Wednesday, July 08, 2020

April 4, 1994 pt. 2

I’ve previously written about the Indians/Mariners opening day game of April 4, 1994 that made me a baseball fan. I won’t rehash all that in detail again, but I recently was able to watch a replay of this game for the first time. I’d never actually seen any of it before, except for highlights – in real time I listened to about the seventh inning forward on the radio.

For the rewatch, I kept a scoresheet, which is reproduced at the bottom of the post. A few observations:

* Chris Berman and Buck Martinez called the game on ESPN. Berman was not as terrible as I remember him being, but most of my exposure was later. That is not to say that he was good. Martinez is a middling announcer with a terrible voice, and was in 1994 as well. It would be a real treat to be able to watch this game with the local radio call of Herb Score and Tom Hamilton that I would have enjoyed in place of the national guys.

* Randy Johnson had a no-hitter through seven, which was noteworthy for reasons beyond the obvious. As all Indians fans know, Bob Feller is the only pitcher to throw an Opening Day no-hitter, and here was a threat to no-hit the Indians in on Opening Day in their first game in their new park with Feller on hand. Plus Randy Johnson, while not yet the legend that he would be, was obviously a legitimate no-hit candidate. He’d already thrown one in 1990, and 1993 had been his breakout year, finishing second in the Cy Young voting and recording his third straight season with over 10 K/9.

So not having seen the game and filling in the details in my mind given what I knew about the Big Unit later, I assumed that he had spent the first seven innings carving Cleveland up. But that was not the case at all; it more resembled what you would have expected a Greg Hibbard no-hit bid to look like. Through seven, Johnson had walked four and fanned two on 94 pitches. His twenty-one outs were distributed as:

12 on groundouts (including 2 DPs)
5 on flyouts
2 on strikeouts
1 popout
1 caught stealing

His opposite number, Dennis Martinez, was pitching a similar game from a DIPS perspective with one big exception – the two out solo shot he yielded to Eric Anthony in the third. Otherwise, through seven Martinez had struck out four, walked four, and hit Edgar Martinez in the first inning (providing an early injury scare as Mike Blowers pinch-ran, all this after Martinez had appeared in just 42 games in 1993. He’d only appear in three more games the rest of April).

* Two future stars were languishing down in the Indians lineup – Manny Ramirez batting eighth, and Jim Thome on the bench. It would be some time before Thome was trusted to start against left-handed pitchers, and so Mark Lewis was the ninth-place hitter and third baseman. Ramirez provided a Manny being Manny moment. After Candy Maldonado walked to open the eighth and Sandy Alomar singled to break up the no-no, Manny clanged a 1-0 Johnson offering off the big wall in left for a game-tying double. With Mark Lewis looking to advance the go-ahead run to third base, Ramirez strayed two far off second and was picked off by a Dan Wilson throwback to second on the first pitch.

Ramirez and Thome were never in the game simultaneously; with the Indians down a run with one out in the tenth, Ramirez drew a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Wayne Kirby. It was then that Thome batted for Lewis, which brought on lefty reliever King for Seattle. Thome pulled a double down the right field line to put runners at second and third, and Kirby would later score when Vizquel hit into a fielder’s choice. It would work out in the end two, as Kirby walked it off in the eleventh with a two-out, line drive single to left to score Eddie Murray with the winning run.

* Despite what I’m about to say below, this was a good game for star power as these two teams would emerge as top AL contenders of the latter half of the nineties: Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Eddie Murray, Jim Thome, future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel, would have been Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez, should be Hall of Famer Kenny Lofton, could have been Hall of Famer Albert Belle, a former Rookie of the Year in Sandy Alomar, and other memorable names including Jay Buhner, Carlos Baerga, Tino Martinez, and Jose Mesa.

* One thing that struck me in re-watching it is what an ordinary game it was. Granted, given the circumstances (opening day and opening game of a new park) it was extremely memorable for Indians fans, but if you strip all that out and just evaluate it as a game, it wouldn’t be the most exciting of most major league team’s seasons. I have personally attended at least six Indians games in the last four seasons that were more compelling, and I’ve only been to about sixty games in that time and I’m making that list from the top of my head. I had built it up in my head as a kind of epic, and in some senses it disappointed upon rewatch.

On the other hand, that disappointment reminded me of what a great game baseball is. I have now watched twenty-six seasons of major league baseball and perhaps become jaded about just how interesting and exciting baseball inherently is. That this game wouldn’t rank in the top 10% of games I’ve attended recently speaks to what an amazing game baseball is. Since this game was sufficient to almost instantly turn me into a baseball nut, I suspect that a much less exciting contest would have done the trick. And it should have...I’m repeating myself again, and as I write this we are still two and a half weeks from even the possibility of baseball in 2020, and that too reminds me that baseball is just the best in every way.

* More generally on the franchise that I yolked myself to on April 4, 1994, I have no comment on the fact that the Indians will liekely soon be changing their name itself. I do have two strains of thought on possible future names:

1. I think “Expos” is the logical choice, which is a snarky way of saying that my suspicion is that this name will be changing again in the relatively near future as the franchise settles into its new home in Montreal, Nashville, Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, etc.

2. “Spiders” is a dreadful option. First of all, as a general philosophy, I believe that baseball team names should be non-threatening. Most baseball team names are – I would contend that the only exceptions among the sixteen teams dating to 1901 or earlier are Pirates and Tigers, depending on what you think (very carefully) about Braves and Indians. Cubs are not an animal I would wish to encounter, but the name suggests cute and cuddly teddy bears rather than miniature grizzlies. Among expansion team names, the only one that I would classify as even mildly threatening is Rangers, and I would suspect the desired effect is strength and honor rather than menace.

The exception is the 1998 expansion. The Devil Rays and the Diamondbacks both sound threatening, although the former is actually generally harmless (to humans at least, and I think that’s all we should consider lest all the bird names become threatening) and was later downgraded to the double meaning “Rays” anyway. The latter is a scary animal, but is also in my opinion a contender for best expansion team name, due to the baseball tie in (my other contender for best expansion team names would be Brewers (although that was recycled), Colt .45s/Astros, and Pilots/Mariners. The latter was a case in which the city had a great name and then got a similar yet superior one eight years later).

So I would contend that Spiders is contrary to the spirit of baseball nicknames. The history of the name is also quite problematic (although quite appropriate if my misgivings about the future of the franchise are founded). The original Spiders represented Cleveland in the National League from 1887-1899, never winning a pennant. In the early 1890s they were a strong outfit, finishing second three times and even capturing a Temple Cup (which I do not in any way deem to be comparable to a regular season pennant) with names like Cy Young and Jesse Burkett, but were soon a victim of the systemic corruption of the 1890s NL, with owner Stanley Robison siphoning off talent for the St. Louis now-Cardinals in which he also had a stake. As you probably know, this culminated in the 20-134 debacle of 1899 before the team joined Detroit, Lousiville, and Washington on the chopping block, leaving Cleveland open for Ban Johnson’s play at major status for the American League two years later. I would contend that this is quite an ignominious history and nothing to be celebrated or emulated.

If Cleveland’s major league history must be the first source of inspiration, the Indians’ prior unofficial names won’t cut it: Blues is boring, Cleveland isn’t supporting a team called the Broncos, Naps would be fine with me but doesn’t sell and the headlines write themselves. The Players League outfit was referred to as the Infants. The Negro Leagues don’t provide much in the way of an option, as Cleveland’s proudest entry was the Buckeyes, a name of which THE sports team of only entity is worthy.

I do think there is one Cleveland major league name that would work – the first, the Forest City club which represented the city in the National Association during 1871-72. This team actually participated in the NA’s first league game on May 4, 1871. Maybe you’d have to rework it to Foresters (or even Sawyers), but it’s a name I could get behind.

Best non-historical choice, although semi-violating my own suggested rule about nice namesakes: Buzzards.

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