Indians Lacking Leadership to Take Their Youth to the Next Level
By Craig Gifford
Do you remember the Cleveland Indians teams from the early 1990s? Specifically, do you remember the squads from 1991-1993? It is doubtful, as those are clubs that took the field before the Indians took off to new heights in the middle of the decade. Those teams all finished with records below .500 in the last three years of baseball at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Taking a closer look at those teams, you will find names like Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Charles Nagy. They were all at the beginnings of their careers at that time. All of these players had multiple All-Star seasons with the Indians during the glory days of the mid-to-late 90s. However, even with those guys on the clubs in decade’s first few seasons, the Tribe could finish no better than their 76-86 of 1992 and 1993.
Sound familiar? It might if you take a look at the current Indians. This team has young All-Stars in Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera. Jason Kipnis and Vinnie Pestano are very likely future Mid-Summer Classic participants. Carlos Santana has the skill set to get to that level, as well.
Much like the Indians of the early 90s that had a nice bulk of young talent, this Indians team seems unable to get over the hump in contending. They are close, but something is missing. Same thing went for the young squads of 20 years ago.
Then, something happened before the 1994 season – the first in Jacobs, now Progressive, Field. The Indians added veteran leadership. The young, up-and-comers were joined by the big-game tested likes of Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris and Eddie Murray. In 1995, one-time World Series MVP Orel Hershiser was brought in for a retiring Morris.
Guess what? Those teams soared. The thing that was missing to get those Indians over the hump was veteran leadership that new a thing or two about chasing championships and playing meaningful games. By the time Murray, Martinez and Hershiser were gone, a culture of winning had been ushered into Cleveland. The once young guns were then the playoff-tested sages.
Look at, even as closely as, the 2007 Tribe that got to within one win of the World Series. An aging, but productive Lofton was brought back to be a guiding hand. Don’t think for a moment, that wasn’t huge for those young squads.
Flip ahead to this year’s Indians. At 50-54, they have fallen well off the pace in both the division and Wild Card races. This is not a bad team. Each of the last two years, Cleveland has shown enough in the first halves to make you think there is something there. There are All-Stars in Perez and Cabrera. Shin-Soo Choo has been an All-Star in the past. There are other nice young pieces and part on the roster.
However, look up and down the lineup and there is one thing sorely lacking for the current Indians. There is little in the way of strong, veteran leadership. Before being designated for assignment, starter Derek Lowe was the only Indian with any extensive postseason resume. When he was going well, early in the year, the team did, also. Unfortunately, Father Time seems to have caught up with the 39-year-old. He has struggled the last two months. It is hard to show others the way when you cannot find the way yourself. It really is no shock that the team’s early success and recent failures have mirrored that of its lone battle-tested player.
Johnny Damon, Travis Hafner and Casey Kotchman are other guys have been to the postseason before and enjoyed successes at the team and individual level. However, like Lowe, all three are struggling to get themselves going, let alone be a catalyst for a bunch of younger guys.
What the Indians need is an infusion of veterans who still have something left in the tank. They need to find this generation’s version of Martinez, or Hershiser or Murray. Believe it or not, guys like that would even fit into Cleveland’s tight budget. They would be players on their last contract. Players who can give you two or three good years before they are finished. Players who want one last shot to win.
If the Indians could find three or four players of this ilk, to go with their budding stars, it could go a long way toward making Cleveland a contender for a full season, rather than half a year.