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Two Games May Have Changed Dolan’s View In Fans’ Eyes

| On 18, Feb 2012

By Mike Brandyberry

Two games. It seems miniscule in a season, much less in an era, but Friday, Bob Dibiasio discussed how two games really have changed the Cleveland Indians’ perception and potential revenue.

The Senior Vice President of Public Affairs discussed the two games, baseball economics and the perception of the Indians in a new monthly feature, Fridays at the Field Speaker Series. Invited guests join members of the Indians executive front office to talk shop in an intimate, casual setting. This is intended to be a once a month informal event with varied topical information being discussed. The initial event was indeed intimate, and very candid.

Dibiasio joked that he someday will write a book and a chapter will be titled, “Two Games.” He recalls how in 2005 the Tribe needed to win one of the final three games against the Chicago White Sox, but unfortunately were swept, finishing the season with 93 victories but a game short of winning the American League Wild Card. The 93 victories are the most by a team to not qualify for postseason play since the institution of the Wild Card.

Then after a 2006 season marred by injuries, the 2007 version had a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. Had the Tribe been able to win one more game, they would have advanced to the World Series and been heavily favored against the Colorado Rockies. Instead, the Red Sox won three games in a row and advanced to the Series, where they swept the Rockies in four games.

In 2008, the Tribe returned much of the same squad that was just nine innings from the World Series, but the bullpen that was a strength a year earlier now faltered. Joe Borowski had arm problems immediately, and pitchers in the pen had to adjust to different roles. The team traded C.C. Sabathia mid-season, but the emergence of Cliff Lee left the front office feeling that their window was still open if they could acquire a closer and stabilize the bullpen.

With a 81-81 record in 2008, attendance and revenue had dropped from the previous season. But according to Dibiasio, Larry Dolan authorized the signing of Kerry Wood to a two-year, $20 million contract. It was a move they believed would run the ballclub at a loss of $10 million for the two seasons, but Dolan was willing to lose the cash to try and build a winning ballclub.

However, in 2009 the team started slowly, attendance once again dropped and by mid-season the projected $10 million loss would have been much higher, without a chance to compete. Dolan apologized to then-General Manager Mark Shapiro, but the message was clear: Shapiro would have to clear payroll and rebuild for a couple of years down the road. Within weeks Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez and Mark DeRosa all were traded to contenders and the rebuild was underway.

Dibiasio feels that had the Indians won those two games in the mid-2000s, Larry and Paul Dolan would be perceived as an ownership that has supported and funded three competitive groups: the team inherited when they bought the team, the teams of the middle of the decade and the team they have now. Dibiasio insisted that the Dolans’ passion to win combined with Shapiro and Chris Antonetti’s ability to flip the roster so quickly are the reasons the Tribe has been competitive for the last 11 years, and not like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals or Baltimore Orioles. He was passionate that they have built another competitive team for the 2012 season and, “our goal is to win the Central Division.”

The media’s perception that the Indians operate on a budget, while others do not, is unfair, he added. According to Dibiasio, every team operates on a budget, mostly stimulated by television revenue and ticket sales. Certainly different teams have different revenues and will choose to overextend themselves — just as the Tribe did in 2009 when they felt they were a player away — but everyone has a budget. He cites this as the reason the Red Sox and Yankees have been quiet via free agency. It is easy to say, “you have to spend money to make money,” but additional expenses does not necessarily equate to wins.

According to Dibiasio, only one team — the Detroit Tigers —currently are willing to operate at a massive deficit. He expects the Tigers to lose roughly $20 million this season. Dibiasio said the day Prince Fielder signed in Detroit, he calculated that the Indians could sell out the season and not make up the ticket revenue to pay for Fielder with the average ticket price set at $22 that the Indians currently have. A drastic rise in ticket prices would be necessary to create additional income, and the front office does not feel the average fan can afford that increase in the current economy.

Two games may be the difference in the Dolan’s being perceived as crafty and economical, instead of cheap and undedicated to winning.

Other topics discussed:

  • The entire organization was caught off guard when they learned of the Fausto Carmona revelations. Dibiasio said he was eating lunch with fantasy campers in Goodyear, Ariz., when several of them checked their phones for emails and messages. The campers read Pedro Gomez’s tweet and asked Dibiasio what he knew. He was as shocked and surprised as everyone else. He says the team has no idea or timetable when the pitcher could return to the United States, citing that the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez was discovered to be using a false identity in September and still has not been granted a work visa to return to the U.S. He also mentions that the Indians are very conflicted with the matter, citing Carmona as someone they have known for 10 years, but someone who has now lied to them.
  • The recent rumors or thoughts that the Indians might be for sale because they have no long term contracts committed at this point is ridiculous. Dibiasio states that the team is the third youngest team in baseball, and with youth comes team control. Much of the nucleus of this team is under team control for many years to come. He also speculated that some long term contracts would emerge.
  • The Indians continue to be the only team in baseball that is dedicated to social media interaction on a daily basis. The Social Suite will return for the 2012 season, and the team intends to expand its Twitter use to some events during Spring Training.

Photo: Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

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