The Greatest Summer Ever: The Year that was Almost Replaced

Throughout the 2015 season, Did the Tribe Win Last Night will take a look back at the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the 20th anniversary of their fourth pennant winning season. Included will be historic game recaps, headlining stories and a ranking of the team’s most influential players that truly made 1995 The Greatest Summer Ever. Today looks back at the 1995 replacement players.

While the Indians summer of 1995 will long be remembered in the city of Cleveland for its excitement, the names that originally broke camp with the team were forgotten almost immediately.

When the Indians initially left their Spring Training home in Winter Haven, Florida in March, the names in their starting lineup were not the well-known likes of Belle, Baerga, Alomar, Lofton or Vizquel, but one’s fans had never heard of like Mikulik, Yelding, Biasucci and Davenport. The only somewhat familiar names in the Indians April 1 exhibition lineup at Jacobs Field against the New York Mets were those of former Major Leaguer Carmelo Martinez and future Tribe coach Mike Sarbaugh. Martinez hit cleanup and played first base while Sarbaugh batted eighth and played second.

So what happened to the Indians sparkly, young roster of budding superstars?

They were all sitting at home–waiting for the eighth work-stoppage in Major League history to end. The 1994-95 strike was the first in major professional sports to cancel an entire postseason, as the World Series was not played in ’94; the first time in nine decades that America did not have its Fall Classic.

Over five months into an almost eight month stoppage, Commissioner Bud Selig announced the league’s intentions to play replacement players while their regular players remained on strike. Selig proclaimed to the New York Times in January that the Major League clubs “are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play.”

Like every other team in the 1995 season’s infancy stage, the Indians put together a roster of discarded former Major Leaguers like Martinez and players that nobody had ever heard of like Sarbaugh. The stunt was greeted with a collective yawn as the desperate attempt to bring some fans in seemed to interest very few. When camp broke, the exhibition on April Fool’s Day drew 8,403 disinterested fans as the fake-Tribe defeated the fake-Mets by a score of 5-2. The game’s start time being delayed 94 minutes because of snow did not help the matter either.

With the regular season ready to begin, the replacement players were informed after the ballgame that their service-time was up and that they would no longer be needed. A deal between the owners and the regular players was imminent and nobody wanted the 1995 regular season to start with a bunch of players that nobody had ever heard of.

“They told us the replacement season is over,” Indians replacement catcher Pete Kuld said in a 1995 article by Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. “They’re not going to have replacement games. Everybody got their travel orders. Some guys are going to Class AAA, some to Class AA and some got released, like myself.”

The start of the 1995 season was to be delayed until a second, shortened Spring Training could be held for the regulars.

“No, this wasn’t worth it,” Kuld said of his experience as a replacement. “Forty-three days flushed down the toilet because somebody couldn’t get off the pot and make up his mind about the money involved in the strike.”

Indians General Manager John Hart was the one who informed the replacement players of the news.

“John Hart told us that the regular players will be coming back,” replacement catcher and St. Edward alumni Darrin Campbell said. “He said there was a slim chance that they’d use replacement players, but he doubted it.”

Each replacement player that signed a contract and participated in an exhibition game was guaranteed $5,000. Several players received additional bonuses from the Indians.

“John Hart used the word ‘substantial’,” said Campbell. “It just shows what a high-class operation they run here. They could have shaken our hands and said, ‘You’re out of here.'”

For most of the replacement players, life continued as it did before the strike hit. For some, including Sarbaugh, they stayed in their organizations despite having crossed the line in 1995.

In hindsight, Sarbaugh may have some regrets about being a replacement player due to the decision not sitting well with the regular players. The Indians current third base coach seems low-key when speaking of the subject.

“I don’t know,” he said in 2011. “It happened and you just move on.”

With the regular-Indians back to work, the shortened Spring Training lasted only three weeks. Despite almost having someone else starting off their brightest season in years, the Indians were gearing up and eyeing their shortened 144 game schedule and delayed Opening Day which would take place on April 27 in Texas.

Photo: Ron Kuntz/Reuters

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