COMMENTARY | If there is one thing Cleveland Indians fans know about, it's losing.
Anyone born when the Indians won their last World Series in 1948 is now eligible for retirement. In the 65 years since that last championship, Tribe fans have witnessed nearly every brand of baseball -- some very good, some very average, and some downright painful to watch. Hopes for another World Series title have risen many times throughout the drought, only to fall back to earth time and time again -- sometimes gently over the course of another mediocre summer, and sometimes with the force of a meteorite leaving a crater at the end of the road to the baseball mountaintop.
And what a road it's been. After 1948, the Indians remained contenders throughout the 1950s, reaching the Fall Classic in 1954 only to be swept by the New York Giants, and routinely finishing just a few games behind the New York Yankees in the American League. The 1959 season drew an end to Cleveland's relevance in the league as the Indians finished the season in second place, 24 games above .500
Over the next 34 seasons, the Tribe would finish above .500 only six times, lose 100 or more games four times, and generate as little success at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium box office as they did in the AL standings. Ownership changed hands five times over that period, with Dick Jacobs taking over in 1986. The team continued to struggle until Jacobs convinced the city of Cleveland to build the team a new stadium, and ushered in a new era of playoff appearances and whizzing turnstiles. "Indian Fever" was at an all-time high.
Still, despite five division titles and two trips to the World Series, the long-awaited championship remained just out of reach, and before the 2000 season Jacobs would sell the team at the height of its popularity to current owner Larry Dolan.
Entering 2013, their 14th year under Dolan's ownership, the Indians were sorely in need of an infusion of life. After the success of the 1990s, Dolan's club underwent rebuilding projects under managers Eric Wedge and his successor Manny Acta. Wedge nearly led the Indians to the World Series in 2007; Acta nearly led them to a winning record in one of his three seasons. Attendance had been falling, and belief among fans that the Tribe could be contenders was dwindling. In order to change that something needed to be done, and Dolan stepped up to the plate.
One way to bring a championship attitude to Cleveland is to install a proven winner at the helm, and Dolan did just that in hiring Terry Francona to manage the team. With the leadership established, he then opened the checkbook and agreed to sign some high-profile free agents to high-dollar contracts, reversing a trend of the Indians being spectators in the offseason. In addition to improving the product on the field, club management decided to lower concession prices to help improve the fan experience and make a trip to the ballpark an even more attractive opportunity.
No city in America is more starved for a winner than Cleveland. Season after season of last-place finishes, average talent, or gut-wrenching heartbreak have left many Indian fans skeptical of any attempt to turn the fortunes of the team toward the promised land. The 2013 roster is certainly better than those of recent years but still includes big question marks around the starting pitching, a vital area for any team hoping to contend for a title. However, there are also many positives to the roster. The Indians have speed on the basepaths, power potential from both sides of the plate, strong defense up the middle, and an entire outfield consisting of players used to covering lots of territory in center field. Add to that one of the most consistent bullpens in the league and a bench full of skilled players capable of playing multiple positions, and you have the makings of a possible contender.
Hopes for a World Series title in Cleveland? For the diehard fan, April is always time for such hopes. 2013 may be a longshot without any improvement to the pitching staff, but … do Indians fans dare to believe it's possible? The journey through the season is just beginning, and it promises to be a very interesting road to travel.
Matthew Frame is a lifelong resident of northeast Ohio and follower of the Cleveland Indians. He has lived through 43 years not knowing what it's like for the home team to finish the season on top, but still comes back for more every year.
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