When the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, 109 years of pain and hopelessness were erased. But Chicago’s win overshadowed the pain and suffering of another fanbase that would continue for another year – that of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, and their 2016 pennant was the club’s first since their aborted dynasty of the mid to late 1990s. That’s what this edition of MLB Network Presents focuses on – the 1990s Cleveland Indians, and how they had all the pieces in place to become a dynasty.
On Wednesday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET, The Dynasty That Almost Was tells the story of the 1990’s Cleveland Indians teams that electrified baseball and their hometown. After years of sports disappointments in Cleveland, the film highlights how the team came alive in the 1990’s and turned around the perception of the city. With the opening of Jacobs Field in 1994 and a star-studded lineup featuring the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, the Indians were one of the most explosive offensive ball clubs ever assembled. They won six of seven division titles, sold out a then-Major League record 455 straight home games and went to the World Series twice. They were confident, they didn’t care what other teams thought of them, and the city of Cleveland loved them.
Narrated by “Major League” star Corbin Bernsen, The Dynasty That Almost Was includes new interviews with former members of both the 1995 and 1997 teams, including Baerga, Lofton, Thome, Vizquel, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jose Mesa, Jaret Wright, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy, Chad Ogea and Brian Anderson. Featured throughout the show are interviews offering a behind-the-scenes perspective on the Indians’ run from former front office executives John Hart, Dan O’Dowd and Mark Shapiro, former manager Mike Hargrove, longtime Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton, and hitting coach Charlie Manuel.
The documentary follows a very clear pattern, beginning with the purchase of the Indians by Dick Jacobs, the hirings of John Hart and Dan O’Dowd, and their acquisitions of players that would become the core of the team (Sandy Alomar Jr, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez, among others).
There are some great stories in this doc. I think my favorite one was told by former pitcher Chad Ogea, who was in LA for a rehab assignment during the OJ Simpson Bronco chase. Ogea claims that Ramirez thought *he* was the one in the Bronco, and not OJ Simpson.
I appreciate how this film didn’t just focus on the 1995 and 1997 AL champion teams. There was also plenty of time spent on the 1994 team that saw their season end thanks to the strike, and the 1996 team that fell to the Orioles in the ALDS amidst plenty of behind the scenes chaos.
It also didn’t shy away from that behind the scenes chaos – Albert Belle’s endless antics are a point of focus, as is Eddie Murray’s fallout with the team (and eventual trade to the Orioles) in 1996 and Kenny Lofton’s controversial trade to the Braves before the 1997 season. Belle and Murray were not interviewed for the film, though Belle did participant through a voicemail left criticizing Hart for tearing apart the 1995 team.
There were a pair of notable segments in the post-1997 part of the film. Hart admitted he could have traded for Pedro Martinez before the 1998 season (for the price of Bartolo Colon and Jaret Wright), but turned down the trade from the Montreal Expos. Martinez came out of the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the 1998 ALDS to shut down the Indians and end their season. There’s also a funny segment involving Vizquel and former closer Jose Mesa, who was criticized for his performance in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series in a book by Vizquel. There’s then a brief compilation of Mesa plunking Vizquel every time the two faced off in the majors after the release of the book.
As expected, there’s plenty of archival footage from the 1990s featured. Watching that footage made me realize what a bounty of broadcasting riches we had as viewers in those days – just some of the voices I heard were Chris Berman, Joe Buck, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Keith Olbermann. And remember, this is 20+ years ago with these guys, when they all still had their fastballs.
If you’re an Indians fan, watching this film might bring back some bad memories of teams that fell short of winning the ultimate prize. If you’re a baseball fan that was too young to remember the 1990 Indians teams, this doc gives you a nice primer of those teams without going too in-depth and blowing your mind with names and numbers. And if you remember watching those Indians clubs, The Dynasty That Almost Was is worth a watch, if only to bring back memories of one of the best, most entertaining teams to not win a World Series.
The Dynasty That Almost Was airs at 7:30 PM EST on July 12th on MLB Network.