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New documentary on ‘90s Indians brings back the joy and the heartbreak

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The Dynasty That Almost Was airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

Jim Thome...

The two days after the All-Star Game are the baseball-free breath before the plunge into the second half. If you’re a Tribe fan looking for a baseball fix, though, MLB Network has you covered with a new documentary on the great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s debuting tonight.

Only management-type guys with big salaries like me get to read and view baseball content before it’s available to the general public.

[gasps] Guys like me! I'm a guy like me!

I took advantage of my status as a media elite to watch an advanced copy of the documentary, so that I might let you know if it’s worth watching before you commit your evening to it instead of... bowling? Fixing that leaky faucet? Spending quality time with the family? I don’t know what you people normally do with your Wednesdays.

The Dynasty That Almost Was begins with footage from the parade Cleveland threw for the Indians after the 1995 World Series. You’re free to form your own opinion on whether a parade for a team that lost in the end is a sort of pathetic breach of sports protocol, or a worthwhile reminder that we should find joy where we can as we march toward oblivion, but we can all agree baseball players in the mid-90s wore some excellent clothes. Please discuss your personal favorites in the comments.

From there, The Dynasty That Almost Was goes back to 1989, when John Hart joined the team and Major League made the Indians a laughingstock — or reminded the world that the Indians were already a laughingstock — then takes us through collecting the core talent, and then it’s into the seasons that made the team one worth documenting.

For those who experienced that run in real time, the big moments you’d expect are there: Albert Belle’s corked bat game (which I was at!); the labor stoppage that ended the 1994 season early, leaving us all to wonder what if; Dennis Eckersley’s “wow” after Manny’s massive home run off him; Kenny Lofton scoring from second on a Randy Johnson wild pitch; the stupefyingly wide strike zone given to Tom Glavine in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series; Eddie Murray, Carlos Baerga, Belle, Kenny Lofton’s departures from the team, all of which were at least somewhat acrimonious; the sellout streak; the original extra-innings Game 7 tragedy; the decision not to trade for Pedro Martinez as he entered one of the absolute greatest stretches by any pitcher in history; Jose Mesa’s beanball vendetta against Omar Vizquel.

If you’re too young to remember for any of that (or hadn’t been born yet), if any of what I mentioned in that last paragraph doesn’t ring a bell, The Dynasty That Almost Was is a great opportunity to learn a lot about arguably the greatest era in franchise history. If you do remember all those things, seeing them again will likely bring you the same mixture of joy and heartbreak it brought me. The real treat for those who already know the story is footage you’ve probably never seen before, minor moments with guys like Belle, Lofton, Vizquel, Thome, and Manny at the dawn of their excellence. I think even the most devoted fans will see at least a few things they’d never seen before.

Along with the old footage both familiar and new, there are modern day clips of many of the major players discussing things. They express the same feelings about the big moments that we had as fans, and also tell some good stories. (Albert Belle declined to participate, but did leave a petulant voicemail for one of the producers.)

I found myself really enjoying coverage of the earlier years, but as it went on I felt somewhat morose, because Mike Hargrove is right, you never forget Game 7. (A senior in high school at the time, when the game ended I went climbed into the shower, turned on the water, sat down, and cried.) The Dynasty That Almost Was has a predominantly positive feel to it, and is about celebrating those seasons, but you know what kind of fan you are, and whether the pleasure in remembering the many good moments will outweigh the pain of reliving the few bad ones.

The Dynasty That Almost Was airs from 7:30 to 9:00 ET tonight on the MLB Network.