I became a Cleveland Baseball fan in 2005 (perhaps a poor time to set expectations as a Cleveland sports fan). The Cleveland Baseball Team, buoyed by a new young core of position players led by Grady Sizemore, paired well with a strong set of starters. Bargain bin signing Kevin Millwood proved superb, and assisted youngsters: Sabathia, Westbrook and Lee to form an effective pitching corps. I spent my free periods in middle school looking at standings, reading every article I could on MLB.com, and reading the legendary "The Diatribe" blog when I could. Excitement surrounded the team during a wonderful summer.
Of course, it couldn’t last. The Tribe trailed the White Sox by only two games after winning their second to last series in Chicago; Cleveland also faced a good chance of making the playoffs via the Wildcard. It was, sadly, not meant to be. Cleveland choked at the end (famously pointed out by Ozzie Guillen), losing six of their last seven games to lose the division and miss the playoffs only two games behind Boston.
Welcome to Cleveland heartbreak.
I enjoyed Cleveland fanhood, heartbreak and all, ever since. 2007 was exciting (losing to Boston in the ALCS was not). 2013 invigorating; I stayed up watching the Wild Card Game against Tampa before practice the next morning on the first-floor couch while my college teammates slept so I did not disturb them. I cried after we lost the 2016 World Series, watching from a Chicago bar. The team, in short, meant a ton to me.
But bluntly, I stopped caring.
The franchise has done little to endear me to the team since the 2017 season ended. The team sizzled for two years making daring trades, signing exciting players out of nowhere, and providing lifelong memories of joy. This team has not provided the same sizzle since. Do not get me wrong: there’s been great moments, and some good seasons. But I struggle to remain a huge Cleveland Baseball Team fan when the team seems intent on pushing fans away.
Since 2018 the team has cut payroll: massively. Depending on how you calculate payroll, the Indians boasted a $153M payroll in 2018 (according to Sportrac). The 2021 payroll sits at $41M (again, according to Sportrac). That’s a $100M drop in three years. You can argue about what a reasonable payroll is for Cleveland, perhaps $150M is too high, but I can tell you: a $41M payroll is way too low. A team cannot rationally claim their primary goal is to win a championship and cut payroll by $100M after a few seasons.
But cutting payroll is not simply shedding dollars, it’s also shedding players. Cleveland traded Corey Kluber, who remains my favorite Indians pitcher of all time. Fine, I can now accept that. It does mean that the Indians have traded every Cy Young Award winner in team history (yes, including Gaylord Perry, and you’re lying to yourself if you do not believe Bieber will be traded eventually). Cleveland then traded Bauer. That also hurt a bit, although I find Bauer infuriating to root for in the best of times. Clevinger was next, and the final blow came with Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco.
None of these trades are awful on their own terms, but as part of a constant barrage of losing players it’s infuriating. First off: no, these trades are not like Sabathia, Lee and V-Mart. The 2008 & 2009 teams were not competitors. Cleveland scraped a .500 record in 2008, and finished the 2009 season with only 65 wins. The ’19, ’20 and (hopefully) ’21 teams either competed, or should compete. Trading star players while trying to compete is, in a word, demoralizing to your fanbase. It also does not take a genius to determine it hurts the present club. Lindor was traded to the Mets: the Mets are projected to rank 3rd (according to Fangraphs) in Major League Baseball at the shortstop position. Cleveland ranks 24th. Our outfield, despite the recent acquisition of Eddie Rosario, remains a huge mess, with only Eddie Rosario projecting an even average season. The biggest problems facing this franchise, at this time, remain unresolved despite trading most of our best (and most expensive) players.
The turmoil on the Major League roster is not the only demoralizing thing this club has done the past few years. They retired Chief Wahoo after the 2018 season. Not unexpected, but sad as a longtime fan of the franchise. Then, after social justice protests in the summer of 2020 (which I would like to be clear on: I support Social Justice movements) Paul Dolan announced the name will also (eventually) change. I do not support the name change, but I can understand why the name needs to go...
Except the name isn’t going. Not this season, and potentially not even in 2022. But let’s be honest here: if the team does not feel the need to change the name immediately, why should I believe they will change the name in the long run? Which brings me to my final frustration for this ownership group (and, sadly, Chris Antonetti): they’re lying, to our faces, and we now have one big piece of proof.
The Cleveland Baseball Club is lying to our faces about Mickey Callaway. They knew about his behavior (warning: The Athletic paywall) when the allegations against Mickey came out. They know what he did, and now they’re pretending they did not: they are lying to us about their knowledge of complaints against Mickey, and hiding behind an ongoing MLB investigation does not make them any less duplicitous. The infuriating thing about the whole affair (besides the misery Mickey inflicted on women) is how simple the response should be: we were aware, we are sorry, and here is how we will ensure it never happens again. The fact this response was not forthcoming makes me wonder what else the team is lying about?
The obvious answer to me is their finances. Dolan gives an interview every year during spring training griping about how the team is losing money. How small markets cannot afford big rosters, and how their "financial flexibility" will help them compete in the long run. Ignoring the fact that I struggle to feel pity for a man who’s family amassed a billion dollar fortune, and that despite the team "losing money" annually the team manages to increase in value like clockwork: I struggle to believe the team is actually losing money all that often. The teams’ expenses changes by tens of millions of dollars every single year. Either the Dolans are injecting tens of millions of dollars regularly (which I doubt because, as Paul points out: his family does not have other business to inject the team with this kind of cash), or the team has a break-even point higher than they would lead us to believe.
Which leads me to this: I do not believe this ownership values winning more than their bottom line, and I also believe they are lying to us about their finances. I do not believe Dolan truly cares about social justice (if the story he spun after the Black Lives Matter protests is true: the team would not be named the Indians this year). I do not believe the Dolans are all that concerned about the allegations against Mickey Callaway. Which, to me, makes it difficult for me to support the team. I no longer know what this particular ownership group values.
In terms of the Major League roster, there remains plenty to get excited about. Shane Bieber may surpass Corey Kluber. Jose Ramirez is on pace to enter the Hall and is among the best players to ever don a Cleveland uniform. There is a chance the young players the front office so zealously acquired will pan out in 2021. The front office remains one of the best in the business, and whatever else you want to say about the corporate culture: they are loyal to the ownership group, and other teams covet the talent they develop. The Cleveland Baseball Club may be many things, but an incompetent organization they are not. I plan on rooting for some of my favorite players this year.
As for the franchise? I stopped caring months ago, and I am waiting for a reason to start caring again.