With the news of Jimmy Haslam III’s purchase of the Browns came an Aug. 2 tweet from Clark Judge of CBSSports.com that Haslam and expected new president Joe Banner are “going to blow (the) whole place up.”
The ensuing debate stirred in me an ancillary response. Although I believe the Browns organization needs a total overhaul, my gut reaction was that fans and sports talk shows in Northeast Ohio are wasting their breath. At the moment, they’re talking about blowing up the wrong team.
If there’s any carcass the buzzards should be picking apart right now, it’s the Indians.
After years of bad drafts, bad trades, bad free-agent signings and bad free-agency departures, the Tribe moves closer every day to Major League status. As in the movie, not the baseball mecca of young boys’ dreams.
Owners Paul and Larry Dolan are in over their heads, trying to make money without spending any. In the process, they’re alienating the Indians’ aging followers and attracting few in the younger generation. If a 10-year-old does find a hero to worship, he’ll have his heart broken soon enough when his favorite departs for richer pastures. The kid might join the ranks of the cynics before he’s old enough to vote.
President Mark Shapiro seems capable in his business role, especially when it comes to creative marketing ideas to circumvent what’s not being made through ticket sales. But he’s artfully dodged the role he played in the team’s demise during his days as general manager.
General Manager Chris Antonetti, valiantly trying to build a roster with the purse strings tied, has shown no talent for spotting a young diamond in the rough. He’s failed to convince the Dolans to spend for players they should have signed, such as Josh Willingham. He’s settled for backup types or stars past their prime, which includes the Tribe’s own Grady Sizemore. There hasn’t been an Eddie Murray or even a Ted Power among them. The run-challenged and injury-ravaged lineup being trotted out these days might not be able to score off Triple-A pitching.
The division-leading Chicago White Sox, meanwhile, have gambled as they’ve rebuilt and have seen it pay off this season. A year ago, they were let down by the free agent-likes of Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. This year, the three veterans have bolstered the Sox. (Going into Wednesday night, Dunn was batting .208, but with 33 home runs.) The White Sox also grabbed Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox and traded for Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano. Such moves make Indians fans salivate, especially when they’re watching Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan.
Manager Manny Acta was thought to be the kind of leader the young Indians needed when he was hired in 2010. Now I look at the disappointing season of catcher Carlos Santana, who should be the offensive cornerstone of the franchise, and wonder whether Acta is the one to show him the way.
A year ago, I believed Acta should have been manager of the year. He lost his starting outfield, his second baseman, third baseman, designated hitter and 40 percent of his starting rotation to injuries at different parts of the season and still improved the team’s victory total from 69 to 80. The Tribe remained in the pennant race until mid-August with the third-youngest roster in the majors and the fifth-lowest payroll ($49 million).
This year’s payroll is about $65 million, although much of it is on the disabled list. More than $20 million is wrapped up in Travis Hafner, Rafael Perez, Josh Tomlin and Sizemore, based on salaries listed on ESPN.com.
This season’s decline has been stunning since a 5-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers and ace Justin Verlander left the Indians 3½ games behind the White Sox and three behind the Tigers on July 26. What could have been the turning point instead sent the Tribe into the abyss — an 11-game losing streak. Going into the 2012 debut of Roberto Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) Wednesday night in Anaheim, the Indians had lost 14 of their past 18 and were 10 games behind the White Sox.
If the Indians were demoralized by their lack of activity at the July 31 trade deadline, some of the blame must fall on the ever-optimistic Acta. They’ve lost 11-of-15 games since.
If bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. is hired away to become a manager at the end of the season while Acta stays, it will only feed the animosity thus far directed largely at the Dolans. Fans have already seen popular players such as CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel depart, although Thome returned briefly last season. If Alomar leaves, John Adams would have reason to pack up his drum and go home.
Since the victory over Verlander, Indians games have been virtually unwatchable. There is little help in the farm system, little hope for the future unless you believe in addition by subtraction.
The Indians seem last in the ever-changing race with the Browns and Cavaliers to bring the first championship to Cleveland since 1964, especially with Haslam’s impending arrival.
Perhaps in a few years, the Knoxville, Tenn., billionaire owner of Pilot Flying J truck stops will take a shine to the millions he can make in the baseball business, too. Unlikely, yes, but who thought 12 months ago that Browns owner Randy Lerner was ready to bail?
One can only hope that a visionary becomes enamored with the project known as the Indians and swoops in to take over. If he or she does, the detonator is primed and ready.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.