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'The Dynasty That Almost Was': Documentary showcases the heroics, heartbreak of the '90s Cleveland Indians

By Zack Meisel • Jul 14, 2017 at 8:30 PM

CLEVELAND — Until some other Tribe team captures that elusive Commissioner's Trophy, the '90s Indians will remain the modern-day standard.

And even then, it might prove impossible to nudge that era from its pedestal.

Those teams are eternally adored, yet not free from fault. Time has made almost any individual associated with that period an icon, yet time has also exacerbated the group's lack of a championship.

It's difficult to shake that comforting nostalgia when recalling one of Albert Belle's moon-orbiting blasts or Kenny Lofton's Spiderman-like scaling of the center-field fence. It's difficult to wrap your head around how a doormat of a franchise, with a small, mostly apathetic following, and an abandoned cavern of a stadium, could so quickly blossom into the must-see show and the hottest destination in town.

The Indians quickly became larger than life. But it's difficult to consider what they accomplished, how much fun they had doing it and how much fun was had by those who watched them without also lamenting the lack of a title.

For Clevelanders, it will evoke a series of emotions. Many who viewed a screening at Progressive Field a few weeks ago walked away with tears in their eyes, smiles on their faces, or both.

Corbin Bernsen, who played Roger Dorn in "Major League," narrates the tale of a franchise that ditched its role as doormat on its way to annual World Series contender status. But no film can cover the '90s Indians without highlighting a heavy dose of heartbreak.

It's far from an unfamiliar saga for Indians fans, but the film does offer some fresh perspectives in between episodes of amusement and sorrow.

The documentary displays never-before-seen, eerie footage of the Indians' clubhouse during the late stages of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. There's the trophy and the champagne, the plastic sheets hanging from each locker, a group of antsy team staff members and reporters watching Jose Mesa slug through the ninth inning.

Of course, there's plenty of more pleasant clubhouse footage. Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga and Mesa -- an impressive get by the producers, especially considering he criticizes Mike Hargrove's Game 7 meddling and revisits his feud with Omar Vizquel -- sing Montell Jordan's popular hit, "This Is How We Do It," more than 20 years after they shouted the lyrics during champagne celebrations.

The documentary revisits the 1995 season, one defined by comeback wins, a lethal lineup and the club's first postseason berth in 41 years. Members of the organization offer frank opinions of the strike zone during the World Series matchup against the Braves, with detailed footage of some of the calls to support their claims.

The story peaks with the downtown Cleveland parade, thrown even after the team fell short in the Fall Classic. Everyone assumed it would be the Indians' turn the next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that.

It wasn't. The documentary's title includes the word "almost," after all.

Belle refused the producers' requests for an interview, though he did grant them permission to use one quote, which he delivered in a surly voicemail that will leave viewers' eyes wide. Belle wasn't thrilled with how John Hart operated the franchise after 1995. Hart responds with his vantage point on the topic in an agonizing, somewhat chilling, yet fitting, scene. He even details potential blockbuster trades that fell through that would have landed the Indians a long-desired ace atop the rotation.

Hart was always tinkering with the roster. Baerga shares his thoughts on his departure from Cleveland. Lofton discusses the deal that relocated him to Atlanta.

It might be revisionist history to saddle the front office with all of the blame for the team's ultimate shortcomings. That same group must be credited with transforming an embarrassment of a franchise into a force.

That said, there will always be finger-pointing. Fond memories and finger-pointing.

It's bewildering how an era can be simultaneously defined by delight and disappointment.

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(c)2017 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

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