It’s been a quieter year for the guest prognosticator series; I’ll try to do better next year. Every three years though the Nats get Cleveland on the schedule and that means a chance to talk baseball with Vince Guerrieri and that doesn’t get turned down.
WFY: It’s come down to the final week of the season for the Tribe to make the play-in game. Three years after their last pennant, is this surprising, expected or a disappointment?
VG: In the short term, nothing shy of joy. This team will probably end up around 95 wins, which is better than the 2016 team, and nothing shy of remarkable when you consider all the injuries that piled up this year (short list: We got a month out of Corey Kluber all season, Mike Clevinger’s missed a couple months, Jason Kipnis is on the shelf with a broken bone in his wrist, Jose Ramirez just came BACK from that same injury, Francisco Lindor missed the first month of the season and oh, CARLOS CARRASCO HAS LEUKEMIA). Through all that, the Indians have been a good team; it’s just that the Twins have managed to put it all together this year.
In the long term, it’s a little disappointing. Big things have been expected since the trip to the World Series in 2016, and those expectations have largely been unmet. This is a great transition into the next question, by the way.
WFY: Last time you quipped “All I can say is thank God for the Cubs, the only team that’s gone longer without winning a World Series.” How much did the 2016 World Series hurt? Also, D.C.’s last (only) World Series victory was 1924.
VG: At the time, not much. Probably because I was sleep-deprived and full of whiskey. But there was a sense of optimism after that because not much was expected of that team. The Indians then won 102 games the following year and then blew a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, and then meekly got swept by the Astros last year. The Indians have really popularized the term “window of opportunity” as a management slogan, and it appears the window is closing.
WFY: How much of the team stayed together from the 2016?
VG: A good amount, actually. One of the reasons optimism had run so high after 2016 is that a lot of the key players are back — in fact, the following year’s team was even better, at least according to its record — and one of the reasons there’s so much rage about the previous offseason is that the clock is ticking. Kluber’s got more good days behind him than ahead of him, Lindor’s going to get a zillion dollars (and probably not from the Tribe) and the team retained everyday performers like Ramirez, Kipnis (at least, for a little longer) and Carlos Santana, who took what amounted to a one-year sabbatical in Philadelphia.
WFY: Which players, if any, are worth the price of admission?
VG: Lindor, definitely. He’s without a doubt one of the best players in the majors and one of their most marketable. Ramirez appears to be tearing the cover off the ball again (he hit two home runs and had a total of 7 RBIs in his first game off the IL on Tuesday). Santana flies under the radar, which is a shame, and the Indians got two big pieces this year in the deal that sent Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati: Yasiel Puig (who’s essentially a rental for the second half of the season) and Franmil Reyes (who was the big get in that deal; he’s exactly the kind of good-hitting outfielder they’re looking for, and promises to be under team control for a good long time).
WFY: Are we looking at three bullpen games from the Tribe side? Somebody pointed out because of expanded rosters, we won’t actually see a lot of pitchers hitting which would disappointing in theory, but and I acknowledge this may only seem to the be case, AL pitchers hit better agains the Nats than they probably should.
VG: Doubtful. The Indians are, for all intents and purposes, in the playoffs right now. They pretty much have to win every game to at the very least get a play-in before the Wild Card. Pitching matchups are set for the Nats series — it’s Zach Plesac on Friday, Adam Plutko on Saturday and Mike Clevinger on Sunday. Theoretically that sets up Bieber for a tiebreaker/wild card start, which is comforting.
(As an aside, Bieber and Civale have both been pleasant surprises for the Indians this year. A lot of pitching injuries led to them suddenly casting about for starting pitchers, and not only have those two ate innings, but they look good. Bieber, you’ll remember, was the All-Star Game MVP in front of the hometown crowd in July.)
WFY: Lebron returned, played for the title several times and won the big one in 2016. Did that soften the Cleveland sports disappointments since then? Was he forgiven for the choices of his earlier days or present ones
VG: It really has. It’s hard to remember, but in the depths of that NBA Finals, it was pretty bleak. It legitimately looked like that Cavs team might get blown up that summer. But they won it all and a certain euphoria took hold. And it’s definitely made that fall’s World Series, the Indians’ lack of postseason success since and the Browns absolutely stinking up the joint in Hue Jackson’s reign of error a little easier to take.
WFY: It’s been a few years since the sharp looking serif-block C replaced Chief Wahoo. Has the fanbase gotten over the change, ignored it or openly rebelled. Here, the unrest over the Redskins name has seemingly turned to indifference as that franchise is more or less hopeless (hence no Q&A a few years back – I don’t even pretend to care).
VG: All the way through the 2016 World Series, it’s worth noting that the Indians wore the Wahoo caps (apparently, wardrobe was the starting pitcher’s choice, and not only are ballplayers superstitious, but Trevor Bauer went full MAGA and said he wasn’t the only one who thought that way in that locker room, although Jason Kipnis later essentially said Trump was a horse’s ass — and kind of hinted the same about Bauer). The Indians haven’t had a clean break. They used the block C as an alternate logo for years, and they still sell some Chief Wahoo merchandise (apparently they have to or the trademark will lapse, and then they could become the Cleveland equivalent of Calvin peeing on things). The local T-shirt companies have made money off pro-Chief sentiment, but I’m not sure if that’s from a deeply held sense of nostalgia or capitalism.
There are people who believe there was a Curse of Chief Wahoo, and there are people who believe there is a curse on the team since Chief Wahoo’s removal. There are even people who believe this year’s All-Star Game was the Tribe’s 30 pieces of silver for getting ride of the Chief. It’s basically become a political statement. Tell me how you feel about Chief Wahoo and I can pretty much figure out your beliefs from there.
WFY: How healthy if the market for baseball? The team has been good, but like just about anywhere else attendance is down, right?
VG: Oh, my God. “Attendance” in Cleveland is like the magic word for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. There are plenty of journalists who love to opine, if not outright shame people, on attendance. Here are some facts: Cleveland is the smallest market with at least three major league teams, and keeps dueling with Detroit as the poorest city in the United States. It’s expensive to go to a game, and I know a lot of people who have full or partial season ticket packages and have noticed a marked decline in the customer service they’ve been getting.
The Indians saw a bump in attendance in 2017, and it’s kind of slid since. Indians ownership has not only done NOTHING to increase excitement — particularly in this off-season — but has actively tamped it down (Paul Dolan said, “Enjoy him,” (WKYC) Lindor, essentially ceding to the idea that he was gone as soon as his contract was up. It did not go well.)
WFY: Great Lakes Oktoberfest, greatest Oktoberfest or greatest beer period? Can you get Great Lakes in the ballpark? How is the regional beer selection? What about other stadium food?
VG: I remain a huge fan of Great Lakes. Oktoberfest doesn’t really trip my trigger, but it’s a signpost toward Nosferatu and Christmas Ale. My favorite seasonal from Great Lakes is probably Chillwave, the double IPA that hits the streets in February.
There is a great craft beer scene in Cleveland, and it’s well-represented at Progressive Field. Great Lakes has a beer garden, and other local breweries represented include FatHead’s, Market Garden (I’m partial to their Prosperity wheat, and they have an excellent Festivus ale that’s a little lighter than the typical Christmas beers) and Saucy Brew Works
WFY: Is there a Racing Whatevers at Tribe games? “Major League” characters come to mind.
VG: Hot dog races. And it’s a crime that Mustard is yellow, and not Bertman’s Ballpark mustard.
You know, the Indians could have a presidents race too. There are plenty of choices in Ohio. James Garfield is from the Cleveland area (I actually have a bobblehead of him from the Tribe’s affiliate in Lake County), and there’s Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. (I keep trying to convince the Mahoning Valley Scrappers to have a McKinley bobblehead night, to no avail thus far.)
WFY: After a summer of hype, the Browns are 1-2! A good 1-2 or a bad 1-2? Do people actually like the mono-brown look of are they just better than current alternatives? Are people on holding off on buying new jerseys until they fix them next year?
VG: People NEVER hold off on Browns jerseys. It amazes me how many different players you’ll STILL see. Lots of Joe Haden stuff (and he was a great guy in Cleveland), some Manziel jerseys, some Peyton Hillis jerseys … I legit saw enough Ward jerseys downtown on Sunday that some were Denzel and some were TJ.
We’ll find out Sunday. Because there’s been a certain amount of panic about the Browns — I guess this is what happens when you have expectations? — after the waxing they got in the opener. They beat a terrible Jets team and hung tough with a good Rams team. The big concerns are the offense. I don’t know if it’s getting all the new talent involved, the new schemes, the playcalling or what, but they don’t look really good. However, I think that’s mostly growing pains and will work itself out.
Of course, there will be all kinds of good feelings if the Browns beat the Ravens on Sunday. Then they’ll be 2-2 and leading the division. I really think 11 wins takes the division, and the schedule is frontloaded with all the really tough games. The back end is a lot of division games and probably a few teams that will have packed it in for the year. So there’s still time for them to right the ship.
WFY: Who takes the series and how do the playoffs work out?
VG: Indians take two of three. The Nats’ playoff odyssey will be secure by Saturday and they’ll start resting starters and trying to line up their pitchers. The Indians keep playing for their lives and advance to the Division Series, but probably no farther. (Then again, in 2016, I said they could win a short series, but not much more. It’s like Smooth Jimmy Apollo said on “The Simpsons,” When you’re right 52 percent of the time, you’re wrong 48 percent of the time.)
Vince and I were Gannett Co. Inc. colleagues back in the day. He’s stayed in the media world, working for a newspaper near Cleveland and as well writing for outlets like Politico, Deadspin, Ohio Magazine among others. He’s also the author of Ohio Sports Trivia and 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. Someday, the Youngstown-native is going to write the definitive biography of Jim Trafficant as well; can’t wait.