The guest prognosticator series returns! Prior to several Nats series, I interview a fan of the opposition. Once again, it’s Vince Guerriri, who has talked about Cleveland teams several times over the years.

The Nats just took 3 of 4 from the Atlanta Braves too.

WFY: Terry Francona retired and the Guardians are responding by being in first place at the time I am writing this question. What’s powering the Cleveland nine thus far in 2024? How is the new skipper?

VG: The new skipper is Stephen Vogt, who had a remarkably lengthy playing career, all things considered. He’s a catcher, which seems to be a good prelude to becoming a manager, especially in Cleveland. (Catchers-turned-managers here include Al Lopez, Birdie Tebbetts, Doc Edwards and Eric Wedge.)

I heard just enough people say when the hire was made that the Guardians hit it out of the park, and that seems to be the case thus far. The team scraps, and they really seem to like playing for him.

A prolific Ohio writer and editor, Vince and William were Gannett co-workers back in the day.

Vince is the author of Weird Moments in Cleveland Sports: Bottlegate, Bedbugs, and Burying the Pennant. He’s also a SABR author.

Also, the team’s big free agent acquisition this offseason was Austin Hedges (which isn’t actually that big, but bear with me). He’s your prototypical light-hitting catcher, but he seems to have a great mind for the game and is a great presence in the clubhouse.

WFY: Last year, I recall the Guardians were last in home runs. I know this because the Nats were 29th. Have they powered up? 

VG: They have. As of this writing (Thursday), they’re already halfway to their home run total from last year, and on pace to more than surpass it.

As to why, I can’t answer that. It’s not like they went out and got bats in the offseason. Hitting coach Chris Valaika is one of the few holdovers from Tito to Vogt. Player development is probably a factor, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s been a philosophical change from Tito to Vogt.

I’ve even heard a theory that the renovations to the upper deck have Progressive Field playing more like a hitters’ park now. (The Guardians thus far have been brilliant at home.) 

WFY: How is the pitching? 

VG: Uh, injured, mostly. That’s the main reason a lot of people are worried that the team’s going to fade. Shane Bieber went down with an elbow injury and just underwent Tommy John surgery. (He was potentially trade bait at the deadline, since he’s going to be a free agent; perhaps this deflates his asking price and the Guards can re-sign him.) Triston McKenzie is pitching hurt. Trevor Stephan had Tommy John surgery. Gavin Williams can’t seem to get healthy. The fact that the Guardians are doing what they’re doing right now in spite of all this is almost miraculous.

WFY: Is there any buzz for the 2024 Guardians and how is attendance, TV ratings, etc.? 

VG: People are talking about them. Attendance is actually pretty good so far. A couple years ago, the team started offering monthly passes. For $50, you get a standing room ticket to every home game that month. And the team’s done a bunch of stuff to be more receptive to those types of tickets. Seats were taken out in the outfield corners and replaced with standing areas, and there are plenty of bars and plazas throughout the ballpark where you can sit and watch the game.

I couldn’t tell you about TV ratings, mostly because Bally’s has been an unshirted disaster. The Guardians have been dealing with their own RSN, and it’s been an adventure, to say the least.

WFY: Can you name one active Nationals position player off the top of your head? 

VG: Joey Gallo, mostly because my wife and I make the “My Cousin Vinny” joke about how he’s not Joey GALLO, he’s Joey CALLO!

WFY: Do you have any specific grievances with newly retired umpire, Angel Hernandez? 

VG: Nothing really comes to mind.

WFY: In your recent article about the 10 cent beer night riot, I was half-expecting Dick Bosman to mention the last Senators game as these sorts of things just seemed to follow him around. Did he and it didn’t make the cut?

VG: Bosman and I talked a couple times (I interviewed him on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his no-hitter — which was also in 1974). I think he mentioned the last Senators game in passing, but honestly, what made the biggest impression on him during his time in Washington was working with Senators manager Ted Williams. Bosman said Williams made him a better pitcher.

WFY: Who is the best #24 in Cleveland baseball history? 

VG: The number currently belongs to Triston McKenzie. Other Indians who wore that number include Tito and Terry Francona (as a player), Grady Sizemore, Manny Ramirez and Andrew Miller. 

But the only Cleveland athlete in any sport to wear that number that’s in his sport’s hall of fame is actually Early Wynn. (Surprisingly, the team hasn’t retired his number.) This gives me the opportunity to share with you that Wynn was briefly a pitching coach for the Indians, and I once heard Vern Fuller say Wynn KNOCKED HIM DOWN in batting practice after he hit a line drive comebacker to the mound.

WFY: How do you feel about Randy Newman’s “Burn On” ?

VG: I’m a fan. I actually listened to it a bunch of times to get me in the right frame of mind while I was writing this Popular Mechanics piece. And of course, it will always be connected to the beginning of “Major League” for me. (As an aside, in the opening credits, you can see the onion domes of St. Theodosius in Tremont, which was the site of the wedding in “The Deer Hunter,” and was recently damaged by a fire.)

WFY: I recently learned that Baltimore now does racing hot dogs mascots; is there anything they won’t steal from Cleveland? 

VG: I mean, I feel like everyone got the idea to do some kind of races around the same time. In D.C., obviously, it’s the presidents (which kind of freaked my wife out the first time she saw them in person). Milwaukee has sausages, too (which you might remember from the Randall Simon incident).

But the gold standard for me is still the pierogi races at PNC Park.

WFY: Guards? Ians? What do fans call the team other than their full name? Is this still being litigated in the court of public opinion like the redasses who constantly comment on anything Washington NFL related with references to the old name? 

VG: Guards or Guardos, usually. And yes. Many people are still annoyed, to put it mildly, with the name change. I’ve been doing some speaking engagements for my book, usually at libraries. The question I get with the most regularity, hands down, is what I think of the name change. And nobody asks me that because they really want to know what I think. They’re looking for a fight.

WFY: Speaking of Guards, you watch a bit of Big Ten football, did you know the band in that commercial was named Guards? Will you miss it? Alternately, a former co-worker of mine from Ohio thought the “flyover” was a bit on the nose for the Big Ten. 

VG: I did not realize that. It’s kind of funny: I was in Pittsburgh in the early 2000s, when Big East basketball was at its zenith, and then that iteration of the conference fell apart, frankly, to more mourning than the changes to the Big Ten have gotten. (Seriously? Creighton, a school in Nebraska, is in the Big EAST?) Whether we like it or not, we’re headed toward superconferences, and geographic (or in the case of the Big Ten, numeric) names are less and less based in fact.

WFY: Speaking of football, is Joe Flacco a elite quarterback? Did the Browns make a mistake going back to the white facemask instead of the more aesthetically pleasing brown? 

VG: I mean, there were people who thought Jason Campbell was an elite quarterback, so we might not be the best to judge. Although I did love the discourse about Comeback Player of the Year, that taking the Browns to the playoffs, like Flacco did, was more of an achievement than coming back from the dead, which Damar Hamlin essentially did.

There are an inordinate amount of people who are deeply invested in the Browns’ sartorial choices, and a lot of them were really excited by that change. Of course, that’s what color facemasks they wore when I became a Browns fan in the 1980s, so there’s obviously a whiff of nostalgia to the move.

WFY: Had I been able to come out for the series this weekend, what should I have done beyond just going to the ballgame?

VG: Plenty. University Circle has a lot of great museums (the Art Museum is free and fabulous and the Cleveland History Center is one of my favorite places to visit), and it’s close to Little Italy, where you could get pizza and cannoli.

Lake View Cemetery is actually quite a destination as well, and it’s right by Little Italy. It was one of those cemeteries built when the idea was for them to be used as outdoor recreation spots, so it’s immaculately landscaped, the chapel is amazing and it’s the final resting place for a lot of prominent people. John D. Rockefeller is buried there, President Garfield has a massive monument there, and Ray Chapman, the ill-fated Indians shortstop who was fatally beaned, is also buried there.

There’s also a vibrant microbrewery scene, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the West Side Market or the Baseball Heritage Museum.

WFY: Is postseason baseball going to be played in The Land this year? How does this weekend’s series in Cleveland turn out? 

VG: I think so. The Central appears to be a strong division, and I think the Guardians can get in somehow, even if they don’t win it. 

Guardians benefit from home cooking and take two of three. Barring unforeseen calamity, I’ll be there Saturday.

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