Okay, so let's have a show of hands of everyone who honestly (and "honestly" IS the keyword here) felt Superstorm Sandy, prior to her dropping in for tea and crumpets a couple of weeks back, was going to disrupt your lives for up to an entire week? And I mean really, really honest – not the window-dressing version of honest many of us, er, you, employ when you're, let's say, doing taxes.
So there I was: Walking down the street, minding my own business, just like any other normal citizen of these United States. Sporting my Browns gear, too (okay, so much for the 'normal' part), but I was feeling unusually chipper. Perhaps it was because Randy Lerner had sold the team. Maybe it was that I'd had my ankle bracelet removed. Or, perhaps it was that I'd heard Jim Swayze tell me that "There's a really big sale at Half Price Books." See? A virtual plethora of reasons to be giddy.
Anyway – lest I spend my entire allotted word count on my reasons for happiness – I happened upon three Westlake youth as I traversed the merry streets of the same city. Now, I would venture to guess that the three were probably early teens, but it was difficult to say with any degree of certainty, as the trio were all sporting Halloween costumes.
I was thinking just the other day – yes, it happens occasionally – about the onslaught of politically-based TV, radio, mail and phone advertisements which have been bombarding my household over the last few months, and how much I hate it. And how happy I'll be – or dare I suggest, we ALL will be – when election day has come and gone.
Personally, I lost faith in the political system long ago, and I mention this just to forewarn you that if you're expecting my column to have a political slant to it, you'll be disappointed. In a nutshell, I don't trust ANY politicians; my feeling is they stopped caring about you and me a long time ago. So I, in turn, have simply reciprocated the complete disregard.
So much to talk about, so few words to do it with...
We could discuss the firing of Manny Acta.
The Indians? Nah…too depressing.
We could discuss the impending firing of Pat Shurmur.
The Browns? Nah…too depressing.
We could discuss the relatively "safe" job security of Byron Scott.
The Cavs are still light years away. You guessed it: Nah...too depressing.
However, I was able to attend the Browns' debacle against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3. As bad as the game was, other ceremonies included the induction of former Browns Ernie Green and Clarence Scott into the Browns Hall of Fame. The funny thing about it was, those two gentlemen weren't at the epicenter of the storm otherwise known as Cleveland Browns football.
I was deeply saddened last week when I learned of the passing of former Browns owner Art Modell.
But NOT for the reasons you may think.
You see, Modell's passing guaranteed us fans that the local media would feel obligated to remind us – relentlessly – for the next week or so of the role this guy played in taking our beloved Brownies on the midnight train (with apologies to Gladys Night) to Maryland.
Have you ever been out driving on the highway and pulled alongside one of those flatbed trucks which was hauling several giant spools of cold rolled steel? Did you ever consider the possibility of the driver of the truck suddenly having to swerve, even slightly, causing one of those rolls to come loose and pay you and your car an impromptu visit?
Let me disclose right here and now that that very possibility has always freaked me out a little – okay, a LOT – and I always speed up or slow down to prevent my having an accident – in the driver's seat. Hopefully, you handle hypotheticals with a little more grace and dignity than I (I've since learned to go with the plastic seat covers).
Ever wonder just why you follow Cleveland sports fully knowing that you are likely to be disappointed yet again – for the umpteenth time? Ever wonder what guys like Freud, Jung, and maybe even Pavlov would classify you as, if they had the chance? Hmm...I see you shaking your head 'no' while reaching for a No. 2 pencil at the same time. Frankly, I'm concerned about you already.
Here's the deal: I will ask you a series of sports-related questions. Your job: Answer them. Take all the time you need. However, if you're still contemplating the best answer for question No. 2 by the time the next issue of the Observer comes out, you're taking this a bit too seriously.
“So…What brings you in today, Mr. Bing?”
“You ought to know by now, Doc. And please, call me ‘Jeff’.”
“Not a problem, Mr. Bing. As I recall, you have some ‘competitive issues’ with certain professional sports teams in the area, is that correct?”
“That’s NOT correct. Actually, I have ‘competitive issues’ with ALL of the professional sports teams in the area.”
Let me tell you about my father-in-law...
I first met Andy Kroft in the summer of 1970. He was a big, imposing guy – well over six feet tall, ex-Army with the crew-cut to match – and a stare that could burn a hole right through you, which I think from the very beginning, in my case anyway, was kind of what he was hoping to do. After all, I was seeing one of his six daughters – one of his younger daughters I might add – and he already had experience dealing with guys like me: the long-haired skinny punks that we were. But this really isn't about me or the punks I rolled with.
Ever since Mark Shapiro became general manager of the Cleveland Indians, he and his successor, Chris Antonetti, have talked of the narrow "window of opportunity" in which a smaller market organization, such as the Indians, is forced to operate.
The gist of management's logic is that since they can only control the "core" players for a relatively limited period of time, they pretty much need to win – and win big – once that window opens, as it won't be open too long. Once free agency becomes an issue, it's not realistic for Tribe fans to think the Indians will be able to keep many, if indeed any, of those players under contract.
I don't know about you, but I've had it up to my now-need-reading-glasses eyeballs with the Indians' "What If" radio promotions. Some of you may recall that a couple of months back I questioned the wisdom of running virtually identical radio spots in consecutive seasons, and conversations with other observers seem to validate those fears. Although the front office seems to be happy – publicly, anyway – with the déjà vu promotional strategy, the fact remains the Indians rank last in all of MLB in attendance.
The thing I probably question the most is the decision to honor players from the past with Bobblehead giveaways. I mean, I can understand going back to the "good old days" if the current product stinks – and yes, I'll get to that shortly – but if the team, as the Indians claim, is a contender, why on earth revisit the "bad old days"?
I'm going to become a grandfather in a couple of months, and it's gotten me to thinking of late that I'd best get my act together for this "grandpa" business, and pronto. Aren't we grandfathers – when posed a question by our grandchild – supposed to look pensively into the distance, scratch the stubble on our collective faces (because we forgot to shave) and then hit the kid with some kind of awe-inspiring response that would make even the great philosophers take note?
A funny thing happened on the way to the Cleveland Marathon, during the drive from Westlake to Browns Stadium that morning: I realized I had completely lost my desire to run anymore. Some serious soul-searching commenced after stinking up the half-marathon field a couple of weeks ago (and yes, I mean "stinking" both figuratively AND literally, which I'll explain later) I have figured out the reason. Anyway, let's start at the beginning...
Well over a year ago, in my quest to become some form of – in my estimation, anyway – a "super runner," I began a crazy marathon training schedule which included running on consecutive days two or three days a week. For me it triggered a level of pain in my left shin comparable to, say, water-boarding. Finally I had X-rays taken, revealing a stress fracture.
Much has been said and written about the lack of fan support at Tribe games to date. In spite of the fact the Indians have been able to replicate their early-season success of a year ago and again reside at or near the top of their division this year, they are dead last in attendance in the major leagues.
"But, how can this be, oh Learned One? How is this so?"
Friend, your queries are understandable. After all, isn't this the same organization which set attendance records slightly more than a mere decade ago? Well then, Grasshopper, why don't we take a couple of microseconds and examine the issue...
According to legend, many years ago a bus driver transporting legendary Cleveland coach Paul Brown and his team to a rival football stadium became hopelessly lost. Visibly shaken by the snafu, the poor driver apologized time and again to Brown. Finally, the coach tried – in his own inimitable way – to calm the man.
"I don't blame you, my friend," Brown reassured the driver, "I blame the man who hired you."
When we last met, I promised to devote this column to the hitting – or lack thereof – of the 2012 Cleveland Indians. I also suggested that you'd be better off sitting when reading this, as I was certain it wouldn't be pretty. After an anemic homestand, the Tribe’s bats sprang to life in Kansas City. We could be in for a wild ride, folks. So make your way to the nearest chair and brace yourself for some “offensive” comments.
We'll start in the outfield:
1. Ah-Choo! (Bless you): Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo hasn't been the same player since he was popped for DUI last spring. On top of that, he was injured for a good chunk of the season. He maintains all those problems are behind him, and we can only hope that they are. Defensively, he may have the most accurate arm in baseball, but this offensively-challenged team needs him to return to 2010 form, and fast. So far, he still seems lost at the plate; without question he's a key to the team's success this year.
Ahhh...springtime and baseball. If it has somehow escaped your attention, the Indians' season opener is upon us. Now, be honest here: What else represents a "fresh start" – the proverbial "new beginning" if you will – in quite the same manner as the MLB season opener? They go hand-in-hand, much like Grady Sizemore and the disabled list. Yes, baseball has always been numero uno in my book. (Looks like that free CD from Rosetta Stone is already paying dividends, doesn't it?)
Not surprisingly, some of my very first memories revolve around baseball: I attended a Cubs game when I was just barely into grade school – as my grandparents resided in Chicago – and I'll never forget the ivy which adorned the outfield walls at Wrigley Field. Nor will I forget the roar of the crowd, the excitement which seemed to ride on every pitch, or the first beer spilled on my back (which, not surprisingly, is directly linked to me also uttering my first swear words).
You know, the older I get, the easier it has become to see clearly what's going on in the world around me. And, no, I'm not referring to the glasses I now wear (though they have helped considerably, albeit in a literal sense).
I believe it's much more than that. Be it politics, the economy, the societal benefit derived from Madonna and her music, I feel I have a pretty good handle on it all. Go ahead: ask me a question, and prepare to walk away enlightened. There's nothing I can't grasp. Well, except for one nagging, mind-numbing, incessantly agonizing thing...
Let's get something straight, right off the bat: I'm not a "health nut." Far from it. However, as one who within the coming week will be celebrating the final birthday in which he can still claim to be in his fifties, the last decade has been peppered with more – shall we say "dedicated" – efforts on my part to remain in fairly good health.
While I've been fortunate enough to remain relatively healthy most of my life (in spite of thirty years of smoking and even more perfecting the fine art of beer-drinking), the last few years seem to have been earmarked to remind me that I'm not quite as young as I used to be.
It is with a heavy heart I announce the fourth and final installment of my 2012 predictions regarding the Cleveland sports scene. Please, please hold the applause until you've finished reading the entire column (this ain't your kid's commencement, you know) as other readers may find your outbursts disturbing. I know that I do.
October: Embattled Browns President Mike Holmgren is still trying to sell Cleveland sports fans on his credibility, which came under serious attack on NFL draft day months earlier. Holmgren committed what many considered the "faux pas of the century" after trading up to secure the second draft pick, presumably to take the consensus second-best quarterback available, Robert Griffin III.
Venturing onward with predictions that make even a guy like Nostradamus look inept, 'tis with bated breath – or is it just early-onset COPD? – we gaze eagerly upon the third quarter of 2012...
July: The Indians are still in full damage control mode, dodging negative fallout from the January revelation that pitcher (formerly known as) Fausto Carmona was, in reality, some guy named Roberto Hernandez Heredia. Mercifully, the Indians finally conclude and release the results of a three-month-long investigation into the background of every employee of the entire Cleveland Indians organization.
The good news is that they didn't find any more players with phony Dominican identities. The bad news is that the investigation reveals the organization has been – unknowingly – employing three illegal aliens, two actual aliens, and a female impersonator named "Trixy."
Today, we resume our continued exploration of the year 2012, as I make even more incredibly accurate predictions involving the Cleveland sports scene...
APRIL: Embattled Browns president Mike Holmgren – already on the hot seat with the fans and media over the rate of supposed progress (?) of the team – shocks the entire NFL on draft day. Citing the fact that "we need help everywhere," misguided Mike trades the team's first, second, and third round picks to the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals for 114 lower-round picks. Browns fans hope some of the picks will be used to secure much-needed help in the front office.
The WBV Observer is excited to kick off the new year with a new columnist: Jeff Bing, a lifelong Westlake resident and long-suffering Cleveland sports fan. Jeff will offer readers a lighthearted take on the teams that break our hearts but always have us coming back for more. A frequent contributor to Bud Shaw’s Spin column in The Plain Dealer, Jeff will provide much-needed comic relief to carry us through the ups and downs of Cleveland sports.
Doesn't it bother you when, every December, some self-proclaimed expert in his field of choice goes back and recounts, month by month, the highlights of the year? You know the drill: He acts as if we were all living under a rock or something the past year, and we had no idea what had transpired over the preceding twelve months.
Isn't that just about the easiest column to write? And to simply reiterate and rehash all the negative stuff that happened with our professional sports teams over the past year? As Cleveland sports fans, don't you think we've suffered enough?