This weekend, I heard a pro football commentator comment that the San Diego Chargers window for winning a championship was likely closed. They were a great, borderline dominant, team for half a decade, but never managed to “beat the big boys.” That got me to thinking: what is the greatest team to never win a championship? Now, I don’t mean single season here–I mean the most dominant franchise for a period of time that doesn’t have a ring to show for it. In football, I think of the Cunningham-White Eagles of the early 90s. But in baseball, the mid-90s Indians popped into my head. I had no idea how right I was until I spent my lunch hour looking over the numbers.
The 1995 Indians team won 100 games. In 143 chances. That, boys and girls, is a re-donkulous .694 winning percentage. But they lost the World Series. The Indians came back and won 99 games the next season, only to lose to the resurgent Yankees (remember when they actually developed talent and bought GOOD pitching?). They lost the World Series in 1997 after making the playoffs as a wild card team. Another 97 wins two seasons later ended in an incredible upset to the Red Sox (topic of another post). And though they would win 90 plus games two more times in 2000 and 2001, they never tasted postseason victory.
I want to focus a bit on the 1995 team, because, frankly, it is mind-blowing. Offensively, this team looks like somebody cheated the computer in a video game (veto trades? hell no). There is no need to offer any commentary, because you remember all of these guys. Just try to imagine that, in their prime, they all played for the same team: Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Omar Visquel, and Sandy Alomar. Throw in a few veterans for leadership: Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, Tony Pena. Seriously, this team lost. Wait, look at that line up one more time; please remember these numbers reflect only 143 games:
- Lofton .815 OPS, 13 3B, 54 SB
- Vizquel .684 OPS, 28 2B, 29SB
- Baerga .807 OPS, 175 hits, 252 TB
- Belle 1.091 OPS, 50 HR, 377 TB
- Murray .891 OPS, 21 HR,225 TB
- Thome .996 OPS, 97 BB, 252 TB
- Ramirez .960 OPS, 31 HR, 270 TB
- Sorrento .847 OPS, 25 HR, 165 TB (in 104 games)
- Pena/Alomar Who cares? Did you see what the rest of the team hit?
Besides the light hitting Visquel and Pena, no starter had an OPS below .800. The Indians team OPS that season was .839. I can’t find a list of the all-time single-season team OPS records; my bet is that this will best any team not playing in the late 1920’s or early 30’s.
As far as pitching, this rotation had three top-of-the-line guys, Dennis Martinez, Nagy, and the aged but crafty (and classy) Orel Hershiser. Those three combined for a 44 and 17 record. Their closer, Jose Mesa was in his prime and allowed all of 8 earned runs in 64 innings. He was 46 of 48 in save opportunities. The rest of the bullpen featured three pitchers with ERA’s sub 3.00. The worst ERA among relievers with at least 50 innings was rookie Jim Poole, with a 3.75.
Now, the 1995 did lose to the Braves, arguably the biggest bunch of underachievers in postseason history. But to think of all the talent that passed through this franchise during this period (as some departed, they signed or developed David Justice, Tony Fernandez, Bartolo Colon, Brian Giles, Travis Fryman, Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, Dave Burba, and CC Sabathia–though he came late to the party). I don’t mean to rub salt in any Indians fan’s wounds. But, seriously, how the hell did this team lose?!? Oh yeah, that’s how…