Memories of The Greatest Summer Ever
Steve Eby | On 06, Oct 2012
I’ll never forget the summer of 1995.
I was 13 years old, just about to enter the eighth grade and in love with the Cleveland Indians. But I wasn’t just some fair-weather fan. In my mind, I had dealt with the hardships of the bad years, having lived through the late 80’s and early 90’s teams that lost almost all of the time. I couldn’t stand that it was suddenly so popular to root for the Indians. The words “fair weather fans” became a part of my regular vocabulary during the summer of ’95. Where were all of you when the rest of us were all rooting for a losing team? It wasn’t until I was in college and the glory years were almost over that I realized that I hadn’t really “dealt” with anything.
“Kids growing up (in the 90’s) and that’s all they knew…they’re in trouble,” former Indian and TV color man Rick Manning said. “Now look at it…it’s not even close. (The way it is now) is how Indians baseball was when I played (1975-1983) and even before me.”
People my age are spoiled. Forget that the Indians are extremely difficult to root for at this moment and realize that I’m only 30 years old and have seen the best, most exciting stretch of baseball that Cleveland has ever had. Sure, I haven’t seen my Tribe win the ultimate prize, but heck, my father just turned 60 and has seen the exact same amount of World Series titles that I have. We’ve seen the same amount of pennants as well, unless you count the one in 1954 when he was two (even with as big of a baseball fan as my dad is, I doubt that he was paying attention at two).
“For the first time in a lifetime,” Cleveland sportscaster Bruce Drennan said, “the Indians were a World Series Championship contender.”
I remember on Memorial Day in 1995 when the Indians hosted the rival Chicago White Sox. The Indians were losing 6-1 for most of the game and Dave Winfield, who had done practically nothing the entire year, blasted a three-run homerun into the bleachers that catapulted the Tribe to victory. It was a turning point for the Indians and for my dad. My family was at a picnic at my grandparent’s house and when the Indians won, my dad said, “I can’t believe they won again.” I thought to myself, ‘No kidding Dad…they’re good.’ Obviously, I didn’t get it at the time.
My father grew up watching teams that had little talent, won few games and never came close to sniffing the postseason. If you ask him, any time that they had any talent it was just traded to the Yankees anyway. “The unfortunate thing was that they never kept the guys around long enough,” Manning said. “A guy would come up and then they’d get rid of him…they’d trade him…they couldn’t afford him.” On the other hand, I grew up watching a young core that was kept together long enough to compete. There were names like Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and my personal favorite, Kenny Lofton.
“It was a special time,” Baerga said. “Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray are already in the Hall of Fame and could be followed by Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez (certainly) has the numbers (as well). When you talk about the greatest lineups of all time…that has to be one of them. You can go (from) base to base…we had the best.”
“That was a real special team,” Drennan said. “I really look at that ’95 lineup as one of the best lineups ever…at least in my lifetime.”
“Most of the time that I was there I was in awe of the guys on (the team),” Tribe catcher Scooter Tucker said. “It was a phenomenal team. Obviously the players; you look at the Hall of Famers already and the potentiAl Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers off that team, it’s phenomenal.” No wonder it was so easy for all of us to fall in love with the Tribe. With so many great players, there were countless great memories.
“There were so many (memories),” 1995 Tribe Manager Mike Hargrove said. “(One of my favorites was) when we came back to beat Toronto and David Cone was pitching for them. We were down 8-0 in that ballgame and David Cone was one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
“Toronto was one of the bigger comebacks,” Tucker said. “I actually got to catch that game and all I can remember is the first two innings it was like ‘Oh my goodness, what in the world?’”
For me, that was the game that I got it. It was the moment that I knew that the 1995 Indians were special. I knew from the beginning that they were good, but when Paul Sorrento blasted Darren Hall’s first pitch into the right field stands, I was sold on how special that team was. I was sitting in the stands with my dad that day and there were two Blue Jays fans sitting in front of us. The fans were from Toronto and were in for the weekend series. When the Jays took an 8-0 lead, the fans were loud, cocky and irritating. Having a long trip back to Toronto, the annoying fans left around the fifth inning. When Sorrento hit the walk-off blast and completed the amazing comeback, my father and I slapped the empty seats in front of us with our Indians caps. Out of all of the wonderful memories that I have of watching the Tribe that summer, beating those empty seats is my personal favorite.
The Tribe’s attitude was a huge part of their success and from the start it was one of extreme confidence. “We used to step on that field and we knew we were going to win that day,” Baerga said. “The attitude was unbelievable. Mike Hargrove didn’t even have to manage; he just needed to know when to take the pitcher out.”
“We knew that we had a good enough team to do it,” Alomar agrees.
“The confidence that they had was incredible,” Tucker said.
“Night after night, everybody believed,” Manning said. “Ok it’s the eighth or ninth inning and we’re three runs down and we get our closer up. And by God, they’d go out and they’d score and we’d end up winning the game.”
The Indians finished 1995 with 100 victories in just 144 games. Their winning percentage was an astonishing .694, 30 games ahead of the second place Kansas City Royals and made their first postseason appearance since 1954. “It was something special,” Baerga said. “To win 100 games is not easy.”
“Just to have the chance to win 100 games and make it to the playoffs was unbelievable,” Alomar said. With the ’95 Indians, however, it’s not all about wins; it’s about how they won.
The Indians compiled 48 come-from-behind victories in 1995, 27 of which came in their last at bat. They hit nine walk-off homeruns, including one in their first postseason game in 41 years. The team was afraid of no one, as some of the dramatic blasts came against some of the best of the best like Dennis Eckersley and Lee Smith. “We believed that we could come back at any time,” Baerga said. “With all of the walk-off homeruns…those wins were special. When Manny Ramirez hit the homerun against Dennis Eckersley, it was amazing.”
“It doesn’t (just happen),” Tucker said. “In that short period of time that I was there, it seemed like those guys just never doubted that something would happen and they could come back (with) a homerun, double or whatever.” Even with so many amazing comebacks and memorable moments, there is one that stands out amongst the players, coaches and the city of Cleveland, however.
“I’d have to say the day we clinched for the playoffs,” Alomar said.
“Probably the most overriding memory that I have is of Jim Thome catching that foul ball against Baltimore to clinch the division title,” Hargrove said.
“(Clinching) was unbelievable,” Alvaro Espinoza agreed.
“(Clinching) was quite a thrill,” Drennan said. “Certainly with Grover (Mike Hargrove), and I go way back with Grover from when he played with the Indians, it was a thrill for him to be such a big part of it.”
“My number one favorite (memory) was the night that they clinched against Baltimore,” Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton said, “even though there was no drama as far as the clinching because you had known since the All-Star break that you were going to win the division title.”
“Going to the World Series was big,” Lofton said, “but for me, my favorite memory is probably when we all went out (to centerfield) and raised that flag. That was one of the most memorable things and the funny thing about it is that the team asked me to pull the flag. I was very honored that they had me do that.”
The American League Central Division Championship flag was raised on September 8. It symbolized the dominance that the Indians had over the league and it ended years of woe in the city whose baseball team had been so bad for so long. “The first thought that ran through my mind,” Hargrove remembers, “was that we just ended 40 years of frustration.”
It was true. I was sitting at Jacobs Field in section 548, row N, seat six when the Indians clinched the division for the first time in franchise history. I will never forget the popup that the Orioles Jeff Huson hit and the feeling that I got when it landed in Thome’s glove. I turned and hugged my dad. We high fived and I felt a relief that the long 13 year torture that I had experienced was over, and then I looked at my dad, who had tears in his eyes, and realized that he was the one who had actually been tortured for four decades.
“I couldn’t get over the emotion in the ballpark and the city based on that clinching,” Hamilton said. “I guess it was the realization that the impossible dream had come true and they were going to be in the postseason. You couple that emotion in the ballpark that night with the raising of the flag and the song that was playing was also played at Steve Olin’s memorial service, The Dance by Garth Brooks. It just brought it to the top for me as far as great moments.”
“Just the fact that the day that we clinched,” Alomar said, “we put the nail in the coffin and said, ‘We’re in the playoffs…finally!’ That day was very exciting for the city and we had the opportunity to be in the postseason.”
“(It was) the best,” Baerga agrees. “We lost (nearly) 100 games my first few years here. Then in ’94 we were so close when the strike hit.”
The postseason didn’t end the way that any of us wanted it to, but it still provided the city of Cleveland with memories that will last forever. “Kenny Lofton scoring from second base on a passed ball in Game Six of the ALCS in Seattle,” Hamilton said. “At that point, you said, ‘They’re going to go to the World Series and they’re going to win this game’. You never see anyone score from second and to do it against Randy Johnson and for Kenny Lofton to do it, that’s when it really sunk in that this club was going to play in the World Series.”
“It was special,” Baerga remembers, “beating Randy Johnson in Seattle and doing it in that ballpark. I remember before the game we had a meeting and we told Kenny ‘You’d better start bunting…we need to get him pissed off.”
“(My favorite memory) was when I recorded the last out to go to the World Series in Seattle,” Espinoza remembers.
From Tony Pena’s walk-off homerun against Boston, to Lofton’s mad dash home from second base on a wild pitch in Seattle, to our first World Series game victory since 1948, and Orel Hershiser snaring the line drive off of Luis Polonia’s bat in the Fall Classic, the Indians made everyone in the city of Cleveland proud to be an Indians fan.
From June 12, 1995 until April 4, 2001, Indians fans poured into Jacobs Field for 455 consecutive sellouts. “(My favorite memory was) the thrill of walking into (Jacobs Field) when it was a standing room only crowd (and) the electricity that was there,” Drennan said.
By the end of the record streak, I had forgiven the rest of Cleveland for their sudden love of the Tribe. At one point, I thought back to all of my father’s reactions to the ’95 team and suddenly I understood.
“It was quite impressive, it really was,” Tucker said. “Great team, great team chemistry, great clubhouse…it was just a fun place to be.”
“They were so good that year,” Manning said. “We may never see another year like that ever…they just got on a tear and it was probably the best year I’ve ever seen in baseball by anybody.”
“(Those were) really, really, really good times,” Baerga said. “I hope that we can see all that stuff again.”
MORE 1995 MEMORIES:
MIKE BRANDYBERRY (Writer for www.didthetribewinlastnight.com): My two biggest memories of the 1995 season was Albert Belle’s grand slam off Lee Smith in July and Game 5 of the World Series. I remember the series between the Indians and Angels was supposed to be the showdown for who would become American League favorite. That grand slam didn’t just assert the Tribe to the top of the pile, but also sent the Angels into a tailspin they never recovered from. They went from potential July favorites to missing the playoffs.
Game 5 of the World Series was special for me because I wasn’t a season ticket holder at the time. I was a high school student who won the raffle for playoff seats. That was the game I won and I sat way in the top of the right field upper deck with my mom and dad. It was the first of many playoff memories I’d have with my dad over the years, but one I’ll never forget.
BRIAN BURCH (Lifelong Indians fan): What I remember was a feeling of invincibility about this team. It didn’t seem to have a weak spot. And it didn’t matter how much we were losing by or who we were losing to. Until that final out was made, it always felt like we not only had a chance to win the ballgame, but we were destined to. It didn’t matter who would knock in the final run, but you could often feel it was coming – whether it was going to be Belle, Ramirez, Pena or Sorrento. And even though David Justice crushed our hopes of a game 7 with the longball off Poole in game 6, “Wait til next year” had a much different feel after the 1995 season. This was a stacked team with an intact core, and a very good chance to win again in 1996.
VINCE GUERRIERI (Writer for www.didthetribewinlastnight.com): In 1995, I graduatEd High school and went away to college – and the Indians were along for the ride.
In May, I spent a cold Monday night in the upper deck watching the Indians shell Kevin Appier and the Royals. It was a great game. That Friday, at the prom, all the guys were in the bar watching the Indians beat the Orioles.
The gang from high school – a convoy of 12 – made the trek from Youngstown to Cleveland for the Memorial Day game, where the Indians came back to beat the White Sox. That was the first inkling I had that it might be a special season. I saw a couple more games that year, when it seemed like no lead was safe against the Indians.
The night before college started at Bowling Green State University, I stayed up to watch the Indians beat the Blue Jays in 14 on an Albert Belle home run. A little more than a week later, I watched the Tribe clinch their first postseason trip since my father was a baby. It became common to see a crowd gathered around the television in the lounge, and it was possible to walk across campus and follow the Indians game, as scores of students had it on their televisions or the radios, blaring out into the night.
And through a minor miracle my father scored tickets to Game 5 of the World Series. It remains my best memory as a Tribe fan.
The Indians were down three games to one. The scoreboard showed “Animal House.” “OVER,” John Belushi yelled. “DID YOU SAY OVER?!? NOTHING IS OVER UNTIL WE DECIDE IT IS!!” The next line was, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” But it was drowned out by 45,000 Indians fans screaming themselves hoarse. Joe Walsh sang the national anthem, Albert Belle homered off Greg Maddux, and Jim Thome put a Brad Clontz fastball into orbit (seriously; I’m not sure it’s landed yet). But the loudest cheers came in the ninth.
I had watched “Major League” when it premiered on HBO. The beginning of the movie – with miserable fans and poorly attended games – was a documentary (seriously; Mom laughed when they showed 750 people in the seats. Two days later, when we were watching an Indians game and it appeared that was no exaggeration for drama’s sake, she laughed harder). But the end seemed like science fiction.
I watched the Wild Thing come out of the bullpen and a stadium full of people descend into complete bedlam. I wondered if I’d ever see anything like that in Cleveland. As it turns out, I did, when the bullpen door swung open in the top of the ninth and Jose Mesa stepped out.
He got the save. The series was going back to Atlanta. The last baseball game of 1995 in Cleveland was a win. “Glory Days” blared and people danced down East Ninth Street. It really was the greatest summer ever.
BRIAN HEISE (Writer for www.wahoosonfirst.com): The ‘95 Indians were special to me for a variety of reasons but mostly because they were my first experience with a winning team in Cleveland. That ‘95 season was amazing and as an impressionable 11 year old, seeing the likes of Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, and Eddie Murray was like watching a world class rock band take the stage each and every night. That’s why I fell in love with the Indians and baseball in general. It was a once in a lifetime collection of talent, the likes of which we will probably never see again. That summer will go down as the greatest summer of my childhood and I’m glad to of had the opportunity to experience it.
RYAN HOHMAN (Creator of www.didthetribewinlastnight.com): I was 12 years old in 1995. We didn’t have cable at my parent’s house, so my mom would drive me into town (we lived in the country and had “farmer vision”) to watch the Indians games with my grandma’s neighbor, Paul, who was a lifelong Indians fan. That summer, Paul and I became big Eddie Murray fans as we watched him inch closer and closer to 3,000 hits. It was exciting. It was something we wanted to witness. At the time, only 19 players in the history of the game had accomplished such a feat. Just days before Eddie collected his 3,000th hit, Paul became very ill and was hospitalized. I listened to Eddie collect his 3,000 hit on the radio. Paul watched from his hospital bed. A few days later, I purchased an Eddie Murray 3,000 hit club t-shirt and went to the hospital to visit Paul. He smiled when he saw my shirt and said, “He got it.” Paul passed away shortly after. It was a moment and summer that I’ll never forget.
JASON KAMINSKI (Writer for www.didthetribewinlastnight.com): My memories of the 1995 season are limited since I was just 12 years old but some of the ones that stand out will last with me forever. When I was a kid baseball was everything to me. My Dad was in a season ticket group so we were lucky enough to be able to attend a handful of games a year, which was difficult in those early days at Jacobs Field. I remember the excitement leading up to the ’95 season because of the strike shortened previous season and also because it was the first time in years that the Tribe were expected to be really good. I can recall many comeback victories and walk-off homers. As the season rolled along you could feel the anticipation building for what could be. I would say my favorite memory has to be the Tony Pena walk-off homer in the playoffs. My Dad was at the game with a single ticket, I was extremely envious. However, my Mom was kind enough to let me stay up until the very end of the game. I can still remember jumping on my bed with excitement. The one thing that I take away from that season is that you must savor success because there are no guarantees. Being as young as I was it felt like the Indians would just come back and win it next year, but as we all know they never did. I still look back on those days with great fondness though, I feel fortunate to be able to have experienced it.
STEVE KINSELLA (Writer for www.wahoosonfirst.com): I began following the Indians in earnest in 1977 and every spring I was convinced that this was their year. I remember the anger I had toward Peter Bavasi after he suggested that the Cleveland area was not a viable baseball market, the hope of glory after the Jacob brothers bought the team and laid out a vision of glory, the elation I had the day the sin tax passed and the realization that a new stadium for the Indians was a reality, the disbelief I had when the best Indians team I had seen in my lifetime was locked out by the owners in 1994.
All of these emotions came flooding back to me the night of September 8, 1995 when the Indians defeated the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 to clinch their first playoff appearance since 1954. I will admit that tears of joy came streaming down my face as Jim Thome squeezed that last out and the customary This Is How We Do It by Montel Jordan came blaring through the speakers. Hugs and high fives were flying as I left Jacobs Field and headed to the East Bank of the Flats. The next several hours of my life were spent enjoying a constant stream of alcohol, listening to the many different derivations of Go Tribe chants, and the pleasant sound of horns blasting. It was an evening I will never forget and even to this day the sound of a car horn takes me back and makes me smile.
#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry
#20 Ken Hill
#19 Jim Poole
#18 Chad Ogea
#17 Sandy Alomar
#16 Tony Pena
#15 Eric Plunk
#14 Paul Sorrento
#13 Paul Assenmacher
#12 Omar Vizquel
#11 Charles Nagy
#10 Orel Hershiser
#9 Julian Tavarez
#8 Eddie Murray
#7 Jim Thome
#6 Dennis Martinez
#5 Carlos Baerga
#4 Kenny Lofton
#3 Manny Ramirez
#2 Jose Mesa
#1 Albert Belle