Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ready to Move On?

Are you ready to move on yet? It doesn’t matter, because it’s apparently not a request.

After being publicly mugged in the worst piece of television since NBC greenlighted the Joey show a few years ago, Cleveland sports fans are being told, nee admonished, by national media types who don’t know any better that they need to move on from it all.

Easy for them to say. The problem for Cleveland sports fans is that nothing good ever comes from them moving on. When Cavaliers fans moved on from The Shot, what did they get other than years of mediocrity, fleeting superiority, and finally abject disappointment?

When Browns fans were told to move on from The Drive and The Fumble, what did they get other than the first crack at a churlish Bill Belichick and then a morally and financially bankrupt owner revealed his true self and moved the franchise to Baltimore?

And let’s not get started with Indians fans. When the 1954 series blew up in their faces, they were told to move on only to enter their celebrated blue period in which their team usually couldn’t even spell win when spotted the “w” and the “n.” Then when the team blew the 1997 World Series, they were told to move on only to find, once again, that except for fleeting moments, anomalies in retrospect, the celebrated blue period was beginning anew.

When it comes to Cleveland sports there really is no place to move on to, unless you’re an ill-mannered free agent with a leadership problem. Then of course you can pack up your talents and move them to South Beach or whatever better venue awaits.

Nonetheless expect the fans to take this latest slight in due course, mainly because it’s such a learned skill by this point that it almost seems rote. In fact, you can almost feel as if this town has moved well beyond this latest kick in the groin and it’s barely been a week.

Ok, so you've moved on. Here's where that gets you:

As an organization, the Cavs are officially in the rebuild mode. They'll have good company with the Indians and the Browns, both of whom are charter members of that club.

It will be awhile before the Cavs direction is truly revealed. The hiring of Byron Scott hints at the future but there's the hard work of finding the players to adapt to his system. At least there's a decent organization in place.

The Indians meanwhile are entrenched if not completely encased in last place. The Browns, on the other hand, are still a few weeks out from training camp, which tends to make things look more hopeful.

But that's just the overview. Here's the details:

The one thing you could say, though, about the Indians at the moment is that most fans are actually getting their wish. The Indians for once have listened and are letting the kids play. Of course they're charging major league prices, but that's a different debate.

If not getting what you want is the worst thing in the world, then a close second is getting what you want, especially with this version of the Indians. Watching minor leaguers play against major leaguers on a nightly basis is a rather painful experience. You tend to see them make the kind of errors they probably haven’t made since American Legion ball. They often looked overmatched at the plate, mostly because they are.

It’s a sloppy mess of a team, a puppy actually, trying it’s best to keep up with far better, stronger dogs. Sure every once in awhile, 38.6% of the time to be precise, the little dog wins a game. But if you’re heading to Progressive Field anytime soon then you better be a baseball purist. Otherwise the entertainment value vacillates somewhere between a re-run of the 1998 World Series of Poker and a re-run of the 2003 Greater Milwaukee Open.

If you're watching on SportsTime Ohio, don't adjust your set. Management there is not running the same tape every night, the numbing sameness of each game only makes it feel that way.

But at least Russell Branyan is no longer on the team. That development means more than just the fact that he’s practicing his own special brand of bad baseball somewhere else. It also means that general manager Mark Shapiro is taking most of the blockers out of the current system, the players seemingly added to the team specifically to block the development of the next generation.

It’s also worth pointing out that while the team that starts the second half of the season is not the same as the team that started the first half of the season, the team starting the second half of the season isn’t the one that will finish it, either and, for good measure, the team that finishes it won’t resemble the team that starts the next season.

Where the Indians are concerned, it’s what is called the Circle of Life. Nothing breeds fan indifference and confusion more than a revolving door on the clubhouse. Quick, you non-purists out there, name the Indians’ starting lineup? Now be truthful, how many did you get right? But don't worry. You'll have another chance in a few weeks when the lineup turns over again.

Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood are the two likeliest candidates to be moved by Shapiro, though Jhonny Peralta is a strong candidate as well. Westbrook’s probably leaving because he said he’d like to stay and in this town teams pretty much do the opposite of what’s expected. Wood will move on because some contending team will need another guy out of the bullpen. Peralta, meanwhile, will probably just fade into the scenery somewhere else.

All this means that the shuttle bus between Cleveland and Columbus will get a few more clicks on the ol’ odometer, as Jerry Fleck might say. That’s not a complaint. It’s what fans in fact demanded.

As whatever remaining interest in the Indians wanes over the next few weeks, it will be just in time for the latest reinvention of the Cleveland Browns.

The team had a reinvention last season when head coach Eric Mangini was hired by owner Randy Lerner in the kind of rush that suggested Lerner had a soccer game to get to. Mangini in turn hired his own boss, which worked out about as well as that kind of thing tends to work out. When it all fell apart, Lerner, back from the pitch, reinvented the team again and this time may have hit on something.

With Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert in charge of the team, it finally has the professional management it’s so sorely lacked in the last decade. Someone who’s 150 pounds overweight isn’t going to get skinny in a week and a team in this bad of shape isn’t going to get good overnight. But you do sense an actual direction, which is as much hope as Cleveland fans are allowed to have anyway.

But even if the Browns season turns out better than imagined, fans know what happens next. There is a pending labor dispute and it would be a minor miracle if there isn't a lockout/strike that will halt the next season. Which means, of course, that whatever progress is made now is likely to be fleeting.

And that's the point, isn't it. Every time Cleveland sports fans head down a tunnel and find see some light, it turns out to be an oncoming train. But past being prologue here, they'll just move on once again.


m. said...

well gary, you know i like puppy metaphors--my soft spot--took sassy to doggie doctor today--surgery tomorrow--provoking usual truth serum--big hug for sassy--big kiss for you. m.

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