The Cleveland Indians now have an unmatched World Series drought after coming up just short to the similarly title-starved Chicago Cubs last fall. It was the closest the franchise has come to the promised land since 1948, and opened up old wounds suffered year after year in the mid-1990s as a powerhouse club failed to capture the sport’s most sought-after hardware.
Cleveland’s halcyon days are chronicled in The Dynasty That Almost Was, airing on MLB Network Wednesday night at 7:30 ET. The documentary explores the resurgence of the dormant franchise under the ownership of Dick Jacobs and front office steering of John Hart, Dan O’Dowd and Mark Shapiro, who turned 40 years of futility into repeated brushes with greatness. It follows an easily navigable path as the Indians went from the butt of jokes (Major League) to the most feared team in the majors.
Over a seven-year stretch, the Indians won six division titles while selling out 455 consecutive home games. And they played with swagger, bringing the fight to other teams and daring them to do something about it. They twice faltered in the World Series –in 1995 against the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves and in 1997 against the Florida Marlins.
Members of both of those teams are interviewed, including Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jose Mesa, Jaret Wright, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy, Chad Ogea and Brian Anderson. But the real shining star is Hart as he brings life to what can be a stale topic: the nuts and bolts of building a contender.
The challenges of assembling a winning roster with disparate personalities — from Albert Belle to Jim Thome — and getting them to gel together under manager Mike Hargrove, are clearly laid out and explored. The behind-the-scenes looks are illuminating for both Indians fans and the casual viewer alike.
The corollaries between these Indians teams and the four-time Super Bowl-losing Buffalo Bills are hard to ignore, so it’s tough not to hold The Dynasty That Almost Was up for comparison against The Four Falls of Buffalo, a 30 for 30 movie made in 2015. The latter, it must be said, does a better job tapping into the emotion of the run and its impact on a working-class, Rust Belt city.
However, the throwback video in this offering is like catnip for those of a certain generation who harbor fond memories of the Indians-Braves battles of the 90s, the violent greatness of Belle and the Jose Mesa stare. It is a nice walk down memory lane — even for still crownless Clevelanders.
Your results may vary but The Dynasty That Almost Was succeeded with me due to the questions it spawned. Although not all specifically addressed in the film, there are several barstool conversations just waiting to take rise out.
What is a dynasty? What is success? Is it better to have won often and lost or to never have won at all? They say history is written by the victors but in professional sports, the vast majority of clubs depart without ultimate victory. They too have stories to tell and oftentimes they are rich and compelling.
This is one of them, and it hits home because, well, the Cleveland Indians are still looking to win a World Series. Maybe this is the year. A film like this is a good reminder just how hard the feat can be, as even the most gifted teams fall short.