The Best Team(s) that Never Won, or Apologies  Cleveland

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:

  1. Lofton .815 OPS, 13 3B, 54 SB
  2. Vizquel .684 OPS, 28 2B, 29SB
  3. Baerga .807 OPS, 175 hits, 252 TB
  4. Belle 1.091 OPS, 50 HR, 377 TB
  5. Murray .891 OPS, 21 HR,225 TB
  6. Thome .996 OPS, 97 BB, 252 TB
  7. Ramirez .960 OPS, 31 HR, 270 TB
  8. Sorrento .847 OPS, 25 HR, 165 TB (in 104 games)
  9. 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

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6 comments

  1. raysfanboy

    Those Indian teams almost got me to add them to my favorite team list. Almost. I did buy a hat, though, so… Those guys’ numbers are indeed “redonkulous” (fave non-word) and it is surprising how it seems so many of those guys fell off the map when they left Cleveland.

    Can the Cubs be on the “never won” list since not even our grandparents can remember the Cubs winning anything significant?
    http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com/

  2. santosis

    Oh, sure, but is there any specific great cub team? The Sosa years team, maybe? I am not too familiar with the Cubs’ history to know if they have a specific era that really should have won.

    In pre-WS Red Sox culture, this was the 1975-1979 “Bucky F@#king Dent” era teams. The team that lost to the Reds despite Fisk’s wave. Those teams sported Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastremski, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwigt Evans, Luis Tiant, and Bill Lee.

    I guess its worth looking into–what was the best Cubs team that didn’t fail to disappoint.

  3. raysfanboy

    I think the Cubs of 2003 were a WS lock. I think that the Cubs of last year should have made it. The Cubs of ’84, ’69, and even ’89 should have at least made the Series. Remember that in ’84 the Cubs were very close to getting to the Series against the Padres but Leon Durham pulled a Buckner–before there was such a thing as a “Buckner”–and let a roller go between his legs to allow the series to continue. They lost. In ’03…Steve Bartman…it stings too much to talk about. I, I, just can’t.
    http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com

  4. lifeisbaseball

    Hey, big Bosox fan here. I lived in Cleveland in ’95 and I’m here to tell you, they were one hell of a powerhouse. Albert Belle was freaking awesome! The offense was maybe the best of all time. I think they scored over a thousand runs (too lazy to check BB encylopedia).

    Lofton was the premier lead off hitter.
    Vizquel could handle the bat in the two hole.
    Baerga ran hot and cold. Questionable in 3 slot.
    Belle had 50 homers and 50 doubles.

    I’ll stop there. But when you’re hitting Manny 7th, you have a very good team.

    Pitching was their achilles heal. They were little better than average.

    Good God, If they only had a stud or two.

  5. santosis

    Yeah–Manny Ramirez doesn’t hit 7th in all-star games. That’s what really blows me away when I look at this team.

    The 1999 Indians scored a ridiculous 1009 runs. The 95 Indians scored 840 runs in a 144 games (putting them on pace for 945). By comparison, the 1931 Yankees hold the record with 1067 (and they did that in 154 games); 347 of those runs were knocked in by Ruth and Gehrig alone.

    I guess they could have used an ace pitcher on their staff–they had consistent guys, but you really want a Cy Young candidate (or two) in the postseason.

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