CLEVELAND -- Former general manager John Hart and three-time All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga have been inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
Hart was the architect of the Indians' most successful sustained run in franchise history, winning five straight AL Central titles and two pennants in the 1990s. Hart turned a perennial loser into what many believed to be a model franchise during that decade. Cleveland won its first pennant in 41 years in 1995.
The Indians were known in that era for their powerful offense, which included Baerga, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar Jr. Baerga, who played second base, made the All-Star team in 1992, '93 and '95. He hit over .300 for four straight seasons from 1992-95.
The ceremonies took place at Progressive Field prior to Saturday's game against Minnesota.
Hart was the team's general manager from 1991 through 2001. His tenure began when the Indians played in cavernous Cleveland Stadium, an outdated baseball facility that had a capacity of 80,000 in which the team struggled to draw fans. The Indians moved to newly built Jacobs Field in 1994 and recorded 455 consecutive home sellouts, a streak that began in 1995 and ended in 2001. The ballpark was renamed Progressive Field in 2008.
"There's not a bad memory here," he said. "I'll never forget the buzz around town. I'd hear the horns honking outside the ballpark after games. People here waited so long to see the Indians win. It was truly a great time to be in Cleveland."
Thanks to revenues from moving into the new ballpark, the Indians were also able to sign free agents Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser. The veterans and core of young players turned the Indians into one of the most dynamic teams in baseball.
Hart says winning the American League Championship Series in 1995 with a Game 6 victory over Randy Johnson in Seattle is his most cherished moment.
"I opened the door to our clubhouse after the game and I looked at this group of guys that were finally going to the World Series for Cleveland," Hart said. "I sat in the corner and I cried like a baby."
Hart's most disappointing moment came when the Indians lost Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to the Marlins. Cleveland entered the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead but the Marlins tied the game and won it in the 11th. Hart said he's never been able to watch a replay of that game.
"When you're that close, you want to win," he said. "I wish we could have been able to get that big ring for our players and our fans."
Ironically, one of Hart's more difficult tasks came when he traded Baerga, a fan favorite, during the 1996 season. Hart felt Baerga's skills had begun to diminish, in part because of poor conditioning and lack of focus on baseball.
"That one was painful to do but as the leader of the organization I had to do what was best for the organization," Hart said.
Baerga said it took him two years to get over the trade.
"I didn't understand why," he said. "We were in first place and we had a chance to go back to the World Series. I realize now why they did it. I lost my concentration for the game."
Baerga, a switch-hitter, hit a home run from each side of the plate in one inning against the Yankees in 1993.
"When I look back at my days here, it's like watching a movie," he said. "We had a lot of great players and a lot of great teams. I'll never forget how excited the fans were and how great they treated me."
Hart, now an analyst for the MLB Network, still keeps up with his former team said, "Believe me, I have followed the Tribe regularly. I'm a closet Indians' fan."