I hope this is all starting to make some more sense. The trials and tribulations of a fan base scorned, essentially lied to and perpetually left holding the bag of disappointment, have all bubbled up to the surface in a Vesuvian fashion.
Despite your outwardly vocal and oftentimes unsolicited opinions, there’s a reason why many Cleveland fans wanted you to stay prior to the Major League Baseball Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.1 This wasn’t due merely to what a sale would signal. Your passion for what you do is only surpassed by the successful level at which you do it; if only we all had a mere two off days in a four-month span. But you see, Chris — I can call you Chris, right? — just as many Clevelanders will gladly chalk up your quotes to a misdirection of athletic frustration, Cleveland fans will gladly admit to doing the same. After countless years of being told that your team would do what it took to compete when the time was indeed right, they stood pat. Again.
No buying. No selling. Purgatory. Like the eighth-seed in the NBA playoffs. Certainly, the wins were fun as they came in roughly every other night. The window was opened, but the winterized vacuum seal was never removed. The playoffs are over two months away and the division, up until the abomination in Minnesota, within reach, all we asked was that this team make a decision. Conviction is not a far-fetched desire. Instead, we were handed more “What If?” commercials and a few additional lines about “potential.”
“The most important thing,” general manager Chris Antonetti said on Tuesday, “is for the guys that are here to do what they can to perform to their potential. I think if that happens, we’ll be in a much better position at the end of the season than we are right now.”
With no injuries on which to blame a fallen season, the Indians opted to play the expectations card. We will never know the exact inter-workings of what was said and to whom when the phones rang with inquiry.
Some may say that this team simply had too many holes to fill, that one trade deadline would not be able to suffice. We will never quite know what budget, if any, was allotted to pick up those missing pieces — the exact same pieces that have been missing since the 2011 season when the team opted for an 11th-hour slap-hitting lefty and a feel-good story entirely too late in the year. This time around, as the the seasonably warm winter came and went, doing more to ruin Snow Days than to help bolster an obviously imperfect roster, while right-handed corner infielders and corner outfielders were signed by a few of your 29 other competitors, we sat and waited. As several of the same teams added pieces throughout the summer, specifically the two teams with which you locked into nightly jockeying for position within the AL Central, your front office sat on their hands. They did so through June and July, ultimately falling five games out of first place, left wondering why they had lost feeling in their fingers.
While Youkilis and Dempster and Pence2 were all moved on (or prior to) Tuesday, Cleveland was given a late-game defensive replacement in Brent Lillibridge. Listening to your Antonetti fumble through his post-deadline address with the same string-in-the-back replies was disheartening to say the least. Having spoken with Mark Shapiro one-on-one over the last several weeks, I do trust that phone calls and inquiries were ineed made. But while the parking and concessions endeavor turned a few heads, all goodwill just took a nosedive off of the I-480 bridge as they, your superiors, have managed to lose the faith of even the most staunchly (blindly?) supportive. In fact, I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find another independent web site more supportive than WFNY, ticket giveaways notwithstanding.
Cleveland, believe it or not, is a fantastic sports town. Undoubtedly fickle, but fantastic. We provided a nearly-packed house to watch you guys topple Justin Verlander about one week ago; Approximately 4,200 fans descended upon Berea to watch the Browns practice, and a lottery-bound Cavaliers team featuring something called a Semih Erden even averaged 16,000 fans per evening. And yes, this city sold out 455 straight baseball games3 .
But all of the players in those infamous “What If?” commercials? Not only are they no longer active aside from the bobbleheads that get trotted out a few times per year4 , they were not the result of this current regime. That “455” on the wall just above the right field seats? That’s not Chris’ or Mark’s or Paul’s or Larry’s. It’s ours. We are the ones who filed into that stadium every night, doing so to watch not only a winning baseball team, but one that continually made agressive moves to ensure that the team kept up with their coutnerparts.
Sure, there is roughly $30 million coming off of the books this winter. But there are also a handful of players looking at an arbitration-avoiding bump as well as just as many open roster spots. Josh Hamilton, to borrow a phrase, isn’t walking through that door.
Rarely do I feel bad for millionaires; playing a game many of us would do for free, after all, isn’t a terrible way to make a living. But just as the Indians want to banter about competitive windows, I realize that you, as an athlete, also have a window. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be 31-years old, and simply wants his five-tool talents to be utilized by a winning organization, not one that merely hopes for career years out of one-year rentals. Jason and Vinnie and Michael… These guys give it their all each and every night. There’s a reason you all are fan favorites — if only Mr. Brantley had Twitter so that he could witness the adulation first-hand.
While the front office and marketing department want to continue to embarrass themselves with “What If?,” Mr. Choo has, thankfully, taken a different approach. “Why Not?”
“I hope [this team makes moves]. Why not?” Choo said. “We knew in Spring Training our lineup was all left-handed hitters. We needed a right-handed power hitter and they were looking for it. And then starting pitchers. Next season, or maybe later [this season], you never know.
“I hope we bring somebody here to make it a better team.”
Unfortunately, just as you were in first place when the White Sox acquired Kevin Youkilis this past June, time has not been on your side. Waiting and hoping is simply no way to run a business.
I’m about as far from a reactionary sports fan as you will find. Baseball is undoubtedly a marathon, so a losing streak here or there is simply rectified by one where your team comes out on top. But I’m officially deflated. I’m 31 years old and, given this nonsense about contention windows while never pitchfork and torching for change, I feel that I have, maybe, four-to-five more “windows” down this road of life. If the subsequent ones are handled even remotely close to how these last two years have gone, well, we’ll just be Waiting for Next Year. With television rating already cratering, just don’t expect much of Cleveland to do so within the confines of Progressive Field. After all, we can only be kicked in the collective wallet so many times.
So please, with all due respect, keep being you. While some fans will take objection to “being called out,” the truth of the matter is that we are all just as frustrated as you are. Perhaps more. Keep firing those mid-90s heaters, keep throttling your fist after a third out in the ninth. After all, these nights are becoming fewer and further between.