Unfortunately this one has to start out on a tragic note. While there is so much about the 1993 season that provided hope and optimism to Cleveland fans, Spring Training gave us anything but. On March 22nd, a rare off day during the business of spring training, players gathered for a cookout at the Little Lake Nellie ranch of pitcher Tim Crews. Crews, along with closer Steve Olin and the newly signed free agent Bob Ojeda decided to go night fishing on Crews’ boat. Unfortunately, Crews had been drinking and misjudged his distance from a pier, and crashed into it at high speed. Olin was killed instantly, Crews was taken to the hospital in critical condition and died the following morning. Ojeda survived with serious, but non fatal injuries. Ojeda attributes his survival to being somewhat slouched in his seat, but as I’m sure anyone reading this can understand, he left the incident with far more than physical scars.
To the baseball world, it was the first death of an active player(s) since Thurman Munson, a tragedy in every sense of the word. But, naturally, it hit the Indians significantly harder. In no way am I suggesting that Crews’ death was any less tragic and certainly shook everyone on the team, but he was a recent acquisition and new to the team. Olin had been there since 1988, had come up through the minors with a lot of the guys in the system and was universally beloved by everyone in the organization. Again I can’t stress enough that I’m not trying to say one of their lives mattered more than the other, or that one of their deaths is any more or less tragic or that it impacted fewer people. More to say that Crews’ former Dodger teammates were the ones grieving him the same way the Indians’ grieved Olin. 2 years later, when the Indians clinched the division late in a magical 1995 season, the song Hargrove instructed the stadium p.a. operator to play was Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” which was Olin’s favorite.
“And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance”
Mike Hargrove was asked about it and said, “I thought it would mean a lot to anyone who was there. For those who weren’t there, it had no significance, but it was still a good song. It was a tribute to those guys, to their families. It was part of our promise to never forget them. We didn’t tell anyone that we were going to do it. For those who knew, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. I saw Charlie Nagy, tears were rolling down his face.’’ For anyone who knows anything about Charlie Nagy, he’s not a particularly emotional person, at least not in a way that’s visible on the surface. To me that speaks to the impact Olin and Crews had on the people around them.
But in order to get to that beautiful moment 2 years later, the Indians still had to build a team capable of winning their division, and much of the 1993 season became about watching the young core that had won them Baseball America’s “organization of the year” the year prior blossom into bona fide Major Leaguers.
Before I get into any of the major names that you’re expecting to hear. I just learned this today so I’m gonna share it. Dave Mlicki and Bob Milacky were both starting pitchers who made a handful of appearances, and both had identical 3.38 ERAs. That’s kind of a weird coincidence of two guys with real similar, uncommon, last names posting an identical stat line. I don’t know if that means anything, but it’s at least a little interesting, right?
Anyway, the real stuff.
The guys that became the core of the ‘95 world series team would really start to emerge in ‘93 and propelled the Indians to a 790 run season. Still not quite the juggernaut they’d become a few years later, but a potent offense led by young stars on the rise. Simply put, they had some guys who could just flat out hit.
Kenny Lofton had an absurd season, hitting .325/.408/.408, drawing 81 walks and stealing 70 bases while playing his customarily stellar defense in Center
Albert Belle further entrenched himself as one of the best hitters in baseball, building upon a phenomenal 1992 season with 36 doubles, 38 home runs, 129 RBI while slashing .290/.370/.552
Carlos Baerga hit .321 and had his second consecutive year with 200 hits and 20 home runs. Making his second all-star game and collecting the AL Silver Slugger award at 2nd Base.
Paul Sorrento turned in a nice year, hitting .257 with 18 home runs. Don’t forget that it was 390 feet to the power alleys in old Cleveland Stadium, not really a home run hitters park. So 18 for a lefty honestly ain’t bad.
Jim Thome opened the season at AAA Charlotte, in their first year as the Indians’ AAA affiliate. Thome would remain in AAA until early August, but put up some truly otherworldly numbers in his time there. In 115 games at AAA Thome slashed .332/.441/.585 with 25 bombs, 21 doubles and drew 76 walks to only 94 strikeouts. Good. Lord. His August call up was, um, long over due to say the least. He rewarded them by not missing a beat, homering in his first game and finishing with a solid .266/.385/.474 line with 7 home runs in 47 games. After brief cups of coffee the previous two years, the Thominator had finally arrived.
One of the last, and most exciting, pieces of the puzzle to arrive in 1993 was outfielder Manny Ramirez. Ramirez was the Indians’ first round pick in 1991 and was seen as the #13 prospect in baseball going into the ‘93 season and put up just as ridiculous a stat line as Thome did, across AA and AAA in ‘93 Manny, as a 21 year old, hit .333/.417/.614!!! with 31 homers. Ramirez struggled in his brief audition with the big club at the end of the ‘92 season, but he hit his first major league home run and got a taste of big league action.
The pieces were there. The bullpen was absolutely spectacular, led by Eric Plunk, Tom Kramer, and Jerry Dipoto sharing the closer duties in Olin’s place.
While the Indians stumbled to a mediocre 76-86, one look at their baseball reference page would tell you that this wasn’t a bad team that stumbled to a 6th place finish. It was team of young stars on the rise who were just taking their lumps as they learned how to win together. You could see the potential, they just needed a few more complimentary pieces, and some veterans who had been there before.
And that’s just what GM John Hart would do
But more on that tomorrow.