Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Status check

It's time to whip out the thermometer and take the temperature of the three Cleveland sports teams. What type of hope should you, the valued fan, be investing in the Browns, Indians or Cavaliers that they will be the team to lift the 42-years-and-counting title drought hanging over Northeast Ohio?
Below, I'll give you the good, bad and ugly aspects of Cleveland's Big Three, and how far I think they are from title contention.


Reasons to be happy

1. Romeo Crennel isn't in the habit of blowing smoke
Crennel, so far, has managed not to respond to a negative situation with relentless spin-doctoring and blatant distortions of the truth. That alone puts him miles ahead of Butch Davis in terms of creating a healthy team environment. He doesn't openly trash his players, but he is very reserved with his praise. His overall attitude toward his players seems to be "prove it to me," which is exactly the attitude the coach should have on a team that hasn't proven anything yet.

2. For the first time since the franchise's return, the front office is finally building on something
That, of course, is the defense. Crennel and GM Phil Savage both come from defensive backgrounds, the defense is where Savage spent most of the team's money this off-season, and the top two picks in this spring's draft were linebackers.
It finally looks like the infighting among Browns' higher-ups has subsided and everyone is working together instead of trying to usurp power from each other.

3. Randy Lerner is an involved owner
When Al Lerner died four years ago, I thought the Browns would be sold within six months. His son, Randy Lerner, was a jet-setter from Long Island, and I thought the last thing in the world he'd want to do is run an NFL franchise, certainly an NFL franchise as closely-scrutinized as the Browns.
But not only hasn't Lerner sold the team, he's embraced his role as the owner. He flies in for practices and games, he attends team functions, and he has gone out of his way to reach out to Browns alumni, making them an involved part of the organization again.
Lerner is involved and concerned without being meddlesome, and has become just what the doctor ordered for the Browns in the wake of his father's death. I'd go so far as to say he has become one of the best owners in the league.

Reasons to be cautious

1. Nobody really seems to have a grasp of offensive football
Nobody in the Browns organization is an offensive guru, and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon's performance has been questionable at best. The first three preseason games have shown that the Browns have some ability to move the football, but are woefully inconsistent and prone to long dry spell.
Unless this team plans on winning a lot of 13-10 games, they have to get better on offense.

2. The quarterback situation
This plays into the first point. Charlie Frye is inexperienced, and the situation behind him is threadbare to say the least. Ken Dorsey is the most experience quarterback on the roster, and he's getting outplayed by Derek Anderson, a second-year player who was bound for Baltimore's practice squad last year.
The Browns are letting their quarterback situation flap perilously in the wind right now. If Frye goes down, it could be a knockout blow for the team.

3. A losing track record
The Browns haven't made the playoffs in four years. They haven't reached double digits in wins in 12 years. They haven't won a playoff game in 12 years. Until the team starts to play better ball in the regular season, it's always wise to maintain a safe distance.

Reason to be nauseous

1. Oh, it hurts
There is the omnipresent possibility that a catastrophic injury could befall a Browns player at any moment, and that his backup could retire, and the backup to the backup could get suspended for drug violations.
This team hasn't had the best luck since returning, you know.


Reasons to be happy

1. This team can develop young talent
Nobody need worry about a dearth of young talent coming out of the Indians' farm system anytime soon. The Indians identified the farm system as their lifeblood and have set about keeping it as nourished as possible, either through the draft or trades. For a midmarket team, that's a smart move.

2. Ownership is committing money to those young players
You can fault the Larry and Paul Dolan ownership group for some things, but when it comes to young players, they are putting their money where their mouth is.
Since last year, C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Jhonny Peralta are among the players inked to extensions. Extending young players gives them a vote of organizational confidence and prevents rounds of contentious arbitration that can strain a player's relationship with his team.

3. GM Mark Shapiro can retool on the fly
Given the requisite cash, Shapiro can tighten the screws and have the Indians ready to win next spring. He's already proven he can sift for gold nuggets like Tom Mastny and wing a midseason trade for a multitalented player lost in the shuffle of another organization like Shin-Soo Choo.
But he needs the money.

Reasons to be cautious

1. The Indians have yet to prove they can lure top free agents
Adding some impactful free agents, or doing the equivalent in a trade, are the only ways to get this team over the hump. Having a competitive initial offer is only half the battle. An organization also needs to be able to sell a player on signing, which is usually accomplished through aggressive bargaining.
So far, the Indians seem to be easily dissuaded when it comes to contract negotiations. Once their planned limit is topped, they back out and pull their offer off the table.
It's a sad fact the Indians must learn: to get top players, you will have to overpay at times.

2. At times, it seems like this team has no idea how to translate talent into winning
Talent is a must when building a winner. But a team must also consistently empower and motivate that talent. So far, I'm not seeing that out of the Indians. Manager Eric Wedge deserves some of the blame, but I think it's an organizational thing.
There is no reason why the Indians, a team with a very capable offense and starting rotation, should be as bad as they are. It's all between the ears.

3. Wedge and Shapiro are vanilla and vanilla
No smoke, no fire. Heck, not even a palpable difference of opinion. The brain monster known as Wedgiro brings the same ideas, same philosophies, same leadership style and maybe even the same hair care products to the table. That's not a good recipe when things grow stagnant, as I think they have in the Indians' front office.

Reason to be nauseous

Shapiro might be on his way out
Shapiro's contract is up at the end of next season. Right now, the chance of him signing an extension to stay with the low-budget Indians seems like a 50-50 proposition at best.


Reasons to be happy

1. LeBron James is a Cav through the spring of 2010, no questions asked
He is the heart, soul, mind and body of Cleveland sports. As long as the Cavs have him, they will continue to improve.

2. Dan Gilbert has vastly improved this team on and off the court
When he bought the team, he was branded a meddlesome fantasy-league owner who was going to foul everything up a la Daniel Snyder. Instead, he has approached owning an NBA franchise with the same analytical eye that made him a fortune in the business world. He's pumped money into the roster, upgrades to Quicken Loans Arena, and a soon-to-be-constructed practice facility in Independence.
Best of all, he's hired basketball people who are confident and competent, but not arrogant, and let them run the show.

3. GM Danny Ferry has learned the most important lesson any NBA GM has to learn
In the NBA, it's about the money you don't spend. After last year's spending splurge, Ferry coaxed Drew Gooden to sign a contract that gives the team flexibility in several years and makes Gooden tradeable if need be. Instead if overpaying for Flip Murray, he drafted a rookie replacement in Shannon Brown.
Maintaining financial flexibility is paramount in the NBA, which has a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax for teams that broach the salary cap.

Reasons to be cautious

1. Larry Hughes and the injury bug
He's really important to what the Cavs are trying to build, but he can never stay healthy. Another season with Hughes riding the pine in a cast is another season of spackling a huge hole in the roster. It might not stop the Cavs' progress, but it could slow it.

2. The lack of a defensive tough guy
With Ben Wallace in Chicago, Rasheed Wallace in Detroit and Jermaine O'Neal in Indiana, the Cavs' division is full of sharp elbows in the low post. The Cavs have a couple of scrappers off the bench in Anderson Varejao and Scot Pollard, but no one who can really force the issue in the paint like the Wallaces and O'Neal can. Once you get past the swift legs of LeBron, the Cavs are a very finesse team. That's not to say they can't win being finesse, but they need an answer for the tough guys that roam the East's frontcourts.

3. Mike Brown doesn't bring the offense like he should
Having LeBron makes coaching offense much easier, but way too often, the offense devolved into LeBron and four guys standing around watching him. Brown, a defense-first coach, doesn't seem to have an antidote for that, and it makes the Cavs look very one-dimensional on offense at times.

Reason to be nauseous

An NBA club should be able to employ the best and brightest marketing minds available. So what does it say about the Cavs that the best they could come up with is a stuffed puppy dog for a mascot?
I know mascots are supposed to be kid-friendly, but a dog? The Browns have four dogs as mascots already. At least come up with something that looks like an acid-tripped Sesame Street character, like Slider. Or a unique animal, like The Gorilla in Phoenix.
Thirty-six years of basketball, and the best mascots the Cavs have presented to the fans are Moondog and Whammer. Sad. Truly sad.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Land of lowered expectations

The Indians, it appears, are back in their comfort zone.
The expectations of winning are off somewhere over the horizon yet again, and guess what? They're playing better.
From a low-water mark of 48-64 on Aug. 9, the Indians have gone 13-5 in their last 18 games to improve to 61-69. Without warning, the spiceless jambalaya that was the bullpen has suddenly found some semblance of stability behind the arms of Fernando Cabrera and Tom Mastny.
Mastny has come out of nowhere to become a certifiable flame-douser at the back of the bullpen. After a nonstop string of shaky work when the season still had a heartbeat, Cabrera has suddenly sprung to life as an all-but-unhittable strikeout maestro with the season reduced to extended spring training.
With Cabrera, with the entire roster and coaching staff, the mantra from the fans is the same:
"Where was this when the games mattered?"
To me, it perpetuates the idea that the Indians are breeding a culture more concerned with computation than competition. When winning is an abstract concept, when problems can be solved with hypotheses and players can be quantified with software, this organization seems to operate at its best.
When the focus shifts from the hope of the future to the demands of the present, then there are problems.
Under the Eric Wedge-Mark Shapiro tag team, the Indians have gotten off to four consecutive slow starts. The first year, 2003, was a bottom-out year. In 2004, the Indians rebounded from their slow start to put a scare into the Twins before falling to a final record of 80-82. Last year was supposed to be the corner-turning year. After a slow start, the Indians kicked into high gear, won 93 games and came within a whisker of the playoffs.
Then came this past offseason, when the glow of the spotlight intensified and the expectation of winning shifted to "now." Shapiro, Wedge and owners Larry and Paul Dolan stared at the spotlight and were promptly blinded. The smart, tactical moves of previous offseasons were replaced by free-agent bungling and a trade of Coco Crisp that might have yielded a top prospect in Andy Marte, but destroyed the bullpen and put the 2006 season at risk in the process.
The head-scratching moves continued into spring training and the regular season. Brandon Phillips outplayed Ramon Vazquez, yet Vazquez made the final roster and Phillips was shipped off to Cincinnati for virtually nothing. Now, neither player is with the team.
It took nearly three months to deem the Jason Johnson experiment a failure, even with Jeremy Sowers more than ready at Class AAA Buffalo. Sowers has consistently impressed since being recalled, while Johnson is performing his same old loser routine with the Red Sox.
Fausto Carmona was pressed into service as a setup man and performed admirably. But then, Indians management jumped the gun big time by thrusting him into the closer's role, which he had never been asked to fill on any professional level. They went so far as to dump Bob Wickman for a Braves Class A prospect just to free up the role for Carmona.
Four blown saves later, the experiment was over, Carmona's confidence was shattered, and he was on the fast track back to Buffalo. He will finish the season as a starter.
Around the time that the Carmona experiment was breathing its last, the Indians apparently decided to stop consternating over their lost season and just start playing ball again. As the calendar has moved through August, the entire organization appears to have relaxed and re-focused on the basic goal of making the best out of a bad situation.
That's fine, considering what the season has become. But what about the factors that led to this unsalvageable year? One year, even two years, of slow starts and late collapses can be chalked up to the bumps in the rebuilding process. But three and four years? That's a trend, and it's becoming an alarming one.
For three straight years, the Indians have gotten off to a slow start and rebounded at some point during the year. In 2004 and '05, they faded at season's end. This year, what they do in September is a moot point with regard to the standings.
I'd hate to think that the Indians, populated by organizational whiz kids in key upper management positions, are great at re-stocking a farm system and giving us a cache of talented prospects to fawn over, but totally inept when it comes time to win with those prospects. But the proof, so far, is in the pudding.
On the field and off the field, whenever the Indians are expected to win, they choke in some form. Whether it's bad roster moves, fielding blunders, miscalculations or failure to spend money effectively, the Indians -- a trim, well-run organization by most standards -- turn into the bumbling, bungling Browns of the Butch Davis era when they are asked to make the moves to win now.
If it's a case of serial stage fright, the Indians' brass had better figure out how to get over it, or get some decision-makers in here who don't sweat under the spotlight.
The Indians only have so many seasons to waste before players like Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia are free to leave.

The Morning After: Buffalo

Browns 20, Bills 17
Preseason record: 2-1

If the third preseason game is supposed to be the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the Browns, for the most part, look ready to play. And that's saying something in of itself.
A month after LeCharles Bentley's injury cast a dark shadow over training camp, two weeks after a lackluster exhibition loss to the Eagles, the Browns have shown a resiliency that hasn't been seen from them in years. They beat Detroit on a last-second defensive stand, and have now beaten Buffalo on a last-second drive that culminated in a game-winning field goal by Jeff Chandler.
Charlie Frye looked surgically precise in a 6-for-6 opening touchdown drive. The best part was he spread the ball around, finding a different receiver on each pass. Few things keep an offense sharp like a quarterback who throws to everybody. Too often in the Browns' recent history, quarterbacks fell in love with pet targets (Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson, anyone?) and the offense often looked disjointed because of it.
Braylon Edwards made his first appearance in a game since tearing a knee ligament in December. He caught just one pass, but more importantly, his knee held up through game contact. With no other setbacks, he could be getting major playing time when the regular season opens in two weeks.
The offense can score at least some points, but consistency has to be the new focus. After the great opening drive, a long stretch of nothing ensued. Reuben Droughns netted just 17 yards on eight rushing attempts and Phil Dawson missed a 56-yard field goal. After the energetic opening drive, the offense's focus and intensity waned dramatically, and the Browns went into halftime trailing 10-7.
"We got a little lackadaisical," Edwards told The Plain Dealer. "The enthusiasm wasn't there."
If the unit as a whole seemed to withdraw after the opening drive, there were outstanding individual performances.
Jerome Harrison has all but cemented himself as the change-of-pace back alongside Droughns. His nine-carry, 70-yard effort was his third straight attention-grabbing performance of the preseason.
Steve Heiden has been lost amid the hype of Kellen Winslow's return, but he continues to be an incredibly reliable short-yardage receiver for the Browns. Frye's sixth and final pass on the opening drive was a touchdown to Heiden. With Heiden and Winslow healthy, expect coach Romeo Crennel to run a lot of two tight end formations.
The offense is where most of the big names are supposed to reside, but the Browns' season is going to live and die with the defense. And the defense brings the most cause for cautious optimism as we head toward the start of the season.
In the past two exhibition games, the Browns have surrendered 33 points. If they continue to yield 33 points every two weeks for the rest of the season, they will put themselves in a position to win a lot of games.
The Bills managed to bookend the game with first- and fourth-quarter touchdowns. Between, they mustered a lone Rian Lindell field goal.
With a beefed-up front seven and hurting secondary, the statistical breakdown was predictable. The Bills outgained the Browns overall, 349 yards to 302. The secondary surrendered 293 yards passing to Buffalo while the big guys up front clamped the Bills' rushing game, holding them to 56 yards on 22 carries.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you hold down the other team's running game, you stand a much better chance of keeping them out of the end zone.
Saturday, the pass-rush tandem of Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest were as good as advertised. McGinest, in his first action of the preseason, made several tackles and looked like he still had some spring in his step.
It's very early, but it's hard not to be impressed with Wimbley, who has been the quick-striking, backfield-penetrating presence GM Phil Savage must have been envisioning when he drafted him 13th overall in April.
A sack and strip of Bills' backup quarterback Craig Nall was the highlight of Wimbley's game Saturday.
After years of badly-flawed, injured and underachieving first-round selections, Wimbley is showing signs of being the first home run the Browns have hit in the draft since returning. Time will tell.

Up next: Chicago, Thursday, 8 p.m. (preseason finale)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Master List: August '06

In March, I introduced The Master List, a compilation of the 20 most valuable athletes in Cleveland sports. I said at the time I would like to update the list several times a year as conditions change. With some months having passed, I offer my first update of the list.
The criteria is listed below.

What does the player mean to his organization?
Is this the type of player the team thinks they can build around? Does he help them win games? Does he increase the legitimacy of the organization? How much would losing this player hurt his team?

What does the player mean to the fans and city?
How much does having this player boost Cleveland's collective morale? Is he a fan favorite?

What is the player's marketability?
Does the player get the name of himself, his team and the city out in the regional or national spotlight? More importantly, does he do it in a positive way (call this the Albert Belle rule).

Previous ranking listed in parenthesis.

1) LeBron James, Cavaliers (1)
Does this really need further explanation? He is the Cavs. Heck, he is Cleveland sports.

2) Grady Sizemore, Indians (2)
Still hot at the top of the order. Still hot to women. Although I haven't seen many "Mrs. Sizemore" shirts for sale this summer. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places.
In a nutshell, Sizemore is the closest thing to a five-tool talent the Indians have. He could hit anywhere in the lineup and be productive, and is already one of the elite centerfielders in baseball.
His play and his looks make him a marketer's dream.

3) Travis Hafner, Indians (3)
Among the weapons in his arsenal: a cool, monosyllabic nickname -- "Pronk," and one of the best all-around bats in baseball. Able to clout 400-foot homers, he also has the bat control to serve singles to the opposite field.
In 2006, Pronk appears headed for his third straight .300 season, with the added bonus of 45-to-50 homers. He should be an MVP candidate. Instead, he's never played in an all-star game.

4) Reuben Droughns, Browns (5)
With an unproven quarterback, wounded offensive line and wide receiver corps on the mend, Droughns is the meal ticket for the Browns offense. As he goes, so probably will go the Browns' ability to score points.
His marketability gets docked points for repeated legal troubles, but he is still a bruising power runner who persevered to get to where he is. That always appeals to Cleveland's blue-collar sensibilities.

5) Ted Washington, Browns (13)
The large jump comes as Washington has proven he still has some gas left in the tank. Not just a token free agent signing to provide younger linemen with a mentor, he will be the one charged with stopping the opponent's running game at the line of scrimmage. For a Browns team that has been purely incapable of stopping the run since re-entering the league, Washington is a presence desperately needed, even at the age of 38.

6) Victor Martinez, Indians (7)
Say what you will about his arm, but he is the closest thing Hafner has to protection in the batting order. Catcher, first base, no matter where he plays, he will be one of best bats in baseball at that position.

7) Charlie Frye, Browns (NR)
How times have changed. In March, Frye was not even guaranteed a starting job. In August, not only is he the starter, he is the starter-or-bust. Frye himself isn't proven. Frye's backups are even less-proven. The bottom line is the Browns need Frye to morph into a solid NFL veteran on Sept. 10, when the season opens. If he can't answer the bell and succeed, the Browns are in an ocean of trouble.

8) Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers (4)
Even after a lackluster postseason, even after sitting on the bench down the stretch of most late-season games, a 7'-3" center is still a valuable weapon in an NBA team's arsenal. Say what you will about his plodding style and pet moves, and yes, he's probably being overpaid, but as the old basketball saying goes, "you can't teach height." And you certainly can't teach the combination of height and moves Z has.

9) LeCharles Bentley, Browns (9)
This from my March post:
"Having a weak offensive line sets up a domino effect: line can't protect, quarterback gets rushed, gets hit, makes bad throws, confidence is shattered, and the next thing you know, you have Tim Couch. Bentley's arrival automatically increases the chance that Charlie Frye will be able to consistently succeed. Bentley won't get a lot of face time once the season starts, but the foundation of the Browns' offensive line just went from play sand to granite."
I'll let you go throw up now.

10) Larry Hughes, Cavaliers (8)
With a healthy Hughes developing chemistry with LeBron, the Cavs could challenge the franchise record of 57 wins this season. With Hughes on the shelf, it's hole-plugging time again.
This past season showed that the Cavs can still win without Hughes, but it's much more difficult.

11) Phil Dawson, Browns (11)
Having a good kicker is like having a consistent bullpen. You take them for granted. Having a bad kicker is like having a flammable bullpen. You get indigestion watching them. Dawson, for the vast majority of his career, has been a good kicker.
Again, I go to the plunger analogy: you don't need a good kicker until you need him. But when you need him, you really need him.

12) C.C. Sabathia, Indians (17)
At the outset of the season, I branded Cliff Lee the true ace of the Indians' pitching staff. So much for predictions. Sabathia has reclaimed his often-abdicated spot as the best starter in the Indians rotation, while Lee has struggled.
Consistency continues to be a problem for Sabathia, but no one can complain about his ability to pitch well even as the bullpen continues to blow leads.

13) Drew Gooden, Cavaliers (19)
Another big jump for a guy who proved his worth last season. Gooden swallowed his pride, took a backseat in the offensive schemes and became a good enough rebounder that the Cavs wanted him back this summer. If Gooden had left, that would have been an enormous hole for the Cavs to fill in the frontcourt.

14) Kamerion Wimbley, Browns (NR)
When the Browns selected Wimbley out of Florida State in April, I was skeptical of drafting a 4-3 defensive end and turning him into a 3-4 outside linebacker. Granted, Wimbley still has a lot of proving to do, but he is showing signs of becoming the first legitimate pass rusher the Browns have had since returning to the league.

15) Leigh Bodden, Browns (NR)
With the rest of the Browns' cornerbacks dragging various injured body parts around, Bodden has excelled in a pair of preseason games. The increased player time might cement Bodden as the Browns' premier cover corner. He certainly has the athleticism to do it. It might not be long before Bodden is drawing important assignments like Chad Johnson and Hines Ward.

16) Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers (NR)
He's still far more hustle than skill, but was there a more important piece to the Cavs' playoff puzzle this past spring outside of LeBron? At his disruptive best, Varejao clogs passing lanes, draws charges and grabs rebounds. Coach Mike Brown trusted him enough to put him on the floor in the fourth quarter of most playoff games, and he played a big role in piloting the Cavs to the second round.
Did I mention the hair? If the Cavs' marketers are smart, they'd be promoting Varejao's look every chance they get.

17) Braylon Edwards, Browns (16)
Edwards might play yet in the preseason. He thinks he's ready, and he'd better be sure of it. The last thing the Browns need it Edwards to re-injure his knee. He is extremely important to the future of the receiving corps. If the Browns are to break through and become a contender, Edwards will have to be a key piece of it. He has the talent to be one of the best offensive playmakers in the NFL.

18) Willie McGinest, Browns (6)
This spring's ranking was based mostly on what he brings as a leader. This ranking takes into account more of what he can do on the field. He is still valuable as a mentor for Wimbley and the young linebackers, and I think he can still give the Browns good play in stretches, but his inability to suit up and play so far has me wondering whether McGinest is viewing this Browns gig as a a part-time, pre-retirement job. Ted Washington is four years McGinest's senior, about 100 pounds heavier, and he has had no problem going through the rigors of camp.

19) Shin-Soo Choo, Indians (NR)
Barely on the Tribe's roster for a month, Choo is already proving his worth in a big way. His bat tends to run hot and cold, but he can get it through the strike zone quickly and make contact.
The biggest impact Choo has made so far is with his glove. He has excellent range in the outfield, the athleticism to dive for balls, and a rocket arm. He might end up being the Tribe's best defensive outfielder in quite some time.
Choo, a Korean, is also the first Asian regular on the Tribe's roster. If he excels, he could provide a tremendous chance for the Indians to connect with Cleveland's Asian communities.

20) Shannon Brown, Cavaliers (NR)
Several media outlets proclaimed the Cavs' 25th overall selection of Brown "a steal." He's an undersized two-guard who came out of college a year early, but he could end up being the team's best bench guard because of his all-around game. Skill-wise, he is a definite upgrade from the departed Flip Murray. If he can shoot the way scouts say he can, he'll be a tremendous addition.

Off the list: Cliff Lee, Bob Wickman, Jhonny Peralta, Ronnie Belliard, Flip Murray, Eric Snow

Knocking on the door: Joe Jurevicius, Kellen Winslow Jr., Jeremy Sowers, Jake Westbrook, Donyell Marshall

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

God is a Cleveland fan (no, really)

If God isn't a Cleveland fan, how do you explain this statue of Jesus, a picture of which arrives here courtesy of The accompanying Deadspin caption mentions Notre Dame, but they actually had a pretty good season last year.
No, this depiction of Jesus shows Him with his hand covering His face, in a obvious gesture of Cleveland shock and disbelief.
The statue is a very powerful symbol of Cleveland's despair as a sports town, but it lacks a name. That's where we come in.
In an attempt to give the statue a name that reflects the power of its imagery, I have come up with a few candidates:

1. "Jesus watches the Indians at any point between 1959 and 1993."

2. "Jesus watches as Bill Cowher holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy"

3. "Jesus after listening in on an Art Modell conversation with Baltimore officials: October, 1995"

4. "...The Cleveland Browns take Mike Junkin ..."

5. "Curveballs in the dirt: October, 1997"

6. "Jesus realizes He gave Michael Jordan too much talent"

7. "Jesus as He realizes the freak snow storm He sent to stall The Drive missed Cleveland and hit Buffalo."

8. "Jesus concentrates as he attempts to dechiper a Bill Belichick press conference."

9. "Dangit, LeBron, you're GONNA sign that extension!"

10. "Jesus watches LeCharles Bentley get carted off the field."

11. "Jesus watches Bob Hallen retire."

12. "Jesus watches Alonzo Ephraim get suspended for doping."

13. "Jesus realizes that, at some point in the future, David Modell could be an NFL owner again."

14. "Jesus realizes that, at some point in the future, Butch Davis could be an NFL head coach again."

15. "Jesus listens as Larry Dolan purchases the Indians."

16. "Jesus listens as Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge agree that Casey Blake would make a good right fielder."

17. "... the Cleveland Cavaliers take DeSagana Diop ..."

18. "Jesus watches C.C. Sabathia order a Double Whopper value meal during the offseason."

19. "Jesus realizes that 'Major League: Back to the Minors' is not about the Indians."

20. "Jesus is asked to critique the acting in 'The Kid From Cleveland.'"

Rumble in Toronto

Other people have to be thinking the same thing I'm thinking about Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: fight one player, it's an isolated incident. Fight two players, it might be time for some anger management training.
Less than two months after challenging now-San Francisco Giant Shea Hillenbrand to duke it out, Gibbons reportedly did indeed duke it out with pitcher Ted Lilly after removing him from last night's game against Oakland.
The pair very obviously had words when Gibbons lifted Lilly from the game after an eight-run lead had all but melted away. Lilly went into the clubhouse tunnel, Gibbons shortly followed, and an few seconds later, every single person in the Toronto dugout jammed their heads into the tunnel entrance like high-school freshmen fogging up the classroom windows as the captain of the football team is about to take his frustration out on the president of the audio-visual club.
Gibbons reportedly bloodied his nose in the ensuing fisticuffs. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, Lilly didn't slam his pitching hand against anything hard, like Gibbons' skull.
Gibbons quasi-apologized for the incident in a radio interview Tuesday, saying he is a "passionate" individual.
Just like Mike Tyson. He's pretty passionate too. Just ask Robin Givens.
When Gibbons and Hillenbrand had their little who-can-piss-who-off-more contest earlier this season, we could chalk it up to a bad match of player and manager. But that sequence might have given us a peek into Gibbons' personality, and might have served as an early warning sign that he might be something of a loose cannon with his emotions.
Instead of trying to quell the situation with Hillenbrand, Gibbons made it escalate to the point that Hillenbrand wrote an anti-team message on a clubhouse bulletin board, which caused Gibbons to challenge him to a fight, and ultimately caused Gibbons to go to Toronto team management with a "he-goes-or-I-go" ultimatum.
Normally, such an ultimatum would be reserved for the most atrocious of offenses. If Hillenbrand was caught, say, dealing drugs out of the Blue Jays' locker room, I could see such a reaction. But for professionalism to go out the window because unchecked bickering led to a loss of tempers, that is not a great reflection on the stabilizing influence of the manager.
The mound confrontation with Lilly is another indicator of how the Toronto players might view their manager. Should Lilly have shown up his manager by arguing with him on the mound? Of course not. Is it another sign of Gibbons agitating a player until he finally loses it? Quite possibly.
The more I see of John Gibbons, the more I get the feeling that this is what Bob Knight would be like as the coach of an NBA team.
There will always be coaches who get under the collective skin of their players. That's part of a coach's job. A coach is supposed to be a leader, not an appeaser. Some of the greatest coaches of all time were abrasive and temperamental. Bill Parcells, Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant and John McGraw would never be in line for a Mr. Congeniality award. But they unified their teams, provided great leadership and produced positive results.
That's a giant step ahead of Gibbons, who appears more and more to be a petty agitator who likes to pick fights with players if they cross him. Gibbons, it is probably needless to say, has produced unimpressive results as the Blue Jays' manager.
When a coach can't rise above the day-to-day things that make him angry and concentrate on the bigger picture of forming a winning team, it might simply be that he is ill-suited to be in his role.
If Gibbons' players can continue to tolerate the anger-induced sideshows that are now becoming a monthly occurrence, Blue Jays management might not be able to. Gibbons might want to keep that in mind the next time he wants to deck one of his players into next week.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Morning After: Detroit

(Side note: I know this is actually three mornings after. I wasn't the one who decided to play the game on a Friday night, though.)

Browns 20, Lions 16
Preseason record: 1-1

Jerome Harrison sure looks like hot property after scoring his second touchdown of the preseason Friday night.
I'll admit, he looked good. So far, the rookie running back has shown an ability to cut on a dime and accelerate downfield. He has a set of hands worthy of catching passes, but unlike former Browns speedster Eric Metcalf, he isn't afraid to run the ball out of the backfield, either.
Every year, Cleveland fans always seem to find a Browns player in which to invest hope and hype. It happens every preseason. Last year, Charlie Frye was the "next big thing." Josh Cribbs was a close second.
This year, Harrison has the fans' drool-o-meter going crazy.
Most of the time, those hopes fall flat and we're left criticizing the guy mercilessly. Think William Green.
That's why I'm not sold on Harrison. As with the entire Browns roster, let him prove his worth before falling in love with him.
If he has a monster rookie season, I'll be more inclined to place stock in him. But let's see how he's doing in October and November. In my mind, he's an undersized rookie rusher who just put up a good second half against the Eagles scrubs 10 days ago, then followed it with a good game against the terminally-bad Detroit Lions.
You want my love? Do it against the Steelers. Do it against the Ravens. Do it in the playoffs. Then we'll talk.

Lost in the focus on Harrison was a nice performance by Reuben Droughns (44 yards on seven carries). Droughns is the real-deal rusher the Browns have needed since coming back into the league. The only question is, for how long? He has a pre-trial appearance in a Colorado court today on his domestic violence charge. The Plain Dealer reported today that the court is unlikely to push the trial until after the season. That could mean Droughns might have to miss a game to attend his trial later this year.
If Droughns is convicted, he could face jail time. Even more worrisome is the possibility of an NFL suspension should he be convicted.
Combine his legal problems with the fact that he has a very punishing running style and never seems to avoid contact, and I find myself not getting too attached to Droughns. At age 28, he strikes me as the kind of guy who could be washed up at 31, sooner if he suffers a major leg or neck injury.
Every time he touches the ball, I say to myself, "Man, if they can keep him healthy and out of jail, they might have a pretty good player on their hands."

Charlie Frye rebounded from an awful-looking wounded-duck interception in the first quarter to lead a touchdown drive. The interception by Dre Bly showed all of Frye shortcomings at one time: his inexperience, which led him to try and force the ball to Dennis Northcutt through a forest of blue Lions jerseys; his smallish hands, which might have led the ball to slip out of his grip awkwarly, causing the wobbly pass; and his lack of arm strength, which allowed Bly easy pickings.
Frye's ensuing touchdown drive showcased all his strengths: his huddle presence, his intelligence, his ability to read defenses and react, and his sideline-to-sideline mobility.
All in all, a positive showing from Frye. With any young quarterback, you are going to have to take the bad with the good. One of Frye's best characteristics is that he learns from his mistakes. I don't think you'll see him air-mailing passes into triple coverage again.

On defense, it was time for the youngsters to shine. Once again lacking Willie McGinest, Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutcheon, the kids had to step up. And many did.
Rookie Kamerion Wimbley used his performance against the Eagles to garner his first start against Detroit. He capitalized on it, netting a sack. In the second half, Baba Oshinowo matched Wimbley's sack.
D'Qwell Jackson was burned on a first-quarter touchdown pass, but rebounded with some nice special teams play.
And let's not forget Leigh Bodden, who had another standout game when the Browns' cornerback corps needed it most. They're still going to need a second capable cornerback, because once you get past Baxter, McCutcheon and Bodden, the talent level drops drastically. A trade might still be in the future if GM Phil Savage can find what he is looking for.

Up next: at Buffalo, Saturday, 6 p.m.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Some spice in the soup

Scot Pollard is a career role player who will never be confused with an offensive force. But I'm still very happy that the Cavaliers have reportedly inked the veteran forward to a one-year deal today.
Why? two reasons: the Cavs just got a lot tougher, and they just got a lot more interesting.
Pollard, 6'-11" and 31 years old, is a textbook banger. He gets the most out of his limited skill set by not being afraid to mix it up in the paint. He's like a more mature, not as quick and slightly bigger version of Anderson Varejao.
Another big plus: he's played on contenders virtually his whole career. He started out his career having cups of coffee with the Pistons and Hawks, but latched on and really made a name for himself with the Kings, where he bolstered the backcourt behind Vlade Divac and Chris Webber. He was traded to the Pacers in 2002, where he filled the same role behind Jermaine O'Neal and Jeff Foster.
Now he brings his extensive playoff experience to the Cavs, who really need some more players with his kind of resume.
Aside from that, Pollard is one of the game's great flakes. And I mean that as a compliment.
Throughout his career, he's sported a wide assortment of hairdos: ponytails, a mohawk, mutton chop sideburns, and an assortment of facial hair styles that surpasses even Indians manager Eric Wedge.
Pollard has been known to paint his nails before games as well.
With Pollard the Cavs are going to be certain to lead the NBA in at least two things: high jersey numbers (Gooden's No. 90 and Pollard's No. 62), and wild hairstyles (Pollard and Varejao can share hairstyling tips).
Suddenly, the Cavs aren't just LeBron and a bunch of plain yogurt. Now, the rest of the roster is getting spiced up as well. As the Cavs continue to improve and make May and June basketball a yearly trend around these parts, people around the country are going to be turned on to the wild-child team from the Rock and Roll City.
If you're going to leave an impression, dammit, leave an impression.

A sneaky move by Junior Seau

Anybody who was getting misty-eyed about Junior Seau's retirement, hold on. If you were preparing a highlight montage set to the piano solo from "Layla," turn off the tape machine.
Seau might be un-retiring. The team for which he might be giving up his newfound free time? The New England Patriots.
He might have been planning this all along. Seau wants to secure a place in Canton, and he knows that in order to be considered truly great in the history books, you need to un-retire at least once (Roger Clemens, Deion Sanders). Twice is preferred (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson). Retiring once, just walking away from the game with your legacy intact is so .... final. It's almost like quitting. Where's the ego-driven denial of your eroding playing skills?
I'm looking at you, John Elway. How dare you walk away from football after winning back-to-back Super Bowls? How dare you deprive us Cleveland fans of a sloppy, disjointed end to your playing days, one that could have seen you be the quarterback/GM/concessions manager of the Arizona Cardinals?
Seau, on the other hand, might have just plotted the perfect crime. He has only played in one Super Bowl, a forgettable drubbing at the hand of the 49ers 12 years ago. He slogged through plenty of losing seasons with the Chargers and Dolphins, and now he wants to piggy-back to a Super Bowl title. The Patriots, with Super Bowl pedigree and a thinning linebacker corps, are a logical choice.
So Seau announces his retirement, gives us a fiery "I'm not retiring, I'm graduating" speech, has a lavish retirement party thrown by the Chargers, waits a few days for the heat to blow over, then leaves a phone message with the team alerting them that he might sign with the Patriots.
Graduating. Yeah, right. Graduating to a better team is more like it.
It's remarkable that more players don't take this tack if they are dissatisfied with their team. There are no real negative consequences for the player, outside of maybe giving back some signing bonus money. You simply announce your retirement, negotiate an end to your contract, give the team back some bonus money with the promise that the rest is coming back later, once your kids' private school tuitions are paid, wait a short amount of time, then show up on the doorstep of the team you really want to play for.
If the Patriots go in the tank this year, Seau can retire from them, shed some tears at another news conference, and resurface a week later with the Steelers. If the Steelers don't give him enough playing time, he can tell the media that "my wife wants me to retire, and she is the most important thing in my life," wait a week, and sign with the Colts.
The only limit to the retire/un-retire tactic is when you've played for every single team in the league. But Seau hasn't conquered Canada yet. Or NFL Europe. Heck, he's rich enough that maybe he can start his own league and play for every team in that league.
Will he get branded a carpetbagger? An aging, parasitic barnacle who has latched onto a team trying to win a title, taking a roster spot away from a young player who could use a chance? Hardly. He's a successful professional athlete. No matter where he goes, he'll have multiple sets of lips fused to his buttcheeks.
Spread the gospel of the un-retirement, Junior. MJ, Magic and The Rocket blazed the trail, proving once again that pro athletes write the rule book. They can shuffle the papers just about any which way they please and get away with it.
Up next: faking your own death to get out of a contract. ("Hey! What's Walter Payton doing playing for the Buccaneers?")

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Montepaschi Leavenworth

Former University of Maryland forward Lonnie Baxter apparently decided to celebrate his new one-year deal with Italian club Montepaschi Siena.
And like any true marginally-talented former NBA player who wants to drink from the cup of excess while he is able, Baxter decided to go gonzo with his celebration.
I'm not talking Mardi Gras. I'm not talking Times Square on New Year's Eve. I'm not even talking Salt Lake City at the annual "Monotonous Choral Music" festival.
I'm talking guns, fast cars and the White House.
Sound like a movie starring Wesley Snipes and Dennis Miller? You're not far off.
Baxter, 27, was reportedly toodling around Washington D.C. in a white SUV with a friend, 35-year-old Irvin Martin, around 2:30 Wednesday morning. They were about two blocks away from the White House when one of them allegedly fired shots from a handgun.
At whom? No one knows. But you know how it is when you discharge a firearm within earshot of the White House. Those crazy Secret Service agents want in on the party, too.
Uniformed Secret Service agents reportedly converged on the SUV in Northwest D.C. and ... well, you can imagine how Secret Service agents admonish someone for firing a gun near the White House. It usually involves being wrestled to the ground and having zip-ties placed around your wrists.
The Secret Service reportedly found spent shell casings in plain sight within the vehicle.
Baxter's most recent team, the Charlotte Bobcats, predictably went to great lengths to let the media know that Baxter is absolutely, positively no longer a member of their team. Baxter's Italian club might not have a choice but to release him if he is sent off to the federal pen.
Arrevederci, Lonnie.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Emasculated by Bill Simmons

Bill Simmons has spoken, and if you are a Cleveland sports fan, you should start crying like a little Barry Bonds girl. Because that is what you are.
In his column breaking down the playoff chances of American League teams, Simmons says Cleveland fans are "like women."
"If they ask you how they look, just tell them, 'You look fine, you look great' or else you're in for 20 minutes of pure hell," he says.
Simmons is right to a point. But there is a big difference. When a woman bites the head off her significant other for criticizing her, it's usually because the woman opened the door, and the man buffoonishly walked right into "Do These Jeans Make My Butt Look Big"-land, which invariably leads to a no-good-way-out situation, where even silence is certain death.
When Cleveland teams suck, we don't go around asking Boston, New York and Pittsburgh fans "does our team suck?" We know when our teams suck. We have a very acute sense of suck. We are well-versed in suck and recognize suck when we see it.
Virtually all the criticism Cleveland fans receive about their teams is unsolicited. Which makes us far different from the woman who asks if her Spandex workout shorts accentuate her thighs too much.
Simmons says he's sick of the volumes of whiny e-mails he gets every time he writes something negative about a Cleveland team. Personally, I think Simmons got off on the wrong foot with his "LeBron is out of Cleveland the first chance he gets" prediction. That's like telling a parent "Your child is going to run away the first chance he gets." That hit just a little too close to the heart.

This is getting ridiculous

Let's face facts: the Browns simply aren't going to have a center for the Sept. 10 opener against New Orleans.
Something will happen to every single guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback. By Sept. 10, the Browns are going to have to resort to flag football tactics and have Charlie Frye hold the ball out in front of him and yell "hike!"
Alonzo Ephraim is reportedly the latest Browns center who won't be active for the start of the regular season. If you smelled a fish when you saw Ephraim available for the taking in late July, your nose wasn't deceiving you.
Ephraim has reportedly violated the NFL's substance abuse policy for the second time and will be suspended for the first four games of the season, The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday.
Ephraim will get a chance to appeal the suspension. He will reportedly still be active for the remainder of the preseason.
However, despite the fact that Ephraim had a solid game in last Thursday's preseason loss to the Eagles, the Browns apparently aren't about to give increased playing time to a guy who won't be active for the first month of the season. Ross Tucker, acquired less than a week ago from the Patriots, will reportedly start Friday night against the Lions.
Once again, we have to brace ourselves for fumbled snaps and miscommunication, and hope that it all turns out as well as it did against Philadelphia.
Tucker follows LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen and Ephraim onto the hot seat. Let's see how fate turns against him. Will he get injured? Will he get caught doing/trafficking drugs? Will he get arrested for a DUI? Will he pull a Ross Verba combo platter?
Tucker shares a first name with Verba, and a last name with another Browns offensive lineman who can never stay healthy. That's two strikes right there. Our phantom curse is cracking its knuckles, cackling wildly. So many ways to ruin Tucker's season, so little time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Suggs trade rescinded

Welcome back, Lee Suggs. Boy, that sure was quick.
The trade that sent Suggs to New York for cornerback Derrick Strait was rescinded Tuesday, about 24 hours after it was announced.
The reason? Brace yourself for this one -- Suggs failed his Jets physical.
In true Browns fashion, this is darn close to the worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it worse is if Suggs hits the practice field in Berea tomorrow and blows out a knee. So we can all wait and see if that will happen.
The perpetually banged-up Suggs has never been totally healthy, and apparently the Jets saw some unsettling things amid the layers of scar tissue that are likely building up in his joints.
Suggs' physical must have really freaked out the Jets, who are facing a future without Curtis Martin and no viable backup. This is like a penniless vagrant passing up a night at a Motel 6 to continue sleeping in a box. Something must really be wrong at the motel for that to happen.
You wouldn't know it to watch Suggs play the first truly consistent, injury-free football of his career so far in training camp. But Suggs is always going to be a ticking injury time bomb. And now there might be no way out for the Browns.
The cat's out of the bag. Suggs already spooked one team at a physical. What are the odds another team is going to bite? Twenty-four hours ago, Suggs was the possible ticket to Eagles center Hank Fraley. Now he has a scarlet letter on his chest.
The Browns might as well play Suggs until he ruptures, breaks or sprains something, then hand the third-down back's role to Jerome Harrison, which is what they wanted to do all along.
Meanwhile, without Strait, the secondary continues to be perilously thin. And, as has been the ongoing theme for the Browns since camp started, GM Phil Savage must go back to the drawing board.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Two teams, two moves

Monday brought us a pair of moves that characterize two Cleveland teams at the opposite ends of the "got their shit together" spectrum.
In the morning, the Cavaliers formally announced they had reached an agreement with Drew Gooden on a three-year, $23 million contract. In the afternoon, the Browns announced that they had pawned oft-injured running back Lee Suggs off on the Jets for cornerback Derrick Strait, a career backup to this point.
So much for Suggs being the trump card that could land them Hank Fraley or another center with starting experience.
The Cavs re-signed a valuable piece of their starting lineup for far less than he originally wanted, preserving long-term financial flexibility while ensuring that the team doesn't take a step backward in the short term.
In a nutshell, Cavs GM Danny Ferry played the waiting game perfectly. While us fans got impatient and wondered if Ferry was asleep at the switch, in reality he knew he didn't have to do anything. He knew the market wasn't going to hold the six-year, $60 million contract Gooden was seeking after Nene received that head-smacking amount from the Nuggets.
Ferry knew that he simply had to let enough time pass, let training camp creep ever closer, and sooner or later, Gooden would get antsy enough to make a move. The result is a very club-friendly contract that allows the Cavs to stay remarkably flexible for a team that is going to be bumping into the salary cap every year into the foreseeable future.
For a player who is supremely talented yet maddeningly inconsistent, Ferry piloted negotiations to a conclusion fitting Gooden's resume. He gets paid handsomely in the near future, but will have to work to prove he is worthy of the big bucks and big years he was seeking this summer.
Gooden may be jealous of the money Nene received. But in three years, when the Cavs are limber enough to talk turkey with LeBron James about a long-term deal, and the Nuggets are collapsing under the weight of Nene's deal and stressing their relationship with Carmelo Anthony, the Cavs will be the envy of the Nuggets.
The Browns, meanwhile, are struggling to rub two sticks together so they can cook a rabbit for dinner.
Suggs could have been the piece that landed Fraley or another center who could at least serve as a plausible stopgap for this season. Instead, cornerbacks Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutcheon might be out for months with injuries, plunging the cornerback position into an even deeper abyss than center. The Browns were a Leigh Bodden groin strain away from possibly needing Josh Cribbs or Frisman Jackson to play both ways. So enter the Suggs-for-Strait deal.
This deal is a direct descendent of the Ray Mickens deal a year ago, also with the Jets. Same position, same team, same hole-plugging reason for the same two injured players.
This time, however, the cost is far more. The cost might be a reliable center.
No matter how often Suggs was injured, he always seemed to be able to sell his potential. You could argue that it was in the Browns' best interest to deal Suggs before he could get hurt again, but for the first time since being drafted, Suggs was having a productive, injury-free training camp. While all that was looking up, all Mr. Potential could net the Browns was a backup corner?
I can't help but wonder if the Browns just used their biggest piece of trade ammo to bomb a landfill. This has "Brandon Phillips to the Reds" written all over it.
It's not all the fault of GM Phil Savage. Unlike Ferry in the Gooden negotiations, Savage wasn't dealing from a position of strength. Injuries have kicked the Browns in the teeth, and Savage is obligated to shore up the team where injuries have left the roster dangerously thin.
But it's still not pretty to watch a half-desperate team throw trades around to save the dam before it breaks. Unfortunately for the Browns, the dam always seems to have fatal fissures running through it.
Due in large part to a pair of tremendous gifts left by the previous management regime -- LeBron and $28 million in cap space last summer -- Ferry has been able to be an architect, constructing what appears to be a team built to win over the long haul. Due in large part to creepy injuries and a load of garbage left behind by the previous management regime, Savage has to be something far more basic: a maintenance man.

Hey Tribe: Prove it to us

Lost amid all the good feelings surrounding the Tribe's six-game winning streak, 11-run first inning and Travis Hafner's record-tying sixth grand slam of the year was a blurb in Saturday's Plain Dealer.
The Indians, it said, are interested in Yankees pitcher Octavio Dotel, who will be a free-agent this winter.
Dotel is a closer who has saved more than 70 games in his career, but he's been on the shelf all season recovering from Tommy John surgery. It already being mid-August, the likelihood of Dotel pitching this year is slim.
The Indians were interested in Dotel last winter as the kind of player they could sign dirt cheap, rehab, then take advantage of a rebound season. They took the same tack with Bob Howry and Scott Sauerbeck, and to a lesser extent, Aaron Boone.
Then the Yankees swooped in and (surprise!) offered Dotel more money to sit on their disabled list, so off he went to New York for this year.
When news of the Tribe's interest in Dotel hits the newspapers two and a half months before he can become a free agent, it doesn't give me a lot of confidence as to what kind of offseason they are planning.
This offseason, the Indians desperately need to spend some real money to keep pace in a division where three other teams have become major players. GM Mark Shapiro has himself said this offseason will not be a cheap fix.
Then again, last season, he also said the Indians were going to make a competitive offer to Kevin Millwood, an offer that never materialized.
In the end, it's not the words of the general manager that mean anything. It's the actions from the owner's box. How much money is Larry Dolan going to give his baseball people to work with this winter? Will he finally open up his pocketbook and spend some noticeable cash to add the one or two pieces that could really vault this team back into contention? Or is he going to continue to try and fool himself and everybody else into thinking that the clearance rack holds all the answers if you're just willing to look long enough?
The Tribe's interest in Dotel is an early warning sign that Dolan is still going to rely heavily, maybe exclusively, on one-year deals and minor-league contracts to build a team around the Indians' much-celebrated core.
If this coming offseason proves to be no different than the previous offseasons, my frustration might reach a boiling point. I cut the Dolans a lot of slack during the rebuilding process because I believed they were doing the right thing. While thousands of other fans screamed bloody murder over the departures of Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, I believed that keeping an aging roster of overpaid veterans together was a sure recipe for failure in the long term.
I admired the Bartolo Colon trade even when fans scratched their heads, wondering why an ownership group that was supposed to pride itself on pitching would deal off the staff ace. I knew amassing top prospects was the only way to expedite the rebuilding process. I knew that the Indians had a pool of veteran players they could use as trade currency to amass those prospects.
While most other fans gnashed their teeth over the present, I was looking to the future.
Now, this is the future. Last year's 93 wins changed everything, and it's time for the Indians' brass to catch up.
Money must be spent. Dolan has to be willing to either venture into the upper rungs of the free agent market, or make a major splash in a trade. The sand is going to run out of the hourglass in two or three years, and if we have to watch Hafner, C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez depart as free agents at the end of this decade without ever having won with them, that is an unforgivable baseball sin.
With the pride of having put together a solid core of young players also comes the responsibility of doing what it takes to win with those players. It all goes back to the strong leadership this team has been lacking all year. The players play the game, but they play with a lot more confidence if they know they have a management group on the same page, willing to take the steps to back up a winner.
In Sunday's Plain Dealer, Roger Brown does what Roger Brown usually does: rip a local team to provoke hate mail from fans.
But, while I think his verdict that the Indians rebuilding project is a "failure" is overstated, I think the column serves a purpose by calling the Tribe's leaders onto the carpet.
As Brown wrote, the Indians do seem to be in more of a comfort zone when results are not expected right now. Dolan, Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge seem to be better when the pressure is off and they can speak in the abstract concepts of "next year."
But very quickly, next year becomes the year after that and the year after that. How long are we going to admire the future before it's expected to become the here-and-now?
The tone of Brown's column is the tone I am quickly adopting: "Hey Dolan, Shapiro and Wedge. You want us to believe you can win? Prove it. Because right now, you aren't winning."

Gooden deal near?

A report Sunday night on Channel 19 says the Cavaliers and Drew Gooden are close to agreeing on a deal.
Take it for what it's worth. Channel 19 disclosed no details if they had any, and remember that this is the channel that has made impulsive and irresponsible journalism a hallmark of every newscast.
I won't totally believe the story until it's corroborated by a reputable source like the Associated Press or the Akron Beacon Journal's Brian Windhorst. But if it is true, it's big news for the Cavs.
We've all be waiting for the Cavs to take a significant step forward this summer, certainly as it appears the Bulls have taken a major step forward by signing Ben Wallace and the Bucks and Pistons have at least managed to tread water.
But even more important is ensuring that the Cavs don't take a step backward. Re-signing Gooden would do just that.
And honestly, knowing that the Cavs won 50 games last season, and knowing that LeBron James has improved by leaps and bounds every season, there are far worse things the Cavs can do besides stand pat.
The Cavs went in to the offseason with three main objectives: sign LeBron to an extension, figure out what to do with Gooden, and upgrade the point guard position.
A re-signing of Gooden would put two of those goals in the bag. As far as a better point guard, that's going to be kind of difficult to accomplish in a trade or free agency. The point guard free agent class was thin this summer, and the bulky contracts of Eric Snow and Damon Jones are proving to be immovable objects from the roster.
Again, you could do worse than the Cavs' current point guard situation. This season, we get a chance to see what draft picks Shannon Brown and Daniel Gibson can do. Sure, it's not as sexy as nabbing a big-name point guard, but if the Cavs are going to become a perennial title contender, they have to find draft picks who can contribute from the first year. How Brown and Gibson perform this season will be a great barometer on what kind of GM Danny Ferry really is, what kind of moves he can make when he doesn't have $28 million of cap room to spend.
The nip-and-tuck moves Ferry can make might be his most valuable. If the Cavs have the nucleus of LeBron, Gooden, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas intact for the coming years, this team might progress without making huge moves. As I said at the outset of the offseason, stability should be a priority after several years of roster turnover.
Re-signing Gooden would help stabilize the roster in a big way. Despite what some fans might think of his inconsistent game, he is the poster child of "you could certainly do worse." Reggie Evans, anyone? A platoon of Anderson Varejao and Donyell Marshall?
If I can't have Tim Duncan, I'll take Gooden over starting with those guys any day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Be glad you aren't...

It's so easy to get down on the state of world sometimes. Hey, I'm a Cleveland sports fan. I know all about down.
But I don't like to be down. And I don't want you, the valued reader, to feel down. So let's take a break from LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen and the fourth-place Indians. Let's cast our troubles aside and be thankful for what we have. It's better than what some other people have.
With that in mind, I bring you a list of 10 people in the world of sports that you can be glad you aren't.

1. Eddie Johnson (the other Eddie Johnson)
Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune ran a correction when they mistook the former Suns player for the former Hawks player of the same name when the latter Eddie Johnson was fingered on a child molestation charge.
To tell you the truth, I feel bad for anyone named Eddie Johnson right now. Granted, Eddie Johnson is a fairly common name, but right now, being "the other Eddie Johnson" is somewhere between being "the other John Wayne Bobbit" and "the other Jeffrey Dahmer" in a previous era.
Time for the Eddie Johnsons of the world to invoke the eternal wisdom of "Office Space" ... "You can just call me Mike."

2. Adam Morrison
Oh, to be the man with the wispy mustache in NASCAR country. In Spokane, the Corey Feldman 'stache was different and interesting. It probably made him look earthy to hippie art-major coeds. In Charlotte, the 'stache will attract flabby, halter-top wearing 40-somethings who will openly ask if it's all right to pinch his ass. Or maybe they won't ask permission.
"If you win tonight, I'll show you my tattoo of Richard Petty," they'll tell him. "And it takes a very special man to get me to show my Richard."
Brace yourself, Adam.

3. Alonzo Ephraim and Ross Tucker
Vegas just increased the odds of a Browns center being abducted by aliens to 7-to-1.

4. Matt Leinart
Weeks late to camp. No head from Paris Hilton. Playing for the Arizona Cardinals. No head from Paris Hilton. Will be witness to Edgerrin James' slow, horrifying realization that he signed with the Arizona-freaking-Cardinals. No head from Paris Hilton....

5. Johnny Damon
Sure, you're rich. Sure, you're a Yankee. And, no, you don't have to apologize for either one. But how do you sleep at night?
Your fracture with Boston was probably the most dysfunctional I've ever seen. And this was from a fan base that watched Roger Clemens beat the crap out of them in pinstripes.
Boston fans love you to death for winning the World Series. And they hate your guts for defecting to the Yankees.
How do you sleep at night knowing that every woman in Boston would love to grab you in a bar, bust a liquor bottle over your head, drag you upstairs and spend the rest of the night banging you like a hyena? Seriously, how do you sleep?

6. Maurice Clarett
Not to pick on someone when they're already down ... wait, he's a football player. Taunting someone when they're down is a time-honored tradition.
Mo, meet Mo. Not Maurice, or Morris, or Montgomery. Just Mo. He's 348 pounds, sweats like a hippo, smells like a trash dump and is proficient at fashioning extremely sharp blades out of paper clips and shirt buttons. He's also gone seven years without laying eyes on a woman.
Meet your new cellmate, Maurice.

7. Isiah Thomas
He's already the first guy to put together a roster so bad that it actually exposed all of Larry Brown's flaws. Now he has to coach it for one season, which is like rubbing a dog's nose in the mess he made on the carpet.
Seems to me like an 82-game torture session so James Dolan can be sure Thomas has adequately suffered before he is unceremoniously drop-kicked out of New York at the end of next April.
Thomas has a great future as Joe Dumars' lackey in Detroit.

8. Floyd Landis
How would you like to have half the civilized world analyzing in detail what does and does not come out of your testicles? Didn't think you would.

9. Al Michaels
Once upon a time, he was the ruler of Monday night. Now, he has jumped networks and will have to compete for face time with Desparate Housewives on Sunday night.
Michaels doesn't know it yet, but he's unleashed a torrent of husband-wife remote control arguments upon this land.

10. Mike Tyson
Obligatory mention. If "Being John Malkovich" was a disturbing, unwatchable horror movie instead of a disturbing, unwatchable comedy, it would have been called "Being Mike Tyson."

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Morning After: Philadelphia

(Side note: if you have started reading my blog just this year, The Morning After is a feature I write the day after every Browns game, picking apart the action, what contributed to the win or loss, and the overall state of the team as it gets ready for the next game.)

Eagles 20, Browns 7
Preseason record: 0-1

Not much can be mined from the first preseason game. The whole point is to just get a couple of series for the first teamers and spend the rest of the time letting the bubble players start duking it out for the final few roster spots.
The offensive starters made it through the first game without any more catastrophic injuries, so that's a step in the right direction. Emergency-backup-turned-starting-center Alonzo Ephraim looked much better than I thought he would. He had workable chemistry with Charlie Frye and never got burned on a sack, which is more than I can say for backup linemen Nat Dorsey and Kirk Chambers, who each allowed an Eagle pass rusher to plant Ken Dorsey in the turf.
Frye was decent, not great, finishing the night 4-for-7 for 23 yards. It became apparent early on that Frye was going to seek out Kellen Winslow Jr. as his primary target. Winslow had a pair of receptions for seven yards, not great, but considering it was his first game action since September 2004, it was just good to see him out there and contributing.
Reuben Droughns looks like he's capable of picking up where he left off a year ago. He pounded out runs of 11 and 8 yards, and finished with 21 yards on four carries.
The offensive starters compiled 39 yards and one first down in the span of two drives. Probably par for the course for a unit with so many new parts, and replacement parts on top of that.
The unit that gave coach Romeo Crennel the most encouragement was the defense. Defense is Crennel's focus, and even with an offense at full strength, Crennel would still be looking to his defense to win the games.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Willie McGinest did not play with a sore knee. Gary Baxter, the best player in the Browns secondary, appears unable to shake the injury bug that has been biting him since last year. After tweaking his knee in practice this week, he made a start he probably shouldn't have made and ended up straining a shoulder. His status for next week's game against the Lions remains up in the air.
Now, the good news. The first-team defense was knocked back on its heels on Donovan McNabb's opening drive, but made an excellent recovery with a goal-line stand that forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal. The three points were the only the Eagles first-team offense scored.
First-round draft pick Kamerion Wimbley showed not just speed, but an ability to read a play and react. Several times, he was able to get into the Philadelphia backfield and be a disruptive presence. After years of watching Butch Davis recruits dimly follow orders without adapting to the changing game situation, it is nice to see a Browns draft pick that appears to have the football smarts to be not just a fast player, but a heady one as well.
The second-team defense didn't fare as well, surrendering a pair of touchdowns to old friend Jeff Garcia, now McNabb's primary backup. The lack of depth in the secondary was painfully evident, as the Browns were on several occasions burned on medium-to-deep routes, including a touchdown pass.
The Eagles shut the Browns out until the fourth quarter, when fourth-string quarterback Lang Campbell found rookie running back Jerome Harrison for a touchdown pass. The TD pass, against Philly's defensive scrubs, probably won't escalate Campbell's stock very much, but it's bound to draw attention to Harrison. Many think Harrison can be a undersized, Dave Meggett-type scatback, capable of greasing his way through the trenches, then sneaking around on a underneath route for a reception.

Up next: Detroit, Aug. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Report: Bob Hallen will retire

It's probably needless to say, but the worst case scenario has become reality for the Browns once again.
Bob Hallen, healthy as a horse less than a week ago, will reportedly announce his retirement before week's end. Back spasms led to tests, which led to a trip to San Diego and more tests, which led to a diagnosis of damaged spinal discs and stenosis, which has apparently led to end of his career.
Hallen was to fill in at center for the Browns, but now the position is thrown into a soup that includes Alonzo Ephraim and Ross Tucker. Expect some fumbled snaps tonight as the Browns open the exhibition season against the Eagles. Better yet, expect Ephraim to spontaneously combust along the lines of a Spinal Tap drummer.
I'd like to compare Hallen's abrupt ride into the sunset to that of Chris Spielman in 1999, but Spielman at least made it to the exhibition season before he called it quits. He was also coming off a neck sprain when the Browns signed him, and they knew the next bit of neck trauma Spielman experienced would probably signal the end of his career.
Hallen, 31, had back problems, but no prior signs of anything career-threatening until a week ago. Now his career is over.
Just out of curiosity, did the Browns build their practice facility on an Indian burial ground or something? This is scary bad. I don't blame any Browns player who feels spooked right now.
Nobody in the Browns organization should chop vegetables. No sawing wood. No motorcycles. No games of darts. Get a trusted individual who doesn't drink to drive you around, and even then, only during daylight hours.
No contact in practice. Come to think of it, no movement. Just sit inside and study film all day. And have someone else plug in the TV and turn it on.
And when you step outside, always, always, always look both ways for oncoming cars, look up to make sure a meteor or chunk of plane fuselage isn't falling, and look down to make sure the ground isn't about to open up and swallow you.
Oh yeah, and lightning. If there's cloudcover of any kind, just stay inside.
If the Browns follow those rules, every player should reduce his chance of a catastrophic injury to at least 70 percent, which is far better than the odds right now.

A man on the edge

In an article Thursday, ESPN writer Tom Friend says he received a call from Maurice Clarett hours before he was arrested Wednesday morning, reportedly toting around four loaded guns and wearing a bulletproof vest.
The picture Friend paints is of a man on the brink of a complete mental breakdown, a man who had lost everything, a man in debt to the wrong people.
Along with his call to Friend, he reportedly also spoke to his former coach, Jim Tressel, his would-have-been current coach, Jim Terry, and tried to contact good friend LeBron James. He gave a rambling message to Friend, thanking him for setting him straight, talking about his life in the past tense.
No one really knows what would have happened had Clarett not been stopped by police after making an illegal U-turn. The more we learn, the more we can guess somebody might have ended up dead -- either Clarett or someone else.
Was he fixing to threaten or kill a witness who was scheduled to testify against him at his armed robbery trial? Was he preparing to defend himself against an attempt on his life, or the life of his newborn daughter? Was he suicidal? Was he losing his grip on sanity?
The answer might be all of the above.
Friend's complete article can be read here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cleveland's 10 worst injuries

If you are a Cleveland sports fan, "hurt" was probably the third word you learned to speak after "no" and "mama." Gruesome, slow-healing, career-threatening injuries are a fact of life in sports around the world, but in Cleveland, they are a part of the sporting fabric of the town.
We have learned to fear sports injuries, but they are really something to be awed by, certainly as the Browns are on pace to become the first pro sports team to have to forfeit a game due injury-induced attrition sometime in November.
Below, I rank the top 10 worst sports injuries ever to hit Cleveland.

10. Joe Charboneau's bad back, 1980
He was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1980. He was a sweet-swinging harbinger of better things to come for an Indians franchise that had seen way too many dark days in the 1960s and '70s. Then his back went out, and he was never more than a one-year wonder. The Indians had to wait another decade and a half for good baseball to return.
When pulling on an Indians uniform for an alumni event at Jacobs Field some years later, Charboneau told a former teammate, "I'm going to put this thing on and my back is going to tighten up."

9. Mark Price's torn ACL, 1990
The Cavs were to be an elite NBA team in the 1990-91 season. Armed with a potent lineup featuring Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance, the Cavs were expected to rebound from a series of first-round playoff exits and become a title contender.
Then, one night in Atlanta, Price tripped over a sideline electrical cord and ripped up his knee. The Cavs were not the same without their floor leader and plummeted to a 33-49 record.
Reflecting on the mishap, Price said he felt his knee go in "two directions at once" as he fell. Well, isn't that just special?

8. LeCharles Bentley's torn patellar tendon, 2006
He was to be the anchor of a vastly improved offensive line. Now, he'll be the anchor of a vastly improved injured list. What could have been the move that solidified the Browns' offense and given Charlie Frye the toe-hold he desperately needed at the quarterback position will now probably devolve into another year of Frye running for his life and being forced to create plays on the fly.
We know Bentley's injury sets the offensive line back. We can only hope it doesn't do lasting damage to Frye. But the way things have been going for the Browns, it's a logical question to ask.

7. Ray Fosse's run-in with Pete Rose, 1970
He could have been the American League's answer to Johnny Bench. Instead, the Indians catcher was done in by the much-celebrated hustle of Bench's Cincinnati teammate in the 1970 All-Star Game.
Rose didn't have to bowl Fosse over at home plate and injure his leg. But, dammit, the game was on the line. Rose won the game for the National League and set Fosse's career back in the process.
To this day, the injury that sidelined Fosse is viewed as simply a byproduct of Rose playing the game the right way. Rose gets the glory and Fosse, well, I guess it just sucks to be you.

6. Zydrunas Ilgauskas' broken foot, 2000
At the time of the injury, the Cavs were 16-9 and one of the surprise teams in the NBA. After, they plummeted to lottery standing. This was the latest in a long line of foot breaks for Ilgauskas, who seriously contemplated retirement rather than withstand another round of grueling rehab.
After surgery that altered the bone structure of his left foot, Z elected to go through another round of rehab for one last try at making a career of it. He has succeeded with flying colors, reclaiming a spot as one of the elite centers in the NBA, no matter what his detractors say.

5. Courtney Brown's bum knee, 2000
It was only the tip of the iceberg for the No. 1 overall pick of the Browns. He played in only a handful of games that first year, and it never got much better for the stud defensive end who was supposed to be a sack machine, but was seldom healthy enough to dress for games.
Some said Brown didn't have the internal fire to be great. We'll likely never know. His knees are now ravaged and he'll never be able to be the player he could have been.

4. Herb Score's line drive to the face, 1957
He could have been Sandy Koufax. But an unfortunate run-in with a line drive off the bat of the Yankees' Gil McDougal robbed Score of a year of his career and probably much more. Score, of course, went on to call Indians games on the radio for many years. But we still wonder what might have been had Score been able to live up to his full fireballing potential as a pitcher.

3. John Smiley's broken arm, 1997
As he was snapping off a curveball during a bullpen session in Kansas City, the recently-acquired Indians pitcher suffered one of the most gruesome arm injuries in recent memory. His left arm didn't just break. The humerus bone corkscrewed open like a tube of Pillsbury crescent rolls. He never pitched again.
A healthy Smiley would have added much-needed depth to the Indians' rotation for the 1997 postseason. He could have beaten out a struggling Charles Nagy for a spot in the postseason rotation. Nagy had two miserable starts in the 1997 World Series. With Smiley, who knows what might have happened?

2. Jim Chones' broken foot, 1976
No other injury on this list was more cruelly-timed. Fresh off a dramatic seven-game win over the Bullets in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Cavs looked primed to give the aging Celtics a run for their money in the East finals.
Then Chones went up for a rebound in practice, came down on a teammate's foot, and heard the snap. His season was done, and so were the Cavs.
A pre-retirement Nate Thurmond did an admirable job as a stand-in, but in the end, the loss of Chones meant the Cavs did not have a way to deal with the Celtics' low-post bangers like Paul Silas. The Celtics won the series in six games, and went on to win the NBA title.

1. Ray Chapman killed by a pitch, 1920
Ironically, this was the one time a Cleveland team actually won a championship in spite of a major loss.
On Aug. 16, 1920, Yankees sidearmer Carl Mays threw hard inside to Chapman, the Indians' star shortstop. Chapman couldn't get out of the way in time, and the ball struck him in the left temple, crushing the side of his skull. He died the next day, the only major-league player to die as a result of an on-field incident.
The loss was devastating, but Joe Sewell took over as the team's shortstop and the players rallied around skipper Tris Speaker, beating out the White Sox for the 1920 AL pennant, and then winning the franchise's first World Series title, beating Brooklyn five games to two.
Chapman's death spawned a wave of rule revisions across baseball. Dirty, misshapen balls were taken out of play and the yarn in the ball was wound tighter to prevent the ball from losing its shape too easily. The harder ball traveled farther, and helped usher in the era of the home run.

Maurice Clarett arrested again

When you look at Maurice Clarett, Ohio State's national championship seems like it happened about 100 years ago.
The heroic Clarett laying it all on the line for a college title has been replaced with a Clarett who seems almost sociopathic. We know he can't stay out of trouble. But now, it's how he's getting into trouble.
Wednesday morning is the latest and most bizarre chapter of Clarett's descent into madness. Reports say Columbus-area police had to engage Clarett in a highway car chase, blow out his tires with spike strips, and physically remove him from his truck as he resisted.
Police reportedly found out Clarett was wearing a bulletproof vest when they tried to use a stun gun on him with no effect. They subsequently used pepper spray.
Inside the car, police reportedly found four loaded guns, one of them a shotgun.
This arrest comes just before Clarett was scheduled to make a court appearance on an armed robbery charge stemming from a New Year's Day incident in which he allegedly brandished a handgun and robbed two people of their cell phones.
One can only imagine what Clarett was doing wearing a bulletproof vest and toting four loaded guns around at 3 a.m. You can't imagine it was anything good.
It already seems like a foregone conclusion that Clarett is going to be spending a long time in prison. It might be for his own good. If his behavior is any indication, Clarett might end up dead if left to his own devices.

Where does it all end?

No one is shocked anymore when a Browns offensive lineman is lost to injury. It's been a rite of passage every year since the team re-entered the league.
But this year is shaping up to be particularly bad.
Nine-year veteran Bob Hallen was supposed to be the jack-of-all-trades backup for the interior line, the guy you sign in case someone like LeCharles Bentley is lost for the season.
But now the Browns need to replace the replacement. What appeared to be a simple case of back spasms for Hallen has now apparently morphed into a serious problem.
Hallen went AWOL from Browns camp Tuesday, winging it back home to San Diego to get a second opinion on his back after he apparently heard some unsettling news from his initial examination. He also apparently has some "personal" issues he needs to address, coach Romeo Crennel told reporters.
Hallen had a history of back problems while playing for the Chargers, but of course the whole thing is bound to unravel on the Browns' watch.
The Browns placed him on the inactive list Tuesday, and Crennel told reporters Hallen might be contemplating retirement.
I, for one, don't think it will surprise anybody if Hallen never suits up again. That's just the way it's been going for the Browns.
First, Cleveland native Bentley. Now, Mentor native Hallen. That's two Cleveland-area guys fallen by the wayside for the Browns in the span of two weeks. Another area boy, Joe Jurevicius, is battling a sore back he might have injured in a practice scuffle. Willard native Charlie Frye is competing with a sore throwing thumb he accidentally whacked on a teammate's helmet during a drill.
What's the over/under on when Bay Village native Dave Zastudil is going to dislocate a hip making a punt?
The Browns now turn to free-agent signee Alonzo Ephraim to snap the ball and prevent 300-pound defensive linemen from grinding Frye's bones into dust. Ephraim was signed July 30 after the Bentley injury. My guess is that there are going to be more than a few fumbled snaps during the preseason.
GM Phil Savage is doing his best to try and spackle holes in the badly-leaking dam. He has traded a seventh-round pick to the Patriots for center Ross Tucker, who likely won't be ready for Thursday's preseason opener against the Eagles.
In speaking of the Eagles, the Browns reportedly might also be interested in trading for center Hank Fraley, who was recently demoted to second string. The Eagles could be interested in a Browns running back like Lee Suggs or William Green.
But no matter what the Browns do, it never seems to be enough. They haven't even played a down of preseason football yet. It's scary to think of all the opportunities there are going to be for players to get hurt.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cliff Lee signs extension

Apparently, four months of lousy baseball wasn't enough to scare Cliff Lee out of signing on with the Indians for a few more years.
Lee, who had a much-publicized non-signing of a contract extension this spring, has reportedly agreed to a three-year, $14 million contract that could reach up to $23 million in value if Lee meets all the built-in incentives and has his club option picked up. The contract runs through 2009 with a club option for 2010.
Lee was fingered as a party pooper when he didn't sign a deal on the heels of Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore's extensions. Apparently, that started his season off on the wrong foot, because the normally rock-solid Lee has been positively mediocre this year, amassing a 9-8 record with a 4.75 ERA.
He has shown a knack for hitting the wall in the sixth or seventh innings, leaving the bullpen to clean up the mess, which they normally don't, a big reason why his ERA is so high.
I still think it was a smart move. Lee has amassed a 44-25 career record playing largely on a non-contending ballclub. If the Indians ever have a great start-to-finish season, Lee is my pick to be the first 20-game winner in Cleveland since Gaylord Perry in 1974.
There's no arguing Lee's consistency and pitching know-how, it's just a matter of getting him to not fizzle in the later innings, or finding a manager who has a better idea of when to pull a pitcher.
After the signing, Indians GM Mark Shapiro released a statement to the media with this buzz-phrased quote:
"This signing is a continued demonstration of the Dolan family's commitment in maintaining the present core of Cleveland Indians players."
Great. We know they love the core. The core rocks. The core is hard. Hardcore. What about building around the core, though? That's what I want. I don't want a core. I want a team.

Duncan dunked

The Cavaliers are certainly picking an odd time for a housecleaning with less than two months to go before the start of training camp, but change appears to be the name of the game.
Monday, less than a week after Michael Reghi was cast aside as the team's TV voice, Ronnie Duncan was terminated as the team's public address announcer.
A statement released to the media says the team will begin an immediate search for a replacement.
Does anybody else think Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is having visions of Pistons emcee Mason bellowing out the starting lineup at The Q? Mason has Cleveland ties, and Gilbert has the money to at least severely test Mason's loyalty to the Pistons.
While the dismissal of Reghi has brought forth fire and brimstone from the Cleveland fans and media, the sacking of Duncan promises to be far more accepted. Duncan was essentially on a one-year test run as the PA announcer, and while the veteran radio and TV sportscaster wasn't that bad, he wasn't that good either.
Duncan mispronounced names, misidentified players and tended to mumble an opposing player's name when he scored a basket, probably to mask the fact that he couldn't pronounce a lot of them. During a victory over the Spurs, Duncan called San Antonio guard Brent Barry by the name of his hall of fame father, Rick Barry.
Over the course of the season, he improved, but he never took to the role like a fish to water as the Cavs were hoping.
Gilbert apparently was hoping he had found a Mason clone in Duncan, and Duncan tried way too hard to be Cleveland's Mason. His delivery was routinely bogged down with catch phrases and contrived copycatting of Mason, right down to the taunting delivery of "Cleeeeve-land basket-ball" with the exact same inflection as Mason's call of "Deeee-troit basket-ball."
The shaky work of Duncan should serve as a lesson to Gilbert: if you want Mason, either find a way to get the real deal, or be satisfied with having somebody different. Don't hire somebody with the idea of making them someone they're not.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Detroit experience

I admit I don't get around like some other Tribe fans.
In 27 years of living, I'd never been to Detroit for a baseball game. I never enjoyed the experience of taking in a game at old Tiger Stadium. Though after seeing the exterior of the place on several occasions, I wondered how different it was from Cleveland Stadium. I could guess Tiger Stadium probably included a lot of cracked concrete, dark, musty corners and urinal troughs in the men's room.
Chances are, even if the locals in Cleveland and Detroit talked with misty eyes about the the old baseball castles that dripped with history, the actual gameday atmosphere wasn't much better than attending a sporting event in, say, an abandoned factory.
Then in 2000, Comerica Park opened, and Detroit was whisked from the dark ages to a new era of multifaceted ballparks that emphasized the total fan experience. Though the team took some time to catch up to their new surroundings.
I had my chances to get up to Detroit for a game while the Tigers were declawed and the fans were meek. I had six years to take in a game with the Indians being the superior or equal of the Tigers.
But what year did I choose to go to Comerica? That's right. The year the Tigers rule baseball, the Indians rule the outhouse and Detroit fans are taking out 20 years of pent-up frustration on any visiting fan bold enough to wear their team's cap and t-shirt to the game.
It's with that in mind that my friend Justin and I donned our Tribe caps and traveled to Motown to watch the Tigers finish a sweep of the Indians on Sunday.
The game obviously was a dud. The Indians offered no suspense outside of a bases-loaded, one-out threat in the seventh that was quickly erased by a Travis Hafner strikeout and a Victor Martinez force. When the Tigers went up 1-0, we knew it might as well have been 10-0. Just one of those days when the Indians left their bats at the hotel. There have been plenty of those days this year.
But I'm not about to let a bad game ruin an objective critique of the gameday experience at Comerica. Below is the lowdown on what you need to see and avoid if you have yet to make your first baseball pilgrimage to Detroit.

In short, it's a mess. Unlike Jacobs Field, which fits neatly into the surrounding area, Comerica was plunked down on a seam between the outskirts of downtown Detroit and the sprawling urban decay of inner city Detroit. The parking closest to Comerica is generally $20, farther away it's $10. Most of the lots are gravel and weeds. There is no rhyme or reason to how the parking is set up, it's basically find a spot and walk. Our venture into Detroit included a long traffic jam on I-75 north as game traffic all converged on one exit, followed by dodging numerous pedestrians crossing streets at random. Police do what they can to control the car and foot traffic, but it's impossible to make it a neat journey to the ballpark, certainly for a crowd of 50,000.
Justin and I parked at a bar called Harry's, which had an interesting promotion. Located several miles from the park, they allow you to park at the bar for free and give you a shuttle ride to the stadium. The catch is you have to buy a $4 beer.
If you aren't going to buy beer at the stadium, as we didn't, it's a decent deal. Anything that will let you park for less than $10 is a decent deal.

The ballpark
If you are used to compact Jacobs Field as I was, Comerica offers a mild culture shock. Jacobs Field was built upward, Comerica was built outward.
The first thing that's evident from the ballpark's exterior are various tiger statues. The full-body tigers sitting on top of the stadium's ledges and in front of the main gates are dramatic and a clever touch. The baseball-clutching tiger heads on the exterior walls are overkill. They kind of make the stadium look like a Roman bath house on steroids.
Having said that, the green steelwork and medium tone brick that comprise the stadium's main color scheme is attractive.
Comerica is all about open space and side attractions. Attached to the main concourse is a food court with a merry-go-round and a midway with a Ferris wheel. The cars resemble baseballs, of course.
Bonus points go to having the Tigers' chronological history represented on concourse displays as soon as you enter the park's main gate. At Jacobs Field, you kind of have to search for the history references unless you enter the park by the Bob Feller statue, where all the tribute banners are located.
Extra bonus points for having indoor common areas where fans can congregate. On humid nights at Jacobs Field, the respite of air conditioning is reserved for the fortunate few who can gain access to the club seat lounge or the Terrace Club, or those who want to fight the crowds in the Team Shop. At Comerica, fans can get a drink in an upstairs lounge, or find some relief in the walk-in concession shops on both levels.
But if you go during a sellout, as I did, the relief will be minimal. Unlike the Jake's Team Shop, which is spacious enough to browse through, the shops at Comerica are small and cramped and not for the claustrophobic when a large crowd is on hand.

The seating bowl
Two words if you attend a day game: bring sunscreen. If it's hot, prepare to sweat.
At least 90 percent of the seats at Comerica are in broad sunlight. A 1:05 start Sunday brought pounding sunlight to our seats in the upper deck along the third base line. By the end of the first inning, I could already feel the sweat rolling down my neck.
Comerica's outward design makes it feel far more vast than Jacobs Field. If you're looking for intimacy with the action, you will find less of it here than in Cleveland. Having said that, the park is designed smartly and even from our high vantage point, I never felt totally removed from the action on the field.

The crowd
If you want submissive Tiger fans who leave you alone, you missed your chance. The Tigers are on top of the world and Detroit is enjoying every minute of it. If you want to represent the visiting team in peace, Comerica isn't for you.
My first run-in with the Detroit wrath was cute. A little boy ran past me with a giant foam Tiger claw growling and making scratching gestures. His father playfully encouraged him.
"Yeah. That's a Cleveland guy. Grrr!" he told the boy.
If only it was all that innocent. Unfortunately, drunk slobs have to get in on the act.
Upon returning from a restroom break in the late innings, an obviously-hammered shirtless guy with a huge tattoo on his back began heckling me from his seat, about four rows below mine.
"Hey, Indians suck!" he yelled at me several times before I responded, "Yeah, this year. Maybe next year they won't."
To which he responded, with the razor-sharp wit that only extensive beer consumption can provide, "Yeah. Uh, well, Indians suck. Go home!"
My drunk friend wasn't done yet, however. As I returned to my seat, he craned around and began harassing me again.
"So your team sucks! They suck! How does it FEEL? How does it FEEL?"
After half a minute of this, I finally responded. "It's only 1-0. You guys aren't out of the woods yet." I then proceeded to ignore him as he continued to shout at me for the next half-inning before finally removing myself from the area in an attempt to take away the fuel for his fire.
As we were leaving, another guy came up to me on the exit ramp and gave me a mock high-five.
"Hey Cleveland guy! Go Tigers!" he said. He continued to talk and started to whip the people around him into an anti-Cleveland frenzy as I walked away, thrusting my thumb in the air in a disdainful "yep, you rule" gesture. (Yes, I wanted to thrust another digit in the air, but I knew what was good for me.)
However, most Tiger fans were respectful, willing to talk baseball and not just rip the Indians. In a bar before the game, Justin and I discussed the intricacies of Fausto Carmona's gas-can debut as a closer with a couple of Detroiters. After my encounter on the ramp, another Detroit fan eased my pain by telling me, "We know what you're going through with a bad team. Look at how long it's been for us."

Hockeytown, where we went after the game is a favorite hangout for Detroit fans. The restaurant, about a block from Comerica, is a shrine to the Red Wings, with a dash of Detroit's other three teams thrown in. It's a unique shrine to Detroit sports, and made me wish Cleveland had something similar. But if you go after the game, don't lose track of time. Detroit fans know the area around Comerica and neighboring Ford Field is not a place to linger once the crowds thin out.
After dinner, we walked back to the car of Justin's cousin, who drove us back to our car. During the mile-long, 10-minute walk, we were panhandled three times, and nearly a fourth. Food. Bus fare. Booze. Who knows what else.
The walk took us across the I-75 bridge to what I will euphemistically call "the other side of the tracks." The imposing buildings of downtown Detroit were replaced by weeds, graffiti, boarded-up storefronts and guys hanging out in front of liquor stores.
As we were entering the car of Justin's cousin, a man started walking up to us very quickly. When we (just as quickly) got into the car and closed the doors, he turned around and walked away.
The moral of the story: if at all possible, leave the area around Comerica when everyone else is leaving. If you don't, walk back to your car in groups. If you are part of an all-female group, I suggest a minimum of four people. Walking with one woman and two other guys, I didn't feel totally safe. And this was during daylight hours.

Overall impressions
It's nice to see Detroit baseball alive again. It's a good baseball town with a rich history. Comerica itself is worthy of a winning club, but I just wonder what type of gridlock nightmare is going to occur in October when baseball fever reaches its climax in Detroit.
Something tells me officials from the Tigers and Detroit are going to have to revise some of their practices after the Tigers' playoff run.