Sometimes I can’t remember where I left my car keys, but I can remember all the words to a silly Cleveland Indians promotional song from over 40 years ago.
"Indians fever, it’s catching fire with everyone,
Indians fever, you can be part of the fun,
A hit, a homer, a double-play, it’s how you feel when they win,
So catch Indians fever, be a believer with the Cleveland Indians."
My buddy got mad one year during that time when the Indians kept blowing leads late in games. As such, he changed the last part of the last line of the song to, "get a reliever for the Cleveland Indians."
He was goofy as the that little tune at times.
But anyway, with their regular season beginning Monday night with a road game against the Texas Rangers, do you have Indians fever yet?
We all had it last summer – and also well into the fall, really, with the extra-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series not ending until the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 3, just three weeks before Thanksgiving.
The Indians sold out their home opener against the Chicago White Sox on April 11 in a veritable blink of an eye, proving that a lot of people do indeed have the fever.
I’m trying to get the fever as well. I’m trying very hard. I wish I could get it. I really do. I’d be thrilled to get afflicted like that.
Back in the 1970s when that song asked us to be believers, I was – even though there was no reason to be such. The Indians were bad. They had no chance to get to the World Series. This year’s backups are better than the starters were in those seasons.
Now, despite all this talent ad all this hope, and with all those great memories of last season still fresh in our minds, I’m still not a believer. I stood out from the crowd during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations, and I’m doing so again during the Trump administration.
Again, go figure.
Oh, sure, I truly believe that the Indians are stacked. For all the world, they look like a team that could not just get to the World Series again this season, but also finish the job and win it.
They have the best pitching staff in baseball, and the best they’ve had since the vaunted "Big Four" quartet of the 1950s with Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and Bob Feller. And great pitching still is the deciding factor in baseball. It is to that sport what a great quarterback is to football. That is, no matter what a team has at the other positions, if it is fortified with pitching, then it has a chance to win it all.
And if a team doesn’t, then it doesn’t. It’s just that simple.
With the exception of catcher, the Indians have good, if not great players at the other positions in the field, including a budding star in shortstop Francisco Lindor and the big, powerful bat in the middle of the lineup they’ve lacked for so long in offseason free-agent acquisition Edwin Encarnacion.
And they’ve got the best manager in all of baseball in Terry Francona.
OK, then, if this team is so good, then what’s not to like?
The history, that’s what. I’m a big believer in history. The history is made up of undeniable facts.
And the Indians have a long history of undeniable facts – so long that it covers an entire century – that don’t add up in a positive way. Not a bit.
In 1920, nearly 100 years ago, the Indians finished 98-56 (the season was 154 games then) and, in their first trip to World Series, won it, beating the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers, who are now in Los Angeles) five games to two (it was a best-of-nine series). Hopes for a repeat in 1921 were high – fans had their version of Indians fever back then – but it didn’t happen. The Indians still had a great record, 94-60, but that was good for only second place in the American League, 4½ games behind the New York Yankees. They would not get back to the World Series for 27 more years.
The breakthrough came in 1948 when the Indians won their second world title in as many tries. It wasn’t easy, though. They first had to defeat the Boston Red Sox 8-3 in a one-game playoff after the teams finished tied for first place in the American League with 96-58 records. Then they topped the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves four games to two in the World Series.
More of the same in 1949? Not so fast, my friends. The Indians finished in third place with an 89-65 mark, 8½ games behind the world champion Yankees. There is a great photo of Indians owner Bill Veeck, a great promoter and showman, conducting a public funeral for the 1948 World Series pennant and burying it in the outfield late in the season when the club was officially eliminated from contention.
After finishing second for the three previous seasons, the Indians finally beat out the Yankees in 1954, winning the pennant by eight games and setting an American League record for victories with their 111-43 record. Despite all that, though, they couldn’t win the World Series, losing in four straight games to the New York Giants.
Oh, well. The Indians had that aforementioned outstanding pitching staff. They would get back to the World Series in 1955 and win it, right? Well, no. They were 93-61 and were second to the Yankees. They would not get back to the World Series for 40 more years.
The drought ended in 1995 when the Indians, in a strike-shortened season, blew through the Central Division on the way to finishing with a 100-44 record and making it to the World Series against Atlanta. But the Braves prevailed four games to two to win what is still their only championship.
Not to worry. With that all-star lineup, the Indians would certainly get back to the World Series in 1996 and win it, right? They fashioned a 99-62 record to capture the Central again but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the Division Series three games to one.
Do you see the trend here?
The Indians were re-tooled a bit in the ensuing offseason and came back in 1997 to win the division again with a modest 86-75 record. They then caught fire in the playoffs, beating the Yankees three games to two in the Division Series and the Orioles four games to two in the American League Championship Series to get back to the World Series against Florida. But that didn’t end well as the Indians blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 and ultimately lost the game, and the series, to the Marlins.
Now the Indians are trying to go to consecutive World Series for the first time in their 117-year history. I want to believe they will do that – and then win it all – this year. Just like you, I would be ecstatic beyond words if they get it done.
But I’m not going to bet on it. History won’t let me.
I hope I’m wrong.