Cleveland Sports Franchises: Cleveland Indians

CLEVELAND INDIANS

World Series Championships: 1920, 1948

Retired Numbers: #3 Earl Averill, #5 Lou Boudreau, #14 Larry Doby, #18 Mel Harder, #19 Bob Feller, #21 Bob Lemon, 42 Jackie Robinson (retired league-wide)

The Cleveland franchise originated in 1900 as the Lake Shores, when the AL was still officially a minor league. One of the AL’s charter franchises, the major league incarnation of the team was founded in Cleveland in 1901. Originally called the Cleveland Bluebirds, the team played in League Park until moving permanently to Municipal Stadium in 1946.

The team’s first World Series title came in 1920, when the Black Sox Scandal came to a boil. With just a few games left in the season, Cleveland and Chicago were neck and neck for first place. Then the Chicago ownership suspended eight players, with the White Sox losing 2 of 3 in their final series of the regular season, and Cleveland winning 4 and 2 in their final two series. The Indians finished atop the White Sox and Yankees to win the pennant, and went on to defeat the Brooklyn Robins in the World Series, winning the last 4 games of the series to clinch the title. The team would not reach the heights of 1920 again for 28 years, although they did manage two second place finishes during that time period.

In the mid 1940’s, one of the Indians’ highest accomplishments was breaking the color barrier in the AL by signing Jackie Doby, just eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers. Doby posted a .301 average in his first full season with the team, in 1948. It was also during this season that the franchise, with the help of former Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige and veterans Lou Boudreau, Ken Keltner, and Joe Gordon, won its second and most recent World Series title, ousting the Boston Braves in six games enroute to their first championship in 28 years.

The best season in franchise history came in 1954, when the Indians finished the season 111-43, and .721. This mark set an AL record for wins which stood for 44 years, until the Yankees broke it in 1998, winning 114 games. The Indians 1954 winning percentage still stands as an AL record. In this season, the franchise faced the New York Giants in the World Series, but were swept in an upset.

That success would not be replicated for a long while, as the Indians slumped majorly from 1960 to 1993, managing only one third place finish in 1968, and spending the rest of the time at or near the bottom of the standings.

Things began to turn around after this large playoff drought, when the Cleveland Indians were named “Organization of the Year” by Baseball America, due to the appearance of offensive bright spots and an improving farm system. By the end of the 1993 season, the team was in transition, leaving Cleveland Stadium and fielding a talented nucleus of young players, many of whom came from their new AAA farm team, who won the International Title that year.

Indians’ GM John Hart and team owner Richard Jacobs began to turn the team’s fortunes around, as they opened Jacobs Field in 1994 with the aim of improving on the prior season’s sixth-place finish. The Indians were only one game behind the division-leading White Sox on August 12, when a strike knocked out the rest of the season. In 1995, after having contended for the division in the aborted previous season, Cleveland sprinted to a 100-44 finish, winning its first ever divisional title. Veterans Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray, and Dennis Martinez fused together nicely with a young core of players including Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Charles Nagy to lead the team in team batting average as well as team ERA. After defeating the Red Sox in the ALDS and the Mariners in the ALCS, Cleveland clinched a World Series berth for the first 1954. However, the series ended in disappointment with the Indians falling in six games to the Braves.

The Indians repeated as AL Central champions in 1996, but lost to the Orioles in the Division Series. In 1997, the Indians became the first team to lose the World Series after carrying the lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game, as they lost 3-2 in the coldest game in World Series history.

In 1998, the team made the playoffs for the fourth straight year, before falling to the Yankees in a six game ALCS. In 1999, they made the playoffs yet again, but did not make it past the Red Sox in the first round. The franchise missed the playoffs in 2000 for the first time in five years, as they finished one game out of a wild card berth.

2001 saw a return to the playoffs, as the Indians signed former MVP Juan Gonzalez, who helped lead the team to the Central division title with a 91-71 record. However, the playoffs run ended quickly, with Cleveland falling to Seattle in five games. The inexperienced, re-tooled Indians finished far out of contention in 2002, 2003, and 2004. However, they turned things around in the next two seasons, finished just out of reach of the playoffs, with blossoming pieces in falling into place as the 2007 season approached.

In 2007, the Indians began their playoff run by defeating the Yankees in the ALDS in four games. Next on the docket was the Red Sox, the team who had finished just ahead of them for the best record in the league for the regular season. Jumping out to a 3-1 lead over Boston in the ALCS, the season ended in disappointment, as the Red Sox swept Cleveland in the final three games to advance to the 2007 World Series.

The Indians’ franchise has since entered a recently period of mediocrity and close call finished. However, with a few key pieces in line, as well as a sweltering start to the 2011 season, great things are on the horizon for the Indians. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the current state of affairs for the hot hot Cleveland Indians!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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