In August of 1920, Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman died after he was hit by a pitch. As that same season waned, the Indians were chasing the Chicago White Sox for the pennant. However, due to fall out from the Black Sox Scandal, eight White Sox players were suspended by their owner. The suspensions allowed the Indians to overtake the White Sox and claim the American League crown. In the wake of two of baseball greatest tragedies, the Indians would go on to win the 1920 World Series.
Chapman’s death had such serious ramifications on the game of baseball that it ushered out the dead ball era and ushered in the era of the homerun. Also, with the Black Sox Scandal besmirching the league’s honor, baseball needed a new hero, a dynamic figure. Unfortunately, at least for Cleveland fans, it wasn’t an Indian. It was a Yankee by the name of Babe Ruth.
With the game drastically changed, it would be 28 years before the Indians would win another World Series. While that drought is long, their next dry spell was even worse. From 1960 to 1993, the Indians finished in last place every season except one third-place finish and five fourth-place finishes.
This tradition of disappointment was probably the reason why filmmakers chose the Indians to be the featured team in the 1989 film Major League. In the comic romp, the bumbling Indians rallied from last place to win the American League pennant. For many baseball fans of that era, the film was the only time they paid any attention to the Indians.
The team began to find success when they moved from Cleveland Stadium to Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) in 1994. With star players like Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Carolos Baegra, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and the cantankerous Albert Belle, the Indians reached the World Series in 1995 and 1997.
Arguably the best Indians team in franchise history lost the 1995 World Series to the Atlanta Braves in six games. In the 1997 World Series, the Indians had a 2-1 lead to start the ninth inning of Game 7, but closer Jose Mesa blew the save and allowed the Florida Marlins, an expansion team, to tie the game. The Marlins eventually won the game, and the series, in the 11th inning.
In 2000, Richard Jacobs sold the team to Larry Dolan for $320 million, at the time it was a record price for a major league baseball.
Despite years and years of mind-numbing failure, the Indians were quite successful in the integration baseball. In 1947, the Indians signed the first black man to play in the American League, future Hall of Fame Larry Doby. In 1948, the Indians signed 42-year old hurler Satchel Paige. Not only is Paige the oldest rookie the Majors has ever seen, he was also the league’s first black pitcher.
Founded in 1901, the Indians are one of the American League's eight charter franchises. Besides “Indians,” the team is also known as “the Tribe” and “the Wahoos.” Chief Wahoo is the name of their mascot.
One of the greatest hitters to ever step up to the plate played for the Indians from 1916 to 1926, he was the “Grey Eagle,” center fielder Tris Speaker. As an Indian, Speaker averaged over .350 for ten of his 11 years with the club. Speaker finished his hall of fame career with a battle average of .345 and 3514 hits.
Due to his amazing speed, Speaker played extremely shallow in center field. Six times during his career he caught line drives and then converted them into unassisted double plays. At times he covered second base for pick-off moves and was even involved in a double play as the pivot man.
Bob Feller broke into the league in 1936 at the age of 17 with a devastating fastball. During his rookie season, the Iowan struck out 17 batters to become the first pitcher to strike out his age (in 1998, at the age of 20, Kerry Wood struck out 20).
To start the 1940 season, Feller tossed a no-hitter—the only no-hitter ever thrown on Opening Day. That same season Feller went on to capture the American League pitching Triple Crown, meaning he lead the league in earned run average, wins, and strikeouts. An eight time All-Star, his 266 victories is the most in Indians’ history. Feller spent his entire 18 year career with franchise and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Historically, the Indians have been one of the least successful teams in all of baseball but they are still beloved and adored by their fans. From June 12th, 1995 to April 4th, 2001 the Indians had a then- record 455-home-game sellout streak. That streak spanned six seasons, three of which the team sold every ticket to all 81 of its games before Opening Day.