This is not an article about attendance at Indians games. Not really, anyway.
Much has been made about attendance in Cleveland the past few years. A franchise that retired No.455 for THE FANS has cobwebs on its turnstiles. As an alleged “Tribe Town” began regularly pulling in less than 10,000 patrons per game, blame was allocated between the 25 men in uniform and the handful in polos and pleated pants. But what happens when the grandstands are bubbling over with the rabid throng?
Going back to the 2010 season, as the Progressive Jacobs Field crowd exceeded 30,000 people 42 times (counting Opening Days and playoffs), one distressing trend emerged: The Indians have underperformed mightily when the house was full.
|Year||Record||CLE Runs||Opp Runs||(+/-)||Avg. Att.|
While their overall win percentage (.524) is over .500 it is hardly the home-field advantage one would expect. Even more alarming is that in these high profile games, the Tribe has been outscored by 41 runs meaning that the team isn’t just losing; they’re losing big in front of the home faithful. For a team that
is conscious of their standing as an entertainment option, it must be frustrating. The core fans will always be there, but home games need to start appealing to more casual fans and families who can’t decide between the ballpark and a night at the movies.
While it’s impossible to simply tell the team to “play better” in front of the big crowds the players must notice this trend. During Omar Vizquel’s acceptance speech into the Indians Hall of Fame, he went out of his way to thank the fans who, “fill out the seats every day, day in, day out, every night, every day, against the weather, against anything else, for giving me the energy to perform here in front of you.” It was a sweet moment and meant a lot coming from a fan favorite, but I wonder if Michael Bourn or Asdrubal Cabrera raised eyebrows at this, wondering what Big O was talking about. Looking at the numbers, could it be that a home sellout has been such novelty that the players are putting too much pressure on themselves?
Let’s look at who the Tribe played in the well attended games:
Not surprisingly, the New York Yankees (huge fan base) and Detroit Tigers (168 miles away) draw the biggest crowd. Pittsburgh (nearby) and Minnesota (division rivals) are up there as well. These teams bring in fans by the boatload, much to the chagrin of locals. So when the Tigers hit a home run in Cleveland and you can audibly hear 8,000 of the fans cheering, does that get to the Indians a bit? Maybe the “I’ll show them” motivation is working against the home club. There’s enough pressure playing on the road, especially this year’s team (among the worst road teams in the game), and maybe that’s carrying over into these marquee home tilts.
In the marathon of baseball you can’t go undefeated at home, and selling out every game is hard. There must be a middle ground in between, though, where 40,000 Clevelanders can go home happy more than once per year.
I’m not here to question fan loyalty or accuse the players of tanking in front of big crowds—these guys want to win in front of the big crowds as much as everyone else. All we can do is provide them with the opportunity. It’s up to them to capitalize.
Corey Barnes is a graduate of The Ohio State University. He’s a fan of Cleveland, Columbus and the Scarlet and Grey. His excellent work can be read at Buckeye Nerd. You can follow him on Twitter at @Corey_Barnes.