3 new Hall of Famers and how they were almost Indians

Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply....perhaps the greatest game during the Indians 90's run...

One sign said it all that night at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

In game three of the 1995 American League Championship series featuring the Cleveland Indians vs. the Seattle Mariners, a resourceful Indians' fan wielded the most creative sign I had ever seen up to that point, and perhaps since. A fan had written "long-haired freaky people need not apply," an homage to the beginning of the Tesla song "signs," and a message to the long-haired Randy Johnson that the Indians' offense was going to beat him up.

That's not quite what happened that night, as Johnson went eight strong innings, giving up two runs, with only one being earned. The Indians managed to scrape together those two runs after falling behind 2-0 earlier in the game, and while the Mariners won in ten, Johnson didn't get the win.

Small victories indeed.

But I just couldn't get that sign out of my head...

Today, Randy Johnson will be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and while I won't be bringing up memories that I'm sure "The Big Unit" would consider his favorite, it was a series in 1995 when I realized both how good he was, and how good that '95 Cleveland Indians team was as well.

You see, Randy Johnson just couldn't be beat that year way back in 1995. His overall numbers that season were impressive across the board, regardless of what circle of fan you consider yourself. He went 18-2 with 294 strikeouts vs. only 66 walks. For those counting at home, his K/9 that year was an astounding 33.9% (25% is excellent, according to fangraphs), and his 12.35 K/9 began a string of eight straight seasons in which he had least 12 per nine. Johnson ultimately won the 1995 Cy Young, but the focus of this story is on his final eight games of that 1995 season.

He was unbeatable.

His numbers over that eight-game stretch (seven starts, and one playoff relief appearance) were something out of a starter's story book: 6-1, 58 IP, 36 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 16 BB, 73 K. The Mariners won seven of those eight appearances, and made the playoffs simply because Randy Johnson was that damn good. While the Indians dominated the Central, clinching at the beginning of September, the Mariners didn't clinch until the last possible moment, but I'm jumping ahead of myself a bit.

The night before Johnson's September 18th start, which begins our eight-game Johnson-journey, the Mariners stood three games behind the California Angels in the American League West. If you want to really talk crazy, on August 7th, the Mariners were 13 games back, and three-games under .500. They weren't even a thought to the raging Cleveland Indians, who were 60-27 at the time, with baseball's best record.

Fast-forward back to September 18th. The Mariners had clawed their way back into contention in storybook fashion. To put it in context, Seattle was pretty disinterested in baseball, and had recently voted against building a new ballpark, but this two-month stretch had changed all that. Behind the flame-throwing Randy Johnson, and a team of mashers, manager Lou Pinella had re-shaped this team into a winner. 

Johnson's win that night propelled the Mariners to a late-September, seven-game winning streak, and incredibly, a three-game lead in the division in just a week's time. With only five games left in the season, and one start left for Johnson, it looked like a lock for Seattle to make it to the playoffs. Of course, the same was said about California through that entire season, and in stories like this, what's supposed to happen rarely does.

The Mariners went 2-3 over that final five (Johnson won, of course), while California went 5-0, setting up a one-game playoff with the Angels to decide who would represent the West in the ALDS against the Yankees.

Randy Johnson was the clear choice, even on three-days rest. He was the best pitcher in baseball, had won his last three games in dominating fashion, and the Mariners were 26-3 in his 29 starts leading up to the playoff.

The Mariners would be facing the Angels Mark Langston, who had been the Mariners ace six years prior, but he didn't have a chance. Johnson mowed down the Angels, retiring the first 17 batters he faced, and ten by strikeout. In the meantime, the Mariners offense finally got things going in the fifth, scoring a run, and then broke it open in the seventh, scoring four more.

When it was all said and done, the Mariners won the game 9-1 behind a complete game mauling from the long-haired freaky person.

I was watching that game.

I didn't like what I saw.

I'm an Indians fan, and while I sure as hell wasn't used to looking ahead, I couldn't help but do it here. When you hear announcers talk about "teams of fate," as they did about this idiotic Mariners team, as an Indians fan, you couldn't help but shudder. When you watched Johnson pitch on top of it, there was a sharp fear parked in the outer reaches of my brain.

While the Indians dominated the American League, I couldn't help but think my Tribe was the true team of fate. But it was a weird year. While the Indians hadn't been to the playoffs in my lifetime (ouch), they didn't feel like any underdog. This team was a juggernaut, and while we didn't have a Randy Johnson, the Indians had plenty of pitching, and were far more offensive than any Richard Pryor punchline.

But there was the ALDS to worry about. In front of the Indians and Mariners were the traditional powers, and an entire nation was rooting for a historic ALCS involving the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

We all know what the Indians' did. Behind a muscle wielding Albert Belle and a clutch home run by Tony Pena, the Indians swept the Red Sox in dominating fashion, after a tight Game 1. The Mariners, however, went a different direction altogether.

Since Randy Johnson had pitched on three-days rest during that October 2 playoff, he wasn't available to start until Game 3 against the Yankees, on October 6th. Games 1 & 2 were in New York on the 3rd and 4th, so Lou Pinella's hands were tied, and it looked like the Seattle run was over. The Yankees beat up on Seattle, and the Mariners headed back to the friendly confines of the Kingdome down 2-0.

Enter Randy Johnson, riding a four-game win-streak. Johnson went seven strong, and left the game with a 6-2 lead, and the Mariners would go on to win 7-4. Unfortunately, Randy couldn't make another start, and while he certainly could be used out of the pen, it likely wouldn't be until a Game 5, if they could make it that far.

By the middle of the third inning in Game 4, the Mariners were down 5-0, and it looked like the storybook was closing. Then Edgar Martinez happened. He hit a three-run blast in the bottom of the third, and after another sac fly, the Mariners were only down a run. A ground-out in the fifth tied the game at five, and a solo shot by Ken Griffey Jr. in the sixth gave the Mariners a 6-5 lead. A wild pitch by Tim Belcher in the eighth tied the score at six, heading into the decisive ninth inning.

If you have forgotten how good Edgar Martinez was, go back and watch some YouTube. His ninth inning grand slam, followed by a Jay Buhner solo shot, gave the Mariners the five-run cushion that they needed. The Yankees would score two more times, but the Mariners forced a Game 5.

That damn storybook was still open, and I kept thinking, "if the Mariners somehow pull this off without using Randy Johnson in Game 5, the Indians could face him three times.




The Indians had faced Johnson once during that 1995 season, and I had the joy to watch it, up close and personal. I got to see "The Big Unit" pitch a complete game, shutting down the vaunted Indians' line-up that day. I left thinking, "thank goodness Seattle sucks, and we won't have to see them much."

I know, I know, famous last words.

You see, the whole point of this story is to talk about perhaps Randy Johnson's biggest strength, and that's what he did to teams before he even toed the rubber. You see, Johnson was baseball's version of a Tall Tale in the 90's. At 6'10" tall, there wasn't a more dominating presence than the lanky Johnson. The fact that he could throw triple-digits on occasion didn't hurt, and up until 1995, he didn't seem to have control of any of his pitches.

In 1990, his first full season in Seattle, he had 190 K's, and led the league with 120 walks. It gets better. In 1991, he had 228 K's and 152 walks, again leading the league in walks. In 1992, he led the league in both walks and K's, striking out 241 hitters, while walking 144.

Here's some perspective for you. In Greg Maddux's 23-year career, he walked 999 batters. At the end of that 1995 season, Johnson already had 951 walks in his eighth full season (and parts of two others). By 1995, he had corrected many of his mechanical flaws, but as a hitter, you didn't have a clue at what Johnson might do on the hill to keep you off-balance. He may throw one over your head or clear behind you, just to make sure you know he could.

And he just looked mean.

I have never rooted for the Yankees, and I never will, but I wouldn't have been upset had they won that Game 5. This was a Yankees team that hadn't been to the playoffs in 14 years (still the Damn Yankees though), and were just turning the corner on the juggernaut that would end the 90's.

That Yankees season was dominated by the fact that Don Mattingly was likely retiring at the end of the season, and this would mark his first (and last) playoff run. Paul O'Neill hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Donnie Baseball would follow with a two-run double in the sixth, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Johnson hadn't stepped foot in the game, but it was clear he would be ready, should the Mariners need him. Remember, he was only two-days removed from Game 3, and six days removed from the complete game, one-game playoff.

Ken Griffey Jr. hit a solo shot in the eighth (his fifth of the series), and David Cone walked in the tying run later that inning, tying the game again. Enter Randy Johnson.

Now, this wasn't a perfect outing for the Big Unit, but remember, he had pitched 16 innings over the past six days. He would pitch three-innings here, but gave up the go ahead run to the Yankees in the top of the 11th inning.

With runners on first and third (Joey Cora on third, and Ken Griffey Jr. on first), up walked Edgar freakin' Martinez, who back then, seemed a lot like Miguel freakin' Cabrera to me. He roped a double off the right field wall, and Griffey Jr., who could fly back then, scored from first, giving the Mariners, and Johnson, the victory.

And pitting them against your Cleveland Indians. The good news? There was no way Johnson was going to go in Game 1, and likely, Game 2 either. With the Indians offense plugging right along, and with the rotation rested, it was likely the Tribe would be up 2-0 heading into Johnson's first start, but I was still wary of that offense.

And of course, the media loved talking storybook.

So, back then, home-field advantage in the playoffs rotated between divisions. Once again, the best team wasn't awarded home-field, but it was decided in a rotating fashion. So those of you that complain about how stupid the All-Star game thing is, just roll this around in your head for a moment. The Cleveland Indians, who during the strike-shortened regular season had managed to go 100-44, wouldn't have homefield advantage against the 79-66 Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, regardless of their 20.5 game advantage in the standings.

The Indians, in 1995, owned Jacobs Field. They were 54-18 in the friendly confines, and teams hated playing there. On the road, the Mariners were a sad-sack 33-39. I think I'll just leave it there, because it doesn't really matter. The Mariners got home field advantage, and why? It was their turn in the rotation (screw you Bud Selig--in fairness--this rotation was in place for god knows how long, before Selig took over as Executive Council Chairman, or whatever the hell he was called, before officially becoming commisioner in 1998, but I'll still blame him).

So then stupid happened. Bob Walcott shut down the sleepy Indians' bats, and the Tribe lost Game 1 to the Mariners, 3-2 in a really loud and raucous Kingdom. An Indians' win here could have forced Randy Johnson to face off against Cleveland with less rest in Game 2. This win allowed him an extra day, and fear of another freaky loss in that stupid stadium.

The Kingdome mostly sucked for baseball, but over the final two months of the 1995 season, it got full, and it got loud. It really was the precursor to the great Seattle crowds they have now, both in football and baseball, but especially football. This city loves their winners, and they could taste an upset.

In Game 2, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner continued their hot hitting with two solo shots. Unfortunately, by the time they hit them, the Indians were already comfortably in the lead for starter Orel Hershiser. Carlos Baerga had hit a two-run single, Manny had hit a solo shot, and Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a triple, to give the Tribe a 4-0 lead before Griffey's shot. Manny cranked his second of the game in the eighth, to offset Buhner's 9th inning homer, and the Indians got the heck out of Seattle with a 1-1 split, regained home field, and...

...had to face Randy Johnson.

My fears got the best of me at this point. Aside from that classic Tesla sign, mentioned earlier, I was absolutely sure that Karma was going to kill the Indians...that...and this idiot hick that was sitting a few stools down from us at Damon's, where we were watching the game. I had tickets to the game, but couldn't make it because I had to work a double. I was convinced that this was part of the bigger story. Everyone was working against me, my boss, the storybook, Randy Johnson, and this nimrod at the bar. He was the only idiot in the place wearing Mariners clothing, a Randy Johnson jersey, and he clearly didn't know a thing about baseball, or where in the hell Seattle even was.

Yeah, that kind of fan.

When Jay Buhner hit his first homer that night, in the second, to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead, I was sure the game was over. Randy Johnson was too damn good, even for the Indians' offense, even at home, and especially because of this hick that wouldn't shut up.

He wouldn't shut up, "RRRrrrannndddyyyy is so dern sexxxxayyyyy...."

"Heeee's givin' you injuns the BIIIIIGGGG Unit."

I can hear his campy, racist rhetoric like it was yesterday, and I was getting pissed off.

If you are a quarter of the fan that I am, you know what comments like this do to you. As a knowledgeable baseball fan, you know you're supposed to ignore these drunken idiots that went and picked up a jersey one day to be quirky, and understand that baseball isn't really the point for these people. This idiot likely picked up a Randy Johnson jersey because in all honesty, Johnson looked like a really tall NASCAR driver. It was probably that simple. But, when your team is losing, all logic goes out the window. This buck-knife wielding S-O-B became Randy Johnson to me.

I hated him.

As much as I hated HIM.

When they went up 2-0 on stupid Alvaro Espinosa's stupid error, I was ready to light things on fire. Redneck Unit hick was really lathered up at that point.

"Johhhhnssooooonssss gon' do it, chop dose waaahhhhoooooosssss."

At this point, the jackass was standing up and flinging beer. My wife (my girlfriend way back then) was starting to get agitated at this point. She was a fan because I was, and generally stayed happy, but the thug in her was about to showcase itself. She started flinging fingers, and I was pretty sure that I was going to be part of a bar-room brawl.

And it was all Randy Johnson's unstoppable fault.

Then Kenny Lofton happened in the fourth. He led off with a triple, and scored a hitter later, when Omar Vizquel sacrificed him home. Still, a one run lead for Randy Johnson seemed like 100 runs, even with the Indians' offense.

The game was 2-1 until the eighth inning, and while Redneck Unit had settled himself down because he had drunk himself into a coma-like state, I was still riddled with angst. Johnson was dominating, hadn't lost a game since August 1st, and was sitting on that one-run lead heading into the eighth inning of a baseball game. This was essentially Johnson's life since September, and the Indians hadn't played with their backs to the wall since 1954.

It was at this point I went to the bathroom and puked for the first time that night, and I was stone sober. I hadn't had a beer since the third inning, out of fear that drunk me would ultimately succumb to drunk Redneck Hick.

When I walked back out, Wayne Kirby was standing on second base, with one out, and Kenny Lofton was at the plate. Espinosa had gotten to second on a Buhner error, and Kirby had come in to pinch run.

And Kenny Lofton was at the plate.

He singled.

The game was tied.

Drunken-Hick was now awake and getting pelted with food, beer and profanity. Oh, and the rest of Damon's was involved as well at this point. But now he was awake, and as it turned out, the game was just getting started.

On a sidenote, Lofton was at the peak of his game in 1995. I'm pretty sure that he was the MVP of that 1994 team that never had a shot at the playoffs, and one could argue that he was even better in 1995. After his single, he stole second, and Omar Vizquel tried to bunt his way on against Johnson, but flied out. Lofton would end up stranded at second.


And little did I know, a precursor to Game 6.

The big piece to all of this is that Randy Johnson was out of the game after the eighth inning, and I felt a burst of relief. While I feared the Seattle offense because of thumpers like Tino and Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and Ken Griffey Jr. (especially him), Randy Johnson, to me, was on another level.

The Indians were tied, Johnson was gone, and I thought the game was over. Then Jay Buhner happened again, and Redneck Hick became an instant fan.

"Bbbbaaalllddddd and beeeeeeee-autiffffullll baby!!!!!"

It was the second time I ran to the bathroom and threw up, and now the Indians were down 2-1, with another start by Johnson looming. That was the mystique of Johnson starts back then. The Mariners just didn't lose them. I was sickened.

Oh, and Redneck Hick? I literally watched several people carry him out the front door. It wasn't the last time that I saw him though.

I made it to both Game 5 and 6 at the Jake. Five was simply glorious, as the Indians' offense finally woke up and destroyed Andy Benes. Lofton manufactured a run in the first, and Eddie Murray followed with a two-run blast, and it was all downhill from there in a 7-0 Tribe victory. Game 5 was something else entirely, but was won on a two-run shot from Jim Thome in the sixth inning. The Indians were up 3-2, and now forced Lou Pinella to bring in Randy Johnson for Game 6, instead of waiting for Game 7.

I would consider Game 6 as one of the greatest games I've ever witnessed, as the series moved back to Seattle, and I moved back to my spot at Damon's.

Redneck Hick was back too, still drunk, and still sporting his Big Unit Jersey, and now armed with a Mariners hat and a baseball glove. He stood up during pregame with his glove and slurred, "I'm ready for yeouu sumbiches ttooodddaayyyy," while holding up his glove. I wasn't sure if he meant he was part of the game, or was planning on catching unidentified flying wings.

Maybe he meant both.

Either way, it wasn't Hick's night, or Randy Johnson's.

The point, though, was the fear factor. I didn't think Randy Johnson could lose. I didn't think the Mariners thought they could lose with Randy Johnson on the hill. When you put them in the Kingdom, with a potential Game 7 in Seattle, I'm not going to lie, I didn't feel great.

The Indians got two runners on in the first, and Albert Belle doubled in the fourth, but it felt like another one of those games.

Then came Kenny Lofton, again. The Indians caught a break, thanks to that bug-eyed Joey Cora, who allowed Alvaro Espinosa to get on via an error, and made it to second on a bad throw. Lofton laced a two-out single, scoring Espinosa, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead.

But c'mon, even though Lofton seemed to have the magic, this was Randy Johnson, pitching in the Kingdom, where Johnson hadn't lost since the middle of June, and the Mariners hadn't lost in one of his starts since the end of June.


Pitching for the Indians was one Dennis Martinez, who seemed to be the exact opposite of Randy Johnson. Sure, both spent time in Montreal, but while Johnson through faster than a speeding bullet, Martinez seemed to throw a knuckleball without the knuckle. He was like the McGyver of pitchers, nobody was sure how he did it, but he did, and did it well.

Up until the sixth inning El Presidente had allowed only four baserunners, and only one reached second base. In the sixth, a Vince Coleman single turned into runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs, before Martinez struck out Tino Martinez to end the inning.

Redneck Hick was silent.

I was sick to my stomach.

The Indians had to do something, and quick, before someone figured out that either Martinez was working the vagisil, or that his arm was only attached by wire and gum.

Enter the eighth inning.

Here's where the story diverges for the Indians and Randy Johnson's Mariners, as the storybook really did get closed on this fantastic night in October of 1995. Randy Johnson was ultimately let down by overuse (needed) a passed ball and not paying one lick of attention to the player that had made his life miserable all series...

...Kenny Lofton.

But until that moment, the fear was undeniable, and I can only point to a handful of pitchers over my lifetime that brought that angst to the table on a daily basis across the major league landscape, and that's Randy Johnson.

In part, it's Johnson's greatness that made this moment, perhaps the greatest moment in Cleveland Indians history, post 1954. It's certainly top 5. Here's Bob Costas and the great Harry Doyle, calling the game:

The season and series ended for Johnson an inning later, and the Indians went on to clinch their first A.L. Pennant since 1954. Yet, the Mariners don't sniff the playoffs that year with The Big Unit carrying them on his back. Who knew that the then-31-year old still had another 14 years in his tank. Who knew, that three years later, the Indians would nearly deal for Johnson.

On the table for the Indians in that deal was Dave Burba, Brian Giles and Richie Sexson, and if you are to believe the rumors perpetrated by Tribe GM John Hart, two minutes before the trade deadline, this deal was almost done.

Instead, Johnson went to the Houston Astros, and the Indians moved on, still winning, but never again playing in a World Series after 1997. What could have been had Johnson come to Cleveland that year? Phew, who knows, because the Unit won four more Cy Youngs, and a World Series title in Arizona.

Imagine how different the end of the 90's could have been?

With that said, here's to you Randy Johnson, on your election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it's well deserved. I hope that somewhere in Cleveland or beyond, Redneck Hick is having one helluva party.

A big offer for John Smoltz

Like Randy Johnson in 1998, John Smoltz almost became a Cleveland Indians' starter after the 1996 season. I'll get to that in a second. Let's keep that 1995 timeline going for a minute though, although I warn you, this one is more painful.

The Indians went on to face another one of the Hall of Fame inductees in the World Series, and that's John Smoltz. Smoltz was part of the Braves vaunted starting rotation, that included at the time, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Smoltz and Steve Avery.

Once again, the Indians didn't have home field in the series thanks to the wonderful damn quirks of baseball, and this time, it really hurt them. The Braves took Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta, behind the brilliant pitching of Maddux and Glavine.

Enter John Smoltz, who was given a 1-0 lead in Game 3, quieting a really loud crowd. As bad as I felt in Game 3 facing off against Randy Johnson, I felt that much worse going up against John Smoltz. Down 2-0, it was a must win, and while Smoltz wasn't as good as Maddux or Glavine, I always like the way he pitched.

I also thought that if the Indians could get to him, he'd be the kind of pitcher they could jack-hammer. Unlike the ticky-tack Game 1 and 2 starters, Smoltz was the kind of pitcher that went right after you. Those were the kinds of pitchers, unless you had Randy Johnson stuff, the Indians used to snack on. Hell, they snacked on everyone that year.

Smoltz didn't make it out of the third inning, and was the only starter in that series that didn't put up good numbers. The Indians would ultimately lose that World Series, but Smoltz was the one starter that allowed the Tribe offense to, well, look like the Tribe offense.

Smoltz went on to win the Cy Young the very next year, going 24-8, but missed the entire 2000 season due to injury. If we're to be fair, his DL-stints began back in 1998, continued through 1999, and ended with Tommy John surgery in 2000.

At the age of 34, Smoltz returned and struggled in 2001, and when John Rocker became, well, John Rocker, Smoltz moved to the bullpen, began one of the most interesting transitions in the history of baseball, and one that's reminiscent of the Indians' Dennis Eckersley, who made a similar transition from a dominant starter to a dominant reliever.

Over the next four years, Smoltz went on to save an unbelievable 154 games in 168 opportunities, and would remain as the Braves all-time saves leader until Craig Kimbrel broke it in 2014.

Even more incredible was that he transitioned back to the starter role in 2005, at the age of 38, and only appeared in a relief role one more time over the next four seasons, going 44-24 during that stretch, as a starter.

In the end, Smoltzy went 207-147 as a starter, and 6-8 with 154 saves as a closer. I know there are a lot of people that look at numbers like that and say they don't count, but in general, you have to be pretty good at what you do to put up those kinds of numbers.

In 1996, John Hart went hot and heavy after the reigning Cy Young winner after losing Albert Belle to free agency. According to the Plain Dealer at the time, Hart offered Smoltz a four-year, $30 million deal to join the Indians. While that deal seems tame to today's standards, it was a record offer at the time. The Braves outbid the Indians, giving the reigning Cy Young winner a four-year, $31 million deal, keeping him with the Braves.


Why didn't we trade for Pedro Martinez again?

The Cleveland Indians had a trade in place for Pedro Martinez. If you've made it this far, you are likely catching the "what-coulda-been" theme of all this, right?

According to John Hart, the Indians had a deal in place with the Expos for Pedro Martinez after the World Series run in 1997 that included both Jaret Wright and Bartolo Colon. I know what you're thinking now: "Why the hell didn't they do it????"

We all know that Wright's mechanics were horrific, and his career ended up right where it started, for the most part. We also know that Bartolo Colon turned into a really nice starter, winning a ton f games for the Indians, before the ultimately dealt him to...

...the Expos?

Yep. Five years later, Colon and Tim Drew netted the Indians Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens.

But what if? What if Hart pulled that deal off? It seems easy to second guess it now, but many thought that Wright, 21 at the time, and Colon (22 at the time, although we later found out he was two years old than he reported) could be just as special as Pedro. Sure, Colon would go on to win a Cy Young with the Angels, and is still somehow pitching pretty effectively at the age of 42, Pedro could have been a game-changer for those Cleveland Indians.

Instead, he went to the flipping Boston Red Sox, where he owned the Cleveland Indians. In 16 starts, Pedro went 11-1 against the Tribe overall in 16 starts, with an okay 1.77 ERA, while striking out 146 and walking only 23 in his 117 innings pitched. He also went on to be the most dominant pitcher in baseball for several years, winning two Cy Youngs, finishing second twice, and third once.

Hindsight is 20/20.

But irony knows no bounds, as the National Hall of Fame welcomes three former Aces who all should have been Cleveland Indians.

Oh yeah, props to you too Craig Biggio...

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