Baseball Talk on Cleveland Radio is Dying
Bob Toth | On 08, Jan 2016
Find your nearest radio or streaming listening device and point it in the direction of your local sports talk radio station if you’re a reader in the Cleveland market.
Turn it on, go ahead. I’ll wait. It’ll only hurt for a minute.
Had enough? Let me guess. Cleveland Browns coaching search. Johnny Manziel. “Billy Football”. Maybe something Jimmy Haslem. Bernie Kosar for Browns GM.
If you were luckier, maybe LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but probably a fair chance at topics ranging from why Dan Gilbert should buy the Browns, how Mo Williams is disgruntled with his role, or how James’ marketing agency, LRMR, dropped Manziel from their range of services. You might have even caught some talk about professional wrestling or the newest popular movies in theaters and shows on TV.
Even in the moments following the announcement of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza as Major League Baseball’s newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, baseball chatter graced the airwaves just momentarily before returning to the same stream of lazy programming.
What makes “good” entertainment these days?
Despair and disrepair.
News in and of itself is boring unless it’s risky and risqué. A dumpster fire spreading from the shores of Lake Erie to the suburbs of Berea is easy radio. Mention the name Manziel on air in any light and three hours of callers line up to complain about or defend the man, the latter apparently becoming the lesser of the two fronts. The Cavs, 24-9 and with the top record in the conference and the third-best of the 30 teams in the league, seem rarely highlighted for their successes and instead more so for what is going wrong…on a team on pace to have the third-best season in the 45-year existence of the Cavaliers organization and only recently to play with its entire roster healthy and together.
If you just moved to town and had lived under a rock previously with no knowledge of the professional sports franchises in Cleveland, you would think, at MOST, that our town was a two-team town.
It’s a travesty that it has happened that way and even more disappointing that the continuation of this behavior has been given a free pass.
Baseball talk doesn’t sell in this town, and not because it couldn’t make the same “dramatic” radio that the city will endure 366 days this year courtesy of the 17-year renovation project on the grounds of the currently named FirstEnergy Stadium. Indians fan has the level of distrust in the Dolan ownership that it does with Haslem, maybe worse at times with the longer track record in town. “Dolans Cheap” talk carries its own weight on Twitter, complete with hashtag and a secondary version for those fans who prefer the flashier #DolanzCheap variety.
Fans could easily debate the value of trading starting pitching, the validity of the need of a right-handed power bat, complain about the statistically infuriating Carlos Santana’s play, or the baseball equivalent of the newest Browns radio hot take, analytics.
Instead, it does not get the chance.
I’ve been told that when local radio shows transition into baseball discussion, callers drop and the show stagnates. There’s a simple enough reason for that…
The fans willing to call in and talk baseball left long ago.
Legitimate and consistent baseball talk on Cleveland radio is moving rapidly from an endangered species to an extinct one.
You’ll catch those rare holdovers calling the postgame shows, but fans know to tune in at those times to have their moment on air. Don’t waste the daylight primetime hours to try to spew your two cents with the big lineups – outside of sneaking into a “Let Me Talk” 30-second diatribe, your true Tribe talk is reserved until the witching hour.
Baseball gives you a six-month, 162-game regular season, with another month and a half of spring training and month of October bliss, at least for ten clubs around the country. Basketball tips off at the end of October and runs through mid-April, with the postseason a grueling two months. Football provides 17 weeks of hard-hitting, head-dizzying action a few days each week with a month of postseason, and disappears from play, but will hold strong with mock drafts, the actual draft, OTAs, and preseason to claim its market share.
Twelve times in the last 25 seasons, the Cavaliers have reached the expansive eight-team postseason of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Fifteen times they have given the city a winning record at year’s end. They reached the NBA Finals championship series twice and, like their next door neighbor Indians and their World Series appearances, were denied a crown.
The Tribe, meanwhile, has made eight trips to the playoffs in a four- to five-team format in those years (seven if you’re a supporter of the Kenny Lofton “Wild Card games aren’t playoffs” mentality). Thirteen of those 25 years were spent with end of the season records above the .500 mark.
And in the Browns’ last 25 seasons? Dating back to the 1988 year to account for their three lost seasons in the late 1990’s, the city’s NFL representatives have reached the playoffs four times and just once since their grand return in 1999. They have two winning seasons in their last 17 and just five in that quarter-decade sample size.
And despite the common sense thought that the more successful teams would see a predominant portion of airtime, both clubs take a back seat to the Browns, last successful in an era long ago.
Maybe the Indians are hindered by having just one radio home on the airwaves, relegated to the Newsradio WTAM 1100 network in the Cleveland market as its primary source for non-broadcast related sports talk. The station serves as a news source daily and the Indians broadcast partner the rest of the time as needed. Meanwhile, the same club whose only consistencies shown are in losing and in the hiring and firing of its managerial staff every two years gets to be the owners of the mass majority of air time in the city and sports two separate homes for extensive team reporting.
Sure, the biggest of the sports giants of radio will find their way to Goodyear and chat up the players on their working vacation in the desert, and you’ll find a few phone calls throughout the season from Terry Francona and representatives of the Indians front office on the most popular of the shows, but a strong look at the day-by-day breakdown of the baseball activities will be disturbingly and dishearteningly absent from your eardrums.
And you better darn well believe that when the time comes, these same hosts will be banging the drums and leading the way to Progressive Field, acting as though they’ve been there all along, riding the coattails in search of the parade the city has longed for.
But until then, where’s the love?
The Indians are the red-headed and apparently red-faced Wahoo stepchild of the city of Cleveland. The franchise, while falling short its fair share over the last 25 years, is light years ahead of where it was in the 25 years preceding it that were marred by blood clot red jerseys, some scandals, horribly disappointing predictions, and were coming off of dangerously low attended seasons that had led to more than one relocation rumor in the years before.
Yes, they were bad for a really long time, which did not exactly endear them to the fan base. And yes, they traded away those two pitchers who won some award before they walked away on major paydays. Move on. They are not the same cellar dwellers that you might have grown up watching. Things have changed.
It reminds me of a short and simple exchange from the movie Major League.
Jake Taylor: I play for the Indians.
Chaire Holloway: Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team!
Jake: Yup, we’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great!
I get it. An 81-80 record isn’t sexy. Neither is the lineup. There are no brutal sluggers like Jim Thome, characters like Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez to stir up some stories, or flashy guys on and off the field like the aforementioned Lofton or Omar Vizquel. While they’ll likely never see the kind of perpetual and contained success that they had in the 1990’s again due to the changes in the game, the market, and the ownership, the Indians are hardly a slouch. While I’d prefer some tweaks to the roster to fulfill my preferences of a more balanced and dangerous lineup, the pitching is top notch and an era of Cleveland fans are being denied full access to this group of athletes by the radio stations in the region deciding that baseball just doesn’t sell and turning a blind eye to a product that the city should at least have some intrigue about.
With that said, here’s where I’m thankful.
I don’t have this hard-to-describe, love-and-hate feeling deep in my gut about the down years from the Indians because those times aren’t force fed down my throat by callers and bad takes and incessant ramblings of the talking heads in the box. I can’t say the same for my stance on the Browns, and I can say with certainty the over-the-top, around-the-clock, nonstop 24/7 coverage of the Clowns in orange and brown has helped perpetuate that feeling within me about that organization.
The absence of baseball on the air has provided breeding grounds for the game to capture a different demographic and a different medium and that is where some high quality, top notch reading is available at any one of the Indians blogs out there. The work provided, whether it be on this very site or on many of the sites dedicated to feeding the fandom of the loyalists in the Tribe, runs the gambit of topics, from rookies to rumors, from studs and duds, from the past to the present to the prospects of the future.
The lack of a consistent radio presence to feed my Indians needs pushed me to seeking blogs to fill that informational need where I once entrusted the voices coming through my speakers to provide me with the knowledge I was seeking. That grew to my future involvement with them, which has created a second career opportunity of sorts, so to speak, for me, and one for which I am grateful.
As time presses on, these sites have improved in quality and some have led to some quality and informative podcasts and streaming radio options, well worth the listen to satisfy the auditory needs left empty by the sports talk stations in town who recognize the high interest and optimism in sports in Cleveland, but fail to feed the under-represented numbers of baseball fans supporting the city’s oldest sports franchise.
I long for the day that these stations remember that Cleveland remains a three-sport town and provide the kinds of intelligent and thought-provoking takes that I hope and long for instead of opting to cash in on the new era of shock and reality TV style programming. Until then, I’ll continue to look towards digital media options to feed those cravings and presume you will be doing the same.
Photo: Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer