CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians, in their biggest matchup of the 2016 season, seemed to have things in control until Game 5 on Sunday night. That’s when the Chicago Cubs showed their resiliency and answered back. And, man, did people love it.
No, no, we’re not talking about the baseball game. We’re talking about Twitter.
The Cubs and Indians are playing each other in the 2016 World Series, but they’re also locked in the World Series of Twitter — a matchup of Major League Baseball’s top two tweeting teams.
It’s the kind of subplot that wasn’t even a thing the last time these teams won a World Series. That’s 108 years ago for the Cubs and 68 for the Indians. As we head toward Game 6 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night, the Indians owning a 3-2 series lead, one of those streaks will end soon enough. When it does, you can bet the clever folks behind @Indians or @Cubs will put the proper 140-character exclamation point on their season.
The Cubs won Game 5, which helped them stave off elimination and change a 3-1 deficit into 3-2, the first step in what everybody in Wrigleyville hopes is a historic comeback. When that happened the two guys who run the Cubs Twitter account — Travis Miller and Kevin Saghy — saw the perfect jab to take at Cleveland.
Coming back from a 3-1 margin to win a championship is fairly rare, but they were well aware who did it recently: The Cleveland Cavaliers in NBA Finals earlier this season. It immediately turned into a sports meme: “The Warriors Blew a 3-1 Lead.” When the Cubs went down 3-1 in the series, their social team started to plot out how to play off the 3-1 lead meme. Not long after their win, @Cubs spotted the opportunity in a Tweet about what Halloween costumes and threw it back in Cleveland’s face.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 31, 2016
That’s a good tweet — and the latest blow landed between these two teams, who have made the 2016 World Series a new type of experience for their followers online. Both teams are very active on Twitter, each with a distinct voice and sharp sense of humor. And here’s the best part: @Cubs and @Indians absolutely love that they’re matched up against each other instead of a more standard, bland account.
“When the playoffs started,” says Miller, 31, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or didn’t want to face the Indians, because that’s the one team that can out-tweet us.”
“We knew we had to step up our game,” says Saghy, also 31. “And I think they know the same. But it’s fun, the interactions already have been a blast. I think it helps define the series for our really passionate fans who are online.”
The man on the other side is Joel Hammond, 34, the primary voice behind @Indians, which is hands-down the snarkiest (and funniest) account among the 30 MLB teams.
“It’s awesome,” he says about the World Series with the Cubs. “Just to know they are not going to take anything too seriously.”
He says that, partially, because @Indians can get savage sometimes. If the postseason came with a “Most Likely to Drag Someone Like a Grounds Crew Member” it would go to Hammond and the @Indians account. So far this playoff run, it’s taken aim at Jose Bautista, Joe Buck, a Red Sox beat writer any opposing fan silly enough to hop into their mentions and, of course, the Cubs.
"Yeah, the @Cubs used the Bryzzo GIF again after that RBI double."
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 26, 2016
“At this point, 95 percent of our followers get it,” Hammond says. “They know it’s our shtick.”
Both teams, when asked about the voice, say they want to reflect what their fans are talking about. The Cubs say their account is fun, witty and engaging. The Indians’ is fun, playful and snarky. If it seems like @Indians have a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, that’s because Indians fans do — and with good reason, nobody expected the team to get this far, and so far, they’re beating the more-hyped-up Cubs.
Lately, Indians fans have run with the idea that Fox’s play-by-play voice Joe Buck loves Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber. There’s even a wedding registry out there. So @Indians jumped into the fray with this jab:
“That’s a perfect example,” Hammond says. “We want to know what our fans are talking about and get people involved in the situation. It’s funny, but not too serious.”
Both teams, and the World Series in general, has seen a ton of engagement on Twitter thus far. There have been 4.4 million tweets from around the world during this year’s World Series games. The team’s respective hashtags have reached seven figures too — the Cubs’ #FlyTheW has been used more than 1.6 million times while and the Indians’ #RallyTogether has tweeted more than 1.3 million times.
“If you check out the Cubs and Indians’ accounts over the past few weeks,” says Andrew Barge, the sports partnerships manager at Twitter. “You’ll see a ton of interaction with fans — recognizing them, challenging them, supporting them — which inspires other fans to follow and engage as well. They’re harnessing the public distribution power of Twitter which, in addition to growing their digital footprint as a brand, offers a special chance to recognize the fans that keep your club going.”
Here’s an interaction fans loved, from Game 5, when players in the Indians bullpen didn’t move as Jason Heyward chased a foul ball:
@Cubs possible solution: move your bullpens out of the field of play
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 31, 2016
Both teams have carefully crafted their Twitter voice the past few seasons. Saghy and Miller revamped the account at the start of the 2015 season, trying to create something that matched the new “young and fun” team the Cubs had, without losing the “friendly” part of the Cubs’ brand. Saghy is the team’s manager of communications, coming from a PR background, while Miller, a social-media producer, used to be a journalist. Miller handles the inning-to-inning tweeting while Saghy oversees the bigger-picture strategy. One of the most important things for the Cubs is interaction-per-fan, meaning that they reply to, favorite or retweet messages they get from fans.
“Last year and this year are very different,” Miller says. “Last year, we were more of a middle-of-the-pack team and we could be very chippy. We were trying to stand out and show people our new voice. This year, we got out to that hot start. By record, we were the best team in baseball the entire season. You can’t be punching down the entire time, but we do like to have fun when we can.”
The irony of Addi hitting a home run into a trash can in a game we're losing by nine runs is not lost on us.https://t.co/GP2w0r1UlN
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 21, 2016
“If you tweet to us,” Saghy says, “and we reply to you, we have a GIF for just about every emotion, player or scenario that you can imagine. You always feeling like you’re getting a reply from the Cubs.”
On the Indians side, Hammond is their assistant director of communications. During the regular season, he has other PR duties, but this time of year, his job is Twitter. He runs the account with intern Missy Perez, who carries the voice “without a hiccup” when Hammond can’t, like when he and his wife had a child earlier this year. Having interns around helps keep him up to date with things like the most current memes, he says.
“I’m pretty sarcastic and snarky with my family, with my friends and with my wife,” Hammond says. “I’ve been that way a long time. Missy is kind of the same way.”
Hammond is also an ex-journalist who joined the Indians in 2012 and is in his third year running the account. He’s earnest about the benefits for the Indians, who are traditionally one of the lowest drawing teams in MLB.
“If we’re bringing that many people to the bullpen — and it was better this year,” Hammond says. “How do we engage our fans in other ways?”
Twitter has shown a lot of value, he says. The team holds various social-media meetups and promotions. It’s helped cultivate a strong group of active influencers among Indians fans. And outside of its local followers, this season has helped raised the profile of @Indians tremendously.
“Some of our top influencers,” Miller says. “They’re seeing the Indians Twitter account and they’re like ‘Respect, Indians.’ They know what a good Twitter account is.”
Thus far, the best back-and-forth came during Game 2, when rain was in the forecast. Team Twitter accounts get inundated with questions when rain is supposed to be coming. “Will the game get rained out? When the will the game start?” So @Cubs dropped this tweet:
Please direct all weather-related inquiries to @Indians.
Maybe they have some information no one else does. pic.twitter.com/G97LHCvgVS
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 26, 2016
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 26, 2016
Now, each team is prepping for what could come next. Because, make no mistake, this all doesn’t just come off the cuff. Hammond says he’s been thinking since the Indians won the ALCS what the tweet would be if the Indians win the World Series. The Cubs have theirs planned out too.
“There will be a lot of people ready to share that tweet if we’re fortunate enough for it to come to fruition,” Saghy says.
Both sides have ideas saved for other things that could happen in the series too.
“If we get to Andrew Miller in this series, I got something in my pocket,” says Miller, the one who works for the Cubs, not the Indians’ reliever. “There are things I’ve been sitting on for two seasons. I’m waiting for the right moment because in that moment, it’s better than if I force it.”
Likewise, Hammond is ready, but he’s more sly on specifics.
“We’ve got some other stuff up our sleeves,” he says.
Just like we can’t wait to see what happens next in the World Series, we also can’t wait to see what happens next in the World Series of Twitter.
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