You may be a casual Tribe fan, a student of the game or maybe you just love timelines. Whatever you are, we’re here for you. Below is a detailed timeline marking 52 incredible moments of Cleveland’s storied baseball past. From last year’s 22-game winning streak all the way back to when it was called “Base Ball,” it’s all here.
What did we forget? Anything you hadn’t heard before? If you had a time machine, which game would you want to see live? Let us know in the comments!
1861 – 1865 – The American Civil War causes the rapid spread of a new summer game called “Base Ball.” The sport takes hold all over the country as players of all ages begin playing for city-wide bragging rights.
1865 – An amateur baseball club based in Cleveland, Ohio is formed. Their official team name is simply “Forest City.”
October 20, 1865 – One of the first organized, intercity sporting events in Cleveland history takes place. The Oberlin Penfields visit Forest City and play seven innings before the game is called due to lack of sunlight. Oberlin takes home the victory, 67-28.
1869 – Forest City begins fully compensating its players, becoming the first professional sports team in Cleveland history.
June 2, 1869 – Professional sports, a staple of modern day Northeast Ohio, is played in the region for the first time. Cleveland’s very first professional game pits Forest City against the visiting Cincinnati Red Stockings. Cincinnati escapes with the victory, 25-6.
1871 – The first professional sports league in North America is formed. Forest City will play in the inaugural season of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. This new league also marks the beginning of Major League Baseball.
May 4, 1871 – The very first Major League game is played between Cleveland and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. The game contains few runs, hits or errors, impressive for the time. One newspaper calls it, “The finest game on record in this country.” Forest City is heavily favored but loses 2-0. They would fold two seasons later.
1879 – A new team, also called Forest City, begins play in the newly formed National League. This team is sometimes known as the Cleveland Blues.
June 12, 1880 – Cleveland falls to the Worcester Ruby Legs, 1-0, as Worcester pitcher Lee Richmond tosses the very first “Perfect Game” in Major League history. This feat, considered the most difficult in all of sports, will be accomplished just 22 more times over the next 130+ years.
1882 – The NL begins requiring distinct colors for each team. Cleveland begins wearing blue uniforms and officially becomes the Cleveland Blues for this reason. They play three seasons as the Blues before merging with (and playing as) the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association.
1887 – The Cleveland Spiders begin play in the American Association, a rival league to the NL. The AA becomes known as “The Beer and Whiskey League” as alcohol is served during games.
1889 – The Spiders move to the National League.
1890 – Cleveland has two professional sports teams for the first time: The Spiders of the NL and the Infants of the Players National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. The Infants fold along with the PNL after one season.
August 6, 1890 – Spiders pitcher Denton True “Cy” Young plays the first big league game of his career. His three-hit shutout earns him the first of his MLB record 511 wins.
1894 – The Grand Rapids Rustlers begin playing baseball in Michigan as a part of the Western League. This marks the beginning of a franchise that will play in Cleveland for over a century.
1895 – Cy Young leads the Spiders to the National League championship series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Spiders win the Temple Cup, 4 games to 1, bringing the first professional sports championship to Cleveland, Ohio.
1899 – The Spiders post the worst record in baseball history, going 20-134 (.130). This will be their last season.
1900 – The Rustlers move from Grand Rapids to Cleveland. They play as the Lake Shores in a new minor league called the American League.
1901 – The AL declares itself a major league and the Lake Shores will be a charter franchise but will play as the Bluebirds. Today, the franchise points to this season as its establishment.
1902 – Players on the Bluebirds, thinking the name unfit for a baseball team, attempt to get the name changed to the Broncos. The unofficial name does not catch on.
1903 – The National and American Leagues recognize each other as equal “Major Leagues” and a championship series is to be played between their best clubs. The Boston Americans (AL) defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates (NL), 5 games to 3, to win the first modern World Series.
Also 1903 – After a newspaper write-in contest, the Cleveland Blues are renamed the Naps after their star player, captain and future manager, Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie.
October 2, 1908 – Naps pitcher Addie Joss tosses the 4th perfect game in MLB history, defeating the Chicago White Sox 1-0.
1912 – The Naps are renamed the Molly McGuires.
1913 – A 2nd baseball team comes to town as a member of the short lived Federal League. The Cleveland Green Sox will play for only one season.
1915 – The Cleveland McGuires are renamed once more. Thankfully, this name sticks. The Cleveland Indians play their first season.
August 16, 1920 – While playing the Yankees on the road, a pitch strikes Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the head. He is rushed to a New York City hospital and dies 12 hours later. He remains the only MLB player to die from an injury sustained on the field. His death would lead to many MLB rule changes including the use of batting helmets. Chapman played for the Naps/ McGuires/Indians for the entirety of his shortened career.
October 5, 1920 – The Indians reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. They will face off against the NL’s Brooklyn Robins in the first World Series game since the previous year’s infamously “fixed” matchup. Game 1 of the best-of-nine series is won by Cleveland 3-1.
October 10, 1920 – In the top of the 5th inning in Game 5 of the World Series, Indians second baseman and Cleveland native Bill Wambsganss catches a well hit line drive, steps on second base and tags a nearby runner for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history. Clevelanders attending this wild game at Dunn Field also see the first World Series grand slam and the first World Series home run hit by a pitcher. These three extraordinary plays help the Indians win 8-1 and give Cleveland the series lead.
October 12, 1920 – The Cleveland Indians defeat the Brooklyn Robins, 5 games to 2, to bring the first World Series (and first recognized “major sports championship”) to Cleveland, Ohio.
1947 – The Indians break the American League color barrier by signing African American center fielder Larry Doby.
October 3, 1948 – The Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox finish the 1948 season with the exact same record of 96-58.
October 4, 1948 – For the first time in Major League history, a one-game-playoff is required to determine 1st place in a regular season tie. Cleveland defeats the Red Sox, 8-3, winning the AL pennant and ending any hope for an all-Boston World Series.
October 11, 1948 – The Indians defeat the Boston Braves, 4 games to 2, to win their 2nd World Series. The excitement seen in and around 1948 Cleveland is unprecedented as just six months earlier, the beloved Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League won the Calder Cup Championship and two months after the World Series win, the Cleveland Browns will win the AAFC Championship, finishing off the greatest year in Cleveland sports history.
September 29, 1954 – Following a franchise best 111-43 season, the Indians play Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Giants. During the 8th inning, Giants superstar Willie Mays chases down and catches Vic Wertz‘s deep drive into center field, keeping the go-ahead run at second base. The over-the-shoulder running grab, forever remembered in Cleveland as “The Catch,” is considered one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of baseball and the greatest of May’s career. The Giants would go on to sweep the Indians and win the title.
1954-95 – The Indians fail to reach the world series for 41 straight seasons while making notoriously bad trades. Frank “Trader” Lane, a GM of the Indians, manages to trade away an entire roster in under two years. Many blame this and other Indians mishaps on “The Curse of Rocky Colavito” which began when Lane traded Colavito, the home run champion and star player to the rival Tigers in 1959.
1960-93 – The Indians spend 33 consecutive seasons finishing 11 or more games out of 1st place.
June 4, 1974 – After a bench clearing brawl against the Texas Rangers six days earlier, the Rangers and Indians travel to Cleveland for another matchup. Leading up to the game, a reporter asks Rangers manager Billy Martin if he is worried about playing in Cleveland so soon after the heated brawl. He replies, “They won’t have enough fans there to worry about.” In response to this, Municipal Stadium holds one of their popular promotions for the June 4th game. Ten Cent Beer Night, as it would come to be known, draws over 25,000 Indians fans. The infamous night begins with a baseball game and ends with a riot. From the very first pitch, drunk fans run out to the diamond to flash, moon, etc… while the two teams play a very exciting game. Then, in the 9th inning, with the game tied 5-5, a Cleveland fan hops the barrier and tries to steal a Texas outfielder’s hat. The player kicks the fan and all hell breaks loose. Fans storm the field and the entire Rangers squad meets them with bats. Indians players and coaches come to the Rangers aid, swinging bats at their own fans. In the end, Cleveland forfeits to Texas and nine people are arrested. Municipal Stadium would hold another Ten Cent Beer Night a month later.
October 9, 1974 – The Indians break another color barrier as GM Phil Seghi introduces the first African-American manager in MLB history, Frank Robinson. Robinson serves as player/manager of the Indians for two seasons and exclusively manager for one. He would go on to manage other Major League clubs for 30 years. Beginning his playing career in 1956 and retiring from managing in 2006, Robinson’s historic life in Major League baseball spans five decades.
May 15, 1981 – Indians pitcher Len Barker tosses the 10th perfect game in MLB history, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0.
1995 – The Indians reach the World Series for the first time since “The Catch” but fall to the more experienced Atlanta Braves in 6 games.
October 26, 1997 – It’s the script all young Indians fans recited while playing in the backyard, “World Series, Game 7, bottom of the 9th, up by 1. You take the mound to close out the game and bring Cleveland its first World Series in 49 years.” This is exactly what happened to Jose Mesa against the Florida Marlins in ’97, but the game didn’t turn out the way it did in the backyard. Mesa blows the save and allows the Marlins to tie and ultimately win the series in the 11th inning.
June 12, 1995 – April 4, 2001 – The Indians sell out Jacobs Field for a then Major League record 445 consecutive home games. A new stadium, departed football team, booming economy, two World Series appearances and an exciting Indians roster contribute to the record setting attendance. Shortly following the end of the streak, the Indians organization retires jersey #455 in honor of the estimate 19,324,248 fans who caught “Indian Fever” during this historic run.
August 5, 2001 – In the bottom of the 7th, in what may be the most exciting game in Indians history, the city of Cleveland finds its Tribe down an insurmountable 14-2. As fans begin to evacuate Jacobs Field, the comeback begins. A 3-run 7th, 4-run 8th and 5-run 9th, take the game to extra innings. Then in the bottom of the 11th, a broken bat single from Jolbert Cabrera and the subsequent final run from Kenny Lofton, finishes off the 12-run deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners, 15-14. As usual, the emotion following the momentous comeback is put best by the radio voice of the Indians, Tom Hamilton, “The Indians, dead and buried, down twelve in the 7th, have completed the miracle. We said in the 9th, it may take divine intervention, there’ll be a lot of people wondering.”
2007 – Despite being up 3 games to 1 against the Boston Red Socks in the ALCS, the Indians are outscored 30-5 in the final three games and are knocked out of the playoffs.
June 19 – July 1, 2016 – Following the Cavaliers championship victory that ended Cleveland’s 52-year “curse,” the Indians win 12 straight games to finish out a then franchise record 14-game winning streak.
October 6, 2016 – The Indians and Red Sox face off in the 2016 ALDS for what would be their 6th post-season meeting (counting the one-game playoff of 1948). Cleveland’s Game 1 victory is their first post-season win in almost a decade. The Indians would go on to sweep Boston in three.
October 19, 2016 – The Tribe decidedly eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays in five games of the ALCS despite Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista‘s claim that the series was fixed. With this win, the Indians will play for the World Series for the first time in almost two decades. They will face the Chicago Cubs for the title.
November 3, 2016 – Just after midnight, the Cubs 108-year World Series drought comes to an end. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series becomes an instant classic, some calling it the greatest of all time. The Cleveland Indians, after losing yet another 3 games to 1 lead, now own the longest World Series drought and the 2nd longest title drought in all of North American sports at 68 years.
August 24 – September 15, 2017 – The defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians win 22 consecutive games. It is the longest win streak in modern MLB history and 2nd longest all-time (the 1916 New York Giants won 26 consecutive games though there is debate over it’s validity as their streak may or may not have included a tie). Over the course of the historic streak, the Tribe outscore opponents 140-36.
2018 – ???
MLB Seasons: 117
World Series Appearances: 6
World Series Championships: 2
Who knows what will be added next to this timeline. Whatever it is, we’ll be watching.