Indians’ Record Sellout Streak Began 24 Years Ago Wednesday

Twenty-four years ago today, the Indians played their first game home after a four-game stint in Milwaukee (then part of the American League).

The Tribe beat the Orioles 4-3 to maintain their lead in the newly-formed American League Central Division, and at 31-11, they had the best record in the majors. Despite giving up a home run to future Hall of Famer Harold Baines, Charles Nagy got the win, and Jose Mesa nailed down the save. It was the Indians’ second straight win – but it became famous as the start of a streak of a different kind.

Paid attendance for that game? 41,845. A sellout.

The year before, the Indians were in line for a wild card spot – another new facet of the major league game – in their first year at new Jacobs Field before the season abruptly ended because of a players strike. In 1993, in their last year at Cleveland Stadium, the Indians drew more than 2 million fans, and were more than on pace to do the same the following year, in a significantly smaller ballpark.

In 1995, there would be no denying the Indians’ playoff hopes – or their tremendous attendance. The Indians advanced to the postseason for the first time since 1954, going to the World Series before falling in six games to the Atlanta Braves. They also drew more than 2.8 million fans, smashing the former team record set in 1949 – the last time, to date, the Tribe was defending world champions.

But there was more to come. More than 3.3 million fans came through the turnstiles at Jacobs Field in 1996 – and more than 3.4 million in each of the next five years (thanks to the addition of some seats, particularly in the bleachers). In 1997, the Tribe broke the record set by the Colorado Rockies of 204 straight sellouts. The sellout streak continued for 455 games – since surpassed by the Red Sox and Giants, who at least had the decency to win multiple World Series during their streaks – all the way through the second game of the 2001 season, when only 32,000 fans were in attendance. For the season, attendance dipped below 3.2 million. It hasn’t been that high since – and probably won’t be ever again, for a variety of reasons.

First, the Indians have greatly reduced capacity. Second, what nobody seems to want to understand is that the 1990s were lightning in a bottle. It was the right combination of a great team in a new stadium – and for the bulk of that time, an absence of an NFL team (we’ll save the argument about the Browns being an NFL team only in the academic sense for most of the time since their return for another time).

Besides, if the Indians had good attendance again, what would sportswriters have to talk about?

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