For all the bluster in Cleveland about stick-to-it-ive perseverance, we’ve become fairly adept at pre-baking narratives of defeat into our sports fandom. Each year, and in every sport, we eventually get ourselves to the same point: The recognition that the team we are watching is not good enough, and that we should’ve seen it sooner than we did. Sucker-punched yet again by training camp kool-aid and spring training storylines. Repeat this loop of failure long enough and you get a group who is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. We replace hoping for the best with fearing for the worst with plain old awaiting the implosion. To be fair, we usually get it, so at least we look prescient when all’s said and done.
In football, there’s the mid-October mass-realization that—despite the biennial front-office and roster makeover—we are again watching what is essentially a five-win team.1 In the NBA, there’s the initial bargaining of “but this is only the second-third first year after Lebron left” coupled with the notion that “if only that guy who always gets injured didn’t get injured we could be a .500 team!” But eventually the reality sets in that the team is still at least another year and star away from anything resembling competence.2 And in baseball, we’ve been let down by the Indians in one way or another every year since at least the 1994 players strike, though we could certainly go back further if we felt like it. The Indians’ failures—both the nationally televised heart-crushing ones like blowing the World Series or a three-game lead in the ALCS as well as the banality of their recent August swoons—have become a part of us. It’s not if they’ll blow it, but how and when.
It is this sense of ineluctability that I find chipping away at my best-laid plans for objectivity. For example, while I know that six-game losing streaks happen all the time—even to good teams—when one happens to my team it can feel like all is lost. I knew before the season started how much better Detroit was than the Indians, but to see it writ large over an excruciating four-game series felt almost like a personal affront: so this is the soul-crushing booby trap that’s been planted for me this year? If there’s always a moment of failure waiting around the corner, everything becomes a harbinger of doom.
So let me take a second to try to recalibrate here. There are a few points I’d like to make about the Indians this season, and I hope they’ll help me fend off impending despair for at least a few minutes.
The Indians still have a chance to make the post-season. Granted, their odds aren’t as good as they were before the home stand, but they still have about a 20% shot, which is arguably a better chance than the Browns have right now. The Indians also get to face some of their competition for that playoff spot over the last month and a half of the season—multiple games against Baltimore, Oakland and Kansas City (not to mention Detroit)—giving them some ability to control their own destiny. Basically, if you could design a schedule for this group, it might look pretty close to what they have, with games either against teams who aren’t much good or teams who they’ll be vying against for a playoff spot.3 The point is that I still think there’s plenty of meaningful baseball left this season for these guys, and while nothing is guaranteed, well, nothing is guaranteed. Still a good enough reason for me to watch most nights.
The Indians are exceeding expectations, as difficult as that is to remember. Before the season, the WFNY gang all threw a best guess into the ring on how the Indians would fair in 2013. Below are our predictions:
But that’s not an entirely fair assessment of pre-season sentiment toward the 2013 Indians. After all, we are a homer site and likely a bit more inclined to see the team’s better angels than a truly objective analyst. Let’s get a few more data points:
I know no one cares about these numbers right now, but let’s keep in mind that heading into the series against Minnesota, the Indians were 63-55, which meant they were on pace to finish the season at 86-76, beyond even the expectations of our wildest homer, Kirk—to say nothing of those Debbie Downers in Nevada. It’s not that I want you to forgive a potential collapse that’s lurking around the corner; rather, I’d just like to remember that nobody thought this team would be even this good. They’re playing better than we thought they would, and that deserves mention, if only because it’s made them a fun team to watch this season.
I’m tired of trying to cram reality into makeshift narratives. The Indians might not make the playoffs. They probably won’t, in fact. They might crumble miserably down the stretch, depriving me of the one thing I crave most from them: meaningful September baseball.
But even if they do, I’m not sure that it really means anything tangible. It doesn’t mean, for instance, that it was a mistake to sign Nick Swisher. Or that the Brett Myers deal cost us our championship. Or that Chief Wahoo’s curse is real. Or that Cleveland is for losers. Those are just stories we tell ourselves to make sense of how much losing we’ve endured.
I think I’ve decided that this team is (finally) worthy of the massive amounts of time that they get from me. That wasn’t necessarily true in 2009. Or 2010. Or 2011. Or 2012. They’ve gotten a lot of years from me that they didn’t deserve, but this one feels different. It sounds maudlin to say, but I’ve enjoyed being an Indians fan this year; that’s the first time I could say that in a half decade.
And that’s true no matter how this story ends. Whether they pull out something wonderful and make the playoffs or they fall apart on this road trip and all hope is lost (or, as is most likely, they end up somewhere in between), that won’t really change the fact that this team has been fun to watch this year.
On the one hand, I know that every year the Indians don’t win a World Series, there are literally thousands of people who die without seeing the one thing that they’d hoped to; I don’t mean to poo-poo that. It’s an unimaginably sad thought, and I don’t enjoy dwelling on it too much.
But by the same token, this isn’t supposed to be about life and death all the time. We have a fun team with a decent shot. When did we become entitled to much more? I guess I get sick and tired of the schtick about the blue collar town, lugging its lunch pail ten miles to work each day, uphill both ways, and living and dying with [insert team name here]. That’s just a dumb and tired story, peddled by hucksters to sell grief to a town that’s always buying.
I’m full-up, for once.
- I used to live on West Ninth St. and, week after week, I’d sit on my balcony and watch the fans leave the stadium. Week 1’s, “Hey, they’re not half-bad!” turns into Week 6’s “I was right—they’re all bad!” pretty quickly. Hey, at least everyone was drunk! [↩]
- This is to say nothing of the failures leading up to and including The Decision™. [↩]
- The notable exception is a three-game series in Atlanta at the end of the month, which could be a back-breaker. There I go again… [↩]