Thursday, June 29, 2006


Tell me, again, why we got rid of Omar Vizquel? Jhonny Peralta, who supposedly made Vizquel expendable, cost the Tribe still another game, allowing the faltering Cardinals to snap an 8-game losing streak last night. Bob Wickman, whom Mark Shapiro desperately tried to dump in the off-season, was the hard-luck loser. Wickman had one of the oddest lines of the season, 2/3 of an inning pitched, 0 earned runs, and a loss. I can understand why Wickman causes Shapiro heartburn. He's a difficult pitcher to watch under the best of circumstances and Shapiro's target, Trevor Hoffman, is having another banner season.

But this is more about Peralta who has been in a season-long slump and is not making anyone forget Frank Duffy, let alone Omar Vizquel. No question, Peralta has the better bat, although this season I've seen better swings on an East Cleveland public park jungle gym then I've seen out of Peralta. But clearly Peralta has more power and should, over the long haul, have a higher batting average and on-base percentage. But when Peralta's not hitting it only magnifies what a butcher he is in the field. He has extremely limited range and a weak throwing arm. For good measure, he doesn't make the routine plays, either. I've read "Moneyball". I know that the Billy Beane school of thought, of which Shapiro and his ilk are disciples, places a lower value on defense. But at some point someone has to catch and throw the friggin' ball and the Indians may very well be the most inept team in that regard. A little less offense (which actually describes Peralta's season to date anyway) in exchange for a stabilizing force on defense looks much more preferable option as we close out the month of June. When does Browns training camp start?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hail the Contrarian

I'm not a big fan of Roger Brown of the PD, but I acknowledge that he performs an important function. He's the house contrarian. Whatever the popular opinion, he takes the opposite view, if only to keep the fans in check. What's most irritating about him, and those like him, is that rather then simply presenting something as the contrarian view they embrace the view as their own. But at some point, the contrarian view is so silly it makes you look like an idiot for advocating it.

Take, for example, his near daily item that what's really wrong with the Indians is "overconfidence." He pounds home the point yet again today and infers that Eric Wedge feels likewise simply because he considered it a legitimate question when raised. Roger, of course, fails to note that Wedge disclaimed the theory, but it's enough for Roger that he took the question. OK, so Roger finally asked a legitimate question. But if he continues to embrace such silliness, he risks the deeper analysis that the newspapers are still supposed to provide. Overconfidence is a game to game type of thing. It's ludicrous to suggest that after getting their brains beat in over the last six weeks (see previous post) that any member of this Indians team could be overconfident about anything. Clearly this team is playing a particularly visible brand of uninspired baseball. But I still maintain that the fault lies with the Dolans and the powerful signal they sent to their employees by not only not improving the team, but actually taking definitive steps backward. If anyone was overconfident it was the Dolans, who seemingly felt they could continue to scrimp and pinch and still field a contending team. Mark Shapiro can only make chicken salad so long.
Two in a Row!

I liked the St. Louis Dispatch's description 0f the crowd at Busch Stadium last night as "irritable" given that the Cards did something that no team facing the Indians has done in a month--allow the beleagured Tribe to take two straight. Sure this is the Cards' longest losing streak in 18 years, but at least the Cards have the decency to dole out the pain to their fans all at once. With the Indians it's one irritating paper cut after another. They started the season 6-1, only to then drop three straight. Since April 15th, they've won three in a row twice and four in a row once. During that same stretch, they've had 5 separate streaks of at least 3 straight losses. Since June 1st, they've lost 7 straight series and, until their victory on Tuesday night against the Cardinals, had lost the first game in 10 straight series. In other words, the only thing Cardinal fans have to be irritable about is if their beer goes flat. Following the Indians this year is about as pleasant as having your genitalia scrubbed with a cheese grater.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Remembering Don Rogers

Excellent story in today's PD about Don Rogers and the impact his death had on the Browns. I was at the playoff game with Denver and witnessed The Drive firsthand. Hard to say whether Rogers could have knocked down that final pass but I would have liked his chances and the Browns' chances in the subsequent Super Bowl. But this is hardly the first tragedy in Cleveland sports at the wrong time. Ray Chapman dying after being hit in the temple by a thrown pitch. Herb Score taking a batted ball in the face and truncating the start of a brilliant career. Tony Horton's demons cutting short his career. Or cut to today: Lawyer Tillman for the Browns; Kellen Winslow, Jr. How about Brad Daugherty? Sure, the Cavs lucked out when Boston took Len Bias, but Brad's brilliant career ultimately was cut short by a bad back, killing any chances for an NBA championship. Is it any wonder that Cleveland sports fans are on permanent suicide watch?
It's About Time....

I see Bud Shaw of the Plain Dealer is starting to get it right. One day after I noted that the problem with the Indians has much to do with the demoralizing lack of support from ownership in response to the White Sox off-season, Bud more or less says the same thing, albeit by not mentioning the Dolans specifically. Bud does point out, as did I and anybody else paying attention could, that the White Sox improved both their pitching and their offense in the off-season, after winning the World Series, while the Indians went backward by letting Bob Howry get away and trading away their left fielder for a prospect that's still at least a year away. They can shake the team up all they want, but until ownership sends a clear message that it fully intends to sign top shelf talent to get this young team over the hump, the Indians will be long dead before the Browns open camp.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Hot Seat

I suppose at some point Cleveland Indians' manager Eric Wedge will start feeling the heat. I suppose he already is starting to if his recent testiness to the Tribe's beat reporters is any indication. ["You can't worry about the press," he said. "You can't worry about scrutiny. It's major-league baseball. If you can't take it, get the hell out." from the Cleveland Plain Dealer] And quibble, if you will, about Eric Wedge. But for my money the stench on this year's team starts at the top with the Dolans.

The problem with this year's team stems from the Dolans inability to actually run a successful business. In essence, the prior business experience of Larry Dolan and his son Paul amounts to running a small law firm. They are not in Kansas anymore. What they have failed to realize is the demoralizing impact their off-season has had on this season's performance.

Last year the Indians won 93 games. In many ways, they came out of nowhere to do that. They collapsed during that crucial final week or else the Chicago White Sox aren't sitting fat and happy as World Champs and Ozzie Guillen and his circus act probably would have exited the dugout by now. (And in keeping with the overall theme of this blog, there is no doubt that the Indians would not have won the World Series instead, but that's for another day.) But there is no question that when the season ended, damn near every team in the American League, including the White Sox, were nervous about the 2006 Indians.

If you want evidence, look no further to the White Sox off-season. They added significant starting pitching depth and greatly strengthened their offense by re-signing Paul Konerko and trading for Jim Thome. The Indians had a chance at Thome as well but weren't willing to part with any of their vaunted minor leaguers in order to re-acquire the city's most popular Indian since Rocky Colovito. In short, the White Sox smelled the threat and responded accordingly.

The White Sox needn't have bothered. The notoriously cheap Dolans, who had promised the fans that once we were in contention would spend, instead cut again. Their overall budget may have increased slightly, but they aren't keeping pace. You could argue, of course, that their budget increase for 2006 was the same as the White Sox. That's true as both increased their payrolls roughly 26%. But keep in mind that the White Sox, long the much poorer stepchild of Chicago sports, increased 26% off of a $75 million budget in 2005 while the Indians increase was off a 2005 budget of $41 million. In other words, the White Sox and their owners continue to dig deep, to the tune of almost $103 million, to ensure a winner while the Dolans are content to stay near the bottom of the pack.

In short, the Dolans continue to give GM Mark Shapiro a Kansas City Royals-like budget, again, and ask him to again perform magic with re-treads. Shapiro couldn't take on the salary of Thome and let him go to the White Sox. Shapiro couldn't take on the salary of Kevin Millwood and let him go to the Rangers. Shapiro couldn't take on the salary of one of the league's most effective set-up men, Bob Howry, and let him go to the White Sox. And, for good measure, Shapiro simply let offensive catalyst Coco Crisp go in a trade to the Red Sox, the previous season's World Champs. The jury may still be out on the Crisp fiasco, but it's in on the other moves.

Journeyman Paul Byrd for Kevin Millwood? On paper, this is the kind of thing that ultimately gets GM's or the manger fired. You can almost hear the discussion: "Well, Byrd had as many wins as Millwood did last season, and he's a lot cheaper, so this would be a good move." And here's where the inexperience of the Dolans reared its ugly head. If you look at wins, on paper they were right. But what they failed to realize, of course, is the intangible effects that a clear number one guy like Millwood brings. Things like maturity. Things like presence. Byrd may be a decent guy, but he's a little light on the presence thing. In other words, Byrd for Millwood has had an incredibly detrimental impact on the psyche of this year's Tribe.

The same goes for the Crisp trade. Andy Marte may work out well and is doing better now at AAA, but there is still a leap to make. Crisp was a bona fide major leaguer who fit quite nicely at the top of the line-up. His replacement, free agent retread Jason Michaels, is what you'd expect--decidedly average with the glove and the bat. But more importantly, he lacks the presence that Crisp had in the clubhouse. And let's not even start the debate about Brandon Phillips, who has to be under serious consideration for this year's All Star game.

And the same goes for what the Indians didn't do. They pursued darn near every free agent closer only to come up short once again. In other words, they no longer are attractive to first-tier free agents. Baseball players are notoriously bigger gossips then Aunt Bea's sewing circle and if you don't think the poor mouth ways of the Dolans hasn't made the rounds among the players, then you've never hung around a major league batting cage. So while the Indians were pursuing players they had no chance of getting, they lost out on trade opportunities and other signings that may have strengthened them overall. The impact, however, is clear. They went backward by any objective measure and at a time when the White Sox, already the champs, took quantum leaps forward.

If you don't think this had an impact on the players, then you just aren't paying attention. They got no support whatsoever from the owners in their quest to take the next step from competitive to contender and the fans scratch their heads and wonder what's wrong.

My guess is that at some point, perhaps soon, Wedge will be made the scape goat. Once he's replaced, the fans will direct their ire to Mark Shapiro. But in each case, the fans will be wrong. The Dolans have no business owning a business. They no nothing of the intangible factors it takes to make any business successful. In baseball, as in any enterprise, the players need to feel like they are being given opportunity to be successful. The message these players have gotten to this point is quite the opposite. If the owners don't care, why should the players?