Let’s say you’re at a dinner party. You’re friends with all the guests and everybody’s having a good time. But hanging over it like a raincloud is the undeniable reality that your host and hostess have absolutely no interest in one another.
There are no screaming matches, no bickering, no real tension at all, really. And if you didn’t know them well, you probably wouldn’t notice. There are just little things here and there that, as a longtime friend of both the host and hostess, you pick up on that tell you there’s nothing of substance connecting them.
This couple is the Indians/Reds rivalry.
I hesitate to use the word “rivalry” really, because, like the loveless couple in our hypothetical dinner-party playlet, there’s just nothing there. No chemistry, no interest in what the other is doing. Maybe a tacit respect, but nothing more than you’d have for say, any other couple at the dinner party or the Seattle Mariners.
Major League Baseball’s ham-fisted but unwavering commitment to interleague play keeps insisting that the Indians and Reds share a bitter, antagonistic relationship, complete with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Twice a year they force us to go through these awkward little vignettes while people in team logo polo shirts and branded lanyards offer sound bites about how great this rivalry is.
They play for the Ohio Cup, a metallic dog bowl nailed to a laundry hamper which sounds kinda cool until you remember that the idea was hatched as an afterthought exhibition game played in apathetic Columbus on the way back from spring training. (To further prove the point, ask yourself: who currently possesses the Ohio Cup? Doubtful that the team itself even knows.)
Also underlining their lack of animosity, the teams share the Goodyear facility in Arizona, essentially making them spring-break roommates. Can you imagine the Dodgers and Giants or Red Sox and Yankees doing this? There’s a big difference between rivals and neighbors, and when you mix them up, silliness ensues.
It’s really nobody’s fault that it isn’t a rivalry, and there isn’t anything that can be done about it. Other than to quit making people feel like they’re living in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Like most interleague tête-à-têtes that don’t involve teams from the same city, there are no smoldering embers of rivalry beneath the surface here. Aside from near-miss all-Ohio World Series in 1940 and 1995, the only history the Reds and Indians have are these stiff and oafish dinner parties they host twice a summer.
To be fair, eighteen years later, there’s still something of a novelty to the teams playing. The Indians generally see a slight bump in attendance whenever the Reds come to town, but judging by their usual numbers, it’s right on par with a Dollar Dog Night-type of escalation. Still, any port in a storm. At least for the Indians. For the Reds, who are Sinatra in their city (while the Indians are, let’s say, Hasselhoff in theirs), it’s less of a thing.
So the Indians and Reds will go through the motions this weekend and their respective PR departments will grind out frenetic social media posts about the very ownership of Ohio being at stake (as if that were some sort of enticement for victory). Meanwhile, the players and fans will gather at Great American Ballpark and say, “Wait…what?”
On paper, it makes sense. The teams’ home cities are technically in the same state (though 12 feet in either direction and that wouldn’t be the case), and there are enough socioeconomic and political differences between Cleveland and Cincinnati that there are seeds for genuine dislike in the soil. Browns fans certainly don’t invite Bengals fans to their bar mitzvahs, for instance, and vice versa.
But those two have a history dating back 45 years now. Plus, they’re in the same division, and these matchups encompass 12.5% of their respective schedules each season. And – unlike any Reds-Indians game ever played – there are usually stakes. Hence, those proverbial seeds of rivalry have sprouted and risen.
In fact, their football cousins likely represent what little animosity there is between the Indians and Reds. A Tribe fan will look three rows down at a dude in a Reds cap and think, ‘He probably also roots for the Bengals.’ And the thick vinyl window shade of dislike is slowly pulled down.
Pretty much the only way the Indians and Reds could be genuine rivals would be if they met in a World Series. And even then, probably only if it were a close, epic, perhaps controversial World Series – similar to the 1985 Fall Classic which essentially represents any and all aspects of the similar “rivalry” between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.
Don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the meantime, we’re left with these strange, blundering dinner parties at which all the guests laugh at one another’s stale jokes and pretend not to notice that the host and hostess haven’t made eye contact all night.
So let’s play ball, I guess.
But keep checking your watch for the soonest opportunity to grab your coat and sneak out the door.