In the mid-90’s, Cleveland had built a franchise that seemed unstoppable. Over a five-year span, they averaged 94 wins a year and nearly six runs a game. But it was a dynasty in the making that wasn’t meant to be, often coming close but never quite reaching that World Series win. With the new Cleveland Legends insert series in Clutch Baseball 2019 Series 2 expansion set, you’ll have the opportunity to take those players and try to achieve what they came so close to doing: winning it all. The first five players we’ll take a look at today were all cornerstones of that mid-90’s powerhouse Cleveland team, beginning with a man considered by many to be one of the best defensive players of all time.
Omar Vizquel won eleven Gold Glove Awards over the course of his career, including nine consecutive from 1993–2001. Among shortstops, his .985 fielding percentage is tied for highest all-time, he is the all-time leader in games played, and the all-time leader in double plays turned. He won his first Gold Glove at the age of 26, and his final Gold Glove at the age of 39. So, to summarize: he was pretty good at playing Shortstop. But his glove wasn’t all he brought to the game, especially in 1999. That season, he batted .333 and scored 112 runs, made an All-Star appearance, finished second in the league in stolen bases, oh, and won another Gold Glove award. That means his new Cleveland Legends card brings the heat at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, with 14 On-Base, a contact batter’s chart with just 3 outs, maxed out Speed and Defense, and 3 icons. And we’re just getting started!
Omar Vizquel wasn’t the only speedster in Cleveland back in the 90’s. Kenny Lofton, who spent every year from 1992 to 1996 with the Tribe, led the AL in stolen bases each and every one of those seasons. That speed helped him while roaming center field too, and it translated into 4 Gold Glove awards during that same stretch. A World Series ring may have eluded him, but he may bring you one with this Cleveland Legends card based on his 1994 season, with 14 On-Base, a contact batter’s chart with just 3 outs, maxed out Speed and Defense, and 4 icons. Sounds familiar! Pair him with Vizquel for a 1-2 punch of speed, hitting, and defense! Look for someone with a little more power? Well…
So maybe Albert Belle isn’t the most well-liked major league alumni. His off-the-field antics (and some on-field ones) may have cost him some votes when it came time to choose an MVP, but he spent season after season punishing any ball that came near his bat. A five-time All-Star, Belle also won five Silver Slugger awards and led the league in RBIs three times. But that’s not all, in 1995, Belle became the first player in major league history to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season. In fact, no one had even hit 40 and 40 since 1973! That’s the season chosen for his new Cleveland Legends card, and it features one of the craziest batter’s charts ever seen: just four outs, an 18+ home run roll, and an insane 14+ double! Take full advantage of this chart with his 14 On-Base and five icons, and punish any pitch that gets thrown to Albert Belle.
Throughout the 90’s, Jose Mesa was always good, but in 1995, he was truly great. In 64 innings pitched over 62 appearances, Mesa had a 1.12 ERA, 46 saves, and 3wins. Of Mesa’s 46 saves, 38 were recorded in consecutive appearances, at the time a major league record. He played an instrumental role in helping Cleveland reach not only 100 regular season wins, but their first World Series appearance since 1954. His Cleveland Legends card isn’t going to blow you away with the 7, 8, even 9 Command we’ve seen on Pitcher cards in the past year, but dollar for dollar he’s one of the most effective relief pitchers we’ve seen, with 5 Command (6 against lefty and switch-hitting batters), 5 defense, a balance chart, 1 mistake roll, as well as both the Saves and All-Star icons.
When you think about Cleveland baseball in the 90’s, there’s usually one name that immediately springs to mind: Jim Thome. This power hitting corner infielder played in Cleveland from 1991 to 2002, and he spent his time there establishing himself as one of the best power hitters the team had seen in its nearly-hundred year history, and found his way into baseball immortality as a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2018. Now, Thome’s best all-around batting season may have been 1996, and including that season in this inserts set would have put him in good company with today’s other four 900’s players, but his Cleveland Legends card actually comes from a later season: 2002. That year, Thome led the league in walks, slugging, and OPS, along with hitting 52 home runs. He also crushed right-handed pitching, which is why his new card features a monsterous 14 On-Base with an extra 2 On-Base bonus against righties, which will come in handy for getting the advantage and making the most of a batter’s chart that has just 4 outs, a 16+ double, and an 18+ home run roll. The best part? Thome’s slow speed, zero defense, and sole icon. Normally you wouldn’t celebrate those things, but thanks to those factors, Thome’s incredible power bat can find its way into your lineup for just 630 salary points. Besides, he can’t clog up the bases if he’s always busy rounding them!
Come back tomorrow where we’ll take a look at the five more Cleveland Legends spanning nearly a hundred years of baseball, and be sure to watch the latest episode of Bottom of the Clutch for a peek at a Series 2 stadium card that these 90’s players will feel right at home in: The Jake.
2019 Series 2 inserts will be randomly distributed throughout Series 2 booster packs. Pre-Orders begin Sunday, 6/16 at 6:16 PM EST. For more details, check out the Series 2 preview here.