Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Thursday, April 07, 2005

April 6, 2005 Roger that, Tribe has a chance

Maybe I am sick and twisted, but I have this habit of boosting (or lowering) my confidence in our local sports teams based on the predictions of Plain Dealer sports/gossip columnist Roger Brown. When he picked the Browns to win the division last year, I knew we were doomed. Most of the games we did win last year were the games he picked the Browns to lose. He is almost never right and not just on his predictions, but most of his facts. If you haven’t tried this yet, spend the next month reading his column and then count the number of times his fellow sportswriters at the paper contradict or refute his statements. This week it was Dan Gilbert offering to fly LeBron’s mom, but every week there is at least one.
So on Sunday I breathlessly waited on his picks for the Indians. If he had us winning the division, then my confidence would be seriously shaken. First I checked out where Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons picked the Twins to win it all. So I was hoping Brown would do the same and jinx that possibility. Instead Roger threw a curveball. He picked the White Sox. He also picked the Cubs to win the National League. Neither team will win their divisions. Go to Vegas immediately.
The Twins are three-time champs and seem to be the universal choice. They have the reigning Cy Young winner with a solid rotation and strong bullpen. They have a top notch outfield. Behind the plate, Joe Mauer is supposed to be Joe DiMaggio if he wore the tools of ignorance, but until he proves he can stay healthy, he is more like Crash Davis.
I really want to believe in the Tribe’s pitching staff. I know last year’s flameout has everyone understandably worried about the pen but I see potential there. A lot rests on Bob Wickman’s elbow, but Howry, Rhodes and Sauerbeck are real major league pitchers back there now. When we were booing David Riske last year, his infant son was battling for his life. With that burden behind him and a role defined for him, I see big things.
Some question if many of the Tribe’s players had career years last year. Is Hafner the real deal? Well what about Justin Moreneau at first for the Twins? His numbers are half of Hafner’s. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett are not characters on the West Wing, they are the left side of the Twins‘ infield. I see more questions there then Boone trying to regain form, and Peralta has been a league leader in hitting at every level he has ever been. He won’t be Omar in the field, but I bet he runs out every hit. I love Belliard, but if he did have a career year he can’t repeat — we have two proven major leaguers in Hernandez and Cora behind him.
The Indians have built the team the right way. They may not hit a lot of homers, but doubles score runs, too. Sabathia will be OK. He will be the ace that we need. Westbrook is the biggest question mark. Now that he has established himself, can he maintain it? Millwood and Elarton are veterans who I believe love the atmosphere of this clubhouse. I believe they will both thrive this year. Lee can have a monster year at the end of the rotation if he can overcome his own head. I really like the kid.
To be truthful, the team that scares me a little bit are the Tigers. Chances are if they start slow, they will implode and lose 90 games. Detroit calls itself Hockeytown and the Tigers’ owner also owns the Red Wings. With the NHL missing in action, Mike Illitch has remembered he owns a baseball team, too. The Tigers host the All-Star Game this year. If they get hot early (and they have a line-up that can score with a strong back of the bullpen) Illitch will buy the pitching he needs for the second half. They have some young arms that can compete, and a coaching staff that all played for the Tigers in 1984 which knows D-town is a sleeping giant when it comes to baseball.
Mark Shapiro pointed out 2005 as the year the Indians would compete again. I see publicly he has backed off saying the Twins are the favorite and he is cautiously optimistic. That is a good phrase. I was there that Saturday night last August when the Indians won their third in a row over the Twins. The Jake was back to 1995. It was loud and it was fun. The Tribe players got a brief taste of what the fan base can do if they win. So did the Twins. Yes, it ended badly as they lost the next day and then bottomed out, but the foundation is there to compete.
Would I feel better if my buddy Roger had picked the Twins to win it? Yes, I would. But you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, a team has to go out and make their own luck. But at least both Sports Illustrated and Roger picked the Yankees to win the World Series. May the curse of Giambi live on.
So what is my pick to win it all? Well, I have picked the Tribe every year since 1979. It hasn’t worked out too well, but I figured that I am due. In the National League, I will take the Giants because I feel guilty about the crack I made about Vizquel.
Sorry O, but you know we still love you. Go Tribe!

March 30, 2005 Is Cleveland worthy of Phil Jackson?

Red Right 88

If the title of my column made you chuckle, then you understand where I start sport-wise. If not, be patient as more will be explained in future columns. The first installment of “Red Right 88” is running here on the editorial page this week only. Starting next week, you will find it regularly in the sports section.
Josh Ronschke instant messaged me last week. I first met Josh when I coached against him in the eighth grade Lutheran schools league. He was a lanky kid who wore goggles. Ala Reggie Miller, he scored eight points in about twenty seconds to close out the first quarter. That was one of only two times I yelled at my team all season. When I finished my tirade about letting a kid in goggles show us up, I yelled at the cheerleaders for letting the other team’s fans make more noise than our own fans in our home gym.
It was brutal game -- ask me sometime and I will share how one of my players got knocked cold by the pop machine and the ref tried to choke my assistant coach. But it ended happily as we held Josh scoreless for the fourth quarter and won the game.
Over the years, Josh attended my open gyms and youth group events. I took him golfing and to Tribe games. We even made a few trips to watch LeBron when the Chosen One was still in high school. Even then, we both knew he was the real deal. Now that Josh is in college and has his own car, I don’t hear from him all that often.
Anyway, his most recent instant message was simple: “Will Phil Jackson coach the Cavs?”
My short answer was blunt: “NO!”
Josh wanted to know why. And so I explained. I can’t be as eloquent here because of space constraints, but my jist was Cleveland wasn’t good enough for Phil. Yes, he coached in the cold weather of Chicago, but that was before he was PHIL JACKSON. He has tasted the bright lights of Hollywood and I dared to say Cleveland wasn’t big enough for him. Plus I explained how it could only hurt his legacy and not help it. If he came, it would not stop the complaints that he needed superstars to win. As in Michael/Scottie, Shaq/Kobi, LeBron/Michael Redd or whatever free agent Jackson’s stature would attract. I had more and when I finished Josh meekly replied, “That makes sense.” He signed off promising to call me to go golfing soon.
The truth was I was trying to convince myself more than Josh. I wasn’t always this way. I am too young to have become Mike Trivanssano or Dick Fegler. But sometimes I wish that the Sin Tax had never passed. I recall as a youngster lining up at the Stadium’s gates before they opened on a Saturday, then rushing down to the front row of general admission next to the foul pole. It only cost a buck and I was in the front row. My dad would bring the hotdogs in a thermos and we would wrap them in the Millbrook Snoopy bread we bought day old from the factory on West 117th.
In high school, I worked at the Stadium. I saw Dave Steib’s no hitter, Cecil Fielder drill three homers and then get walked intentionally when he went for his fourth. I saw the baseball stitch marks on the guy stupid enough to taunt Albert Belle. I saw Webster Slaughter go ninety-plus on a pass from my beloved Bernie and I laughed as fans pelted that poor photographer during the Oilers game (sorry Larry.) We may have never won but I always truly believed that next year we would. A true believer.
Then I went to college. They built the Jake, expectations went through the roof, the place filled with more people wanting to see Slider than sliders. The Browns owner (no, I still can’t say his name) got jealous and left town. That unconditional love the fans had is long gone. It now seems like a bad marriage gone horribly wrong. Like many of you, I expect bad things to happen.
I often give my dad grief about his father picking here to settle and forcing on me a lifetime of sports nightmares. But the truth is Cleveland was a paradise for my father’s father. I never meet him because he passed on before I was born. But it turns out that gramps gave grams an ultimatum, “Marry me or I reenlist a third time.” She didn’t know it, but he decided he would rather be shot at than work in a coal mine. They left the hills of Pennsylvania to honeymoon at Euclid Beach in Cleveland. It was only then that he told her they were staying as he found a job working for the city of Lakewood trimming trees. Little shacks in Birdtown was the good life for gramps. And I can imagine my grandfather in a tree breathing fresh air saying, “It doesn’t get any better this.”
So while “Cleveland, better than coal mines” isn’t going on any Chamber of Commerce T-shirts, I suppose it offers perspective. It is only games, right? Just sports, right?
But then again, why shouldn’t we expect the best? Why can’t we be the elite and expect good things to happen?
Please come Phil. You have to coach somewhere. Why not here? I want to believe again. I need to believe again. I have always thought that believing you were going to win was actually more powerful than winning itself. I would like to find out, firsthand. And, I’m sure, a lot of other Clevelanders would, too.