Cleveland Rocked: The Personalities, Sluggers, and Magic of the 1995 Indians

Cleveland Rocked: The Personalities, Sluggers, and Magic of the 1995 Indians by Zack Meisel. Triumph Books, 288 pages, $28.00 (Hardcover). Review by R. Zachary Sanzone.

Baseball fans have heard the stories about the New York Yankees’ dynasty of the 1950s and 60s. They’ve heard the stories about Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and the other players accused of steroid use. They’ve read about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Cal Ripken Jr. One topic though that fans haven’t heard much about, in my opinion, is the 1995 Cleveland Indians. It’s been twenty-five years since the Tribe broke their forty-year World Series drought, but since then there hasn’t been much written about their historic 1995 season. Thankfully, we have Zack Meisel’s terrific new book, Cleveland Rocked: The Personalities, Sluggers, and Magic of the 1995 Indians, that tells the story about the deeply captivating and at-times boisterous season that not only lifted the team’s confidence, but lifted the spirits of the good people of the City of Cleveland.

Meisel’s book is mostly a running narrative about how the Indians had been written off as contenders before the mid-1990s when remarkable prospects, the signing of veteran players, and a new stadium breathed fresh life into a team that almost left the city. Meisel cleverly interweaves brief tidbits between chapters about season highlights including multi-home run games, pitching feats, and walk-off wins. I usually hate such interruptions when I’m reading a book because it throws my focus off, but in this case, Meisel writes with enough clarity and brevity that it makes for good additional reading material. In fact, the writing is so good that I finished the book in less than a day. The real strength in Meisel’s book though is in its ability to revive the longing for 1990’s baseball.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, the Cleveland Indians were a thorn in my side when I was an awkward middle schooler in the mid 1990’s. Yanki, my best friend at the time, was a die-hard Indians fan, and NEVER failed to rub it in whenever the Tribe beat my Sox during the 1995 season. When the Indians eliminated my Sox in the fall of ’95, I refused to talk to him for a week, but that didn’t stop him from leaving Indians logos in my locker. That didn’t stop me either from telling him how crazy Albert Belle was, or how the Braves beat them in the World Series. While my Sox didn’t make it to the World Series that year, my banter with Yanki about the Indians was the source of some good middle school memories, which Meisel triggered through his eloquent writing.

Reading Meisel’s Cleveland Rocked brought back a lot of great memories about the 1995 season that thirteen year-old me had long forgotten about. I was reminded of names like Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, and Sandy Alomar. I remembered how much Jim Thome’s swing used to scare me to death when he’d come up to bat against the Red Sox—his powerful swing often resulting in a home run. What the book did for me—and will do for all of its readers—is give them never-been-told stories about what led to the Indians’ success. It didn’t just start with smart trades, or strong prospects that developed well enough to move up to the Majors by 1995. It started with a new stadium.

Nostalgic baseball fans will initially love reading about Cleveland Municipal Stadium until they find out how terribly decrepit it’d become by the early ‘90s. Broken heating systems, missing ceiling tiles, rodent issues, and a general lack of space for its players contributed to low team morale. Building Jacobs Field (renamed Progressive Field, though I’ll always call it the Jake) in downtown Cleveland was the first step towards making the Cleveland Indians into a powerhouse team after a forty-year nap. Meisel’s choice to discuss the aspects of the team’s original stadium was the perfect way to start the book because it gave readers a familiar starting point. As a baseball historian, I particularly appreciated it because it reminded me of all the history that had taken place there, including the end to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. Despite that history though, Meisel brilliantly peels that history back to identify the stadium rot—physical and metaphorical—that had been plaguing the Indians since their last World Series appearance in 1954.

Meisel spends a lot of time talking about the antics for which many of the team’s key players were known. Fans remember Albert Belle’s terrific temper, the infamous cork bat incident that ended with Belle flexing his muscles to show the true source of his power, and the general intensity with which he played. Meisel also elaborates on Jim Thome’s kindness, the modesty he showed on and off the field, and continues to show today. Readers will love learning about veteran players’ time with the team, including Orel Hershiser, Denny Martinez, Dave Winfield, and Eddie Murray. Meisel highlights the player’s single-season, and career accomplishments, including how the ’95 team had three members of the 500-home run club (Thome, Murray, and Manny Ramirez), as well as two members of the 3,000 hit club (Winfield, and Murray). Both Hershiser and Martinez not only had 200+ career wins each by 1995, but Martinez had thrown a perfect just four years earlier at the age of 37. Meisel emphasizes how the team not only had young blood, but veteran players too who contributed offensively and bestowed their years of wisdom on the younger players to make them more successful.

For fans like my old friend Yanki, they’ll get to catch up with their “friends” Eddie Murray, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel. Anyone else who is a baseball fan will not only love reading about former players-turned-Hall of Famers, but will appreciate reading about the vulnerable state baseball was in when they started playing again following the strike of 1994. Meisel’s Cleveland Rocked is a breath of fresh air for baseball fans that grew up watching ‘90s baseball, and will most certainly be remembered as one of the better books written about the Cleveland Indians.