In the long, storied history of the Cleveland Indians, they have only won two World Series and none since 1948. Their first turn as champions occurred one hundred years ago this year in 1920 when they defeated the Brooklyn Robins five games to two. They would go on to win it again in 1948 and since that time have captured four more pennants, most recently in 2016, but haven’t been able to get over the hump. In honor of the 1920 team’s centennial anniversary and because the two game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs brought back nightmares of 2016, it feels right to rank the six pennant winning teams in Indians history.
Winning the World Series will not automatically qualify the 1920 and 1948 teams as the top two. These rankings will look at more than just the series but also take into account how the teams regular season and the roster makeup. This is somewhat unquantifiable as the game has changed over the course of the last one hundred years of baseball and the game in 1920 was much different than it is today but it never hurts to try.
6. 1997 Cleveland Indians
The 1997 Cleveland Indians will always be remembered for Jose Mesa’s blown save in game seven of the World Series to the start up Florida Marlins. The ’97 iteration of the Tribe also got in the way of the New York Yankees winning five consecutive World Series so that is a positive among others to come from this team. Compared to the other teams on this list, their regular season record of 86-75 pales in comparison and it is hard to get over losing to a franchise that was just in their fourth season of existence. Also the pitching on the ’97 team was a major Achilles heel of the team with no starter registering an ERA under 4.00 during the regular season
5. 2016 Cleveland Indians
The 2016 Indians, like the 1997 team, took the World Series all the way to game seven. The crack of Rajai Davis’ bat as he blasted an eighth inning, two out home run off Aroldis Chapman still seems to be heard to this day. Unfortunately, the rain came and the Cubs scored two in extras to take the crown. The 2016 team will be remembered for their perseverance as a late season injury to Carlos Carrasco knocked him out of the postseason and Trevor Bauer’s ill timed drone injury during the ALCS depleted a great rotation. Corey Kluber and the dominance of Andrew Miller coming out of the pen in concert with timely hitting got the Indians out to a three game to one lead in the World Series. Eventually, they ran out of gas and the Cleveland Indians came up just short yet again.
4. 1920 Cleveland Indians
The Indians first World Series championship came just after the end of the dead-ball era with a regular season finish at 98-56 to win the pennant. The team was led by the hall of famer Tris Speaker who was the player manager and hit .388 during the season. The Indians also had three 30 game winners on the mound in Jim Bagby, Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski and Ray Caldwell. With the Indians leading the league in runs per game and a dominant pitching trio the Indians held off the Chicago White Sox to win the AL by two games. The great season is overshadowed by the death of Ray Chapman who is the only player to die from an on field injury when he was hit in the head in an August match up with the New York Yankees. The 1920 Indians were a team that could hit and pitch and they showed the toughness to overcome the loss of a teammate to bring the first World Series to the shores of Lake Erie.
3. 1995 Cleveland Indians
The second Indians team to win one hundred games in a season and the first Indians team to make it to the World Series in 47 years dominated the strike-shortened 1995 season. The feared lineup that made batting around something of a normality and started the 454 consecutive sell out streak eventually ran into a buzz-saw that was the Atlanta Braves. The Indians fell to the Braves four games to two as the Braves trio of hall of fame pitchers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz held the Indians lineup in check. The 1995 Indians have the leg up on the previous three teams due to their regular season dominance offensively and their pitching stacks up better compared to the 1997 team. Its hard to knock a team that won one hundred games in a season even if they came up shorter than the previous three teams.
2. 1948 Cleveland Indians
Second on this list is the last Indians team to win the World Series the 1948 edition of the Cleveland Indians. The team was led by Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Bob Feller on the hill with Gene Bearden also pitching in twenty wins as a starter. On offense Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau and Larry Doby led the team hitting .355 and .301 respectively, and Dale Mitchell posted a career high .336 average. The Indians finished the season 97-58 and just held off the Boston Red Sox by one game to win the AL pennant. They would go on to defeat the Boston Braves four games to two to take the ’48 series. The four Hall of Famers and the World Series push this Indians squad all the way up to number two on the list of the greatest Indians pennant winners.
1. 1954 Cleveland Indians
The best Indians pennant winning team did not win the series but the 1954 team set the AL record for the most wins in a season at 111 games which would stand till the 1998 Yankees won 114 regular season games. The Indians were led by three Hall of Famer pitchers in Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bob Feller with Mike Garcia winning nineteen games for a deep pitching rotation. The offense was led by AL batting champ Bobby Avila, Hall of Famer Larry Doby and Indians great Al Rosen. The Indians were heavily favored in the 1954 World Series against the Willie Mays led New York Giants but were shockingly swept in four games. The series is remembered in baseball history for the amazing over the head catch Mays made in deep center field to rob Vic Wertz of an extra base hit. The ball most certainly would’ve been a home run in just about any other park except the Polo Grounds. That play by Mays is what turned the series for the Giants, and they never looked back. Even though this Indians team were swept in the Series, their lineup, pitching staff and the dominance they showed during the regular season makes them the greatest of the six AL pennant winning teams and it makes it that much harder to swallow they came home empty handed.