CLEVELAND — There are certainly many ways to remember the Indians era of greatness in the 1990s, but Carlos Baerga put a new spin on things this weekend.
As Baerga reminisced, the memory of pregame before the 1995 Division Series opener against Boston in Progressive Field came to mind. The Indians walked on the field, saw Boston starter Roger Clemens and let him know their feelings.
“We were so cocky. … ” Baerga said. “Before the game we started yelling at (Clemens), ‘We’re gonna kill you.’ Albert Belle was like this.”
Baerga gave the famous pose where Belle pointed to his flexed biceps, then said Belle yelled to Clemens: “‘We’re gonna kill you today. You better be ready.”
“He looked to us and said, ‘Wow,’” Baerga said. “I know that he realized, this team, they don’t mess around. They’re young but they’re crazy.”
Keep in mind that was the Indians first playoff game in 41 years and Clemens was one of the AL’s best pitchers.
That was the Indians of the ‘90s. Young but crazy. Good and they knew it. Never out of a game, and ready to prove it. Those Indians won 100 games in a 144-game strike-shortened season. They sold out 455 games in a row at then-named Jacobs Field. It was the team that believes to this day it was World Series bound in 1994, lost in the World Series in 1995 and — after Baerga was traded — lost in the most heartbreaking of ways in the World Series in 1997.
“Our confidence,” Baerga said, “was so unbelievable.”
Saturday, Baerga became the 39th player inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame, as he and former GM John Hart were welcomed on the same day with five Indians Hall of Famers sitting nearby — including Baerga’s manager Mike Hargrove and teammates Kenny Lofton and Sandy Alomar Jr.
That Hart traded Baerga in 1996 was not lost on either inductee. Hart called it the most painful deal he ever had to make, and Baerga admitted he was angry.
“I was happy here,” he said. “I was the captain of the team. It took me a couple years to forget about it.”
Hart and Baerga now are close friends, and Baerga talks to young players about the importance of not letting happen to them what happened to him.
“I lost my concentration for the game, the preparation for the game,” Baerga said. “I had to take care of myself first before I’d take care of other things outside of baseball. You have to be responsible for everything you do.”
But he also was a major part of the Indians revival.
From 1995-2001, Hart’s Indians averaged 93 wins — with one short, 144-game season included. The 1993 team was so good that Alomar cried in a live TV interview when the MLB commissioner announced there would be no World Series due to labor issues. The Indians made the playoffs six of the seven seasons.
The foundation was built in 1992, when Hart broke the mold by signing several of the Indians better young players to long-term contracts. The move came after a 105-loss season, but came because Hart believed these players had the chance.
“Why not us?” Hart said.
That decision kept the core together for what turned out to be the best of recent times.
“I was OK with it,” Baerga said. “My agent was not OK. My agent was Scott Boras. You don’t know the fight that we had. I can remember that today.”
Baerga had his first 200-hit season in the last one at old Municipal Stadium. When the Indians moved into their new stadium in 1994, Baerga was entrenched as the second baseman. In four seasons before he was traded, he hit .315, with 75 home runs and 389 RBI — the best by any second baseman in that time. Baerga was part of the party, hitting a home run from each side of the plate in a single inning and becoming the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby with 200 hits, a .300 average, 20 home runs and 100 RBI in consecutive seasons.
On a team with Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Alomar, Baerga more than held his own.
But during his induction speech, Baerga looked at Hargrove and asked: “Mike, why did you hit me third in that lineup? Were you crazy?”
No crazier than a GM signing a bunch of young guys before they had proven themselves. Hart and Baerga called themselves fortunate and honored to be part of an era in Indians baseball when things definitely worked.
“We were the team of that time,” Baerga said. “Everybody followed that team like it was the Yankees.”