Thanks To Tito And The Boys

Regrettably, the Cleveland Guardians couldn’t quite get over the hump in their series with the Yankees. But that sad result doesn’t detract from the fact that the team had a fine season, shocked the baseball world, and made September and October a lot more interesting (and bearable) for Cleveland sports fans. In the process, this group of players, many of them rookies and unknowns, showed that they belonged in the mix of teams contending for the World Series title, and manager Terry (“Tito”) Francona showed again the deftness, leadership, and flexible thinking that make him the best manager in the game.

So I’d like to say thank you to Tito and the boys. Thank you for the 2022 Cinderella story. Thank you for the awesome September stretch run, for dashing to the AL Central title, and for winning the wild-card round in two wonderful nail-biter games. Thank you for giving your fans the incentive to wear SpongeBob Squarepants outfits to games and stay until the final out. Thank you for showing there is still room in baseball for teams that are built on good starting pitching, a well-managed bullpen, stout defense, smart hitting and baserunning, grit, hustle, and a dash of humility. Thank you for not cheating, and for playing the game the right way. Thank you for standing toe to toe with big-payroll teams like the Yankees and not wilting in the glare of pressure and media attention and the taunts of jerky Yankees fans. And finally, thank you for making baseball more innocent and fun again.

I’m sure the baseball bigwigs are happy that the Yankees moved on, and the New York City television market will remain engaged in the playoffs, but I wonder if the casual fans weren’t hoping that the upstart Guardians could knock off the Yankees and continue their magical and improbable run. As for me, with the Guardians going home I’m done with baseball for the year. I’ve heard enough of babbling Bob Costas and his ceaseless statistical chatter to last a lifetime, and there is no one to root for in the AL series between the smug, money-soaked Yankees and the ever-tainted Astros. That’s like making a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

But I will enjoy some great memories. Thanks to Tito and the boys for that, too.

Enjoying The Ride With A Likeable Crew

I stayed up late last night, reveling in the Cleveland Guardians’ amazing comeback win over the mighty New York Yankees. Any time you score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to gain an improbable win, it’s worth relishing the moment. The fact that, by doing so, the Guardians ruined an outlandish Yankees playoff record just made the win all the sweeter. According to ESPN, before last night, the Yankees were a perfect 167-0 in postseason games where they entered the ninth inning with a multiple run lead. Not any more!

But as I experienced the surge of post-win joy, I also reflected on why this Guardians team is such a pleasure to watch. They are underdogs, of course, and as with any Cleveland sports team the expectations are low. They play a vintage, scrappy, hustling brand of baseball that is totally out of step with the power-dominated modern game–so much so that the guys in the broadcast booth can’t help quoting statistics about how the teams with the most homers usually win, and reminding us that the Guardians often need multiple hits to scratch out a run. Never mind that, for years, many great baseball teams succeeded by playing exactly the way the Guardians play the game, relying on strong pitching, good defense, speed on the basepaths, and timely hitting. The broadcasters would do well to remember that the fact that modern teams have chosen not to follow that formula doesn’t mean it won’t work. Cleveland manager Terry Francona, steeped in baseball history, knows this, even if the statistic-obsessed guys in the broadcast booth don’t.

And another appealing element to this Guardians team is its humility and likeability. These aren’t a bunch of showboaters who strike a pose when they get a big hit. A big difference between the Yankees and the Guardians was seen in game one, when a Yankees player thought he hit a home run, immediately went into an all-about-me home run trot, and then got thrown out at first when the ball hit the top of the fence rather than leaving the ballpark and the Guardians’ outfielder made a great throw to the infield to catch the Yankee player off the bag. That embarrassing blunder would never happen to a Guardians player–they would keep their eyes on the ball and be focused on sprinting around the bases.

It’s been a fun baseball postseason so far, with some improbable results–like a team that won 111 games, and the defending World Series champs, both being knocked out early, and two long 0-0 extra-inning games. It would be good for the game if the Guardians continue to make the 2022 playoffs interesting, and this likeable gang and their wizard manager keep showing that there is more than one way to win baseball games.

Talking Too Much

I watched the Guardians-Yankees division series playoff game last night on TBS. By the end of the broadcast, I was left with two unshakeable conclusions.

First, it’s hard to beat a team that has spent huge amounts on player contracts. Every player in the Yankees batting order seemed to have hit at least 20 homers, knocked in at least 70 runs, and either won an MVP, a batting title, a World Series title, or a Golden Glove award before they went for the big money in the Bronx.

And second, Bob Costas just talks too much. Way, way, way too much. So much that his partner in the booth, Ron Darling, was hard pressed to get a word in edgewise, even though, unlike Costas, he often had something interesting to say about what was happening on the field. By the end of the game, I felt like hitting the mute button, just so I wouldn’t hear Costas rip through another set of weird statistics and seemingly pointless anecdotes.

There’s nothing to be done about the payroll difference. Regrettably, it’s just part of the big-league game these days and something that you need to accept when you root for a small-market team against one of the cash-rich big boys. All you can do is hope that lightning strikes and your team can somehow prevail despite the stacked deck. But the broadcast booth blabbing is jarring. You’re used to listening to your hometown TV team, and then suddenly you’re dealing with a national media personality who apparently feels compelled to gush out verbiage like a fire hydrant on a hot summer’s day.

Baseball is a slow-moving, pastoral game. Part of its appeal is the sights and sounds and rhythms. A chatterbox announcer interferes with all of that. Make your occasional point, and call the action, sure — but there is absolutely no need to fill every precious moment of silence or background crowd noise or the organ sounding the notes of the “charge” call with mindless yammering about in-the-weeds data analytics or curious back stories that really don’t have anything to do with the game.

Bob Costas has had a storied career in broadcasting, but in my view his approach really interferes with enjoyment of the game. Take a breath now and then, Bob — won’t you?

The Payroll Playoffs

To the astonishment of many baseball pundits, the Cleveland Guardians’ improbable season is continuing. The Guardians swept their wild card series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, winning two thrilling games by classic Guardians-like scores: 2-1 and 1-0. The Saturday game was a playoff baseball classic that featured brilliant pitching and defensive play, producing a scoreless tie for 15 innings before Oscar Gonzalez hit a walk-off homer to allow the Guardians to celebrate, as shown above, and advance.

Now the Guardians’ road gets tougher–and more intriguing–because next up are the fearsome New York Yankees. The two teams are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. The Yankees have the third-highest payroll in major league baseball, at $211.2 million, while the Guardians had the lowest, at $29.1 million. (In fact, the Yankees have one player, Gerrit Cole, whose $36 million salary in 2022 is greater than the Guardians’ entire team payroll, and the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton’s $29 million comes close.)

What’s more, the Yankees aren’t called the Bronx Bombers for nothing; they hit the most home runs in the major leagues this year, with 254–twice as many as the Guardians’ 127, which came in second to last. Aaron Judge’s 62 alone is almost half of Cleveland’s total dinger output. And the home run statistic should be a bit daunting for Guardians fans, because ESPN points out that in last year’s playoff, the team that hit the most home runs went 25-2 (there were 10 games where the teams had an equal number of homers).

And finally, the Yankees dominated the season series with the Guardians, winning 5 of 6 games by a combined score of 38-14 and mashing 12 homers. If this playoff series turns into a slugfest, it could get ugly. Incidentally, the Yankees not only have power, they have a fine pitching staff, too. Their team ERA for 2022 was 3.30, which was good enough to finish third in the big leagues. (The Guardians finished sixth in team ERA, at 3.46.)

In short, this Yankees-Guardians series presents just about every storyline you could want: the big payroll team against the lowest-paid team in the league, the power team versus the small-ball team, the experienced lineup versus a team with lots of rookies, the team that was expected to dominate matched up against the scrappy underdogs who have overachieved all season. Guardians fans hope that their team, and its pitching staff, has righted the ship since those drubbings at the hands of the Yankees earlier in the season–they last played on July 3–and can put up a fight. We think our team has one of the best managers in baseball in Terry (aka Tito) Francona, who has done a fantastic job this year and who can be trusted to put the Guardians in the best possible shape to match up with the Yankees.

The series starts tomorrow, with Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole–the $36 million guy–taking the ball for the Bombers. Cleveland’s starter is expected to be Cal Quantrill, and if the game is close we’ll see a lot of the Guardians’ bullpen, too. I’ll be watching and rooting hard for the Clevelanders, who have supplied their fans with many wonderful memories already this season. We’re just hoping that the magic continues, and the Guardians find a way to scratch and claw and pitch their way past the Damn Yankees.

Pride Of The Yankees

Yesterday we went to the Baker Museum in Naples to check out an exhibit of New York Yankees memorabilia focused on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter. It was a great exhibit, and as a Cleveland sports fan it left me shaking my head on how one franchise could have so many championships and so many truly legendary players.

Although all of the exhibit was interesting, I like the part about Babe Ruth best. The Bambino changed the game forever, and every pro athlete who is getting paid huge sums owes him a debt of gratitude, too. it was pretty cool to see his uniform, spikes, glove, and ball cap. The Babe part of the exhibit showed that the Sultan of Swat had impeccable penmanship. In fact, all of the featured Yankees did. Their grade school teachers would be proud.

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!


Damn Yankees!

The New York Yankees are in Cleveland to face the Indians.  Last night’s contest was a good illustration of why I — and countless other baseball fans — hate the Yankees with every fiber of our beings.

The mighty Yankees, who have won more World Series titles than any other franchise, have the best record in the American League.  Last night they put C.C. Sabathia, one of the best pitchers in the majors, on the mound, and their lineup features all-stars and future Hall of Famers, like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson.  The valiant Tribe, which has surprisingly scratched its way to a small lead in the AL Central on the strength of fine pitching and some timely hitting, started pitcher Carlos Carrasco and their standard lineup of largely unheralded players.  Sabathia, the rumpled giant with his trademark cockeyed cap, pitched seven hitless innings while the Yankee bats got to Carrasco, and the Yankees won, 9-2.

Of course, Sabathia used to be an Indian, where he was one of my favorite players.  He developed into a great pitcher in Cleveland, but the Tribe couldn’t afford to keep him — just like they couldn’t afford to keep Cliff Lee, and Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome, and many other excellent players who came up in the Cleveland farm system.  Major League Baseball will never have true competitive balance while small-market teams like the Indians must sign untested players to long-term contracts and hope they develop into quality major leaguers, only to see them leave for more money when those contracts are up — whereas ultra-wealthy franchises like the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Phillies, flush with TV and merchandising money, can afford to sign every proven, high-priced free agent to add even more punch to their lineups.

Damn Yankees!

Baseball Is Boring

Wow, the Yankees won the World Series! What a shock! The Yankees and other big-market teams have more money than other teams, pick up the big-dollar free agents and assemble de facto All Star teams, and win championships. Ho hum.

Seriously, does anyone find major league baseball interesting anymore? What possible pleasure is there in watching just to see if the Yankees won’t win every year?