Time to Stop Clamoring For Return of 1990s Indians
Craig Gifford | On 11, Jan 2016
When legendary college basketball coach Rick Pitino briefly coached the Boston Celtics in the early 2000s, he had a now infamous quote in which he said, “Larry Bird’s not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale’s not walking through that door. Robert Parish is not walking through that door. If I expect them to come through that door, they’re gonna be gray and old.”
Sometimes it seems as if Cleveland Indians fans need that same reminder. Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez are not going through the doors of the Tribe clubhouse any time soon.
Despite the Indians having had winning records each of the last three years and despite the fact the Tribe earned an American League Wild Card nod in 2013 and a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2007, Cleveland fans still seem to cling to the glory days that were the 1990s.
Yes, the Indians had a run for the ages when it comes to the mostly downtrodden Cleveland sports landscape. From 1995-2001, the Tribe won the AL Central Division crown six times and went to a pair of World Series. In 1997, the club came within two outs of the city’s first major sports championship since the 1964 Browns. That era was a tremendous time to be a follower of the Wahoo Warriors. It was a proud time in Cleveland.
However, it is unfair to expect Indians teams of today to measure up to that standard. Still, many Clevelanders do, even 15-20 years later, expect the Tribe to get back to that level. Fans will wonder why they do not have an all-star at every position as they did in 1995 and 1996. Fans will wonder why it is so hard to find a player to hit 50 home runs as the Indians had with Belle and Thome. Fans will still wonder why the Tribe cannot simply run roughshod over the Central Division as the team did for much of that seven-year run.
It really is not fair to look at a team of today and expect what once was. Celtics fans will never see the days of Bird and McHale. Chicago Bulls fans will never really relive the days of Michael Jordan. Miami Dolphins fans would love to have 25-year-old Dan Marino taking snaps again. It simply is not happening.
Indians fans, at least to a degree, need to let go of the 1990s. Once that happens, then maybe this current club, full of excellent players also, will be more appreciated. Perhaps Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field, will again see more seat filled than empty on a regular basis.
This current group of Indians deserves much more love and attention than it gets. The teams of the 1990s captured the hearts of the city because they could score runs with the best of them. They were scoring runs that harkened to the 1962 Yankees. This current Indians team may not be a threat to hit an exhilarating home run every at bat; however, the current incarnation could well throw a shut out, no hitter or perfect game at any point.
Where the teams of the 90s were loaded with offense, those squads lacked a true ace starting pitcher to really put them over the top. Oddly, things are distinctly reversed today. Now the Indians have the pitching to be a World Series contender, but lack that big hitter or two to be a really scary team.
Still, this current roster has the potential and leadership to be a division winner, to be a championship club. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar head a rotation as good as any in the league and better than any the Indians had during their heyday. An offense led by Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Francisco Lindor could finally be in a place to give run support to said starters with the veteran additions of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.
Yet, it feels like Cleveland sports fans are afraid to get behind this current team, at least fully behind it. A club with the group of pitchers the Indians have should be taken seriously as a threat, meaning fans should be showing up to support their squad. Instead the Indians find themselves playing in front of a less-than-half-filled stadium more often that not.
Granted, part of that has been the doing of management. Watching superstars like Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez get traded away due to small market money-constraint reasons does make it hard to get behind players you may fear could soon be gone for the same reasons. However, a big part of why today’s Indians are not getting the attention they should is because fans were truly spoiled in 90s.
More than half the league would likely clamor for a team that has won more games that it has lost for three years running. Throw in a manager in Terry Francona, who has two World Series rings to his name, and this is a Cleveland team that should be taken more seriously.
This Indians team is not the teams of the 1990s. They are not almost guaranteed a division title as they were then. More than talent on the roster, that is because the rest of the division actually has more talent. The Indians of the 90s were steamrolling teams that had minimal talent on their own rosters. Now the Royals, Tigers and to some extent the White Sox have much more ammunition than they once did. Those teams offered little resistance back then.
These Indians will have to work to win a title. Nothing is a given. However, unlike the 1970s and 80s when the Tribe was truly a mess, this club has hope. Put this roster back into the 90s and fans may have clamored for it. These Indians are arguably better than any BEFORE the run of the 90s. This group may actually have won at least several of those six division crowns.
It may be time to stop clinging to the 1990s. Looking back on them with fond memories is fine and expected. But holding on to them to the point that you cannot follow a team because it is not as good as the glory days is going overboard. The Indians may never have the same talent as they did then, but that does not mean that they do not have a chance to finish the job those teams could not complete. It is time to pay attention to and give support to today’s Tribe without hoping for Sandy Alomar, Jr. to trade in his job as first base coach to go back behind the plate as the All-Star catcher he once was.