1995 Indians share memories of their magical run
CLEVELAND -- The 1995 Indians can still pack 'em in.
On Saturday, though, the crowd gathered to see one of the great clubs in franchise history not at the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field, but a couple blocks away at the historic Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square, for a 20th anniversary alumni event that featured old friends, some fun video clips and, yes, stories about Albert Belle breaking things.
"We were a team," said Alvaro Espinoza, a utilityman on that '95 club. "But not only a team, we were family."
And the family ties remain strong.
From the less-heralded likes of Espinoza, Chad Ogea, Julian Tavarez and Herbert Perry to the local legends like Dennis Martinez, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., Mike Hargrove, Kenny Lofton and likely future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, the '95 team that claimed the franchise's first American League pennant in 41 years was well-represented on the Palace stage.
The event was filmed for an eventual airing on SportsTime Ohio.
That '95 club, with its loaded lineup that draws comparisons even to the '27 Yankees, always knew it had a chance to come back. It also always knew it would be boosted by a sold-out home crowd.
"You come from the Minor Leagues and then you walk out there, and it's like a college football stadium every day," Perry recalled. "Your whole body would start to shake."
One of the most talented of the bunch, of course, was Belle, whose angry streak is as much a part of his legend as his 50-homer, 50-double output in that season. Lofton told the tale of his tug of war with Belle, who was known in the clubhouse as "Mr. Freeze," over the clubhouse thermostat, which Belle would constantly lower to near-freezing temperatures. When Lofton tried to turn up the heat one day, Belle grabbed a bat, set the temp where he wanted it and then made it permanent with a mighty wallop of the unsuspecting device.
Hargrove had another story, about the time Belle got angry about making an out and retreated to the clubhouse to smash the china plates set up for the postgame spread. The shards of broken plates sprayed into and around Alomar's locker.
"[Clubhouse manager Stan Hunter] said, 'Grover, you've got to do something. He's killing my china,'" Hargrove recalled. "So I said, 'Put out paper plates.'"
Lofton and Martinez spoke at length about Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at the Kingdome, when Martinez outpitched future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and Lofton scored all the way from second on a passed ball to lead the Tribe to the World Series.
"Now, looking back, it was one of those games where the odds were 100 to nothing," Martinez said. "Facing Johnson and the Mariners in the Kingdome, that was tough. I was an old man, trying to survive in that game and facing one of the best pitchers in baseball. So it was a matter of pride to me to show what I had left."
The '95 team put together too many highlights to mention.
"We won 100 games, we lost 44 games," Baerga said. "That's amazing. I was blessed to hit third in that lineup, when you have Thome, Eddie Murray, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Lofton… People always want to say the Yankees. But I believe we had the best lineup in Major League Baseball."
That club's real legacy, though, is what it meant to this city. As Tom Hamilton said at the close of the event, the team provided just as much joy and meant just as much to a long-suffering fan base as it would have if it had beaten the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
And as this weekend's reunion festivities demonstrated, that team still resonates with people here.
"At the end of the day, it went by very quick," Thome said. "To look back at all these guys, for me personally, the greatest gift of all this is we competed at a high level, we were brothers, and we all loved each other… It was just unfortunate we didn't win it all. But we had the team to do it."