The Cleveland Indians have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years. Although they have managed to win the World Series on two occasions, they also suffered a devastating three decades in the wilderness when success refused to come their way. However, after a recent change of ownership and a return to the playoffs, things are finally beginning to look up again.
Baseball has a long and illustrious history in Cleveland, with the first team, Forest City, emerging in 1865. For 35 years, a number of other teams came and went, including the Cleveland Blues and the Spiders, but none of them could continue for any great period of time, with the Spiders coming to an end in 1899.
In 1900 The Grand Rapids from the Western League (now the American League) were moved to Cleveland. The following year, the AL declared itself a major league, and the Cleveland franchise was announced as one of the eight charter members.
Owned by Charles Somers and Jack Kilfoy, the team hovered around the middle of the table for most of their early years, and picked up the nickname the ‘Naps’ because of their star player, Napoleon ‘Nap’ Lajoie.
The trouble with having a team named after its star player is that the player will one day have to leave. And so, following the loss of Lajoie to the Philadelphia Athletics, the Naps became the Cleveland Indians in 1915.
Rumours abound as to the origins of the nickname. Some claim that it was in honour of Louis Sockalexis, a fantastic Native American player who had played for Cleveland between 1897 and 1899. However, the more likely story is that it was created by local newspapers at the behest of Somers, who was looking for an original and interesting name.
World Series victory
In 1920 The Indians won their first pennant, after finishing two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox. This was largely due to the Black Sox Scandal, where eight Chicago players were banned from the game for match-fixing allegations.
The Indians found themselves up against the Brooklyn Robins in their first World Series, and things did not get off to a great start when they went 2-1 down. However, they managed to fight back with style to take the next four games, resulting in a 5-2 victory for their first ever World Series title.
Their success in the World Series did not lead the team on to further glory, and the following few decades were relatively quiet. The team languished in the middle of the table for most of the 1930s, only coming close in 1940 when they fought for the pennant title against the Detroit Tigers, who finally beat them by a single game.
Everything changed in 1946, when an investment group led by Bill Veeck bought the Indians.
After moving all of their games to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to provide greater consistency, he then proved that he was not afraid to take risks by signing the black player Larry Doby. At the time, it was seen as a significant move in breaking down the race barriers.
Second World Series
By 1948, he had inspired the team to some great performances, which saw them through a tough pennant race to end up joint winners with the Boston Red Sox.
The players had excelled themselves throughout the season, making a percentage of .626 along the way, and they were not in the mood to throw away all of their hard work when they took on the Red Sox in the first ever one-game playoff. As a result, they prevailed 8-3 against their rivals, and the Indians were through to the World Series for the second time in their history.
During the World Series against the Boston Braves, two record attendances were set when 81,897 and then 86,288 fans attended two games on separate days.
Despite their enthusiasm, they lost the first game, striking a blow to their chances of adding to their trophy cabinet. However, the winning mentality that had taken them through the entire season helped them come back to win 4-2 against the Braves, and they managed to secure their second championship.
In 1949 Veeck sold the club to William Daley and his syndicate, and an unspectacular few years followed.
However, in 1954 hope blossomed once again when the Indians managed to find their winning form to storm the pennant with 111 games, setting a new AL record at the time. This was coupled with a percentage of .721 to make for a memorable year.
Their success saw them in contention for another World Series title, this time against the New York Giants. However, thanks in part to Willie Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch in the first game, they went out in a disappointing four-game sweep.
The 30-Year Slump
This near-victory was to be the last time the Indians would contend any major prize for many years, and the period from the 1960s to the early 1990s is now known as the 30-Year Slump.
The main reasons for such a long run of bad form can be put down to the numerous changes of ownership that took place, and to a series of disastrous trades.
These trades began in 1960 with the switch of Indians’ hero, Rocky Colavito, for Harvey Kuenn from the Detroit Tigers. Whereas Colavito went on to far greater things in his career, Kuenn would only play one season for the Indians, achieving nothing of note in that time.
The bad trades continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as the club continued to send away all of their bright and upcoming stars, most of whom would go on to prove their skills elsewhere.
Slow turn around
In 1986, the Indians managed to post a winning season for the first time in five years with a record of 84-78. As a result, hopes were high the following year as they looked to capitalise on their new-found form. However, it was not to be, and the next season saw the team lose 101 games to finish last in the AL East.
It wasn’t until 1989 that things really began to turn around for the club. Some astute trades were finally made, which brought in such talent as Sandy Alomar Jr., who got the Rookie of the Year and the Gold Glove awards that year.
Back on form
In May 1990 a new stadium plan was announced, and the club relocated to Jacobs Field in 1994. The new home seemed to give the team a boost, and a year later they finally managed to find their form, winning the divisional title by 30 games with a 100-44 record.
It had been a long time since they had managed to get this far, but they showed no fear as they managed to beat the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS (American League Division Series), followed by the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS (American League Championship Series).
Finally, they had made it back to the World Series for the first time in 41 years. However, their hopes were crushed when the Atlanta Braves spoiled the party by taking the Series in six games.
New lease of life
Their appearance in the World Series gave the Indians a new lease of life, and the very next year they stormed the AL Central Division to go through to the postseason once again. However, this time the Baltimore Orioles saw them off in the ALDS.
In 1997, they continued their run of form by winning the AL Central Division once again with a record of 86-75. The New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles both failed to prevent them getting through to their fifth World Series, this time up against the Florida Marlins.
It proved to be incredibly tight, and after six games the teams were tied. Things were looking positive for the Indians when they went 2-1 up in the last game, but somehow they managed to throw away their advantage to miss out on the chance of getting their hands on their third World Series title.
In 1998 and 1999, they again managed to win the division on both occasions, but their success did not lead them on to any greater things in the postseason.
Change of ownership
In 2000, Larry Dolan bought the club from Jacobs for $323 million, after Jacobs and his brother had bought it for $35 million. He brought in Mark Shapiro as general manager, who began to trade the older veterans for younger players.
The tactic did not pay off until 2007, when the Indians finally managed to post a 96-66 record to win the AL Central Division for the seventh time in 13 years, taking them back to the postseason.
Hopes were high when they beat the New York Yankees 3-1 in the ALDS. They then went 3-1 up in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, and it looked like they were heading back to the World Series for another shot. However, in a disastrous twist of fate, they lost the following three games to slump to a 4-3 loss, ending their hopes for another year.
However, despite the heartbreak of the previous season, it finally looks like the Indians have put their three decades of misery behind them, allowing them once again to look forward to greater things.
World Series Titles
- 1920, 1948
American League Pennants
- 1920, 1948, 1954, 1995, 1997
Central Division Titles
- 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007
- Earl Averill: 3
- Lou Boudreau: 5
- Larry Doby: 14
- Mel Harder: 18
- Bob Feller: 19
- Bob Lemon: 21
- Jackie Robinson: 42
Projected Lineup for 2008
- Grady Sizemore: CF
- Asdrubal Cabrera: 2B
- Travis Hafner: DH
- Victor Martinez: C
- Ryan Garko: 1B
- Johnny Peralta: SS
- Casey Blake: 3B
- Dave Dellucci: LF
- Franklin Gutierrez: RF