Justice Is Served

March 23, 2010 11:43 PM

Note to Indians: Don't blame the messenger


His e-mail probably wasn't an official response to my comments Monday about the Indians and their second rebuild the past decade. The writer, a team employee, had thought I was unfair in lumping the Tribe with the dregs of baseball -- and said so. He also accused me of being overly forgiving of the Browns.

In saying the latter, he must have missed my frequent commentary over the past eight months about the Browns and their years and years of futility.

I won't argue the last point with the man, because that'll serve no purpose. I'd rather respond to his defense of the Indians. Here's part of what he said:

"Do I need to remind you that we were tied for the most wins in MLB with 96 TWO YEARS AGO? We were within one game of the World Series. Two years prior we won 93 games, finishing one game from the playoffs. The Pirates have lost 17 straight seasons. The Reds haven't been in the postseason since the last decade and the Browns have only been to the playoffs once since '99."

He went on to ask, perhaps rhetorically: "How many times have the Royals and Nationals been to the playoffs this past decade?"

Well, his question was on point if I lived in Kansas City or D.C. and tried to gauge the sentiments of fans in those two markets. But to dwell long on what the Royals or Nationals have done lately is to misread what I wrote. Yes, I did mention those teams from baseball's dungeons as examples of what fans can expect to see on the field this season at Progressive Field.

It won't be pretty.

It's not just my saying this; it's baseball fans from around the city; it's the men and women who used to buy Indians tickets by the fistfuls; it's also baseball writers and analysts from across the country. They all see what I see: a team that's made peace with mediocrity.

I take no pleasure in deconstructing these Indians, the team I grew up rooting for. Aside from my criticism of "Chief Wahoo," I harbor no deep-seated anger toward the organization.

Yet I have to cover the Indians the way a political correspondent would cover the White House. He wouldn't judge all the president's promises; he would judge the president's performance.

That's what matters, nothing else.

But talk of performance isn't what the Indians employee focused on. Instead, he used his e-mail to correct misperceptions he thought I had about the direction the Indians were heading. He also seemed interested in revisiting 2005 and '07, good years under the Shapiro regime.

 His was a nice head-fake, a move worthy of LeBron James: talk about the past and take the lens off the present.

For in that past, the Indians employee had plenty of warm memories to relive. For in those wonderful yesteryears, the team had heroes -- men like Charles Nagy and Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome and Albert Belle and Sandy Alomar and Kenny Lofton and Jose Mesa ...

Oh, those roster of heroes from "The Jake" years! They made for a glorious time at this classic ballpark on Ontario and Ninth Streets, a place filled to the rim night after night with fans screaming and cheering and crying for their beloved heroes of summer.

Those heroes are gone, scattered across the landscape like fall leaves in a windstorm. Their memories remain fresh, as warm and as vivid now as then.

Memories won't bring fans back to Progressive Field in droves. Nor will talk of retooling, no matter how the team employee might want to spin it. Wait 'til next year isn't going to sell tickets.

Given the dearth of talent most baseball insiders say the organization has on its Major League roster, next year won't be much better than this year.

"Two years ago," the Indians employee wrote me, "we won 96 games and there are a lot of the same guys on this current team (Westbrook, Peralta, Cabrera, Perez, Sizemore, Hafner, Choo, Carmona, Lewis)."

Two years ago?

I would warn him that those "same guys" might lose 96 this season, which explains the lack of buzz about the Tribe this offseason. Try to market the possibility of 96 losses to fans that have fallen madly in love with the James Gang and are slow to sever their affairs of the heart with the Browns - good, bad or in-between.

As one baseball writer put it: "What a mess this Indians team will be in 2010. It will be like watching the movie 'Major League' before they found a way to win."

In today's economic climate, the Indians don't have the luxury of being a baldheaded stepchild, because they're paying dearly at the box office these days for playing ugly.

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