I love my city. There is something special about our little community. We are all bound together by our misery. It is no secret that Cleveland is nationally viewed as a dying city, trying desperately to rebound. There are hundreds if not thousands of people here that do their best to promote programs to invigorate the town. The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission is one that comes to mind. But if there is one thing that all born and raised Clevelanders share, its our passion for our local sports teams. No matter where we may live, we represent our teams, perhaps even more loudly if you don’t live here.
That’s one of the many things I love most about Cleveland and its residents, yet it is also one of the things that bothers me the most about them as well. Now before jumping all over me, hear me out.
I am 37 years old, so it is not as if I was born yesterday into this painful culture that is Cleveland sports. If you read this site regularly, you know I get it. I have zero illusions that this is anything other than a “Browns first” town. Anyone who doesn’t believe that notion must not have been paying attention over the last 13 years when the Browns were as close to the bottom of the NFL as you can get. Year after year, they pick in the top 10 and draft day is our Super Bowl.
The Browns have been to exactly one playoff game, which was 10 years ago, and they lost it after leading 33-21 with seven minutes to go against their hated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have only had two, count ’em, two winning seasons since the return in 1999. And it is not like either of those seasons were division titles with 12-4, 13-3 records. The 2002 team snuck into the playoffs at 9-7 with a last game goal line stand against Atlanta and received help from two different places to make their “new era” playoff debut. The 2007 Browns, while 10-6, were the beneficiaries of a soft schedule where they beat just one team with a winning record – the Seattle Seahawks, at home, in overtime.
But no matter what happens. No matter how bad they are, no matter how many regime changes they have, no matter how inept the head coach may be (yes, I am singling you out, Pat Shurmur), no matter how sloppy and boring the play on the field may be, everyone comes back for more every single year. I know I do. My cousin Steve, nine years my senior, has been telling me for as long as I can remember, “cut me open, and I bleed brown.” I completely understand. It is important to stick with your teams win or lose.
What I can’t understand is the lengths people go in this town to put the Browns on such an extreme pedestal when you compare them with the city’s longest standing Major League franchise, the Indians.
When the Indians go through a bad stretch, the casual fans turn them off and act as uf they don’t exist. Yet a 2-9 Browns team would still get everyone’s full attention.
You can tell me all you want about the disconnect between the Dolan Family Ownership, the front office, and you as a fan. I’m sure you feel as though they have cheated you since buying the team from Dick Jacobs in 2000. Full disclosure, I have not been their biggest supportes either. It is not as if the product on the field has been that spectacular. But consider the 2005 Indians won 93 games and missed the playoffs thanks to a final week Cleveland-esque collapse. 93 wins at the time were the most for any team in the Wild Card era without advancing to play October baseball. In 2007, they ran away with the division and were up 3-1 in the ALCS, one win away from the World Series. I went to 40-plus games that season and in a pennant race in September, the crowds were in the 20,000’s.
I have no illusions that the mid-90’s are coming back. That was the perfect storm for the Indians. A booming economy, a brand-new stadium, a star-studden, power-hitting club that was the darling of the sport. But this organization deserves more from you, the fans of Cleveland, right now.
The Indians are currently tied atop the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers, who are built like those mid-90’s Tribe teams, except with better starting pitching. They are coming home this weekend for a series with Seattle and the weather is supposed to be perfect. There is absolutely no reason that all three games shouldn’t draw 30,000 each. But they won’t. And last night is a prime example.
Around 6:30 PM, it came across my Twitter timeline that the Browns had signed QB Brian Hoyer to a two-year contract. Hoyer was cut earlier in the week by the Arizona Cardinals. The way the sportstalk radio shows and Twitter reacted, you would have thought this was on the same level as the Indians hiring Terry Francona to be their manager. One tweet after another, one column after another, one mention after another – it was all Hoyer all the time.
I am sure that the former St. Ignatius star is a great guy, but let us be real here. He was undrafted out of Michiagn State, made the New England Patriots as a third string QB, spent three years there as a backup to Tom Brady, then was drafted over and replaced by Ryan Mallett. He failed to make any roster last year and signed mid-season as a street free agent with Pittsburgh, where he stayed for a few weeks until Ben Roethlisberger was able to come back from injury. He was then picked up by the Arizona Cardinals, who were desperate for a QB the last two weeks of the season, again because of injuries. He made one start. The Cardinals thought so highly of him that they traded for Carson Palmer and eventually let him go after the draft.
So the Browns and GM Mike Lombardi, who was said to be high on him, scooped Hoyer up yesterday and added Hoyer to their QB stable.
Yet here we are in Cleveland, talking obsessively about a third string QB signing, dissecting it like it will make any bit of difference, and making it the lead story in town.
I know, I know, this is “Browns Town.” But you know what, it shouldn’t even be more than a blip on the radar because there is a REAL story going on right now, and it is going way too unnoticed for my taste. THE INDIANS ARE IN FIRST PLACE!
Spare me the “they were in first this early the last two years” take. Anyone who watches baseball and this team can tell you that Tito Ball is far superior to Acta Ball. They don’t need to win every game 3-2 anymore. Much maligned GM Chris Antonetti and his boss Mark Shapiro have completely reshaped this roster into something everyone can get excited about.
Michael Bourn and his speed and defense are here, setting the table like Kenny Lofton used to at the top of the order. Nick Swisher is on board to provide that fun-loving, hard-nosed attitiude in the clubhouse while embracing his Ohio roots, crushing baseballs all over the diamond, and playing superb defense at first. Mega Mark Reynolds is destroying pitches like we haven’t seen here years. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis have shaken off their slow starts and have begun to explode at the plate, coinciding with a 12-2 run that vaulted the Tribe to the top of the division. Michael Brantley has taken that next step and has become one of the most clutch hitters on the team.
Justin Masterson has regained his ace form. Their has been a mini-resurgance from Ubaldo Jimenez. Zach McAllister is pitching like a young Jake Westbrook with his ability to take the team deep into games each and every time out. Scott Kazmir has been a big find as a reclamation project. The bullpen depth is once again the envy of the AL. Best of all, the team is managed by the irrepressible Terry Francona, who is as respected as any man in the game.
So please, do yourselves a favor. Come out and support this Indians team. Make THEM your top sports priority right now. They deserve your attention. The signing of a third-string Quarterback in mid-May, doesn’t.