The plight of the Cleveland sports fan is played out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Indians fan. I’m a Cavs fan. I appreciate Browns fans and commend them for being some of the most loyal fans on the planet. I’m not a Browns fan, but I’d like to think I at least have a finger on the pulse of the fan base.
Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. Jose Mesa. Art Modell. The Decision.
They’re running out of names for heartbreak in Cleveland. But it’s getting stale. It’s not your fault, fans. No one in Cleveland asks for the torment. You don’t beg for the negative attention from the national media.
You didn’t ask LeBron to give the town a reason to loathe him, nor did you beg Modell to move the Browns to Baltimore. No, given the choice, Cleveland, you’d trade the sympathy and hard knocks for a championship, or at least a lot of wins.
Dan Gilbert bought the Cavaliers from Gordon Gund in 2005 and seemingly breathed new life into the city, no doubt aided by the arrival of LeBron James two years earlier. Nonetheless, Gilbert wanted to win. He still wants to win, and he’s very public about it. The guy has passion.
Jimmy Haslam III. Give it a little time and you’ll certainly see the same passion from the new owner of the Browns. Randy Lerner finally did the right thing in July, relinquishing his chokehold on Browns faithful by selling the team to Haslam. The fan base has embraced its new owner, who, as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, experienced a winning culture firsthand.
This is a fan base so desperate for a winning season. Playoffs. Anything.
The Browns have a chance to rebuild now, but not from an organizational or structural sense. They’ve undergone enough regime change in the last decade. I’m talking about rebuilding hope in Cleveland. At the very least, there is finally some real excitement in the air.
But the hope stops there.
One of these things is not like the others. Enter Larry Dolan, bags of cash in hand.
Dolan bought the Cleveland Indians in 2000 from Dick Jacobs, an owner that really cared about winning. The fan base knew it, too.
Perhaps at the time, we never knew how good we had it—455 consecutive sell-outs. World Series appearances in ’95 and ’97. Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton, all in their prime. Those were the days.
Those days hold fond memories, but they are also long, long gone.
Since Larry Dolan took control (he later named his son, Paul, the CEO of the team), the Indians have made the playoffs twice. They’ve traded immense talent for bags of baseballs and bubblegum. Consecutive Cy Young winners (CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee), dealt in consecutive years, with almost nothing to show for it.
We’re talking about bad baseball. Sixty-five wins. Sixty-nine wins. Eighty wins. The mediocrity is upsetting, but the way mediocrity is accepted by Indians management is shameful.
And it all starts at the top. Players come and go—either traded away to contenders or through free agency—to teams willing to pay for talent. Coaches are hired and fired. Blame the ball boys and peanut vendors if it will make you feel better. Cleveland fans know who is truly to blame.
It’s on you, Dolan family.
And it’s no secret whom the owners chose as their partner in crime. They needed a talking head and a company man with some baseball experience. Someone who would toe their line and applaud the mediocrity year after year, who would put on a big, fake smile and tell the fans it would all be okay.
Mark Shapiro took over as Cleveland’s general manager in 2001. The Dolans needed him. John Hart, architect of some of the most successful teams in club history, knew his time was nearing an end. Jacobs was gone, and with him went an open checkbook and a passion for winning.
Shapiro, though willing to take the job, became the fall guy. Or he would have taken on that distinction had the Dolans really cared who took the fall.
Under Shapiro, the Indians went 795-825. No matter. Fans will still come to the stadium and spend their hard-earned money on overpriced hot dogs and beer. The true measure of success is profit, right?
It’s all wrong, and it’s time for a change. Not the type of change involving the promotion of Shapiro to team president while his hand-picked successor takes the reins at general manager, which is exactly what happened in 2010.
The Dolans need to clean house, but it’s not going to happen. They’ve publicly supported Shapiro and new GM Chris Antonetti time and again. These are the same men who—after he spent most of the season on the disabled list—signed Grady Sizemore to a new $5 million deal, and Sizemore never even sniffed a roster spot. He didn’t return from injury in 2012.
These are the masterminds behind the signing of washed-up former stars like Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe (both of whom were released earlier this season after horrible performances). Designated hitter Travis Hafner, who has played in all of 154 games the last two years and currently sits on the disabled list with back inflammation, is making $13 million this season.
It’s not just an unwillingness to spend money. Cleveland’s front office blames the small market for its mediocrity. Yet, between bad contracts and shortsighted thinking, the Dolans have shelled out tens of millions this season on players that contributed next to nothing.
Shapiro and Antonetti won’t be held accountable. Small market, small window of opportunity—at least according to the guys at the top of the organization.
Cleveland fans don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve another terrible season, which is exactly what they’ve gotten in 2012. While baseball’s elite franchises have continued to get better, the Indians have signed lifeless roster fillers and traded away anyone who can make a real difference. And the team could easily lose 100 games this year.
It’s the kind of losing mentality Dan Gilbert and Jimmy Haslam won’t put up with moving forward. Haslam has owned the Browns for a month, and already has more respect and appreciation for the people of Cleveland. He’s excited for the future.
Sell the Indians. Take your money and run. Indians fans deserve a winner. They deserve a team to be proud of and to believe in.
This isn’t about the torment the city has endured. We’re beyond The Decision and all the blown opportunities to do something great, to win championships. This is about right and wrong.
Sport is all about winning. Don’t be fooled into believing there is more to it than that. We play sports to crown a champion. Without that, there is no integrity.
It’s time the Indians started caring about integrity. Sell the team to an owner who will spend the money, who will care enough about the fans and the city to put a winning product on the field. Do it now and end the suffering. It’s the right thing to do.