"This means a lot to me," said Baerga, back in an Indians uniform again this spring, working with middle infielders. "I never thought I would even make this team as a utility guy. But when I did, from that day on, it was magic. It was a miracle I became a [starting] player here. It was something special."
Hart built the Indians into a championship team after they moved into what was then known as spanking new Jacobs Field in the 1990s. That club, with Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar Jr. at the core, won American League pennants in 1995 and 1997, losing to the Braves and Marlins in those respective World Series.
"I'm not really an emotional guy, but when I received the call I have to admit that my eyes misted," Hart said. "It means a lot. It really, really does. There are special times in people's lives and that was about as good as it gets all the way from when we were terrible, building it to the run we had. As you always say, we had great players and so many good people around there. You look around and it was a good run."
It was Hart, then a special-assignments scout working with general manager Hank Peters, who obtained Baerga from the Padres on Dec. 6, 1989. The trade brought to Cleveland an eventual All-Star catcher in Alomar and infielder Chris James in exchange for slugging outfielder Joe Carter.
It's no small irony that Sandy's younger brother Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick, the GM who obtained him from the Padres for Toronto, both went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together two years ago. That point was not lost on Hart.
"The trade for Sandy and Carlos really jump-started the organization," Hart said. "Carlos was special. There was nobody who had any more passion for the game. He was an infectious locker-room personality along with being such a great talent. Believe me, I did think about that with Pat and Robbie. When I heard I was going in with Carlos, I thought, 'Believe me, this is really appropriate.'"
In the deal, made with Padres manager/general manager Jack McKeon, the Indians were given the choice of catchers, either Alomar or Benito Santiago, the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1987. All four kids -- Santiago, Baerga and the Alomars -- grew up in Puerto Rico and were signed by the Padres. But Alomar was stuck in the Minor Leagues behind Santiago and Baerga was locked behind Roberto at second base.
Hart said there was no question that the Indians wanted the older Alomar, but he added that the trade wouldn't have been done unless Baerga was part of the package.
"[McKeon] made it clear that the featured guy was going to be Santiago or Alomar," recalled Hart, now a baseball analyst for MLB Network and in the last year of his contract consulting for the Rangers. "It was Alomar all the way. We made that clear. Baerga was really the holding point. The young player that we were going to add to Sandy was critical. I went out to see them at Las Vegas and Baerga just stood out. He was the guy we held out for. We just weren't going to make the deal without Baerga."
Of the approximately 1,700 players who have worn a Cleveland baseball uniform since 1901, Baerga is the 39th player to be elected. He joins such greats as Alomar, Lou Boudreau, Charles Nagy and Cooperstown inductees Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Larry Doby and Cy Young, among others. Hart, who was with the club from 1991-2001, is the sixth member of the Distinguished Hall, which was established in 2010.
Baerga and Alomar not only came up together in the Padres organization, were traded to the Indians in the same deal, but are now in the Indians Hall of Fame and coaching together in the same Tribe uniform.
"Actually playing in the Minor Leagues with Carlos and watching him grow and then coming to Cleveland and seeing him perform over the years was a great experience," Alomar said. "We always spent a lot of time together in the San Diego system, so when we were here we were tight. Offensively, Carlos was an unbelievable player."
Baerga was a three-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger Awards and hit .292 with a homer and nine RBIs during the 1995 World Series, the Indians' first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1954. They haven't won one since defeating the Boston Braves in 1948, the second longest drought in the Major Leagues behind the Cubs (1908).
He played 14 seasons for eight teams, eight of them with the Indians. In Cleveland, he batted .299 with 104 HRs, 565 RBIs and 49 stolen bases and amassed 205 hits in 1992 and 200 more in 1993. At the end of the 1993 season, he was in the hospital for five days with a leg infection and was cleared to play in game No. 160 so he could attempt to get his 200th hit. Feeling dizzy, he struck out twice and popped out before laying down a bunt single to reach the magic number.
On April 8, 1993, in old Cleveland Municipal Stadium against the Yankees, the switch-hitting Baerga became the first player to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same inning.
"It was special what we had, especially in our ballpark," Baerga said. "Every time we stepped on the field, we thought we would win. And it wasn't just the nine starting players. Our bench was unbelievable. It's something that everybody got together and we played hard every day."