The Indians, the Cavs, and the quest to save Cleveland

On Sunday evening I sat in Starbucks for an hour an a half, finishing Now I Can Die In Peace, an excellent collection of columns by Bill Simmons chronicling the Boston Red Sox’ trials, tribulations and ultimate triumph (twice). The entire path of the book parallels the plot of the 1994 epic film The Shawshank Redemption. Simmons likens the Sox’s tragic and stunning defeat in 1986 to Dufresne being incarcerated, and eventually, after some ups and downs, the Sox found redemption in 2004, after winning the ALCS in cathartic fashion, coming back from their darkest hour against the Yankees to ultimately prevail.

I’m not a Red Sox fan. Far from it. But I understand the plight of the Red Sox fan pre-2004, since it’s what we as Indians fans are going through now. (And seriously, Simmons, you give us no respect in that book. It’s all “Cubs this”, “Cubs that”. Chicago has the White Sox, Bulls and Bears, all of whom have won a championship in the last twenty-five years.) The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, and haven’t been in a World Series since Edgar Renteria’s soft line drive ticked off Charles Nagy’s glove and fell into center field at Dolphin Stadium.

You could argue that the 1997 Series was the darkest moment of the Indians franchise since Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch in 1920: two outs away from a win; a team that had two home run hitters who are currently in the top 20 all time; a team that will have at least 3 Hall of Famers before it’s all said and done. It was the ball rolling through Bill Buchner’s legs for the Indians.

While Simmons wrote the book about the Red Sox, he’s a Boston sports fan in general, and included the column he wrote after the Patriots upset the Rams the Super Bowl in 2002. His reasoning was that it was important for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Because a Boston team won a championship, the snakebitten Red Sox could finally win one.

Like the Sox before the Patriots, the Indians have made the playoffs since 1997, but haven’t had success even getting to the World Series.

Enter the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. Here’s a team that is competitive dominant because of one player, a player that may or may not be around next season. Fans are clamoring for a championship while LeBron is still in town, in case the unthinkable happens and he leaves for free agency.

I’m not a big Cavs fan. I’m not the biggest fan of LeBron, and I’m not a fan of the way the front office treated Ilgauskas this season, and I find going to a Cavs game to be a somewhat painful experience. But I’m a fan of Cleveland. And like every Clevelander, I’m rooting for them to win it all this year. But I’m subscribing to the “Simmons Trifectus” theory (as it shall henceforth be called) rooting for them so that the Indians (and *gasp* the Browns?) can possibly win one down the road.

Is all of this hocus? Maybe. But despite the Indians going 3-6 on the road trip ending tonight (on a bunt, no less), they’ve played decent ball, and with some breaks here and there, might start surprising people. If the Cavs win, and people are in a better mood for the summer, I think you’ll see people coming to the ballpark and maybe attempting to recreate that late-90s vibe. There’s no way that’s a bad thing. As a Tribe fan, and as a Clevelander, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Anyone can understand the way I feel

As I write this post from a beautiful 90 degree day in Columbia, it’s only been three years since this:

April 7, 2007: Blizzard, meet baseball. Baseball, meet blizzard. Everyone else, meet a bunch of guys with leaf blowers to try and clear the snow away.

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.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Firesale

Victor Martinez

Another day, another franchise-altering deal. With the Cliff Lee trade, I was a little disappointed. But I’ll be honest: the trade of Victor Martinez makes me mad.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the trade was made. Victor Martinez has the most HR and RBIs of any catcher in the last six years, he was due to be a free agent after the 2010 season, and he’s in his prime. Thus, the trade value for Martinez right now may be as high as it will ever be.

But there’s a problem: Boston needed him.

  • Jason Varitek (the current Red Sox catcher) is past his prime.
  • David “The Cheat” Ortiz doesn’t hit with the same power anymore (The Man cut off his stash).
  • Manny Ramirez is gone.
  • The Yankees not only play in a stadium where they can score runs almost at will, their lineup is stacked with the highest 1-2 home run total players since May 8 (A-Rod and Texeira).
  • The Rays, after starting slowly, are back in the thick of things and only a few games back in the wild card.

This wasn’t a trade Boston was making to get incrementally better, it was a trade Boston had to make to survive into October. Therefore, they should have paid dearly.

And they didn’t.

3 prospects, one of which was Major League ready. Rumor was, the Indians wanted Clay Buchholz too (he threw a no-hitter for Boston in 2007) among others. If Martinez wasn’t going anywhere this offseason anyway, and Boston needed him, why didn’t Shapiro set his terms and say, “that’s the deal, take it or leave it”?

Anyone else feel like Shapiro just panicked? That he felt like he had to get something for him and took an offer? Here’s a guy who would have cost the Indians $7.1 million next year. Sure, he’s only a .297 career hitter. Sure, he only has the most home runs and RBIs of any catcher in the last six years. Sure, he was the team leader and only All-Star this year. Sure, he said he wanted to retire in Cleveland (at the All-Star break, mind you, when the Indians hadn’t yet went on this recent 7-3 tear) and maybe could have been convinced into staying past 2010.

When Cliff Lee was traded, he was a little bit disappointed or apprehensive, but other than that largely indifferent. He was a professional while he was here and I’m confident he’ll be a professional in Philadelphia too; a perfect team player. As I watched video of Martinez by his locker for the last time yesterday, I realized he wasn’t just a team player; he was a Cleveland Indian.

Clearly, Martinez was someone who just had to be gotten rid of while the iron was hot.

Maybe someday Shapiro will prove me wrong, and the three guys we got will turn into cornerstone, franchise players. But today, I’m mad about it., because it feels like the Indians treated one of the classiest guys in the game and most important guy on the team like garbage. And that’s not how it should work.

Opening night


Right now, I’m sitting on my couch in my apartment, waiting for the TV to switch from SportsCenter to Baseball Tonight to the very first pitch of the season. It’s the Phillies vs. the Braves, which isn’t a matchup I have much interest in, but baseball is baseball, and watching tonight’s game will get me three hours closer to tomorrow afternoon.

The expert picks are in at ESPN, and it seems the trendy picks are the Rays in the AL and the Phillies in the NL. While I think the Rays are a good team, I’m expecting a bit of a letdown there – not only is the entire division around the Rays stronger this year, but you don’t get years like the ones the Rays had in 2008 every year. Boston made some minor acquisitions, including John Smoltz, but have largely stood pat. They’ll be relying on Mike Lowell to make a full comeback, David Ortiz to shed a few years and become the David Ortiz of old (not likely) and Dustin Pedroia to keep hitting like he’s NOT 5’9″. We’ll see.

The Yankees are certainly the team that’s most improved, and as long as they don’t stumble too hard out of the gate it’s hard to see them not making the playoffs and once there, winning it all. That said, I thoroughly look forward to Grady Sizemore hitting the first ever home run in the new Yankee Stadium off of CC Sabathia, on the way to a 15-0 Indians win.

As for the Indians, I think they had a good camp with no major injury setbacks and have a chance to have a good season and surprise some people in October. I think it’ll be crucial to get off to a good start (i.e. a winning month in April), and while there are a lot of factors and things that could go wrong, the Indians have a lot of depth available at AAA Columbus. The important thing will be for the Indians to know when to use it.

In the national league, I think its more wide open. The Phillies are being picked by a lot of experts as repeats, but I think its unrealistic to jump to that conclusion, especially with Cole Hamels’ injury. Even though I picked them to repeat as NL champions in January, Cole Hamels’ injury changes a lot, and it’ll be important for the Phillies to get off to a decent start and hold their own until their ace gets back.

In just 36 hours, though, every team will have played at least once and we will have began to watch this speculation turn into results. Here’s to a great season!

Americana 2009: My annual list of baseball parks to visit

Since an unexpected opportunity arose today to take a trip to the Baltimore/DC area, I decided that today I would finalize my list of baseball stadiums to visit this year. To review, last year I visited:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland, OH
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinatti Reds, Cincinatti, OH
  • Shea Stadium, New York Mets, Flushing, NY
  • Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Bronx, NY

I planned on visiting a couple more, but at least I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before they closed. This year, hopefully with a little bit more disposable income, I’ll be able to visit the following stadiums:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH. Sort of goes without saying, but I hope to attend quite a few games at Progressive Field this year (and hopefully the Indians will be a fun team to watch at home this year).
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD. Since my mom will be taking a trip to the Baltimore area in May, the opportunity seems perfect to visit one of the more important stadiums in baseball. Camden Yards was only built in 1992, but more importantly was the first stadium to go for the retro, one-purpose feel, as opposed to the multi-purpose doughnut stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Orioles haven’t been competitive for years, but the park is consistently ranked high in terms of customer experience and from my early scouting, tickets are a good value.
  • Nationals Park, Washington, DC. Until Yankee Stadium and Citi Field open in April, this is the newest park in baseball. Similar to the Orioles, the Nationals aren’t very competitive so it’s likely that prices will be reasonable. I haven’t been to DC since 8th grade (which seems hard to believe, it feels like I was just there recently), so that’ll be fun too. This park would be lower on my list, but since I’ll be around there in May, it seems like a good opportunity to knock it off.
  • Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. I’ve always been a casual fan of the Cardinals (mostly because of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa) and St. Louis is a great baseball city. Prices here are less reasonable, as the team is competitive and the people of St. Louis are baseball-obsessed. I’d like to visit in July sometime, for an ultra-American, ultra-traditional summer’s night of baseball.
  • Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, MO. As long as I’m out in Missouri, might as well see the other great baseball stadium. Renovations are being done now that should make Kaufmann Stadium even better than before. If possible this is a team I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians play on the road, since the Indians have a high chance of winning and the Royals fans are said to be the nicest in baseball (I guess you can’t really afford not to be, at that point).
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA. To think, if the recession had happened a couple years ago, PNC could have bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field and we could have had TWO PNC parks. This is probably the best value out there, at least for me – the stadium is only three hours away, the team hasn’t been competitive in nearly twenty years, and the people in Pittsburgh are a bit preoccupied with their football these days. I’m targeting an August visit for this park.
  • Fenway Park, Boston, MA. I’ve been to Fenway Park once, but it was when I was less interested in baseball and I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I could have. Also, I was there in June last time – this time, I’m going for a September game. As far as tradition, it doesn’t get much more traditional than Fenway in September. It’d be really nice to get a divisional showdown between the Sox and Rays or Sox and Yankees (yikes, that just sounds dangerous), but any game in September would be good.

Overall I’d be pretty happy if I knock these stadiums out this season, but if I don’t get them all that’s okay too. For 2010, I’ll definitely look to visit New York again and see the new stadiums, and then I’d like to go out west to Colorado, Texas, or maybe even California.

Anyone want to share gas money?

A trade of epic proportions

On May 15, the Indians had won three in a row, were three games above .500, and had first place all to themselves. Since then, the Tribe’s only won 26 more games and lost 43. The Indians have dealt their ace, lost their marquee catcher and powerful designated hitter to injury, and lost their closer who led the league in saves last year to a release.

Meanwhile, back on May 15, the Boston Red Sox were 24-19, a game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Most analysts figured the Rays would be back in their comfortable, familiar last place in a month or so. Since then, the Red Sox played just a game over .500, lost and regained David “Big Papi” Ortiz, and finally started to look like a mortal team.

The Red Sox are getting old, and there’s no one more exemplary of that fact than Jason Varitek. The team captain, he’s a switch hitting catcher who has been instrumental in both Red Sox World Series victories. Varitek is hitting an anemic .218 (that’s below even David Dellucci!) with only 25 extra-base hits all season. It’s becoming clear to me (and perhaps others as well) that Varitek is in the twilight of his solid career.

What I’m proposing is a trade, between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, in a move that could potentially help both teams. Let me just throw it out there first, and then I’ll explain it: in my trade, the Indians would get RHP Jonathan Papelbon, and the Red Sox would get C Victor Martinez.

Let’s look at it for a minute. The Indians need bullpen help, particularly a closer. Right now, except for perhaps Mariano Rivera, there is no better closer in baseball than Papelbon. Papelbon is young (he was a rookie in 2006) and thus does not come with an expensive pricetag. He’s got good stuff, including an explosive fastball and a dominant curveball, and has the “stuff” to be a closer (which basically means he’s lucky).

Victor Martinez, with Varitek, Posada and Rodriguez in decline, the best offensive catcher in the American League. He’s a little bit injury-prone, but he has a career batting average of .299 and slugs .463. He’s a team leader, which the Sox will need when Varitek retires. He’s great at calling a game and is defensively underrated.

Meanwhile, the Indians would have Kelly Shoppach as their starting catcher, who has shown in the last few weeks he can handle it. The Indians have depth in the organization at first base and catcher, so finding a backup would not be difficult. The Red Sox have pitchers like Hideki Okajima who could close, or prospects like Clay Bucholz who could do the job. Of course, they also have a gargantuan payroll that could be used to get the best closer money can buy.

Obviously this deal won’t happen. Both teams consider both players too valuable to deal. But it’s an interesting prospect, no?

There is a numbness, in your heart and it’s growing…

My mind is spinning right now thanks to another weekend spent looking at incomprehensible code (both C and MIPS assembly), so maybe some therapeutic blogging will help.

  • I went to the Cleveland Gladiators game on Friday night, a friend of mine scored some tickets directly behind the Colorado Crush’s bench. Let me tell you, the urge not to take the water bottles sitting right at my knees and just spray one of the players was almost uncontrollable. I took some pictures of the event, you can check them out here. I also took a couple videos and uploaded them to YouTube:
    • Bernie Kosar’s pregame speech:
    • The kickoff:

    Enjoy!

  • The CNN Political Ticker is abuzz this weekend with comments over Obama’s “bitter” remarks. It’s amazing to me that a guy who is speaking the truth is getting lambasted by the media for it. Actually, I’m not.
  • Cleveland weather is really annoying. Right now it is 36 degrees outside. It’s APRIL, and today it snowed at Progressive Field.
  • Watched some of the Red Sox-Yankees series this weekend. Who in their right mind pitches to Manny Ramirez with the game on the line, a base open and two outs? I understand not intentionally walking him, but if you pitch to Ramirez he better not see a strike that whole at bat. But of course, Mussina grooved a fastball out over the plate and Ramirez hammered it.

I’ll post more later today when I have more time and hopefully more energy. I’m trying to keep up with these game recaps but it’s not easy, particularly in the case of Saturday’s game when I didn’t really see any of the game. In any case, stay well and happy Monday!

And just like you, I’m wondering why…

I know, I know, I’m slacking in my non-baseball-related posts of late. The good news for you is that hopefully that means I’ll have quite a bit more to say than usual! (According to my calculations…)

  • …alright, so maybe there’s still some baseball stuff. But come on, we’re only a week into the season and there are some huge things happening already!
    • My favorite story thus far has been the Kansas City Royals, who are 6-2 and in the lead in the AL Central. This is a team that is perennially picked to finish last, and until a few years ago, with good reason. Lately though, the Royals are becoming less and less pathetic, and it’s my belief that if they were in the National League, they’d be a playoff team.

      And heck, they might be a playoff team this year. The 2008 Royals remind me very much of the 2004 Indians: young, inexperienced but quality pitching, a career DH who does nothing but hit (Indians: Travis Hafner, Royals: Billy Butler), and a budding franchise player who might blossom into one of the game’s all-time greats (Indians: Grady Sizemore, Royals: Alex Gordon).

    • I picked up Brian Bannister for my fantasy team a couple days ago; that kid looks like he’ll be good.

    • Another interesting story in the central is the surprisingly bad start by the Detroit Tigers. They started the year with the second highest payroll in the major leagues, and they won their first game yesterday.

      I’ve said all winter that good pitching will always beat good hitting; and if you don’t have good pitching, you better be outslugging your opponents all the time. The problem is, if your offense goes into a funk (like the Indians did last summer, like the White Sox did last year, like the Yankees did last year), and your pitching is bad (unlike the Indians, like the White Sox and Yankees of ’07), you’re not going to win many games. Not only that, but the Tigers opened the season against the aforementioned Kansas City and Chicago, both of whom are off to hot starts.

      I fully expect the Tigers to win a lot of games this year, but I don’t think they’ll get out of the first round of the playoffs.

    • Actually, a lot of teams predicted to do bad are off to great starts, including the Baltimore Orioles (who I expect to regress pretty soon) and the St. Louis Cardinals. I read a book last summer about Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals, and I refuse to believe he’ll have a bad team. They may not win the division or make the playoffs (although anything is possible in the NL Central), but they’ll win some games.
    • The Red Sox and Yankees revive their rivalry tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Count me interested. It’s always fun to watch these teams play because their fans are so obnoxious and when two teams of obnoxious fans get together, hilarity ensues. Plus, they’re two great teams with two great offenses and watching them play will feel a lot like postseason baseball. Unfortunately it appears ESPN will be covering the Cavaliers and the Bulls tomorrow night.
    • The Indians have signed Fausto Carmona to a 7 year contract for up to $43 million, with $15 million and 4 years guaranteed. Fantastic move by the Indians, especially with C.C.’s free agency looming near. Carmona was dynamite last year and I have no reason to think he’ll be any worse this year. You might not find a cheaper Cy Young candidate in baseball.
  • And in non-baseball related news, The Office is back tonight! I have some theories about the rest of the season, which I might post tomorrow after they’re all proven wrong tonight. It’s really weird actually being excited to watch tonight, because I kind of got used to it not being on.
  • Has anyone visited MikeHuckabee.com recently?
  • I would write a quote of the day, but I can’t do this one justice by just writing it, so enjoy:

Hope everyone’s enjoying the weather, and enjoy The Office tonight!