Twenty-two years ago, giants roamed the earth at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
They were the baddest ballclub in balldom.
Big. Bad. Bodacious.
They knew it. The other teams knew it — and the other teams could do nothing about it.
It was the best Cleveland Indians team ever.
In 2012, the six division winners in Major League Baseball won their divisions by a combined 27 games.
In 1995, the Cleveland Indians, by themselves, won their division by 30 games.
Think about that.
They clinched their division Sept. 8 — and then played 21 more games before reaching the end of the season. Their final record in that strike-shortened, swashbuckling season looks like a typo: 100-44. That projects, in a standard 162-game season, to a record of 113-49.
In 1995, the Indians led everyone in everything, including swagger. Especially swagger. They led the majors in runs scored, runs per game, hits, home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and “Whadda you looking at?”
They led the American League in stolen bases, ERA, saves, fewest runs allowed, WHIP and “You talking to me?”
They scored 840 runs. The American League average was 730. For the season, they had a preposterous run differential of plus-233. The closest team was at plus-104.
They didn’t just beat teams, they bludgeoned teams.
The only thing they didn’t do?
Win the World Series.
That team, that era, that civic exhilaration and heartbreak are all recounted in “The Dynasty That Almost Was,” an excellent MLB Network documentary on the Indians’ powerhouse teams of the 1990s.
It will premiere on the MLB Network on Wednesday night at 7:30.
All the central characters you’d want to hear from were interviewed for the film, except for — big surprise — serial sourpuss Albert Belle, whose only quote is a one-sentence voicemail left for the producers, which is played, on camera, for John Hart, hearing it for the first time.
It’s a priceless moment that I won’t spoil for you, other than to say it’s vintage Belle, who even unseen can still steal a scene.
Hart, the Indians’ former general manager/quote machine, is a big player in the film. It was he, and assistant Dan O’Dowd, who did most of the assembling of that ferociously talented core group of players.
The subsequent big bang that explosion of talent produced changed the major league landscape, while reviving the communal sporting spirit of the sleeping giant that Cleveland, through decades of losing, had become.
Five consecutive division titles and two trips to the World Series in the five-year span from 1995-99 will do that, and this is how they did that.
Starting with that 1995 Wild Bunch, whose bluster and bravado was exceeded only by its bashing and mashing of opponents.
“When we stepped on the field, we wanted people to know we are the man!” says Carlos Baerga.
Man, oh, man, could those guys hit. The Nos. 6 and 7 hitters in the lineup, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, combined to hit 1,167 career home runs.
Had it not been for injuries and PED suspensions, seven of the nine players in that lineup would be in the Hall of Fame. Eddie Murray already is. Thome, who ranks fifth all time among non-steroid-tainted hitters with 612 homers, will be, once he’s on the ballot.
Kenny Lofton should be, but was incomprehensibly ignored by voters. Omar Vizquel should go in when he becomes eligible. Belle averaged 38 homers and 123 RBIs per year, for nine years, until a hip injury ended his career.
Ramirez was a lock for the Hall until he got suspended multiple times for juicing, and Sandy Alomar Jr. could have been, had injuries not derailed his career.
The MLB Network special covers all of it, and all of them. The ’95 team’s rampage to the World Series, where it was undone by the Braves’ three Hall of Fame starting pitchers, and a strike zone wider than Wyoming.
“Maybe the stage got to us. We didn’t deliver,” Hart says.
There’s Belle’s acrimonious free agent exit after the 1996 season, and the near-riot his return with the White Sox caused.
There’s the shocking trade of Lofton to the Braves prior to the start of the 1997 season.
“One of the saddest moments for me,” he says. “My heart dropped to the floor.”
And, of course, the gruesome extra-innings loss to the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, where The Dynasty That Almost Was got a sniff of the celebration that never was.
“The trophy was in our locker room,” a still-exasperated Hart says. “Biggest jinx ever.”
“It was like a knife in your heart,” Vizquel says.
For a five-year run in the 1990s, the Indians, playing in their sold-out brand-new playpen, won almost everything, including the hearts and minds of their fans, the adulation of the region …
But not the World Series.