The Greatest Summer Ever: The Intimidation Factor

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 intimidation that the Tribe’s mighty lineup evoked on the opposition.

What exactly made the 1995 Indians so special?

It wasn’t just the 100 wins in 144 tries. Nor was it just the 27 wins in their last at bat or the 12 walk-off wins—nine of which were homeruns. It wasn’t even the fact that nearly half of the Tribe’s victories that summer were of the comeback variety.

What made the 1995 Cleveland Indians so special was that they were bad asses and everybody knew it…including themselves.

“I felt that we were unbeatable, really,” shortstop Omar Vizquel said. “There were a lot of people walking with a swagger.  You could hear it and you could feel it from other teams. When you talk to other teams and they say ‘Oh my God here we go again’…you could feel it. You could feel some kind of intimidation just by the way we took the field and the way we approached games every day.”

Despite the franchise not having visited the postseason in over four decades, the ’95 Tribe still had an arrogance that was unmatched in probably the biggest hot-dog era in baseball history.

“We were a rowdy bunch and it showed the way we played on the field,” starting pitcher Charles Nagy said. “We were very confident—people might have called us cocky at times. Grover (Mike Hargrove) allowed our personalities to come out. We played our music loud, but the guys all went out and played hard.”

“We stepped across those lines and said, ‘We’re gonna win. I don’t care who we’re up against,’” Kenny Lofton said.  “That was the attitude we had.”

“(Other) teams hated the way that we played,” Vizquel added with a smile.  “The way that we played—the way that we showed up the other team and the way that some of the guys hit homers and then would just throw their bat in the air; it was really hard for some of the other teams to take that. I think that’s why they wanted to beat us so bad.”

The other teams may have wanted to beat the Indians, but that was a task much easier said than done in 1995. The Indians boasted the best pitching staff in the American League, but also employed one of the best lineups of all-time. The Indians batting order was lethal from one through nine, and their opposition was always well aware.

“Most of the time when you’re facing those lineups—even in the American League—you’re looking for a couple of spots where maybe you can relax a little bit and challenge hitters with a fastball,” Royals starter Mark Gubicza said. “But when you looked at that one from one to nine there was not one guy that could not absolutely do damage to you. They could all hit for average, they could run and they could hit the ball out of the ballpark. You had to be at the very top of your game just to be able to survive whatever amount of innings you were going to pitch.”

“The Indians were just a great team,” Blue Jays catcher Lance Parrish said. “With the players that they had, it was almost an All-Star team type of a lineup. Everybody knew going in that they had their hands full when playing them.”

“It was definitely a tough team to pitch against because they had so much talent,” Tigers pitcher Willie Blair added. “I enjoyed it. I knew it was going to be a battle because there were no easy outs in that lineup.”

“It was some kind of lineup and it had some length to it,” Twins pitcher Carl Willis said.  “They had the table-setters at the top with Kenny Lofton and then Carlos Baerga, who was not only a guy who could get on base, but had power as well. Then, you got into the middle of the order with Albert Belle, Eddie Murray and Jim Thome.”

The mighty lineup fueled all of the team’s comeback wins that summer by coming through in the clutch and slugging walk-off homeruns and the Indians knew that they were never out of the ballgame.

“It was an All-Star lineup,” first baseman Paul Sorrento said. “There was no easy out. For an opposing pitcher, there would be a lot of pressure on them. If they made any mistake then they could get hurt.”

“We knew that we had a good enough team to do (anything),” catcher Sandy Alomar agreed.

“It was a special time,” Baerga said.  “Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray are already in the Hall of Fame and could be followed by Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez (certainly) has the numbers (as well).  When you talk about the greatest lineups of all time…that has to be one of them.  You can go (from) base to base…we had the best.”

The slugging Tribe’s one through nine approach was often too much for the opposition—especially the opposing pitcher—although the Indians certainly had no mercy.

“The other teams knew it,” Nagy said. “Nobody wanted to come into this ballpark and pitch against our team.”

“We’d just sit out there chuckling in the bullpen saying, ‘I’m glad it’s not me out there on the other team facing this lineup,’” reliever Paul Assenmacher added. “We had eight guys that hit over .300, so we knew as pitchers that if we could just keep the game close, they’ll probably score four or five runs in the eighth or ninth inning.”

“You don’t want to face those hitters,” reliever Julian Tavarez agreed. “If I was on the other side, that would be the last team that I would want to face because the lineup was so strong.”

The same attitude was shared in the opposing dugout, as well.

“If you were a younger pitcher coming up—especially if you weren’t real sure about your abilities on the mound—they were certainly intimidating,” Gubicza said. “I just liked competing against the very best. When I came up, I was facing teams in Oakland that had guys like Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford and all of those guys, so I was kind of used to that…even though it was still a challenge. But if you were a younger pitcher or if you didn’t feel like you had your grade A stuff that night…they were scary.”

“It was a great team that they had,” Mariners third baseman Mike Blowers added. “We knew how good the Indians were. In my mind, they were the best team that year. We knew even throughout the summer that they were going to be right there.”

“It’s one of those lineups that occasionally you see in the American League where one through nine there’s just never a break,” Willis added. “That’s not to say in the big leagues there is ever a break, but that was as formidable of a lineup as we ever faced in my playing career.”

While some of the youngsters in the American League may have been intimidated by the mighty Tribe, some of the veterans took exception to the Indians self-assuredness.

“We were a confident bunch,” Alomar said. “I think we rubbed other teams the wrong way.”

A specific example came in the form of the Rangers 10-year veteran pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who took the Indians swagger as a lack of professionalism.

“You look at them during batting practice, and one guy’s on the field with a blue top, the next guy’s got a red top,” Tewksbury said in July of 1995. “One guy’s taking infield with his hat on, the next guy has hat off.”

In addition, the pitcher also griped specifically about Albert Belle who Tewksbury claimed “walks to left field.” In true ’95 Tribe-style, the Indians did not let Tewksbury off the hook easily.

“Tewskbury said to the media that we were too cocky—too overconfident,” Alomar said. “So, we had our team picture and we sent him a picture without tops on, without socks and our hats backwards. We were a very confident team, but when we took the field we meant business and we were pretty good.”

A vocal minority aside, the majority of the baseball world knew just how special the Indians were and respected them whether they liked them or not.

“Everybody had a tremendous amount of respect for the Indians,” Parrish said.

“They had a great team and a great bunch of guys too. They were very competitive,” Gubicza added. “They didn’t chase a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, so they would work counts before it became the trend around baseball to work counts. They always seemed to work themselves into great fastball counts. They had a bunch of great athletes who really just enjoyed playing the game.”

“At the time the other teams were like, ‘Man, you guys are incredible,’” Lofton said.  “Once you sit back and try to compare it to other teams…there was no comparison.”

“Cleveland was the better team overall,” Blowers added referencing the ’95 ALCS victory over the M’s. “They were deeper in many areas than we were, so it’s funny how those things tend to work out that way in baseball.”

After the Tribe waltzed through the regular season to their first Central Division crown, they swept the Red Sox in the Division Series before defeating the Mariners to win the pennant.

“We knew it was going to be difficult. We knew that from the start of it,” Blowers said. “But any time that you play nine innings you have to go play them and see what happens. I liked our club a lot, but the Indians played better than we did and they were certainly worthy of moving on.”

Even though the World Series against Atlanta didn’t end the way that Cleveland wanted it to, nothing is taken away from just how special the Indians and their incredible lineup was.

“It was a special thing and we knew we were kind of in the middle of something neat and fun, but as you look back on it 20 years later, it was unbelievable the numbers that these guys put up,” Assenmacher said. “I just feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to play on that team. It was once in a lifetime…that’s for sure.”

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