It’s been a tough month. The World Series didn’t end the way I hoped. Neither did the presidential election. If I could choose to change the outcome of one, the Indians would be World Champs. Call me irrational, a fanatic, or even unpatriotic, but I wanted this more.
As an Indians fan I go pretty far back. Back to cavernous Municipal Stadium. The only constant to today’s team is John Adams whacking his drum at the top of the centerfield bleachers. Back then he was louder; perhaps it was because the sound reverberated off more hard surfaces as most of the time 68,000 or so seats were empty.
I go back to Charlie Spikes, No-Neck Williams, Frank Duffy, Buddy Bell, Super Joe Charbaneau, Rick Manning, Len Barker and Gaylord Perry. Not a lot of Hall of Famers in that group. I think Gaylord and his spitter might have snuck in? I remember the Spring of 1987 getting the Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue with Cory Snyder and Joe Carter on the cover. SI jinx at its finest. Carter went on to be a World Series hero—for the Toronto Blue Jays and Cory faded away like so many promising players and teams before and after him.
And then we had the 90’s a baseball renaissance in Cleveland. Beautiful new ballpark and so many great players fitting of the cathedral they now played in. Thome, Ramirez, Belle, Baerga, Lofton and Omar. And just enough strong starting pitching. The only time I have witnessed a World Series game in person was Game 5 in Cleveland against the Braves. Albert Belle of the corked bat and probably corked biceps took Greg Maddux deep in the first. Eddie Murray stepped into the batter’s box next. Maddux with his pinpoint control threw high and tight. Murray didn’t like it and glared out at Maddux and Maddux glared right back. Murray took a step toward the mound, both benches rose to the top step of the dugout. Nothing more happened, but the moment was as electric as I have ever witnessed as a sports fan.
Nothing provides more sustained tension than playoff baseball. It is simply the best, unless your team is involved and then it is just a form of Chinese water torture—if that actually exists, if not it is just plain torture. Like the 2016 Cubs, the 1995 Indians were down 3-1 and won Game 5 at home. No one left Jacobs (now Progressive) Field at the end of the game. We cheered and danced and then took the feeling and party to the streets. The Indians headed back to Atlanta for the final two games. But unlike the Cubs , we never got to a Game 7 as Atlanta closed out the series in Game 6. Glavine pitched eight innings of one-hit baseball and the Tribe lost 1-0.
It wouldn’t take these Indians long to get back to the promised land. I won’t spend a lot of time revisiting the 1997 World Series other than to say the Indians broke our hearts. A strike and out away from being World Champs, Jose Mesa couldn’t close it out and the Indians fell in extra innings. Omar publicly blames Mesa for losing that World Series. I loved Omar—best fielding shortstop I ever saw. But he threw a teammate (not a great guy, but a teammate nonetheless) under the bus. Both Mesa and Omar eventually left the Indians. And to Mesa’s credit every time he faced Omar after that he threw at him. I didn’t blame him one bit.
A generation later, the Indians found themselves back in the World Series. This time with fewer stars except for its manager against a team with an even more pathetic World Series history and drought. America’s darlings and loveable losers, the Chicago Cubs. After splitting the first two games in Cleveland, the Indians won the next two in Chicago. Those fans waited generations to witness a World Series at Wrigley. Tickets were being sold for the price of a pretty nice mid-sized sedan. I guess there was some pent up demand in Chi-Town. And to see their sullen faces as the Tribe took Games 3 and 4 and a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series, was pure joy. I had no sympathy for them. This was our time—my time—to finally celebrate a World Series.
Yeah, yeah, I know the Cavs just won. I love what LeBron has done for Cleveland, but this is different. This is bigger. This is Baseball. It would be great to win the Series in Cleveland in front of its long-suffering fans in our own beautiful park. But you win a World Series where and when you can. In all sports and all elections for that matter, you let up at your own peril. It is better to step on your opponents neck, give them no chance or thought that the outcome can be any different, because if you give them a glimmer of hope---shit happens.
As I replay the Series in my mind, one at bat stands out. Game 5, eighth inning Indians down 3-2. Chapman is on the mound with one out and Jason Kipnis at the plate. Chapman had already gotten the last two outs in the seventh. Rajai Davis—we wouldn’t know how clutch Rajai was until Game 7-- had singled ahead of Kipnis in the eighth. Chapman’s first two pitches were close, but both called balls. Rajai advanced to second with a steal on one of those pitches. Tying run on second, one out, 2-0 count. Chapman’s next two pitches were wildly outside, but inexplicably Kipnis swung at both. Instead of walking, tightening the screws against Chapman with Lindor and Napoli to follow, the count is 2-2. Kipnis continues to battle. The count eventually goes full. Kipnis fouls out. Chapman settles back in and gets the next four outs with little more drama and gets an eight out, 2 2/3 inning save. Chapman saved not just the game, but the Cubs season.
Back to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7. If asked after Game 2 any Cleveland fan would have gladly taken coming back to Cleveland up 3-2. But we are Cleveland fans and there was an uneasiness, even though we had home field advantage. Except it wasn’t an advantage. Using the DH was a distinct advantage for the Cubs. But complaining about the DH or even that home field was decided by an exhibition game in July (coincidently the winning pitcher of which happened to be the Indians starting pitcher in Games 1, 4 and 7 of this World Series), is like complaining about the electoral college after your candidate loses. Dem’s da rules.
Even worse was the fact that Progressive Field was not filled with just rabid Indians fans. But somehow a good third of the crowd happened to rooting loudly for the Cubbies. By Games 6 and 7 you could no longer trade in your well-appointed Toyota Camry for a pair of good seats. Cubs fans had raised the ante, now you were looking at a year’s tuition at a pretty fine academic institution in order to get a pair of tix. Cubs fans threw around cash and bought up the best seats acting like a greedy New York real estate developer.
The Cubs started hitting when they got back to Cleveland. Zobrist may have been MVP of the Series, but it was Bryant and Rizzo who the Indians feared. And rightfully so. Rizzo—something about him reminds me of Phil Mickelson. They both have just a hint of dimples that might be more pronounced if their faces were a little thinner. Both have this smirk that seems to say-- even when things are going bad—I am so much better off than you it really doesn’t matter.
The Tribe moved most of its team to the right side of second base when Rizzo batted. Yet, when he wasn’t sending laser foul balls that made fans scatter, the fair balls improbably reached the outfield wall slicing between all those well-placed defenders, the way a pinball slides between your flippers before disappearing down that hole. To my eye, Kris Bryant was the Cubs MVP. His stats may not bear that out, but to me his hits and home runs either set the tone for the game or slammed the door shut on any hope the Indians had for a comeback. He did make some errors, but as the last ball of the Series rolled his way, you could see in his face that the Cubs were World Champs. The bastard was smiling even before the ball met his glove. As I watched my hopes fade, I knew this was not a guy about to choke. And he didn’t.
Other than that Game 5 at bat, I don’t look back at the Series with regret. We didn’t get out-managed, or out-played, or out-pitched. Almost everyone did their job. Some exceeded expectations—Rajai Davis’ game tying homer sent me sprinting around the house in which all other inhabitants had gone peacefully to sleep. “He tied the game, he tied it up,” I screamed in utter disbelief.
Some disappointed. Mike Napoli didn’t hit, but that happens. I know Tyler Naquin is only a rookie, but he is also a big league (bigly?) outfielder. Go get the ball and take charge. That is your job in centerfield. Game 7 was too big for him. I hope he will have a chance to redeem himself, but he was the Game 7 goat and I mean that in the old-school sense. Just a few thoughts on Francisco Lindor. Omar Vizquel is certainly the best Indians shortstop of my lifetime and perhaps a Hall of Famer soon. But if I could have the 2016 Lindor or Omar in his prime, I choose Lindor. He’s no Omar in the field, but he is a Gold Glover. And the kid can hit. Solid at bat after solid at bat all Series. But all that pales in relation to his temperament. I know we have all heard more than we care to about temperament. But Francisco plays with such joy, his smile is so infectious, he just pulls you in. He keeps his teammates loose; he is a reminder that this is just a game and it’s supposed to be fun. He gets thrown out trying to steal second and he smiles as if to say—“you got me, but I’ll be back.” He jokes with the Cubs at second base like it’s a spring training game. And even though I have been waiting a lifetime to win this thing, the kid puts things in perspective. He enjoyed every minute of it---I love and envy him for it.
In four years we will have another election. I hope by then I will view those with opposing perspectives from my own with the same good will that Francisco Lindor brings to the ballpark every day. I hope by then, the Indians will have won a World Series, but I am a Cleveland sports fan and am prepared for disappointment. In the meantime, I’ll root for our Country and President Trump (that is hard to type) to do well. But the truth is he is not a likeable guy. Trump is a thin-skinned jerk—in short, he is a nasty man. I hope he proves me wrong and does great things for our Country. He is everything our current President is not. And for those who voted for him that may be the point.
It’s been a tough month. I am ready to move on. The Browns have me thinking about spring training and the start of next season. Now if Brantley is healthy and they get another bat and the pitching holds up… this could be the year.