When attempting to identify baseball’s least likely success story of the last 25 years, one doesn’t need to look any further than the 1989 Cleveland Indians. Plagued with rumors of tampering from ownership, a practically non-existent budget, and a roster filled with names unfamiliar to most who followed the game, the ‘89 Indians should have turned in one of the worst seasons of all time.
Long time owner, Donald Phelps, passed away in December of 1988, leaving the franchise in the hands of his ex-Vegas showgirl wife. Her intentions for the club, which we’ve come to understand years later, involved nothing resembling on-field success. With a pair of 100-loss seasons in the rearview, Rachel Phelps set out to build a team bad enough to finish dead last, in hopes of packing up the team and relocating to Miami.
Their place in baseball history is undefined. The Indians improbable run to the American League East pennant has never been celebrated as a book, movie, or both. There was no forward thinking ex-player turned general manager rushing to save the Cleveland Indians on the back of a statistical revolution. It wasn’t a case of “the bad guys won,” but perhaps the wrong guys won.
This is the story of 1989 Cleveland Indians, as told by the players and coaches who helped a struggling franchise win its first pennant in over 30 years.