Category Archives: 216

20 Years Later, The Move Still Stings

Do you remember what you were feeling 20 years ago this week? If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you

 Carlos Baerga #9 of the Cleveland Indians jumps to make a double play as Ryan Klesko of the Atlanda Braves slides into the plate during game six of the World Series at the Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)
Carlos Baerga #9 of the Cleveland Indians jumps to make a double play as Ryan Klesko of the Atlanda Braves slides into the plate during game six of the World Series at the Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)

probably do.

The Cleveland Indians had just finished putting the finishing touches on one of the most thrilling seasons of professional sports in a generation’s history, although – in typical Cleveland fashion – they broke our hearts when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 World Series, 4 games to 2.

Even though the loss stung, the general feeling was that the Indians were built to be contenders for many years and that they not only would get back to the World Series, but they would win it. The ’95 World Series was the first true championship game for any Cleveland team since the Browns lost in the 1969 NFL Championship Game to the Vikings (although the winner did advance to the Super Bowl), so for people my age, it was the first one we ever experienced.

And, man, it was fun.

The World Series came to an end on Saturday, Oct. 28 in Atlanta with a 1-0 loss. With Cleveland still a bit hung over from that experience, things were brewing in Berea – more specifically, a private plane in a Baltimore airport – that would make the World Series a quick afterthought.

A day after that Series loss, the Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals at the old Riverfront Stadium. Head coach Bill Belichick made the controversial decision to bench veteran Vinny Testaverde, who had taken the team to the playoffs in 1994 following an 11-5 regular season, and go with third-round rookie Eric Zeier.

Zeier completed 26-of-46 passes for 310 yards with a touchdown to much-maligned free agent signing Andre Rison – it was Rison’s first touchdown of the season and one of only three he caught that forgettable season. Despite blowing a 26-16 fourth quarter lead, Zeier led the Browns to a game-winning field goal in overtime by Matt Stover for a wild 29-26 win. That win snapped a three-game losing streak and put the Browns at 4-4 – still in contention for a winning season and a playoff berth.

A few days later, Cleveland threw a parade for the Indians, even though they lost the World Series. Cleveland fans descended upon Public Square in droves to celebrate one more time with one of the most-loved teams in the city’s history. In the meantime, while the city toasted the Indians for their first American League pennant in 41 years, their beloved Browns had been signed, sealed and delivered to a town called Baltimore in a private plane on a deserted tarmac just a week before.

The crap was about to hit the fan, and hit it quick.

Cleveland Browns fan holding up sign that reads ART LIED! in stands during game vs Houston Oilers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cleveland, OH 11/5/1995 CREDIT: David Liam Kyle (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns fan holding up sign that reads ART LIED! in stands during game vs Houston Oilers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cleveland, OH 11/5/1995
CREDIT: David Liam Kyle (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

As the Browns prepared for a pivotal home game against the Houston Oilers – who, ironically, would also be moving within the next two years to Nashville – rumors began to circulate that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore in the near future. Browns owner Art Modell (may he burn in eternal Hell) was in full denial mode, but as reports out of Baltimore began to come out, the Sunday game suddenly took a somber, if not an angry, tone from the fans.

Modell got his family out of town in the middle of the night and was conspicuous by his absence in that Sunday game, which turned out to be a 37-10 loss. Fans hung banners all over the old Cleveland Stadium denouncing Modell and booed the Browns not just for the hap-hazard play on the field, but for what was happening off it.

That game occurred Sunday, Nov. 5. On Monday, Nov. 6, TV stations broke in with a live report from a parking lot in Baltimore that featured then-mayor Kurt Schmoke, then-Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning and Modell on a makeshift dais announcing that the Cleveland Browns would be known as the “Baltimore Browns” effective the 1996 season.

I’ll never forget watching that news conference at my house. I was a 21-year-old college student and an aspiring sportswriter, and for the first time in my life, my heart was truly broken. I was in denial. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought it was a ruse just to get the Sin Tax extension passed in Cuyahoga County, which it did by a landslide the next day.

Cleveland Mayor Mike White, with news cameras in tow, showed up the day after Election Day to the Browns’ Berea headquarters with an agreement in hand containing a new stadium lease with plans on remodeling the existing stadium. Of course, Modell was long gone, but White still delivered the manila envelope to a Browns employee anyway. It made for good TV, but it was a hollow gesture – Modell was gone, and soon, so would the Browns.

White and other Cleveland politicians and ex-Browns athletes urged Browns fans to call, fax and – if it was available since it was relatively new at the time – e-mail NFL headquarters to let them know this move could not happen. I’ll admit to calling the NFL at least once or twice and writing a letter, and some of my friends did as well. Cleveland called and faxed so much that the NFL’s switchboard blew up. The NFL was not prepared for the backlash that occurred from Cleveland fans.

Usually, when an NFL team moves, it is leaving a disinterested fan base behind. Sure, a handful of people

Cleveland Browns Earnest Byner (21) with fans after game vs Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Final home game before move to Baltimore. (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns Earnest Byner (21) with fans after game vs Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Final home game before move to Baltimore. (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

might complain, but for the most part, that community is happy that that team, or that owner, is leaving. While Cleveland’s relationship with Modell had always been a tenuous one ever since the “carpetbagger” (as the Cleveland media called him in the early 60s) from New York showed up out of nowhere as the new owner of the Browns, it wasn’t about him – it was about the team. And Cleveland LOVED its Browns.

The fans’ passion and the fact that there was litigation in place that would have blocked a move from happening made the NFL think on its feet and come up with a compromise. That compromise was that Modell could move to Baltimore with the existing coaches, players and front office, but it would be treated like an expansion team with a new nickname and a clean slate. Cleveland would retain the Browns’ nickname, team history, heritage and colors, which would be given to a new franchise within the next three years, provided Cleveland build a new stadium and drop its litigation. It’s the first time that has happened in NFL history, and it hasn’t happened since.

We’re closing in on the 20-year anniversary of that fateful day known simply as “The Move.” And, if you would have told fans back then that not only would the Browns be back, but playing in a new stadium by Lake Erie, we would have been ecstatic.

Of course, if you would have added on that the team was an absolute joke in the NFL – and, by and large, has been ever since the NFL saw fit to grant us an expansion team in 1999 – how excited would you have been about it? My guess is, probably not.

Would you have wanted to fight harder so the franchise wouldn’t leave at all, knowing that the NFL would cut corners in granting the expansion team and with the building of the new stadium? Or that the expansion draft would be full of castoffs and bums? Or that they’d give the franchise to Modell’s former silent partner Al Lerner, who would turn the franchise over to Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark – the latter who was ill-prepared to be an NFL general manager?

It was one bad domino after another from that moment 20 years ago. Add in the fact that the newly-christened Baltimore Ravens would not only reach, but win two Super Bowls during that time span just makes it worse.

Today, the current Browns are 2-6 and are undergoing more turmoil than ever. A new owner is in town from Tennessee, who was promptly indicted on federal charges of embezzlement over rebates to his trucking customers at Pilot/Flying J. That new owner has already fired two coaches, two GMs and two team presidents since he came to town just before the 2011 season and it looks like that list will grow to three coaches and three GMs when it’s all said and done. The continuity is gone and the franchise is in a perpetual state of rebuilding and “five-year plans” that never seem to come to fruition. It always seems like the head coach and GM are never on the same page and they continue to try to put square pegs in round holes when it comes to evaluating and adding talent.

The Browns have hired coaches with NFL experience, college experience, hot-shot coordinators on the offensive and defensive side, brought in the hot-shot GM candidate with the supposed “eye for talent,” brought in the respected former NFL guru to run the show as the team president, and even brought back guys who used to work for the franchise in different capacities before – but nothing has worked. NOTHING!

And, while Modell wound up going bankrupt anyway because he was a shoddy businessman both before and after he left Cleveland and his family wound up losing their beloved franchise that he felt he had to move in order to save, that franchise has been one of the model NFL franchises over the last 15 years. They’ve had one GM and two head coaches since 1999. Do we really need to recount how many of each the Browns have had during that span?

This is why, 20 years later, The Move still stings. It still cuts to the core. It still hurts. It’s also why I will always hate the Baltimore Ravens and why I will argue any chance Modell has to get in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s also why I find it funny that Baltimore fans will condescendingly tell Browns fans to “get over it,” but yet they still hate the Colts and the Irsay family and still pine for the days when their football team had white helmets with blue horseshoes on them and not black helmets with a bird.

In the span of one week 20 years ago, Cleveland lost a World Series and a storied NFL franchise, and I don’t think we’ve ever fully recovered from that.

Sure, Cleveland underwent a renaissance of sorts with the building of Jacobs (Progressive) Field and Gund (Quicken Loans) Arena, and the Indians were one of the best franchises in baseball from 1994-2001. But they never could deliver that World Championship, were sold to a local owner in 2000 who ran out of money and have been run on a shoe-string budget ever since – every winning season becomes few and far between while the front office talks about things like “bottom lines” and “Snow Days” instead of wins. Now, they can’t draw fleas despite the fact that they’ve been remotely competitive for the past three seasons, even hosting a Wild Card game in 2013.

The Cavs were an afterthought in the 90s until a set of ping-pong balls bounced their way in 2003 that allowed them to draft local high school sensation LeBron James with the first-overall pick. James took the Cavs to their first NBA Finals in 2007, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, then suffered three straight postseason letdowns before James decided to embarrass the city on national TV by announcing he was signing with Miami Heat. After four miserable years of James winning two NBA titles and finishing the runner-up in two more, he decided to come back to the Cavs last season. Now, suddenly, the Cavs are once again one of the premier teams in the NBA, having reached the NBA Finals last season,  and have the best shot of ending that championship drought that will pass 51 years on Dec. 28.

The Cleveland Browns scoreboard, located behind the dawg pound, dipslays a message thanking the fans after the final home game at Browns Stadium 17 December against the Cininnati Bengals. (Photo credit KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP/Getty Images
The Cleveland Browns scoreboard, located behind the dawg pound, dipslays a message thanking the fans after the final home game at Browns Stadium 17 December against the Cininnati Bengals. (Photo credit KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP/Getty Images

And the Browns … well, that 1995 season that started with such promise – Sports Illustrated and several other national publications predicted that they would win the Super Bowl – wound up being a disaster. They only won one more game after The Move was announced, an emotional 26-10 win over the Bengals in the final game ever played at the old Stadium. Because it was blacked out, I listened to that game on the radio with my late-mother and, after that game ended, we both sobbed.

The final game of that season was held on Christmas Eve in Jacksonville. Almost fittingly, the game was lost on the final play on a Mike Hollis field goal. An expansion team literally kicked the Browns out of the NFL for three years with a 24-21 defeat. Little did we know that the way that ’95 season ended – completed with the last-second heartbreak – would serve as a mere appetizer for the way things have been here since 1999.

Hopefully the next 20 years in Cleveland sports history are better than the past 20 years have been. We can wish and hope, can’t we?

Until next time, remember that Cleveland Rocks and always will!

My Cleveland Sports Weekend v2

Dear Diary,

OMG! You thought last weekend was amazing? Well, hold on to your hat because this weekend was EPIC!monster v griffins

Friday was all about the return of the Lake Erie Monsters… The guys were on the road facing the Grand Rapids Griffins and WON 4-0! Calvin Pickard was light’s out in the crease, fending off 37 shots-on-goal from the Griffins! With 2 goals from Karl Stollery, 1 from Kenny Ryan and an empty-netter from Max Noreau, the Monsters offense looked ready to get this season started in their new divisi
on.

I have no idea what is up with the realignment but being in the Midwest Divison of the Western Conference is going to be tough. Based on last season’s records, we would finish a far off 5th in this group: Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs. Sheesh.

Saturday was fairly boring. The Buckeyes were on a bye and the Monsters lost their home opener 2-3 which depressed me and I don’t want to dwell on that right now, because…

SUNDAY was the BEST SUNDAY OF THE BROWNS SEASON in as far back as I can remember. Frankly, a victory never tasted so good as beating the pants off the Steelers yestereday 31-3. Yeah yeah the final score was 31-10 but that last TD was total garbage time stuff and shouldn’t count. Ha. After a kinda shaky first quarter, the boys in brown settled down and handled their business. With so many injuries this week I have to admit I was very nervous. This game had the ability to be huge. No, it wasn’t a “must win game.” Those are one-and-done playoff situations. BUT this game DID give the Browns an opportunity to make a statement. To tell the AFC North – and maybe the rest of the NFL – that we are NOT the Same Old Browns.

I don’t know what this week will bring, how long we are going to lose Alex Mack with the broken fibula, but I do know this…. WE BEAT THE FREAKIN’ STEELERS and we did it in convincing fashion… not some 3 point, last second field goal but three quarters of stomping on them, letting them know they’ve been in a battle, telling EVERYONE that we finally have Home Field Advantage, that the Dawg Pound DOES have teeth!

Respectfully Submitted,

Cleveland Kate

My Cleveland Sports Weekend

Dear Diary,

You won’t believe the sports weekend I just had!

First, in high school football action on Friday, my North Ridgeville Rangers suffered a Homecoming Game defeat to the dreaded Midview Middies, 28-14. Junior RB Demario McCall (Run DMC we call him) had a terrible time trying toRunDMC cut and run in the muddy, wet conditions and just couldn’t get it done. It’s strange to say that 103 yards and a TD is his worst game of the season but it’s true. Word on the street is that Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was checking him out a few weeks ago… Hmmmm.

Saturday was all about the Buckeyes. I’ll admit, their pass defense leaves much to be desired. They are playing like two separate defensive units, The Front Seven and buckeyesThe Back Four. Nope, not a fan of the Fickell, but you already know that. Anyway, with Cincinnati QB Gunner “The Gunslinger” Kiel at the helm, the Bearcats got over 400 yards of offense. Heck Gunner threw for 4 TDs and 346 yards! Luckily, JT Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott were more than ready to show that the Buckeyes have some offense too… JT had 324 passing yards, 79 rushing yards and 4 TDs of his own! And Zeke with 188 rushing yards?!? Amazing! Mark another one in the Buckeyes Win Column 50-28! That’s three games in a row where the offense socred 50+ points. I guess if the defense can’t hold ’em, we’ll have to win in shoot-out fashion!

I hear the Cavaliers had some kind of scrimmage and then a game vs the head coaches former team from Israel but really, it’s football season. Am I right? LOL Whatevs.

Now, Sunday was the capper! Let me tell you, diary, I was freaking out until around 4:10pm watching the Browns play down at the Tennessee Titans. It’s a good thing I am the only one in the office on Sundays because I was screaming and yelling and throwing things (just a couple things and they were soft so nothing got broken), but really, the missed tackles and mental mistakes make me crazy! Being down 28-10 at the half is insane! I know we came back to tie the Steelers in week 1 being down 24 points but I hadn’t seen enough to have faith that good guys in the white jerseys could come from behind. Again. And don’t even get me started on the defense! Could we give up just a few more points to backup QB Charlie Whitehurst? And his pony tail? Really? REALLY??? ARGH!BrownsvTitans

But oh gee lordy was I surprised when the second half started and the defense just shut them down. Plus, we never gave up on the run, just kept cranking away and chipping their lead down until we were ahead by 1 point! And yes, I was afraid that 1 minute on the clock was too much time for us to give the Titans. Can you blame me? Well, all I can say now is: HALELUJIAH BABY IT’S VICTORY MONDAY! I totally <3 Travis Benjamin. Sigh. He’s really making a name for himself as the Play Maker this team needs while JG is out. I’m not ready to declare them the Kardiac Kids 2.014 but maybe the Comeback Kids is who they are… or The Spread Coverers. LOL

Can I handle a long season of 3-point games differentials? As long as we are actually scoring TDs and finding ways to WIN these close games, you bet your butt I can handle it! Go Browns!

Respectfully Submitted,

Cleveland Kate

The 216: Your 2014 World Champion Cleveland Indians

Even when I feel pretty good about Cleveland, I don’t generally allow myself to dream.  You see, it’s hope that tears us down the most; it’s hope that helps general levels of disappointment manifest itself into an “Only in Cleveland” (OIC) level stomach punch.  It’s being three outs away from a World Series win or four wins from being NBA Champions that sets us all up for devastating heartbreak when it inevitably crumbles before our very eyes.  It’s so much easier to expect the disappointment, then be surprised when it’s all over and destiny has run out of ways to take it away from us; of course, for most of us, the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians have managed to astonish us like that.

 

Maybe, none of them ever will.  Maybe, it’s not in the cards.  Maybe, real life needs an unscripted version of the Washington Generals and a region of loyal fans that literally expects nothing good to ever come their way.  But, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.  Maybe, someday we’ll have exhausted all of the excuses, run out of ways to lose in such calamitous ways, and our great city can be defined by its winning ways, even if it’s just one team for one season.  Like the 1908 Cubs or 1964 Cleveland Browns, the joy of celebrating a World Champion has a shelf life, and soon enough it doesn’t add up to a hill beans in the long run, but as Frank Drebin said, “This is our hill, and these are our beans.”

The truth is, this team isn’t going to be the favorite of many, if any, to win the American League Central Division, let alone the World Series, as they break camp this weekend.  On paper, there are holes all over the Indians prospects to defeat a pretty good National League team four times in October, and I’m sure the fine people in the state of Nevada will happily take money from anyone who thinks the Tribe is worth taking a flyer on this season.  Kenny Lofton doesn’t even believe this was a playoff team last year; we haven’t received Kenny’s dissertation on the validity of the moon landing or the reality of the blaze on the Cuyahoga River, but stand by for any developments.  A lot of people do believe the 2013 Indians were a playoff team, but still remain hesitant to reveal any optimism about “Unfinished Business” when they consider what’s been subtracted from a team that needed to win 10 straight just to get on the dance floor.

 

The easiest way to address the questions about what constitutes a “playoff team” in this day and age, is just to follow the advice of Jake Taylor and “Win the whole fucking thing.”  Wouldn’t that force Lofton and fellow naysayer of the 1-game playoff teams, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to admit the Indians made the playoffs, regardless of how they qualified?  I imagine we wouldn’t have any concern with splitting hairs over such nonsense if this team can make the 1948 Indians a little less relevant in the grand scheme, but the OIC factor leads me to believe there’s going to be some type of ridiculous string attached.

 

Had they managed to win one more game against Boston in 2007 and bested Colorado in a best-of-seven, how much do you want to bet that “they” wouldn’t let us enjoy it?  It would have been because of the bug game or because Schilling’s sock wasn’t bloody enough.  It would have been because the National League stunk or any other variety reason the wet blankets could discourage those who are “Happy In Cleveland” (#HappyInCLE).  For those who took a liking to Ohio State football circa 2002-2003, you have an intimate familiarity with the wet blankets not letting you have that title, and “they” will never let you have that one under any circumstances.

 

Here’s to 2014 and a title for our city to have and to hold, until we all grow old.

Two Things About 2014

They Have to Win Now

 

It’s not because they’re due, and it’s not because we’re so desperate for it to happen.  It’s not because the stars are aligned so perfectly, but I don’t think it would hurt if they did so, coincidentally.  It’s because the window is wide open at the moment.  This is the last year this group is going to be together, and while they don’t need to be great, they need to be good or they will cease to exist as a group made up of its current parts.  Mark Shapiro would never fire Terry Francona, but how long do you think Tito is going stick around if it turns to garbage?  At that point, doesn’t the Dolan family realize they’ve opened the checkbook and brought in the best personnel, on and off the field, and that this regime couldn’t make it work, then find themselves forced to do a thorough house-cleaning?

 

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

 

I think those are both difficult questions to ask, let alone answer, if you’re really asking them.  They were meant to be rhetorical, but Francona has too many miles on him to start from scratch the way Eric Wedge and Manny Acta had to.  Maybe Shapiro would tell Tito, ‘Thanks for the memories, but we want to go in a different direction,’ but I’m almost positive that Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Francona’s last day with the Indians will coincide.  That would be the logical conclusion, but that’s just me caught up in the mindset that things will end badly.  Of course, as was the case in Boston, things can end badly, even after they go incredibly well.

 

The manager is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a large piece, and one piece that might raise some questions about how much of a role the Tigers change at the helm is going to affect this quest.  It comes down to who you can get on the field and what you can do with them.  Nick Swisher might have a few more 20-25 home run seasons in him, and we saw at least one season like that, though most would say he had a discouraging year in 2013.  My guess is that he’ll be better in 2014, but may be approaching the back nine of his career, so that’s a plus that opens the window of opportunity up in the present tense, but leaves you to wonder exactly how long it’s going to stay like that.

 

If Nick Swisher was the #1 free agent that Francona was able to help reign in to Cleveland, Michael Bourn was arguably #1a, but certainly no lower than #2.  Like the energetic  Swisher, Bourn’s first season at Carnegie and Ontario was probably more bust than boom.  Bourn is an above average outfielder (at the very least) and a good base-runner, but wasn’t very efficient stealing bases last year.  I might say he was adjusting to American League pitchers and catchers, but this might be a developing problem that I’ve chosen to ignore, because it starts unraveling this tight spool of thread that is this prediction.

 

Forgive me for blowing that off as a minor cog in this whole thing, and suggest that it gets better for Michael Bourn.  He’s going to have a better year at the plate and on the base paths; as good as I think the chemistry is with this roster, I think it took Bourn some time to adapt to the craziness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time with Bourn, but I just always got the vibe that the energy level wasn’t quite his cup of tea, but winning heals most wounds.  Believe it or not, this team won.  Yes, it was due in large part to a couple of part-timers, who used the Indians to audition for the real jobs that they began this year, but with the subtracted assets, we should also consider the subtracted liabilities.

 

As briefly as possible, I’d like to remind everyone that Chris Perez was a problem.  Forget his dealings with the United States Postal Service, we know that’s a tough crowd, and just look at what happened on the field and in the clubhouse.  It’s worth noting, when he had his stuff moving, he was fierce, but we’re left with too many memories of things either not going well or not going as well as the should have in the ninth inning of too many games last season.  If not for that, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal that Chris refused to talk to the media because of Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Oecker, but his teammates had to speak to his mistakes.  In other words, he left hung them out to dry.

 

As far as shunning the beat is concerned, that’s pathetic.  Neither one of those veteran writers had any interest in unnecessarily smearing Perez, but they had to ask the right questions, and they also had to write the truth.  If Perez wanted a better truth, he should have helped write more uplifting coverage of himself, with a better performance on the field.  Maybe that’s unfair; my ERA would be in the high 40’s if you asked me to do what Perez did well part of the time.  Anyway, no hard feelings toward Perez, but a mutual parting of ways between the now-Dodger reliever and the Tribe seemed appropriate to the advancement of the best interest of both parties.

 

Because All Else is So Uncertain

 

We alluded to the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who pretty much wrote the thesis on what to do in a walk year to get paid.  Maybe it’s real, and maybe Mickey Callaway is the Jesus of pitching coaches.  Either way, it speaks well to the way the Indians evaluate talent, going back to prospects for Jimenez deal in 2011 and even the low-risk deal they gave Kazmir a year ago, after he’d been out of Major League Baseball for a season, the Indians are got something out of these former top-of-the-rotation guys that they hadn’t been able to get from the likes of Jeremy Sowers or David Huff, a couple of their first-round picks.  Even those dismissed via that questionable deal at the time haven’t offered much of anything at the big league level yet, and the clock is starting to tick.

 

Of course, the clock is ticking for everyone.  The Indians have to be well aware of it, as they’ll likely head to Oakland with no new deals in place for Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis, meaning this will be Masterson’s season with the Tribe, whether there’s a parade or not, and Kipnis could very well play himself out of the Dolan’s price range.  There’s a lot of Indians middle-infield talent in the minor league pipeline, but the timing may not coincide properly, so you could be looking at Jack Hannahan type of place-holder in Kipnis’s place, but that’s not an immediate concern in the next year or two, though locking him up would be wise, if affordable.  Affordable is something that Masterson, far and away the ace of this staff, if not a legitimate ace on a more universal plane, will not be.  Chances are, regardless of whatever was leaked from the negotiations, he probably wasn’t affordable during the talks this month.

 

I’m not sure Years 3 and 4 of Swisher and Bourn are necessarily in the budget if things don’t come together in 2014.  If you need precedent, see what happens to the Indians in 2006 and 2008 after some serious flirtation with success in prior years.  I could recap, but I would just make myself sad.  In fact, I’m probably making everyone sad in mentioning it.  I’m not saying they can’t win without those two, but Cleveland lacks the proper curb appeal to bring free agents of their caliber to town without some extenuating circumstances.  I have a hard time believing they’ll hit the lottery with another Terry Francona type as the skipper, but through my half-full glass, I see Sandy Alomar Jr. in a legitimate protégé-becomes-the-master scenario, a la Mike Matheny.

 

Still, it’s a stretch to say this isn’t as good as it gets.  Tomorrow is a giant question mark for Indians baseball, if they even continue to be the Indians or reside in Northeast Ohio for the long term.  Both issues are probably can of worms that we need not open in this particular space.

 

One World Champion

 

Photo credit: AP

I don’t know how everyone looks at Terry Francona, which is to say I don’t how anyone looks at the Tribe’s current manager and thinks any alternative would have been better.  I know, especially after the disaster that was Mike Holmgren in Berea, that fans had their reasons for being skeptical about Tito’s World Championship pedigree, but I think it’s been obvious that Francona has nothing in common with anyone that’s been associated with the expansion outfit the NFL awarded Cleveland in 1999.  I mean, Terry Francona is obviously not Bill Cowher, but the commonality ends there.

 

He’s helped this team build its core off the field, with his name alone, and also a lunch with some Columbus-types.  He’s put together an outstanding staff to carry out his mission, and never underestimate the value of a general’s ability to identify the best lieutenants.  On a side note, think about Mike Scioscia’s staff that included eventual Major League managers Bud Black, Ron Roenicke, and Joe Maddon.  Think about Alomar’s plan with Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, and a player whose success has opened the door for the season’s biggest subplot, Yan Gomes.  They traded an above-average reliever for the services of Gomes and utility infielder Mike Avilies, by far the best deal Chris Antonetti has to his name, considering Gomes was good enough to become the everyday catcher, giving them a little bit of Marson’s defense and a bat good enough to allow for Santana to shed the catcher’s gear, at least on a regular basis.

 

Look, it’s not like the man doesn’t come with his own question marks.  Considering his demise in Boston with a fun team and few rules, you have to wonder if his reliance on veteran leadership might back-fire.  How about his loyalty to certain veterans, which is a major sticking point for those of us who can’t justify Jason Giabmi’s spot on the roster for the sake of his clubhouse presence?  He insists these guys go hard every step of the way, which I question, but it proves they’ll eat lima beans if he asks them to eat lima beans.

 

Nick Swisher has a World Series ring, but Francona has two; I know it’s easy to dismiss the individual’s value on Goliath-like teams, but you can’t tell anyone that neither played a significant part in bringing home a winner, nine-digit payrolls or not.  When the speculation of the hire began, Ryan Isley wrote a good piece about how Francona’s past relationship with the powers-that-be would continue to be a crutch, and that had to be legitimate concern.  Call it shell-shock from the broken promises that came from the Holmgren Era, but I believe 2013 should have annihilated that concept, virtually upon arrival.

 

Winning it all with two different clubs is something that no active manager has done, now that Tony LaRussa has moved on, so it’s a tall order for Francona to get back there, but you would be foolish that anything short of that is the goal.  Bruce Bochy got the Padres there in 1998, before winning two recently with San Francisco.  Jim Leyland won one in the late-90s and has gotten Detroit there twice, but has chosen a life of smoking Pall Mall non-filters and yelling at small children over chasing another ring.  Francona’s quest for a third ring is a journey to some uncharted waters, but I’d consider it far from something that can’t be done.

 

Six Buzz Killington-isms

Detroit

 

At least we’re not Detroit, right?  To keep it on the diamond, we’ll forget about the Red Wings, Pistons, and the endless collection of championship trophies the Motor City has to their name in the winter sports.  For some balance, we’ll spare our friends in Michigan mention of their equally inept NFL franchise.  Here’s the thing, unless you remember 1984, is there much of a difference between the Indians and Tigers from a macro view?  Think about it; both had dominant runs and a couple of legitimate chances to win it all, only to come up short when you would have classified them as favorites.

 

That would matter if we were talking about history, not current events.  Currently, Detroit may have reached their peak, so let’s see if they find a plateau at the top or slide down the back side of the hill.  Numbers can be deceiving sometimes, but you really can take the Tigers’ dominance over the Tribe last season at face value.  They beat the Indians in every way imaginable; it was de-moralizing, and I’m saying that from the couch.  It took a couple of at-bats, but Miguel Cabrera went from looking positively lost against Danny Salazar to taking the Cleveland phenom and his team out of the win column with an opposite field home run.

 

Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez took their whacks at Indians pitching too, but the worst part was getting beat by the likes of Don Kelly and Alex Avila.  It never mattered; Detroit just had an answer for masterful pitching and an abundance of offense.  For the third year in a row, the Tigers refused to run away with the division, and the Indians stuck around a little bit longer than Manny Acta could ever motivate them to do, but one number is deceiving, the one game that separated first and second place in the American League Central Division.

 

Even Tito would tell you that Detroit shut it down in the regular season as soon as they had it locked up.  Kudos to the Indians for winning ten in a row to keep it interesting, but Leyland and his team had little interest in winning any of the games in the team’s final series in Miami to end the season.  They’ll have plenty of interest in feasting on the Indians and anyone else on the slate early, but the wins may not come so easy at Comerica this season.

 

Max Scherzer has two different color eyes and a Cy Young Award, which he’ll have plenty of time to shine on Opening Day since Brad Ausmus has decided Justin Verlander gets the ball.  In reality, he’s earned it, and the fact that the reigning Cy Young winner is deferring his Opening Day start suggests just how good the Tigers are at the top of the rotation.  Is there real depth there, considering Rick Smith decided it was time to gamble on Drew Smyly to replace Doug Fister, and you never know what type of Rick Porcello you’re going to get, no matter how well Anibal Sanchez pitches.

 

There’s no question there’s a “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” element to the pitching staff, but Detroit is built for a slug-fest.  Fortunately, you’re not going to see Ian Kinsler replace Fielder’s power, and you lose something in the batting order with Jose Iglesias replacing Jhonny Peralta.

 

That said, they’re still the best team on paper, and no one should expect them to lie down and die, but they are beatable.  The Tribe doesn’t stand a chance against this team on paper, but if they can get it done on the field more often than not, as they did in 2012, it could be the difference.  In any event, you wouldn’t bet your life against the team’s first Central Division title since 2007, even if you wouldn’t bet your life on it actually happening.

 

Kansas City

 

It would probably be borderline disrespectful to call the Central Division a two-horse race, and I’m not prepared to give the Royals any “nobody believes in us” motivation.  The Royals have arguably been better than the Tribe in recent years, and we’ve just been waiting for the young pitching to come up.  You might say Royals management jumped the cycle last year in offering Wil Myers for James Shields to be their ace, a short term solution.

 

You might say I’ve believed the hype, but I’ve been holding my breath for so long, waiting on this team to surge, that I’m ready to exhale.  The Royals are relevant, but there may not be much more they can do with Ned Yost.  But, just because I’d classify the Royals as more pretender than contender, that doesn’t mean the Indians can sleep on these guys, who are fully capable of playing spoilers.  However, if this team preaches “Unfinished Business” and then comes out lackadaisical against a lesser opponent, they don’t deserve to watch the World Series, let alone play in it.

 

The AL Beasts

 

While I don’t love having the eastern seaboard shoved down my throat by ESPN, I can’t deny that division in the east plays some of the best American League baseball there is.   Toronto has made a lot of noise, but I’m not sure they’ve really said anything.  The Orioles made a statement in 2012, but played themselves out of the October fun last September, so they cut the check this winter to give Buck Showalter a better crack at keeping up with the Joneses, or at least the Farrels and Maddons.

 

Speaking of cutting the check, the team that has the reputation for it no longer boasts the game’s highest payroll.  That shifted over to the left coast and belongs to the Dodgers, but the Yankees aren’t exactly on what you’d call a “fixed income”, though they are cutting back from money not being an object.  The next generation of Steinbrenner is a little more frugal and they haven’t demonstrated the baseball know-how, to boot.  Frankly, they aren’t the player they once were, but Tampa Bay has picked up the slack for that.

 

Indians fans learned all too well just what the Rays have brought to the table since dropping the “Devil” from their name.  If you throw out the attendance issues they have on Florida’s Gulf Coast, outside of Tampa-proper, Joe Maddon’s team is everything we want the Indians to be, a system full of homegrown assets netted by good drafting and selling high on young talent.  It’s probably worth mentioning that they’ve yet to win a title, but they’ve managed to stay consistent, despite noticeable roster turnover.  Someone that looks at the Indians and Rays in a vacuum would tell you the Rays “deserve” to get back to the Fall Classic more; the Indians can only overcome that by being better when the games are actually played.  That means beating Tampa head-to-head, something they were obviously unable to do it at home when it counted most; don’t think anyone on last year’s roster will soon forget that.

 

California, Here We Come

 

With Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields, the Tribe is done in Arizona, and on to California, they will play games that count, beginning Monday after a pair of exhibition games with the Padres at the University of San Diego.  The Friars will visit them at Progressive Field in a few weeks, but the Tribe won’t be playing any games at PETCO Park this summer.  They will return to the Golden State later in April to play the Angels and Giants, but after a three-game set at Dodger Stadium as we turn the calendar from June to July will be the last time the schedule dictates the Tribe goes California dreamin’ this year.

 

However, if October is in the cards for this team, and I obviously believe it is, you can be fairly sure that they will be going (going) back (back) to Cali (Cali).  The Padres figure to be better in the National League West this season, but I won’t waste anyone’s time entertaining a Padres-Indians World Series.  On the other hand, the Giants and Dodgers figure to merit a reasonable wager to win the National League West, and perhaps the entire National League.

 

Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park haven’t been too kind to the Sons of Geronimo, but Asdrubal Cabrera is the only one that remains from the team’s last trip to Chavez Ravine in 2008.  So, those inter-league games might be a solid preview for the World Series games the Tribe would have to play on the road.

 

Obviously, it’s putting the cart in front of the horse to talk about the World Series without talking about everything that stands in the way of it, especially in California, where it’s do or die time for Jerry DiPoto in Anaheim after shelling out the cash to give Scioscia a chance to bring Orange County its first World Series since 2002.  The Angels are another one of those teams that should be better, maybe even better than the Tribe, on paper, but have underachieved for one reason or another.  That’s going to fall on Scioscia, and likely DiPoto too, if they can’t get it done, whether that’s fair or not.

 

Back to the wet blankets for a moment, I can pinpoint the moment “they” would have used to take it all away from us, if they somehow would have made it happen in 2013.  How about that home run at home that would have given the A’s a chance to avoid the sweep last May?  Adam Rosales home run-turned-double off Chris Perez survived a replay challenge in a game the Indians won 4-3, instead of being prolonged had Rosales’ blast tied the game.  Considering the Indians had to win ten straight to make the post-season without having to play a 163rd or 164th regular season game, anyone has anything to say about a single game in a 162-game season actually has a leg to stand on.

 

As it turns out, Bob Melvin’s squad didn’t need that win anyway.  They won the West for the second straight year, despite what Texas was supposed to be, coming off consecutive American League pennants in 2010 and 2011.  Oakland’s problem during Billy Beane’s tenure in the front office has always been the challenge of winning a 5-game series, and it plagued them against last year, despite having the Tigers on the ropes, they lost in 5 game to Detroit in the American League Division Series.  While I have an enormous amount of respect for Boston, Tampa, and Detroit, it’s not out of line to suggest the American League’s two best teams might be showcased at O.co Coliseum in the season’s opening series.

 

The Ghosts of October’s Past

 

It’s that time of year that you’ll hear the term “chalk”, usually in reference to the most obvious picks on our NCAA Basketball brackets, but the term is universal, and in this context I’d say a St. Louis-Boston World Series re-match is possible, while certainly not inevitable.  Besides, Boston can’t be in the World Series if Cleveland is winning it.  But, both of these teams present themselves as a tough out.  You could say the Cardinals outplayed everyone on the Red Sox roster except for David Ortiz last year, but I’d consider it the Red Sox finding a way to win.

 

I could preach day and night about the emotional high the Red Sox rode all year after the Patriots Day Tragedy, but the bottom line is they were better than the Indians last year.  They were better than everyone.  I will say this though; Terry Francona will forever be connected to those Red Sox, but he won’t stand for having his former team dominating him year in and year out.  There’s nothing scientific to back that up, just speculation that a desire not to lose will result in wins and a championship.

 

If there’s any team I’d prefer the Indians avoid from the Senior Circuit, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League Champion in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2013.  Since 1992, the Redbirds are undefeated in the World Series when they don’t play Boston.  They’re a classy organization that figures out how to win, even when they lose big money talent.

 

One thing is for sure, if the Indians encounter a team they can’t beat, they probably would strive to be like that team.  I know we would all enjoy some solid structure in all ranks of the organization.  However, none of it would serve as any type of consolation for not getting it done.

 

Luck

 

It plays a factor, no question.  Luck puts you on the right side of that bad call on May 8th.  Luck means quick healing for Michael Bourn, a level head on Nyjer Morgan in his understudy role, and for overwhelming Spring Training success to translate to regular season prowess for Justin Masterson and Michael Brantley.  It means motivated play in walk years for Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, the aforementioned need for bounce-back years from Bourn and Swisher, Carlos Santana transitioning smoothly to third base defensively, minimal regression from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis after solid 2013 seasons, and good work from this bullpen full of new faces.

 

You never want to root for injury, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander spent some time on the Disabled List.  The same goes for any of the big bats in the American League Central Division, starting with Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.  We’re all excited for Danny Salazar, but it’s going to take some luck for him to survive the growing pains of not being quite so over-powering once opposing hitters get a few looks at him in person as the film on him builds up.

 

We want Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to grow into their roles as regulars in the rotation.  Carlos Carrasco needs to keep his head on straight, and if not, Josh Tomlin will be thrown into the fire.  My high expectations for the team aside, the bar has to be set low for Tomlin who hasn’t pitched in a Major League in some time.  If Trevor Bauer can figure it out to be an effective spot starter at worst, or the second coming of 1997 Jaret Wright at best, we can be very happy in the cold as the floats travel down Euclid Avenue this November.

 

 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.  In fact, this is going to be my last Sunday column on the site for a while.  More Than A Fan: Cleveland is in very capable hands with the other writers on the site.  Continue to enjoy their brilliance as they take you on the ride to glory with the Tribe while giving you the very best takes on the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Lake Erie Monsters.

 

Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.  Thanks for reading and stay well.

 

 

 

 

The 216: Free Hat Edition

Everything is debatable.  Well, almost everything.  It started with a discussion over “Free Hat”, the ridiculous and mostly misunderstood cause on South Park, which started as a crusade against Hollywood producers bastardizing their own work, but ended with an angry mob successfully freeing a man who killed infants.  It was par for the course for South Park, but properly illustrated that almost nothing can be a unanimous decision any more.

We can’t even get banish Steelers fans in Northeast Ohio, how can we agree on what the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers should do?  Clearly, the people that are actually in charge of those groups have struggled to find the answers, and that’s proven by the significance of 1964, even though I personally believe 1948 holds just as much meaning.  What big free agent should the Browns sign or who do you want at 4?  The latter part of that question seems to apply to just about every team in town, and just give it a year or two if it doesn’t.

 

It doesn’t matter, because most of our opinions fall on deaf ears.  We can’t make those decisions; to fire, re-hire, and eventually re-fire Mike Brown, to put Danny Salazar at the bottom of the rotation, or to replace D’Qwell Jackson with Karlos Dansby.  Only the powers-that-be can make those calls, but we sit around the pubs or go to the interwebs to talk about what should happen, what might happen, and what’s going to happen.

 

 

I suppose that’s why places like this and people like us get to do what we do.  There’s a mainstream, the people who make a living doing something similar to what we do, and they’re the ones that are supposed to get the information.  From time to time, especially in the age of Twitter and everything else that’s out there, those who get the facts interject opinion, but that gets them in trouble.  I hear a lot of talk about how these guys need to protect their access, which is granted by the teams, but I’m talking about the trouble it gets them into with the fans, aka their readers.

 

There is no winning that game.  Occasionally, I’ll see a writer respond to the vitriol in the comments section of their stories, but I hardly see what good comes of that.  On Twitter, a lot of people don’t see the responses these guys get for nothing more than an honest day’s work, but God forbid anyone Retweet any of it, because then we have to hear about how egotistical so-and-so is.  An opinion ends up being a risk; it’s not a jump off the building type of risk, but you put yourself out there if there’s any chance of disagreement, and there always is, but there’s seldom a clear cut right or wrong.  Supporting Hat McCullough should be one of those things, and though it was fiction, the message sent by the 2002 episode of the show isn’t far off from where we’re at with fundamental differences in 2014.

 

Two Ways to Say, “That’s the dream.”

 

Is there a worse time for a show to end its nine-year run than on Opening Day?  Well, How I Met Your Mother is doing exactly that on March 31st.  Most viewers of HIMYM will tell you that they’re only sticking around for the pay-off, due to the amount of time invested in this drawn-out tale of how Bob Saget met the mother of his children, as he tells the story in the year 2032.  If you don’t watch the show in first-run or syndication, you probably don’t care if I fill in the blanks, so I’ll save both of us the time.  However, I do need to point out that that an eccentric character played by Neil Patrick Harris has often said, “that’s the dream” about multiple fantasies, even though the saying would probably imply that one thing is the dream.  Here are two things that I would say are the dream, given the opportunity to pull the strings on this puppet show we call life.

Don’t get him back, get back at him

So, I heard it through the grapevine that Dan Gilbert was on Late Night with Seth Meyers, a time slot that once featured David Letterman on NBC, to discuss the billion dollar giveaway that Quicken Loans is sponsoring, and the unfunny Meyers attempted to make a joke about the odds of Lebron James returning to Cleveland.  Gilbert couldn’t talk about, to abide by the guidelines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it’s a real live discussion outside of Cleveland, even if it’s died for the most part with all of us…and thank God for that.

Now, I’ve adjusted my position on Lebron James, and I’m really over everything that happened in 2010.  It all seems like so long ago now, it seems silly to hold a grudge.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been turned off to the NBA, largely because of the circus, but the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Cavaliers ever since doesn’t make the Association an entertaining product.  In fact, I skipped my annual trip to the US Airways Center to check out the Cavaliers live, not for any real good reason, just that I didn’t feel like spending the money or the time to watch this team.  I’ve said it in this space that they’ve lost me.

 

Before anyone wants to play the bandwagon card on me, let it be known that I stood by for a good percentage of the games from 2010 to 2013, but this year I opted not to make the investment to follow them closely.  Long story short, no League Pass for this household this year.  None of this is to say that I’ve completely lost all interest in the Cavs, just that there’s more to life than watching a sub-par basketball team play as inconsistent or as poor as they’ve been known to do.  And yes, I realize a lot of this comes from being spoiled for four or five years before the rug was pulled out from underneath is, but suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, there is only one option to save it.  It’s an option that I’ve repeatedly said “no thank you” to in the past, even if I’d be more accepting, given my changed position.

 

 

Here’s the thing; I want a winner in Cleveland as much as all of the Cavs fans that pine for his return, but it leaves a stone unturned.  If we join him, we cannot beat him.  I have, in the past, used the word “tainted” to describe a Cleveland championship, if we need Lebron James to do it for us, like a hired mercenary.  No matter how many ways the Akron-ites want to paint the picture, he’s not one of them, and he’s certainly no longer one us Cleveland-ers, not any more, if he ever was.

 

Truth be told, and I don’t care to go too far down this path, I would rather the Indians or Browns are the first to the Promised Land, but I’m willing to enter the land of beggars that can’t be choosers.  If it’s the Cavs, at least it’s someone.  At the very least, there’s something in the modern era, and yes, that prospect of a tainted title is better than nothing at all.  I guess that’s where I’ve made the personal compromise, not to be mad at Lebron, Jim Gray, or ESPN, at least compromised enough to hold such a grudge that I’d reject success for my hometown.

 

I just don’t like it, and if Kevin Love or any other Top 30 player in the NBA were to come to play for Kyrie Irving and cash Dan Gilbert’s checks, how would that be any different?  It would only be different in the fact that the opportunity to beat the guy we couldn’t win without.  After 50 years and however many more, the story of our title should be outstanding, epic even.  I wouldn’t want it to be a footnote on the career of James.  I want it to be our story, and this is the only way it wouldn’t be.  Again, it’s not that there is any scenario where I’d reject Cleveland getting that moment, however tainted it might be.  It’s just that if I’m scripting it, I want it some other way.

 

And that, right there, is the dream.

I don’t even worry about the bullpen

 

It’s just such a lie, but it’s just the dream.  Starting pitching was such a major concern at this time last year, and Tito found a way.  Of course, a lot of credit is due to Mickey Callaway also, but both he and Francona are back, granted with a few of their projects from a year ago gone to greener pastures, or at least richer ones.

 

So, the question isn’t about what this club can do to the fill the void left by Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, but what to do to replace Joe Smith and Chris Perez.  Now, everyone may have their reservations about Perez, especially with everything that happened in his last season with the club, from his problems with the Post Office in Rocky River to him basically resigning as the team’s closer in September.  However, it’s become easy to forget this guy was an All-Star and closed a lot of games for the Tribe.

 

In the case of Smitty, and aren’t all guys with the surname of Smith cursed with that nickname, you have a late inning guy that you’re going to miss a lot.  We’re left with a lot of questions, probably more questions than answers in this bullpen.  We all loved Vinnie Pestano a few years ago, but can he bounce back after a demotion last season.  Can Austin Adams, CC Lee, and/or Preston Guilmet make the jump in 2014?

 

Rich Hill went back to Boston, but the hope is for Nick Hagadone to harness his velocity and hit the strike zone.  Scott Barnes has been on the cusp of being ready for two seasons, so I think the clock is ticking on him to help out against the lefties at the big league level.  Of course, they’ve traded for Josh Outman and Mark Rzepczynksi in the last 12 months, in their never-ending quest to land southpaws to aid this pitching staff.

 

Cody Allen may or may not be ready to close games, but John Axford is in camp, and the job is probably his on Opening Day, but nothing is permanent.  I’m still a fan of Carlos Carrasco in that role, though they really want him to take the ball every fifth day.  Maybe I’m just stuck on the idea of how well the conversion went for Jose Mesa, Game 7 notwithstanding, and how good Justin Masterson was in the limited time he spent out in the pen last season.  Another starter that might serve this organization better in the Indians bullpen than the Columbus rotation is Josh Tomlin, but I’m just spitballing at this point.

 

All I really want is a solid set of arms that can get nine to fifteen outs when the starter hands them a lead.  That’s going to mean at least one plate appearance from the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler in critical division games.  Getting those huge outs with the pressure on, that’s the damn dream.

One Big Deal

With apologies to Michael Brantley, who I planned on featuring in this space this weekend, Cleveland still isn’t a Tribe town.  The headlines still belong to the Browns, who brought in Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, and former Texans running back Ben Tate.  Dansby and Whitner are plugging holes left by the departures of D’Qwell Jackson (Colts) and TJ Ward (Broncos), but Tate fills a need that hasn’t been properly addressed since Jamal Lewis left this team five years ago.

 

Ben Tate

 

You always get a little worried about what the “other” back is going to do in a featured role, a la James Stewart after serving as Fred Taylor’s understudy in Jacksonville or Michael Turner after playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.  More recently, Matt Flynn has made buyers beware of what a solid backup can do in a good system, and that’s a legitimate concern for the Browns with Tate.  Under Gary Kubiak and the old Broncos zone-blocking scheme, Tate was a more than satisfactory backup for Arian Foster, but you might wonder what he’ll be able to do in Kyle Shannahan’s offense, which promises to be a similar scheme.

 

Because of Alfred Morris and because of Olandis Gary, among others, I’m excited for this Shannahan-Tate marriage that we’re about to see unfold in Cleveland.  Thus far, we’ve seen Tate take a few pages out of Joe Haden’s How-To-Be-Loved-By-Browns-Fans playbook, engaging social media to tell the world he’s now a Cavs and Indians fan.  That promises to go a long way, but Haden has backed up the adoration he receives for his off-the-field character by being a leader on it.  That also goes a long way, but leadership only gets you so far, the love fades as more and more 4 and 5 win seasons add up.

 

 

Speculation is that Tate will be a part of a running back by committee, with Dion Lewis returning from injury and the smart money saying the Browns will draft the position as well, but they need to start somewhere.  Trent Richardson wasn’t the answer, nor was Peyton Hillis, but those guys are part of the past.  The former Auburn back may not be the answer either, but he’s a good place to start.  And he will start, that’s the kind of money he’s making.

 

There’s more to Tate’s love for his new team and his new town than the free hat.

Six On Shin-Soo

Bryan Shaw

In a 9-player deal, you are going to consider certain players as what the trade is built around, while others are noted as throw-ins.  When the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Indians built a deal around Shin-Soo Choo going from the Indians to the Reds, everyone aside from Choo and Trevor Bauer were considered throw-ins.  You could almost consider it two separate trades; Choo, Jason Donald, and cash went to Cincinnati for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius, then the Tribe flipped Gregorius for Trevor Bauer and a bunch of relievers were thrown in.  Matt Albers and Tony Sipp probably fit that bill, but Bryan Shaw is a much underrated part of this deal.  At 26, this strikeout pitcher has dynamite stuff, and I’d say he’s a future closer; maybe it doesn’t happen with the Indians, but he’s been quite the pick-up for the Indians to date.  Losing Tony Sipp was addition-by-subtraction to begin with, but gaining Shaw was a big, even if unheralded win for the front office in Cleveland.

 

Shin-Soo Choo

The principle player in this whole deal was moved to Cincinnati as a one-year rental for the Reds, but the Reds were willing to part with a hot prospect that ended up cooling off as a rookie in Arizona and an excess outfielder with some speed but no stick.  The Indians have a shortstop, perhaps multiple shortstops, down on the farm that could fill any voids the big league club might have over the next few seasons, so Didi Gregorius was never a viable option for them, though they basically traded Choo down I-71 for his rights.  Indians fans had to wait a while to see what Choo was all about, making his debut in late May of 2008, after Tommy John surgery, but he was a solid addition to the team for a few seasons.  In his “walk year” with the Reds, he was pretty much the same player, a .285 hitter who gets on base enough, but probably not worth the $100 million plus that the Rangers threw at him this off-season.

Trevor Bauer

Is it possible that Arizona has taken a good look at all of their young talent, and then decided that it all stunk and to sell high?  They’ve dumped Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton, and Bauer over the last few seasons.  They took a middle infielder and a useless left-handed pitcher to dump a guy that was obviously a bad fit in the school of hard knocks that Josh Towers and Kirk Gibson are running in the desert.  You try not to use the word “bust” with a 23 year-old that could still be a work-in-progress, but you also wonder if this guy will ever find his command.  Of course, if he doesn’t make it, his ego and questionable workout regimen will be put on trial, but who knows if that has anything to do with it.  A couple of rocky performances in Spring Training have it looking like Bauer won’t be on the Major League roster on March 31st, so you wonder when, if ever, things will happen for the former first-round pick.

Didi Gregorius

I’m not sure if anyone, other than those with Dutch blood, think too much of a Gregorius, though I often convinced myself that the Indians weren’t doing much better with Cabrera, who they’ve apparently been unable to trade.  There’s no questioning that there was never a question of Gregorius spending a minute with the Indians, but why not think about it, if only in theory, since it was completely possible.  The best part about Gregorius was his at-bat music, Notorious by Notorious B.I.G., but I highly doubt too many of you attend games at Chase Field to appreciate that.  He goes into outrageous slumps, and doesn’t hit well enough at the big league level to really own the shortstop position in Phoenix.  The Indians already had a Juan Diaz, and we are now a year closer to Francisco Lindor’s Major League debut; some people think that’s coming in September, but we’ll see.

Drew Stubbs

Last year’s season premiere of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was a brilliant episode called “The Gang Broke Dee”.  The focus of the show was Sweet Dee hitting rock-bottom, and then suddenly succeeding because she stopped caring about everything.  However, her brother was convinced it was time for her to settle for a man, not a particularly attractive or confident man, but a man nonetheless.  That’s how I saw Drew Stubbs; he was fast on the base paths and adequate in right field, but never anything close to what I would consider great in any realm.  With the standard of being a throw-in to this blockbuster deal, what thrills me the most about Stubbs going forward, is that he was able to get bullpen help from Colorado when he was traded after one season with the Tribe.

Josh Outman

I’m so glad that Drew Stubbs was traded for Josh Outman this past off-season, because he does help this bullpen with a much need left-handed arm, but also because I don’t need to fill the six blurb quota that this column demands without saying much of anything at all about Matt Albers or Tony Sipp.  Outman had a rough September with Colorado and nothing on the stat sheet jumps off the page, but he can give you an inning or two, is comfortable throwing 25-30 pitches in an outing, and he strikes guys out, which is critical because it means you can bring him in with runners on base.

That’s all I’ve got for you.  Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.

 

The 216: The Beatles Are Terrible

Relax, I’m joking. I don’t really think The Beatles are terrible.

 

Between the black and white, we have a gray area, an area where we just don’t adore something like the next guy, and maybe we’re wrong for trending away from the flock. Many will accuse us of being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and that element certainly exists, but for some, it’s a rare stroll off the beaten path. I’m not one to tell the world that up is down, just to be a jerk, but I try to make my words genuine; to smile and nod would make me a liar.

 

That doesn’t mean I can’t keep my mouth shut. It is with some level of shame that I confess, on more than one occasion I’ve abandoned Tweets and Facebook after thinking, should I really float this out there? I’d rather say more by saying nothing at all, which challenges me at times. For example, I didn’t care for The Hangover, but I don’t ridicule those who do; I even kept an open mind when the sequel came out, and let’s just say I don’t need to take a flyer on the third chapter. The other day, someone suggested that I was trying to be “Alan” because of the beard, but why should a Hangover character be my first thought there?

 

Anyways, I don’t have any real thoughts on The Beatles, beyond the fact that I don’t get the hype that stays with them to this day. Sure, they might have revolutionized music. I wouldn’t know, since it was all before my time, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. No, I’m not one of those Elvis types, who insist that any interest in the British Invasion takes away from your undying loyalty to Mr. Presley. Honestly, I’m less inclined to change the station when the Monkees are on, which I realize is like saying I prefer CB4 over any other rap group.

 

Now that everyone’s opinion is so transparent, with the help of technology, there are so many divides in the public when it comes to any topic, beyond music with politics and sports, that right and wrong barely have clear boundaries any more. In sports, you have the stat geeks, the numbers guys, the ring counters, the blatant homers, the hometown antagonists, and the fans of the game itself. That last group is the one that puts down anyone who demonstrates an interest in the outcome of the games.

 

Two Chief Concerns

Is it worth the fight?

Good god, which side are you talking about? Yes, we will fight this forever, because it’s worth it, and I can’t believe anyone would go to these measures to oppose it. This has gone on long enough; I can’t even believe this is a thing.

 

Those words could come from the “Keep the Chief” crowd or the varying level of the caricature’s opponents. Like it or not, Chief Wahoo has become a relatively hot topic of conversation recently, and unlike in the past, it won’t be going away when the news cycle gets its next wave of information. They are leaning on the Redskins pretty hard right now, and as I watch that fight continue, I wonder, what are they fighting for?

I can understand that some businesses need to maintain that brand recognition, but I don’t think it matters in professional sports. The Braves became the Clippers and the Royals became the Kings, long before the Bullets and Hornets joined the name-change revolution in the NBA; does anyone care? Just as the Titans became the Jets in the AFL, the team in Washington’s NFL team could become something new and everyone would watch, because it’s football. On that same note, if the Indians reverted back to being the Blues or Spiders, groups of 7,500 or more would continue to populate Progressive Field, because it’s baseball.

 

All attendance jokes aside, the “change the name of the team” topic isn’t really the one that’s on the table. The discussion is over an emblem, one that existed but wasn’t even on the caps when I became a fan, but has essentially been what we know as the primary logo my entire life. I’ve heard a lot about what’s offensive, what isn’t offensive, and how many people need to feel a certain way before we can really determine what’s what. In the end, you have some varying opinions and a limited amount of facts.

 

Some facts are based on opinion, but they remain facts nonetheless. Some opinions are based on fact, but they are still opinions. Plenty has been said to support change; the Cleveland Frowns site has been making a case for years (and plenty of other writers on plenty of sites, both local and national), and more recently a Cleveland Councilman has made his opinion known that if it’s offensive to anyone, it’s offensive. Proponents of Chief Wahoo oppose change because they see nothing wrong with it, and would like the “PC Police” to chill out. Often cited are Native Americans who aren’t offended by Chief Wahoo, and some who would go as far as to say they like him.

 

Forget what I think on the topic for a second, and let’s say a change was made. Since the Dolan family bought the team, they’ve played with some different cap styles that don’t include the Chief. Sure, the mascot has appeared in other places on the uniform when the Script “I” and Block “C” have been worn, and how many people missed it then? Believe it or not, I’ve heard more than a few complaints about the Block “C”, but more about it representing Wahoo being phased out than for general aesthetics, though the latter has drawn its critics.

 

As for my thoughts, I think it should be changed, and it should be done proactively, rather than reactively. If it’s done because management believe that it’s time, that enough is enough, you’ll still have the folks who complain that it took way too long, that it’s 2014 or whatever, but I’d much rather Paul Dolan or Mark Shapiro give the order than Bud Selig or a United States Senator. My home state of Arizona has been called to the carpet for not doing the right thing initially a time or two, but doing it with the threat of losing a Super Bowl hanging in the balance.

 

Speaking of Arizona, and this is just an observation, but there is no sign of Chief Wahoo at the Goodyear Ballpark in an official capacity of any sort. Of course, there are plenty of fans that bring him in, and the Team Shop sells apparel with the mascot’s likeness, but when the stadium is empty, it’s void of that logo. He’s not on the scoreboard, the field, or the team’s Spring Training uniform. As Peter Pattakos (principle author of Cleveland Frowns) has pointed out, the Indians acknowledge a need to walk on eggshells in my part of the country, because of our Native American population. How is that not admitting the team sees an issue?

 

This Hat Collection of Mine

So, I am not attaching any photos of me joining protests outside Progressive Field on Opening Day or prior to high profile playoff games. Those photos do not and will not exist, nor will you ever see me participating in any demonstration near the Goodyear Ballpark, if anyone ever decided to stage one. The truth is, while I don’t openly and adamantly oppose Chief Wahoo, I’m not exactly fighting for the team to keep him. I don’t really think it’s worth the fight, and besides, my closet is filled with caps and t-shirts depicting the questionable cartoon.

 

If I wear Chief Wahoo, am I part of the problem?

 

If I have 25 Tribe hats in various colors, because I’m weird like that, and only 5 of them are not the standard Chief Wahoo, am I obligated to keep only those five in the rotation? I have been wearing Indians hats in public for the better part of the last 12 years, and I’ve had someone say something to the effect of being offended exactly once. Ironically, it happened in Cleveland, at a bar in the city. To tell the whole story, they didn’t exactly say anything to me.

 

We were watching a Cavs playoff game, if that tells you how long it’s been, and they were talking amongst themselves, but trying to be loud enough for me to hear them. Apparently, they didn’t try hard enough, because only my wife heard them talking, “that dude needs to turn his hat around or something,” and she told me that was said long after the fact. To be fair, it’s a black chief wahoo on a chocolate colored cap, and these people were sitting at an angle where they may not have figured it to be an off-color Indians hat, but a blatant Sambo. I haven’t worn that one in a while.

 

I used to play a lot of poker, and I’ve conveniently lived near a reservation with a casino that has a poker room for the last decade or so. Many of the employees in these places were from the tribes that called these reservations home, or at least of Native American descent, a fact that I would usually think about after the fact, after I sat down with a giant red cartoon Indian on my hat and asked the dealer to change $100. They never said a thing to me or gave the logo a second look, though I’d often wonder when they would and how I’d react to their criticism.

 

Now, I don’t care for the argument that people have been told it’s not offensive because people in “Indian Casinos” aren’t offended. That happens to be my story, and maybe the story of many others, but Native Americans in casinos might not be the gold standard for what offends an entire culture. There’s a language of currency in those places that might trump all. However, this Caucasian’s level of understanding doesn’t tell me what to do with my Indians hats.

 

The easy option is that I stop wearing them, if I believe what they represent to be wrong. I have really invested a lot into making Cleveland a part of my wardrobe, and I have denied, or at least shrugged at the offensive aspect of Chief Wahoo for a long time. Why am I growing a conscience now, and would I really contemplate the FISCAL implications of ditching these hats, if they featured swastikas or clansmen? The thing is, they don’t represent those things, though some might contend that they do, even if a Major League team is wearing them of the field at their home games. That suggests that society accepts what the Indians do, even if that fact couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In the end, it’s a long road ahead, if I’m going to find all of these colors without Chief Wahoo in the New Era catalog. It would be so much easier if I were a Yankees fan, or that dreaded fan of the game, where colors and Wahoo-less caps were more readily available. Maybe I should just admit I’m almost 36 and abandon the ball cap altogether. I’m so confused…

 

One Cactus League Guide

Though most of the Upper 48 states sprung their clocks one hour ahead on Saturday night, at 1:00 AM on Sunday morning in Arizona, we simply wait sixty seconds for the clock to hit 1:01 AM, and repeat the process for an hour until it hits 2 AM. Because Arizona does not participate in this antiquated agricultural event, it means you’ll see Cactus League games at 4:00 PM instead of 3:00 PM in the east. Around here, I only need to know one time each day, and that’s 1:00 PM, the time of the first pitch in any of the nine parks here in the Valley of the Sun. Because I’ve been to all of them, I figured I could do everyone who might think about checking out the Tribe and getting out of the cold this winter or during one in the near future the service of telling you what to expect.

 

#9 Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Oakland Athletics)

The A’s play in one of the older stadiums you’ll find in the Cactus League. If you’re in from out of town, its proximity to Mill Avenue, Arizona State’s bar district, is as close as you’re going to get. If you like rocks and mountains, Phoenix Muni is tucked between a bunch of them, which means no lawn seating. The lawn is solid seating for those who don’t take things too seriously in Spring Training; a typical lawn ticket will run you $8, which isn’t too much lower than an outfield reserve seat near the Phoenix/Tempe border. It’s also accessible by light rail, if you don’t mind a little bit of walking. Unless you have privileges to the small stadium lot, you’ve got a decent up and over the bridge that takes you from the parking lot, across Galvin Parkway, and into the ballpark.

Lack of a lawn, hard bench seating, the awful scoreboard, and the logistics of the parking lot put this one at the bottom of the list, but a day at Phoenix Muni is probably better than most alternatives that don’t involve baseball. This becomes a moot point at the end of the month, since the A’s will be headed out to Mesa’s Hohokam Park, the former home of the Cubs, and Arizona State University Baseball will make Phoenix Muni their home in 2015.

 

#8 Maryvale Baseball Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

I tried to think of an appropriate way to describe the Maryvale neighborhood and the location of the Brewers’ 51st Avenue ballpark to the Cleveland reader, then I realized my comprehension of Cleveland neighborhoods expired about 20 years ago, so I’m left to ask you to recall the area around West 65th and Dennison in 1994. For those of you unfamiliar with the west side of the city, I’d say it’s safe enough to drive through, but it’s not a part of town where you want to be lost.

 

You have to put up with Miller Lite, it’s just a Wisconsin thing. In fact, the stadium doesn’t seem to draw a massive amount of people from the Midwest, but there’s a lot of Wisconsin personality injected into the place. It shows in the available concessions, which have menus specifically catered to the people from Wisconsin, in my opinion anyways. The scoredboard is old, like the rest of the park, but there’s a lot of personality throughout and the sight lines are great. A sidewalk divides the lawn area into sunny and shady areas, so there’s some variety, and the berm seating wraps around the right field fair pole, so the cheapskates are offered a different vantage point. Speaking of shady areas, there’s not much in the way of post-game dining in the area, but you can tailgate, or at least you can get away with tailgating.

 

#7 Goodyear Ballpark (Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds)

It really pains me to put this ballpark this low, it does, but this is where it goes. The location is questionable; it reminds me how Spring Training is not about the fans. There are plenty of fan experiences to be had, but the design of the Goodyear Complex seems to much more about the players, and rightfully so. The games at the ballpark seem like such a chore, and everyone seems to prefer playing at Field 1, the one with dimensions identical to Progressive Field, where few spectators attend.

The location doesn’t matter if you stay in Goodyear, but this is not a convenient commute from Scottsdale, Tempe, or even downtown Phoenix. Think of the distance from the Inner Belt to Elyria; that’s how I think of it, though I have no idea how close I am on the mileage estimate. There’s little to do, in or around Goodyear, though Black Bear Diner and Majerle’s seems to be visitor favorites, and neither is exactly next to the park. In fact, there’s nothing next to the park but desert. I honestly cannot believe the city of Goodyear hasn’t built anything near the ballpark in six years that might entertain out-of-town guests. Of course, the park’s two Ohio tenants aren’t putting many butts in the seats; crowds under 3,000 are routine. In contrast, the Diamondbacks and Cubs routinely draw over 10,000 a day.

 

I have a word of advice to those commuting to the ballpark or practice facilities from the east, exit I-10 at Bullard Road. The park is on Estrella Parkway, but the congestion caused by the necessary left turn is ridiculous, regardless of what parking lot you’re attempting to enter. By exiting sooner at Bullard, you can drive south on Bullard off of the interstate, and just drive until you hit the ballpark.

 

#6 Diablo Stadium (Los Angeles Angels)

The Angels spring home is very noticeable, sitting down the hill from the Buttes Resort on 48th Street, and directly adjacent to I-10, which is only separated from the right field fence by a small parking lot. For a local, March commutes during the work day are made worse by seeing all of the people enjoying themselves, as you glance to the south from the freeway. However, if you’re among the lucky spectators inside, you don’t give all those suckers headed home from the office a single thought.

 

There’s not a bad sight-line in the stadium, but it does tend to be crowded at this other venue that sits close to Arizona State, so lawn seating is first-come/first-serve. Since you have the parking lot in right field, the lawn starts in left-center and wraps around the left field fair pole to just behind third base. If you’re on the third base line, you can laugh at the commuters beyond the right field wall and ancient scoreboard. On the weekends, the crowds are worse, with it not uncommon for Orange County to caravan in for a quick road trip.

 

As far as your own commute is concerned, parking is limited around the stadium. You might get lucky enough to not have a Lord of the Rings-caliber journey, but that means getting to the ballpark right after breakfast. A lot of the Mill Avenue-area bars have shuttles that run, so that’s worth looking into. Directly adjacent to the stadium, there’s positively nothing in the way of entertainment, unless you can get those pedi-cab drivers to crack some jokes.

 

#5 Surprise Stadium (Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers)

This is a great ballpark with a terrible location. Well, Surprise is somewhat of a retirement community and it’s a long way from nothing. I’m reminded of how not freeway-accessible Parmatown Mall was for me as a young driver in Northeast Ohio, and I’m reminded of the ride up Bell Road. There’s a traffic light every thirty feet, and the nearest freeway is 8 or 9 miles (really unofficial estimate of distance) to the east. However, when you finally navigate West Bell Road to the complex on Bullard, very far north of Goodyear, there is a payoff.

 

The stadium has free parking and a minimal walk to the gate. The lawn is plenty big enough, there’s a variety of concessions, and the atmosphere is family-friendly. At a lot of the Cactus League places, you’ll find the younger fraternity brother-looking crowd, but Surprise is just too far for their type to travel, so there’s a lot of the elderly and a lot of mini-vans, but just an excellent ballpark. There’s nothing to do in Surprise if you’re under 150, so hustle to get back east before the early-bird buffet traffic.

 

#4 Scottsdale Memorial Stadium (San Francisco Giants)

Welcome to Club Giants. This is the premier spot in the state’s biggest tourist trap, Old Town Scottsdale. You’ll enjoy the scenery. You’ll enjoy the company. You’ll enjoy the food and entertainment, and they’ll enjoy your money. It’s an expensive part of town, but you fall backwards into fun in and around the Giants place at Goldwater and Osborn, a few paces east of Scottsdale Road.

 

Last year, I saw Giants tickets for a Saturday game with Milwaukee with a face value of $32…on the lawn. That’s insane; you might pay $20 to a scalper to get on the lawn for a sold out game, but that’s ridiculous. You can have a good time on the lawn in Goodyear for $32. It might not be quite so steep any more, but if money isn’t an object, this is the place to be. It’s always crowded, with a lot of Giants fans and a lot of young people looking to party. It’s an old place, but there’s plenty of young blood inside, and the entertainment is shaped for that crowd.

 

#3 Camelback Ranch (Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Here you have a couple of tenants that I could pass on. You have to ask yourself, do I want to be around Dodgers and/or White Sox fans for three hours on a beautiful day. It’s a tough question, but if you stick around, this place is nice. It was built around the same time as Goodyear was, but their spot in Glendale just blows it away. Of course, they put butts in the seats, at least the Dodgers do; I haven’t seen a White Sox game there yet.

2013-03-03 13.14.20

The concessions are nice, the lawn is large, and the expensive seats are outstanding. The general parking lot may or may not have charged the last time I used it, and I remember thinking that they shouldn’t charge for parking because of the long, yet scenic, walk from the parking lot, through all of the practice fields, and to the stadium. I don’t know all of the designer lingo, but I’ll say there’s a nice desert look to it. It’s easy to get to, via 107th Avenue north from I-10 or west on Camelback from the Loop-101.

 

#2 Cubs Park (Chicago Cubs)

I had my first glimpse of Wrigley West on Friday, when the Indians took on the Cubs, and it was impressive. It might actually deserve #1, but they get an incomplete because I haven’t seen everything yet. The location makes me sigh a little bit, because it was once proposed as the site of the Arizona Cardinals, the site that was put out on the far west end of town in Glendale, and it was kyboshed because of the plane that crashed at Laguardia, near Shea Stadium, in the weeks after 9/11. There was concern over the flight line to Sky Harbor Airport, the route that was okay for the Cubs to build their off-season facility. It used to be Riverview Golf Course, a place I may or may not have played once.

 

The have miles of open field around the stadium, plenty of room to tailgate for $7, as Chicagoans love to do, and a seemingly endless line of palm trees along Rio Salado Boulevard, which I’m sure impresses the Windy City guests. Cubs fans will always pack any Spring Training park they play at, so there’s always plenty of beer and plenty of food on hand. At the old park, a few miles to the east, the vendors sold Old Style; I’m not sure I saw any the other day. Another thing that struck me as strange was the Giordano’s advertisements; there are no locations in Phoenix, but they were quick to plug their mail-order product. It didn’t seem to fit with me. There’s also a giant billboard, high above the very nice, state-of-the-art scoreboard in left field, which directs you to Portillo’s, one of two new locations in Arizona. Portillos is a staple in the Chicagoland area, a place you can get genuine Chicago Hot Dogs, Italian Beef, and a long list of the other things that your doctor wouldn’t recommend. The Tempe location is 1.3 miles to the west at Tempe Marketplace; to the east, you have the Mesa Riverview Shopping Center. And, Mill Avenue is close, so shuttle service is a thing from here too.

 

#1 Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies)

Everything east of Pima in Scottsdale is technically on the reservation. Of course, that would mean the Talking Stick Casino and Resort also falls on that land. On the east side of the Loop-101, you’ll find the new digs for the hometown Diamondbacks. For now, this place edges out the built-for-2014 Cubs Park, if only because of its layout, with the co-tenant Rockies owning the first base side of the park, complete with a dedicated team shop in right field, mirrored by the Diamonbacks having the same amenities on the third base side.

2013-03-21 13.45.06

There’s bar areas, places to sit and eat, places to stand and watch baseball, and expensive places to sit and watch the games. There are shuttles that run to the stadium at Indian Bend and Pima, but these run from Old Town, to take you away from the Giants love-fest around their place. Plenty of lawn and an awesome scoreboard highlight the outfield area, you can walk anywhere, and it’s probably the most enjoyable walk into any Spring Training site, because you can watch minor league games being played and watch player hit into the cages, which are completely viewable from the walkway to the gates. Like the Cubs Park, this is a high-end place, so no less than $12 is required for entry and you’ll be accompanied by about 12,000 of your closest friends.

Six Random Things

Retiring Z

I suppose I wasn’t on board with the retirement of Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s #11, and I said my piece on Twitter earlier this week, much to this dismay of many a Cavs fan. I don’t usually back down from any stance I take in sports, but I have to admit, I’m feeling some regret on this one. It was obvious to me very quickly on Saturday night, just how much Z meant to this team. This is one example where I find myself out of touch, being off the reservation for so long.

Without a QB

I’m finally warming up to the idea that the Browns might not take a quarterback with the fourth pick in May. I’m not sold on Brian Hoyer, not completely, but if they can’t land Blake Bortles, there’s too much value in that slot to reach for Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, or Johnny Manziel. While I don’t think Jadaveon Clowney will be available to them, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them take Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, but there is a lot of time for me to change my mind before May.

Free Agents Aren’t Free

I suppose I’m the ultimate pessimist when it comes to free agency for the Browns. I suppose there is a reason for that; precedent says I’m right to see the glass half-empty. There are so many targets, and so little curb appeal to Cleveland or the Browns in their current state.

So, I’m thinking a local guy like Roger Saffold, most recently a St. Louis Ram, could fill the void at guard or right tackle, if Mitchell Schwartz is the new center, could be attainable. Of course, we’ll see if the Buffalo love for Mike Pettine is real, if Jairus Byrd is indeed targeted to play free safety for his former Defensive Coordinator in Cleveland. Problem is, his college coach is the head coach in Philadelphia, who is believed to be a suitor for Byrd’s services.

Unfinished Business

https://twitter.com/VinnieP52/statuses/439434270625366017

I know we try to play everything short of championships off as a failure in the internet generation, but in the case of the 2013 Indians, it seems to be a ridiculous downplay of an overwhelming success. Oh well; the eye should be on the ultimate prize, I guess, but there’s nothing “all-in” about 2014, if you ask me. The rub resides in Justin Masterson’s contract issue. If he’s not signed by Opening Day, he’s gone after the season, and I’d put that folly on the front office. It seems like he is giving the team every chance, within reason, to retain him. If they pull that off, and maybe an extension with Jason Kipnis as well, they need not go for broke in 2014. I could appreciate the luxury of patience, given the landscape. The Indians are closer to getting it done than most believe, if they can do it the right way.

 

The CSan Experiment

We got to know him, and he’s what we want to know about, so they got him at third base, and I finally had the chance to check him out. According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Saturday’s game in Peoria was, by far, the best look we’ve gotten at Carlos Santana as a third baseman, and results were mixed. He made a throwing error on a ball he fielded cleanly, his second error of that variety from the hot corner this spring, but nothing to be alarmed about. Terry Francona was quick to remind the media that Santana is a work in progress at third, and I imagine that fielding the position is the biggest challenge in this transition. My take is that he looks comfortable, and this is going to be a good move in the long run. Ironically, he’ll be the best third baseman since Casey Blake, the man he was traded for, and you might have to go back to Jim Thome’s days at third for a real comparison. We may not see it in 2014, but it’s going to be a good move, one I’ve been thinking about since spring of 2012.

Shameless Plugs

On a personal note, this is where I like to be, writing long-form articles, and this column is somewhat of a monster every Sunday. I sincerely hope it’s worth your time to read it, but I’ve diversified, and added audio work to my weekly catalog. I’ve been co-hosting the first hour of Sports Byline Sunday, with Andy Dorf, which runs from 11 AM to 1 PM Eastern, for a few months now. I’m also seven weeks into my podcast, here on More Than a Fan, and I’m happy with how The 185 has gone to date. Check MTAF.tv for past episodes, and look for this week’s show with Jake Dungan of Indians Baseball Insider, which was recorded this weekend in Goodyear. We’ve got a lot of good Tribe stuff to discuss there.

 

The 216: Simpsons Did It

Originality is tough to come by these days.  In that regard, we have the distinct disadvantage of being the last to the party, in the present tense, because there are more historical precedents out there than ever before.  Sure, that’s how time works, but it’s completely possible that innovation is approaching its ceiling.  I see it on Shark Tank, every Friday night; people present new and sometimes fun ideas to investors, but no idea is so unique that it blows these billionaires away.  In many cases, it’s the same concept re-done; I mean, how many different ways can a software developer tweak Instagram?

 

Even to take a deeper look at it than you’re going to get from the “Get Rich Quick” dreamers, take a look at television doing The Real World or reality television 600 different ways or how repetitive even scripted television is.  The music industry has spent about half a century not stacking up against The Beatles, and even the rap music of today can’t hold a candle to what was popular when I was in high school.  Then, you get the Browns, Cavs, and Indians of 2014; we don’t allow ourselves to love it like the winners of years’ past.

 

Not to go all Rick Pitino here, but there are facts we must face, facts that have been pointed out to me; certain people aren’t walking through that door.  Okay, so Jim Brown and/or Bernie Kosar might walk through that door, at least those two want to be involved, but they aren’t lacing up the cleats and giving today’s fan what they gave that fan’s father and grandfather.  It reminds me of the South Park episode, the one where the Butters character attempts to live on the dark side, only to be reminded by his #2 that every one of his evil plots had been done by Bart Simpson.  Now, anything that happens, we’re reminded that the Simpsons Did It!

Two #1 Overall Picks

NBA Nose Best

It’s almost a comparison not worth making, in the realm of Homer Simpson versus Peter Griffin, Peter versus Eric Cartman, or even Cartman versus Bart Simpson.  Being animated and obese or being an animated unruly child does not make for a carbon copy of the same character.  Kyrie Irving and Lebron James were both drafted #1 overall by the Cavaliers after limited if any experience beyond the high school ranks.  I’d say the buck stops there though.

 

Of course, the two will be linked together for the foreseeable future, almost solely because Irving ended up being the pick for the Cavs after James forced his former organization to hit the reset button.  I’ve also heard that the two are friends, but before I put too much stock into that, I’d need to understand how the fraternity of great basketball players actually interacts, and I will never be in a position to grasp that concept.  They have also, at one point in time or another, been deemed the only thing going for Cleveland basketball.  So, it’s natural to consider Lebron in the same breath, whenever Kyrie does anything well.

 

I don’t like it, but I have to accept it.  However, what upsets me is that it isn’t a two-way street, however fair that might be.  Reluctantly, you have to admit that James blazed the trail in Cleveland and Irving just travels down that beaten path.  Outside of Cleveland, the national media has led today’s hoops fan to believe that no one has ever worn a black mask before Lebron debuted the Zorro look the other night.

 

Maybe that would be an easier pill to swallow, if I, like many who call Cleveland home, suddenly forgot when Irving looked like a black Batman.  Irving reportedly isn’t bothered by it, according to Jodie Valade’s story in The Plain Dealer.  Chris Bosh said that Lebron played like Batman, but Valade comments she’s heard this before.

That sounds familiar. Except Kyrie Irving did it first, and did it better. And he did it in Gotham City.

And, it’s true.  Irving put up 41 points in New York against the Knicks, a career high, in December of 2012.  Lebron put up 31 with 4 rebounds and 4 assists against New York in Miami this week.  The thing is, after Irving’s Dark Knight night, the NBA told him not to wear the mask any more, which leads me to assume it’s an NBA guideline, even if the players prefer the carbon fiber mask, which is black.

 

So once again, we see the rules don’t apply to the elite.  The claim was that the Heat took what they could get their hands on, even though they had time.  This was clearly a matter of it being better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission for James, who admitted he liked the way it looked with the Heat’s throwbacks.  Irving commented that the look of it is appealing, but that it does affect peripheral vision, and that he has no qualms with James wearing it, so maybe I shouldn’t either.

I wonder what Kyrie’s thoughts are on announcing you’re leaving Cleveland via free agency on a one-hour televised special.

 

Messed Around and Got What

So, I guess the theme of today’s post is to stop comparing everything that happens in Cleveland, and more specifically Kyrie Irving, to Lebron James.  On Friday, Irving notched his first career triple-double, so naturally the headline read “Kyrie pulls a Lebron”.

James had 47, including the playoffs, coming into the 2013-2014 season, so maybe he is the gold standards when it comes to putting double-digits in three categories, but he’s not the only one that’s ever done it, not enough for him to lay claim to the statistical achievement.  I found that it took something away from Irving, who doesn’t exactly grab 8 boards, let alone 10 or more, each night.  In his career, Irving has only notched a double-double with points and assists 12 times, and he’s only grabbed five rebounds or more in four of those games, including his triple-double on Friday.  On three occasions, he hit double-digits in dimes, but failed to score at least ten points.

If you’re hunting Irving’s stat page to see how close he’s come, rebounds are generally the deciding factor.  He’s grabbed 8 or more five times in his career, with his closest flirtation with a triple-double before Friday night coming in Atlanta during his rookie season.  The day before his 20th birthday, Irving had 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in a loss to the Hawks.  He’s never had more than 4 blocks or 5 steals, but he did have a 9 turnover, 8 rebound night last November, so the chances of Kyrie getting anything other than a tradition triple-double are relatively slim.

One Irresponsible Perspective

If you count on me or anyone at More Than a Fan to give you sports news with absolute objectivity, you’re barking up the wrong tree.  That said, I have to admit that it’s difficult to table any emotion when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I’ve slowly learned a sad truth over the years; not everyone feels the same way about the Steelers or their fans in Northeast Ohio.  Well, just because it’s true, it doesn’t make me content or accepting of the situation.

Now, I’ve been on somewhat of a personal conquest to avoid the word “hate”.  It makes me cringe, simply because of the evil attached to the word.  You take everything that’s wonderful about the word “love” and make that passion the exact opposite of all the positive things that come with it, and it isn’t healthy.  My preference is to “hate” nothing; it’s the worst word in the world, unless of course you’re privy to someone adding an “R” to the word, then that’s the worst word, unless you’re adding a “Z” to your “R”.  Put hate, hater, and don’t forget the clever “H8” in a room with overrated, lock it, throw the key, and don’t ever let that group anywhere near any conversation about sports.

 

I admit, that leaves me searching the thesaurus for ways to describe my feelings about the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Abhor, despise, detest, contemn; those all work.  I curse their organization every step of the way.  Whether it’s a license plate frame, a window sticker, a car flag, or black and gold jersey; and, what do I make of females wearing the Roethlisberger surname across their backs?  Is there a more distinct way to say “I have no respect for myself or women in general” than to support that creep, regardless of what the authorities in Georgia or Nevada have to say about the Miami of Ohio product.

 

But, it’s that exact contempt that I hold for the twice-alleged rapist that makes me question if I’m doing things wrong.  This brushes over into my nausea over the love affair that people seem to have with Ray Lewis, who definitely had something to do with Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker perishing in the streets of Atlanta 14 years ago, even if he didn’t stick the knife in those victims himself.  The Ravens are a lingering thought for another time though.

 

I didn’t waste words on every Facebook post or every tweet for months on end for people in and out of sports who committed similarly heinous offenses.  Honestly, I let the Jameis Winston ordeal go through its due process without comment, and other than the fact that Winston has been accused of violating decency only half as much as the Steelers quarterback, the only difference between the two situations is that I don’t hold a grudge over Florida State.  So Winston skates, and Roethlisberger is subject to the wrath of my vile opinion.

It isn’t fair.  It isn’t fair that I am so adamant about something that comes down to a he-said/she-said, to state the injustice that is more about black and gold than black and white, when I don’t put a finger to the keyboard over Darren Sharper’s transgressions.  Face it, Sharper is accused of something much grizzlier than anything Roethlisbeger was ever even accused of, serial date-rape, and I don’t have much to say about it, other than my waning faith in society as a whole.

 

Putting the Big Ben stuff behind me, as the courts and the NFL did almost immediately after the story broke, I think of why else I don’t care for the Steelers.  Yes, I am a Browns fan and it comes with the territory, but even in a vacuum, I don’t care to see them play any of the league’s 30 other teams.  I think they cheat, which wouldn’t be a problem, if not for the fact they get away with it so often.  They’re pretty smug about it too, if you can see Mike Tomlin’s body language when called to the carpet about it.

 

Their claim to fame is the six NFL championships, two more than the Browns, but how tainted are they?  Terry Bradshaw is casual about how four of those came with the aid of a needle, but the statute of limitations of cheating expires when a likable TV personality reveals them about his own team.  In contrast, the Patriots take unauthorized video and we’re supposed to burn down all of New England, forgetting how outstanding those Tom Brady-led teams were, winning the Super Bowl three times in four years.  I see a double standard there, to say the least.

 

But, in recognizing one double standard, I have to confess to my own.  For years, I thought the officials played a role in the Steelers most recent world championships, to the dismay of people in Seattle and here in Arizona.  Holding call after holding call was overlooked as Pittsburgh and their striped-shirted allies marched down the field against their competition from the NFC West.  Whatever it took to get Bill Cowher, and then Mike Tomlin a ring, that’s what the league wanted, in my completely biased opinion.

 

Well, my pleas of “poor Seattle” stopped when I watched these 2014 playoffs.  The Sea Chickens got all of the calls.  It’s not just a league bias for Pittsburgh, though I contend that the Rooney family has more pull with the NFL than I’d care for them to have, the hot team gets the calls.  If Cleveland were ever the beneficiary of something so nice, due to an elite status in the NFL, I’d have no qualms with this, so I’m ready to let Pittsburgh have Super Bowl XL, for Jerome Bettis and all, because he’s from Detroit.  I’m not sure if everyone knew that or not.

 

And, there it is.  I’m still going to dislike Pittsburgh, as my caravan and I did relentlessly on a baseball trip to PNC Park last summer, but I’m going to stop pretending that my feelings should be taken as gospel.  I’m still going to give you dirty looks for that giant die-cast Steelers window sticker on your truck, and then I’m going to roll my eyes and laugh at you when you tell me you’ve never even been to Pittsburgh.  If I see your kids walking around the South Park Mall in Strongsville, right down the street from the Cowher estate, I’m going to tell you you’re a bad parent.  But, don’t take it personally; I’m the irresponsible one.  I’m the one that offers this disclaimer that suggests you dismiss any expectation of objectivity when it comes to the heathens of Western PA.

Six New Guys

So, the big thing that’s going to occupy my time this month is the start of Cactus League play in Arizona.  The Indians began their sixth season of play in Goodyear on Wednesday, and while the roster doesn’t prompt the “who are these (freaking) guys?” question that it did in the past, there are some new faces in camp this season, hoping to catch on with the Tribe’s big league roster.

Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan, aka Tony Plush, is a 33 year-old outfielder and a .280 career hitter.  He last played in the bigs with Milwaukee in 2012, where his stats took a nose-dive after leading the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011 with a .304 average.  He was an up-and-comer in Pittsburgh, but was dealt to the Nationals in 2009 and last just one whole season with Washington.

So far, he’s 2-for-8 at the dish this spring with a double.  He has played some solid center field, and seems to communicate with his teammates just fine.  From a distance, he seems humbled by his role, as a guy just trying to make the 25-man roster, even if only as a pinch-runner.

Jeff Francoeur

The former Rookie-of-the-Year candidate is a far cry from anything he was in the Braves organization, after they drafted him 23rd overall in 2002.  He spent five years with Atlanta, his best a 29 home run, 103 RBI season in 2006, but the sea has been rough to “Frenchie” even since.  He’s bounced from the Mets, to Texas, to Kansas City, and then the Giants, struggling to stay over the Mendoza line at the plate in recent seasons.

Francoeur is hitless in four at-bats this spring.  Generally, I preach that batting average means nothing, especially on March 2nd, but this journeyman has to prove something.  I don’t see how he helps this team in 2014, and don’t expect to see him in Oakland on Opening Day, unless the A’s want him.

Elliot Johnson

I’m guessing the allure of Elliot Johnson is the fact that he can play essentially every position on the field, but it stops there.  After four years, I’d like to see some more promise at the plate, even out of utility guy.  His best year came in 2010 with Tampa Bay, when he hit .242.

 

You have to figure defensive replacement with Johnson.  If there’s a need for it, and why would there be, with Mike Aviles on board, Johnson would have a shot that way.  Maybe he lingers in Columbus, but chances are his future is not with the Indians big league club.

Aaron Harang

He’ll be 36 in May.  12 seasons in the bigs, and he’s just under .500 in the Win column.  In 2007, he was fourth in the Cy Young voting; the next season, he was 6-17.  If you’re expecting him to be the 2014 Scott Kazmir, lower your expectations.

 

They are giving him a chance to throw.  He threw an inning on Wednesday, and he’ll throw another on Sunday.  I’d rule him out, but then I remember they aren’t exactly building this rotation from a foundation of Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz here.  Anything is possible, but he reminds me of Matt Capps a year ago, not that it means anything.

John Axford

You want someone to close?  Perhaps someone that’s never been under the investigation of the United States Postal Service for transporting marijuana to his dog could be up to the task.  John Axford used to close games, maybe he can do it again after a forgettable year in Milwaukee, since posting 81 saves in 2011 and 2012 with the Brewers.

 

He worked a scoreless inning on Friday, but we should almost ignore the stat line with him.  Axford is going to be the closer; all we can do is hope he does a good job, and his scoreless inning on Friday against the Reds is inspiring.

David Aardsma

I give Aardsma the Roger Dorn “wish we had him (X) years ago” treatment.  I just remember him being a 7th or 8th inning guy the Indians could never hit.  That said, it was shocking to see his numbers have never been great, with the obvious exception on the two years he was closing for Seattle.

 

Aardsma has an uphill climb, but there are bullpen spots available to those who throw strikes for Mickey Callaway’s pitching staff.  Aardsma gave up a hit and struck out a batter in an inning of relief against Cincinnati on Thursday.

 

Please keep in mind, none of what happens in front of us means all that much.  Take these words with a grain of salt.

 

That’s all I have this week. Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.

 

Defunct Cleveland sports team names in order of hilarity, ranked

Combing through the bowels of Youtube, Wikipedia and other Internet crevasses led me to a list of all of the Cleveland professional sports teams in recorded history. Here are some of the more amusing, for your reading pleasure:

 

8. Cleveland Stepien’s Competitors

Yes, that’s the name of a sports team in Cleveland and yes, they played softball in the extinct United Professional Softball League. Hearken back to 1980, when more than high-school lesbians and your crappy office league played the manly game of softball. Any proper Cleveland Cavaliers’ fan should start twitching and foaming at the mouth at the mention of Ted Stepien, owner of the Cavs from 1980 to 1983, routinely regarded as one of the worst owners of any professional sports franchise EVER. Any time there’s an NBA rule created with your name attached to prevent you from inflicting any more damage to the team than you’ve already done, you’re doing something really wrong. Before Ted’s foray into basketball, he tooled around with some semi-pro softball leagues in Cleveland with the Competitors being one of them. Nice to see his stupidity wasn’t limited to just the NBA.

 

 

7. Cleveland Stokers

I added the Stokers just for the level of bad-assery their name implies. And no, I’m not talking about vampires. The definition of a stoker is someone employed to tend a furnace and keep it supplied with fuel OR a machine for feeding a fire. Now, if that’s not a kick-ass name for an indoor soccer team in the late 1960’s, than I don’t know what is. AND they used to have a guy on their team with the nickname “The Hatchet.” AND for one year, the English soccer team Stoke City was the entire roster for the Stokers. I assume that’s where they got the name “Stokers” from, but I’m going to keep dreaming that their team was a bunch of fire-wielding Vikings.

 

 

6.Ohio Chiropody

Chiropod sounds dinosaur-related–I was sorely disappointed.  I have no idea what “Ohio Chiropody” is, but they were around from 1929 to 1941 and I’m guessing were somehow attached to college basketball.  A quick Google search of “chiropody” shows results related to podiatry and foot-related illnesses. Yummy.

 

 

5. Cleveland Rosenblums

4. Cleveland Chase Brassmen

3. Cleveland Allmen Transfers

I’m lumping these three basketball teams together because they existed at around the same time (late 1920s through the mid-1940s), a time when apparently you just named your sports teams after the owner’s last name and his business of choice. The Rosenblums played in the short-lived American Basketball League, while the Brassmen and the Transfers played in the National Basketball League. FUN FACT: The Rosenblums won a total of three championships in the ABL between 1925 and 1930, being referred to by sports writers as “the champions of Ohio.”  TAKE THAT LEBRON. If a name like the Allmen Transfers doesn’t stir that Cleveland pride deep within your loins, then $&*% you.

 

 

2. Cleveland Tate Stars

This was a Negro National-league team in Cleveland for just one year in 1922. I liked their name. That’s all.

 

 

1.  Cleveland Infants

The Cleveland Infants played one year of professional baseball in 1890 in the awesomely-named Player’s League. They went 55-75 before the league folded, finishing in seventh out of eight places. I can’t find any reasons to why they are named after babies, aside from the alternative definition of an infant–like someone that’s inexperienced or new at something. Either way, it doesn’t seem like it would inspire much fear in the opponent’s hearts. I guess we can cross this one off the list of possible names to call the Indians when the din over the racial insensitivity of their name becomes too loud.

The 216: Apples to Dumptrucks

Man, the dog days of February are upon us. If you’re mostly a football/baseball guy, which is mostly how I think of myself, this is the time to address the Honey Do lists and everything else that is more productive than morphing yourself into the Davenport all weekend long. Needless to say, I’ve failed at whatever tasks may have been on the Honey Do, as in “honey do this” and “honey do that”, but it goes without saying that she’s down with the program; that’s what she signed up for when she said “I do”.

 

I’m trying to get into the whole basketball thing, and for that matter, the hockey thing, but it’s just not there for me in 2014. Snow or not, winter sucks. And to be fair, the way our seasons are extended these days, what exactly is the layoff in February? The Super Bowl is played in the early part of the month, and Spring Training games begin a few days before we turn the calendar to March, so the time in between really isn’t that bad. Sometimes, it’s just good to have something to bitch about.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I try to comprehend how good life is, and sometimes I feel like the guy who wins $100,000, but gripes that it isn’t $200,000. Honestly, the Cleveland in me should be satisfied that I have three major sports back in the hometown to support, even if I’ve been lukewarm on the Cavaliers and ice cold on the NBA in general of late. I mean, it’s Cleveland, but still pretty cool, right?

 


Maybe comparing the guy who doesn’t think his windfall is big enough to being a Cleveland fan isn’t a good comparison. Sure, Seattle would love to have representation in the Association, but I wouldn’t say the Cleveland fan that’s obsessed with 1964, as if it’s the only thing to embrace on the north coast, is spoiled. To put those in the same sentence warrants the common “apples-to-oranges” metaphor. But, I don’t care for that metaphor; they really aren’t that different, apples and oranges. I think of dump trucks, which has virtually nothing in common with the apple.

That’s where I’d like to start this party on yet another glorious Sunday morning. Up until they won that Super Bowl earlier this month, Seattle belonged in conversations with Cleveland, when it came to sports misery, at least in my lifetime. They had the “we hardly knew ya” thing with the Pilots, a la the Cleveland Barons. They had the “I can’t believe we lost our team”, and if not for a cameo in the Super Bowl eight years ago, a fairly similar football past. Where Cleveland felt like a good place for a suicide, Seattle proved itself worthy of such a harsh ending to life, but they botched up everything by bringing home a modern day World Championship.


Now, we’re apples-to-dumptrucks with not only Seattle, but also the home of the NFC’s second suitor for a title, the city with basketball on the horizon, two World Series wins after a long drought, and a new stadium on the way for the beloved glass-half-full Niners. The big difference would be Jim Harbaugh, who is 36-11-1 in his first three seasons as an NFL head coach, after inheriting a program that was 21-27 in the last three years before he took over.

 

Two Totally Different Organizations

That Job That Is Happening

Once Jim Harbaugh ceased to the Michigan quarterback, you might say he faded into oblivion. It isn’t that he was a particularly bad professional quarterback; it’s just that he got drafted by a team that was two years removed from a Super Bowl win, a win that was heavily credited to that vaunted Chicago Bears defense, despite what a large character Jim McMahon may have been. After waiting a few years to put down the clipboard and take over the Bears offense, Harbaugh started a majority of the games in 1990 and 1991, when Chicago made the playoffs, but early playoff exits soon became mediocre-to-below-average seasons for the former Wolverine. Retiring with a career 66-74 record as a starter, Harbaugh ended up wearing the journeyman label, with stops in Indianapolis, Baltimore, and San Diego, hanging it up after going winless in 5 starts with the Chargers in 2000.


The thing about Harbaugh after his playing days was, he never worked for that big-time coach or belonged to a program that particularly football-rich. When he wasn’t on the endless journey of a backup quarterback or making cameos on Saved By the Bell, Harbaugh served as an (unpaid) assistant under his father at Western Kentucky. His one and only NFL assistant gig came under Bill Callahan, the Bill Callahan, in Oakland, but only for two seasons before being named the Head Coach at the University of San Diego, which is not to be confused for the larger San Diego State University in the same town.

Obviously, the job that put him in a position to make a name for himself was the one he assumed at Stanford in 2007. He made waves in his first year, beating Pete Carroll, on and off the field, but more memorably on the field as 41-point underdogs at the Coliseum, where they escaped with a 24-23 victory over USC. The Cardinal finished that season 4-8, and then went 5-7 the following year before qualifying for the Sun Bowl with an 8-4 season in 2009. In 2010, thanks in large part to sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, Stanford went 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win.
 


Without the benefit of a complete off-season, due to the lockout, Harbaugh did a fantastic job immediately upon taking the head coaching job in San Francisco. He went 13-3, and it was clear he’d be doing things differently. With back-to-back games in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Harbaugh kept his team in Youngstown, rather than travel cross-country in consecutive weeks, and they won both contests on the road. It took a while for people to notice the Niners, because the NFC West sent a 7-9 champion to the playoffs the prior year.

It didn’t matter that they played in that previously weak division, since they were beating everyone in the NFL, regardless of their division or conference. They were doing this all with Alex Smith, but this is a statement worth qualifying. Nobody believed in Alex Smith, not even 49ers fans. I took a trip to Candlestick for a 2011 contest, against the Browns (of course), and I told them they had a good football team, even though I didn’t love their quarterback. The consensus agreed with me, but nobody was going to nitpick 6-1 (their record at the time). There was nothing to say; the only viable backup on the roster was a rookie that some were already titling as a bust, though he’d completed the only 3 NFL passes he’d ever attempted.

 


Even before Colin Kaepernick had “arrived”, this team had weapons, and it was a wonder why Mike Singletary couldn’t do anything with it. They had Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to run the ball. They had a receiving corps that included Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., Delanie Walker, and some former Browns receiver that I won’t name, because he’s a Michigan man. They quietly improved their line through the draft, when they were bad enough to be near the top every year.

They lost in the NFL Championship that year, a loss where blame could fall at the feet of the special teams. The next season, Smith was injured and Kaepernick was forced into action. He was anything but a bust; of course, the right team could make an average quarterback better, like this one did with Alex Smith. Credit is probably due to the offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, as well. They found themselves back in the conference championship, this time in Atlanta, where they dug themselves into the hole early, but came back to win. They were beaten like dogs in the first half of the Super Bowl, and made a noble comeback, but came up short in the end after a few ill-fated attempts to beat the Ravens inside the 5-yard line as time ran out.

 
This past season, they were ready to take the next step, which was winning the Super Bowl. The challenge they encountered was in their own division, where Pete Carroll led a tough Seahawks team. The contests were epic in the regular season, and the re-match in the NFC Championship seemed inevitable. With elimination hanging in the balance, Kaepernick made some critical mistakes, which you could blame on coaching, but only if you want to be a dick about it. Make no mistake, a game in Seattle is a game in the belly of the beast, and they came up just short against the eventual Super Bowl champs. If there’s any shame in that, it’s a level of shame that I’ve not experienced as a Cleveland fan in a long time.

It’s probably worth mentioning that in addition to Roman, a still-emerging Kapernick, many of the aforementioned offensive weapons, and an impressive front office, he has Vic Fangio. Fangio has served as the defensive coordinator to do things Greg Manusky could not do with most of the same personnel. The defense had six Pro-Bowlers in 2013, and Tremain Brock, Aldon Smith, and Carlos Rogers were not even among them. It’s also worth mentioning that Harbaugh is unhappy with his current 5-year, $25 million deal, which has two years left on it.

 

The Job That Didn’t Happen

Bill Belichick, Mike Shannahan, and Tom Coughlin all have multiple Super Bowl rings, and they all make between 6 and half and 7 and a half million dollars a year. Sean Payton has just one, but he reportedly makes $8 million a year; Chip Kelly, Andy Reid, and Jeff Fischer have never won the big one, but they all make more money than Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh probably think he’s worth 8, and though staying by the bay for the long haul seems logical, the rumors that the Browns tried to trade for his services have everyone thinking Harbaugh might be ready to defy logic.

 


No one on the outside, and that includes media types like Mike Florio and Ian Rappaport, will never know how genuine the rumors of Harbaugh to Cleveland are, or exactly how close something like this was to happening. Not to beat a dead horse, but Rob Chudzinski lost more games as the Browns head coach than Harbaugh has lost in the same job in San Francisco; he managed to do it in one-third of the time. To get the Browns to 36 wins, a feat Harbaugh has achieved in three regular seasons, you’d need to go back to their 10-win season in 2007, Harbaugh’s first as the head coach in Palo Alto. They are even on the head-count of Pro-Bowlers, but how the 4-12 Browns had six is an anomaly that I won’t attempt to explain.

Needless to say, for a coach of Harbaugh’s pedigree to even consider Cleveland has absolutely nothing to do with competition and everything to do with the price-tag. First off, Harbaugh is my guy from the top, the one that gets $5 million and complains that it isn’t $8 million, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. Financial terms were not disclosed on actual head coach Mike Pettine’s 4 or 5-year deal, but you can bet that it’s a bit south of $5 million a year and well under whatever Harbaugh would demand.

 


That amount, the salary of the head coach, isn’t really something for fans to concern themselves with; it’s just money out of the owner’s checking account. If it were up to me, and compliant with the NFL legalese, I’d offer a million dollars per win, starting with the fourth win, but that’s not up to me to decide. Frankly, I think every NFL team should adapt that policy, but I’m dreaming.

The price tag we’d have cared about, if this was real, which it wasn’t, was Jed York and the 49ers ransom for their superstar, even if somewhat disgruntled, head coach. The trade of note and perhaps the most relevance in this situation was the 2002 migration of Jon Gruden from Oakland to Tampa Bay, which cost the Bucs their first-round picks in 2002 and 2003, as well as $8 million in cash. Those picks ended up being two guys from Colorado, and the Raiders didn’t even keep the 2002 pick, which ended up being Daniel Graham to New England. The cash meant nothing to Tampa Bay fans, but the Super Bowl Gruden won them meant everything. It helped that Tony Dungy had that team Super Bowl-ready.

It’s hard to say what a trade like that would have cost the Browns, but I’m thinking it’s more in the ballpark of what the Rams took from Washington to fall from 2nd to 6th in 2012. In addition to the Redskins’ 1st round pick, which they again traded, the Rams received a 2nd round pick in 2012, and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014. It’s just a matter of asking the question, how desperate were the Browns for Harbaugh’s services, not to mention, would he go for it?

At a minimum, I believe it would have cost Jimmy Haslam his team’s first round picks, both this May and in 2015, and that’s already too much. The Browns still need a quarterback, and they still need someone to lead them on defense. You might be able to talk someone into Brian Hoyer being the former, but there’s no way I’m hearing arguments that Joe Haden or anyone on the roster could be the latter, assuming D’Qwell Jackson isn’t part of the future.

I also have to assume this was a Banner/Lombardi thing, if it has any chance of being true. Though, at this point, it looks like this rumor was born on the left coast. You won’t catch me buying into the perception of how toxic that regime may have been to potential candidates, but if Adam Gase and Todd Bowles weren’t interested in abandoning their incumbent coordinator roles for the Browns, it’s hard to buy into the fact that Harbaugh would leave Trent Baalke and the wildly successful organization in San Francisco.

 


Mike Pettine seems to be unaffected by all of this scuttlebutt, and maybe he’s being honest about that. Anything from Pettine before he coaches his first game is just noise, and we know he doesn’t like the noise, so we shouldn’t either.

One Jamaican’s Walk-Year

Somebody thought Ubaldo Jimenez was worth $50 million for four years of pitching at a level that no one can really predict. That’s the Ubaldo Jimenez that led the American League in losses in 2012, and the Ubaldo Jimenez that went 26-30 in two-plus seasons with the Tribe, after he was supposed to be the answer after a deadline deal in 2011. What does it say that the package the Tribe sent away to get him has been a giant pu-pu platter for Colorado, and Indians fans still hate that trade? More importantly, what does it say that Jimenez waited until August 9th of his walk-year to turn it on, and it paid off?

 


Now, this isn’t about Ubaldo Jimenez any more than it’s about CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee. They’re all gone, and there’s no point in dwelling on the past, but it should still piss us off. Sabathia was responsible for one of the two playoff berths of the last 12 years for the Tribe; the team stunk around him in 2008 and the reality of the team inability to reach his contract demands made trading him for something a no-brainer. The only thing to be upset with Cliff Lee about is turning it on a year late, missing out on important starts in 2007, only to have a majestic 2008 season, while the team around him stunk. Jimenez was 5-9 in 16 starts versus the Tigers, and that’s disappointing on the whole, even if he carried the Indians to the playoffs in the minutes before he could file for free agency.

It’s all water under the bridge at this point. Looking ahead, Justin Masterson is back, but don’t look for him to do the Tribe or Terry Francona any favors when it comes to hometown discounts. He signed a $9.8 million dollar deal to avoid arbitration this season, but free agency is inevitable for the Jamaican-born right-hander.  As Richard Clark at WFNY, among others, has pointed out, Masterson’s position with the MLBPA pretty much prohibits him from doing anything other than squeezing as many dollars into a potential contract as possible.

 


I might be swinging and missing with my attempts to keep the glass half-full here, but knowing Masterson is gone after the season means going all-in for 2014 or getting all the way out. If it’s a season like 2008, figure Masterson to be traded by the end of July. Though they finished 81-81, the Indians were 37-51, a solid 13 games out of first on July 7 when they traded Sabathia. The Tribe was 42-59 when they traded Lee to the Phillies, with a year and a half left on his contract; in both cases, the season was already lost, even if 2010 was somewhat of an unknown before Shapiro unloaded Lee and Victor Martinez, even though neither was expiring. At least the Martinez deal brought back Masterson.

I suppose the good news is that the team has a history of erring on the side of caution, when it comes to knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, given that the team has been a minimum of 15 games under .500 when they’ve moved their aces, going back to the Bartolo Colon trade in 2002. They were only 12 games under the break-even point in 1984 the day they gave the Cubs the 1984 National League Cy Young winner, but they were already 20 behind 1st place Detroit in an era without Wild Cards. In 2012, there was some speculation that a late-July loss to the Tigers would make them sellers at 49-50, but they won the series finale to go over .500 and there hasn’t been anything resembling a fire sale since.

(Knocking on wood.)

It comes down to the rest of the team, mostly, but Masterson has some say in all of this. Masterson had a career year last season; the numbers say so, even if the oblique injury cost him about five starts and reduced him to relief appearances down the stretch. He was still 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA, and he was rewarded with his first trip to the All-Star Game.

 

 

Some might argue that he was the Tribe’s ace in name only, because you weren’t going to make Jimenez or Brett Myers your Opening Day starter. The former Boston pitcher was the consensus answer for that role, no question about it. In the last three seasons, he’s just over .500 as a starter at 37-35, but the numbers that mean the most, right after the win totals, speak well to Masterson’s prospects entering 2014. Strikeouts to walks are at a career-high, and ditto for strikeouts per nine innings. Now, it’s like Crash Davis said, “Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.”

Masty is a sinker-baller, the idea is to get them to swing and let the destination of the ball tell you what’s working. That’s huge, but I’d just as soon not take the chance with Miguel Cabrera at the plate. Strike that guy out, by all means. Speaking of Detroit, he’s 2-7 in 11 starts over the last three seasons against them. All-in or not, I’m not sure it matters in the grand scheme of things, if you can’t get past them.

 

Six In a Row

So, it’s a little early to start planning a parade down Euclid Avenue this June, and we’re dreaming if we think the Cavs are signing any former player above the caliber of Shannon Brown, but some work has been done by Mike Brown and his players since Chris Grant’s presence was no longer requested. Are they showing the world that they’re a force to be reckoned with? Not exactly, but they’re beating up on the dregs of the Association, most of them anyways, so that’s worth affording ourselves a few minutes of joy.

Cavs 115 Wizards 113

This was a close game with Washington, the kind that they’ve shown a penchant for giving away, but they hung on. Dion Waiters outplayed Bradley Beal, so let’s get Chris Grant back; no, don’t go running down Grant over that. How about those 8 points from Anthony Bennett? That’s 8 more than they got from Luol Deng, and they won the game.

Baby steps; beating the Wizards.

Cavs 91 Grizzlies 83

By most accounts, it was an ugly 53 minutes of basketball that Kyrie Irving refused to lose in the first 48. He scored the final four points of regulation, and 28 on the night. CJ Miles knocked down a set of triples, finishing with 14, but this was night was not about double-digit scorers. Anderson Varejao came up huge with 14 boards and 5 assists in 43 minutes. Anthony Bennett’s two points were uber-impressive, and Matthew Dellavedova’s 5 points were secondary to the shutdown defense he played at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Kyrie Irving is still atrocious on defense, but no one here is interested in nitpicking a winning streak.

Cavs 109 Kings 99

Do we even get upset at the annual Anderson Varejao injury that inevitably occurs right before the trade deadline any more? Oh well, maybe we do, but not when Anthony Bennett puts up 19 and 10. They believe in him, and we believe in the Cavs. Could this really be three in a row?

Cavs 93 Pistons 89

Well, Detroit stinks, but don’t let that fact take anything away from Tristan Thompson. 25 points and 15 boards from the ambidextrous Canadian on a night when no one else did anything special. Irving gave them 23 points, but it doesn’t mean he did much more than he needed to do not to give them game away. Will Bynum put up a quick 12 points for Detroit, mostly going against Dellavedova; this should have served as a reminder that we need to hedge our love affair with the rookie from St. Mary’s.

Cavs 114 76ers 85

It was a good night for the Cavs front-court. Bennett gave them another double-double; I can’t wait for that not to be a big deal, but the #1 overall pick in last year’s draft still has time, I suppose. Tyler Zeller had a big night with 18 points and 15 rebounds and Tristan Thompson also had a double-double with 12 points, which put him among the seven Cavaliers in double digits in the scoring column. As bad as things have been for the Cavs, at least they don’t have Philly’s bigs; that Hawes guy made Zeller look like an All-Star.

Not among the scoring leaders, Earl Clark played nearly seven minutes and defensive rebound prevented him from having the unlikely string of zeroes across the stat sheet.

Cavs 101 Magic 93

The Cavs led by 19 at the half, and as many as 21 in the third quarter, but a rejuvenated Shaquille O’Neal Tobias Harris scored nine points in about nine seconds, on two long balls and an “and 1”. The Cavs gave almost all of it back, but did not, denying the Magic a chance to snap their 13-game road losing streak. Thompson gave the Cavs 16 points and 14 boards, making for six in a row, the Cavs first streak of that length since March 19, 2010.  Let’s be real about this, winning six games was like driving a dump truck across the rest of the NBA in 2010; this winning streak wasn’t much more than throwing apples at that might truck that dumps.

Now, of course, the streak ended in Toronto, but no one expects any American to out-do any Canadian in a sporting competition of any sort this week. This is what we get for neglecting Boxing Day for all of these years.

That’s all I have this week. Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.

The 216: Too Soon Edition

I’ve been suffering from a pretty bad case of “foot in mouth” disease of late, or maybe it’s just bad timing.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly okay if people want to think I’m a jerk for whatever reason, but I don’t actually want to antagonize.  It’s too soon, or whatever, but I can’t be the one that throws that punchline out there.  Too soon, that’s the perfect way to sum up so much of what is wrong with me.

It’s not too soon to wish my mother a Happy Birthday.  She is all about opening presents on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve or whatever day the FedEx truck arrives.  I never would have dared pretend it was my birthday on a day when it wasn’t my birthday, and as luck would have it, this will publish on her birthday; you can never celebrate 29 too often, I suppose.

 

Was it too soon in Berea?  Was it too soon for Jimmy Haslam to clean house, or perhaps dissolve an arranged marriage?  I don’t know.  It’s arguable that everything about this chapter of the Browns, the reboot I dread referencing so regularly, happens too soon.  It probably isn’t worth re-hashing all of the hope and hype that has built us up, only to destroy us when we find it wasn’t meant to be.

 

How about an awful situation that’s far more likely to end up on the front page than most of the day-to-day items you’ll see in the sports section.  I wasn’t sure that I could write about it in decent taste, just to jump on the hot topic, though it wasn’t a natural fit for the demographic I was addressing at the time.  Weak attempts to tie the important things in life, for the sake of a solid “blog-post”, are easily noticed and frowned upon, if offering my opinion.

 

Sometimes, what links the front page to the sports page is easily overlooked.  What we tend to forget is this; whether we like the home team or not, these athletes wear the name of our city across their chest.  There’s no question, these guys are ambassadors, for better or for worse.  For one young Cavaliers fan, a photo op with Anderson Varejao was worth the wait, but she never thought the adoration would reciprocate.

 

Speaking of people to adore, does anyone have more public defenders in the court of public opinion than Derek Jeter.  In the hours after he announced that the 2014 season would be his last, I watched sportswriter after sportswriter dare the mama’s basement bloggers to say a discouraging word about the Yankee shortstop.  Look, I’ve seen a few people throw the “O” word around, and there are arguments to support that Mr. Jeter’s perceived rating does not match how he’s rated on paper; it would be less fun if we didn’t debate this stuff…maybe.

 

I don’t exactly love or hate the Yankees or Jeter, though both are extremely polarizing entities with Joe Q Public.  He can be considered a prototype for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he meant a lot to his team and stayed for the long run, while putting up great tangible numbers.  You could also consider how much mileage he got out of those pinstripes, his Manhattan lifestyle, and Mr. Steinbrenner’s deep pockets.  I don’t see the same Derek Jeter if he’s the same baseball player in Milwaukee.  What’s “too soon” about Jeter is the announcement of his retirement; do we really need to give every player in the game a farewell tour?

 

Two Ways to Look at the Browns

 

Looking Backwards

MtRushmore_CLE1

You could weigh how much time this organization had, or didn’t have, when the Cleveland Browns brand was recreated in 1999.  You could look at a lost Chris Palmer, and unqualified Dwight Clark, and an unprotected Tim Couch.  If you want to get more recent, you could sum up the Butch Davis Era with an 11 second clip of Dwayne Rudd in the 2002 season opener.  There’s a photo-shopped Romeo Crennel picture that mocks the “I’m thinking Arby’s”; I’m not proud that it makes me chuckle, but it does.

It was all nothing but losing.  Even the wins proved to be counterproductive.  Whether it was winning right away with Butch Davis, while not really winning anything at all in consecutive seasons with single-digit losses, the bar ended up being set too high for Davis to mentally handle the letdown that was coming.  Crennel was serving what appeared to be his term as the lame duck, when some schmuck, that Baltimore didn’t want, won 10 games.  Coming off those seasons, there was a lot of hype, some would call it hope, but when we look back, we hoped people weren’t all-in on the hype.

 

It was too soon.  Not everything is a precedent, but when you’re as tangled in this web of futility that Cleveland finds themselves in.  Take anything positive, negative, or unimportant in the grand sheme, and we’ll spin it into an unpolished turd.  If a Browns quarterback won the MVP, we’d worry about the Red Right 88 element of the otherwise good news.  If Ryan Tannehill isn’t winning playoff games right now, no one from Texas A&M can ever play quarterback in the NFL.  If the Browns play really well in a season, they will automatically regress; we believe this to be true, because they always have.

 

They can’t succeed with a defensive coordinator as the head coach, because Romeo Crennel didn’t work out.  Offensive coordinators are also out, because Shurmur, and then because Chudzinski wasn’t the formula.   How about prior NFL head coaching experience?  No, Mangini ruined that route for everyone after him.   Well, we all know the college coach doesn’t work for the Browns, so let’s ignore Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, even if the former joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer in being the only head coach with a Super Bowl and a College Football National Championship.

 

We need to stay in the past here, and take everything that frustrates us right now way to literally.  There can only be two kinds of team presidents; the guy with real football experience that doesn’t do much beyond showing nepotism in constructing a “winner” and the one with the Napoleon complex.  Any head coach that isn’t named Gruden or Cowher is automatically as uninspiring as anyone in Fritz Shurmur’s extended family.  Let’s not forget about finding that guy that can catch the football.

 

Is that guy worth the trouble?  Aren’t we counting on legal problems and tales of a New York essence, such an essence that was the moral fiber of being raised in Detroit?  They guy can catch the ball and win his team football games, but do find that to be acceptable if the guy can’t even do a wheelie on his motorcycle.  And, for the love of God, don’t let the guy near any other celebrities entourage, because I’m sure the results will be the same every time.

 

Yes, Brian Hoyer could be the next Kelly Holcomb.  Mike Pettine can repeat the Browns’ 4 or 5 win cycle, until he’s given mercy in 1-3 years.  Joe Thomas can suffer that LeCharles Bentley injury tomorrow and never play another down in Cleveland or anywhere else.  It’s not likely, but Ray Farmer could be escorted out by security in Year 1, a la George Kokinis.  Maybe TJ Ward will meet the unfortunate fate of Donnie Rogers, because they both play safety.

 

I’m guilty of this.  Don’t trade up when you already have the 4th pick, only because Trent Richardson ended up labeled with a word that rhymes with rust.  Don’t take a quarterback late in the first round, because they’ll all end up like Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden.  Only draft players in the supplemental draft; those guys always end up being the most beloved guy in town.

 

Looking Forward

MtRushmore_CLE2

Yes, of course I’m tired of waiting.  I want to talk about all of the changes that can be made, while keeping the rose tinted glasses balanced on the bridge of my nose.  For those who aren’t there yet, we’d just be guessing on their names and hoping they’d pour their heart out for the Dawg Pound, but the Browns had six pro-bowlers, and we might like to think they’ve got some of the major pieces in place.

 

Ray Farmer is in charge of personnel.  People around the league seem to like him, and he’s got one really major thing going for him, he isn’t Mike Lombardi.  Wow, people really found it easy to despise the former NFL Network Studio Analyst.  Different is always better.  Ray Farmer can be the next Ozzie Newsome, and that’s what he’s going to be in my mind until the results contradict that from being a true statement.

 

There’s nothing concrete to suggest Mike Pettine won’t be as bad as Rod Marinelli, but it might be okay when you understand there’s some frustration over his departure from Buffalo.  Maybe you should read something into that, and take it as a positive sign.  The idea of a defensive-minded head coach with a strong-willed offensive coordinator sounds like a good idea to me.

Let’s see how well Pettine is able to exploit his best two weapons, Josh Gordon and Joe Haden.  Gordon really just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, but he needs to be doing those things before the games become meaningless.  I believe Gordon is a winner, can be a leader, and quite assuredly wants better results for this team.  Haden has that capability, though his talent and reputation for that talent dictate you see less on the stat sheet, speaking to the idea of relevance.

 

There will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next for the Browns, but it starts with the leadership of a handful of people.  The first thing they need to do is put the losing behind them, or at least acknowledge that losing is bad, and someone at the top of the organization isn’t going to tolerate it.  I’m not suggesting they live in fear, but I found what the players shared with Mike Silver in the wake of Chudzinski’s firing to be the venting of losers.

 

I don’t buy lost seasons or a season-pass that excuses a man from any level of accountability.  There’s too much money at stake and too little time to mess around with to waste any season or excuse it as “lost”.  Forward thinking involves believing that Farmer will give this organization the right talent to compete, given some stability in the coaching ranks from Pettine, who we all hope is a diamond in the rough.  The better players have to be leaders, not just guys who whip around Cleveland in expensive European sportscars with custom paint-jobs.

 

One Brazilian on Twitter

 

This kind of flips the script.  In just pressing the send button a few times, Varejao acknowledged Gina’s strength and revealed how honored he was that she’d have her picture taken.  Given all the garbage we’ve had to endure from the Cavaliers and stories related to them and our town, it’s nice to take a break from the dysfunction and bad basketball for a good story.

Of course, what makes this story so wonderful is what made it so horrific in the first place.  Internally, it’s so difficult to process that, not as writers, but as human beings.  I thought this news sent a message to all of us about hope, one that could translate to sports fans, but I’m not forcing the dots to connect in that context.  After ten years of torture, the will to survive translates more to life’s important situations than anything related to watching a game.  People hurt themselves and others over nonsense so much, but who had more reason to be hopeless than Amanda, Gina, and Michelle?

 

What I remember most about the day we learned of their escape was not Charles Ramsey.  I saw mention of this miracle on Twitter, but it was a phone call from my father, which he delivered in that tone that only good news can be.  Now, I spent much of 2003 on a barstool in Arizona, so the names didn’t exactly roll off the tongue for me, but based on how the story was reported, both locally in Cleveland and nationally, the victims’ names rang a bell for most in Northeast Ohio, even a decade later.

 

It wasn’t until the details started coming out, the house on Seymour and the 110 block of Lorain Road, that the story started hitting close to home for me, even though my current home in over 2,500 miles away.  Every day, my commute to school would have taken me past Seymour and West 25th; based on reports of how long Ariel Castro occupied that place, the timelines may overlap, which is neither here nor there I suppose.

 

As my friend Frank and I exited I-90 and headed towards our school’s west-side campus, we talked about many things, but never about the prospect of a serial rapist dwelling just off the path from our neighborhood to our place of learning.  We spoke of football a lot, the rest was girls and music.  On Mondays, WMMS would play the Boomtown Rats jam “I Don’t Like Mondays”, and we’d laugh about the crazy lady shooting at kids because she didn’t like Mondays.  This was before Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown, so I guess it okay to tackle that ugly subject in jest, at least in our adolescent minds back then.

 

I have to go off on a quick tangent on this subject, because Friday was February 14th.  And, I know what you’re all thinking; it’s the 102nd anniversary of Arizona becoming a state, right?  So, maybe that’s just me.  Of course, most people recognize the day for the Hallmark holiday that it is, but it doesn’t play for my wife and I.  Again, this is something that’s probably just us, but 2/14 is more about remembering what happened in Dekalb in 2008 than flowers or chocolates.  The topic of “too soon” came up in 2012, when we returned to Northern Illinois for Homecoming and caught a cover band at one of the campus bars.  Is it okay to play “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, in wake of a tragedy of the sort featured in the song, or has that wake died enough in 4 and a half years?

 

That situation hit close to home because she used to work a campus job with the shooter, and that’s real life.  What hits me close to home is based on geography, not an actual personal connection, but it felt personal.  I remembered all of those times I walked to the Finast (Topps), Gepettos, and Blockbuster Video in that West Town Square Plaza on 110th & Lorain, in the vicinity of where Castro canvased the area for his victims.  It sent a chill down the spine, a chill I last felt in 2006, when my wife and I stared at that barn in Kirtland where Jeffrey, Alice, and Damon Lundgren terrorized members of their cult a few decades ago.

The thing is, I’m not even there; I can’t lay any claim to the pain that is felt through the community in a situation like that.  Anderson Varejao is there and, like it or not, he serves as an ambassador.  While we get upset with poor play, injury, and the business side of these professional athletes, Varejao revealed some things we often forget while being critical.  First, these guys are part of the community; when tragedy strikes their community, it hits them in the same way it does the guy who works at Central Brass or General Motors.  Second, somehow it’s forgotten that they don’t stop human beings when they become skilled at basketball.

 

I’m not sure what to make of any of this, but I’m glad when an athlete leaves behind a legacy that doesn’t involve torching jerseys.  I’m grateful that Varejao would elevate Gina to the status that she deserves, herself now being a symbol of hope.  There’s more to life than championship trophies; “Sideshow Bob” knows that, and the story of Amanda, Gina, and Michelle should make that clear to even the biggest of sports junkies.

 

Six to Start a 6-4-3 in Cleveland

 

Derek Jeter is leaving the game, so let’s brace ourselves for another Yankees farewell tour.  Whether we need it or not, Jeter had a career that was worth talking about.  We consider the Indians of the Jacobs Field era to be the best in the 100+ year history of the organization, but every year they’ve made the playoffs since 1954, with the exception of last season, Derek Jeter has been there with the Yankees at the same time.

 

Jeter has hit .338 against the Tribe thus far in his career, his personal-best versus any American League team.  His first full season began in 1996 with a home run at Progressive Field, and he’s been New York’s regular shortstop ever since.  Fortunately, the Indians haven’t been as unfortunate with stability between second and third base as the Browns have at the quarterback, if that’s even an apples-to-apples comparison.  Today, we’ll look at three obvious choices for the best Tribe shortstops of Jeter’s career, then a few far less obvious names.

 

Omar Vizquel

 

Acquired via trade before the 1994 season, Omar Vizquel is probably your favorite Indians shortstop, if you’re between the ages of 30 and 50.  He was a different type of player than Jeter, but flashed enough leather to keep Jeter’s Gold Glove count at 5.  Vizquel won 9 with the Indians in the American League, then another 2 in the National League with San Francisco.  Of course, Jeter has Omar by about 10 on the All-Star appearances.  Neither has won an MVP, but Jeter has finished in the Top 10 ten times and Vizquel has never been voted higher than 16th.

Vizquel had his ups and downs against the Yankees, but had his best year at the plate against them in 2004, his final season with the Tribe.  Of course, Jeter hit .381 against the Tribe over that same six game stretch.  The Yankees took the season series, four games to two.  As far as team accolades are concerned, it’s a slaughter in favor of Jeter on the strength of four World Series wins alone, but during Vizquel’s time in Cleveland, the Indians and Yankees met twice with each team winning a series.

 

Jhonny Peralta

 

I hope Ja-Honny gets a Ja-Hit; remember that?

 

After Omar Vizquel, the defensive woes at the position that began when Peralta assumed the everyday shortstop duties in 2005.  It was argued whether Peralta was just a disaster on the whole or simply had terrible range.  I got a chuckle out of those who defended his ineptitude on the infield, because you may have heard, nobody in baseball is better than fielding ground balls hit right to him than Jhonny Peralta.

 

Peralta hit well against the Yankees during his first three years in the league, getting on base and legging out extra-base-hits, but there was that 2007 season, the only season that mattered during his time in Cleveland, before being traded in the middle of 2010, he struggled.  He was 1-for-22 in a six-game season-sweep by the Yankees.  That Jeter guy hit .400 against the Tribe in New York’s endless string of regular season wins.  However, Peralta hit .467 in a four-game ALDS series win over the Yankees and Jeter, who hit .176 in that series.  Isn’t that where it mattered more?

 

Asdrubal Cabrera

 

Has there been a Cleveland Indian in the last 30 years that’s frustrated us more than Asdrubal Cabrera?  Great glove, even if it isn’t reflected by UZR, and he can rake, but only when he wants to.  He’s a career .246 hitter against the Yankees, and a .273 career batter against all of baseball.

Cabrera appeared in that Division Series against the Yankees in 2007, but primarily as a second baseman.  He did pretty well against the Bronx Bombers in 2009, hitting .321 against them, but Jeter hit .355 against the Indians, the Yankees took 5-of-8 in the season series, and won the World Series to boot.  In the present tense, you might appreciate that Cabrera is 28 years young, 11 younger than Jeter, but he’s been a far cry from what #2 in New York means to his team and his city.

 

John McDonald

 

Here’s an Indians utility guy that doesn’t completely poo the bed against the Yankees.  The problem with poring through Indians versus Yankees game-logs is that I have to endure of a lot ass-kickings on paper, where it’s the Tribe’s ass and the Yankees foot.  John McDonald only appeared three times against the Yankees as a shortstop for the Indians.  There were a couple of games in September of 2000, both double-digit wins, where Johnny Mac came on as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement and the Yankees had no answer for him; he went 3-for-3, but I’m not prepared to split hairs about the sample size.

 

Jeter went 1-for-4 in those games, and did not score a run or register an RBI.  Small victories, I suppose.

 

The Brothers Cabrera

Though he wasn’t around for much more than a cup of coffee, I’m surprised a bigger deal wasn’t made of Orlando Cabrera being kin to former Indian Jolbert Cabrera.  They each had their moments against the Yankees in Tribe uniforms.  Jolbert’s first was brief, a zero plate appearance contribution as a defensive replacement at shortstop in a 12-5 loss, but he did not commit an error.  Jeter went 3-for-4 at the plate, with two runs, two RBI, a walk, and a double.  In another Jolbert Cabrera shortstop cameo later in 2001, the elder Cabrera went hitless again, while Jeter was 3-for-5 in a 15-5 Yankees rout.

Orlando only spent 91 games with the Indians in 2011, and found his way to the shortstop position once in (SURPRISE!) another Yankees blowout win.  O-Cab did manage to get on base, going 1-for-4, but Jeter was 2-for-6 at the plate in a 9-2 win.

The Utility Guys You Remember

Enrique Wilson hit .340 against the Yankees in parts of four seasons with the Indians between 1997 and 2000.  Alvaro Espinoza hit .277 against the Yankees in 1995 and 1996, when he played some shortstop sparingly.  Mike Aviles was disqualified from the discussion because he’s never played shortstop as an Indian in a game where Jeter was his opposite number, due to Jeter’s injury.

 

The funny thing is, Wilson is the only Yankee I can remember playing short when Jeter wasn’t before his injury in 2013 led to the flavor of the week at the position.  Speaking of the flavor of the week, since the Yankees haven’t won much of anything lately, who is the new team for the bandwagon fans in Major League Baseball?  My first instinct is to say Boston or St. Louis, but I’d almost have to insist on the Dodgers at this point, because life nothing, if not an open checkbook, in Los Angeles.

That’s all I have this week.  Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.