Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Cleveland Indians Fooled Me

I grew up going to old Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the mid-80s when the announced crowd may have been 10,000 but if you were there you knew if there were quadruple digits in attendance it was a good night at the gate for the Tribe despite what was announced.

My Dad’s employer at the time happened to be the president of The Wahoo Club and had season tickets in the first row behind the visitor’s dugout. The Indians were so bad we used to get to go to 20-30 games a year, for free, because you literally couldn’t give them away to clients, no one wanted them.

The Indians were a bad baseball team, for the most part, in the 1980s and early 1990s and because of that I have always considered myself an optimistic realist when it comes to the Erie Warriors. No matter how bad they were I always had hope that they could be the surprise team of the year but knew that the odds were slim against that.

When the Jacobs Brothers/John Hart regime took over and changed the direction of the Cleveland Indians Baseball Club it was a dream come true to have a contending team for the first time in my life. The optimist always felt the Indians had a shot at the title but the realist in me was always skeptical about the offense first make-up of the team when it came to playoff baseball.

It has always been a pretty even balance with me. I have never been one of those “woe is me” they will find some way to blow it, Cleveland is cursed or any other line of BS that sometimes, and too frequently, permeates from a Cleveland sports fan. I have always been a firm believer in the team but have always realized their weaknesses.

But for some reason, before this season started, I let the optimist in me blind my realism. I wrote prior to the season that the Indians may be the team to beat because of their incredible starting pitching and lights out bullpen. The fact that their offense was sub-par in 2007 had me thinking that there was only one way to go, up.

But as this dreadful 2008 season drags on and I get increasingly demoralized at watching the same game over and over each and every night I realize that the Cleveland Indians fooled me and fooled themselves and it makes me sick to my stomach.

I wrote a month ago about whom I felt was to blame for this debacle and named everyone from Mark Shapiro to Eric Wedge to my pride and joy, The As-Man, Asdrubal Cabrera as culprits. But it just hit me today that I wrote this about the time the Indians broke camp for the final time in Winter Haven, Florida.

I can take the fact that they fooled me. I am a fan not a paid executive of a Major League Baseball team. But the fact that they fooled themselves and are in this situation has brought out the realist in me and my outlook is not good.

I outlined in my previous article that there is a baseline for veterans like Joe Borowski, David Dellucci, and Casey Blake. How I expected anything beyond that, I don’t know. But it’s blatantly obvious that Dellucci and Iron Joe are D-O-N-E, done, and that Blake is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades player, great veteran clubhouse presence and all around good guy but not an everyday major league third baseman.

I expected a little too much out of the young arms of Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez and Tom Mastny and should have expected some ups and downs from them. The same goes for the bats of Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera. It looks now that Gutierrez may be more of a 4th defensive outfielder and The As-Man needs a little more seasoning.

To think that Ryan Garko would develop into a prototypical power hitting first baseman may have been a stretch and a 20 HR season is all we can realistically expect from him. It appears obvious that Andy Marte is a bum, and there was a reason he was traded by both the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, two teams that have impeccable scouting departments and farm systems.

The one whom has fooled me the most… Jhonny Peralta. All I wanted was another solid defensive season, continued improvement in pitch selection and no laziness. He has failed on all accounts. Yes, he only has six errors but he’s not getting to ground balls he was last year. Not only is he susceptible to the breaking stuff sway but now he loves the high-heat up and in. The low RBI total despite 11 HRs is evidence of that. And his laziness is back.

I’ve seen it here or there earlier but I realized I was covering for him last night. It took the return of the great Omar Vizquel to notice it but when Jhonny bounced two throws on routine ground balls to first in the game last night and Omar made a patented spectacular play in the 9th to save a hit, and inevitably a run, to preserve the game and I realized that Peralta epitomize all that is wrong with this team right now.

He is lazy, unmotivated and appears to be walking through the motions on every single play. And that is the vibe that the Indians are giving off this season. I’m not saying that they are not trying or giving effort but to watch this team you can’t honestly say that there are not two or three plays each game, usually in critical situations, which just make you shake your head. Whether it’s someone getting thrown out at home, a piss-poor at-bat at the worst time or a bonehead defensive play that cost them a run and the game, it is a nightly occurrence.

The injuries to Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are a factor as well, but the St. Louis Cardinals among other teams have the same problem but generally look like a good baseball team. The Cleveland Indians do not.

At this point to say they are would be fooling myself. You know what they say… “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” Well I’ve already been fooled once, and despite the optimist in me, the realist in me tells me not to be fooled again.

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