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 influence that the Cleveland fans had on the ’95 team.
The 1995 Indians may have come up just short of their ultimate goal of winning the World Series, but you wouldn’t have known it from the outpouring of love the team received from their city.
“Everywhere you went there was Chief Wahoo in every yard,” starting pitcher Charles Nagy said. “The way the fans would come out—they would line our parking lot after the games—it was outstanding.”
“We would always feel like we had a home field advantage here with those fans that we had,” reliever Julian Tavarez added.
The Jacobs Field crowd reached new heights in October as they burst onto the national scene on baseball’s biggest stage. After starting the World Series with two games in Atlanta against the Braves, the Series shifted to Cleveland for Games Three, Four and Five. The Tribe took two of three home games, but still went back to Atlanta for Game Six trailing in the series 3-2. At least one Atlanta player took notice of the difference a raucous Jacobs Field could make and he was not hesitant to make mention of it.
“In Cleveland, they were down three runs and they’re standing,” Braves outfielder and future Indian David Justice said in 1995. “Here, you’ve got to do something spectacular to get them off the seats…If we don’t win, they’ll run us out of town. They’ll burn our houses down.”
Justice’s comment didn’t sit well with the Atlanta faithful, but Justice certainly made amends by slugging a solo homerun in the Braves’ 1-0 series-clinching win in Game Six. While the Braves fans might not have liked what he had to say, Justice was just experiencing what the entire American League already had figured out much earlier in the summer.
“It was a great atmosphere to come and play in,” Tigers pitcher Willie Blair recalled. “It was a great place to play with a packed house every night.”
“The talk of the baseball world was how many sellout streaks that they had had consecutively,” Blue Jays catcher Lance Parrish said.
The sellout streak, which is now immortalized in Progressive Field’s upper deck with ‘455 The Fans’ amongst the team’s retired numbers, began in June of 1995 and lasted through Opening Day of the 2001 season. Tribe fans had rooted for and remained faithful to a losing team for so long that once the Indians got good, there wasn’t a better ticket in town—especially with the city’s football team having moved to Baltimore.
“It wasn’t tough to realize the impact that we had on the city. The Browns had left, so we were the only ticket in town,” Nagy said.
A 180° turnaround from the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium to the sparkling new Jacobs Field didn’t hurt either.
“The only thing I didn’t like about Cleveland was the old ballpark,” White Sox announcer and former Indian Ken Harrelson said. “It was the biggest ballpark in baseball and there were rats in there that looked like Yorkshire Terriors. The clubhouses were shitty, but the people were great.”
“At one time it wasn’t very fun to go and play them,” Parrish said of the old stadium. “We played in that big, huge, cavernous stadium out on the lake. When they moved to Jacobs Field it was a huge difference from what it used to be. It was fun to go there and fun to play in that ballpark. They had a great atmosphere and it was just a complete turnaround.”
“When you get called up to the Big Leagues and you get to play, it doesn’t matter which stadium you’re in,” Indians outfielder Wayne Kirby said. “Coming to the Jake though—back in the day—it was awesome. It was a lot different than the old stadium.”
As the team moved from Cleveland Stadium to Jacobs Field in 1994, the fans couldn’t wait to feast their eyes on their up-and-coming Tribe and would pack their new house as soon as the gates opened.
“The thing that stands out to me was how our fans knew it from the start,” third baseman Jim Thome said. “They believed in it and we believed in it. I think the city believed the fact that it was the time.”
“I remember coming out here and watching the seats fill up,” Kirby said. “They knew that they were going to see a good team—a good product on the field. We had fun while we were doing it. We just had fun—joking but playing the game right. We did all the little, small things to make us win. It was all about winning.”
The joking around and fun were evident from the start and the city easily fell in love the cast of characters that General Manager John Hart and Manager Mike Hargrove had assembled. Besides being incredibly talented, the architects of the team assembled a cast that was entertaining to watch no matter what the score was. In the dugout, the ballplayers could often be seen playing jokes on one another in a lighthearted fashion that helped endear themselves to the fanbase. With Kirby and infielder Alvaro Espinoza as the main culprits, someone on the Indians bench would find themselves with a surprise on the top of their cap almost nightly.
“Alvaro Espinoza and Wayne Kirby were the two guys—the two clowns—that took it upon themselves to start putting bubblegum (bubbles) on guys hats for initiation,” catcher Sandy Alomar said. “It took over. Everybody started doing it on our team.”
“Once the fans found out about it, it took on a life of its own,” Nagy said. “I only wore my hat like 30 times that year—and those were the games I pitched.”
Not wearing headgear in the dugout was just one lesson Nagy learned from a savvy veteran teammate.
“Dennis Martinez never wore a hat when he didn’t pitch,” Alomar said.
“That was the reason,” Martinez replied. “I didn’t want anyone to put a bubble on my head.”
Bubblegum bubbles were just a very small part of what made the ’95 team so lovable, the other being the obvious talent and the promise of breaking a 41 year playoff drought.
“What we gave (the fans) in the 90’s, it was really amazing,” shortstop Omar Vizquel remembers. “The first game when we opened Jacobs Field, all those playoff games, all those come from behind wins, all the great nights that happened around here, all those things were reflective of the support that the fans gave us. The fans and the players made a connection somehow.”
The team recorded 48 come-from-behind victories in 1995 and won 27 games in their final at bat. This incredible number included nine walk-off homeruns in the regular season and one by catcher Tony Pena in the franchise’s first postseason game in over four decades. It was this never-say-die attitude and approach that kept the fans in the seats until the game was 100% over.
“If you looked in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings in the stands, no matter what inning it was and we were down, everyone was still at the ballpark,” centerfielder Kenny Lofton added. “Not many people would leave.”
“They support you day and night,” Tavarez said. “They were there for you before the game or after the game. I didn’t matter how hard it rained, or how long the game stopped, they were always there and never went home until the last out.”
The unrelenting support fueled the performance of the athletes on the field, as the crowd had a tendency to help pull a magical performance out of the Indians amazing group of athletes.
“They were hugely important,” reliever Eric Plunk said. “The fans fueled a lot of the comebacks and things that we did. They fueled the comebacks by the expectations that they had. I think they had a heck of a lot to do with a lot of the stuff that went on.”
“I think if we had not been able to come back, then after a while people would start to believe we wouldn’t come back,” Lofton said. “But, people believed in it and the whole crowd stayed in the stands. It was awesome because you never knew when something special was going to happen with that team.”
The love that the city had for the team was reciprocal, as the fans seemed to mean as much to the players as the players did to the fans.
“We cared for the city a lot,” Martinez said of his teammates and himself. “The fans were the best fans I have ever been involved with.”
“Those fans meant so much to us,” Thome remembered. “I don’t even know that they know how much they meant to us. When we got back from the ’95 World Series and we pulled up—and we obviously didn’t win, so there was a little bit of a disheartened feeling—but we saw all of the fans waiting for us. We as players knew that there was something special ahead.”
Even today, 20 years after the 1-0 loss in Atlanta in Game Six, the fans still look back with nostalgia on the 1995 team as it is unquestionably the greatest Cleveland team in decades.
“It doesn’t matter who you mention from those 90’s,” Vizquel said, “the people go crazy. They still talk about Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga and all those people that played in the 90’s…I could go on and on.”
The fans will never forget the team, but it also seems that the players will never forget the fans, either.
“The fans were so good. That’s why I still like to come to games…to see the fans,” Tavarez said. “They support the team so well. I still get recognized everywhere I go. I love it. They treat me good.”
“Those were the best years of my career because of the environment I was in,” Martinez said. “The fans were unbelievable. They were behind us 100%. I really appreciate the support—they were outstanding.”