What the Browns need from Santa: veteran leadership

The year was 1994. The Cleveland Indians were in the midst of the massive rebuild that would transform them from perennial losers of the '60s, '70s and '80s into one of MLB's better franchises moving forward. Owner Dick Jacobs had invested heavily in the farm system and it was beginning to pay dividends, turning out promising talent such as Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Charlie Nagy.

Jacobs' young GM, John Hart, added to the farm system's yield by trading shrewdly for talent such as Kenny Lofton. The team was exciting, and any serious fan who followed the team at the time knew things would soon change for the better.

However, despite the infusion of future Hall of Famers, manager Mike Hargrove's 1992 and 1993 teams won only 76 games each year; the talent seemingly wasted. Clearly, something was missing.

Over the winter prior to the start of the 1994 season, John Hart acquired veteran stars Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez. Both players were clearly on the downside of illustrious careers, but Hart felt they still had enough left to impact the team positively. And the thing is, it wasn't only about adding Murray's bat and Martinez's arm to the Indians roster. He was also adding leadership.

Murray, although known as being quiet and sometimes moody, still knew how to command respect; and more importantly – he knew what it took to win in the big leagues. Martinez had the same impact on the team's young pitching staff.

The addition yielded immediate dividends on the team, as the Indians were only a game out of first place when a players strike ended the '94 season. Hart then added Orel Hershiser for the 1995 campaign, and the Indians reached the World Series for the first time since 1954.

My point in all of this? The Indians had been perennial losers for so long, simply upgrading the talent was not enough. The franchise had to learn how to win again, and bringing in the three veterans mentioned above did just that. Four decades of losing leaves myriad psychological scars on a franchise, and even a city.

It appears the Browns are in the same position as the Tribe almost 30 years ago. The Browns have been dismal for two solid decades. The talent has been massively upgraded, yet the parallels to the Indians' failures of the early '90s are remarkably similar, as the Browns will fall far short of expectations this year.

Going into this season, the leaders of the Browns were expected to be former No. 1 draft choices Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett, with some help provided by Odell Beckham. We won't waste any time rehashing Garrett's situation, but it should be pointed out that Baker Mayfield – who seemingly embraced the idea of being referred to as a team leader a year ago – is not nearly as chipper about the role after falling on hard times in 2019.

We can only hope the step backward helps Mayfield mature prior to next year – it's clear he needs to. And Odell Beckham has had so little impact on the team's play this season that he may not even be on the roster in 2020, let alone be a team leader.

Mike Hargove was a bright young manager, who couldn't win initially, until veteran leadership was brought in by John Hart to help in providing direction and stability.

John Dorsey may be well advised to consider doing the same for Freddie Kitchens, lest we witness a repeat performance of 2019 by the 2020 Browns.

Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!

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Volume 11, Issue 24, Posted 10:09 AM, 12.17.2019