Monday, July 31, 2006

The View from Mars

Generally, we look forward to reading Terry Pluto's column, View from Pluto, every Sunday morning. It's a throwback to Hal Lebovitz's column in the Plain Dealer, which Pluto readily admits. His column this past Sunday did a pretty serviceable job of breaking down the Indians' recent trades. The only quibble is his relatively mild criticism of the Dolans.

Pluto is right, as has been noted here, that the Dolans need to provide the Indians with something approaching a competitive budget. Given the nature of the recent trades, however, that doesn't appear likely. In fact, the common theme in all these trades is about creating money. In other words, Shapiro has had to find money from among his current assets because he knows that we are more likely to see Mel Gibson as president of the Anti-Defamation League before we see Larry Dolan open his wallet and let this team compete. We'll never be able to compete with the Yankess, but it's ridiculous that we are falling further and further behind the Twins.

Of course, my saying this probably demonstrates a certain level of assumption that just isn't there. What I've always felt, and still do, is that the Dolans just don't have enough money to own a major league baseball team. They overpaid for the Indians and simply don't have the financial wherewithal to deficit spend in order to bring this team back to an ability to be competitive and profitable. They owe it to the fans to sell the team. But until they do, they will continue to cut the budget in order to increase their profits without recognizing that in the major leagues one doesn't necessarily follow the other.

But I digress. Where I would quibble with Pluto is in his continued hand-wringing over the loss of LeCharles Bentley. Again, you can't miss what you never had. We miss Bentley in the same way we miss, say, Ben Roethlisberger. Neither played a down for the Browns and until either one does, we'll just never know if either would have made a difference.

Back to the Tribe. Did you see that Mike Hargrove is not going to platoon Ben Broussard with Eduardo Perez at first base? He must be getting daily dispatches about his former team from his wife Sharon, who still lives in the area. She's seen a few ball games in her life and she had to tell hubby that Broussard's defense is, to be charitable, interesting. It looks as though Broussard will be platooning at DH. Poor Ben. With a better attitude and work ethic he might be someone's core player. At least he still has his music career.

Great Trade, Who'd We Get? Part III

Let's see, so much to talk about so little time. Jeremy Sowers' second consecutive shutout? Fausto Carmona's meltdown yesterday? Another Browns lineman about to go under the knife? Nah, let's talk about Ronnie Belliard.

"This was an opportunity to acquire a player who could fit into our plans next year and beyond," General Manager Mark Shapiro said (as reported in this mornings Akron Beacon Journal). Really? Who knew the key to the season was to reacquire undrafted free agent Hector Luna? Maybe Shapiro forgot that he had just sent down Ramon Vazquez, so desperate we are apparently, to corner the market on utility infielders.

The interesting thing here, of course, is whether this gives Shapiro more of the vaunted "flexibility" he continues to crave given the cheapskate nature of owner Larry Dolan. The difference here, though, is that Luna only saves them potential cash, not real dollars. Belliard is an arbitration-eligible free agent at the end of the season. Never convinced that Belliard was a core player, the arbitration-adverse Shapiro likely would have let Belliard go anyway, without anyway. This way they get Luna who, while not better at virtually anything, at least is 5 years younger and hence cheaper.

We'd all like to think that Dolan was stockpiling cash in order to find the few missing pieces for next year. But we all know better. The Indians won 93 games last year and were on the precipice of being an elite team. Such status requires a larger payroll and so Dolan went in the other direction, handcuffing Shapiro. As a result we lost Kevin Millwood (not necessarily unanticipated anyway), couldn't sign Bob Howry, a bullpen key, and sent Coco Crisp to Boston in a trade. In exchange we signed second and third tier free agents like Jason Johnson, Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Michaels and, in the process, sent the message that saving money was more important than being competitive. The fans see it and the players do as well. Their deflated play all year is testimony to the lack of support from ownership.

Shapiro says that he's probably done dealing for now. These last two months represent, essentially, an extended spring training. The only question is whether in the bargain fans will be charged spring training prices to witness this mess.

Friday, July 28, 2006

CSI: Cincinnati

While all may not be so well with Cleveland sports teams at the moment, any self-respecting Browns fan had to revel at least a bit in the troubles in Cincinnati as it looks like Marvin Lewis has become the new Bobby Huggins, satisfied to bring in guys of low character but high talent in order to win the big prize.

As chronicled by the Akron Beacon Journal, the recent suspension of linebacker Odell Thurman for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse is just the latest blow in the last two months. Four others have been arrested during that span, including second-year receiver Chris Henry, who has been arrested four (that's not a misprint) times since last December. Henry's recent arrest was for providing alcohol to minors. He is scheduled for trial during the middle of training camp on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson was charged with burglarizing the apartment of a former Florida State teammate and another draft pick, the wonderfully named Frostee Rucker was recently charged in Los Angeles with two counts of spousal battery and vandalism. I know the O.J. Simpson thing was 10 years ago and Rucker was just a kid then, but he had to know the spousal battery in Los Angeles is a pretty touchy subject.

This is the kind of thing that ultimately makes the Bengals the Bengals. They finally enjoy some modest, if not overwhelming, success and they turn into the '84 Mets, or, more accurately, the Huggins-coached Bearcats. Well, relying on criminals to accomplish your goals never did work for the Bearcats and it isn't going to work for the Bengals, either. It's at crunch time, when all you may have left to rely on is your inner strength, where championships ultimately are won. Everyone in Cleveland new, for example, that Jose Mesa was, shall we say, of questionable character and integrity. When the Tribe needed him most to close out the final game of the World Series and bring this town it's first pennant since 1948, Mesa failed. Only a fool would ignore the connection. But then again, no one ever accused Bengals owner and president Mike Brown as a Mensa member.

Great Trade, Who'd We Get? Part II

I didn't want it to go unmentioned that Eric Wedge's favorite whipping boy, Ben Broussard, was traded. Although hitting decently in a spot role, his defensive lapses were absolutely hurting the team. To the casual observer it was clear that Broussard had fallen out of favor with Wedge, assuming he was ever in favor. Perhaps both Wedge and Shapiro felt that Broussard's budding music career was getting in the way of his day job, but whatever it was it was just as clear that Broussard wasn't considered a "core" player.

When you put it in that context, does it really matter who they got in the trade. If a player like Broussard isn't a core player to a rebuilding team how much trade value could he really have? I happened to overhear Assistant GM Chris Antonetti yesterday talking about Shin-Soo (Ah) Choo as if this recent acquisition was the final piece to the puzzle. Let me put it this way: if a struggling team like Seattle would rather have Broussard than Choo you know it this trade was the equivalent of a schoolyard lunchtime swap of a tuna salad on wheat for egg salad on rye.

The real issue boils down, as it did with the Wickman trade, on whether or not the Dolans will give Shapiro the budget he needs to pull this team out of the abyss. If past is prologue, and I believe it is, we'll be sellers this time next year.

You Can't Miss What You Never Had

The season-ending knee injury to Browns free agent center LeCharles Bentley has all the usual suspects in Cleveland media putting in their usual minimal effort dissecting the impact. Generally, it falls into either of two categories, or both: this is a devastating blow to the Browns chances and/or the Browns, once again are jinxed, to wit: Kellen Winslow, Jr., Braylon Edwards, Gary Baxter, etc. And nauseum.

The injury to Bentley is a serious matter, to be sure. And it appears as though his status for next season is also somewhat in doubt. But the truth of the matter is that it's hard to miss what we never had. Bentley played exactly zero games for the Browns. Unlike both Winslow and Edwards, who actually played some games, we can only speculate what he might have done under game conditions and whether or not his considerable talents would help turn this moribund franchise around. We are only left to wonder, at this point, how it might effect the development of Charlie Frye. Unless and until Bentley actually suits up and plays will we ever be able to fully appreciate what impact, if any, this injury has had on the Browns.

Not to be pollyannish about the whole thing, but if your team is going to have this type of injury, it's best that it happen on the first day of practice then after the offense has been completely installed and the regular season has begun. Signing a stop-gap free agent during the season and asking him to account for the loss of a starter while you're preparing for your next game is, at best, difficult. At least in this instance the Browns have an entire training camp to adjust.

It will be interesting, though, to see how the players react and, more importantly, how Head Coach Romeo Crennel reacts. Recall early in the baseball season when the Detroit Tigers were playing the Indians and the Tigers bumbled their way to another loss. New manager Jim Leyland publicly challenged his team not to hang its head, accept the loss as if it was a continuation of the several previous and miserable seasons. The Tigers responded and have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds ever in baseball. Crennel needs to do the same. He needs to challenge this team not to lament what they've never had but to focus on what they do have. And in that context this team may not be the football equivalent of the Tigers, but even without Bentley they are much improved and, if properly motivated, can continue their progress toward returning to the playoffs.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Randy, Part II

Apparently worried that Randy Lerner is actually serious, WOIO-19 has struck first, filing a declaratory action in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court asking that its contract with the Browns remain in force. A declaratory action is a pre-emptive legal filing designed to bring a controversy to court before something happens that would force the issue in court. In this case, the Browns have repeatedly threatened to break their contract with Channel 19 for "cause" claiming a litany of offenses culminating with the the playing of a 9-1-1 tape of Lerner's sister phoning in the tragic report of her daughter's drowning in a nearby creek. Seeking to perhaps gain the upper hand in the on-going discussions with the Browns, Channel 19 filed the action complaining that they are being threatened with termination and asking the court to clarify the parties' respective rights.

As noted in my previous post on this subject, it's not surprising that the "First Amendment" card has been played, this time in the person of PD Columnist Sam Fullwood. In yesterday's PD, he stakes out the all-t0-familiar ground in which the columnist tries to teach the rest of the great unwashed a civics lesson about the importance of a free press. He goes even a step further by suggesting that the 9-1-1 call was "news" and that the Lerner family is being no different then a similarly-situated poor family.

This, I think, is where Fullwood goes seriously astray. Undoubtedly the accidental death of a young person in this community likely ends up on the news somewhere. The less desperate media outlets probably push it to later in the broadcast. The PD probably puts it on page 3 of the Metro section. But this death ended up the lead story everywhere precisely because it involved a member of one of the richest, most prominent families in Cleveland. Already, then, the Lerners are being treated differently because of their status, and not necessarily in a positive way. But that is the news business and I have no quibble with that.

But if Fullwood were correct with respect to the 9-1-1 tape our daily newscasts would be filled with tapes of similar tragedies--they're not--and the PD would be publishing transcripts of such tapes on a regular basis--they're not. So spare me your rightousness that the Lerners are being treated similarly. They're not.

The truth of the matter is that the reporting of the news is not and never was intended to be an unfiltered process. That's why TV, radio and print news outlets employ editors in the first place. The very nature of their job is to make informed judgments of the newsworthiness of any particular item. And in this case all the editors except the one employed by Channel 19 opted for the considered judgment that playing the tape added nothing newsworthy to the story.

But our friend Sam sees a conspiracy in that result and applauds Channel 19 for its bravery. He's got that backward. Refusing to exercise judgment and restraint, when appropriate, is not bravery. It's an abdication of responsibility. The brave soles are the editors at the other outlets who did their jobs.

It's hard to know how this dispute gets resolved but my guess is that the contract stays in place. Legally, proving "cause" in this context is a very difficult task. If I was representing Channel 19, the first thing I'd do is argue that Lerner had to know when he signed the contract that Channel 19 has been run like a high school media project for several years now. Any station that lets a "reporter" get naked in the name of a "story" can hardly be blamed now for again exercising bad judgment. It should have been expected and for that Lerner has learned a painful lesson. He knew he got into bed with a skank and now is surprised when it continues to act like one. Unfortunately for Randy, case closed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Good for Randy

Are you following this building controversy between Randy Lerner and his TV partner, WOIO, Channel 19?  Earlier this week Lerner served notice on Channel 19 that he was severing the three-year contract to show Browns exhibition games and other related programming just one year into the deal.  While speculation was that Lerner was upset about WOIO’s decision to air the 9-1-1 tape of Lerner’s sister calling police as her daughter was drowning, he confirmed as much in this morning’s Plain Dealer.

According to Lerner, he simply doesn’t want to do business with such an insensitive partner.  It should be noted, too, that WOIO was the only local station to broadcast the tape’s most gut wrenching moments.  Fox 8 broadcasted an edited version and the other two stations declined to broadcast it at all.

You have to love the irony in the fact that WOIO station manager Bill Applegate has a “no comment” sign hung outside his office door.  Channel 19 has, by a large margin, the worst newscast of all local stations.  It has known no bounds in trying to attract viewers.  Rather than reporting on real stories of substance, its nightly newscast is replete with crime stories of little relevance but with great visual impact.  When there is a lack of crime or fires, it sends one of its “reporters” to get naked to cover a story. In that context it’s no surprise that with that kind of judgment they stand on the precipice of losing a lucrative contract and further alienating themselves from potential viewers.

The only thing that is surprising is that Applegate hasn’t pulled out the old “first amendment” trump card.  Maybe that’s because he knows he’s stepped in it and his job may very well be on the line if he tries to defend what is indefensible.  The truth of the matter is that there is news in the untimely death of the young daughter of one of the most prominent families in Cleveland.  But it adds nothing to the story to actually play the tape of the distraught mother phoning in the tragedy to police.  At some point privacy and sensitivity to a horrific tragedy must come into play.

It’s understandable that Lerner wouldn’t want to do business with these jerks.  He might be forced into it because he does have a binding contract with Channel 19.  But rest assured, if Channel 19 forces Lerner’s hand on this, they’ll lose in the long run.  They already have.

Only Walk the Old Lady Half Way Across The Street

Maybe the problem with the Indians is as simple as muted expectations.  In speaking yesterday about the return of Jason Davis, Manager Eric Wedge said “Hopefully, Jason won't try to do too much.”  And what exactly would be “too much” for a pitcher?  Does that mean that Wedge doesn’t want him trying to throw too many strikes?  Or retire the side in order too many times?  Or hold the other team to no runs the next inning after your team scores?  If we have the manager instilling in his players that they shouldn’t want to do too much to help the team, what chance do we really have?  I could go all morning with these kinds of questions in response to such an asinine statement, but I wouldn’t want to do too much.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Great Trade. Who'd We Get?

I couldn't help invoking the mythical words of Lenny Dykstra when informed that the Phillies had just traded Von Hayes to the Indians after learning that the Indians had just traded Bob Wickman to the Braves. (In case you're wondering, the Tribe acquired Single A catcher Max Ramirez. What this means for Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez is probably very little in the near term, but we'll see.)It's not that I dislike Wickman. In fact, he's a stand-up guy who's humble in success and doesn't hide when he fails. But at this juncture, what's the point of his being on the team? The number of save opportunities has dwindled to a slow drip. The Tribe simply isn't going anywhere anyway and the only hope of ever escaping the abyss that the Dolans created is if Shapiro strikes unexpected gold by making these kinds of trades.What this trade does highlight is what a poor decision Shapiro made in NOT signing Bob Howry.  Shapiro claimed that Howry wanted "closer" money, something Shapiro couldn't see paying for a set-up man.  Of course it was this mentality that kept the old Browns (and the new Browns until this year) from signing offensive linemen and subjecting their quarterbacks to multiple beat downs.  But had Shapiro signed Howry, we wouldn't be wondering who might close on Friday and next season.If you aren't paying attention, this is why the Dolans are such bad owners.  Shapiro didn't have the financial flexibility to, perhaps, overpay just a little to keep the valuable Howry.  As a result, our bullpen has been a mess without that stabilizing force.  In turn, that has contributed to the dismal season thus far, which, in turn, has contributed to the trade of Wickman, which in turn contributes to more uncertainty for the bullpen in the future.  What the trade of Wickman really highlights is that there is little chance that the Indians will become competitive any time soon.  So, who'd we get?  Does it matter?    

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When The Wheels Fall off

I can't help but recall Chris Palmer's description of the Browns second season back as a "train wreck." For some reason, this comment created quite a furor, eventually costing Palmer his job. His sin, of course, was merely verbalizing what was obvious to all. The Browns were a mess. I can't help recall all of this as I consider what more Eric Wedge can possibly say about the Indians season as it completely unravels on the West Coast.If you catch his post-game interviews or read the comments, the frustration level is at an all-time high. The only thing he hasn't said is, in the words of Roseanne Cash, is that this thing has turned into a runaway train. We can only wonder what will happen if he does slip in the "train wreck" comment. Who would blame him? The media? Mark Shapiro? The Dolans? As I've said before, in the Billy Beane world of running a baseball operation, of which Mark Shapiro is a disciple, the manager is just a mid-level supervisor. That being the case, of course, he's easily replaced. But that also being the case, he has very little power over the players he's given to play. In other words, and this is not to blame Shapiro, it all goes back to those cheapskates, the Dolans. Their business model depends on Shapiro performing magic each year by hitting on undervalued/overlooked talent in favor of known commodities who command known commodity dollars, and Wedge not screwing it up. Well Shaprio's magic ran out this season as pretty much all of his off-season acquisitions have tanked. The Indians have been running half empty since opening day and, in that context, you can hardly blame Wedge. The only thing now that could get him fired is he, like Chris Palmer, he lets the frustration boil over and tells us all what we already know.    

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flipped Out

Did you catch the item about Flip Murray signing with the Detroit Pistons yesterday?  Not much of a hue and cry among the Cleveland fans or media, all of whom collectively shrugged their shoulders.  The only interesting thing about all of this is all that talk just a few months ago about figuring out a way to sign Murray, who played so well after coming over in a mid-season trade when Larry Hughes got hurt. Since the season ended, the only Cavs item of interest to most Cleveland fans has been the contract extension signed by LeBron. Maybe the fans and the media see greater potential in Shannon Brown.  Maybe. But on the other hand randomly ask the next 10 people you see at the mall who the Cavs drafted and if more than two give the correct answers, I’ll buy you a Chrysler Cordoba.   My guess, again, is that no one is paying attention because other than a handful of diehards, no one really cares.  It will be next March, at least, before most Clevelanders even figure out who the heck is on this roster and even longer before they begin to care.

You Had to Hate the Signs

If you liked the signs from Friday night’s Indians victory over the Minnesota Twins, you had to equally hate the signs from last night’s loss to those same Twins.  C.C. Sabathia, who is on his way to eating himself out of baseball, was on the mound against Johan Santana. By all measures, a decent pitching match-up.  But this game pretty much blew-up in Eric Wedge’s ever graying face as two first-inning errors pretty much sealed the Tribe’s fate.  We all know that Sabathia doesn’t take well to errors, having quit on his team the last time this happened.  And while Sabathia more or less hung in there for the rest of the game, the offense was inept against Santana.

This is not to criticize the offense, which has been fairly consistent—at least when compared to the rest of this mess.  But what to make of Sabathia?  He’s 26 years of age and has 76 victories to his credit.  He pitches close to 200 innings a season (although he’ll likely fall short of that mark this year) and his career ERA is just above, 4.00.  That’s all pretty good.  But despite these accomplishments, he remains the quintessential enigma wrapped in an ├ęclair. The Indians official web site currently lists his weight at 290 pounds on his 6’7” frame.  He’s easily over 3 bills.  At some point all that weight will wreck havoc on his knees and it will be difficult for him in the next several years to match his early career unless and until he starts taking his physical conditioning seriously.  The Tribe front office can make all the excuses it wants for Sabathia, but if he doesn’t get on a weight program he’ll look like the Sta-Puff man next year, especially in the home white uniforms.

And what, again, to make of Ben Broussard?  His error last night in the first inning opened the gates.  In context, playing Victor Martinez at first full time is starting to make more and more sense.  When both Boone and Broussard are in the line-up the Indians field possibly the worst defensive corners in their history.  When you throw in the adventurous Jhonny Peralta at short, well, you just better hope everything is a fly ball to center field.  At least Sizemore’s the real deal.

Friday, July 14, 2006

You Had to Like the Signs

If you caught last night's Indians game, there was a small sign that perhaps the second half of the season won't be so dreary.  In the first inning, with Grady Sizemore on first and rookie wunderkind Francisco Liriano needing a compass to find the strike zone, there was a moment where you just knew the Indians would bail him out.  Liriano ran the count to 3-2 on Jason Michaels and it was the perfect opportunity to start the runner, which Wedge did.  The only thing that could possibly get Liriano out of it was a strike-em-out/throw-em-out.  Michaels, naturally, complied by whiffing.  Sizemore, though, got a great jump and Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who had a rough night, plunked Sizemore in the back of the helmet with the throw.  Sizemore was safe and the inning continued.  While the Tribe didn't score it did set up what came in the next few innings as the Tribe began to pound Liriano.But get excited about the Tribe's fortunes at your own peril.  Since starting the season at 6-1, they've played 11 games under the .500 mark.    

The New Go-To Guy

Excellent article in this week's Sports Illustrated about recent Browns free-agent signee Joe Jurevicius. (Note, the link will take you to their web site where you can get a preview of the article.  You need to be a subscriber to access the full story) Disregarding the question as to why the national media but not the local folks have picked up on such a marvelous, feel-good story for Browns fans, what struck me most is that this kid is and has been an incredible Browns fan.  He grew up with Bernie and the boys and knows the heartbreaks like the rest of the fans.  He's had them as well.  But unlike most of us, he's in a position to do something about it.  The article reminded me, in some ways, of a recent lengthy conversation I had with Mike Vrabel, another local boy whose done well in the NFL.  Like Jurevicius, Vrabel talks fondly of his passion for the Browns.  He can cite chapter and verse, from a fans perspective, about the Drive and the Fumble.  The vagaries of the NFL collective bargaining agreement and free agency may conspire, as they usually do, to keep Vrabel from ever joining his hometown team, but I walked away with the sense that if he could he would.  The point, though, is that ultimately it will be these kinds of tangibles that provide the best chance of returning the Browns to some sense of glory.  Phil Savage is off to a good start with signings like Jurevicius, LaCharles Bentley and David Zastudil, not to mention the drafting of Charlie Frye and the recent signing of Josh Cribbs.  For my money, you hire first based on passion and then teach them what they need to know.  And on that measure, the Browns are much further ahead then at any point since they returned.  If it gets us to 8-8 be happy as there are likely better days ahead.    

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Midterms, Again

I don't know too many people that were fond of midterm exams, certainly not me.  But Major League Baseball's All-Star break serves as a break for the teams' beat reporters as well.  Is there anything more predictable then the All-Star break stories in which the beat reporters cleverly grade the home team's performance thus far?  Truth be told, these "stories" likely were written over the last few weeks and have been in the can, so to speak, just waiting to be released the Thursday morning that the unofficial second half to the baseball season begins.So like the crowd that greets the buzzards return to Hinckley each year, we anxiously await the midterm assessment of journalists too bored and uninspired to come up with any different approach.  Want proof?  The stories by Terry Pluto (a former beat reporter) in today's Beacon Journal and Paul Hoynes in today's Plain Dealer are nearly identical, right down to the sidebars about what went right and what went wrong.But this is not to criticize either Pluto or Hoynes.  Covering sports isn't nearly as glamorous as it sounds, particularly covering major league baseball.  There's a game nearly every night.  The post-game interviews in any sport are so eerily similar that it's surprising more reporters don't go postal.  That's why you have to hand it to guys like Ozzie Guillen and Charles Barkley.  At least they try to spice it up by actually speaking their minds as compared to say, the rest of the pro athlete world, in which they can and do answer nearly every question after a win with "we just have to go out there and continue to do the little things that we're capable of doing to give ourselves a chance to win" while answering nearly every question after a loss with "we just have to go out there and continue to play hard".  In that context, I suppose, the mid-term grades story probably seems like innovation.But I wonder, at times, what's the point in dissecting the team as if it's a lab rat.  Ultimately, their record, like a company's stock price, is the ultimate barometer of its success.  And on that score, the Tribe has been awful, at least if you thought they'd be good.  But as we've said many times now, when the key ingredient of your strategic plan hinges on the ability of the general manager to continue to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, at some point the product will taste a tad sour. I've maintained for the last few years that the Indians are on an inevitable death spiral unless and until they get better capitalized owners.  I understand business as well as the next guy.  I understand that you can't continue to deficit spend.  But I also understand that you have to spend money to make money and sometimes that means taking a step back to take two steps forward.  The Dolans simply do not have the cash to fully fund this team and allow the attendance and all that goes along with that to catch up.  If you think the fans were skeptical of last year's success, wait until the Dolans get a whiff of the season ticket renewals for next year.  If Mark Shapiro's budget was squeezed this year, and it was, wait until he walks into the meeting next November with Paul Dolan and is told to cut even further.If you absolutely need a midterm assessment that's it.  The Indians play should hardly be a surprise to anyone.  Dissect what's gone wrong with Jhonny Peralta if you must, but the answers are much larger and more controversial.  And you can hardly blame the beat reporters for not wanting to take the Dolans on with a half season to go.  Having to actually watch and report on the Tribe this year is probably enough punishment for any one man to have to endure anyway.    

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

At Least He Understands

I'm not sure whether Akron Beacon Journal columnist Terry Pluto reads this blog, but it's clear he understands why something like this exists.  His column today about LeBron James' contract extension contains the exquisite lead: "Guess what Cleveland sports fans love to do best?  Worry."  Exactly. That's the core competency required of any Cleveland sports fan given our ignominous history.The James things seems rather ridiculous, doesn't it?  As near as I can tell, he's around for several more years.  In fact, in the pantheon of modern sports, four more years is a lifetime.  But you can't satisfy the Cleveland fan so I hope James doesn't even try.  Whereas Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, fill-in-the-blank, have sought greener pastuers elsewhere, James at least has decided to stay put for now.  The fact that Cleveland fans are still fretting is proof that the two worst things for Cleveland sports fans is not getting what they want and getting what they want.But I have a different spin, anyway.  LeBron is a phenom, a unique talent on par with say Tiger Woods.  But he plays in easily the worst major professional sport. Until LeBron arrived and, I would argue, even since he arrived, the NBA is still an afterthought.  It's a boring game with a season that's a good 30 or so games too long and a byzantine playoff system that makes most of the season they do have highly irrelevant.  The only reason Cleveland fans are at all gravitating toward the NBA at all has more to do with the fact that we are into a third generation since a world championships in either baseball or football than it has to do with a love for basketball.  James represents the clearest prospect of a championship in the near-term with the Indians floating rudderless and captained by the cheapest and least-capitalized owners in all of pro sports and the Browns undergoing their third (!) rebuilding program in less than 10 years.If you want proof, just listen to the idiotic sports-talk radio in Cleveland.  During the Cavs playoff run, the talk was still dominated by the Indians.  As soon as the Browns open camp, they will dominate the airwaves.  In other words, only a handful of callers care who the Cavs draft or sign, what defenses Mike Brown might run, or whether Damon Jones will ever develop either D or J.  And that won't change because this is first, foremost, and always a football and baseball town. But Cleveland fans are so desperate for any kind of success they'll fake interest in the NBA.  The only thing they're worried about, and they are worried, is that if/when James leaves, the chances of winning anything are even further off in the distance as we're likely to continue to drift further into baseball oblivion and the Browns will be on their 8th rebuilding program.    

Monday, July 10, 2006

Does He Ever Leave the Newsroom?

We got a mild chuckle from Roger Brown's item in the Sunday PD.  The Clueless Contrarian ponders why the Indians have such infantile nicknames for each other, to wit: Wedgie, Bennie, Louie, Hollie for, collectively, Wedge, Broussard, Isaac and Hollandworth.  The truth is, that this approach to nicknames is hardly confined to the Indians or to baseball for that matter.  Professional ballplayers of most stripes lack any sort of real wit, humor or creativity.  Pick a team and I can guarantee you two things:  1. They still get a huge laugh out of the shaving cream pie trick and the hot foot; 2. They refer to each other with truncated nicknames like Wedgie, Bennie, et al.  We can fault the Tribe for many things but the stupidity here is all Brown's.Speaking of the Clueless Contrarian, we also couldn't help but laugh at his seemingly monthly column ranking the announcers and such, as if he is somehow performing a public service.  I suppose if he did this once a year, it might be interesting.  Any more than that is pure laziness, which for him is saying something.  Keep your eyes peeled for his next bit of insight when he debates whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.    

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Running to Freedom?

Didn’t want anyone to think that the Browns were off the radar screen while the Indians continue to play like the first runner-up in the Celina American Legion Post 234 Summer Slam baseball tournament.  As the players enjoy these last few weeks of freedom before the grind of two-a-days start, Reuben Droughns still has an indictment for harassment and assault hanging over his head in Denver.  While not to minimize domestic violence in general or these charges in particular, you have to just kind of shrug your shoulders at this whole thing and say “it figures”.  We finally get a running game and a line to open up some holes and the star finds himself facing possible jail times.  The educated guess is that the charges either get dropped or Droughns enters a plea that avoids any further time in the clink.  And on the bright side, it’s not like he the pickle Jamal Lewis of the Ravens found himself in for facilitating a drug deal.  Still, it didn’t take Droughns too long to enter his name on that ever-increasing list of what continues to go wrong in Cleveland sports.

Are You Sure That's The Problem?

I was amused at this little drop headline to Sheldon Ocker's notes following last night's game.  The poor copy editor cited "lack of leadership" as a problem.  I maintain that lack of leadership is not a problem.  They lack leadership in droves.  I'd say "leadership" is really the problem.In any case, it was hard telling from last night's game whether the Orioles are truly more pitiful than the Indians or C.C. Sabathia is just that good.  I doubt either is completely true, but you had to admire the ease with which Sabathia shut down the O's on 3-hits.  Sabathia threw 118 pitches, 89 of which were for strikes.  In fact, the only player to even put up much of a battle was Miguel Tejada in his last at bat, which also was the last out of the evening.  In that 9-pitch at bat, Tejada fouled off several and, frankly, looked like the only O who didn't have dinner reservations.  In the end, he sent a routine fly to reserve Joe Inglett in center field for the final out.If past be prologue, the Indians are likely to be on the wrong end of a 11-4 game tonight, but we'll see.  The Orioles looked more bored then the Tribe at this point.  It will be a long second half.    

Monday, July 03, 2006

I Think The Sun Has Made Their Brains Go Soft

I can usually tolerate Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal quite well.  But in the last few years in particular, he seems rather irritated with it all.  It must be the travel.  Or the sun.  How else to explain his rebuke of Eric Wedge for supposedly publicly embarrassing Ben Broussard for his sins while leaving other equally guilty parties (i.e. Ronnie Belliard) alone.  According to Ocker, the mental lapses, on consecutive plays, by Broussard and Belliard in a game on June 21 were similar and thus deserved similar treatment.  Instead, Wedge seemed to make an example of Broussard by sitting him down and replacing him with Victor Martinez but hasn't done anything public with Belliard.   On some level, I see Ocker's point, but I think he's forgetting how truly mediocre Broussard has been for more than a season now.  Broussard, in a word, was awful last year.  He's been hitting better this year as a platoon batter but even Ocker notes that Broussard's m.o. is to hit a key hit and then disappear for several games.  Broussard is a better than average fielder, but the Indians need far more than that out of their first baseman.  Broussard has clearly demonstrated that he is not a core player worth investing in for the long haul so Wedge should hardly be faulted for however he chooses to handle him.  As for Belliard he remains an enigma.  Last year he was a pleasant surprise with both the bat and the glove.  He isn't hitting as well this year but his defense, in the context of this year's team anyway, has been relatively solid.  I think the jury is still out, in this free agent year, whether it is wise to commit long-term money to Belliard, especially given the implications this could have on Shapiro's flexibility next year given the skinflint ways of the Dolans.  In that context, not singling out Belliard at this juncture seems, on par, the right move for Wedge.  I'm not sure why a seasoned guy like Ocker can't see that.   But while we can give Ocker the benefit of the doubt, there is no excuse for Bill Livingston at the PD.  In his recent column, he graciously gives the Dolans an incredible pass, using facts selectively to, I guess, argue that while the Dolans may be lousy owners, they're hardly the worst offenders in recent Cleveland sports history.  Maybe, maybe not.  But what Livingston has unwittingly done is really write the history of Cleveland sports and why it continues to be so tortuous to follow them.  Livingston recounts the poor record of the "new" Browns, particularly all levels of its ownership and management and the money grab by Jim Thome as worse offenses then the "mediocrity" brought on by the Dolans.  As if it helps the argument, Livingston and even dips back a few decades or so to recall the ghost of Ted Stepien in order to provide further contrast.  While Livingston's point about the Dolans his highly debatable, what isn't is the incredible mediocrity at all levels of Cleveland sports and "insight" like Livingston's is why things never get any better.  Rather than use all of the examples, including the Dolans, as a call for action, we end up excusing bad behavior because, well, there's been worse.  I guess that's why Livingston still has a job because until Bob Dolgan officially retires, there will always be someone worse.