While the Cleveland Indians have scratched and clawed to stay atop the American League Central Division, the rank-and-file of what once called itself a great sports town has simply stayed home.
Cleveland - With sincere apologies to the state of Minnesota, which claims to be the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Cleveland may be the “Land of 10,000 Excuses.”
Never give a Clevelander a reason to say “No,” because those who live on what many now call “The North Coast” can say no to any worthwhile suggestion faster than you can blink your eyes.
Which brings us to what may be the worst baseball town in America. While some will be quick to point out the No. 455 on the second deck in right field of Progressive Field representing 455 consecutive sellouts at what was then Jacobs Field, those outside the Chamber of Commerce will admit that many of that 455 sellout baseball games came when the Cleveland Browns were out of business after leaving for greener pastures in Baltimore following the 1995 NFL season.
The current advertising slogan for the Indians is “What If,” speaking of what would have been different had stars of the recent past not played for the Tribe. But what if the Browns never bolted town for a new stadium in Baltimore and the Indians had to compete in those years with a legitimate NFL team for the Cleveland-area entertainment dollar?
No one will ever know but we do know that the Tribe is having difficulty today competing with a terrible NFL team that has gone 9-23 over the last two seasons and has made the NFL playoffs just once in a Baker’s Dozen seasons. In all aspects of competing in the NFL, the Browns are football’s version of a combination of the Kansas City A’s and Washington Senators of 50 years ago in baseball.
For the unwashed, the A’s and Senators were never able to compete in the American League. In fact, a common phrase concerning the Senators of the day claimed “Washington was first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”
And the A’s came to Kansas City after being dismissed from Philadelphia where the team had not been competitive for its last 25 years in the City of Brotherly Love. After 13 dreadful seasons in Kansas City, Charlie Finley moved the team to Oakland, where his A’s won three straight World Series crowns in the early 1970s. The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, got another team called the Senators in expansion and 10 years later, it moved to Texas. The Rangers are currently top dog in the AL, having won the last two league titles and are run by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
Both Kansas City and Washington were awarded new teams. The Royals have fallen on hard times but have had their successes, while the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, are making their first noises this season as contenders in the NL East.
You get the point. Only no one in Cleveland can admit the Browns stink but still have this town at their command. Turn on any sports radio station in the area and all you hear is Browns, Browns, Browns. One station has an hourly Browns show 365 days a year. But they love their Browns, no matter how many games below .500 they finish each and every season.
Which brings us back to the Indians.
Playing well enough in the first quarter of the 2012 season to find themselves in first place in the AL Central, the hottest topic outside the surgery of Browns defensive lineman Phil Taylor is the poor attendance at Indians games through the first 20 home games.
The Tribe, holding off the defending AL Central champion Detroit Tigers, is unable to get the turnstiles spinning and the seats at Progressive Field filled with fans.
Entering this week, the Indians had only two home crowds over 20,000 this season with one being Opening Day that had a sellout of 43,190 to see Toronto beat Cleveland in 16 innings. Maybe that turned off a number of fans, because since that time, only the 21,307 that came to see defending AL champion Texas has been anything to brag about. Averaging 14,175 for the first 19 home games and just 12,563 if you take out Opening Day, the Indians are well entrenched in last place among the 30 big league teams in home attendance.
And the “Land of 10,000 Excuses” is ready when asked why fans are not coming to Progressive Field to watch a team that currently is in first place.
Some are pretty standard, with many still convinced the Dolan ownership of the team is not worth supporting after trading away a pair of Cy Young winners in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in consecutive seasons. The Dolan ownership more than promised a winner when it took over the club, claiming one title was not enough. Well, fans are still awaiting that first championship since the Tribe won it all in 1948. Yes, 1948. My count is we are working on 64 years under a number of ownerships without celebrating a World Series title in Cleveland.
Some point to the lack of a power hitter, but those same fans excuse the Browns for their lack of guys who can catch the ball. And in football, you can’t win without a group of decent wide receiversm, but Browns fans have their own set of excuses for their favorite team.
The other excuses are pretty funny. One that caught my attention among callers to a sports radio station was Rick from West Park who was mad about the one game he attended in 2011 and has not come back.
And what was Rick mad about? Well, it seems Rick and his buddy paid around $200 for really good tickets and plenty of beers for a weekday afternoon game that turned out to not meet their standard.
“We went to the game that the Indians got no-hit,” complained Rick of Ervin Santana’s 2011 no-hitter against the Indians for the Los Angeles Angels.
“We spent all that money and they didn’t even get a hit,” added Rick, who has yet to attend a game this year. If the fans who take the time to call a sports radio station are those who complain about the home team getting no-hit, you have no chance.
Maybe somebody should explain to Rick that there have been approximately 225 no-hitters in the history of the game and he really got a lot for the $200 he and his buddy spent.
Another complainer, though not in the class of Rick from West Park, was a father of a young grade school son, who found any number of reasons he has not come out to see the 2012 Tribe.
“I have a first grader who is still in school and he can’t stay up that late to see a night game,” said the caller with what began as a legit reason. But he wasn’t done. “I looked at the schedule and the inexpensive tickets in June and July are gone,” he claimed. He could have gone on and on, but you get the point.
The reason he wasn’t going could be very simple. He just hasn’t seen the $10 seats that have gone empty when he has watched games on television. And he probably just wanted to be counted among those who live in the “Land of 10,000 Excuses” rather than just say he didn’t want to go or spend the $10 it costs to take up one of those empty bleacher seats.
Want proof? The Indians have played six times on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon through mid-May and drew crowds of no more than 15,000 in three of the six games with the high water mark being those 21,307 to see a May 5 game with Texas. I don’t think his first grader would have missed his bed time if he had gone to any of those weekend games.
But it’s not only home attendance. The Tribe is not a hot ticket on the road with the lowest home crowd for many AL foes coming when the Indians visit. Nobody has the answers. The team is not a sexy sell, without a bonifide star at any position and doesn’t play an exciting brand of baseball.
But the Indians are in first place and that can’t be disputed. What can be challenged is Cleveland being a good sports town. Among those that have three big league teams in its borders, there may not be a more fragile community when it comes to fans putting their dollars on the table to match their bragging about being a good sports town.
We don’t buy this being a small market town. When you are last in attendance, you are doing worse than everyone else including some other small market cities, who somehow have moved past Cleveland in that all important attendance line in the box score.
Poor weather may be a point in not being in the top 10 in attendancem but to be last is something very special and reserved for the worst sports towns. And Cleveland baseball fans are something special with their crowds that can’t fill most college basketball arenas.
And the economy is a mute issue, too. With Cleveland entering the world of casino gambling, you know even those who don’t have the money are spending it after waiting up to three hours outside the Horseshoe Casino on Public Square before getting a spot at a table or slot machine.
It may be hard for Clevelanders to admit, but this isn’t really a good sports town. We have heard the “woe is me” complaint from fans who have awaited the end of the championship drought that stretches back to the Browns winning the 1964 NFL title. But to be last in all of baseball in attendance it has to be something more than being desperate for a championship.
And my answer is that what some used to call “The Best Location in the Nation” just isn’t a baseball town.