Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Carlos Baerga, John Hart elected to Indians Hall of Fame

2013_02_carlos_baergaThe Cleveland Indians will induct former second baseman Carlos Baerga and former general manager John Hart into the team’s Hall of Fame this summer.

The duo were chosen on Wednesday by a 17-member committee of Cleveland baseball historians, the team announced on its website.

“Carlos and John are responsible for some of the best memories in Cleveland Indians history, and we’re proud to honor their contributions,” Indians president Mark Shapiro said in a release.

Hart built the Indians team into what for many fans was the franchise’s golden era of the late 1990s. He took over as general manager of the team in September 1991 and, over the next 10 years, the Tribe went 870-681, won the A.L. Central Division from 1995 to 1999 and again in 2001, and made the World Series in 1995 and 1997 (no need to remind everyone how that worked out).

If only Hart had been willing to include Jaret Wright in a deal for Pedro Martinez, or been able to land Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling when they were available, there’s no doubt the Tribe would have had at least a couple of championships to celebrate.

It’s fitting that Baerga and Hart are honored together, as Hart was part of the front office when the Indians traded Joe Carter to San Diego for Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Chris James following the 1989 season, a deal that finally jump started a long dormant franchise.

Baerga was a three-time All-Star and won two Silver Slugger Awards in six-and-a-half seasons with the Indians. He hit .300 and averaged 16 home runs and 86 RBI a season, with a four-year stretch (1992 to 1995) where he batted .300 or better. In 1992 and 1993, Baerga became the first second baseman since Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby to post consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits, 20 home runs and 100 RBI.

Hart shocked the baseball world and Tribe fans when the team traded Baerga to the New York Mets during the 1996 season. The Indians knew something was not right with Baerga and it turned out they made the deal at the ideal time (although they didn’t exactly get much in return, bringing back Jeff Kent, who’s inability to execute the fundamental skill of catching a baseball helped cost the Tribe the 1996 playoff series with Baltimore, and Jose Vizcaino).

“Leaving the Cleveland Indians is going to be like taking my heart away,” Baerga said at the time of the trade. “I was down on myself but I want to show people I’m not done; I’ve got a lot of baseball left.”

Unfortunately for Baerga, that wasn’t the case.

Baerga batted just .193 with the Mets the rest of 1996 and was never the same player again. He eventually would return to Cleveland for a 22-game cameo in 1999 and eventually retired in 2005 after batting .253 in 93 games with Washington.

Baerga is one of those players that seems like he was a fixture in the Tribe lineup while they were one of baseball’s best teams, along with Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, but while he was a key player in 1994 and 1995, he was only part of the good times for a short while.

After joining the team in 1990, Baerga played on more poor Tribe teams than successful ones, as the Indians never won more than 77 games in the team’s final four years at Municipal Stadium and actually lost 105 games in 1991.

For his career, Baerga played 14 seasons for eight teams. For the Tribe, he batted .299 with 104 home runs, 565 RBI and 49 stolen bases.

The induction ceremony is scheduled for June 22 before a game against the Twins at Progressive Field.

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