You may remember this week’s guest prognosticator, Vince Guerrieri, from the Redskins vs. Browns game last year. He’s still a newspaper editor in Northern Ohio as well as the author of Ohio Sports Trivia and the upcoming The Blue Streaks and Little Giants: More Than a Century of Sandusky and Fremont Ross Football.. Vince also contributed to Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers.
WFY: First off, you survived the Manny Acta experience, congratulations. Having been through it myself, I know what that is like, how did you cope? Should we make an “it gets better” video for the next fanbase to have Acta in the dugout? By the way, there are some Nats fans that LOVE Manny Acta and were really upset when he was canned. Did that happen in Cleveland?
VG: Last August, the Indians had the worst month in team history in almost 100 years. (I wrote at some length about that: Misery Loves Company: 1914 Team Lost 24 in a Month Too) After that, Acta’s firing was pretty much a done deal. But even prior to that, there was a sense of discontent with Manny, like he was going through the motions. There was that game against the Yankees when Acta didn’t even come out of the dugout to protest a call by an umpire (emphasis added by WFY) — when a foul pop wasn’t caught by the Yankees, but by a fan in the stands — that really aggravated a lot of Tribe fans.
The sad part is that he was still a marked improvement over Eric Wedge, who managed the 2005 team that played .700 ball after the All-Star break and then lost six of their last seven to finish a game back in the wild card, and the 2007 team that was up 3-1 over the Red Sox in the ALCS. Wedge, of course, was also the guy who couldn’t find a spot in the daily lineup for Brandon Phillips.
WFY: Terry Francona. Nick Swisher. Cheaper concessions! The 2013 Cleveland Indians had a good offseason. How has the season been going? Streaky?
VG: That’s a pretty good way of putting it. The Indians just took two of three from the Rangers to end an eight-game losing streak. The only saving grace is that they’re playing in the AL Central, which is probably the worst division, top to bottom, in the majors. It’s still the Tigers’ to lose, but they can’t get it together either. Verlander’s finally starting to pitch well, but the bullpen there appears to be the cause of more heart attacks than Detroit coney dogs.
WFY: When does Grady Sizemore get off the DL? More than a few Nats fans are currently terrified Bryce Harper is going down that road.
VG: When’s Grady get off the DL? Probably about the time Greg Oden starts for the Cavs. Seriously, Grady’s engaging in baseball activities, and could latch on somewhere after the break. I hope he does well. I’m not sure I’d compare him to Harper, though. Bryce Harper was all that and a bag of fries sine he was in high school. Grady was a throw-in in the deal that sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal. The big piece of that trade for the Indians was SUPPOSED to be Brandon Phillips.
WFY: How do you rate Jacobs Field? What was watching baseball in Municipal Stadium like? I know you went to Nationals Park (I’m sorry I that had other plans) but did you make it to RFK?
VG: I’ve been to nicer ballparks, but Jacobs (now Progressive) Field will always be my favorite. I was there the day it opened with Chuck (my father, to the uninitiated). I can remember coming into the ballpark, and my previous baseball experiences were the carpet at Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, and the cow pasture that Municipal Stadium had become. I can’t fully explain to you what a marked improvement it was over Municipal Stadium, which was enormous and decrepit. I saw a shimmering new stadium with lush green grass. And playing over the PA was Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside…” I was hooked. I’ve seen an All-Star game there. I’ve seen playoff games there, including a World Series game. I went with girls I thought I loved, the woman I do love, and the daughter that’s become the apple of my eye. I went with the gang from high school. I went with college buddies. I took a work field trip when they clinched the division in 2007. I’ve got so many memories there that it will always be the best ballpark to me.
I saw one game at RFK. It was a matinee the Giants. My wife, a Pittsburgh native, was deeply disappointed that she couldn’t boo Barry Bonds, because he wasn’t playing. We were sitting next to a couple women from San Francisco who went to see the game, and they said, “We think he’s an unfair scapegoat for steroids.” Shannon said, “I don’t care about steroids. I just think he’s an expletive deleted.” Shannon was also traumatized by the Presidents’ races there.
I thought RFK was a great experience. At the time the Nats were so bad that we bought tickets for below face value from a scalper. And the tailgate lots and the stadium’s location near 295 made it really easy to get in and out of.
I went to Nats Park once. It seemed like a good time, even though there was a two-hour rain delay. I’m just amazed at how they put a five-story parking deck between the stadium and a gorgeous skyline view. Well, money talks…
WFY: How are the Indians last in attendance?
VG: It’s a confluence of factors. (I wrote about this at some length too: Sellout Streaks A Thing Of The Past In Cleveland ) First, the economy isn’t doing so hot, and it’s particularly bleak in northern Ohio. You’ve got a shrinking city, one of the poorest in the country, and ballgames remain a luxury item.
Second, with the 455-game sellout streak and the run of success the team had in the 1990s, it’s really easy to forget that Cleveland’s had a fairly tenuous baseball history in the past 50 years or so. In the 1950s, there was talk of moving the team to Minneapolis (the Senators took that bullet) or Houston. In the 1960s, it was Seattle or New Orleans (there was actually a deal in place to play some home games in Big Easy in the 1960s, but the team changed owners, putting an end to that). Fay Vincent essentially came to Cleveland in the early 1990s and said, “Build Jacobs Field or the team moves.” So there’s a certain amount of fan apathy.
And that apathy has been in full force the past couple years. They’ve seen the team jump out of the gate and then flame out. Cleveland fans are going on 50 years without a title in any professional sport. We’re a cynical bunch. And it can be difficult to believe in the Indians. Here’s a stat for you: In 2011 and 2012, the Indians spent more time in first place in the AL Central than any other team in the division. And they had two below-.500 finishes to show for it.
WFY: What’s the quintessential Jacobs Field concession? I assume stadium mustard is involved. Can you get Great Lakes or any other local beer in the ballpark?
VG: Actually, at the Jake, it’s Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard. Stadium Mustard is the name of the product at Browns Stadium. At Gateway (the name given to Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena), it’s Bertman’s. But yes, a hot dog with Bertman’s is almost mandatory.
You can get Great Lakes at the ballpark. However, Great Lakes is just over the bridge from the ballpark, and they actually run a shuttle from the brewery to the ballpark (it’s biodiesel, so they call it the Fatty Wagon). One of the new concession stands (it opened in 2011) is Your Dad’s Beer. They have Stroh’s (the beer at the infamous 10-cent beer night: Ten Cent Beer Night, A Promotion Gone Terribly Wrong), Genesee and other choices based on who’s in town. When the Pirates came last year, they had Iron City, which I figured would amuse you based on your recent run-in with them. (True story: Chuck and I were at the All-Star Game in 1997, and some yinzer was INDIGNANT that they didn’t sell Iron City at Beers of the World.)
WFY: Where do the Indians rank in the Cleveland sports scene?
VG: The best they can hope for appears to be the silver. It’s really a Browns town first and foremost (it’s no coincidence that most of the sellout streak coincided with the Browns being on hiatus, or as I like to call it, the three years they went undefeated). In the late aughts, when LeBron was still in town, the Indians were third. Now they’re almost second by default.
WFY: We skipped this during our Redskins-Browns guest prognostication, but since the topic got pretty hot around here for a while/is never going away, what do you think of the team name and logo? I am ambivalent about the name, but the Chief Wahoo logo is awful. Plus, I like the block-serif C on the road caps, but I am a big believer in the city’s letter(s) on the cap. On the other hand, I’m in favor of changing the Redskins name, though the logo isn’t terrible. Would you be okay with Spiders becoming the team name again? That’s one of the best available nicknames not used in pro sports.
VG: The last team called the Spiders was probably the worst team in baseball history. In 1899, the Robison brothers, owners of the Spiders, bought the St. Louis baseball team, and essentially took everyone from Cleveland worth taking and put them on the Perfectos (later called the Cardinals). The Spiders became the sideshow, losing 134 games — including 101 on the road, because nobody wanted to travel to Cleveland, since attendance was so bad, they couldn’t recoup their travel costs. Mercifully, the team went out of existence after that year. So to me, naming a team the Spiders would be like Carnival naming its next cruise ship the Titanic.
If you’re going to rename the team, I’d go with the Naps, in honor of former player-manager Napoleon Lajoie, one of the stars of baseball in the first decade of the 20th century.
I guess I’m kind of ambivalent on the changing of the name. Most of the time, we didn’t call them the Indians. We called them the Tribe, which gave us a vested interest. Kind of like how we’re all in this together. But yeah, Chief Wahoo is a relic of a bygone, far less sensitive time. He should probably go. At least the Indians appear to be de-emphasizing him.
The part that gets lost in the shuffle over this is that Cleveland’s not a racially insensitive town. George Preston Marshall integrated the Redskins basically by federal order (with some help from Paul Brown, who traded them Bobby Mitchell for the rights to Ernie Davis). The Indians signed the first black player in the American League, and the Sporting News once said of Indians owner Bill Veeck that Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, but Bill Veeck gave ’em all jobs in baseball. One of the reasons the Indians were so successful in the early 1950s was because they signed black and Latin players. Frank Robinson was the first black manager in the majors in Cleveland. This is a city that elected the first black mayor in the country, and people see a leering, grinning caricature as a baseball mascot.
WFY: On a lighter note, who are the greatest and your favorite Indians player of your lifetime?
VG: The greatest? Without a doubt, Albert Belle. He hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in a strike-shortened season, and was the one of the most feared players (in several senses of the word) in the major leagues. I believe if he was a little less of a bastard, he’d probably be in the Hall of Fame. Then again, if he was a little less of a offspring of parents who were married, he might not have been as good.
My favorite is Sandy Alomar. He was a tough sell. The Indians dealt Joe Carter for him, so he had a lot to live up to. And he did, for the most part. His 1997 season was a thing of beauty, and it was a real thrill to watch him homer in the All-Star Game that year.
WFY: How are the broadcasters? Do you miss Harry Doyle on the radio?
VG: The broadcasters leave A LOT to be desired. Actually, I miss Herb Score. He had all of the hilarity of Harry Doyle, but not of the bite. Joe Tait once said that Herb Score had seen more bad baseball than anyone in history.
Most of my memories of the Indians come from watching them on television. Growing up in Youngstown, we got Channel 43, the superstation out of Cleveland, and they carried the Tribe games. Good times.
However, there is a Facebook group that’s called “Tom Hamilton has the best home run call in all of baseball.” I think that says it all.
WFY: Are you aware that one of the most memorable Nats broadcasts was against Cleveland?
VG: I was not. If it was any consolation, since Borowski was pitching, I was probably at the office with my head between my knees or breathing into a paper bag.
WFY: What about the MSM coverage? In addition to DTTWLN, what are some other blogs covering the Tribe?
VG: Obviously, the paper of record covering the Indians is the Plain Dealer, but there are a lot of papers that still staff the games (Elyria, Willoughby, Akron, sometimes Youngstown).
Waiting for Next Year is kind of the go-to spot for Cleveland sports, and the name says it all.
There’s also Wahoo’s on First, run by one of my Tweeps, Lewie Pollis. Another Tweep, Stephanie Liscio, runs the blog It’s Pronounced Lajaway.
WFY: Are the Indians the #1 team in your hometown of Youngstown? What about where you live now in Northern Ohio, east of Toledo?
VG: Well, like I said in the Browns Q&A, Youngstown’s halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. So whoever rules the town is a question of who’s doing better, which means the Indians have won by default for the better part of the past two decades.
I’m in Tigers country here. It’s kind of funny, though: I was in college when the Indians were at their best in the 1990s. Bowling Green State University draws a lot of students from the Cleveland area (my man Mike Brandyberry, the brains of the operation at Did the Tribe Win Last Night, referred to it as Clearview West. Clearview’s a school in Lorain.), so there was no shortage of Tribe fans. The Tigers, on the other hand, might have been the worst team in baseball at the time. So all the Tigers fans kind of climbed into the woodwork, and all the Indians fans climbed out. Now, I’d say the opposite is true.
WFY: What is the best part of being an Indians fan? What is the worst?
VG: The worst part? The last time the team won a World Series, the U.S. Army was still segregated. All I can say is thank God for the Cubs, the only team that’s gone longer without winning a World Series.
The best part? Dollar dog night. Just kidding (although that is pretty cool). The team’s got an amazing history that people just don’t know about, but I get to appreciate.
WFY: Speaking of the Browns, since we talked about them last autumn, they’ve had some issues. Is Jimmy Halsam the worst Cleveland owner since Rachel Phelps? Is this a false flag operation by the Steelers?
VG: What you have to understand is that the bar is set almost impossibly high for bad owners in Cleveland. Art Modell (may that rat bastard cocksucker rest in peace) couldn’t make money owning an NFL team in Cleveland, and then to prove it wasn’t a fluke, couldn’t do it in Baltimore, either. Ted Stepien was so inept as the Cavs owner, the NBA actually told him he couldn’t make any more trades without league approval. And I told you about the Robisons.
Haslam’s in deep trouble. It’s entirely possible he’ll have to sell the team within a couple years if he gets convicted or even if he spends a ton of money on his legal defense (that’s why the league forced Modell to sell, he didn’t have enough cash flow, and how Haslam bought into the Steelers into the first place). So we’ll have to see if there’s another owner, and what crimes against humanity he’s committed.
WFY: Alright, enough with the references, what your take on Major League? I never saw the sequel(s) by the way, where they any good? What is your take on Randy Newman for that matter?
VG: I love “Major League.”I watched it when it premiered on HBO. The beginning of the movie – with miserable fans and poorly attended games – was a documentary (seriously; Mom laughed when they showed 750 people in the seats. Two days later, when we were watching an Indians game and it appeared that was no exaggeration for drama’s sake, she laughed harder). But the end seemed like science fiction.
I watched the Wild Thing come out of the bullpen and a stadium full of people descend into complete bedlam. I wondered if I’d ever see anything like that in Cleveland. As it turns out, I did, when the bullpen door swung open in the top of the ninth of Game Five of the 1995 World Series and Jose Mesa stepped out. I swear, it’s almost 20 years later, and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Major League II wasn’t terrible. I didn’t even watch Major League III.
Randy Newman scored “The Natural.” For that reason alone, he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
WFY: So, who takes the series an why?
VG: Indians take two of three. They’re getting good outings out of their starters, and the bats are really starting to come around. Swisher’s out of his slump, and Kipnis and Santana are tearing the cover off the ball.