He wasn’t the biggest star or flashiest performer on those great Indians teams of the 1990s. But Charles Nagy had no problem being unheralded.
Nagy, who turns 49 on Thursday, also had no problem taking the ball every five days and eating innings as a stalwart but unheralded starter for the Indians. And he didn’t mind the lack of attention.
Nagy started 297 games in his career – all for the Indians, although he made five appearances for the Padres at the tail end of his career – but he’s best known for a game he didn’t start. Game 7 of the 1997 World Series would have been a scheduled start for him. Nagy had left Game 3 with the lead, but ended up with a no decision. It was just his luck. He’d gone toe to toe with Mike Mussina in what turned out to be the deciding game of the American League Championship Series, but had gotten a no-decision there, too.
Manager Mike Hargrove opted to start Jaret Wright, who’d started Game 4. Wright did what he could to ensure Hargrove didn’t regret the decision, giving up one run on two hits in 6 1/3 innings pitched. After Jose Mesa gave up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, Nagy came on with one out in the tenth and the winning run at second base. He got pinch-hitter John Cangelosi to strike out looking, and Moises Alou lifted a fly ball to shallow right.
The Indians had gotten out of that jam, but couldn’t push a run across in the top of the 11th. And it was Nagy – all 6 feet, 3 inches of him – leaping and just barely getting leather on what turned out to be the game-winning hit by Edgar Renteria. The loss was – and for many Indians fans, still is – crushing.
“I wish I could have caught it,” he said in an interview many years later. It was the most famous moment in a career that didn’t deserve to be defined by that.
Nagy, a Connecticut native who played baseball at UConn, was one of three first-round picks by the Indians in the 1988 amateur draft. It was the first draft of Hank Peters’ reign as team president, and although he oversaw the personnel moves that led to the Indians’ resurgence, Nagy was the only pick in that year’s first round by the Indians to really amount to anything (the other two were Mark Lewis, taken second overall, and Jeff Mutis).
Nagy was part of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Seoul, and made his major league debut in 1990 for an Indians team that was hapless, but was starting to stockpile the talent that would make it a juggernaut five years later.
In 1994, the Indians left Municipal Stadium for new Jacobs Field – and started to contend, leading for the new wild card spot when the season ended because of a strike. The following year, Nagy and Orel Hershiser posted identical 16-6 records as the Indians won 100 games in a strike-shortened season and advanced to the first World Series in Cleveland in 41 years.
It was the first of five straight seasons where Nagy won at least 15 games. Not coincidentally, it was the first of five straight seasons where the Indians won the American League Central Division.
Nagy also ran up a streak of 192 straight starts before going on the disabled list in May 2000 for bone chips in his elbow, undergoing surgery. He was able to stay on a major league roster through 2003, but his career was largely over.
Today, Nagy’s the pitching coach for the Angels, but he’s never entirely left the Indians, previously serving as pitching coach for the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Columbus and as a special instructor in 2015.