The guest prognosticator series returns! Prior to several Nats series, I interview a fan of the opposition. This time around, it’s Vince Guerriri (not pictured), who has talked about Cleveland teams several times over the years.
In our last Q&A with Vince, the Washington Nationals hosted the Cleveland Indians as the 2019 season wound down. There have been just a few changes since then…
WFY: How was year 1 of the “Cleveland Guardians” experience? How has the new nickname been received in Northeast Ohio? Did you perceive any changes as the 2022 season progressed?
VG: As you might imagine, the last five years have been an adventure when it comes to the team name and mascot. Chief Wahoo was phased out — and a lot of people thought that was the price paid for the 2019 All-Star Game. A lot of people were upset about that — and a lot of people are still upset about the name change. But I feel like that’s mostly going to level off. Indians was initially supposed to be a temporary name a century ago, but they went and won the World Series in 1920, and hung on to the name for decades afterward.
About Vince Guerrieri
A prolific Ohio writer and editor, Vince and William were Gannett co-workers back in the day.
Vince is most recently the author of Weird Moments in Cleveland Sports: Bottlegate, Bedbugs, and Burying the Pennant.
WFY: How do you like the Guardians uniforms? I liked the old C on the cap with the serif block font more.
VG: The team takes its name in part from the Guardians of Traffic, the statues on the Lorain-Carnegie bridge. They date back to the 1930s, and the team’s social media accounts really leaned into that Art Deco motif. I would have liked to have seen more of that in the uniform design, but I can’t complain. The uniforms really thread that needle of being different, but not DRAMATICALLY different, like, say, the change they underwent when the team went from Cleveland Stadium to Jacobs (now Progressive) Field.
The block C has been around for a long time. They wore it in the 80s too (and when Jacobs Field opened, Bill Clinton wore the block C cap when he threw out the first pitch. No Chief Wahoo for him.)
WFY: Back on the diamond, the Guardians won the AL Central. Fluke year or the beginning of something? How much did the roster turn over since the 2016 World Series? What are their strengths? Any weaknesses that Davey Martinez can exploit? I’m kidding of course, Davey wouldn’t figure it out.
VG: Jose Ramirez is literally the only player on the team at this point that was on the 2016 roster. Obviously, Francisco Lindor got dealt to the Mets, Jason Kipnis got cut loose and retired. Andrew Miller went to St. Louis and is now retired. Trevor Bauer’s in Japan. Mike Clevinger was dealt to San Diego and is now with the White Sox. This is an entirely different team.
I think a lot of things had to break the right way for the Guardians to win the division last year, but I wouldn’t call it a fluke. Yeah, the Twins were hammered by injuries and the Tony LaRussa experience blew up for the White Sox. And yeah, the Guardians debuted 17 players — literally the most in a century — but they all seemed to produce.
There’s some concern about regression, but the team’s still got Terry Francona as manager, and that counts for a lot. There’s also a lot of talent on the roster. I’m really high on Steven Kwan, who I got to talk to a couple times last year for Cleveland Magazine: Meet Steven Kwan, the Cleveland Guardians’ Rising-Star Rookie | Meet Steven Kwan, the Cleveland Guardians’ Rising-Star Rookie
The biggest flaw we saw in the team — which was laid bare in the division series against the Yankees — was a lack of power. The Guardians tried to address that with the signing of Mike Zunino and Josh Bell. Zunino’s produced offensively. Bell hasn’t. So the jury’s still out on that.
WFY: Terry Francona has been the Cleveland manager for over a decade now. He’s won four division titles and a pennant. Is he untouchable at this point? Since he’s been there longer than Boston, do you think he would wear a C in Cooperstown instead of a B?
VG: Terry Francona has this job for as long as he wants it. It was a concern recently how much longer he’d want it. He’s had some health issues. But it really seems like last season energized him.
I mean, the dude won two World Series in Boston, so I feel like he’d go in with a Red Sox cap on, but I feel like this place is a little more special to him. He played here. His father played here. In the interregnum between his time in Philadelphia — when he fell flat on his face — and his time in Boston, he was with the Indians as a special assistant.
WFY: Rob Manfred’s latest “innovation” is having every team play each other. Are you excited about the Guardians playing the Nats, Padres or Rockies in exchange for fewer division games against the White Sox, Tigers and Twins?
VG: I feel like there are a lot of fans who feel like every time they look up, the team was playing the Twins. Or Tigers. Or White Sox. But that gave the Guardians — or really, whoever ended up winning the AL Central — the opportunity to fatten up on some, uh, less than distinguished competition. I think there are a lot of people who were tired of the unbalanced division schedule. But I’m not sure how welcome the idea of random interleague series are.
WFY: Who is the greatest Cleveland ballplayer to wear #23?
VG: Obviously, the best 23 in Cleveland sports history is LeBron James. Baseball? That’s a tougher question. I looked it up. Indians players who wore 23 include Wayne Garland — one of the worst free agent signings of all time — Vic Wertz, he of the long line drive caught by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series, and Don Black, who had a stroke at home plate in 1948. This may be recency bias, but the answer is probably Michael Brantley.
WFY: In your hometown of Youngstown, how do the baseball allegiances breakdown between Cleveland and Pittsburgh?
VG: It’s funny. There are a lot of divided allegiances between the Browns and Steelers — the city’s halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh — but when it comes to baseball, there are definitely more Guardians fans than Pirates fans. Of course, the Pirates, while playing in the most beautiful ballpark in the majors, are supremely awful. There aren’t a lot of organizations I can look down on as a Browns fan, but the Pirates are definitely one of them.
WFY: Are there any DC connections in your latest book Cleveland’s Weirdest Sports Tales? If there was a Nats equivalent, Cleveland would be featured – “What was Nook Logan thinking?“
VG: Ahh, yes, the Joe Borowski experience.
Actually, there are plenty of Washington connections. As you might imagine, I talk at some length about 10-cent beer night, which was against the Rangers (the former Washington Senators). It was actually the first game to be declared a forfeit since the Senators forfeited their last game at RFK. Ironically, Dick Bosman was on the mound for both of those.
I talk about the whole Johnny Manziel experience, and a relatively minor part of them was him flipping the bird during a preseason game against the Redskins. He replaced Brandon Weeden, who was drafted when the Browns couldn’t swing a deal for the draft pick that turned into RGIII. And after he got fired in Washington, Kyle Shanahan made a brief stop in Cleveland.
And the Cleveland Rams beat the Redskins in the NFL Championship Game in 1945 … and then left a month later for Los Angeles.
WFY: DC always hosts an Independence Day game. Does Cleveland typically host a Dyngus Day ball game? They did this year against the Yankees.
VG: Dyngus Day is actually the day after Easter, which is a moveable feast. So the Guardians don’t always play on Dyngus Day.
WFY: Do your Guardians sweep the series or just take two games? How far do you see them going this season?
VG: Two of three. I don’t think they have it in them to take the whole series. I think they’ll definitely contend for the division title, but I really hope they get Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale back soon.