Cleveland has a self-esteem problem and one wasn't wholly produced by the city itself. Yet, the beating and sarcasm of the rock and roll city rolls on.
This Northern Ohio city on Lake Erie, has taken its brunt of dark and cantankerous sarcasm from shows about the city, like the Drew Carey Show, Hot in Cleveland, and of course, the 1989 movie Major League.
Many of us love Betty White and have found a place in our hearts for Drew Carey and especially Tom Berenger, still, it must feel a more than a little dismaying of the constant bantering about Cleveland's failings. Imagine you are their lead PR person, or that of its professional organizations, the jokes and image come from across the nation and includes politicians and especially late night showmen.
It is a city that is continually the butt of fun and seemingly harmless quips - "Cleveland is the city with a river so polluted it once caught in fire (not really)." Or this - "What is the difference between Cleveland and the Titantic? Cleveland has a better orchestra (that is true)."
While the city wrestles with those perception problems, it is truly a beautiful city with a definite cultural flavor. The Cleveland Museum of Art may be the only major museum in the country that offers free admission to its massive, and wonderful permanent collection of pre-columbian art, Asian art, and much more. Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In that grand place, you will find John Lennon's hand-written lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and the Doors' Jim Morrison's boy scout uniform. Remember Cleveland is where David Bowie held his first U.S. appearance, where Elvis had his first northern concert and was the venue of Chuck Berry's first performance.
Yet, we know that all too often the image of a city is cast through the perception of its sports team. For that Cleveland has a big challenge.
Cleveland owns the second longest spell without a World Series champion, dating to 1948. Only the loveable losers Chicago Cubs have waited longer. Wait until next year is a predominant refrain in the baseball lore of these two Midwestern cities.
While Chicago has its Bears in the NFL and the Bulls in basketball, Cleveland is left with the hapless NBA Cavaliers and the perennial cellar dwelling Browns of the NFL.The Browns and their "Dawg Pound" crazies wait with heated breath for the next Pittsburgh encounter and not AFC North title. They were the victim to John Elway and "The Drive."
Cleveland steamed and stewed when Art Modell took his football team to Baltimore. As for the Cavs - everything seemed right when local kid (Akron native) LeBron James was making Cleveland one of the success stories in the NBA. While they failed to win a championship, they were winning and big. Then, like other chapters in the Cleveland sports story, Bron, Bron thirsting for a title and making his own legacy one of winning and not "gee almost" took his act to the Florida sun.
Graig Nettles, the New York Yankees great, who started his career in Cleveland once said on the team's intercom, "We will soon be landing in Cleveland, set your clocks back 42 minutes." And, Richie Scheinblum, who played for the Indians in the mid 1960s, said, "We should change our name to the Cleveland Utility Company. All we have are utility players."
So, if you are a Cleveland fan, a few of things hold true: Cleveland will forever be the recipient of bad jokes, winning is fleeting and once you believe winning is coming, reality sets in.
So, I have your attention right? Hope I didn't lose you with that long opening but you all needed some background on the Lake Erie city and its troubling sports legacy.
Now we see the Cleveland Indians, everyone's choice for the cellar if not the worst record in baseball, reversing the normal state of things and owning the best record in baseball at 29-15. Is it a mid-spring dream? Perhaps.
What we do know, is Cleveland is a team that just rolled over in-state arch nemesis Cincinnati in a three-game sweep. Star shortstop Astrubal Cabrera, one of the outstanding but oft-injured young players in the game, had five hits and two HRs with five RBI, to help the Indians stone the Reds. To beat the Reds, a team with a long history of success and one of the favorites in the N.L. Central, has to be a bit satisfying to northern Ohioans.
Cleveland is getting timely hitting and masterful pitching, primarily from Justin Masterson and Fausta Carmona, along with bullpen ace Chris Perez. It may be the only team in history with a middle infield duo of (Astrubal) Cabrera to (Orlando) Cabrera (yes, Minnesota, your second baseman from last year's playoff team).
Now with the Cleveland Indians enjoying a seven game lead in the American League Central over my Detroit Tigers, discussion about the Indians and if they are the real deal is the talk of not only Cleveland but all of baseball.
In all honesty, I want the real Cleveland, you know the self-destructing one of recent vintage, to show its face. I am a Detroit Tigers fan, who not so wisely projected them to win 95 games this season. Yes, I am frustrated by the failure to win a Central title under Jim Leyland's watch. Twice the Tigers have blown second half leads and allowed the Twins to win (2006, 2008). And, Detroit, itself has become the brunt of some not so kind chatter with its economic woes matched by its less than successful sports group.
Yet, as I contemplate the Tigers inconsistency and the failures of rivals Chicago and Minnesota, I can't help but show a little appreciation for the Cleveland Indians. Is it is better for the Indians to win than the White Sox or the Twins? Well, do I bite the fingernails on the left hand now? Maybe.
Seeing success in Cleveland is not what Tiger fans dream of. Still it is better than seeing the White Sox win. And it is better than watching my friends' Twins win.
Sorry Twins fans, I respect Ron Gardenhire and the entire Twins organization for its consistent winning. Time and time again, the Twins have delivered heartache to Tigers faithful. I have felt the heartbreak from Tom Kelly's handerchief waving group in 1987 (after the Tigers had the best record in baseball) and then again in 2008 when a little controversy prevailed as the Twins won a one-game playoff. As for the White Sox, sorry Ozzy, but I just don't like you. It makes my day, every day, when you lose another game.
Will Cleveland keep winning? I won't go that far. They have a lot of young talented players including outfield Michael Brantley and catcher Carlos Santana. Along with the veterans like power-hitting DH Travis Hafner, this group is on a roll. If they go five or six above .500 the rest of the way, it isn't likely that Detroit, Minnesota or Chicago will catch them. Sorry Royals, you shined early, but reality set in.
The Cleveland franchise originated as the Lakes Shores in 1900 in the American League (minor league at that time). One of the original eight charter franchises in the A.L., Cleveland has had the glare of the baseball world affixed on it throughout its history.
In 1920, the Indians won its first World Series, 5-2, over the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers). In that World Series, Cleveland had the first grand slam (Ernie Smith), the first home run by a pitcher (Jim Bagby) and the first and only unassisted triple play (Bill Wambsganss). It was a team led by Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who hit .388, and and Bagby who won 30 games as a pitcher. Twenty-eight years later, the Indians won its second world series led by MVP Lou Boudreau. In that season, Cleveland won the first ever one-game playoff, defeating the Boston Red Sox, and then upended the Boston Braves, 4-2, in the World Series.
Things looked bright for the Indians in the 1950s, they had the only pitcher ever that was on three different teams that featured 20-game winners. Mike Garcia? Bob Feller? Bob Lemon? Try Early Wynn, who was 20-13 with a 3.02 ERA in 1951, 23-12 with a 2.90 ERA in 1952 and 20-9 with a 2.72 ERA n 1956. Feller, Garcia and Lemon had 20 wins in two of those three seasons but only Wynn did it all three years. "Rapid Bob" is probably their greatest pitcher ever with 266 wins, six 20-win seasons and induction to Baseball's Hall of Fame.
In 1954, Cleveland laid havoc on the A.L. with a 111-43 record and a .721 winning percentage that remains the best in baseball history. However, the Indians were swept by the New York Giants, who featured rookie Willie Mays and his over the shoulder catch of a Vic Wertz drive.
Cleveland found the winning ways in the mid 1990s when it won five straight titles from 1995-99 and advanced to the World Series in 1997. However, bad luck found its way into the Indians camp again. They took a lead to the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven against the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series. However Jose Mesa couldn't hold the lead and Florida won the game in extra innings. As a result, Cleveland is the only team in history to blow a seventh game when leading in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The beat goes on.
Cleveland and its fans are in the throes of something - whether that will be a division, pennant or better, only time and memorable play will determine. They have the best home record in baseball at 18-4 and own the top run differential. Manny Acta is vying for manager of the year. In a year that has had its share of upsets across the board, the baseball group from Cleveland may join the party.
If not, and if Cleveland pulls a Cleveland, I am sure many fans will emulate Johnny in Major League (played by Randy Quaid) : "You Rotten Mobs! You overpaid weenies! Mild Thing! You make my butt sting! You're all garbage!...Back up the Truck."
And, for some of us, unfeeling sort, self-absorbed in our own teams, we have hope, based on past failures, that this is another Cleveland sports mirage. After a drink of water turns to sand for the Indians, reality will set in.