The tension was building all during the last week of July as the baseball trade deadline was approaching and the Cleveland Indians had a big decision to make. Hovering around the .500 mark yet still “in the hunt” for a post-season appearance, the Tribe was contemplating either trading whatever few minor league prospects they might have in their mediocre farm system for proven big leaguers to help them in the stretch run, or once again throwing in the towel and parting with one or more of their few established players in exchange for young prospects and the dream of future success.
In today’s baseball parlance, they would have to choose between being a “buyer” or a “seller.” Well, to make a long, sad story short, the Tribe was swept by the last place Minnesota Twins in the final series before the trade deadline, enabling its feckless brass to make the Solomon-like decision to do nothing. Well, technically they did “something.” They traded a relatively insignificant minor leaguer for another relatively insignificant minor leaguer. This particular “something” only proved how far into nothingness this franchise has fallen since it was purchased a dozen years ago by Larry Dolan.
Of course, over the past half century or so – with the exception of Dick Jacobs – the Indians have had their share of inept owners, but the current situation is about as bad or worse than its ever been – and that’s really saying something. It appears that the morale of the fans is lower that it has been in nearly 20 years. That’s why the time is right for Dolan – like the Browns’ clueless Randy Lerner – to answer the prayers of Clevelanders and find a buyer for his team. Now.
Why? I’m glad you asked that question. The Indians are dead last in attendance among the 32 major league teams and there seems to be few if any prospects for circumstances to change much in the near future. Their farm system is essentially bereft of top prospects in the upper minors, which is indicative of their scouting and drafting personnel not doing their jobs effectively. While they have made a few decent deals over the Dolan years, the Tribe struck out mightily in the fairly recent trades of back-to-back Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, getting only one decent major-leaguer, Michael Brantley, in return instead of the hoped-for talent bonanza that would generally come from the exchange of two premier pitching aces.
At the trading deadline a year ago, the Indians dealt their top two pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jiminez, who thus far has been god-awful. To visually characterize the gangly Ubaldo’s mound performances, one needs to go back to the old Disney cartoon where a gyrating Goofy is on the mound serving up pitches as his head corkscrews around watching his ineffectual offerings rocketed around the field. At the time of the deal the Tribe was doing well. At the end of the season, they were under .500 and Ubaldo had been terrible. This year he’s done even worse as the ERA of the Indians starters is at or near the bottom of the American League.
Since this past off-season, the “big” moves made by the Indians have brought them banjo-hitting first baseman Casey Kotchman and way over-the-hill Johnny Damon (combined average this season of about .225), who was finally released last week. And, don’t forget, they re-signed an injured Grady Sizemore, who hasn’t played yet this year. These three players are all left-handed hitters, as is the insignificant minor leaguer they traded for at the deadline. The Indians line-up often features a ridiculous overload of lefty swingers, only two of whom are hitting over .250 against southpaws, which puts the team at a significant strategic disadvantage. But perhaps in Dolan-Land this lopsidedness is somehow balanced out by the fact that, heading into August, each of the Tribe’s over 100 games was started by a right-handed pitcher – which may be some kind of dubious major league record.
The few remaining Dolan apologists may argue that this crazy-quilt team is the fault of the front office. That may be true, but Larry is the guy who hired this crew and he is ultimately responsible for everything – especially the current atmosphere of near-hopelessness that emanates from what’s left of Tribe Nation. And the front-office guy that Larry let get away five years ago, Neal Huntington, is now the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and has seemingly turned that once-dormant franchise around. But what strikes the most fear among fans is Dolan’s is-that-a-threat-or-a-promise statement that he plans to keep the team and pass it down to his children who will “assume ownership.” God forbid.
Dolan, a retired attorney, made his dough in cable television and is clearly a shrewd businessman. But owning a baseball team is an entirely different matter and the same business model that gouged every last dollar out of cable subscribers is a sure-fire way to produce mediocrity in baseball. And his which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg approach to spending money (Dolan’s policy of ‘if the fans come out in big numbers he will spend more’) is foolish beyond belief, especially when the product on the field is run-of-the-mill at best.
Additionally, Tribe fans can’t be encouraged by some the Dolan family’s failures in endeavors outside their cable empire. It practically goes without saying that Larry’s venture into starting an all-sports TV station, SportsTimeOhio, has resulted in one of the blandest sports products in existence. His nephew, James, owns the New York Knicks and was recently voted the worst owner in the NBA. And his son, Matt, is such an inept Republican politician that he was unable to even come close to winning the race for Cuyahoga County Executive despite the fact that he had a huge financial advantage and the county’s Democratic Party was knee-deep in the biggest corruption scandal in this area’s history.
Adding insult to injury for the long-suffering Tribe fans has been the sickening sight and sound of addle-brained reliever Chris Perez (who should be dropped like a bag of dirt before he turns into John Rocker) saying that players around the league hate Cleveland, hinting that some of his teammates want out and lashing out at the fans for not enthusiastically supporting a death-marching team that has not accomplished anything and is unbelievably boring to boot.
So this is the situation, Larry, that you have wrought. Complain all you want about the perils of the small market teams and economic vagaries and the unwillingness of fans to front you enough money to spend freely. Knock yourself out. But, please, do everyone a favor and leave before the villagers are forced to take up their pitchforks and torches and run your pasty behind out of town on a rail. Good Lord willing, that is.
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