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. Throughout this anniversary year we'll be celebrating them, as the current version of the Tribe hopefully makes its own run to the American League pennant. 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
Kirby was drafted by the Dodgers in 1983, but never made it past Triple-A in their system, and was let go following the 1990 season. He signed with the Indians that offseason, and made his MLB debut with the Tribe the following September. In 1993 he got his first opportunity for regular playing time, and finished 4th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting at the not-so-tender age of 29.
By the time the 1995 season rolled around, Kirby was firmly behind three other outfielders, fellas named Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Manny Ramirez. All three of them would be named to the American League All-Star Game that season, which meant Kirby was the fourth wheel to one of the best outfields ever assembled. Lofton missed some time that year, and so Kirby started 36 games, but his primary role was as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner.
Kirby played good defense when given the chance, spending 236 innings in center, 141.2 innings in right, and 2 innings in left on June 13, after Albert Belle had doubled, homered, and been given a front-row seat for the end of an 11-0 laugher. Kirby also stole 10 bases in 13 attempts, enough to rank him fourth on the team. Despite his limited toll, Kirby appeared in 101 of the 144 regular season games that year. (You may recall that the '95 season started late due to the end of the labor stoppage that had wiped away the end of 1994.)
Kirby numbers as a hitter that year were meager, as he batted just .207/.260/.298 in 205 plate appearances. (That gave him a wRC+ of just 43 in those high-scoring days.) He had his moments though, homering in the 7th inning of a close game on June 30, tying the game in in the 9th inning on May 10th with a pinch-hit single off Royals closer Jeff Montgomery, driving in the go-ahead run on August 20th with an 8th-inning single off Rob Dibble, and with a total of 6 multi-hit games in his 36 starts.
Kirby collected another couple of hits in the postseason, and also stole another base, appearing in 11 of the team's games that October.
Kirby was not a star, or much of a hitter, but his main job was to play good defense and provide some speed on the base paths late in games. He did both of those things well.