The day Mike Hargrove was traded to the Cleveland Indians, the team was 8.5 games out of first place and the drought was 31 years old. It was 1979, and while no one thought of the Indians as winners, there were many other cities and organizations that had waited much longer since last winning a World Series.

The Boston Red Sox were 61 years into a curse that would last for another two decades. The Chicago White Sox were 62 years into a wait that wouldn’t end until 2005. The Philadelphia Phillies had been around ever since the first World Series in 1903, and they’d never won one.

The Chicago Cubs? They were already the stuff of legend.

One by one, those other teams won. The Phillies in 1980, and the Red Sox in 2004. Then the White Sox, and finally Wednesday night, the Cubs. Hargrove spent seven years as an Indians player, nine years as the Indians manager and now the last six years as an Indians adviser.

He managed some of the greatest teams in franchise history, with two trips to the World Series. In 1997, his Indians were two outs from a title before losing to the Florida Marlins in extra innings in Game 7.

He was there Wednesday night at Progressive Field, too, when Rajai Davis hit the home run off Aroldis Chapman and when Ben Zobrist ripped the double that eventually made the Cubs champions.

He woke up Thursday like so many others in Cleveland, excited about what he had seen but disappointed to come so close again and lose.

But don’t tell Mike Hargrove what happened Wednesday was the continuation of any curse. Don’t tell him that another year without an Indians championship means they’re never going to win.

Instead of devastation, he feels hope. Instead of despairing about a missed opportunity, he looked at what the Indians have, what they’ve done and who they’ll get back from injury when it comes time to play again. Yes, he said, this Indians team is the one that can win.

“I really do believe that,” Hargrove said. “I think this group can break through. I certainly don’t think it’ll take 108 years.”

One-hundred eight was the Cubs’ number. The Indians are facing 68, now going on to 69 next season.

But as Hargrove and others who lived through the great Cleveland years but ultimate World Series disappointments of the 1990s watched this team, they felt mostly admiration.

They also had flashbacks, as another Indians team played extra innings in another World Series Game 7. Only four Game 7’s in World Series history have gone to extra innings, and the Indians were part of the last two.


“Yeah,” said Brian Anderson, who pitched in relief 19 years ago in Miami. “And not good for me or the Indians either time. It was an eerie reminder.”

As I pointed out in my Bleacher Report story on the Indians of the ’90s, Anderson grew up in Northeast Ohio and experienced much of the region’s sports angst as a fan. He still does as a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder.

But as he watched this World Series and rooted for his team, he didn’t see this as another sign the Indians can’t win or won’t win.

“I hope people don’t feel that way,” he said. “A lot of the national narrative has been that the Cubs are here to stay. But I don’t see any reason the Indians can’t do it, too. With [Danny] Salazar, [Carlos] Carrasco and [Corey] Kluber in the rotation, with [Andrew] Miller under control and a great young core, I think they can be the team that can end the drought.”

Looking back, it’s incredible they came as close as they did to ending it this year, with the injuries that kept Salazar and Carrasco from starting in the postseason and kept outfielder Michael Brantley from playing basically all year. It was “an implausible journey” to Game 7, as longtime Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton said Thursday.

Yes, the Indians held a three-games-to-one lead in the World Series. But even at that point, they were facing a Cubs team that held a big edge in the upcoming pitching matchups. Without Salazar and Carrasco, Indians manager Terry Francona was using his remaining pitchers on short rest and necessarily overtaxing a bullpen that had been brilliant.

“At the end of the day, taking nothing away from what the Cubs accomplished, in Games 6 and 7 the lack of depth finally caught up with us,” Hamilton said.

Still, that chance was there, right in front of them. Maybe it wasn’t as clear a chance as in 1997—this time, the Indians never held the lead after the fourth inning in a game that could clinch a title—but it was there.

“My brother texted me at 7:30 this morning and said he needs me there,” an Indians fan told me the morning of Game 7. This friend lives in Michigan, but he nervously headed to Cleveland.

“I want this so bad,” he told me. “It’s there. We gotta take it!”

They couldn’t take it.

“Brutal,” was all my friend could manage when it was over.

The narrative now is naturally about the Cubs fans, the ones who have waited so long and the ones who didn’t make it long enough to see the championship. In Wright Thompson’s fine story for, he visits an Illinois cemetery where fans left pennants on gravestones of those who were gone.

The Indians fans have largely gone unnoticed, even though their wait for a title has lasted most of their lifetimes. Hargrove may not have grown up an Indians fan, but he is too young to remember their last title.

They won in 1948. He was born the following October.

He was there at Progressive Field for Game 7, enough of a baseball person to appreciate what the Cubs had done.

“You feel good for them,” he said. “But you’d rather your guys were feeling good.”

There was no one to blame, no regrets about any decisions made or not made. There were no goats in this World Series, not in the sense of a curse, not in the sense of a player whose failure cost his team the title.

“I hurt for everybody who is part of that team and city,” said Dan O’Dowd, the MLB Network analyst who spent 11 years in the Indians front office. “But I’m so proud to be associated with the Indians, with how hard they competed. I think they were 24th in payroll [actually 27th by USA Today‘s numbers]. It’s incredible how they maximized that.”

Hamilton agreed, thinking back to an amazing postseason.

“Anybody with an ounce of common sense or baseball intelligence would have to be grateful for a month of baseball this city hasn’t had since the ’90s,” he said. “If people aren’t happy with that, I feel bad for them.”

Just as in the ’90s, though, there’s that one final step the Indians couldn’t manage.

Sandy Alomar Jr. understands that all too well. He played for the Indians teams of the ’90s. He serves on Terry Francona’s coaching staff now.

He came to Cleveland in a December 1989 trade and has spent most of the last 27 years trying to break through and win a title. Before this year’s run to the World Series, he would hear the current players joke about Cleveland fans still living through the teams of the past.

“I say, ‘Win it,'” Alomar said one day last summer. “Turn that page. Win it. I want this organization to win. I’d be the first one to be jumping up and down, trust me.”

It almost happened. One more time, the Indians came as close as any team could come, to extra innings in Game 7.

It didn’t end well for the Indians, not either time.

In Cleveland, the wait goes on.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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