The 1993 season was a no-man’s land for the Indians.
Excitement was starting to build for a new baseball-only stadium that would open the following year, but the team was slogging toward the bottom of the American League East in the last year before each league split into three divisions.
Talent was in place for the team that would own the new American League Central. Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle and Carlos Baerga were everyday starters for the Tribe, and Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar appeared regularly in the lineup as well.
But when the rosters expanded that fall 20 years ago, Indians fans got to see the boy who would go on to great things for the Indians – and for the Red Sox.
Manny Ramirez hit .340 with 17 home runs in Double-A for what was then the Canton-Akron Indians. His batting average led the Eastern League before he was promoted to the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte. When rosters expanded in September, he joined the Indians, then on the road in Minnesota. But after the Tribe finished with the Twins, taking two of three, they were off to the Bronx – and a homecoming for Ramirez.
Ramirez was born in the Dominican Republic, but grew up in Washington Heights, a neighborhood not far from Yankee Stadium in New York City. He said the entire neighborhood turned out to watch him – and he didn’t disappoint with his hitting, clouting two home runs and a double. But in what turned out to be a sign of things to come, Ramirez’s double was ruled a ground-rule double and he steamed into third base, only to find out that he needed to go back to second base.
The Indians won 7-3 in what Bob Ojeda’s first win for the team – and his first win in more than a year. Ojeda, who was remembered fondly in New York for being parts of the Mets’ World Champion team of 1986, was the only survivor of the spring training boating accident that killed Indians teammates Tim Crews and Steve Olin.
The game turned out to be the high-water mark for Ramirez, who had a .170 average in his month in the big leagues, and was used sporadically as a pinch-runner. But Ramirez was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, and Indians broadcaster Herb Score – himself a former can’t-miss prospect – sang his praises, saying, “Ramirez looks so good to me that I can predict he will be an outstanding star with the team. He has all the talents to be a great success.”
Ramirez was dangled as trade bait in the 1993 offseason as General Manager John Hart tried to get more pitching, but the Indians held on to him. Plain Dealer Indians writer Paul Hoynes said that Ramirez needed to spend all of 1994 in Triple-A. Instead, after a season of winter ball, Ramirez was the starting right fielder on opening day at the new ballpark, Jacobs Field.
He hit .269 with 17 home runs before the season ended abruptly in August because of a players’ strike, and finished (a distant) second in American League Rookie of the Year voting, behind Kansas City’s Bob Hamelin. But his career blossomed as he became a feared middle-of-the-lineup RBI machine for the Indians, setting the team record for RBIs in 199, with 164. In 2000, Ramirez became a free agent and signed with the Red Sox, where he was able to do what had eluded him in Cleveland: win a World Series. In fact, he won two before going to the Dodgers.
Ramirez’s career ended this year, in a cloud of bizarre behavior and failed drug tests, but his meteoric rise through the minor leagues and his performance at the plate still make him one of the best hitters ever to don a Tribe uniform.