The 1954 and 1995 Cleveland Indians are largely considered the greatest ball clubs in team history. In the annals of an organization that dates back to 1901, those two groups stand as the only ones in the team’s 117-season lifespan to ever win 100 games.
Cleveland’s 1954 squad won 111 games. That is a team record for one season. It was a Major League Baseball record until the Yankees marched to 114 victories in 1998 and was again topped by the 116-win Seattle Mariners in 2001.
That 1995 team, still loved by most Clevelanders, slugged their way to 100 wins in a strike-shortened 144-game season. With 16 more contests, that group, led by the likes of Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Carlos Baerga, Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser, among so many more, may have outdone the great 1954 ball club.
One thing those two impressive teams have in common, however, is a lack of a World Series Championship. Both squads made it to the Fall Classic in their respective 100-plus-win campaigns. However, neither could finish the job. The ’54 Tribe was swept by the Giants, while the ’95 version lost in six games to the Braves. Coming up short in the World Series is why neither team gets mentioned among the game’s all-time elite ball clubs.
As Tribe fans know all too well, one must go further back than 1954 to find the last group of Cleveland Indians to win a World Series trophy. That last happened in 1948. The only other time the Tribe came up aces in the Fall Classic was 1920. Neither of those teams hit the century mark in win total, however. The 1920 group won 98 games while the ’48 club was on the right side of the scoreboard on 97 occasions.
In the long history of the Cleveland baseball franchise, the city has seen two World Series winners and two 100-game winners. Never have the two great feats happened in the same season.
That all has a chance to change this year. Thanks to the thrilling 22-game joy-ride of a winning streak the Tribe went on and a run of good play that the team is still enjoying, these Indians are now in a great position to become just the third Cleveland team in 117 years to reach the triple-digit victories mark. The Tribe entered Saturday evening’s game in Seattle at 96-58. A mere .500 record over the final eight contests is all that stands between the 2017 Cleveland Indians and a piece of immortality.
If this season’s Indians do reach 100 victories, adding a World Series title to go with one of the club’s best three regular seasons in its history, it would put the latest Cleveland team on a level all by itself. Clearly, it would have to be thought of more highly than its fellow 100-win brethren, even if they do finish 11, or so, games behind the ’54 club.
Pulling off either accomplishment in any given season is not easy. From 1892-2016 (125 seasons), 99 MLB teams won 100 games. That is less than one team per season winning at such a high level. There were no 100-win teams in recent seasons of 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014. It is not easy for a team to run roughshod over its regular season foes at such a high degree.
Harder still is enjoying such a wonderful April through September and then finishing the year off hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy. Only 35 squads in baseball’s long history have ever won 100 games and a World Series trophy in the same year. Since 1988, 28 clubs have hit the magical 100 number. Only three of those groups were celebrating with champagne on the postseason’s final day. Of course, the Cubs were one of those when the beat the Indians in an exhilarating seven-game Fall Classic last year.
Clearly, dominance in both the regular season and postseason is exceedingly hard to achieve. This year’s Indians have a good chance to go where few teams before them in the game’s history and no Cleveland team before them has ever gone.
If there is a team built to have follow a great regular season with a strong October run it is this year’s Tribe. This squad has the hitting that the ’54 team did not have an abundance of and the pitching that the ’95 group so largely craved.
The 1954 Indians had dominant pitching with 23-game winners in Early Wynn and Bob Lemon to go with 19-game winner Mike Garcia. That stacks up nicely to this year’s Tribe that has three pitchers, in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, all with 17 victories. What the ’54 club could have used was another hitter or two. Spark plugs like Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez or a masher like Edwin Encarnacion may have put that team over the top and into the discussion for greatest of all time.
Cleveland’s ’95 Indians had zero hitting woes. That everyday lineup was stacked. The rotation was not stacked. Guys like Nagy, Hershiser, and Dennis Martinez were very good starters. However, none were lights out or a good bet to win every single time they took the mound like Kluber. Even Carrasco and Bauer may be pitchers that could have nudged those 90’s Indians teams to greater heights than they achieved.
This year’s Indians have a sound offense. They can score with the best of offenses. In the postseason, when pitching gets better and runs are hard to come across, this year’s Tribe offers a rotation and bullpen that can make scoring equally difficult on the opposition.
One hundred victories are not yet guaranteed, but feels like a probability with the lackluster teams on the schedule remaining this week for the Tribe. A World Series is not a probability for any team. The American League alon, offers challengers in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros who are all quite formidable. If the Indians do get to their second straight Fall Classic, awaiting them could well be the Cubs for a rematch of last year’s great World Series. It could also be the Dodgers who, like the Indians, could be gunning to join the elite group of teams in the game’s history to have won 100 and a Series in the same year.
No Indians teams can yet be found in that group. The ’54 and ’95 clubs fell just short. This year’s Indians can reach that high pinnacle just playing the next month the way that they have flown high for this previous month.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images