The Indians Image Problem Could Be Worse Than You Think
By Mike Brandyberry
It isn’t a secret, but the Indians have an image problem.
For some time the Indians have been perceived by the average fan as an organization with talent, that doesn’t spend the money to put themselves over the top. The average fan thinks the Indians will never win because you have to, “spend money to make money.”
For years, I’ve argued against this image, always stating the Indians have made moves when they were in contention and spent when they felt they could compete. While the Indians will never spend money like the Rockefellers of baseball, the Tribe can compete when they spend their funds correctly, just like the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays have in recent years.
However, as this season begins to come to a close—and the dread of the second half of this season will finally be put to sleep—it has become increasingly harder to support the Tribe as a franchise the spends when the time is right. Despite a struggling left-handed heavy lineup and a starting rotation that was inconsistent, the Tribe managed to compete in the American League Central Division for 99 games. On July 26, they found themselves 50-49, just 3.5 games in back of first place when they came from behind to defeat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. It seemed like their biggest win of the season, one that would send them toward a second half surge.
Instead of a surge, it sent them into a spiral.
From that point, the Indians proceeded to lose 11 in a row—just one game off the franchise mark for a losing streak. The front office didn’t make a move for a veteran at the trade deadline and the spiral has just continued. Cleveland is 11-37 since that come-from-behind seventh inning in late July. Veterans have seen their role limited, or in many cases eliminated, for young players who have little future potential with the club.
Meanwhile, Chris Perez has spoken out again, this time stating his displeasure with the front office and their lack of ambition to make a move and support the 25 guys in the clubhouse. Manny Acta said a month ago the team would need, “three hitters and a starting pitcher,” to compete next season. It’s a request that seems unlikely to be met, even if Acta survives the season and keeps his job. If you think Perez and Acta are the only people in the clubhouse who are frustrated, you’re sadly mistaken. I’m sure they are secretly speaking for several others who just won’t echo the statements on the record.
All of this made for a phone call from the Indians last week seem that much more bizarre.
It was from my season ticket account representative. She was calling to see if I had received the information regarding renewing my season tickets for 2013. I simply said I had received the information. After an awkward pause, she asked if I had any questions and I said, “not for you, no.” While I have hundreds, I don’t expect to get answers from my season account representative that even General Manger Chris Antonetti refuses to address.
And finally she asked me, “are you even thinking of coming back?”
I said yes, I was thinking of coming back, and the answer—as crazy as it seems—is true. I love baseball and I love the Indians. I’ve seen bad seasons before and expect to see them again, regardless of 2012 or the decisions made because of the 2012 season.
However, two things stunned me from our very brief conversation. First, the season ticket representative seemed scared and tentative on the phone. I can’t blame her. While none of the problems on the field or in the organization are her fault, I’m sure she hears plenty of the complaints while making calls about renewals and customer service issues.
But secondly, and more concerning to me, she didn’t try to sell me on 2013. I’ve been undecided about renewing before and I’ve always heard a sales pitch about the direction of the team, the core of players it has moving forward, etc. This time, however, I just heard a simple, “ok.” No sales pitch, nothing.
The Indians have had an image problem for many years now, but what’s more frightening is that it seems the Indians no longer know what their image is.
The Indians themselves have no idea what to do to try and salvage their dwindling season ticket fan base of 8,500 tickets. They can’t safely say the manager will be fired, or the team will try to retool and compete in 2013, or if they are going to blow this roster up and start anew with a young core built toward 2014-15.
Better to have a bad image or direction, than none at all. Fans have made fun or and mocked the Indians, “What If,” campaign this season until it was pulled during the August spiral, but with only 15 games remaining in a season that has been as disappointing as any in 25 years, the better question might be, “What Now?”
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images