Let's Go Tribe wraps up its Hall of Fame week coverage with a look back at one of the best teams in franchise history. Will any members of the incredible 1995 team ever be inducted to the Hall of Fame while wearing an Indians cap?
The 1995 Cleveland Indians were one of the best teams in baseball history. They won 100 games despite only playing 144 after the strike washed away the start of the season. The team’s pitchers combined for an ERA+ of 123 and allowed just 607 runs, both of which led the American League. The hitters put up a combined OPS+ of 116 and scored 840 runs, both of which also led the league. It has now been seventeen and a half years since that team narrowly missed winning the World Series (sigh…). The ’95 Indians were stacked with great players, particularly in the lineup, but it’s possible that every player on that team has now played his final game. I thought it would be interesting to look back at all of the key contributors from the ’95 team and try to determine if we’ll ever see any of them enter the Hall of Fame in an Indians cap.
Here are the starting pitchers, closer, and key hitters from that team:
Dennis Martinez – The Indians’ ace (at the age of 40) in 1995, he had a 3.08 ERA (152 ERA+) and a team-high 187 innings.
Orel Hershiser – He started 26 games in 1995, compiling a 3.87 ERA (121 ERA+) in 167.1 innings. He also made five playoff starts that year, winning four of them and allowing just six earned runs in 35.1 innings.
Charles Nagy – No pitcher in the last forty years has made more starts or thrown more innings for the Indians than Nagy. In 1995 he started a team-high 29 games, with a 4.55 ERA (103 ERA+) in 178 innings.
Ken Hill – He came over to the Indians in a trade with St. Louis in July of 1995 and made 11 regular season starts and two more during the playoffs.
Mark Clark – Made 21 starts with the Indians in 1995, but was not in the playoff rotation.
Jose Mesa – He was a tremendous in 1995, leading the league with 46 saves and a 1.13 ERA (418 ERA+). He finished 2nd in the A.L. Cy Young voting that year.
Sandy Alomar – The catcher missed much of 1995 after knee surgery. He returned in plenty of time to catch most games in the postseason.
Tony Pena – Due to Alomar’s injury, Pena played catcher in most games during 1995.
Carlos Baerga – An All-Star at second base in 1995.
Jim Thome – 1995 was his breakout season, he had a .996 OPS (157 OPS+) that year as the Indians’ third baseman and hit four home runs that postseason.
Omar Vizquel – The Indians’ defensive wizard of a shortstop in 1995.
Kenny Lofton – An All-Star in 1995, Lofton played his usual fine center field and was also the team’s best hitter in the ALCS that year.
Manny Ramirez – The Indians right fielder had finished 2nd in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 1994 and continued to develop into one of the game’s best hitters in 1995.
Eddie Murray – He still swung a good enough bat at age 39 to put up an OPS of .891 as a DH that year.
Retirement and Hall of Fame status:
Murray and Pena last played 1997. Both were all on the 2003 Hall of Fame ballot, but had very different experiences. Murray, with 3,255 hits and 504 home runs, received 85% of the vote and coasted into Cooperstown. Pena received just two votes (very generous votes, from what I can tell) and fell from the ballot.
Martinez retired following 1998. He was on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot. His career bWAR was 44.5, a far better career than most probably remember (though not quite HOF caliber). He received only 3.2% of the vote and fell from the ballot.
Sorrento and Ogea both had their career end in 1999. Neither was ever put onto the Hall of Fame ballot.
Belle, Hershiser, and Clark all played their last game in 2000. Clark never made a Hall of Fame ballot, but Hershiser and Belle were listed in 2006. Hershiser received 11% of the vote, Belle got 8%. Both would remain on the ballot, but neither was in a position to ever climb to 75% and enshrinement. I wouldn’t have voted for either, but given that Hershiser won over 200 games, won a Cy Young Award, and was a great postseason pitcher, I’m a little surprised he didn’t receive more support. Belle was an incredible hitter in his prime, but his prime, but he only had six really good seasons and given his unpopularity, a low vote total was no surprise. Each of them received less than 5% of the vote in their second year on the ballot and fell from it for good.
Hill retired after 2001. He certainly wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, but I’m surprised he was never even put on the ballot. He won more than 100 games, with a better than average ERA, and finished 2nd in the 1994 N.L. Cy Young voting.
Nagy played his last game in 2003. The Hall of Fame Ballot for 2009 included just ten players and Nagy was not one of them. Like Hill, while Nagy was certainly not a Hall of Famer, it seems to me he at least deserved the minor honor of being placed on the ballot.
Baerga retired after the 2005 season. He appeared on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot, but did not receive any votes.
Lofton, Alomar and Mesa all ended their careers in 2007. All of them were on this year’s ballot. Lofton received just 18 votes despite being one of the 10-12 best center fielders ever, Alomar received 16 votes (it strikes me as absurd that Lofton got only two more votes than Alomar), Mesa did not receive any (I guess there aren’t any Marlin fans holding ballots). None of them will appear on the ballot again.
Of the fourteen core players from the 1995 team that retired before 2008, only Eddie Murray has been inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and of course Murray is not remembered by most baseball fans as an Indian. He was a strong contributor on the ’95 team, but he made his hay as an Oriole, collecting 2,080 hits and 343 home runs during his time with Baltimore. Other than Murray, only Hershiser and Belle lasted to even a second year on the ballot.
Three players’ fates remain to be seen:
Manny Ramirez last played in 2011. He has a career line of .312/.411/.585, with an OPS+ of 154. He’s collected 2,574 hits, including 547 doubles and 555 home runs. He’s scored 1,544 runs and driven in 1,831 more. He finished in the top ten of the MVP voting on nine different occasions. Those are the numbers of a no doubt Hall of Famer, someone who cruises into Cooperstown with 85% of the vote or more. Of course, with Manny, it isn’t that simple, because of his almost certain PED use. The BBWAA made clear this week that they won’t be letting anyone with strong ties to PEDs into the Hall without a fight. He would get my vote, but I expect Manny will receive something like 20-25% of the vote when he hits the ballot, and it’s a loooooong climb from there to 75%. I don’t expect he’ll ever get voted in by the BBWAA and if he does, it will almost certainly be as a member of the Red Sox.
Omar Vizquel has a career line of .272/.336/.352, to go with eleven Gold Glove Awards and 2,877 hits. I don’t see Vizquel as a Hall of Fame player, but there are many who feel differently about him. Many see him as another Ozzie Smith, but while I think Vizquel was a wonderful defensive player, he wasn’t in the same class at shortstop as Smith (was anyone?). Smith was also the better hitter of the two, pretty clearly, I think. Still, Vizquel is the type of player it’s easy to imagine many voters getting behind. When he hits the ballot, I expect him to receive somewhere between 35-40% of the vote. I don’t think he’ll be able to climb much over the years though, and ultimately I don’t think he gets voted in.
Jim Thome is not currently under contract, but like Vizquel, he has not announced his retirement either. He has a career line of .276/.402/.554, with an OPS+ of 147. He’s collected 2,328 hits, to go with 1,747 walks. He has 1,089 extra-base hits, including 612 home runs, the seventh most in history. By any reasonable standard, I think Thome is a Hall of Famer. It’s hard to know what to make of his candidacy though. He has never been substantively linked to PEDs, but as a big, strong home run hitter, he may suffer the suspicions of many voters, as Jeff Bagwell has had to. It’s will be at least five years before Thome makes his first appearance on the ballot, and that’s a lot of time for things to change, including the makeup of the BBWAA voters. I expect Thome will receive something between 45-50% of the votes in his first year, then steadily climb up and be inducted to the Hall in his fifth or sixth year on the ballot. If that happens, I expect he’ll be the only member of Cleveland’s great run of the 1990’s to enter the Hall of Famer with an Indians cap on his head.