Where to begin with looking back at the Indians' last season in the old Cleveland Stadium? After all, 1993 was going to be a cavalcade of memories and goodbyes as it was, as the Tribe made ready to move into their new digs at Jacobs Field. There was going to be something magical about the season and about the 81 chances for fans to come to the Lady on the Lake and sit in seats their grandparents might have sat in half a century before. There would no doubt be tears.
Under manager Mike Hargrove, the Indians had finished 76-86 in 1992, a very humdrum season in a long string of humdrum seasons that stretched back to the early 1960s, with a few seasons of semi-success scattered through those three decades plus of futility. But the core of the team that would galvanize Indians' fans and turn Cleveland into a model franchise very soon was already in place. The roster featured such names as Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy and Jose Mesa, and as those players matured, and with some key additions in the next couple of off-seasons, the Tribe would explode into prominence in 1994 and sustain an eight-year run of excellence.
Perhaps the coming-of-age would have coincided with the final season at the Stadium had it not been for what happened on March 22, 1993, when the Indians had an off-day from Spring Training in Winter Haven, Fla., in a state still reeling from the effects of Category-5 Hurricane Andrew the previous summer.
Pitchers Bob Ojeda, Steve Olin and Tim Crews took a boat out on a near-dark lake. I will not get into the why's and the wherefore's of what happened then; that is not what this column is about. Suffice it to say that the boat hit a pier concealed in the darkness, and Crews and Olin were killed, and Ojeda seriously injured. Ojeda would eventually recover physically. But the Indians never fully recovered during that season, which was going to have a dirge-like quality as it was.
But -- as the saying goes -- the show must go on, and two weeks later, 73,000-plus turned out for the season opener against the Yankees. The Tribe, as seemed to be their wont in those days in front of a big crowd, laid an egg as Nagy was pounded and the Indians lost 9-1. But then, in front of tiny crowds, the Tribe took two straight from the Bronx Bombers and was sitting above .500 at 2-1.
It was the one and only time during the season that Cleveland would be above the break-even point.
Soon the Tribe was mired at 7-15, but from that point on played nearly .500 ball for the rest of the season. There were a couple of five-game winning streaks and an eight-game run spanning the end of June and the beginning of July, which brought the Indians to 38-42. Although .500 was never reached again, the Indians, with all of the hoopla surrounding the final season, acquitted themselves well, considering the pall of gloom that one event in March had cast over the team.
The Indians eventually finished with exactly the same record as they had posted in 1992: 76-86. A four-game losing streak ended the season, but the last three games of that streak were not about the scores. The last three games were about goodbyes, they were about walking one more time up those ramps to the grandstand from the bowels of the Stadium and seeing the diamond laid out, they were about looking around the vast horseshoe and seeing it filled with fans, as it must have looked in the glory year of 1948 and it must have looked so often during the 50s, when the Tribe and the Yankees were the pace-horses for the rest of the American League.
All three games of the last weekend of Indians' baseball on the lakefront drew over 72,000 fans to watch the Tribe take on the Chicago White Sox. Friday's and Saturday's games were nail-biters, both 4-2 losses to the Sox, with the penultimate game going 10 innings, as if to reward the fans with just a little extra baseball to remember.
The final Sunday, predictably, was a shutout loss, as West Division champion Chicago polished the Tribe off 4-0. But that shutout was the ultimate table-setting for why the fans were really there, and in a post-game love-fest that featured Bob Hope singing "Thanks for the Memories" and home plate being removed as the fans stood and snapped pictures and the Indians -- legends from the past and the Indians of the present and future -- said their goodbyes, the final season came to its conclusion, and the Stadium settled into a respite of 10 or so Browns' games a year, and long, empty summer days while the former tenants played in the sparkling new shrine on the other side of downtown.
There would be one more moment of true excitement for the Lady on the Lake, when the Browns surprised in 1994 and made the playoffs, and then defeated the New England Patriots in the first round on New Year's Day, 1995. But of course, we all know how 1995 ended on the lakefront. And soon after, the Lady was gone.
The Indians saw four crowds of over 70,000 at home in 1993, a crowd in the 60s, and several in the 50s. The total attendance for the year at home was the highest it had been since 1949, as 2,177,908 made their way through the turnstiles.
Many of them might be reading this. One of them, who went several times, is writing this. If you were there, too...do you miss the Old Girl? I know that I do, although maybe what I miss is being younger, maybe I miss that green padded wall covering the fences ringing the park and the bleachers with their fireworks ready to go off, maybe I miss standing at the top of the upper deck, looking out and seeing Lake Erie and then turning around and seeing a double play.
The final season was one of sadness and one of good memories rolled together. Let it never be forgotten.