The Most Mediocre Summer Ever
Jonathan Knight | On 05, Jun 2015
Over the past few months, Did the Tribe Win Last Night? has been running a series of articles looking back at the 1995 Indians in conjunction with their 20th anniversary. The series is called “The Greatest Summer Ever” because, unless you’re one of those lucky Tribe fans that remembers 1954 or 1948, it was.
It’s a great series that’s only going to get better. But for as great as that summer was, you have to admit that summer doesn’t truly encapsulate the Cleveland Indians experience.
Ironically, the year that I think does accurately symbolize a lifetime of following the Indians is also celebrating an anniversary. The 1990 Tribe hits its 25th this summer, though I doubt there will be any giveaways or retrospective series dedicated to them.
Nor should there be. There was essentially nothing extraordinary about that Tribe team except for its intense mediocrity. In essence, the 1990 edition of the Indians was the exact median of the team over the second half of the twentieth century. They were the franchise’s Average Joe – an insurance agent with a mortgage, wife, dog, minivan, and 2.5 kids.
Think about the 1990 squad (if you can) and you’ll see it had all the trappings of a typical pre-Jacobs Field Tribe team:
They went 77-85 – under .500, but essentially the aggregate winning percentage for the club post-1959.
They were headlined by a nondescript, retread manager (John McNamara), a disappointing free agent (Keith Hernandez), and a promising rookie (Sandy Alomar – who, unlike many of the “promising rookies” before him, actually turned out to be the real deal).
Nobody hit .300. Nobody drove in 100 runs. The best player in the lineup was picked up off the scrapheap the previous winter. Candy Maldonado showed up, hit 22 homers, knocked in 95 runs, and promptly left.
There was also Brook Jacoby – my favorite player at the time – who turned in another in a long line of perfectly serviceable seasons.
Along with Alomar, there was more hope for the future with the debut of Carlos Baerga, and the epilogue of the Indians’ most recent great hope with the final days of Cory Snyder in a Cleveland uniform.
There was one last hurrah for a wily veteran when 36-year-old Tom Brookens filled a gap in the infield, and also the relative flash of an unknown rookie when 24-year-old speedster Alex Cole stole five bases in his eighth big-league game.
The pitching was good, but not as good as it could have been. Tom Candiotti, Greg Swindell, and Bud Black combined to win 38 games (and pitch more than 600 innings), and Doug Jones racked up 43 saves with the best mustache in baseball.
In other words, in true middle-of-the-road baseball fashion, both the offense and the pitching staff completely balanced themselves out.
Few and far between as they may have been, there were some memorable moments. There was a crazy game against Milwaukee in June in which the Tribe rallied from a five-run deficit with seven in the eighth, blew the lead in the top of the ninth, then won it on a walk-off fielder’s choice.
But in true Indians fashion, the most memorable game was a defeat – when they were no-hit by Toronto’s Dave Stieb Labor Day weekend.
The rest of the season was as unremarkable as you’d think. A couple walk-off wins here, a couple walk-off losses there. Their high-water mark was three games over .500 in mid-May and at no point did they reach first place in the division. They hit bottom in early September, falling to 17 games out with an eight-game losing streak, then promptly won 10 of 11.
I could go on, but you get the point. Their mediocrity was truly awesome to behold. I say that not as a criticism, because as far as Indians teams go, they weren’t bad. They were prototype boilerplate, buttered toast to an upset stomach. You take it because you need it, even though you don’t really enjoy it.
The 1990 Indians were the 1960-1993 Indians. Our everyteam.
It’s hard to believe that in five short (well, if you remember that era, not-so-short) years, this same team would become the behemoth of baseball.
So as you drink in all the duly deserved reflections thrust upon the ’95 team this summer, take a moment to remember what came before – and raise a glass of tap water to celebrate the silver anniversary of the most mediocre Indians season ever.