20 years later, Indians 1995 team still holds a cherished place in fans’ memories

Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Dennis Martinez throws out a first pitch with former teammates behind him during a pre-game celebration for the 1995 Indians team.

CLEVELAND– Before this weekend’s reunion of the Indians’ 1995 American League championship team, Jim Thome felt the energy of what they accomplished 20 years ago when he visited town earlier this month.

"I was here the other night for the Cavs game. We got here early, my son (Landon) and I walked around Cleveland and it felt like the days of the 90s when we were in the World Series," Thome said. "The city, it was so cool to see that again from a fan looking in now."

While many memories of Cleveland sports for the past three generations has been mostly filled by pain and suffering, the ’95 squad has been mostly immune from that. Ask fans about that team, and the first memory isn’t about how they lost to Atlanta in six games in the World Series but about the many late-inning comebacks and how they won the franchise’s first American League pennant in 41 years.

Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Thome took their place on the national stage and remained there for the rest of the decade and then some.

"We were very special at the time. We had some characters that were a little different," Lofton said. "I think that was the thing, though — we had so many different personalities. So many different guys, who, after that time, went on and became better players and more exciting players for Cleveland and other teams. You can look back and be like, ‘Wow, this team started a lot of guys’ careers on an upward path.’ Once you see that, you can’t forget that. And once the city saw that this is where it all started for a lot of us, you can’t forget it."

The team was honored during pregame ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. Also on Saturday, there was an event at the Connor Palace Theatre on Playhouse Square where fans got to ask questions and viewed the 1995 highlight film. The roundtable will air later this season on SportsTime Ohio.

"It’s hard to imagine it’s been 20 years. It’s like any old friend that you haven’t seen in a while," said Nagy on Friday. "It’s, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How have you been? Family?’ Then you fall back into old ways and old habits and talking. It’s a lot of fun."

In a shortened season, the Indians still had 100 wins (second-most in franchise history) and won the AL Central by 30 games. They spent 145 days in first place and 27 wins in their final at-bat.

While most of the baseball word was still angry about the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series, the Indians used what happened the year before as motivation. At the time of the strike, they were a game behind the White Sox in the division and gaining momentum.

"This is kind of crazy to say, but maybe the strike helped us," Thome said. "We went and kept grinding and then when we came back the next year, I mean what, 100-44 was our record, that’s getting it done. I think our guys stayed focus, even when the strike hit, we still were focused on winning."

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Of the many moments and games that stand out from that season, the one that the players mentioned above all others was Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, where the Tribe clinched the pennant over Randy Johnson and Seattle. Kenny Lofton scoring from second on the passed ball still remains the seminal memory from that game.

"With Randy Johnson pitching in that game the odds were 200-1 but the old man came through and also our team," said Martinez, who was the winning pitcher.

Said Lofton about the play: I see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook. People be putting it out there and you see it constantly. I tell young kids the reason why that happened was because I never take things for granted. I was always aggressive out of the box, out of the block any time there was a chance to take the extra base, because you never know what’s going to happen. That play was exactly what can happen if you are aggressive. Once I saw the play in front of me I just kept going."

In an era which saw the Indians make six postseason appearances in seven years, the only regret from the players is that they were unable to deliver a World Series championship. As Thome got later in his career, he realized how few those chances could be.

Thome added: "I don’t want to say we took it for granted, but we were going to the postseason a lot in the 90s. That kind of spoiled you early. And then all of a sudden, it just shows you that when you get that time and that opportunity is presented, boy you want to capture, cherish and really savor every moment you can. We did that early on. It was just unfortunate, with the teams we had, we were never able to win a World Series. I think that was, for us, for the fans, for the city, the teams we had, we had championship, legitimate championship caliber built teams that won and possibly should have won the World Series."