Toodaloo, Hue

The Browns fired their head coach Hue Jackson today.  Jackson had an abysmal record as the Browns’ head coach, but he actually lasted for more than two seasons before getting canned. That makes him one of the Browns’ longest-tenured head coaches since their return to the NFL — which is pretty pathetic.

nfl-head-coach-hot-seats-2018-1532975615I watched the Browns game against the Steelers yesterday, and the experience was like getting a tooth drilled without any novocaine while simultaneously receiving a colonoscopy.  The Browns’ defense looks like it belongs in the NFL — or could belong in the NFL, if the offense could actually get a first down or two and let the defense get some rest now and then — but the offense is beyond putrid.  When the Browns offense was on the field it was horribly overmatched, and a lot of the problem seemed to be the product of a bad scheme that allowed Steelers to rush the quarterback unblocked on virtually every snap.  It’s like the Browns weren’t even being coached on the offensive side of the ball.

So so long, Hue, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  I’ve got no high hopes on who the Browns might hire, but the person literally can’t be any worse that Hue Jackson, who won all of three games in two and a half years and “led” the Browns to a winless season last year.  I just hope that the front office finds somebody who actually can coach and figure out how to score touchdowns, like every other NFL team does.

In The Cheap Seats

We’re in Section 553 for today’s Tribe game. That’s in the top half of the upper deck. The game is a sellout and these were the best seats I could get.

Although we’re far above the field, I like the bird’s eye view. We won’t be able to call balls and strikes or heckle the opposing players from up here, but it’s also fun to watch the defensive adjustments and see what’s happening in the bullpens, too. Plus, you get a good view of downtown Cleveland.

A Real-Life Test Of The Sports Fans’ Eternal Debate

The sports fans’ eternal debate — unless you’re a fan of the New England Patriots, the New York Yankees, or some other team that seems to be good every year and win championships with machine-like regularity — goes something like this:  would you rather your team be really good, come close to winning it all, and fail by inches, or would you rather your team stinks up the joint, is totally uncompetitive, and never even comes within sniffing distance of a title?  Which kind of failure is more painful for the fan?

Cleveland sports fans are getting a real-life test of this eternal debate.  The Indians are the team that falls into the first category.  For two years now, they’ve been very good.  Last year, they came within inches of winning it all; this year, a few breaks one way or the other and they would still be in the playoffs and gunning for a possible World Series ring.  Kish can tell you, from watching my tantrum when the Tribe lost game 5 of the ALDS, that it was a very difficult loss to accept.

ejhobasxThe Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, fall into the second category.  They’re 0-6, already out of the playoffs, and establishing historical records for abject football futility that may never be challenged.  They are ludicrously bad, and seem to be discovering new, never before considered ways to lose games.  You could call them the Cleveland Clowns, but that wouldn’t be accurate, because many people find clowns to be terrifying — and there’s nothing at all that’s scary about this bunch of losers.

Having lived through this in real-life, I therefore think I know the answer to this eternal debate.  Sure, being a fan of the Browns is painful, but it’s more of an embarrassing pain than anything else.  Because they are so bad, you just don’t get emotionally invested in their ineptitude, and the losses don’t really sting because they’re expected.  You can even laugh at how bad they are.  The Indians, on the other hand — well, those losses will continue to sting and nag for years to come.

Nice to know that Cleveland sports teams can conclusively settle long-standing points of controversy.

Dealing With This Year’s Disappointment

This morning, Cleveland Indians fans are dealing with that familiar gut-punch feeling of deep disappointment.  Last night the Tribe got bounced from the playoffs by the New York Yankees, and the magical 2017 season, which saw the Indians set an American League record of 22 straight wins and win more than 100 games for only the third time in the team’s history, is abruptly over.

cleveland-indians-world-series-game-7-lossThe loss means that, when next year rolls around and the Tribe tries again, it will be a full 70 years — 70 years! — since Cleveland last won a World Series.  It’s now the longest such streak in Major League Baseball.

The fact that the Tribe lost to the Yankees, the perennial winners who have taken home more than a dozen World Series titles since the Cleveland last hoisted a World Series championship banner, makes the loss doubly painful.  The fact that the Indians lost after leading the series 2-0, notching an improbable comeback win in game two, and putting the Yankees on the brink of elimination, before collapsing in an uncharacteristic haze of errors and offensive futility — well, that just shoves the pain into the brutal, off-the-charts category that long-time Cleveland fans know all too well.

Watching the game wind down to its ugly conclusion last night, I saw the pictures of overtly prayerful Tribe fans hoping against hope that this year the result might be different — and I knew exactly how they felt.  But when it comes to the Cleveland Indians, the fates simply are not kind, and no amount of heartfelt beseeching of the baseball gods is going to change that.

So last night after the game ended we tossed and turned and slept poorly, fretting about this latest disappointment.  It’s kind of embarrassing to react so strongly to a sporting event, when our rational sides know that it is after all just a game that pales in comparison to the really important things in life — but that’s what sports fans do. We give our hearts to a team, willing to endure the angst of losses and thinking that when our team does win we’ll recoup that investment a hundredfold.  We just can’t help feeling deeply affected by these kinds of painful losses — and with the star-crossed Indians, the celebration of ultimate triumph still hasn’t come and seems as unlikely as ever.

Time will give us some perspective, and Tribe fans will always have that wonderful winning streak to remember, just like Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris.  But for now we’ve just watched another potential championship climb into a plane with the New York Yankees and fly away.  Boy, it really stings!

 

Flapjacks At Jack Flaps

When I’m home or on the road for work, I rarely eat breakfast.  But when I’m traveling for fun, and can eat later in the morning, I’ll gladly start the day with a meal.

This morning, on our Indians’ game weekend, we went to Jack Flaps, a breakfast/lunch joint in one of the arcades on Euclid Avenue.  I got the Jack B. Flaps platter, which consists of two pancakes, butter, whiskey brown sugar syrup, whipped cream, and — and this was interesting — puffed corn.  With a side of savory country sausage and a good cup of freshly brewed coffee, it was an exceptional way to start the day.  I can now say I’m ready to sit on my butt for a few hours and watch athletes perform.

Goodnight, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving wanted to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, and yesterday he got his wish.  The Cavs dealt Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for up-and-coming guard Isaiah Thomas, a forward, a center, and a number one draft pick.

636020081040379218-usatsi-9349709When a player wants to leave a team, as Irving did, it’s not uncommon for fans of the team being spurned to be mad and call the player an ingrate.  I hope Cavs fans are classier than that when it comes to Irving.   He’s still young, and he wants a chance to be, in Reggie Jackson’s immortal phrase, “the straw that stirs the drink.”  Irving indicated that he wanted to go to a team where he could be the go-to guy and have a chance to really emerge from LeBron James’ colossal shadow.  That’s really not so hard to understand for a player of Irving’s obvious skills and talent.

I’ve always liked Irving, with his flannel shirt personality and willingness to accept a lesser role in a quest for a championship.  Cleveland fans will never forget that it was Irving that hit The Shot that put the Cavs ahead for good in game 7 of last year’s championship series — the one that miraculously produced Cleveland’s first professional sports championship in more than 50 years.  How can you dislike a player who is a key part of busting up a lifetime of sports futility?

So I say, thank you, Kyrie.  Fare you well (except when playing the Cavs).

Ohio’s Continuing Population Shift

When our family moved from Akron to Columbus in 1970, Cleveland was the largest city in Ohio by a wide margin, and Cuyahoga County, Cleveland’s home county, was by far the most populous county in the state.  Franklin County, where Columbus is located, had less than half of the population of Cuyahoga County, and it wasn’t even Ohio’s second most populated county.  That status belonged to Hamilton County, thanks to Cincinnati.

94oh_-_columbus_-_birds_eye_view_1But in the years since then, population forces have worked inexorably in favor of Columbus and Franklin County.  With its stable mix of white-collar jobs — from employers like the state, county, and city government, the Ohio State University, hospitals, and insurance companies — and a culture that visitors see as friendly and welcoming, Franklin County has steadily grown since the days of the Nixon Administration.  Many people who’ve come to the city for college, or a hospital residency, or a graduate degree, have liked it and decided to stay and raise their families here.  Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, on the other hand, have seen both the departure of blue-collar jobs and employers and ongoing population loss.

And now the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Franklin County has passed Cuyahoga County and become the most populous county in Ohio, with more than 1.2 million residents.  CFranklin County isn’t one of the fastest growing counties in the United States — no counties in the Midwest are — but its consistent growth, year after year, has produced a long-term result that would have surprised anyone who lived in Ohio in 1970.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that, because at least one person saw the trends.  I took a class in investigative reporting at Ohio State in the late ’70s, and the professor, Marty Brian, gave us the project of writing about the growth and future of Columbus, given its business attributes and employment stability described above.  The would-be Woodward and Bernsteins in the class groaned at the project, which didn’t have much sex appeal, but it turned out to be an interesting assignment that required us to delve into public records and other nuts and bolts aspects of investigative reporting.  And now the gist of the assignment has been proven in the population data.

30 Years After “The Drive”

Thirty years ago, yesterday, UJ and I and two of our friends were sitting in our seats in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, watching the AFC championship game and hoping that the Browns would finally make it to the Super Bowl.

It was the first year after Kish and I had moved back to Ohio from Washington, D.C., and UJ and I decided to spring for season tickets to the Browns.  To our delight, the team — led by Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, two great running backs, some very good receivers, a defense that would bend but not break, and an indomitable coach, Marty Schottenheimer — turned out to be really good.  We saw some great wins during the regular season, and the Browns had won an improbable, come from behind, overtime thriller playoff game against the Jets the week before.  Now, on a cold day on the Cleveland lakefront, the Browns were playing the Denver Broncos for the AFC slot in the Super Bowl.

plain-dealer-front-page-the-drive-41646014a33b632eOf course, just as the Browns seemed to be on the cusp of victory that day, “The Drive” happened, and the hopes of the team and Browns fans the world over were crushed.  It’s a story that has almost become the stuff of legend — which is why you can find Cleveland newspapers and, of course, the Denver Broncos website remembering it, 30 years later — and it is always mentioned, bitterly, when people talk about the horrors of Cleveland sports fans over the past half century.

I didn’t realize that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of “The Drive” until one of the guys I went to the game with mentioned it.  I groaned when he did, because I had no interest in ever thinking about that game again, and I expected to experience that familiar hot blast of pain and frustration that always bubbles up whenever I remember that game — but to my surprise my reaction yesterday really wasn’t all that bad.  It’s almost as if the Cavs’ NBA championship win last year, and the passage of three decades, have taken the pitchforks out of the demons’ hands that are lurking in my Cleveland sports fan subconscious and replaced them with something softer that can produce a twinge of regret, but not the torment and angst that once seemed to be everlasting.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Maybe it’s true, even for sports fans.

Series Shots


Russell, UJ, and I had a blast at Game One of the World Series last night.  Downtown Vleveland was packed before the game, and the area between the ballpark and the Cavs’ arena — where the Cavs were to play, and win, their season opener — was especially jammed.  Two big screen TVs were set up to play season highlights and get both the Cavs fans and the Tribe fans fired up.

On To The Series!

What a year this has been for the Cleveland Indians — and for that matter for Cleveland, period.  After seeing the Cavs end a 52-year drought without a sports championship and shatter every jinx in doing so, and then hosting the Republican Convention without a hitch, the Best Location in the Nation now sees the astonishing Indians hoist the American League pennant and move on to the World Series.

bn-qj049_1019in_gr_20161019190617Well, why not?  In a year when the Indians have overcome injuries to key players that produced a decimated starting pitching staff — and that saw the Tribe experience the first blood-soaked drone injury in recorded MLB history — why wouldn’t you expect, Ryan Merritt, a rookie who has thrown all of 11 innings in the big leagues, and who was predicted to be “shaking in his boots” by a Toronto player, to go out and pitch lights out, like a grizzled veteran?  And why wouldn’t you expect the offense to produce just enough runs to get the game into the fifth inning with a lead?  And why wouldn’t you expect the Indians’ duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to once again shut down the Toronto Blue Jays’ powerful lineup and close out another nail-biting win?

Consider the results of AL championship series.  Toronto came in after having battered Texas pitching and romped to a three-game sweep over the Rangers.  The Tribe pitching staff sucked it up and held the Blue Jays scoreless twice — in the opener and the clinching game — and gave up one run, two runs, and five runs in the other three games.  For the math-challenged among us, that’s eight runs in five games.  Miller’s ERA during the series was 0.00.  Allen’s ERA was 0.00.  And the Indians bullpen had one game where it pitched 8 1/3 innings to secure the victory.  It’s got to be one of the most amazing pitching performances in any baseball series in history.  And, it’s got to be one of the most amazing managerial performances in baseball history, too.  Would anyone but Terry Francona have kept his cool, kept his battered team focused, and used his bullpen so deftly?  And, by the way, wasn’t the trade for Andrew Miller the best trade in Cleveland Indians history, without any conceivable argument?

So now the Tribe moves on, with the AL pennant in hand, to face either the Cubs or the Dodgers.  This year, in Cleveland, anything is possible.  I’ll be looking forward to the World Series, and I’ll be thinking one thing:

There are no jinxes!

Hail To The Chiefs


Last night the Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tugers to clinch the American League Central Division and a spot in the playoffs.  Russell went to the game up in Comerica Field in Detroit and snapped these pictures after the last Tiger was retired and the Tribe’s celebration began.

We’ll have to see how the Indians fare in the playoffs — their most reliable starter, Corey Kluber, left last night’s game with an injury, making him the third key starter to fall prey to jury in recent weeks — but for now we can enjoy a win by a team that has been fun to watch.  The team’s success is attributable to young players who have really blossomed, vets who have come in and played well, good team chemistry, fine starting pitching, and a bullpen that just keeps putting zeros on the scoreboard.  Behind it all is manager Terry Francona, who has done a masterful job.

Go Tribe!  Bring on the playoffs!