(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.
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
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.