It just got worse in the 1980's, with the Indians never finishing above fifth place, with only one team finishing above .500 (the now infamous 1986 Tribe, that led SI to put them on the cover of their 1987 pre-season baseball issue, only to have the Tribe lose over 100 games). No, it wasn't pretty at all.
Growing up with those sad-sack teams has made it very easy for me to find the silver lining of just about any baseball club that Cleveland can field. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Yeah, but he's scrappy," or "Sure he can't throw a strike, but he hits 95 on the gun!" I've learned to cope in a world in which coping is the only way to remain a fan. No, the current version of the Indians aren't going to remind anyone of the 1927 Yankees, but there certainly is a lot of good, mixed up with the bad.
Here are ten reasons we all can be thankful for as Cleveland Indians fans.
#10--Asdrubal Cabrera could possibly be Cleveland's version of Derek Jeter.
We all know that Cabrera didn't have the year he could have had if he didn't break his forearm last May. We all know that Cabrera struggled a bit in the field for the first time in his career. No, he wasn't horrid, but compared to year's past, he wasn't up to par. With that said, Cabrera did improve after struggling immediately after his return in mid-July. His stick improved in both August and September, some of his power returned, and he began stealing bases again. In other words, the real Asdrubal Cabrera began to show up. This kid is a slick fielder. No, he's not Omar Vizquel (who is), but he's really good. Offensively, this is a kid that can hit for .300, can steal 20 bases, can score 80-100 runs (on a good Tribe team) and can be to the Tribe what Derek Jeter was to the Yankees, a quiet leader (no, not a guy asking for 24 million a year when he's 37).
#9--Tom Hamilton really is one of the best announcer in baseball.
We have been blessed to have had Tom Hamilton announcing Cleveland Indians baseball games for the past 20 years. It's hard to believe that it has been that long. I was talking to my Dad the other day, and he said, "You know, maybe we had all those good teams in the 90's to make sure that Hamilton would stay in Cleveland." While I'm not going to go that far, it's a good bet that Hamilton would have found a new home. There was a day when San Diego, or San Francisco (can't remember now) offered the great Hamilton a deal to become their play-by-play man, but Hamilton stayed. Now, his signature drive reverberates through my mind whenever I think of Indians baseball, "A swing and a drive, deep left center, awaaaayyyyy back...GONE." As a matter of fact, one could make a case that the only entertaining part of Cleveland baseball is Hamilton these days. The bottom line for me with Hamilton is that he embodies everything that is being a Cleveland Indians fan. When things are going bad, being upset oozes out of his mouth like cement being poured out of a cement truck. When the Indians are winning, he announces like the fans are feeling, with his emotions on his shoulder. Here's to you Tom Hamilton, the best announcer in baseball not named Vin Scully.
#8--Tim Belcher, are you 'the one?'
I was never a Tim Belcher fan when he was a pitcher. There was something about him that always annoyed me. He was a cocky, in your face, I'm better than you kinda pitcher, that always used to just rub me the wrong way. Let's fast-forward a bit to 2010, and Tim Belcher was hired as the Indians pitching coach. Prior to that, he spent the past eight years working for the Tribe as a special assistant, helping instruct big-league and minor-league pitchers in spring training, instructing pitchers in the minors and doing advance scouting for the big-league club. He'd been with the club for years, and knew this organization. Go figure, the very thing that irritated me when he was a player is what makes him a solid pitching coach. He teaches the Tribe pitchers to pound the strike zone, and attack the hitters. Virtually every pitching statistic improved by leaps and bounds from the year prior. Still, his most impressive feat may have been his re-making Fausto Carmona into a big league pitcher. There were moments when the kid looked every bit as good as he did in 2007. No, Belcher didn't have any Cy Young guys to work with, but sometimes that's when a pitching coach really proves his mettle.
#7--Terry Pluto is one of the good ones.
There are some really cruddy journalists here in the city of Cleveland, and many of them report on our very own Cleveland Indians. Fortunately, in the midst of most of that fodder is perhaps the best Cleveland sports writer in recent memory. Pluto never jumps the gun, and almost always has original thoughts on what the Indians should have done, is doing, or what they might do. He never falls into the typical entrapments of the other local media that just aren't as informed, or always reporting the next pratfall. Instead, Pluto reports with sense, and a bit of sensibility. He also mentored Brian Windhurst, who is one of the best NBA reporters in the business, even if he did leave Cleveland for the murky waters of Miami and ESPN.
#6--Chris Perez has the stuff to become one of the best closers in baseball.
Cleveland has had closers with a lot of saves over the years (Joe Borowski and Bob Wickman), but rarely have they had a closer that was equated as their best reliever. Perez likely could be that guy. He has a plus fastball and slider, and has a similar matter-of-fact mentality with regards to closing that Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan have. No, I'm not putting Perez there, but he's less of a weirdo, and more of a "get-the-job-done" kind of guy. He was dominant last year, saving 23 of 27 games, and rolling out a 1.71 ERA, a 1.08 Whip, and an 8.9 K per 9 innings. We all know the volatility of the closer position, but at the very least, we've got this kid locked up for four more years. With a solid group behind him, and the likes of Rob Bryson, Cory Burns and Nick Hagadone waiting in the wings, things will only get better.
#5--The Diatribe and the Indians Prospect Insider are the best thought out blogs in the land of the Tribe.
I've followed the Diatribe faithfully over the past five years, and if you haven't had a visit yet, you need to. While I don't subscribe to Sabrmetrics, I do subscribe to the view that there is some validity to their usefulness. Still, reading a blog about the wonderful world of sabr is about as exciting as watching Michigan football. Paul Cousineau (formerly known as Pat Tabler) writes with the emotion of being a lifelong Cleveland fan on his sleeve, while adding a solid mix of sabr to match his thoughts. It's not exactly off the beaten path, but Cousineau is way ahead of the curve of most Indians writers, Pluto included. As a matter of fact, in recent days, PC has "scooped" Pluto and his thoughts. For example, PC recently commented on the potential of the Indians going after Kevin Kouzmanoff. A couple of weeks later, there is Pluto, talking K2. When you have the best writer in Cleveland following your lead, well, it doesn't get much better than that, does it.
Tony Lastoria started off at Swerbs Blurbs/ The Cleveland Fan, before developing his own site, Indians Prospect Insider, to continue developing his thoughts on the Tribe's minor league system. IPI is now the definitive Tribe minor league site, with substantial information on all levels of the Tribe system. You can currently find Tony's work at the Ashtabula Star Beacon, as well as at Sports Time Ohio, where he's writing an independent blog entitled, Minor Happenings.
Seriously, it's rare for big market teams to have two quality sites like The Diatribe and Indians Prospect Insider (Don't miss out on The Cleveland Fan either).
#4--A side order of Jason Kipnis, Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, Austin Adams, Cord Phelps, Alex White, Nick Weglarz, Matt Packer, Joe Gardner and Chun Chen, if you please.
These certainly aren't all of the top prospects in the Tribe's minor league chain-of-command (and I haven't even mentioned the 2010 picks), but these should be at the top of the pecking order heading into the 2011 season. I'm not going to give you a play-by-play today of all these guys, but they are good. My personal favorites on this list are second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, right-handed starter Alex White and big lefty, Joe Gardner. The system is loaded, and there are potential superstars waiting in the wings. Now, if these draft prospects pan out, and the Indians begin to fix their draft program, it can only get better.
#3--Thank goodness for the 1948 Cleveland Indians, led by Lou Boudreau!
I recently received an e-mail asking me why I had a Cleveland Indians blog named Bringing Back Boudreau. After picking my jaw up off the ground, I replied, "Type these three items into your search engine--Lou Boudreau, 1948, and World Series." Boudreau was the player/manager of that team in 1948, which just happens to be the last time the Tribe won the series. I wasn't anywhere close to being alive then, but hope upon all hope that I can someday change the name of this blog to, "Brought Back Boudreau."
#2--Shin-Soo Choo, the most unsung baseball player in the majors.
I am certain that if you asked 50 of 100 baseball fans about Shin-Soo Choo, they would say bless you. Choo is a good ballplayer. Wait, that doesn't do the kid justice. Choo is a fantastic ballplayer, and without him on this team over the past 2 1/2 seasons, I'm not sure if there would be any offensive players of note over that same time period. He hit .300 again last season, with 22 homers and 90 RBI. He had a .484 OBP and an .885 OPS. He stole 22 bases for the second straight year, and scored 81 runs in only 144 games. Choo isn't all that unsung, as he did finish 14th in the MVP voting, but boy, you do have to wonder just how bad it could be without our favorite South Korean. Choo also gained exempt status from the South Korean military this offseason just as tension escalated with North Korea. Lots to be thankful for here.
#1--A main course of Carlos Santana.
Santana only played in 46 games last season, but did manage to prove that average doesn't mean a thing. He "only" batted .260, with six homers and 22 RBI. He walked a stellar 37 times, while only striking out 26 times. His OBP was .401, and his slugging was a stellar .467. He's got a cannon for an arm, calls a good game, and can play in the infield, with rumors everywhere from first base, to returning to third base. Santana is a prodigious talent, and has the potential to be a special, special major leaguer. Think back to when Manny was coming up, he's that kind of player. You can tell he was built to be a ballplayer, and he'll be the centerpiece of the Tribe offense for years to come.
You see what I mean...if you close your eyes long enough, finding ten reasons for us Tribe fans to be thankful isn't all that difficult, now is it. Remember, at least we aren't Pirate's fans...;)