Tribe worthy of support again

Greg M. Schwartz

It’s time for Northeastern Ohio to start supporting our Cleveland Indians again. Those who remain skeptical about owner Larry Dolan’s commitment have ample reason. When Dolan ordered general manager Mark Shapiro to deal pitching ace Bartolo Colon for prospects in 2002, I was outraged and began a personal boycott of baseball. That was the type of deal the Tribe used to make — not a strategy fans expected to see again after the golden age of Tribe baseball from 1994-2001.

“How dare that cheapskate purchase our team in the first place if he doesn’t have the money to field a contender,” I lamented. Attendance over the past three years indicates most of Cleveland felt similarly. Clevelanders are not fair-weather fans — just witness the support of the sorry squads recently fielded by the Browns. But we do demand that management show they aspire to field a competitive product. The Colon trade showed the opposite.

Baseball’s economic structure is also off-putting. Unlike the NFL and NBA, television money is not distributed equally, so major market teams deal from a stacked deck. The New York Yankees get to have the highest payroll in the league every year, which ruins any sense of competitive balance.

Back in the ’80s, my older brother said he wished there was a pill he could take to make him stop being an Indians fan. I felt like the Colon trade was that pill, but now I realize the reality: If you grow up a Tribe fan, there is no such pill. The jury’s still out on ownership, but Shapiro has proven himself. The Tribe team he’s built on the cheap flirted with contention last August and is doing so again now. Two of the players Shapiro got for Colon — center fielder Grady Sizemore and pitcher Cliff Lee — are excelling and the Tribe is in the playoff hunt.

Many were disappointed when the team let popular shortstop Omar Vizquel go this past off-season to clear room for prospect Jhonny Peralta, but Peralta is proving he’s ready for prime time. Recently, his clutch ninth-inning game-tying hits against Colorado and Boston twice enabled the Tribe to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Slugger Travis Hafner is hitting dingers that recall Jim Thome, and his ninth-inning grand slam to beat Boston last week, after Peralta’s game-tying hit, was huge. The Tribe bounced back from getting swept by the Red Sox in Cleveland by winning two of three from the world champs in Boston. That showed heart.

They aren’t likely to catch Chicago for the division title since the White Sox got off to such a hot start, but the Tribe is showing they have the talent to contend for the wild card spot and make 2005 an exciting summer at Jacobs Field.

Dolan is still a jerk for buying the team without sufficient funds to run it, but Shapiro and the players have shown themselves worthy of fan support. The only way to get Dolan to spend more money is to fill those seats. It will help both the team and the city because what’s good for the Tribe is economically good for Cleveland. So get down to Jacobs Field!

Greg M. Schwartz is a graduate journalism student and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].