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75 Years and Counting: The Story of the 1989 Cleveland Indians

Holy crap we’ve done 40 of these

Cleveland Indians Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Oh my lord we’ve done 40 entries in this series, we must be nearing the end. What’s that? We’re just barely past the halfway point? Hang on while I go scream into the void for something unrelated.

Well, onwards and upwards I suppose.

There were only two offseason transactions that really stuck out to me in any way. First was the trade that sent Denny Gonzalez and Jay Bell to the Pirates for Felix Fermin. Bell was a former top 10 draft pick and perennial top prospect that never really caught on in his two partial seasons in Cleveland. Now it is worth mentioning that Bell was only 20 when he got called up and 22 when he was traded. So there’s something to be said for the idea that just because a guy is too good to play in the minors doesn’t mean he necessarily is done developing. Bell would go on to have a solid rest of his career, primarily with Pittsburgh and Arizona, including a 38 home run season in 1999 despite never hitting more than 22 in any other year in his 18 year career. Cue that gif of Stephen Colbert with the needles!

The real reason the trade was notable to me wasn’t Bell, instead that trade sticks out because of Felix Fermin, and Fermin only sticks out because he was traded a couple years later to land Omar Vizquel who would anchor the shortstop position in Cleveland for 10 years becoming a fan favorite. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that Omar’s reputation has been tarnished by some incredibly troubling reports about his behavior towards an underage bat boy, but it would be dishonest to suggest that he was anything less than a universally beloved figure in Cleveland while he played here.

The other trade that stuck out was Julio Franco for a package that included Jerry Browne and Oddibe McDowell. McDowell only sticking out to me because of an article I read a few years ago on the Athletic called “That F***ing guy for every team” that took a look at guys who, for whatever reason, just absolutely torched one team. Apparently that was McDowell, so hey if you can’t beat him, acquire him!

In a total reversal of the previous few years the pitching staff was actually quite good, whereas the offense was utterly pedestrian. 4 starters, Bud Black, John Farrell, Tom Candiotti, and Greg Swindell had an ERA+ above 100 and closer Doug Jones posted a 2.34 ERA with 32 Saves. Had they been able to hit like they could in ‘86 perhaps they could’ve been a playoff team.

But the real story of the ‘89 season was the prospects. Albert Belle made his debut, and who really cares that he underperformed to start his career, we all know now what he’d go on to be. That year also saw them draft franchise cornerstone Jim Thome and perennial All-Star/trade bait for a mediocre left handed reliever Brian Giles (still not over that one).

Progress was being made, albeit incrementally, but it was being made.

There’s still a handful of seasons to get through before we see real payoff, but take heart! We’re nearly there.

While the 73-89 record to end the season didn’t leave Cleveland fans with much to cheer for, they still got to experience the feeling of winning something as 1989 was the year Major League hit theaters and Cleveland fans everywhere got to experience what it would like to be winners again as Jake Taylor bunted Willie Mays Hayes home from second base to beat the Yankees (I too like batting my slow light hitting catcher immediately behind my star leadoff hitter, perhaps there was a reason Lou Brown was selling white walls at the beginning of the movie). Oh yeah, spoilers.

Of note, there was a line in that movie “Be sure to come by for die-hard night, free admission to anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won the pennant.” Anyway, that was 35 years ago, and we still haven’t won a World Series (although 3 pennants since then). Also, they’d last won the pennant in 1954, “Free admission to anyone over 35” doesn’t really sound that crazy when you think about it. Anyway, I digress.

Join us tomorrow as we break down 1990, which was certainly one of the seasons in Cleveland Baseball history.