April 6th, 1987 the cover of sports illustrated reads “Indian Uprising: Believe it! Cleveland is the best team in the American League” as sluggers Cory Snyder and Joe Carter smile back at you in their batting stances. Dick Jacobs had just bought the team, though obviously nobody knew at the time what that would go on to mean for the team. For now, all that was known was that we had a new owner willing to invest some money in the team, a young core that was just coming off a season as the league’s best offense. Sure the rotation was bad, but Tom Candiotti had emerged as a solid front end starter! Plus Phil Niekro was proving age is just a number and we had the wunderkind Greg Swindell who settled in nicely down the stretch and turned in a few dominant performances to end the ‘86 season. Not only that, but two days before the S.I. article the news broke: “Indians sign veteran left hander Steve Carlton.”
World Series, here we come!
Had I told you on opening day “we won’t have another .500 season til 1994, and we’ll lose 100 games twice between now and then,” you would’ve probably said “I can believe it” but that’s only because you’re a Cleveland fan who knows better by now. Everyone else would’ve been shocked!
The 1987 Indians finished 61-101, their second 100 loss season in 3 years.
Predicted to win the World Series? How bout a 1-10 start to whet your appetite.
The offense was still solid. Brook Jacoby had a monster year putting up a .300/.387/.541 line with 32 home runs and a 75:72 BB:K ratio. Brett Butler put up a .400 OBP out of the leadoff spot. Julio Franco hit .319, Joe Carter hit .265 with a 30/30 season, and Cory Snyder followed up a solid rookie campaign with a disappointing .236/.273/.456 slash but still led the team with 33 home runs.
The pitching was the problem in every sense of the word. They gave up a franchise record 957 runs. For comparison’s sake, we all remember the absolute dominance of the Cleveland offenses in the 1990’s, only the ‘98 team scored more than 957 runs (1009), ‘96 and ‘00 scored 952 and 950 a piece, none of the others scored more than 900.
So if you want to get a sense for how bad we were at pitching, just imagine having an average pitching staff and facing the 1996 Indians with Belle, Thome, Manny, Lofton, etc. every single game. If you were close to a stat based contract incentive you licked your chops when you saw Cleveland on the schedule.
The 1987 season marked the beginning of a transitional phase in Cleveland baseball. Immediately following the season, general manager Joseph Klein was fired and Hank Peters, the true architect of the 90’s dynasty, was brought in. Though it would still take 7 years before anything tangible would come out of it, this was the beginning of the transition from ineptitude to dominance in Cleveland.
Though the 1988 season wouldn’t be much better, the moves that would build the contenders of the 90’s began.
More on that tomorrow.