by Ken Carman
Listen to The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima weekday mornings from 6 am-10 am on 92.3 The Fan
A message to my generation: It’s time to embrace these Cleveland Indians.
Lofton, Thome, Belle, Carlos, Charlie, Dennis, Eddie, Sandy, Omar, Grover, Manny. Oh, that silly Manny.
They only need one name because you know who they are. To my generation of 30 Somethings, they are Gods. Gods among baseball. Sports. Guys who we looked up in computer class when we first learned about the internet.
They were the 90’s Indians. And they ruled our city.
Guys who we believed were infallible. In a time before TMZ reports, and twitter beefs with writers, these were men who could do no wrong. In fact, if some of those same writers try to tell us some greasy stories from back in the day about that group of Gods, us millennials go immediately close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears, and shout down our way to our safe space. Hulk Hogan’s porn tape already ruined one half of our childhood, we don’t need somebody ruining the other half.
These were men who did things we did when we played little league. They hitched their socks up and all wore the same red cleats. We used to mimic their batting stances in games. Jonny Myers, who played short stop on my baseball team would field a ground ball, run to second base, hop and throw to first…with no one on base…just because he wanted to be like Omar.
They were the perfect creation of struggle, sabotage, and patience. The Cavs were in decline. The Browns were coached by what we thought was an idiot (everyone except Pat McCabe, of course), then Modell broke our hearts and they were gone.
Then the Indians got a new stadium right by the highway. You’d see the lights driving up 77, then creep around the loop at E.9th, packed with traffic, your head about to explode with excitement. We did it 455 straight times. They built from the ashes of a terrible team that constantly threatened to move for 30 years. But we had no idea about that, and our dad’s had stuck with the team for so long and were so happy to see us get to see them win, that they didn’t have the heart to tell us about any of that other stuff. There was no need to.
Players so great that we only call them by one name. So great that I guarantee you read that first sentence and thought I left one of your favorites out. There are too many arguable ones to mention, that’s how good those Indians teams were.
That’s the exact reason that it’s time that our generation embrace the Indians again.
No, that’s not saying replace those Indians of the 90’s. There’s no replacing that. The Indians have even made the mistake about five years ago trying to market the Indians of “today” with ads of those Indians. A big mistake to those of us just coming into our own money, with an unbridled love of those 90’s teams, and a simmering distrust, if not, hate, of the Dolan’s.
Like our dad’s hate for Jimmy Haslam, we hate the Dolan’s. I hated them when Victor cried at his locker, and when they traded away CC and Cliff Lee. Hated them almost to the degree of renouncing my fandom. I eventually came to my sense, but the wound was deep, and for some the scabs still haven’t healed over.
For a lot of guys in my generation, the 90’s Indians became the standard of what we believed baseball should be in Cleveland. We weren’t there for those decades of sub-par to horrific baseball played in front of a nearly empty stadium. So when those players that we loved left, so did we. And then when we got excited again in 2007, only to see those players get traded, we didn’t just leave. We slammed the door on them. We threw our passion into LeBron and the Cavs. Then he left.
Thank God he came back since the Browns have been so bad, only finally trying to do an actual build instead of patchwork called a “build.” But now, as we bask in the final dim glow of a championship before the start of a new season, we look back to the Indians as they prepare to win the division and ask ourselves if we can love again.
The game has changed. The home run superstars have long been disgraced. Only now are baseball players starting to emerge in ads and promotions (that’s a baseball problem, not just an Indians problem). It’s a pitchers league now, and that can be boring to the average fan. They don’t have a pitching derby before the All-Star Game every year.
Your team is winning, though. They’ll have won 90+ games this season. They’ll have had a Cy Young candidate again, and one of the brightest young stars in the game in Francisco Lindor. We also might notice something else here since the team has won … the Dolan’s might not be that bad.
I know, that’s heresy to most, but hear me out: There’s been no 20-year period of absolutely terrible, suck-up-the-room baseball since the 90’s Indians like there has been in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. The Indians have been frustrating in winning just enough some years just to make you believe again, only to dash those dreams, but they’ve been able to cycle through every few years and open the window of opportunity.
What’s different this time around, is that they’ve gotten in front of contracts. Like the Cardinals, Mets, and Giants, the Indians have signed multiple players to team friendly contracts that provide the player enough security that they’d be risking too much to not make a deal. They’re not spending with the Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels, but they haven’t needed to.
This formula for winning is something that could keep their window open for the next few years. They’ll have a gut check time this off-season when it comes to Napoli, and if they don’t win the World Series there will be at least one spot that we shine a spotlight on and make an argument for free agents.
The Indians have taken several missteps in fan relations since the 90’s, that’s a certain. That’s probably turned off us ‘millennials.’ The whole “bad food at a restaurant” analogy has been needed a few times. Yet the Indians have been able to find themselves in late September with a legitimate chance to win everything.
I mean that, too. As of this writing – the Indians have won 89 games. The ’97 Tribe won 86 all year. Jaret Wright was magnificent then, we’ll hope someone can be the Jaret Wright this year. The beauty and curse of baseball is that anything can happen. The right players and the right time and anything can happen. You’ll need a team that gets along to do that. Team chemistry has been a hallmark of the 2016 team.
These aren’t the Indians we remember. Kipnis, Lindor, Santana, Naquin, and Napoli aren’t the Gods we remember from our childhood (although I could have to make a correction to this in November), but they are a good team that has been built to try to win now and for the near future.
It’s hard to trust them. You remember a winning team from your youth, and it makes expectations for this group almost unrealistic. It’s made you – and me – love those 90’s teams, and hate the Dolan’s. Just like your dad loves the Kardiac Kids and hates Jimmy Haslam. Just like your son someday will love the James Gang and hate Dan Gilbert (or whoever he sells the team to after LeBron retires). Once you’ve seen the possible, it’s impossible to accept anything less.
Those 90’s teams hold a special spot in our heart. They always have and always will. But turning on the Indians, or better yet, heading out to the park during the post season run, might show there’s a spot in there for this group, too.