1997: Eighteen Crazy Nights
Tony Fernandez, whose 17-year big league career included an infamous postseason of highs and lows with Cleveland in 1997, died on Saturday at the age of 57 after complications from a stroke and kidney disease, according to multiple reports.
Fernandez had been in the news in recent weeks as his long battle with polycystic kidney disease, dating back to 2017, intensified and brought him back to the hospital. He was in critical condition earlier in the month due to his battle with kidney disease and Imrad Hallim, the director and co-founder of the Tony Fernandez Foundation, said Fernandez had also developed pneumonia. Fernandez later suffered a stroke and was placed in an induced coma two weeks ago.
A violent home plate collision between Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse and Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose becomes the story of the day as Rose’s run in the 12th inning sends the National League All-Star team home victorious with a 5-4 walk-off win over the American League at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
It’s entirely possible that every January for the next decade or so, we get reminded just how good those Indians teams of the 1990s really were.
As my friend and colleague Craig Gifford pointed out earlier this week, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel will be among those on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the first time in the next election. Both have legitimate if not strong cases for induction.
Thome, inducted into the team’s hall of fame last year, hit 612 home runs and is the team leader for home runs in a season and a career. Vizquel’s strength was his defense, winning a total of 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop. Nine of those came in a row – including eight with the Indians.
I felt the ghosts of 1997 come out Wednesday.
The Indians now have the dubious distinction of playing in the two most recent World Series Game 7s to go into extra innings – and losing them both. The Indians succumbed last week in the 10th, giving the Cubs their first World Series win since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. In 1997, they lost in the 11th to the Marlins, who were all of four years old – and the first wild card team to win a World Series.
The 1997 World Series remains a blur to me. It was a weird time in my life (which has always been fairly weird, so that should tell you something). I actually had a date the night of the first game. Such scheduling might seem like apostasy now, but it had only been two years since the Indians previously appeared in the World Series. My dating dry spell had been a little longer – and a little more fruitless.
He was the scion of a baseball family. But being stuck behind another Rookie of the Year made him expendable.
So Sandy Alomar Jr. left San Diego for Cleveland. The trade jump-started the Indians’ dynasty of the 1990s, and Alomar bore early fruit, becoming the Indians’ first Rookie of the Year since Joe Charboneau a decade earlier. But unlike Super Joe, who flamed out quickly after his rookie of the year season, Alomar was a productive member of the Tribe for a decade – and remains part of the fabric of the team, 25 years later.
He came to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade, played the bulk of his career here as part of those great teams in the 1990s, and the entirety of his coaching and managing career was here.
But as another Indians season ends, you can’t help but wonder: How long can Sandy Alomar Jr. stay with the Indians?
Almost since the time he rejoined the Indians coaching staff, he’s been good for one or two interviews each off-season – and his name has already been linked to the opening in San Diego (the Padres will not be retaining Pat Murphy, who became interim manager after Bud Black – another former Indian – was fired in June).
During the month of October DTTWLN will take a look back at the 1997 Cleveland Indians season—specifically the 18 thrilling games of the postseason as the Indians made an improbable run to game seven of the World Series.
PART TWENTY-TWO: WORLD SERIES GAME 7—THE BITTER END
Cleveland had certainly been down a long and winding path that took them to baseball’s biggest stage.
The Indians had extremely lowered expectations heading into Spring Training, they traded their best and most popular player before camp broke and they underwhelmed all season with a pitching staff that looked more unwatchable than some Triple-A staffs.
They were huge underdogs when they faced the Yankees and Orioles on their unimaginable trip through the playoffs, yet they sent both foes packing. They had battled through sloppy play and historically-cold weather in Cleveland to take the Marlins to the brink of elimination in a winner-take-all showdown in Miami.
For Marlins fans, the feeling was optimistic and fun-loving. Their team was only in its fifth season of existence, and they were just waiting for good things to happen. For Cleveland fans, things could not have been tenser. For years, Cleveland had suffered through unbelievable and unbearable heartbreak.