitching of the 90s with Atlanta's Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
If the Braves did not win that World Series, they would be on this list and not the Indians.
1996 was another AL Central championship, but their season ended prematurely as they lost to the Orioles in the divisional series.
1997 was the Indians’ best chance to win a title. After eliminating the champion Yankees in the divisional series and beating the Orioles in the ALCS, Cleveland took on the Florida Marlins. After winning Game 6 to stay alive, Game 7 was one of the great games in MLB history. Cleveland carried a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning with Mesa ready to seal the title.
Mesa got one out and the Indians were two outs away—the closest the city of Cleveland has been to a world championship in any sport in years.
Like so many moments in Cleveland sports history, it ended in disappointment.
Mesa blew the lead, allowing the game going to extras. In the 11th inning, Edgar Renteria got the hit of his career, passing a ball above the glove of Nagy and scoring the winning run.
The game still haunts all Clevelanders.
After ‘97, the Indians’ chances began to fade even more. The Yankees came back and dominated in ’98, eliminating the Indians in the LCS in six games and on their way to another title.
In ‘99, the Tribe added Roberto Alomar to the team. They won their division again but ended in disappointment when they lost to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, which saw Mike Hargrove fired after the season. 2000 was the last season of Manny Ramirez in Cleveland. The team went 90-72 that year and missed the playoffs.
2001 officially saw the end of the team as we knew it. Cleveland returned to the postseason but was ousted by the 116-win Seattle Mariners team. John Hart resigned as GM and the team was broken up.
Given that the Yankee dynasty has overshadowed the Indians of the late 90s, this team was very competitive for six years and most baseball experts say this team should have won a title, especially in ’97.
Then again, isn’t “should have won” just loser talk?