If you are a rabid Cleveland Indians fan demanding that the Tribe go out and sign a huge right-handed power bat, that title might be a little strange. How could the Indians, who have never even appeared in a World Series game since 1997, be the best-run sports franchise in town? When you start to break everything down, though, it becomes apparent that the Indians really are a consistent, well-oiled machine over the past decade-and-a-half, even without the championships to show for it.
For the sake of argument, I will be only looking as far back as 2000. Not only is this the year that Paul Dolan and Larry Dolan took over the Indians, but it is far enough back to be a significant amount of time, but not so far enough that we are talking about how the franchises have been run throughout their entire history. I am mainly interested in recent years, as each team has relatively new owners.
Larry Dolan and his brother Paul Dolan bought the Indians from Richard Jacobs for $323 million in 2000, while the Cavaliers’ current majority owner, Dan Gilbert, took over in March of 2005. As for the Browns, they have the shortest-tenured owner in this little thought experiment; Jimmy Haslam bought the team in 2012.
Here is a quick table of how each team has performed in the current millennium, and how many head coaches they have cycled through:
Recent years, in particular, have been kind to the Indians who have finished with a winning record three straight seasons. Even the Cavaliers, who are currently one of the best teams in the NBA, were a disaster just a few years ago during the 2012-2013 season before LeBron James returned. Which brings me to my biggest argument for the Indians being better run than the Cavaliers: The Cavs’ success rides on LeBron and LeBron alone.
The Cavaliers are not a great team because they were built that way, they are a great team because they have LeBron James. When James left Cleveland following the 2010 season, the team absolutely collapsed. They failed to win more than 25 games for three straight years, only sort of recovering in 2014 by winning 33. In that span they also went through two coaches, Byron Scott and (for the second time in five years) Mike Brown.
Both the Browns and the Cavaliers have had issues retaining head coaches while the Indians have remained mostly steady over the last 15 years. The shortest managerial stints on the Indians were Manny Acta and Charlie Manuel, both of whom managed just three seasons. Eric Wedge managed the team through the heart of their mid-2000s success with Grady Sizemore before his injury.
Under their current manager, the Indians have not had a losing season. Terry Francona came over in 2013 and has led the Tribe to three straight winning seasons. Last year was barely a winning season and you could even call it a technicality (they only played 161 games and finished with an 81-80 record), but a winning record is a winning record.
The Indians arguably also have the brightest future right now, as well. They have a young, solid core that could keep them competitive for the better part of a decade if even a few of their prospects turn out to be hits. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers look like they are on the edge of collapse, and James will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-2017 season, leaving the franchise in the lurch for the second time this decade. The Indians have traded better, they have recently started drafting better, and overall they are just a better-run franchise than the Browns or Cavaliers, even without the championships to show for it (yet).
I am a fan of all three teams (maybe not so much the Browns, but only because I am not a big football fan), but it has become clear watching that the Indians recently that they are the better-run franchise of the three. It may be hard to sit by and watch them not risk a huge sum of money on a free agent every offseason, but they are a team that has recent success and are set for a great future.