I sat at the Cavs game Saturday night while watching the World Series realizing the Indians were becoming one win away from another championship and wondering about how much a World Series could mean to Cleveland. I sent out a poll on Twitter to see what response I would get and I was shocked to see an almost 3:1 vote in favor of the Indians.
While we are in the heart of the World Series and people will be caught in the moment, the pull of the World Series still had a major effect on the voting.
Could the Indians, a team that was 28th in the league in attendance and had less people on average attend a game than the Cavs despite almost doubling the capacity mean more to the city? Could they outdo a team that brought Cleveland its first major championship in 52 years? My answer is yes.
I am not aiming to take away anything from the Cavs. Truthfully I think it is still hard to top and am only aiming to make an argument as to why it could be possible. Nobody has done more for the city of Cleveland in recent times than LeBron James. From his efforts on the courts, to winning a title, and all his extra work in the community, Lebron has done it all. It takes a lot to become that after being the most hated man in the city after spurning us on national television to team up with the best players in Miami and go on to appear in four straight NBA Finals while we struggled to not finish last in the NBA.
To give that all up to come back home to a city where players like Joakim Noah and Chris Bosh said they did not want to play. To win it not for him but for the city as a whole and watch the tears and emotions after the final buzzer of game seven go off is breathtaking. The city witnessed maybe the longest parade ever because there was nowhere for the floats to go due to the insane amount of people flooding the streets, parking garages, trees, or wherever they could be. It was only fitting that LeBron was the one that delivered that Championship.
A hometown kid, born and raised, with loyalty running through his veins and accomplishing the one major goal he had set out from the get go that eluded him for 13 years. I still get chills, smiles, love, and all the emotions in-between when reflecting upon that week. One that had to see us overcome a 3-1 deficit, something never done before to get the Championship, but there are still reasons why I think the Indians might have more an impact than that.
The Cavs and the Indians have a more similar backdrop than meets the eye when you look at how the team got to where it was today. Both were in the rock bottom and built up through new young talent. The Cavaliers got Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Andrew Wiggins by being a bad team.
At one point after LeBron left, the team set the NBA record for consecutive losses with 26 and endured a span of going 1-36. Coincidentally I was at the game where they recorded that one win against the New York Knicks in overtime nonetheless. While Waiters and Wiggins aren’t with the team anymore, they were used to get players who have had a major impact on the team including JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Kevin Love.
Like the Cavs, the Indians were built from a lot of talent on the inside and from some darker times. After being one win away from making the World Series in 2007, fans saw beloved players including Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee be traded away in consecutive years for prospects. The team never won the Central again until this year and finished second just twice with one postseason loss.
The Indians benefited from hitting on top draft picks in recent years with Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor all being picked in the first two rounds. There are also the later round guys and international signings that have worked their way up from their start here. That list includes Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Roberto Perez, and Jose Ramirez. Like how almost every great team starts, it takes the upcoming of your own talent to make the team great.
Where the Cavaliers and Indians differ is in the impact of LeBron James. LeBron James is the player that arguably has the most impact in any of the major sports today. He is the best player in his sport and his impact far exceeds that.
The Cavs will always have the ring chasing veterans on their team as long as LeBron stays around every single year. Players that want to win will take less money to come play for the Cavs in a quest for a championship in an Eastern Conference where their only competition is themselves.
Ever since LeBron announced he was coming back the Cavaliers were the favorites to win the East by a mile. Plenty of veterans signed up to join him on his quest to win one for the Land such as Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson, Mike Miller, James Jones, etc. Those role playing veterans are the ones that can be the difference in a series.
The Indians have no LeBron James. Free agents were not flocking to Cleveland because of Corey Kluber. They were not coming to be opposite Jason Kipnis. The team alone could not afford to be a player for any major big free agent. Dan Gilbert had the access to have the largest salary ever for an NBA team, well exceeding the cap to get the best players for their team to be with LeBron.
The Indians had one year prove-it contracts. Those contracts are something they are famous for. In years past it allowed Scott Kazmir to go from a minor league deal to an 11 million dollar per year contract. He was far from the first and far from the last. Other players on one year deals in the past five seasons include Johnny Damon, Justin Masterson, Mark Reynolds, Jason Giambi, Gavin Floyd, Orlando Cabrera, John Axford, and Ryan Raburn. The front office was keen on these one year contracts.
They targeted a lot of players that were coming off injuries, were older with little demand, or had bad seasons with little market value. This let the cash strapped team sign them in hopes of them rebounding and having a big impact for the team with little long term risk. If the team struggled they became great trade deadline candidates like Masterson and Reynolds because of their rental value and were traded away for younger prospects to build off of. Some of those bad season trades helped build up the current team.
Carlos Santana was gotten for Casey Blake, Mike Clevinger for Vinnie Pestano, and Corey Kluber for Jake Westbrook. While none of those three guys in particular were from an offseason move, the trades allowed for some of the younger talent to get more playing time and exposure and open up a potential chance for them to take over as starter. If not, the Indians went back to the barrel in the offseason often adding another one year contract to repeat the cycle and fill in the gap.
2016 was no different. Cleveland once again avoided the big multi-year contracts that bit them the few times they did in recent years with Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy.
Instead, the team gave out five one year contracts. Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd, Juan Uribe, and Tommy Hunter were the recipients of those contracts. Some worked out and some didn’t. The key difference was all the puzzle pieces seemed to finally connect. Mike Napoli was the perfect power bat/compliment to Carlos Santana. Rajai Davis added more speed on the basepath. Marlon Byrd’s suspension opened the door for Tyler Naquin to hit .296 in his first season. Juan Uribe’s struggles led for Jose Ramirez to become an everyday player at 3B. Tommy Hunter and the bullpen struggles led to Chernoff going after Andrew Miller at the trade deadline.
It was a perfect storm of players not built from one guy coming here, but from lots of great scouting and putting the correct pieces in place. You can add in the other trade deadline deals of Coco Crisp and his major league leading batting average with runners in scoring position. Brandon Guyer added an ability to be another right handed outfielder and hit the left handed pitchers and get on-base with his hit by pitches.
Every player on this team has contributed in some form. It is nice to see a small market team do things correctly and reap the benefits of it. Once again I have nothing against the Cavs spending the money. If you can afford to do it by all means make your team the best possible but there is something more exciting to see all the underdogs and unwanted players joining the young and upcoming superstars and take the league by surprise.
Cleveland has never been the big market team. They don’t have the payroll of the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, or Boston Red Sox. They don’t have the big bats of the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles. They weren’t the most respected of the young teams with the Houston Astros getting more love. They weren’t given a big shot in their division with the back to back World Series appearing Kansas City Royals.
They were spurned by Jonathan LuCroy who vetoed a trade to come to Cleveland so he could win with the AL-leading Texas Rangers. The Tribe was always doubted. Everyone knew the pitching staff could be the best in baseball but sometimes were even overshadowed by the Cubs, Mets, or Nationals.
There were questions about the right handed hitters and lacking a power bat. There were questions about who would play at 3B or in the OF. There were questions about Michael Brantley’s health. Looking back at ESPN’s preseason predictions, only one analyst picked the Indians to make the World Series while 14 of the 31 analysts picked the Cubs to win it all, not just make it. Here we are now with Cleveland up 3-2 with a chance to win it at home.
A team that was overlooked all season and people are finally getting to see the talent that plays here. Francisco Lindor might become in the talks as a top 20 player in all of baseball at age 22. Jose Ramirez is becoming known with his clutch hitting and fiery hair. People are seeing how good the pitching staff that set a postseason record of six shutouts is.
Cleveland is finally on the radar as a sports town, not just where LeBron plays, being home to the Cavs, or home to the worst team in football. The Indians, the team that even the hometown fans have forgot about for most of the season are now at the epicenter of everything. The Cavaliers have had to move their game times and NBA ring ceremony because the demand for the World Series was higher.
The ring ceremony might be the biggest thing for the Cavs in the regular season besides the Christmas day game against Golden State and had to be moved for the team next door. Even Dan Gilbert had to fight for it to be moved on behalf of the city and fans.
If the Indians are able to finish this series off, it only solidifies Cleveland as the hottest sports team right now. Stipe Miocic and the formerly known Lake Erie Monsters accomplishments often get overlooked in the sweep of things now.
If the Tribe can keep the streak alive that is four championships in one calendar year here including two in major sports. It is no longer about the championship the Cavs were going to win because they were too talented of a team to not win it but about the city as a whole. It would also bring back some of the satisfaction lacking from the 1990s Indians.
Looking back at all the great names; Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Bartolo Colon, etc. the list can go on and on. With the loss of football in town, the Indians were the hope of the city.
We had two World Series appearances with only that to show. If some of those 90s teams were playing right now, they could quite possibly be the favorites to win it all. The consecutive sellout streaks from that time are no longer close to the ghost town that haunts Progressive Field today. Winning it now would make me feel better about the 90s I grew up in. Even though those teams didn’t win, this miraculous team gave me some closure and even brighter hope for the next five years that we can see the same kind of performances we did back then.
Maybe the World Series win will be the wake-up call that Cleveland fans need. So often there is more support for a team that can’t win a football game or spell a banner right than for a team that has played great baseball all year long for a fraction of the price.
A team that has not had a losing record since Terry Francona has taken over as manager. Cleveland has been in the bottom three in attendance the last five years and six of the last seven. Kansas City was in the bottom five for several years before their World Series appearance.
They have now maintained in the top 12 the last two years gaining an extra 7,000 fans each game. The Blue Jays went from 29,000 two years ago to almost 42,000 per game this season after making the ALCS last year. Maybe this will be the chance for fans to see how good this team is and truly start supporting them like they deserve. I wrote article after article urging fans to go but it seemed like nothing short of a dollar hot dog or fireworks could get fans to go.
Many times the majority of the paid attendance came from the visiting teams fans. Progressive Field has had so many nice renovations done in the last couple years. A new scoreboard, better view lines, a huge bar in RF, and lots of the best food venues in Northeast Ohio are just some of the big upgrades. A World Series Title might be the start to keeping the turn of our city around.
The highs of the Cavs victory didn’t translate to supporting the other teams this year but the Indians winning it all might get fans excited for the Cavs chance to repeat and the Indians as well next season. That would be something unique to this championship. This wouldn’t be the one taken for granted or the one before I die. A World Series could be the rebirth of Cleveland sports on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Don’t forget many of these players are under contract for a while. Cody Allen is under team control through 2018, Trevor Bauer through 2020, Michael Brantley through 2018, Carlos Carrasco though 2020, Jason Kipnis through 2020, Corey Kluber through 2021, Francisco Lindor through 2021, Andrew Miller through 2018, Tyler Naquin through 2021, Dan Otero through 2019, Roberto Perez through 2020, Jose Ramirez through 2020, and Danny Salazar through 2020.
Pretty much the entire team with the exceptions of Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli are locked up through the next two seasons and that doesn’t even begin to include other free agents being brought in and the next wave of prospects with Bradley Zimmer, Bobby Bradley, and Francisco Mejia likely debuting in the next couple years.
The Cleveland Indians are set to stay on path with the Cleveland Cavaliers to compete year after year for not just one but multiple championships for the city.
This also doesn’t include all the adversity this 2016 Indians team has had to overcome. Looking into it, we aren’t even close to seeing the true potential this team has to offer.
Our best overall field player and former All-Star Michael Brantley has practically missed the entire season with a variety of injuries. Right before the postseason Danny Salazar went down with elbow problems and has only appeared in one postseason game in relief status, not his normal starting role that led him to be an All-Star selection this season. Carlos Carrasco who was right on par with Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar also was lost for the postseason with a pinky injury in the final month of the regular season.
Yan Gomes the starting catcher got reinjured in his final rehab assignment before joining the ball club forcing him to take a reserve role throughout the postseason. The injuries stockpiled at the worst time of the year forcing doubts into many including longtime Indians beat write Paul Hoynes who said in September that the team’s postseason dreams had ended and the team was eliminated from serious postseason advancement before they even got there.
Those dreams are now just 27 outs from reality. In a team that has faced so much doubt and has not won since 1948, we were not betting or fan favorites in the series. A poll showed that every state except for Ohio had a majority rooting for the Cubs to win it. Vegas and all the analysts picked the Cubs to win.
I got to experience it firsthand on Sunday, making a trip into enemy territory to watch game five in person. Throughout my entire day there I would say I saw a total of roughly 30-40 Indians fans. That is 30-40 Indians fans in a stadium of 41,000 and countless more in the streets.
Opposing teams have always had a presence here but I was not expecting that little of a showing of support with just a five and a half hour drive and a chance to clinch the World Series. Being there made me want it even more. To be able to celebrate among the faces of enemies, to relinquish a dream I thought I would one day witness in person, to bring another championship home to Cleveland.
It didn’t happen Sunday but now Cleveland has a chance to witness it on their own field. Winning one in Cleveland for Cleveland with a team that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere would be a fitting Cleveland thing to happen for the city.
Not only would it further cement our city among the greats right now and continuing the economic boost and progress our city has made but it also embodies the feeling of the city. LeBron was the hometown kid that broke the curse and we all felt a part of it when he helped win it. Now we have an opportunity to watch the underdogs, the scrappy magical team upset the big dog once again and prove why Cleveland is the city we love so much.
LeBron and the Cavs were a global stage for winning but the Indians can be that local push and only local love that secures what we need. The Cavaliers support of them embraces what the city is all about and the respect that these two neighboring teams have. The Cavs got us over the hump but the Indians are the ones we need to finish it. Both teams have their own impact but maybe this one will be the one we truly want. Maybe this will turn it around for our most struggling franchise fan-wise.
Maybe we can see the next great wave of talent that we weren’t prepared for. This is another team that embraces the blue collar attitude of the city. This is the one that we weren’t supposed to win. This was supposed to be the Mistake on the Lake. This is bittersweet. This is Cleveland against the world.