Emily Giaimo was a baseball-crazy teenager in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland in the mid-1990s. Her parents and even her parent’s parents had known mostly frustration as fans of the Cleveland baseball team.
But for Giaimo, the mid-to-late 1990s were the glory days of Cleveland baseball. The team was a perennial powerhouse, shedding its laughingstock image to make two World Series appearances.
The Indians, as they were known then, did it mostly in front of full seats. For nearly six years, Cleveland set a record by selling out every home game as “The Forest City” went baseball mad.
Giaimo, who interned at the National Baseball Hall of Fame after college and now works as Director of Marketing and Sales for Midlothian Country Club in the suburbs of Chicago, remains a Cleveland baseball fanatic.
“I was playing softball and we would listen to every game when we wee in the bus or car coming home from games,” Emily said. “The comeback wins were big, and then the streak kept going and the team [eventually] retired number 455. So it’s always going to be special.”
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Leaving Cleveland’s Mistake By The Lake
From June 12, 1995, through April 4, 2001, the Indians set a record with 455 straight sellouts at their new home of Jacobs Field — a glimmering oasis for thirsty Cleveland baseball fans that debuted in 1994.
The Indians played for more than six decades at cavernous Cleveland Stadium — a venue that eventually earned the dreadful nickname “The Mistake By The Lake.” Often, in the years when Cleveland’s baseball team was languishing as bottom feeders in the standings, the ballpark that accommodated more than 74,000 seats, was about 90% empty. In 1985, the Indians averaged 8,089 paying fans per game.
“Sometimes I can hear a fan make a comment,” third baseman Brook Jacoby said in 1984. “and I know who said it.”
From the start, Jacobs Field was different. After debuting on opening day in 1994 (with a Cleveland win), the new ballpark proved to be a lucky charm. That first season, the Indians posted a 35–16 home record, at one point winning 18 consecutive games at Jacobs Field.
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41-Year Post-Season Drought Ended In 1995
That first season in Jacobs Field, which quickly earned the nickname “The Jake,” there may have been some magic in the new ballpark: the team made the post-season for the first time since 1954, ending a 41-year drought.
Every show needs stars, and Cleveland baseball had them in the 90s: speed merchant Kenny Lofton, grumpy slugger Albert Belle, boneheaded line-drive machine Manny Ramírez, powerful home run swatter Jim Thome, fan favorites Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar Jr., slick-fielding Omar Vizquel, and even enigmatic and moody future Hall of Famers Robbie Alomar and Steady Eddie Murray. No matter which night you had tickets to The Jake at that time, one of the superstars was bound to do something spectacular.
Giaimo was fond of shortstop Vizquel, and she still has mementoes of that period. “My dad and I went to the 1995 World Series, the game that Greg Maddux pitched against Charles Nagy,” Emily remembers. “I still have the ticket stubs framed, and other stubs too [from the winning days] of Cleveland baseball.”
In 1995, the team won the American League Central division title with 100 wins in a strike-shortened season, then steamrolled the Red Sox and Seattle in the playoffs. It was the city’s first pennant since “I Love Lucy” was television’s top-rated series. It was the first time many Indians fans saw their team play meaningful games past Labor Day.
The 1995 World Series didn’t go exactly as planned. The Indians lost in six nail-biting games. Three of their losses were by a single run. Two years later the team captured another pennant, and their World Series stomach ache was even more painful, as they lost in walk-off fashion in Game 7 to the Marlins after blowing a lead. Still, Cleveland baseball fans never abandoned their team.
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The Glory Years of Cleveland Baseball
The Indians won five consecutive division titles from 1995 to 1999, with almost every game in front of a standing-room-only crowd. They won and they won and kept on winning. Sometimes it was the way the team won that made that era so special.
In one five-game stretch in 1995, the team won four games at Jacobs Field in their last at-bat — twice when Sandy Alomar Jr. hit home runs. In 1997 Cleveland had six walk-off wins at home, leading MLB. Fans came to expect late-inning rallies from their team.
“Every one of my friends had a favorite player and they were stars,” Giaimo said. “Because it was a team filled with superstars, and they did amazing things.”
The Red Sox broke Cleveland’s sellout record with more than 700 from 2003 to 2013, but even so, the Cleveland streak accomplished in a city not known for sports success represents a dreamlike period in the history of the city, when Clevelanders (and Ohioans) could feel pride in their baseball team.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan