Growing up in the 1980s, there was an unwritten rule about the Cleveland Indians: They only won when school was in session. Normally, we’d get all jazzed up, waiting for summer break. Then summer would hit, and wins would become about as rare as trips to Geauga Lake or Cedar Point. Then school would get back in session, and we’d win enough to maybe escape last place.*
So when I say that 2011 had me feeling like a kid again, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Following a short stumble out of the gates, the Tribe roared to life like an engine after tapping the gas, heading off to a 30-15 start.
Then schools began letting kids go, filling our malls and our playgrounds.
To admit, I was feeling nostalgic for a day I was younger.
However, it was June 4, 1995. It was a Saturday game against the defending world champion Blue Jays. Still adjusting to this new place called Jacobs Field, as well as this nucleus of a team that had started winning as usual.
Normally, top-level teams like the Blue Jays were the ones that put us back to Earth—and the middle of the standings. And that day, I listened to Tom Hamilton and Herb Score describe the action as Toronto ran out to an 8-0 lead in the third inning.
I don’t know why, but I knew something was different. Maybe it was the “Jake.” Maybe it was this new divisional format. Or maybe it was this nucleus that John Hart assembled and Mike Hargrove raised from the minors. Or maybe it was because I was alone in the car.
But I said it: “We’re going to win this game.”
As I ran various errands and visited the occasional friend, it happened. The Indians scored one in their half of the third, then two in both the fourth and fifth innings, another in the sixth and finally three in the third for the 9-8 win.
As you know, “summer” didn’t happen that year, or for the rest of the decade.
I think it took the bottoming out of the Eric Wedge tenure that made me remember the “bad old days,” as I educated shell-shocked twenty-somethings on my experience in dealing with it.
With Major League Baseball’s financial structure—and current Indians Owner Larry Dolan’s strategies to handle it, I settled in for a return of those “bad old days.”
So when the Tribe ran out to that 30-15 start, I shook my head, wondering if that old unwritten rule about the Indians was back in effect.
Or, was it June 4, 1995 again?
The stats seem to bear towards the former.
From May 23, we’ve been 5-15. In 13 of them, the Indians scored two or fewer runs. Our team OPS has dwindled from .759 to .719, while the team ERA had risen from 3.4 to 4.0.
In watching the last series with the Yankees and the first game with the Tigers, it’s almost indiscernible. I wonder if, with the great start he had, is Asdrubal Cabrera trying to do too much?
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo has already publicly admitted his DUI arrest has affected him. (As a side note: What the hell was he doing in Sheffield Lake? I'm not saying it's a bad town, but out of all the suburbs Cleveland has, Sheffield Lake was not where I'd expect a pro baseball player to be caught—even drunk.) All that "timely hitting" has disappeared.
Okay, we're all pulling for them, but do you REALLY think we're post-season bound?
The next night, against the Tigers, it seemed like the Indians were hitting the ball hard and with pinpoint accuracy—right to the Tigers’ gloves. Meanwhile, the Tigers bloops and grounders turned our infield into a collection of Wile E. Coyotes—with similar success.
So I can’t say it’s the fault of either Pitching Coach Tim Belcher or Hitting Coach John Nunnally. But ultimately, it’ll come up to Manager Manny Acta.
Acta was certainly our most interesting hire, as he was fresh off a 100-loss season in Washington. He’s got no real experience winning as a manager in the majors…but then again, neither did Mike Hargrove.
But there are too many factors that can throw off any legitimate comparison between the two other than career records, but it does make you wonder if Acta as a manager needs to also learn how to handle the rarified airs of first place and/or playoff contention.
Then again, Orlando Cabrera does know that air.
So maybe it’s luck, which means the Law of Averages that benefited us so well in the first third of the season is being overcorrected and will work out. Or maybe it’s something in the players’ heads. Hopefully, Acta, Belcher and Nunnally will find the remedy.
But when you consider that half of that 30-15 start was mainly a product of an eight-game and a seven-game win streak, I think this team is going to define itself as inconsistent.
Either that, or maybe I’ll just wait for school to come back in session in the fall.
*I researched that “unwritten rule.” It wasn’t too well-followed as the Indians during the 1980s got off to many terrible starts, but for a good part of the decade, we ended up finishing the season decently. I’m guessing the “rule” started during 1981, when the Tribe ended up with both half-seasons with winning records after that year’s players’ strike took out the middle of that season.