The 1995 Cleveland Indians were an incredible team. They are rightfully famed for their other-worldly offense, but their pitching was excellent as well. As we all know, they fell in the World Series that October, making them arguably the best team ever among those that didn't win the Fall Classic.
It's been 20 years since that team brought the city of Cleveland to its feet and ended decades of frustration with an AL Pennant. Throughout this anniversary year we'll be celebrating them, as the current version of the Tribe hopefully makes its own run to the postseason. Each week I'll look back at one of the key players from that season, counting down to the very best of them.
- 25. Wayne Kirby
- 24. Alan Embree
- 23. Albie Lopez
- 22. Jim Poole
- 21. Tony Pena
- 20. Herbert Perry
- 19. Mark Clark
- 18. Paul Assenmacher
- 17. Paul Sorrento
- 16. Eric Plunk
- 15. Ken Hill
- 14. Omar Vizquel
- 13. Sandy Alomar
- 12. Charles Nagy
- 11. Julian Tavarez
- 10. Chad Ogea
- 09. Carlos Baerga
- 08. Eddie Murray
- 07. Orel Hershiser
- 06. Jose Mesa
- 05. Manny Ramirez
- 04. Kenny Lofton
- 03. Dennis Martinez
- 02. Jim Thome
#1: Albert Belle
Albert Belle was the Indians' 2nd round pick in 1987 (a draft that included Ken Griffey, Craig Biggio, and Kevin Appier, among others), making him one of first players added to the organization from among those who would make up the 1995 team. He made his Tribe debut just two years later, but spent most of an injury-shortened 1990 on the farm before being called up for good in 1991. He led the AL in RBI and was named to his first All-Star team in 1993, then led the league in total bases while posting a franchise-record 1.152 OPS in 1994. For a couple other sluggers on this team, 1995 was a breakout season of sorts, but Belle had already established himself as one of the most fearsome hitters on the planet.
Belle wasted no time setting the tone for his season; he singled in his first at bat of the season, and smoke a three-run home run to deep right field in his second. He homered again the next day, and picked up multiple hits in each of the Tribe's first five games of the season. He slumped for the next four weeks though, posting a low batting average while adding only three home runs to his tally during the team's next 24 games. When the final day of May rolled around, Belle was hitting .286/.351/.513. Don't get me wrong, those are very good numbers, but offense being what it was that year, and Belle coming off the season he'd just had, an .864 OPS probably wasn't what Belle had in mind for himself.
From there though, Belle picked up 18 extra-base hits in his next 19 games, scoring 18 runs and driving in 21 of them. During a June series in Milwaukee, Belle hit a game-tying double in the 9th inning on Thursday, had 3 hits and drove in a pair of runs on Friday, homered on Saturday, and had four hits (three of them doubles) on Sunday. You'll have to forgive Brewers fans if they still can't look Belle in the eye.
In 13 games against Milwaukee that season, Albert hit .500/.561/.979. His 1.540 OPS against them was his highest against any single opponent, but you could argue he was even harder on the White Sox, whom he hit a staggering 9 home runs against in 13 games. No other player in franchise history has ever hit 9+ home runs against one team in a season with fewer than 17 games against them.
By the time the All-Star break rolled around, Belle (who was voted as a starter for the ASG) was batting .312/.384/.585, with 27 doubles and 14 home runs. He'd been one of the best hitters in the game, but Albert Belle was about to take things to another (completely ridiculous) level.
Three days after the break, Belle homered. Two nights later, he homered again, this one a walk-off grand slam way over the wall in dead-center field off Lee Smith:
He homered again three days after that, and three days after that, and five days after that. Then August began, and in the first five days of the month Belle had two home runs in each of two different games. Over the wall he went again and again, including twice in a game again against Detroit, and once in each of the team's final two games of the month. When the calendar turned, Belle had homered 14 times, setting a new franchise record for home runs in a month.
The record was not built to last though, as Belle shattered it by homering 17 times in September!
He had five more multi-HR games that month (including three in one game against Chicago), giving him a franchise record eight games like that on the year. His final home run of the regular season was #50 for him, which set a new team record and also made him the only player in MLB history to hit 50+ doubles and 50+ home runs in the same season. He'd hit 36 of those home runs after the All-Star break, tying Hank Greenberg's MLB record for second-half homers.
That last home run? A violent smash down the left-field line:
His line was a stellar .317/.401/.690, and along with all those doubles and homers, he scored 121 runs and picked up 126 RBI, all in a 144-game season. Given a full 162-game schedule, he likely would have reached at least 110 extra-base hits, a total reached by only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Belle homered four more times during the postseason, including a game-tying blast in the bottom of the 11th during the first game of the ALDS against Boston (the team's first postseason game in 41 years), and a 1st-inning shot off Greg Maddux during Game 5 of the World Series.
Using modern metrics such as WAR, an MVP case for Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, or even John Valentin can be built. Using the numbers that were used twenty years ago, no one but Belle has a plausible claim to the award. Belle hated the media though, and much of the media hated him, and in what amounted to a popularity contest, Mo Vaughn somehow won instead.
Mo Vaughn was a fine ballplayer that season, but he was no Albert Belle.