Tribe Completed 24-game Turnaround in 1986
Vince Guerrieri | On 15, Oct 2013
No matter how you slice it, this year’s Indians represented one of the great turnarounds in team history.
The Tribe went 68-94 in 2011, finishing 20 games back of the Central Division champion Tigers, and cushioned from the basement only by the Twins, who finished two games back of the Indians. Manny Acta was fired and Terry Francona was brought in as manager – along with some key free agent acquisitions, like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and some low-risk high-reward signings like Scott Kazmir.
As a result, the Indians finished 92-70, a game back of the Tigers and good enough to host a Wild Card game. The 24-game swing tied for the best in team history in two full seasons, with the 1986 squad that won 84 games.
In 1985, the Indians were dreadful, going 60-102, the first 100-loss season in 15 years and just the third overall in team history at the time. Manager Pat Corrales had high expectations for his young team, which ended the 1984 season with six straight wins, but the Indians lost their first five out of the gate and never found their footing. But that season was the first since 1952 where the Indians had three players with at least 80 RBI – Julio Franco (the team leader with 90), Brook Jacoby (87) and Andre Thornton (88).
The 1986 season was billed as yet another rebuilding year for the Tribe – as rumors of the team’s relocation continued to swirl. Owner Steve O’Neill had died in 1983, and nobody had stepped up to buy the team and keep it in its decrepit home at Cleveland Stadium. The new general manager that year, as Phil Seghi stepped down after 13 years to be succeeded by Joe Klein.
Klein emphasized the young players the Indians had and the draft picks that were being stockpiled for further investment in young talent. The 1986 team had some good bats, as Joe Carter hit .302 with 121 RBI and Cory Snyder hit .272 with 24 home runs. The Indians won their 51st game on July 23 of that year. They’d won their 51st game in 1985 on Sept. 13 the year before. By their 51st win in 1986, the Indians were in third place in the division, five games back. But they couldn’t keep pace with the Red Sox.
The Indians finished in fifth place with a record of 84-78, 11.5 games back of Boston, which won the American League East. It was the first winning season in Cleveland in a non-strike year since 1979, and the turnstiles clicked accordingly. The Indians drew 1.47 million fans that year, their highest attendance total since 1959.
And like this fall, spirits were running high for the Indians after the 1986 season – and into spring training in 1987. Sports Illustrated put out its now infamous “Indian Uprising” cover predicting the Tribe playing in the postseason for the first time since 1954. Klein felt the Indians would be contenders by 1988.
The 1987 Indians lost 101 games. Manager Pat Corrales didn’t last the season, being fired and replaced by Doc Edwards in July. But there was a bright spot in that season. The Indians finally had a new owner.
Richard and David Jacobs bought the Indians for $35 million after the 1986 season. The Jacobs brothers were Cleveland natives who made their fortune developing land and building shopping malls, and their purchase of the team effectively kept it in Cleveland.
The Jacobs brothers hired Hank Peters as general manager. Klein was wrong with the date, but contention wasn’t that far away for the Indians.