Just one time, Tribe
pblackwell, Fri, September 7th, 2007
Now in the midst of September, the faith beckons again, a hope extinguished too many other times to count, now rekindled.
Oh, cut with the poetry already. Go Tribe!
Yes it seems like my favorite baseball team, situated on the shores of Lake Erie, is winding its way toward the American League Central title. To quote Borat, that’s nice.
Yet as the magic number dwindles down and the inevitable showdowns with AL heavyweights from Beantown, the Bronx and the O.C. looms, a large and deep sense of gloom sets in.
Cleveland fans have seen this movie before, and I don’t mean the ones involving Wild Thing and Willie Mays Hayes. You can’t trust movies about Cleveland where the “home” games are played in Milwaukee and Baltimore, okay?
(And for the record, no, I don’t like the logo either. Red-faced Chief Wahoo has to go. Change the logo, the team name, whatever. I’ll still be a fan, don’t worry.)
Back to the main point, though. Ever since getting the heck away from Municipal Stadium and moving to Jacobs Field in 1994, the Tribe has constantly teased its skeptical followers, only to be denied the ultimate prize, something missing in town since 1948.
First of all, there was the small matter of a 41-year post-season drought. Really, there’s not much to talk about there, other than a lot of bad baseball and the courage to hire Frank Robinson as the first African-American manager in 1975.
A couple of telling anecdotes stand out, though. In the midst of the drought, in 1974, team promotion guys had a great idea for getting people out to the Mistake – Beer Night. All you could guzzle for 10 cents a cup. Naturally it ended in a ninth-inning drunken riot and a forfeit. And they had three more Beer Nights planned before the league shot that down.
Not as dangerous, and not as funny, was 1987. Coming off a solid season, they planted Cory Snyder and Joe Carter on the cover of Sports Illustrated, proclaimed Cleveland “The best team in the American League” and said the Indians would go to the World Series. They went straight to the 100-loss cellar, though Joe Carter did become a World Series hero – in another country.
All was better by the time the Tribe got to the Jake, and the winning commenced – but so did all the heartache, times eight.
1994 – Young and feisty, Cleveland has a vice grip on the first-ever wild card berth, but a little misunderstanding between players and owners wipes out the post-season.
1995 – Unleashed, Cleveland wins 100 of 144 games, ends its long pennant drought and takes the most feared lineup in baseball to the politically incorrect World Series against Atlanta. Just their luck, this is the one year the Braves figure it out, sealing it with Tom Glavine throwing a one-hitter in Game 6.
1996 – Again, the best record in the game. Again, it doesn’t matter, thanks to a Baltimore team fueled by Roberto Alomar, who still got to play despite that whole spitting incident in Toronto. Albert Belle leaves. Reporters exhale again.
1997 – It almost happens. Round one, the Tribe rallies past the Yankees, and nothing in life ever felt so good. They get revenge on Baltimore in the ALCS. Then a World Series with Florida that had snow at the Jake, leading to Game 7, two outs away from nirvana. Thanks for nothing, Jose (Expletive) Mesa. The Marlins promptly break up the entire team, adding to the pain.
1998 – Back in the ALCS, and given no chance against the 114-win, Greatest Team of All Time (New York hype at it again) Yankees. Cleveland goes up 2-1 in games, only to get thwarted by El Duque in Game 4, and it ends in six.
1999 – Another division title, but this time Boston supplies the exit. In decisive Game 5, with Clevleand in front, the Red Sox bring Pedro Martinez out of the bullpen, and he shuts the door.
2001 – The last gasp of the early era. Up 2-1 on the 116-win Seattle Mariners, with Game 4 at the Jake, and the Tribe can’t close the door. Seattle rallies and takes it in five.
2005 – Here, the latest example of temporary pleasure and permanent pain. Mired in the AL Central pack in midseason, Cleveland roars through most of August and September to catch the White Sox, only to hit a terrible slump at the worst possible time in the last eight days of the season. Chicago wins it all. That only makes the pain more acute.
Then again, it’s been a time where long championship droughts in baseball have been cast aside, both in Boston and on the South Side. So why not the Tribe this time?
In C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, Cleveland has got as good a 1-2 punch as any AL staff can bring to the argument. With heartthrob Grady Sizemore, hard-hitting Victor Martinez, and Travis Hafner (Pronk to the faithful) ready to bash, the bats are there. Granted, the defense and relief have at times been shaky, but no team is flawless these days.
As GM, Mark Shapiro has run a smart ship, keeping payroll reasonable while taking care of as many stars as possible. Eric Wedge has turned into a consistent, underrated manager, perfectly keeping the pulse of a young team burning to win.
From this standpoint, I have managed to keep calm and cool throughout the Tribe’s surge ahead of Detroit in the AL Central – the occasional fist pump, but nothing more.
And even if Cleveland is fortunate enough to get into October, I have every intention of keeping a low profile. Let the Red Sox nation fret over every detail. Let the guys in the know pick the Angels. Let the Yankees hog all the attention.
Compared to them, Cleveland is very much The Other Guy. Unlike those great teams of the late ‘90s, these Indians don’t carry massive expectations, or the desperate urgency to win it all now - quite a contrast to those with higher payrolls and higher profiles.
All of us, as Tribe fans, are not greedy or unreasonable. We don’t ask for too much. One World Series championship will do – preferably in 2007. Sound good?