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New GM Chris Antonetti: Is It Okay to Care About the Indians Again?

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New GM Chris Antonetti: Is It Okay to Care About the Indians Again?

Dear Mr. Antonetti:

Congratulations on your promotion to be the next General Manager of the Cleveland Indians.

I grew up watching the Indians of the 1980s, as John Addams' drumbeats echoed through the cavernous and usually empty Municipal Stadium. But when you're a kid, the fascination of simply seeing a major league game was good enough for me, But as I grew up, I learned more and more about the game itself, which not only made me a more informed fan, but a more critical one as well.

Then John Hart came along, and he had a plan: Sign a load of young unproven offensive/fielding talent, add some veteran pitching and throw them out on the field, letting them figure it out their own, tinkering when necessary. And BINGO! The "glory days" of 1995-2001 christened Jacobs Field with what we hoped would be a new tradition of winning excellence.

But that turned out to not be the case. When Hart left after the transferring of ownership from Dick Jacobs (R.I.P) to Larry Dolan and his Golden Shoestring budget, Hart handed off to your predecessor and now boss, Mark Shapiro.

Shapiro developed his own formula: Build up on young talent, but focus more on pitching and defense. Like the Joe Carter trade, Shapiro pulled off his "steal" in the Bartolo Colon trade, which netted us Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore. Other trades and signings finished off a team that took us back to respectability, as the Tribe had a fast start in 2004, was in the post-season race in 2005 (one of the great pennant races in baseball history if you ask me) and the incredible 2007 run. I think you remember, don't you?

But something funny happened on the way to taking that next step. Knowing he'd be outspent, it seemed Shapiro began trading off parts of the team before they could rebound. C.C. Sabathia. Lee the following year. Casey Blake, Ryan Garko. Victor Martinez. Just as soon as I was really getting to know and like these guys, they were gone, many of them scattered all over the 2010 postseason. Over time, the question wasn't if we'd be in contention, but who'll get traded away this season at the trade deadline.

Instead of tinkering to finish off the final project, he seemed to tear down and rebuild, in a vision quest to replicate the Colon trade. He traded established talent away when it was ready to peak for multiple prospects, knowing at least one of them would pan out eventually.

In a radio interview during a rain delay, I remembered Shapiro saying he'd make any move to help the organization's short term or long term situation. That's not building a consistent contender. That's creating a major league farm team for big-market spenders. He seemed to have a plan for building a "smallball team," but he wound up with a baseball version of Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time." (Which I've included for your reference. Thanks for the upgrade, B/R!)

And now it's your show. You won't replicate Hart's formula, and you certainly - in my opinion - should avoid Shapiro's ending strategy of "well, if it could work, I'll give it a shot." Basically, I found myself feeling like the clubhouse manager in "Bull Durham," when he'd tell a kid that "We got one going to the Show!"

Aren't we supposed to be "the show?"

On a personal note, I'm not exactly a fair weather fan, but I'm not quite the diehard either. Cleveland finished dead last in attendance in 2010. Blame the economy, but consider that Detroit averaged 74 percent more fans at Comerica Park.

I'm the type of fan that will lift us above Oakland, who was next-to-last. I love the game itself, so my appreciation of rivals can flourish, but I hate "bought" dynasties, so you won't see me in Yankees or Red Sox gear — ever. I root for Cleveland, so you know how much I'd rather see a championship party on Public Square before I see grandchildren.

Last night, I wrote out a series of lists. The first was - from my best memory, the lineup of the 2011 Indians. I got five (Hafner, Cabrera, Sizemore*, Santana and Choo). Which is less than what I could remember off the top of my head from the 2007, 1997 and 1987 lineups. Heck, I was even more familiar with the fictional line-up of "Major League" than I was of the current real-life team.

*for now?

You can blame me for not being dedicated, but it's not entirely my job to support you. You have to play a part as well. Admittedly, as I've been trained by your predecessor/boss to not get attached, as well as been paying attention to the other two major league teams in Cleveland, I've managed to hear faint rumors you've got a lot of young talent. You could go one way - Hart's method of standing by it; or you can go another - Shapiro's way and sell it off at the high mark to collect a young scrappy bunch and get lucky with some scrappy veterans.

But I'm sure you'll find your own way, as did Hart and Shapiro. You've already said you will, planning on having Shapiro fill a "devil's advocate" role in the front office. But your work is cut out for you. You've got to deal with big markets like Detroit and Chicago in addition to a well-run Twins organization. Plus, you never know if Kansas City will ever find a winning formula. Also, you've got a budget that isn't going to compare with the Steinbrenners of baseball any time soon.

Over the years, I've settled that a team doesn't always have to be a title contender, as the Indians were in 1990s. But it always doesn't have to be out of playoff contention on Opening Day, like in the 1980s either. But I would like to care. I would like to see a team grow and develop into "my team." How are you going to do that? As skeptical as I sound, I still want to believe that there will be a baseball team in Cleveland that I can follow as a pastime while I'm enjoying the summer's activities.

A hot streak now and then would be fine. I'll take inconsistency over the consistent 90-loss seasons we're growing accustomed to again. But if you have a core philosophy, point it out and tell me who's going to exemplify it so I know who to follow more closely and think about who would be an addition - not a replacement. Make a commitment to today, maybe next year, but not down the road. But even if we end up being the Blue Jays of the AL Central, all I want to do is see the players who are representing my city perform for us, not auditioning for a better job.

I'm not a kid anymore, but I still know what it's like to see the future as something with possibility. Over the span of 162 games, almost twice as much as any other major sport season, a lot can happen. It allows us to dream and think that although chances are what they are, that baseball has the most latitude for those expectations to be overcome by the unexpected. And ultimately, isn't that the true reason why we watch...because we don't really know what will happen? I'm not asking for a World Series (yet), but I think it would be a great summer if I could turn on the radio and wonder what's going to happen tonight.

Besides, the beats of John Addams' drum don't sound right echoing through an empty "Progressive Field." And it's fans like me, who need to trust in you before we start filling it up again.

Good luck on the new post.

Sincerely,

John Stebbins

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