There is little that is more loved in sports and the media and hoopla that surrounds it than a narrative. It allows for framing of a storyline, to give depth and meaning to every action on the field. A team is raised up as being more than just a collection of athletes in pursuit of a trophy and the temporary title of World Champion. Take the World Series that kicked off last night as an example. As far as much of the media is concerned, this is about the Chicago Cubs, pure and simple.
As Slate’s sports podcast flatly put it, "get used to it, Indians fans". There just so happens to be another team on the field, which is an inconvenience to many who want it to be About More Than Just Sports. Time and again we have to deal with the Other Guy, even if we don’t want to.
It’s a tough life for the Other Guy, this assumed speed bump in the path of a greater glory for the champion of the greater population. Tough in part because they're usually an underdog, not expected to really win. Even if they are, they’re perceived as the Bad Guy. Which raises the question then -- are the Cleveland Indians the Bad Guy in this World Series? If so, how is that honestly possible? Usually, at least in sports movies like The Mighty Ducks or The Bad News Bears, it’s the pretty boys, the superior athletes that the bad guys. Not that this is a knock on anything any of the Tribe have going for them in the looks department.
But have you seen Kris Bryant? He even spells his name like the antagonist in a mediocre romantic comedy. And in Kyle Schwarber they have a muscley goon that’s coming back just in time for the Series whose nickname is Hulk. And they’re all just so good at baseballing. Their part-time second baseman Javy Baez has nearly as many Defensive Runs Saved as the entire Indians team. They have a guy who throws the ball faster than anyone. The Indians have a guy who gets hit by pitches more than anyone. That's something a kid named Chubbs would be good at.
Even if the Indians have been victimized by it, there’s little better than when The Other Guy wins. When the New York Giants offed the Patriots in 2007, who didn’t enjoy that? Or when the 73-9 Warriors, boasting the first-ever unanimous MVP, blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals, wasn’t that amazing? I suppose it’s hard to be the underdog when LeBron James is on your team, but life can surprise you sometimes. I"m not saying this series is payback for 1997 when the Indians lost to the Florida Marlins, but I’m just saying that a history of the World Series I read called that Marlins the team most wrong with baseball. If karma does exist, it will look like the Indians being the ultimate foil for the most beloved of all teams.
The Other Team has fans just like anyone else, people who have suffered as much as any Cubbie fan. Maybe not for 85 years, but realistically that’s absurd. Anyone with sense would have either given up or understood it’s all too random to even get upset over. Anyway, this Tribe squad is the greatest of the Other Teams. Just because LeBron and the boys won a championship a few months ago, there’s more to the Tribe. They were bad for nearly as long as the Cavs have existed. Maybe not the best thing to be proud of, but being bad makes for fans, in a perverse way.
The fandom of the Indians is deep, ingrained across the country. Just like the Cubs. I don’t think any of the writers on this site live in Cleveland right now. I’ve only been there twice. But to assume that the Indians are just another speed bump on the ways to the Cubs’ redemption is an insult. If anything, they didn’t go the easy route. They brought in the ringer in Theo Epstein. They shamelessly tanked, and overspent on the international market. They traded for a glamour piece in Chapman just because they could. The only thing that makes them anything more than the villain going up against a bunch of scrappy, overachieving and platooning ragamuffins is that C on their helmets and a pretty little ballpark.
Maybe it’s just better this way. Being ignored, all that, it lets the Indians play free and easy as if this were just another series against the White Sox. You have to assume their travel to Chicago is similar, they just turn the other way out of the parking garage at the hotel. Plus they get the chance to shut everyone up.