Now that LeBron James has decided to come “home” to play some hoops, I know many Cleveland sports fans have become downright giddy at the prospect of not one, but multiple NBA championships. And if the rumored acquisition of the highly talented Kevin Love also comes to pass, the prospects of a championship parade down East 9th Street certainly increase. However this being, you know, Cleveland and all, it’s only good sense to consider possibilities of other scenarios which also might happen.
So, how come there seem to be so many Dolan apologists running around Cleveland as of late? As the Indians enter the home stretch of the 2014 season with what might better be described as a “limp” rather than a “charge” it’s time to – yet again – do a postmortem on another disappointing season.
What I hear regarding the state of the Indians is truly puzzling. “The Dolans aren’t the ones who recommended we sign Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, etc., so don’t blame them,” is pretty much the party line of those who support the Indians’ owners.
So the King is back, huh? Unless we’re talking burgers, or you spotted Elvis on Lolly the Trolley, I’m not all that interested. Really.
The news that LeBron James is returning to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavs doesn’t have me terribly excited. No question it’s a strange dynamic, because if we had lured LeBron here from Miami – and he had no prior connection or history in Cleveland – I’d probably be leading the “Welcome LeBron” parade down East 9th, and be the first to plant a big sloppy kiss on his cheek. As we all know, though, that’s not the case. And, for your own edification, I don’t generally kiss basketball players.
It’s been more than 40 years since the American League decided to give Major League Baseball a shot (non-steroidal, presumably) in the arm by implementing the designated hitter (not to be confused with the Wil Cordero/Ray Rice spousal abuse version, which is still quite popular today). I say it’s time to get rid of it.
If we hop into the way-back machine and check out the status of baseball in the early 1970s, life wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops in the land of fastballs and check-swings. Attendance was down, pitching was dominating the game more with each passing year and, speaking of passing, the NFL – thanks to the advent of Monday Night Football, which debuted in 1970 – was taking a larger chunk of baseball’s audience. So the deep thinkers of baseball decided something had to be done.
The recent passing of Pittsburgh Steelers coaching legend Chuck Noll prompted the recollection of quite a few football memories – not just for me, but for Browns fans around the country. Unfortunately, from a Cleveland fan’s perspective, not many were memorable in a positive way.
For those who might be otherwise unaware, my mother-in-law’s maiden name is Noll. She happened to be a cousin of Chuck’s (or “Chuckie” as he was/is affectionately referred to by the rest of the family). My father-in-law Andy – still smarting from Art Modell’s dismissal of coach Paul Brown in 1963 – shifted his allegiance to the Steelers in 1969. In hindsight, it was not a bad move.
Someone asked me recently what I wanted for Father’s Day. After a few moments of thought and personal introspection I replied, “To be around to see next Father’s Day.”
“No, seriously,” he said.
“All right then, enough with the funny business,” I said. Ironic that I then rattled off a Father's Day laundry list of things I didn’t want to see happen this summer. I mean, I found the fact that I answered a request for "wants" with a list of "didn’t wants" virtually dripping with irony. Not to mention funny.
I was watching the Indians game (I know, I know, so much for my credibility) a couple of nights ago on the tube. Well, at least I think it was an Indians game, but I’ll be the first to admit that – after watching the Indians kick the ball around the infield like the Keystone Kops – there are times I mistake the Tribe for an episode of "America’s Funniest Home Videos."
Anyway, as the game progressed, I heard Rick Manning and Matt Underwood reference numerous sports clichés over the course of the telecast. This isn’t to pick on the TV crew, as Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus do the very same thing on the radio. Truth be told, tired clichés are now commonplace virtually everywhere in the sporting world. (In fact, at any college worth its salt, I’m pretty sure Clichés 101 is a prerequisite for Basic Announcing Fundamentals: What To Say When You Got Nuthin’.)
“Remember May 8 on ESPN screens,
The Browns draft a player who knows what winning means.
It made fans all happy; and Jimmy knew it would,
Farmer picked a QB whom he thought would be good.
Will he work out? Only time will tell,
But the Browns bet their future on Johnny Manziel.”
Go Go Go Johnny Go
You’ve got to love Browns fans. No, really. Especially, every year at draft time. Year after year, GM after GM, owner after owner, failure after failure, Browns fans always choose to believe that the guys in charge will finally get it right, this time.
Somehow, though, the Browns have shown an uncannily consistent ability to screw things up, and in epic proportions, in spite of the odds. It’s the one constant we can count on. How in the name of Mike Junkin do the Browns fans maintain their sanity?
I saw a comment attributed to Nick Swisher the other day about the Indians relatively slow start to the 2014 season, particularly after all the talk this spring about the “unfinished business” the Tribe had to take care of. Swisher calmly replied, “It’s early.”
There’s no disputing his logic, especially in baseball. As of this writing, the Indians still had about 85 percent of their schedule to play. The troubling thing about hearing those words – to me, anyway – is that those words are never spoken by a team which has started well; they’re only uttered by those who are sputtering a bit. Allow me to demonstrate:
In the 1960 Presidential Election, JFK shot out to an early lead against Richard Nixon in the voting. My father, a very conservative conservative, calmly stated, “It’s early.” He was right. But Nixon still lost.
Before we go any further in this conversation, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I enjoy reading and writing about the Browns, Indians and Cavs. There’s no question that if they all suddenly disappeared, there would be a psychological – as well as financial – impact on the area. No question, I would hate to see them leave.
But they won’t, at least anytime soon. Why? All three teams have team-friendly leases. Why? Let’s jump into the way-back machine and travel to the early '90s, when the Indians had been awful for the better part of four decades and were a legitimate threat to up and go elsewhere. Dick Jacobs, Tribe owner and a very shrewd businessman, leveraged that possibility into convincing the city of Cleveland to build them a new stadium with a favorable lease.
A coworker and I were recently commiserating over the plight of the Browns (sure, a lousy topic, but it still beats actually working) and how they’ve basically defied the odds for the last decade and a half by being so consistently bad. Our little think tank – or more aptly named, in the Browns’ case, a "stink tank" – had us grasping for straws, much like the Browns on draft day.
Suddenly, the answer hit me square upside the head, like a tray of overpriced nachos hurled (I’ll let you interpret "hurled" any way you choose) by an irate season ticket holder a section above me at any Browns game. In fact, I’ll answer the question with a question:
How many NFL teams play their games atop a landfill?
It seems whenever this time of year rolls around, many of us get all teary-eyed and emotional in anticipation of the return of professional baseball. Often, we’ve been forced to settle for the Indians’ brand instead. In fact, often times, it hasn’t exactly been a pretty sight to behold.
Maybe it’s because this winter has been so brutal. I mean, take your pick: snow, cold, Miley Cyrus – it’s been nasty no matter which way you turn. And, as anyone who has read my column on a regular basis is well aware, I’m usually somewhat cynical when it comes to Cleveland sports teams. But, my need for intense psychotherapy aside, I’m really quite pumped about the upcoming baseball season.
Out early this morning, for my every-other-day jog,
My visibility not good, due to the seasonal fog.
Felt good and ran fast, like I was running a race,
But truth was I couldn’t see the hands in front of my face.
So I should not have been surprised, when I soon tripped and fell,
Hit my head on a hydrant; a bruise that was so quick to swell.
Undaunted by injury, I continued my quest,
For my eight-and-a-half miles, not ‘til then would I rest!
Sir Winston Churchill, former prime minister of those English folk across the pond, is credited (deservedly or not) with proclaiming, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
I'm proud to say that I sort of came close, as I failed history class and was ultimately doomed to repeat it, but I don't think that was quite the point that The Man They Named Cigarettes After was making when he professed this wisdom to his fellow countrymen. No, I'm pretty sure he had more in mind than simply trying to get us to figure out exactly why Custer decided in favor of that last stand of his (although you have to think being outnumbered by a ratio of something like 12-to-1 would have been a nifty starting point).
A friend and I were recently commiserating about the plight of the Browns (a fairly common occurrence) as well as dabbing our eyes over how disappointing the Cavs’ season had been to date (nothing new to see here either, folks, let’s keep it moving). He sighed and said, “Spring training starts in a few weeks. Thank goodness for the Indians.”
And I agreed with him. What a loser. That’s what even just one good year will do in this town: set you far apart from the other sports franchises worse than you – even if that success is short-lived. And in this town, with rare exceptions, it generally is.
I always thought it was pretty cool that Berea had all those train tracks – and even an old depot – in their city. Anyone familiar with the area knows Berea has long played an important part in the history of the locomotive; in fact many "trainwatchers" still flock to Berea on a regular basis to witness the many trains which still frequently pass through the city. I also always thought it pretty impressive that Berea had never witnessed a serious train wreck in more than 150 years of choo-chooing (that’s technical train talk; try to keep up, please).
Just as those pleasant feelings were cascading through my body, much like a pass from – well, just about anyone – cascades through the hands of Greg Little, it hit me: Berea HAS had a train wreck. Still does, in fact. Should you want to witness one first-hand, hit the Browns training camp about mid-July, and hang around for six weeks or so, and you will have train wrecks up to your eyeballs. It’s otherwise known as NFL football, Cleveland style.
You ARE sitting down, right?
Good. I hate to see people crying while standing at the same time – it’s not a good look. And I know, I know … how could one ever speak disparagingly about our beloved sports teams in this hotbed of perennial sport success? I mean, it (all this constant winning) gets old after a while, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I broke out the old crystal ball, looked at the Cavs, Indians and Browns, became ill, and put the ball away. However, being the trouper that I am, and knowing that my reader(s) will tolerate only the journalistic best from the Observer (and here’s hoping that someday Tara will be able to deliver on that) I will forge ahead and report on what I saw. And folks, it ain’t "perty" …
(With heartfelt apologies to Clement Clark Moore)
'Twas the night before deadline, and all through the house
Fresh out of ideas, and annoying my spouse.
Browns gear hung inside the chimney with care
The NFL basement – once again – too much to bear.
The Cavs again a team any Clevelander dreads
Had me seriously considering doubling my meds.
Left now with only my block “C” Indians cap
To help me get through my chemically-induced nap.
It was a little over a year ago that I sparked a firestorm of angst on these pages with a seemingly simple questionnaire, designed to gauge the aptitude of loyal readers (and boy, that person was mad) with a highly scientific psychological test called "Pavlov's Dawg Pound." Now, having had sufficient opportunity for the wounds of reality to heal, I have deemed it appropriate to put your proverbial feet, dear reader, to the fire once again.
This time I've been advised by legal counsel (as well as my probation officer) NOT to ask that you furnish your Social Security, driver's license, and valid credit card numbers (for verification purposes only, as I tried to explain to Judge Judy) since that supposedly will somehow be in direct violation of my parole (they're getting to be real sticklers in the courthouse, aren't they)? Anyway, since I'd like to have the ankle bracelet off by Christmas, I have complied with their wishes, and toned it down.
Anyone out there remember a few years back the hoopla which accompanied the news that Randy Lerner had persuaded Mike Holmgren to come to Cleveland and rescue the Browns from the NFL gutter, also known as football oblivion? Remember how many of us took to dancing in the streets in celebration? (Yes, I was the one doing the Hokey Pokey).
Can’t you just picture Randy with his pals in the sauna, between bites of caviar, saying something to the effect of, “Yeah, and I only had to lay out $40 million clams to get him!” and the reaction of the others was something like, “Wow! Only 40 mil? You really saw him coming, didn’t you?” followed by a bunch of congratulatory high-fives amongst themselves?
Temporarily lost in the sting of the 4-0 loss to the Rays a couple weeks back in the Indians’ one-and-done playoff appearance was the realization that it wouldn’t be until next spring that I would hear another Tribe game on the radio. I wasn’t ready for that – I hadn’t prepared myself, as I was too caught up in playoff fever to think about what tomorrow might (not) bring.
For many out there who no-doubt merely turn to something else to fill their entertainment needs when baseball season ends, my comments are probably met with a shrug, and/or a simple “So what?” Particularly for those who only turn to radio when the cable is out or when bracing for nasty weather, my comments may seem somewhat extreme, so I’ll try to explain.
Yes, I was at the Indians' one-and-done playoff game against the Rays. Yes, the atmosphere was electric – to the extent that my son and I had a blast, in spite of the loss. And yes, if I begin one more sentence with "yes," you'll no-doubt suspect that Terry Pluto wrote this column. Heck, nobody likes a yes-man anyway, do they?
When you think about it, it's pretty remarkable the way the stars aligned in such a manner which allowed the Indians and Browns to bask in the national spotlight on consecutive evenings in early October. Of course, after the Rays dismantled the Indians (I'll address that in a moment) and the Browns went down ten-zip to Buffalo just before losing Brian Hoyer to what ultimately would prove to be a season-ending injury, it was starting to resemble yet just another Cleveland joke.
Okay, I admit it: It's been fun watching the Indians this summer, and the recent play of the Browns has been a source for some optimism, too. Be still, my heart! Here's hoping that by the time you read this, the Indians are still the talk of the town with regard to their march toward the playoffs, and the Browns are still stirring up chatter as they begin their march to ... well, maybe not the playoffs, but how 'bout we shoot for – as sister Aretha puts it – "a little respect"? Considering where we've been since '99, respect is mighty lofty stuff.
Much has been written and said about the Indians' lame record against the better teams in the American League, as well as their incredible record against the bottom-feeders. Supporters – those who defend the Tribe's so-called "legitimacy" to be in the wild-card race – will be the first to remind us that, as far as wins go, they "all count the same." I can't argue with that statement; for if they didn't all count the same, baseball's credibility would take a heck of a hit. Kind of like it did with the steroids thing. But that's a topic for another day.
If you're a Browns, Indians or Cavs fan, you're probably familiar with the old refrain sung by team management in defense of questionable draft picks and/or shaky talent received in trades. I'm talking about the worn-out line, "[Such-and-such] will be better once we surround him with a little more talent."
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing that line in this town day after day, week after week, year after year. Jeez, if Cleveland were a country, that would be the title of our national anthem. Then again, when you consider the cast of characters on Cleveland's City Council, it would certainly fit, wouldn't it?
Anyone who read my columns last summer knows how I feel about the Tribe's ill-fated "What If?" advertising campaign. I don't want to go and reopen old wounds, but suffice to say I found the entire "process" – as Eric Wedge used to say – considerably flawed. So, I had taken a solemn oath not to criticize the Indians' 2013 marketing strategy as long as it was anything but "What If?", and I'm proud to say I've honored that pledge.
Let me start out by making one thing perfectly clear: I was never a big Manny Acta fan.
Nothing personal, mind you, but what bothered me more about his hiring was that Acta was just another unproven guy – like Eric Wedge before him – who the Indians could get fairly inexpensively, and if (when) things didn't work out, they wouldn't take a huge financial hit if (when) they fired him.
After observing new Tribe skipper Terry Francona for three-quarters of a season though, there are some things I feel absolutely must be said. Much like the dog searching frantically for a fire hydrant, I simply have to let loose lest I explode. (Yes, I realize I probably could have come up with a better analogy, but you have to admit, it's a great visual. Unless you're a fire hydrant).
As most of you are probably aware, the Cleveland Browns have started training for the 2013 NFL season. Coincidentally, it has also been brought to my attention that some of you may not fully understand the language of football, at least as it applies locally to Cleveland fans. Not to worry; that's where I come in. See, there's an important distinction between football lingo communicated in the rest of the world versus "football speak" as it pertains to our fair city.
As a public service, I'll take some common football terms and, after indicating what these terms mean to normal people, I'll let you in on what they really mean around these parts.
Snap: To non-Clevelanders, this word represents the simple hiking of the ball to a teammate, typically the quarterback. On the North Coast, however, this usually is an indicator of what Browns fans are about to do after checking the scoreboard and fully digesting just how bad the team is – yet again.
Last week, as the tension was (yawn) mounting for the baseball contest (a.k.a. the MLB All-Star Game) to begin, which would decide who would have the home field advantage (another yawn) during this fall’s World Series, the radio guys were killing time (now there’s a shocker) prior to the first pitch by discussing the possibility of making instant replay a regular part of all baseball games.
No, that’s not a typo (this time, anyway) – you read it correctly - I said all baseball games. And the kicker was that baseball was supposedly basing their decision on the "success" experienced by the NFL in their use of replay over the last few years.
As much as I love the Indians, Browns and Cavs, at times each organization does things that leave yours truly scratching his head. Well, okay, maybe the scratching is really from forgetting to put sunblock on my hair-challenged dome, but let’s not waste time, um, splitting hairs here, okay? The point is there are things the three organizations do – and I’m not even counting the performance on the field – which I must take issue with…
Indians: Yes, I get the concept of the periodic throwback jersey promotion; in fact I think it’s pretty cool when I see players of today waltzing around on the diamond in styles from 50 to 100 years ago. It gives the fans of today a realistic peek into baseball’s past. But if we’re all about realism, why not make ‘em play with the gloves that were used in the era, too? You know, I’m talking about gloves which were only slightly larger than your hand.
I am not a big fan of golf, never really have been. Golf is one of those sports which you have to play somewhat consistently, and have a real desire to get better, in order at realize any appreciable measure of success.
Unfortunately, neither attribute applies to me. And as far as watching golf on the tube? Honestly, I'd rather sit in front of my window and watch the grass grow, or wait impatiently for the mother ship to come rescue me, so I could at least talk sports with the aliens (once I mastered their lingo).
Okay gang, quick question: What do Chris Perez and yours truly have in common?
Bzzzzzt – time's up. Apparently, Chris and I both have some 'splainin' to do. (However, I probably won't need a lawyer present prior to my saying anything).
According to my sister-in-law (whom we'll refer to as Kathy, primarily because that's her name), I crossed a line with my last column about Cleveland sports. Kathy believes my general tone was "too negative" if I recall correctly. Now, I like to think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism – in fact, I encourage it – but from family?
Isn’t it a wonderful time to be a Cleveland sports fan? Think about it: The Tribe is at or near the top of their division, the Cavs managed to obtain the first pick in the draft lottery, and the Browns, well, let’s just say the Browns are undefeated so far in the 2013 season.
Doesn’t it make you wish there was some way we could just sort of freeze time for about six months and simply bask in the relative glory of our beloved sports teams before, you know, it all goes "poof"? Otherwise – in reality – don’t you envision that a few months from now, we’ll all be lamenting what we know to be inevitable? Stuff like the fact that the Browns quarterbacks will have played so poorly in training camp that Coach Chudzinski had no choice but to announce a "three man rotation" for the 2013 season. Or that the Cavs burned their first round pick on a 7’4”, 150-pound string-bean center from Appalachian State, with Chris Grant stating that he “liked the kid’s upside.” (In a related development, fans want to smack Cavs GM Chris Grant "upside" the head after the pick is revealed).
When I was considerably younger, my parents had a favorite restaurant we visited on a regular basis. Sure, we tried other eating establishments from time to time, but like the bird which flies south for the winter, only to fly thousands of miles back north to the very same tree the next spring, we always gravitated back to the same place eventually. (Feel free to insert "family of bird-brains" joke here).
For the record, the restaurant no longer exists, but for all I know there may still be relatives in the area, so in the interest of not wanting to offend anyone, nor possibly having my legs broken, I shall defer to not mentioning the name of the eatery in question. Just for giggles and grins, let’s call it “The Wigwam.”
I had a pretty crazy dream the other night. How crazy is “crazy” you wonder? Well, why don’t you decide for yourself?
I dreamt I was back in the Old West, and staying in a hotel room situated above a saloon (apparently, even in my dreams I still get thirsty) and while heading upstairs to retire for the evening, I noticed a card game taking place in the room across from mine.
There sat four pretty serious gentlemen playing poker. Strangely, all were familiar to me, and although we’d never met, I somehow already knew their names (a huge time-saving feature of my dreams in general).
It was immediately after the Indians were pounded by the Yankees for a second consecutive loss last week when one of the TV announcers declared that the next game for the Tribe was a "must-win" ballgame.
While I found it mildly amusing that only eight games into the season, some were already hitting the panic button, I also found the realization somewhat disheartening that in Cleveland, that button – and usually rightfully so – gets pushed quite frequently.
About a month or so ago, I addressed the issues I had with the Indians’ starting pitching, and it’s no secret the whole key to the season will be tied to just how good – or bad – the pitching is.
On the other hand, the Indians made a number of positive moves over the winter to improve upon their inept 2012 offense, which proved for many to be an instant cure for insomnia. In fact, just for grins, let’s contrast what we had last year to the 2013 edition:
In right field, Drew Stubbs replaces Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was a great defensive fielder whose offense deteriorated over the past couple of years, while Stubbs is a good defensive fielder with average power and good speed. Unfortunately, Stubbs also strikes out as much as a guy on the dating circuit who doesn’t see the need for personal hygiene.
It was not too many years ago, while still considering a career in psychology, that I took a class which included the examination of some of the social aspects of professional sports and their impact on the human psyche. I always had more than a casual curiosity why any sane person would follow three professional sports teams which – for the most part, anyway – routinely had their rears kicked (as I recall, that’s technical talk) on a regular basis, only to still come back for more.
First of all, let me just say that I’m as thrilled as anyone to see the Dolan family open their up-until-now hermetically-sealed wallets and acquire some free agent talent for the 2013 Cleveland Indians baseball season.
People wonder what prompted them to spend so "un-Dolan-like" this year, given that prior to this past winter, the Indians courted – and actually signed – free agents with about the same frequency of a papal resignation. I suggest that if you could have persuaded Mark Shapiro to divulge the projected 2013 Tribe attendance figures late last year, anticipated attendance numbers would have rivaled those of the official Mike Lombardi Fan Club.
Last issue, as I was rambling on about how I had missed the opportunities to witness some rare history-making moments as an Indians fan, it also reminded me of how consistently bad the Cleveland franchise actually was. Whether under-capitalized, under-manned or under-managed – typically, a combination of all three – the Indians of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and the early nineties were consistently bad – with a few exceptions.
With spring training now officially underway, and optimism permeating the air (unless it's someone in the neighborhood and they're back to smoking that 'funny stuff' again), I thought it would be a perfect time to take a look back at a team which had been a major disappointment the previous year, and whose expectations were not particularly rosy for the following season. Sound familiar, Cleveland?
Now that football is over – at least until training camp opens in just over five months – and professional basketball never really got off the ground, it's time to turn our attention to the good old Tribe, who begin spring training in just a couple of weeks.
Those of you who read this column – and I'd like to thank all three of you; you're wonderful relatives, really – will recall that my last effort focused on memories from a Browns AFC Championship game. By request, I've been asked to write a similar piece about the Indians. (Truth be told, I've been requested by readers on occasion to do a variety of things; unfortunately, most of those requests are pleas for me NOT to write).