When GM Hank Peters sent Joe Carter to San Diego in the winter of 1989, he received Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga and Chris James. Alomar and Baerga formed the foundation of a new gleaming age of big-league baseball in Cleveland.
Baerga was 26 years old in 1995 when the Indians won 100 games and reached the postseason and World Series for the first time in 41 years. The switch-hitting second baseman batted .314 (175-for-557) with 28 doubles, 15 homers and 90 RBI in a lineup that is considered one of the best in baseball history.
This season, 22 years later, another thickly-built, switch-hitting second baseman has powered the Indians to a 102-win season and postseason appearance. His name is Jose Ramirez and Baerga is a fan of the 25-year-old infielder.
“Jose Ramirez is a special player,” said Baerga. “I’ve been with the organization for the last five years working with the minor-league guys. Since the first day I saw him, I knew he had the talent to get to the big leagues, but I never thought he was going to explode like this.”
Ramirez hit .318 (186-for-585) with 29 homers and 83 RBI this season. He led the big leagues with 56 doubles, scored 107 runs and stole 17 bases. Ramirez joined Grady Sizemore as the only Indians player to score 100 plus runs with at least 50 doubles, 25 homers and 15 steals in one season.
“He reminds me of myself a little bit,” said Baerga. “He comes to the ballpark every day to play. He wants to be there no matter what.
“He’s not afraid of anybody. I listen to people from other teams talk about him and they think he’s the most dangerous hitter that we have. That’s what they say.
“I talked to the Astros. I talked to Omar Vizquel (first base coach for Detroit). Omar said, “We don’t want to face him with men on base because this guy produces.’ He’s a special guy.”
Vizquel, of course, was Baerga’s double-play partner on the 1995 Indians.
Ramirez, who debuted in 2013, just completed his third season in the big leagues. He’s played shortstop, third base and left field before settling at second base this year because of injuries to Jason Kipnis.
“We started the same way,” said Baerga. “When I came up I was a utility player, do you remember? I started at third base and sometimes I played shortstop and then I went to second base. So he kind of reminds me of myself, but he has more talent than what I had.
“We’re both switch-hitters, but he has more speed than I had. His knowledge for the game is unbelievable. He knows the strike zone.”
Ramirez struck out 69 times and drew 52 walks. He led the AL in extra base hits, tying Giancarlo Stanton for the MLB lead with 91.
In comparing the 1995 team to the 2017 Indians, Baerga said, “As far as hitting, I think we had more power at that time. . .The only thing where they have a step up on us is the pitching. They have three guys (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer) with 17 or more wins.
“The bullpen is unbelievable. If we have that kind of pitching staff. . . I’m not criticizing Orel Hershiser, Charlie Nagy or Dennis Martinez. They did their job. But I think this pitching staff is a little more special.”
Baerga thinks the additions of Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce have helped the current Indians. He was asked about Albert Belle and Encarnacion, the middle-of-the-order hitters, for each team.
“Albert and Eddie (Encarnacion) are kind of the same,” said Baerga. “They’re RBI machines. They hit over 35 homers every year – Albert hit 50 in 1995 – and drive in over 100 runs. Eddie has hit over 30 home runs over the last six years.
“When we signed him, I was excited. What happened to Toronto when they let Eddie go? I think that was a great acquisition. And getting Jay Bruce for the second half, it took us to another level. He can change a game with one swing of the bat.”