Cleveland Sports "Heroes": My Love for the Underdogs
After reading about Jody Gerut and reminiscing about him and other former Indians, I wanted to devote a column to some of my favorite, lesser-known athletes that have played for the Browns, Cavs and Indians over the years.
These are guys who weren’t stars – heck, most of them hardly even played – yet for whatever reason I really liked them and pulled for them. Of course, for those of you who know me, the biggest name of all on this list for me is a former Duke star who graced a Cavs uniform for several seasons and never got a fair shot to crack the rotation even though he was incredibly deserving and…
(OK, slow down buddy. Right. More on him later.)
Without further ado, here’s the list. It’d be great for you guys to share your memories of these or any other players I failed to mention as I’m sure there are numerous I forgot and left out.
1. Eric Zeier, quarterback, 1995: Loved him because of the name. Plus, as everyone knows, the backup quarterback is always the most popular athlete in Cleveland. Did You Know: Zeier set 67 school records at the University of Georgia and 18 SEC records as well? He currently broadcasts UGA football games.
2. Darrin Chivarieni (’99-’00) and JaJuan Dawson (’00-’01), wide receivers: Guys who probably shouldn’t have been in the NFL, thus fitting perfectly on those expansion-era Browns teams. Dawson had a huge game in the season-opener one year and wasn’t heard from again, and I vaguely remember Mike Trivisonno ranting on the day we traded Chivarieni to the Cowboys.
3. Ben Gay, running back, 2001: He might have received the most buzz and media attention for someone who never accomplished anything. I know he had a crazy backstory, like bouncing around several colleges and doing or dealing drugs or something like that.
4. Terry Kirby, running back, 1999: Kirby was one of the few “name” players the first Browns team had, in that he had actually played on real NFL teams before. Unfortunately, he was just as bad as the “non-name” players for the Browns that year. My mom and I went to training camp one day and he was laughing and joking and having a great time out there – it doesn’t hurt that he and Wayne Kirby are brothers too.
5. Travis Prentice, running back, 2000: Touchdown Travis, baby! Ran for eight touchdowns in 2000, then we got rid of him and he went to the Vikings after that. I have no idea why we got rid of a player who we drafted in the third round and had a productive year as a rookie, but then again, that’s how the team was run back then.
6. Frisman Jackson, receiver/Hail Mary quarterback, 2002-2005: Played quarterback in college at traditional powerhouse Western Illinois and is probably better known for having the strongest arm perhaps in Browns history. He was the guy we’d bring in if we needed a 60-yard heave. Judging by how crappy those offenses were, we should have tried it more often. Caught one touchdown in, uhh, 34 career games. Right, moving on.
7. Spergon Wynn, quarterback, 2000: The fact that he played in 10 NFL games gives hope to you and me that we, too, can be NFL quarterbacks. Threw 152 passes with the Browns and Vikings in two seasons and had one touchdown and seven picks.
8. Earthwind Moreland, cornerback, 2001: Strictly the name. I’m listening to “After the Love Has Gone” and “September” right now on my iPod, actually. He was supposed to develop into a nickel back for us. Appeared in two games with the Brownies. Did You Know?: Earthwind played for the AFL’s Las Vegas Gladiators in 2007? He didn’t make the cut when the team moved to Cleveland this year, though.
9. Wali Rainer, linebacker, 1999-2001: Probably one of few – very few – Brownies who could have played for real NFL teams during that era. Between him and Szczerbiak now, I guess I have a thing for guys named “Wali”, too. It rolls off the tongue nicely.
10. Mason Unck, special team extraordinaire, 2003-2006: Needed a special teams tackle? Unck was your man! I think former Bill and current CBS announcer Steve Tasker had a man-crush on Unck. And you know what? So did I.
11. Brian Kinchen, tight end, 1991-1995: I have no idea, I really don’t. I think I liked his name a lot, because I thought it was “Kitchen”, not “Kinchen”. Did You Know?: According to Wiki, Kinchen “was a commentator for ESPNU but was suspended after making a comment during a game that receivers needed to use their soft hands to ‘caress’ the ball and responding to his comment as ‘kinda gay.’”
12. Jamel White, third down back/kick returner, 2000-2003: He was so small! And he went to South Dakota! He was like a JV version of Eric Metcalf. I always wanted to see him used more, but the coaches were probably concerned he’d be broken in half or something. He had a monster against Green Bay in 2001, running for 131 yards and 85 yards receiving, in a, uhh, 30-7 Browns loss.
1. Trajan Langdon, underplayed and underrated shooting guard, 1999-2001: OK, Trajan Langdon is my favorite athlete of all-time. I’m coming out and saying that right now. If you want to read a 3,000-word story about him that I wrote, then just click here, it will be worth your time and explains everything. I’m still bitter about how his whole situation turned out with the Cavs, who drafted him in the first round and never played him even though he did everything right in practice and played well when given the opportunity…
(Here I go again, getting all worked up. Just trust me on this. The Alaskan Assassin would have made a hell of a pro in the NBA!) Did You Know?: Trajan was a sixth-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 1994? Such a great athlete! He was also just named the 2008 Euroleague MVP playing for a team in Moscow – keep up the good work buddy!
2. Derek Anderson, shooting guard, 1997-1999: What’s ironic about this is that he was my favorite player before Trajan, then he was traded after we drafted Trajan because who needs two identical players? Heck, who even needs a shooting guard when we can deal away a good one and not play his replacement?
3. Chris Mills, small forward, 1993-1997: When I was six, I thought his name was “Chris Miles” and he was a relative of mine. Mooooving on…
4. Matt Harpring, small forward, 2000-01: Such a hard-nosed player. Scrappy. I got floor burns just watching him play when me, my buddy Stu and his dad were three of approximately 415 fans who still went to Cavs games at the time. Did You Know?: Georgia Tech retired his jersey number, and Harpring and Mark Price – that name sounds familiar – are the only Yellow Jackets to be named First Team All-ACC three times?
5. Lee Nailon, small forward, 2003-04: Picked him up in a midseason trade and boy, could he score some points. (“Some” being the operative word there.) He was instant offense, for like three or four minutes, and that was it. A fun player to watch though.
6. Eric Williams, small forward, 2003-04: Basically the same player as Matt Harpring only without the same dental plan. Williams was one of those high-character guys the Cavs tried to surround LeBron with his rookie year – aka the anti-Ricky Davis and Darius Miles. Known most for his gap-toothed grin because his family couldn’t afford to send him to the dentist as a child, and he worked hard to provide low-income families with dental care. All around good guy, I really liked him a lot.
7. Jeff Trepagnier, high jumper, 2001-02: The buzz about Trepagnier when we drafted him out of USC was his phenomenal athletic ability. I sipped the Kool-Aid. He scored 18 points – total - in a Cavs uniform. Did You Know? Trepagnier finished second in the PAC-10 in the high jump in 2000? He averaged nine points per game as a senior as the “shooting guard” connected on 23.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. Let me editorialize here for a minute and ask, “WHY THE HECK WAS HE THE 35TH DRAFT PICK???”
1. Bill Selby, utility guy, 2002-2003: Bases loaded. Ninth inning. Down by one. Mariano Rivera on the mound. Selby narrowly misses ending the game with a shot down the right field line that just lands foul. Just when you think we missed our shot, Selby yanks one deep to right field…and GONE for a walk-off grand slam against the game’s top-closer. It was one of 11 career homers for Selby, and probably one of my top-five Indians moments of all-time. Thank you, Bill Selby.
2. Chris Magruder, outfielder, 2002-2003: I loved “C-Mags” so much and I have no clue as to why. He was just one of those guys I latched on to and haven’t forgotten about over the years. I remember him just making some good hustle plays. C-Mags also broke up a potential no-hitter from Jeff Weaver – when Weaver was with the Tigers and actually a good pitcher.
3. Jolbert Cabrera, supersub/gunshot victim, 1998-2002: A pretty valuable member to some decent Tribe teams who could play any position. I think he was also the bullpen catcher and waterboy, too. Of course, what I remember most about him was getting shot in the butt while someone tried to carjack him down in Colombia. Did you know? Shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Jolbert are brothers.
4. Candy Maldonado, outfielder, 1990, 1993-94: The name. Strictly the name.
5. Cam Caincross, Aussie pitcher, 2000: Australian born lefty who appeared in 15 major league games. He was having a monster year in the minors when we brought him up to help bolster the bullpen. He had a 3.86 ERA with the Tribe and I don’t think has been heard from since.
6. Mark Clark, pitcher, 1993-1995: He was just one of those guys who wasn’t bad but wasn’t good either. They’re my favorite players, which is why I’m one of 13 Casey Blake fans left alive. If I was a professional athlete, I would want to be an average, mediocre guy who you could depend on to be reliable and nothing more.
7. Chad Ogea, pitcher, 1994-1998: I don’t have the data to back this up – I’m stealing that line from Matt Underwood, by the way – but it just seems Indians pitchers have proven to be the best hitters in National League parks over the years. Ogea’s two-hit performance in Game 6 of the ’97 World Series is just one of a long list of successful hitting clinics our pitchers have put on. I love Chad Ogea for that. Love him. Did You Know? Ogea is in the Kinston Hall of Fame.
8. Herbert Perry, first/third base, 1994-96: One of those guys who just never got a chance to crack it because they were behind All-Stars. Batted .315 in 162 at bats in 1995, and got a total of 21 at bats in 1994 and 1996 combined.
9. Jeff Manto, Quadruple-A player, 1990-91, 1997-1999: The ultimate definition of a guy too good for the minors and not good enough for the majors. His transaction pagelooks like Chris Henry or Pacman Jones’ rap sheet – I swear to God, every day I'd pick up the paper back then it the Indians were either cutting or re-signing him. A .280 hitter in the minors with 146 home runs, he hit .230 in the big leagues with 31 dingers.
10. Bip Roberts, second base, 1997: See: Maldonado, Candy and Zeier, Eric.
11. “Hard Hittin” Mark Whiten, outfield, 1991-92, 1998-2000: I think it was Joe Morgan on the NBC broadcasts in the playoffs who would just repeat, over and over again, “Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten”. Whiten could be sitting on the bench and Joe Morgan would be saying, “Look at Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten sittin on the bench over there! Hard Hittin Mark Whiten! Hard Hittin Mark Whiten!” Did You Know? Mark Whiten’s nickname was “Hard Hittin”?
So there you have it, my list of 30 – count ‘em, 30! – former Cleveland athletes who have been some of my favorites over the year. Once again, I’m asking you guys to share your memories of these players or any other “lesser-known stars” from over the years who hold a special place in your heart.
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