A preview of the 2013 Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians, to say the least, had an atypical offseason. During most offseasons, Indians fans gaze wistfully and briefly through the toy store windows at high priced free agents who are being wooed by richer teams, before coming back to reality and settling for secondhand free agents who are longshots at best. To the credit of the Indians scouting department, some of those longshots actually do pay off (Derek Lowe in 2011 springs to mind), but many of them don’t (Grady Sizemore, Mark DeRosa, David Dellucci. I had abusive nicknames in mind for Dellucci, but in light of the coming baseball season, I’ll hold back). But this offseason was different. Not only did the Indians land Nick Swisher after a somewhat-touching, somewhat-pathetic courting process, but they also landed Michael Bourn (how long until the Indians PR team makes their first Bourne Identity joke?), Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and a plethora of other players on minor league contracts like Daisuke Matsusaka, Scott Kazmir and Jason Giambi.
It was really nice to see how Indians fans reacted to the Indians investment in their future. But will it be enough? Is this team good enough to contend? I’ll preview the 2013 Major League Baseball season, with particular emphasis on the Indians, after the break.
How the front office can fix the Indians this offseason
The Major League Baseball playoffs started over the weekend, which means that despite the fact that the Indians season has been officially over for a little less than a week, you could say that the Indians have been in offseason mode for months now. So rather than review this season, I’ll just jump straight into what the Indians should do in the offseason, after the break.
Day 3 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.
Despite winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays are a bit of a cursed franchise. They have three big issues, two of which are that they’re in Canada, and that they’re in the American League East. Canada’s national pasttime isn’t baseball; it’s hockey. Any baseball team in Canada has to be at least as good as the worst hockey franchise in the area, or there’s not much interest. The Montreal Expos, for example, had too many losing seasons and were forced to move. The Blue Jays have been playing well for the last few years and have won two more World Series than the Expos did, not to mention a few pennants and division titles, so they’ve been able to stave off attrition. But their task seemingly gets continually harder, as they’re in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and recently, the Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles. There’s not a weak team in the division, but someone has to lose, and the Jays, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, have just as much a shot to win the hotly-contested division as to lose it.
The Blue Jays’ third problem is their stadium. The SkyDome was completed in 1989, and despite being only twenty-three years old, is the seventh-oldest active stadium in baseball. Of the stadiums that are older: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are classics; Anaheim Stadium and Kauffman Stadium have aged well; the Athletics have been trying to relocate from Oakland Coliseum for years. The SkyDome (now called the Rogers Centre) is in that unlucky middle area between outdated and in need of replacement. As a twenty-three year old stadium, the Rogers Centre will probably not be replaced for many years, but because it was completed just before Camden Yards started the ballpark renaissance, the stadium looks and feels dated.
Day 2 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1.
“Oh, Justin Verlander is pitching.”
I had been looking up the starting pitchers for the evening’s game, remembering that I hadn’t seen a Justin Verlander highlight on SportsCenter in a few days, and was pleasantly surprised to see that we’d get to see him.
“Who’s that?” my sister asked. Here’s how I described him:
He’s a really good starting pitcher for the Tigers. He throws 100 MPH all game long, so you’ll either see him pitch amazingly tonight or this will be the night his arm finally falls off.
One of those two things happened, and since Verlander is pitching against the Indians tomorrow (the 24th), you can assume it’s not the latter. And besides that, I got to see another really cool baseball stadium. My review of Comerica Park, after the break.
Day 1 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey.
Last Thursday afternoon, I went to my first Indians game at Progressive Field in more than a year and a half. I had vowed that 2003 would be the last time I missed a game. But as they often do, things happened, and last year, I never got to see the Indians at Progressive Field last year (although I did see them in Minneapolis). So I was happy to see the Indians at home, and I was even happier that they managed to come back from a 4-0 deficit and walk off with a win.
But last Thursday was also the start of a controversy. Chris Perez, the Indians closer, entered the game in the top of the 10th with one out and immediately allowed a single and a walk. The fans that remained of the 12,894 tickets sold booed him, before Perez found the strike zone and got the last two outs of the inning. On Saturday, after a much less eventful appearance which resulted in a save, Perez ripped the fans that booed him, saying:
I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a base runner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It p****s me off.
And you know what? I agree with him.
Last night, Jim Thome clubbed his 600th career home run into the bullpen at Comerica Park. As he rounded first base, the man who has almost 100 more home runs with the Indians than any other Indian, the man who is tied for the all-time lead in walk off home runs, the owner of the 17th- and 34th-best career OPS and OBP, respectively, and the man with the eighth most home runs in baseball history, Jim Thome simply pumped his fist in the air and ran around the bases. As he got to home plate, it was tough to tell who was happier: his teammates or his family. Thome smiled too, but it was one of his trademark, humble smiles that really embodied his chase towards 600 home runs: just a great guy who happened to be a great hitter that stuck around for a while.
What do you do when a team you didn’t care about 5 months ago is playing for a national championship? You write a running diary of course! Read on, after the break.
As I write this post from a beautiful 90 degree day in Columbia, it’s only been three years since this:
My, how times change.
In any case, I’m excited for Opening Day. Heck, who am I kidding? I was excited for Opening Day back in February, which explains why I wrote my 2010 season preview back on February 18. Much has happened in those six weeks since spring training has ramped up, progressed, and is now winding down to a close, so here are a few things I’m excited about as the season begins.
- Baseball season means summer. Except in South Carolina, apparently, where summer went ahead and started without waiting for baseball season. This is heresy. I mean seriously, what’s opening day without snow, freezing rain, slushy streets and players who want to be there less than the fans?
- The Indians won’t be that bad. (I hope.) Overall, I’m pretty encouraged by what I saw in spring training from the Indians. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner look good, and while I’m not convinced Jake Westbrook will look good against the other aces in the league, I think he’ll do okay in most of his starts. Fausto Carmona has looked solid too, and if he can keep up this form in the regular season the Indians will be in much better shape (and much better shape than I was hoping for).
- Manny Acta wasn’t my first choice, but he’s growing on me. He’s already shown he’s not afraid to try some new things (batting Cabrera leadoff, starting Michael Brantley instead of a veteran left fielder) and he seems to relate to the players well (particularly the Hispanic players).
- The season gets underway with a Sunday night game between the Red Sox and Yankees. Look, I bleed scarlet and grey, but the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is without question the best in sports. It’s great theater every time these two storied teams get together and this year, with the Yankees defending their 27th World Series title, it should be even better.
- Jim Thome is no longer on the White Sox. Or the Dodgers. Or any other team that I hate. He’s on the Twins, who are my favorite team in the AL Central besides the Indians, and it’ll make it easier to root for one of the classiest guys in baseball this year. If it’s not the Indians this year, I hope the Twins win the World Series. (Unfortunately, since the Twins lost Joe Nathan for the season, this will probably be quite difficult.)
- Ozzie Guillen has a Twitter account. I may not like the White Sox (I blame A.J. Pierzynski), but I do like Ozzie Guillen both for his management style and his Michael-Richards-but-with-less-racism “what will he say next” attitude. Joe Maddon (Rays manager) is also on Twitter, but his tweets are all about “preparation” and “getting in the right place mentally”. I have a feeling Ozzie’s will be less politically correct (and therefore more hilarious).
- Bobby Cox is managing his last season. The all-time ejections leader is hanging it up after this season and I hope he goes out with a bang. He’s definitely a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of baseball’s best managers (even if his choice in teams is abysmal).
- I will finally see PNC Park. PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is widely regarded as one of the prettiest parks in baseball. I’m personally ashamed I haven’t been there yet, having lived a mere three hours from the city for most of my life. This year, on Memorial Day weekend, no less, that will be corrected.
And frankly, one of the things I love about Opening Day is that for one day, everyone’s equal. There is no head start, there is no entitlement, everyone starts at 0-0. Optimism springs eternal. So while the rest of the season I’m happy with around .500 for this team, on Opening Day, we’re allowed to dream.
Will the Indians win the World Series? Probably not. But maybe. Because on Opening Day, everyone starts fresh. So maybe.
Buster Olney wrote an article today (which, incidentally, is available only to ESPN Insider readers. Or you can take my word for it.), in which he asserted that baseball writers should not have the privilege of casting Hall of Fame ballots. Olney is quick to point out that he has this privilege, but he still feels it shouldn’t be up to the writers.
I agree, and there are three players who should be in the Hall but probably won’t be, unless another group of voters is selected:
- Mark McGwire. Potential the original steroid abuser? Sure. Controversial for his non-statements after his career? Sure. Feared hitter? Definitely. Hall of Fame nominees are supposed to get your vote if they are the most dominant player at their position in their era. McGwire didn’t win many Gold Gloves (he actually got one, in 1990, I learned after some research) at first base but for a few years in the 90s, he was the most feared hitter in the game. He broke the single season home run mark that had stood for 37 years, but more importantly he hit 583 home runs in his career – many of them long before his biceps blew up like balloons.
- Barry Bonds. Perhaps the most controversial player in the 2000s, it can’t be argued that Barry Bonds is the all-time career home run leader (762) and single season home run leader (73). If you still have doubt that Bonds was the most feared hitter of his era, he was intentionally walked the most times of any player in history – by nearly 400.
- Pete Rose. To me, this is even more of a slam dunk than McGwire or Bonds. The only reason Rose isn’t in the Hall is for gambling on baseball while he was a manager. This shouldn’t take away his achievements as a player, which includes being the all-time hit leader with 4,256, or having the second longest hitting streak in history at 44. It’d be like if Tiger Woods were barred from the golf Hall of Fame (I assume there is one, and that it’s the same sort of organization as baseball’s) for having too many affairs.
Here’s the point Olney makes and I agree with: writers have agendas. The baseball writers are still upset that they were swindled into the steroids era, and are exacting their revenge on anyone who used or was accused of being on steroids. In Rose’s case, the situation is a little bit different because technically, Rose is banned from baseball, but as the Hall of Fame is a separate organization, they could elect him if they really wanted to.
And another thing: why did it take the writers 15 years to decide Jim Rice was a Hall of Famer? Or what about Burt Blyleven, who’s been on the ballot for 11 years and next year, should finally make it in? What makes him better next year? To me, this is also a sign of voters with an agenda and not voting for the best players of their era. If you’re voting for the best, vote totals should only decrease – you may decide someone is more deserving than that player, but you shouldn’t ever often decide “you know what, this old guy was actually pretty good, I’ll vote for him over this new guy.”
So who should vote? I think it should be all active Major League players with 5+ years of service. These are players who are likely to have played against the newest nominees – who would be better at determining who is the most dominant of their era?
Being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame is the greatest individual honor any player can receive. Let’s take the politics out of it.
1977 was a tumultuous year for the city of New York: the soap opera feud between Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and other Yankees dominated the baseball season, the upcoming mayoral election promised change, and the record-setting climate led to a major blackout and riots.
Oh, and the “Son of Sam“, arguably the most infamous serial killer in history, rampaged the city.
All of this sets the stage for Jonathan Mahler’s book Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, and from that, the ESPN mini-series Bronx is Burning. I’ve seen the series before but recently acquired the DVD set and below are a few of my thoughts.
While the series is primarily about the Yankees and their pursuit of the first World Series in the Steinbrenner era, the Son of Sam subplot is substantially and capably covered. What sets Bronx is Burning apart is the way they interweave the two stories: Steinbrenner is shown (in typical fashion) worrying about the Son of Sam scaring off fans, and the detectives on the Son of Sam case are shown working on reports while half-watching the Yankees grind through their season.
Speaking of Steinbrenner, Oliver Platt’s portrayal of the eccentric, obsessed owner is simply a joy to watch. Platt not only nails the accent, but he nails the facial expressions and body language too. It would have been easy to paint the picture of Steinbrenner as a demon, but Platt makes him a very believable guy who wants to win, no matter what the cost. Even his costumes are excellent (particularly the suit with white shoes, and the suit with the turtleneck sweater).
Steinbrenner’s main rival, Billy Martin, is played by John Torturro, who also excels in his role. Scenes which Steinbrenner and Martin share are easily the most compelling, and that’s due in large part to Torturro’s ability to mimick Billy Martin’s bi-polar personality. He comes across as extremely passionate and extremely old school, a guy who doesn’t like the prima donnas generated by athletes (one in particular) in the 70s (wonder what he’d think now?).
(Interesting sidenote: Howard Cosell, the man who originally said, “ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning” while calling Game 2 of the 1977 World Series, was played by John Torturro in another great docu-drama, Monday Night Mayhem.)
Reggie Jackson (the aforementioned “one in particular”) and Thurman Munson are also tremendously cast and played, and the two actors do a great job of being almost complete opposites, setting the tension for many of the conflicts in the series.
Another thing I liked about the series was how it mixed in 1977 era video in with the new video. Most of the baseball action shown is from 1977 video, but rather than show the faces of the real players, the modern video is edited in nearly seamlessly and with no distraction. While most of the modern video looks authentic (great set design and props), the baseball video is a little bit suspect, as it appears to be shot in front of a green screen. But let’s be clear: this isn’t just a story of the players on the field, it’s a story between players on and off the field, so while a larger budget could have made the baseball video more believable, the compromise they made works very well.
Finally, since 1977 was around the birth of punk, The Ramones are heavily included in the soundtrack during montages, while an understated score is present for the Son of Sam murders and investigation scenes. The music choice is excellent, giving the impression of an ominous present but a hopeful future. If you’re a baseball fan, if you’re a history buff, or if you’re a fan of New York, you owe it to yourself to watch this incredibly enjoyable mini-series.