Even if these Indians win it all, they won’t be as good as juggernaut ’90s squads

The '97 Indians were absolutely loaded. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
The '97 Indians were absolutely loaded. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

(WTNH)–When the Indians take the field for Game 1 of the World Series in Cleveland on Tuesday night, I don’t know—something will just feel a little bit off.

People like me, who grew up in the ’90s, might be looking around the diamond at Fransisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, wondering, where’s Jim Thome?

It might be hard for old-school baseball fans to understand, but if you grew up in the ’90s, you remember the Indians as a juggernaut.

Nothing against these Indians, but even if they win it all, they won't be the juggernaut that those '90s teams were. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Nothing against these Indians, but even if they win it all, they won’t be the juggernaut that those ’90s teams were. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Sure, Cleveland hasn’t won a World Series title since 1948, but the mid-to-late ’90s Indians were absolutely dominant. From 1995 to 2001, the Tribe won six A.L. Central titles and two American League pennants.

In the strike-shortened and spitefully forgotten 1995 season, they went a blistering 100-44, cruising through the A.L. playoffs before falling to a ridiculous Atlanta Braves pitching staff, 4-1, in the World Series.

In 1997, an absolutely loaded Indians team came within two outs of the World Series title–only to watch beleaguered closer Jose Mesa blow the save, and then watch an equally stacked Marlins team edge them in extra innings.

It always felt like that Indians team deserved a world title. This one is a little bit more found-money.

This year’s Indians, as underrated and consistent as they’ve been, aren’t nearly as stacked as that ’97 squad was. Just compare the two rosters:

1997 Cleveland Indians

C: Sandy Alomar

1B: Jim Thome

2B: Tony Fernandez

SS: Omar Vizquel

3B: Matt Williams

LF: Brian GIles

CF: Marquis Grissom

RF: Manny Ramirez

DH: David Justice

SP: Jaret Wright

SP: Orel Hershiser

SP: Charles Nagy

SP: Chad Ogea

SP: Paul Shuey

That team also had Bartolo Colon in the bullpen. What a legend. Jose Mesa was no Andrew Miller, but he did save 46 games in ’95, and sported a 1.13 ERA.

2016 Cleveland Indians

C: Yan Gomes

1B: Mike Napoli

2B: Jason Kipnis

SS: Fransisco Lindor

3B: Jose Ramirez

LF: Coco Crisp

CF: Tyler Naquin

RF: Lonnie Chisenhall

DH: Carlos Santana

SP: Corey Kluber

SP: Danny Salazar*

SP: Carlos Carrasco*

SP: Josh Tomlin

SP: Trevor Bauer

SP: Ryan Merritt

*Did not pitch in A.L. playoffs

A young Manny Ramirez was just one of many stars on those mid-90's Indians teams. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)
A young Manny Ramirez was just one of many stars on those mid-90’s Indians teams. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

There’s no question: these Indians have a good lineup, and when they were all healthy, a better pitching staff. They also have a muchbetter bullpen, and that matters in the playoffs. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.

But for someone who watched as Cleveland took down the ’97 Yankees, fueling the fire for the greatest single-season team of our lifetime (the ’98 Yanks), seeing these Indians make the long-awaited run to a championship feels a little strange.

Sure, there’s more parity in baseball now, and it’s much harder to build the kind of super teams the Indians, Yankees, Mariners and Braves had back in the ’90s.

But this team doesn’t feel like it’s even as good as the ’07 group that, led by C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Fausto Carmona, came within a game of the World Series. That squad also boasted Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Asdrubal Cabrera.

This year’s group has reached the World Series stage thanks to a mixture of gritty veterans and ultra-talented youngsters (like Lindor). They’ve also got a Hall of Fame manager pulling the strings and making all the right moves with his bullpen.

But if they’re the ones that end up hoisting the trophy in early November, it’ll probably say more about the randomness of the postseason than it will about the respective mettle of this squad compared to teams of the past.

Fans in Cleveland may not care, but for some reason, as a kid who grew up watching Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar and David Justice, I kind of do.

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