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75 Years and Counting: The Story of the 2008 Cleveland Indians

Grady, man, what could’ve been

Texas Rangers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The “Jacobs Field” era has officially come to a close as Progressive Insurance bought the naming rights to the stadium. Despite the insistence of many Cleveland fans that it’s “always the Jake” (myself included) we’ve now spent more time with “Progressive Field” (15 years) than we did with “Jacobs Field” (14 years).

Despite the new name on the front of the stadium, not much changed for the Indians over the 2008 offseason. The gameplan very much seemed to be “let’s run it back.” And at some level, why not? You’d come within a breath of the 2007 World Series, not only was your entire core returning, but it was key rookies like Laffey, Guttierez and Cabrera as well first year full timers like Garko and Carmona that pushed you over the top in ‘07. With Shin-Soo Choo and “Top Prospect” Michael Aubrey set to debut, what was the point in signing a big name free agent? Where would he even play? (tongue planted firmly in cheek)

Outside of 2005 and 2007 the M.O. in the Eric Wedge era was to dramatically underperform your run differential and play yourself out of contention in the first half of the season only to utterly catch fire in the second half when it’s too late to do anything. 2008 was no different. The Indians started out 41-53 in 2008 despite a positive run differential, positioning them firmly as sellers at the trade deadline. A few short weeks later, C.C. Sabathia was a Milwaukee Brewer and Matt Laporta, Zach Jackson, and a PTBNL that became Michael Brantley were Indians.

After the All Star break the Indians played to a 40-28 mark down the stretch, much more in line with expectations.

I don’t get it man, I’ve never seen a manager who your run differential mattered less for than Eric Wedge. You’d somehow win a bunch of 1 run games, being 12 games over .500 with only a +30 run differential in the second half after being 12 games under .500 with a +8 run differential in the first half. The only constant was that you could never get him to give you anything of substance at the press conference after the game.

The lone bright spots of the ‘08 team were the stellar seasons by Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee. Grady cemented himself as arguably baseball’s brightest young star with a brilliant 2008 season drawing 98 walks from the leadoff spot and stealing 38 bases to go along with his 33 home runs. Lee had a remarkable bounce back that saw him go from being sent down to AAA in 2007 to winning the Cy Young Award in 2008 with a 22-3 record and a 2.54 ERA. Lee’s 08 campaign was one of the most dominant by a Cleveland pitcher in the Jacobs Field Era and wouldn’t be matched until Corey Kluber came along. Lee was also by far my favorite player in those days. As a left handed pitcher myself I modeled everything after his mechanics and wanted to be just like him. My first real “hero” since Thome left.

While the 2008 season was a major disappointment, LaPorta represented a major reason for excitement (sigh), and Lee’s dominant 2008 gave the Indians their second straight Cy Young winner. After a solid second half things were looking up headed into 2009 despite a .500 finish.

But that hope was misplaced, join us tomorrow as we break down the disastrous 2009 season and the firesale that sent the Indians into yet another rebuild.