"There were many nights when I first got here that we had 4,100 in Cleveland Stadium and we were getting our brains beat in, and I'd wonder why the hell I ever took this job," Cleveland Indian general manager John Hart says of the 1991 season. "I remember the times when I'd be out selling the team to a bunch of retired postal workers when it was 12 degrees below zero in the dead of winter. The only thing I didn't do was get one of those cars with the loudspeakers on top and drive around town begging people to come see us play. It was like a train wreck, but out of those ashes we hoped to figure a way to win the pennant. We knew that after 40 years of futility everybody was pissed off. Believe me, there was nobody offering us free meals at fancy restaurants, nobody wanting to give us a good table at Swingos."
Welcome to the Jake
In most major league ballparks this season it's so quiet you can hear the attendance drop. Then there is Jacobs Field, the 15-month-old home of the Indians. There was a sellout every night during a recent nine-game home stand at the Jake, pushing Cleveland over a million in attendance this year. With strong advance sales during that home stand, the Indians guaranteed they would break their alltime attendance mark of 2,620,627 fans set in 1948.
During a game at the Jake on June 18, Indian centerfielder Kenny Lofton made a running catch on the warning track and received a standing ovation. In the second inning. You don't wait 40 years for a winner, as the most loyal Tribe fans have, and then sit on your hands.
"They were down 9-5 with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, and nobody was leaving the park—that'll tell you something," New York Yankee manager Buck Showalter said after a recent game in Cleveland. "These people are starving for success."
"You can put a good team in a bad ballpark, and it's still a good team," says Tribe manager Mike Hargrove, "and you can put a bad team in the Taj Mahal and it's still bad. But you put the Indians in Jacobs Field, and you create something special."
Cleveland's 9-2 win over the Boston Red Sox on June 20 marked its 162nd game since the opening of Jacobs Field on April 4, 1994: the equivalent of one complete season in the fragmented world of major league baseball. The Indians won 102 of those games, more than any other team over that span, including 56 of 78 at home.
This season, with a 42-18 record through Sunday, Cleveland was the winningest team in baseball and was off to its best start in its 94-year history. The Tribe swept a three-game series with the second-place Kansas City Royals and then took two of three from the hapless Minnesota Twins on the road last week to open a 10-game lead in the American League Central, its largest cushion ever.
Still, the Tribe's success has not been without drama. Of the 20 times through Sunday that Cleveland had come from behind to win, it had done so an astounding 12 times in its final at bat, including eight times at Jacobs Field. There, on May 29, the Indians trailed the Chicago White Sox 6-0 after five innings but fought back to win 7-6. Then on June 4 at the Jake they fell behind the Blue Jays and their ace, David Cone, 8-0 through three innings, only to win 9-8 on a homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Cleveland has had four hitters ranked among the top 10 in the American League most of the season, and at week's end the Indians' team batting average was .294, by far the highest in the majors. The Tribe also had hit more home runs (95) than any other team, and six players already had more than 30 RBIs. Last Friday night Eddie Murray, the Indians' 39-year-old DH, stroked his 3,000th career hit in a 4-1 win over the Twins; he finished the week with a .323 average and 12 home runs, which gave him 470 lifetime. Picking up the victory that night was 40-year-old righthander Dennis Martinez, who ran his season stats to 7-0 and a 2.53 ERA.