In Cleveland, the SI Cover Jinx is Real
Vince Guerrieri | On 08, Nov 2019
Because I’m middle-aged, and have friends of similar vintage or older, the Browns laying an egg this season after being on the Sports Illustrated cover as the trendy pick to win the division – and possibly more – has brought a lot of comparisons to the “Indian Uprising” cover of 1987.
The year before, the Indians fielded a lineup with four .300 hitters and finished with a winning record for the first time in seven years. Sports Illustrated said the 1987 Indians were the best team in the American League. They went on to lose 101 games, the second 100-loss season for the Tribe in three years.
It was a bad combination of a staggering fall after elevated expectations – exactly what this season appears to be for the Browns.
But you don’t have to go all the way back to 1987 for an example like that. (This is Cleveland, you know.) In 2015, the Indians were picked to win the World Series by Sports Illustrated.
The Indians came within one win of the World Series in 2007. Things were all downhill after that for a few years. Misfires on some top draft picks in the early 2000s left the cupboard bare, and the Indians had reached the point where some of their most talented players became unaffordable and traded them. The Indians became the first team ever to trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners in the year after they’d won the award – CC Sabathia at the deadline in 2008, and Cliff Lee the following year. The Indians also dealt away fan favorite Victor Martinez. (At least the Sabathia and Lee deals had long-term benefits. Martinez? The best the Indians got was Justin Masterson – who was the closest thing the Tribe had to an ace between CC and Cliff Lee and the rise of Corey Kluber in 2014.)
The Indians went 81-81 in 2008 – and then put together four straight losing seasons, three with at least 90 losses. And then they hired Terry Francona, who had a less-than-amicable parting with the Red Sox. Everything changed. In 2013, the Indians won 92 games, good enough to host the Wild Card Game, a loss to the Rays. But it looked like things had turned around.
The Tribe won 84 games in 2014, a winning record, but not good enough to make the playoffs. But in 2015, it looked like the Indians could put it all together – at least, according to Sports Illustrated, which was mindful of their 1987 prediction.
“So what makes this year any different,” Sports Illustrated asked. “Cleveland hasn’t won a World Championship since 1948 but boasts loads of talent, with left fielder Michael Brantley, first baseman/designated hitter Brandon Moss, first baseman Carlos Santana and reigning AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber.” Mind you, they put out four different covers, each suggesting a different team that could win it all. Their prediction was Indians over the Nationals in the World Series, but in addition to Washington, the Royals and Mariners appeared on regional covers. And they were sure to couch their prediction by saying it could be anyone’s year.
But why not Cleveland’s?
Well, the Indians stumbled out of the gate and by the middle of May were at the bottom of the American League. They recovered slightly as the summer turned to fall, and barely finished with a winning record, 81-80. However, they had a losing record against every team in the division, including the Royals, who DID go on to win the World Series that year.
Sports Illustrated also picked the Royals to win the division in 2016. So I guess we should be grateful for their inaccuracy sometimes. But they also picked the Cubs to lose the World Series that year.