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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | October 21, 2020

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Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 9

Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 9

| On 15, Jul 2020

Baseball is less than a week and a half from its return, barring something horrific derailing Summer Camp 2020. Did The Tribe Win Last Night is here with you as we count down the days until the Indians kick off play to start the pandemic-shortened schedule on July 24. – BT

Countdown to Opening Day – 9 days

The number nine went unused by Indians players in 2019, the first time that had happened since 2010. That was the final year of a five-year drought of the digit being absent from use in Cleveland.

Erik Gonzalez spent three years in the number for the Indians from 2016 to 2018, but an encouraging minor league career spent with the road blocks of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor in front of him left him limited to utility work during his time with the Tribe. He was dealt last offseason to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the trade that brought outfielder Jordan Luplow over to Cleveland. Thought to have a chance to work regularly for the Pirates, Gonzalez played just 53 games, hitting .254 with four doubles, one triple, one homer, and six RBI in 156 plate appearances while playing third base, shortstop, left field, and right field.

Nine has not been a number known for consistency on the field for the Indians franchise. Some of the best veteran players to don the digit did so in single seasons with the club, like Ralph Kiner, Pete O’Brien, Matt Williams, or Brady Anderson. Those who put in multiple seasons, like Jack Hannahan and Ryan Raburn, had some memorable moments but otherwise were primarily utility in nature.

One of the best to own the nine, however, was Carlos Baerga, who went from beloved budding star to nearly out of the game in the blink of an eye.

Baerga was originally a member of the San Diego Padres, signing on his 17th birthday with the team. He spent four years in their farm system, including his first two in the South Atlantic League. A year in Double-A and a year at Triple-A put Baerga on the doorstep of the Majors.

The Indians, after shopping around the various offers for Joe Carter, saw some potential in the prospect package on the table from the Padres for the services of their star outfielder. Cleveland acquired Baerga, along with young catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and veteran utility man Chris James for Carter, who was knocking on the door of a free agent pay day. The move helped to bring the Indians from their darkest depths as a franchise to one of the most feared lineups in the history of the game.

Baerga – Steven Dunn/Allsport

Baerga, who had shown some ability to hit for a decent average at the minor league level, quickly got a look as an option in manager John McNamara’s lineup in 1990. He made the club out of spring training and debuted in the third game of the season, entering the game as a defensive replacement at third base and recording his first big league hit, a single, in his first career trip to the plate against the Chicago White Sox’s Wayne Edwards. He worked at three different spots around the infield, logging innings at third, second, and short. His average struggled to consistently stay above the Mendoza line in the first month of the year, but he picked things up at the plate in May and pushed the average up to .265 in the third week of the month. Starting opportunities became more and more limited as the year progressed and by the final week of July, he was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs hitting just .208.

The time spent in the Rockies did Baerga some good. After logging a dozen games with the Sky Sox, he returned to Cleveland on August 11 and went on a hitting tear. Making 34 starts and seven substitutions over the course of the final two months of the schedule, Baerga hit .319 with a .353 on-base percentage and .486 slugging mark with ten doubles, a triple, four homers, and 28 runs batted in.

That strong finish did Baerga wonders and he was consistently penciled in on both McNamara’s and Mike Hargrove’s lineup cards in 1991 (Mac was fired just before the All-Star break; he was the sixth skipper fired on the year and the Indians were an MLB-worst 25-52). Baerga spent much of the first half as the team’s everyday third baseman and eventually moved over to the other side of the diamond to man second base over the final two months in a decision that Hargrove stuck with moving forward.

Baerga remained Hargrove’s starting second baseman in 1992 and the move paid off. The switch-hitter was named an All-Star and amassed career-bests in runs (92), hits (205 – the most by an Indians player since 1936), doubles (32), homers (20), RBI (105), and all three triple-stat categories (.312/.354/.455). He was even better the next year, recording an even 200 hits while increasing his career highs set the year before in runs, homers, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, sacrifice flies, and stolen bases, all while playing in seven fewer games and after signing a contract extension that could keep him in town through the 1999 season. That year, he was also named an All-Star for the second time and was recognized post-season with his first of two straight Silver Slugger Awards. He made history in April when he hit homers from both sides of the plate in the same inning against the New York Yankees.

“I didn’t believe them,” said Baerga of his achievement. “When I got to the clubhouse after the game our Bobby DiBiasio, our public relations man, told me I’d set a record. I’m excited.”

Baerga remained a consistent force for the club at second base in the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. He was named an All-Star for the third and final time in the latter season and he got to play meaningful October baseball for the first time, putting up a solid .292/.333/.385 showing in 15 games in the playoffs. It turned out to be the last truly good full season of his career, and it came at the age of 26, far earlier than most players peak.

The price of success proved costly to Baerga. He reported heavy to spring camp in ’96 and did not have the usual spring to his step as reports of excessive extracurricular habits began to circulate. A lingering wrist issue also hampered him and through his first 100 games, he was hitting just .267 with a .302 OBP and .396 slugging marks – numbers not seen from him since his rookie season of 1990. The Indians, off of a six-game loss in their fourth ever World Series appearance the year before, knew the window of contention was finally open and sought more production from the lineup. Baerga was packaged with utility man Alvaro Espinoza and cash and traded to the New York Mets for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino.

Baerga – Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images

“Leaving the Cleveland Indians is going to be like taking my heart away,” Baerga said in quotes in the Associated Press. “…I was down on myself but I want to show people I’m not done; I’ve got a lot of baseball left.”

Mets General Manager Joe McIlvaine reported that he had vetted the “slumping” Baerga over the previous few days after the Indians put his name on the trade block. “He’s not St. Carlos,” McIlvaine admitted, “but at the same time we are satisfied at what he gives you on the field.”

The trade didn’t play well on either side. Kent and Vizcaino added little more to the lineup than Baerga and Espy were already providing, and despite the handful of moves made that July and August, the Indians were unable to get back to the World Series, falling short in four games in the American League Division Series to the Baltimore Orioles.

Baerga hit .193 for the Mets in 26 games.

While Kent (who went on to become a National League Most Valuable Player) and Vizcaino were both shipped to San Francisco that December, Baerga spent each of the next two seasons at Shea, improving his average some in ’97, but his power dwindled as did his run production. He became a free agent for the first time following the 1998 season, but it led to a chaotic four-team season for him. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in January and was cut in spring training before signing with Cincinnati. After two months on the farm for the Reds, he was released and signed with the Padres (after nearly ten years away). He lasted a little over two months there before the Indians purchased him back in August for 22 more games down the stretch in another short postseason for the Tribe.

Baerga did not play professionally in 2000 or 2001 (he did go to camp with Tampa Bay and Seattle in each of those years), but he did make it back to the pro game with the Boston Red Sox in 2002. He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the 2003 season and put together an impressive slash (.343/.396/.464) over 105 games, but the overall body of work was limited (231 plate appearances). It earned him a second season with the Diamondbacks in 2004 and one final campaign with the Washington Nationals at the age of 36 in 2005.

Baerga has maintained a positive relationship with the Indians after his playing career. He is active on social media platforms and takes opportunities at baseball camps to share his love of the game. He is an ambassador of the organization, often present signing autographs and meeting fans, and was active last year during the All-Star Game festivities at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. He even threw out the first pitch ahead of Game 2 of the 2016 World Series. His several years of success in Cleveland earned him a spot in the team’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and, for that time in an Indians uniform, many fans of the Tribe’s glory days of the 1990’s still hold him as a favorite in their hearts.

Other notable 9’s in Indians history (42 players in total): Bob Feller (1936), Ken Keltner (1946), Luke Easter (1949-54), Minnie Minoso (1958-59), John Romano (1963), Duke Sims (1965-70), Buddy Bell (1972), Rico Carty (1974-77), Ron Hassey (1978-84), Jody Gerut (2003-05)

Photo: John G. Mabanglo/AFP via Getty Images

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Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below!

Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 99 (Daniel Robertson)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 90 (Adam Cimber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 88 (Phil Maton)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 77 (Jack Armstrong)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 76 (Tom Magrann)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 75 (Mike Walker)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 73 (Ricardo Rincon)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 72 (Jason Giambi)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 71 (Johnny Hodapp)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 70 (James Karinchak, George Kontos)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 69 (Luis Medina)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 68 (Jefry Rodriguez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 67 (Aaron Civale, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 66 (Yasiel Puig, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 65 (Zach Plesac, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 64 (Tom Kramer, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 63 (Josh Smith, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 62 (Nick Wittgren, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 61 (Dan Otero, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 60 (Jhonny Peralta, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 59 (Carlos Carrasco)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 58 (Neil Ramirez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 57 (Shane Bieber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 56 (Cody Anderson)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 55 (Roberto Perez)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 54 (Hunter Wood)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 53 (Logan Allen)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 52 (Mike Clevinger)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 51 (numerous)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 50 (James Hoyt, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 49 (Tyler Olson, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 48 (Emmanuel Clase, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 47 (Trevor Bauer)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 46 (Jon Edwards, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 45 (Adam Plutko)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 44 (Nick Goody, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 43 (Josh Tomlin, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 42 (Mike Jackson, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 41 (Carlos Santana, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 40 (Bobby Bradley, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 39 (Oliver Perez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 38 (Eric Haase, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 37 (Cody Allen, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 36 (Tyler Clippard, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 35 (Oscar Mercado, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 34 (A.J. Cole, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 33 (Brad Hand, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 32 (Franmil Reyes, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 31 (Danny Salazar, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 30 (Tyler Naquin, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 29 (Andre Thornton)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 28 (Corey Kluber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 27 (Kevin Plawecki, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 26 (Max Moroff, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 25 (Jim Thome)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 24 (Carlos Gonzalez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 23 (Michael Brantley, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 22 (Jason Kipnis)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 21 (Bob Lemon, Rocky Colavito, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 20 (Frank Robinson, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 19 (Bob Feller)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 18 (Mel Harder)
Indians’ 2020 Opening Day Countdown Take Two – 17 (Brad Miller, others)
Indians’ 2020 Opening Day Countdown Take Two – 16 (Mike Sarbaugh, others)
Indians’ 2020 Opening Day Countdown Take Two – 15 (Sandy Alomar, Jr.)
Indians’ 2020 Opening Day Countdown Take Two – 14 (Larry Doby)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 13 (Hanley Ramirez, Omar Vizquel)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 12 (Francisco Lindor, Roberto Alomar)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 11 (Jose Ramirez)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 10 (Jake Bauers)

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