Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Monday, July 03, 2006

Worst baseball season ever, now what?

This has been the most miserable baseball summer of my life. And in my lifetime, the Tribe has lost at least 90 games eight times including reaching triple digits three times.

I write this as the Indians return from a 4-2 road trip against two of the best teams in the National League. But those two losses were the worst two back to back defeats I can ever recall. John Adams first started dragging his drum to games the year of my birth and I heard him say the same thing.

The pain Indians fans are feeling is intensified because of the expectations before the season. In my childhood, there were no expectations just hopes. Even when Joe Carter and Cory Snyder smiled from the Sports Illustrated cover in 1986 as predicted American League champs and then lost over 100 games, that didn't hurt like this season has.

I bought the Kool-Aid Mark Shapiro was serving. I drank it whole. I ignore all of the warning signs. People ask where the Detroit Tigers have come from this season, and truthfully they are having the season the Indians should have had last season. Yes, they won 93 games, but they lost 36 one-run games which was 14 more than they won. How does a team lose a one-run game? Often it is one mental mistake, the inability to move a runner into scoring position or a fielding play not made. The excitement of winning overshadowed those characteristics last year. A lights out bullpen and consistent starting pitching helped color up those mistakes as well.

With the financial perimeters Shapiro was given could not afford to make any mistakes. Instead of giving a key reliever (Bob Howry) the money he wanted, he gave it to a starter (Jason Johnson), I agreed with it at the time — but it was a catastrophic mistake. Johnson was awful and is already gone from the roster and the bullpen without Howry as its set-up man and anchor has been a major disappointment.

But the true dagger in the hearts of Tribe fans has been the bonehead plays of this team. Mental mistakes have buried this season. Dropped balls, bad throws, stupid base running — failed basic little league stuff. And you can't use the excuse of youth, the veterans have been the leading the brain dead baseball. There have been few entertaining Tribe wins this year. They have actually out-scored opponents by 33 runs despite being six games below five hundred. There have been few season opportunities and lately those have not turned out well.

At the start of the season, I wrote that Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge had earned the right not to be second guessed on the roster moves including the mysterious giving away of Brandon Phillips. The first half of this season has boiled away that good will.

Shapiro was quoted after trading his second veteran last week, that he was not worried about how it affected the clubhouse since morale could not be worse. He admitted the team has played below its potential, and the season has been a disappointment. He reaffirmed his faith in Eric Wedge, but said that this type of result next season was not acceptable.

Unlike many, I am not calling for the head of Wedge or Shapiro. I believe Shapiro has earned the right to next season when hopefully ownership's purse-strings will open up. The concept of winning cheap in the Central Division has passed with three of the American League's best teams ahead of us in the standings. Shapiro has earned the right to see what he can do shopping at Tiffany's instead of Wal-Mart. If Dolan doesn't allow the budget to raise considerably, he has to sell the team or it is the beginning of the death of baseball in this town.

Wedge's rope is shorter. I don't see how firing him right now can help the club. But at the same time, I don't understand why either he refuses to move runners into scoring position or his lack of faith on his team to execute basic baseball. I believe he should have until the end of the season to try to motivate this club back to winning baseball.

One would like to think that the core of a winning club is here. But the question is how rotten has the fruit become. We need to find out in the second half of the season what is fixable. Blowing up the entire thing now and starting all over again makes no sense... yet.