The phrase wait 'til next year seems to be the unofficial slogan of the Cleveland Indians. This year marks their 100th season, and although they've won a couple of world championships, they've known more tragedy than triumph. But despite hardship and heartbreak the "over comers" seem ready try it again. 90.3 Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims- The year was 1901. Thomas Johnson was just elected mayor of Cleveland, Terminal Tower was not yet a part of the city's skyline and League Park was the home of the Cleveland Blues. The Blues, as they were originally known in the American league, finished their debut season with the dismal record of 55 and 82. And attendance wasn't much better. Only 131,380 came through the turn stills all season, the worst attendance in the league. It would take 20 years and three name changes for the team to become champions. Baseball Historian Morris Eckhouse says the years surrounding the 1920 season were particularly hard for the newly christened Cleveland Indians.
Morris Eckhouse- Tragedy is a theme that runs through Indians history, dating back probably started back with Addie Joss in 1910 who was a star pitcher for the team and is now a hall of famer contracted Turburcular meningitis and died at even then the young age of 31. Then there was Ray Chapman died as a result of being hit by a pitch in 1920, the only such fatality in major league history and yet the Indians overcame that and went to the world series.
TS- Eckhouse says the 1920 victory would have to carry the organization through almost 3 decades until they were able to raise that championship banner again in 1948. In the late 40s the Indians boasted of such talent as Hall of famer Bob Feller and even made history with the signing of Larry Doby the second black baseball player in the major leagues since the 19th century. Then came the 1950s. Although the Indians got back to the World Series in '54, the end of that decade started the trend of bad baseball in Cleveland. Eckhouse says some people attribute the decline to two questionable decisions by management.
ME- The two in the late 1950s the Indians had a manager named Bobby Bragan and supposedly when Bragan was fired he put a curse on the team. Now, Bragan vehemently denies this. And the other is the curse of Rocky Calivito -- and the idea that back in 1960 the Indians had a General Manager named Frank Lane who never met a trade he didn't like and conjured up one where he would trade the home-run champion Calivito to Detroit for Harvey Keen who was the batting champion. He was beloved in Cleveland he was the great fan favorite and all of a sudden he's traded for this singles hitter. And the Indians were cast out for 35 some years.
TS- Whether fans believe the curses or not, the decline of the Indians organization was fast and furious. It also would affect the next 40 years. During that time the team was so bad and attendance was so poor, there'd been talk of the franchise leaving the city. Bob DiBiasio has worked for the organization since 1979. He says the team was stagnant.
Bob DiBiasio- We were not there. We were still treading water stuck in the mud whatever cliche you want to use. We were managed like a 50s ball club in the modern 90s. Until Mr. Jacobs came along -- well actually he came along in the mid 80s.
TS- Richard and David Jacobs and Henry "Hank" Peters bought the team for $35.5 million in 1986. They started adding the pieces to the championship puzzle (by) drafting rookie of the year Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1990 and hiring General Manager John Hart in 1991. By 1993 they looked like a contender again, but then another devastating tragedy struck the Indians. Pitcher Steve Olin and the newly acquired Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident right before opening day of that year. Pitcher Bob Ojeda was also severely injured. DiBiasio says the tragedy hit the hard.
BD- It came in springtime of '93 -- it was the last season at Cleveland's stadium. We knew Jacobs Field was on the horizon -- it would open in '94 -- so there was tremendous momentum so we were in full swing.
TS- Dibiasio says in some ways the deaths of these players made brought the team closer and made more them more determined to achieve their goal. So the Indians moved forward carrying the memories of their teammates into their new home, Jacobs Field. He says people thought 1994 was going to be their year. But it wasn't even a year for Major League Baseball.
BD- The strike in '94 couldn't have come at a worse time in Major League Baseball, specifically relative to the Cleveland Indians but luckily our fans did not have a hatred and an anger for baseball and for the Cleveland Indians we were very thankful for that. It was also a team that was on the verge of being a championship caliber team. So that when the baseball started back in '95 they knew we had a pretty darn good team.
TS- 1995 was the year the magic of baseball returned to Cleveland. The Indians went to the world series as American League champs. This lead to consecutive sell out seasons at Jacobs Field and second World Series run in 1997.
Now the Indians under new owner Larry Dolan are looking forward to this centennial season. They may have lost heavy hitters Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar Jr. but new acquisitions Juan Gonzalez and Ellis Burks have given the team something to build on. The new look ball club says they want to be known as more than over comers, although that's not a bad thing, but they'd rather secure the title of World Series Champions. In Cleveland Tarice Sims 90.3 WCPN.