You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.
Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Cleveland Indians. Your author is Dan Friedell.
1987 was a bad year to be a Cleveland sports fan.
First, Ozzie Newsome appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Jan. 12. A few days later, John Elway and Rich Karlis brought a sold out stadium (and millions more watching at home) to tears when they beat the last great Browns team in the AFC championship game.
Just about two months later, Cory Snyder and Joe Carter popped up on the cover of the venerable magazine's baseball preview issue. Shortly thereafter, the team SI heralded as the best in the American League was on its way to 101 losses. Wait. It got worse. Bernie Kosar was the NFL preview issue's cover boy in August. We all know how his career turned out.
So, just in case there's a Deadspin curse, here goes: The 2007 Cleveland Indians will not win the World Series.
However, they will be better this year than they were last year. And I'm hopeful they'll be much better than that team was 20 years ago. Just in case you're not convinced, here's that season's opening day lineup:
2B Tony Bernazard
CF Brett Butler
SS Julio Franco
LF Joe Carter
DH Andre Thornton
3B Brook Jacoby
1B Pat Tabler
RF Cory Snyder
C Chris Bando
P Tom Candiotti
I was 11 years old when that team took the field. I loved the Indians so much that I once wanted to bring a sign to a game that read: "Tabler's Tweeters" until my dad crossed out "Tweeters" in favor of "Terrors." I remember saying things like "that's a solid team, they'll definitely make the playoffs this year," and believing it.
They started the year 1-10. Ancient Steve Carlton and Phil Niekro were both on the roster. Still wondering why they broke the century mark in losses?
This year, Eric Wedge is managing for his job. He needs to get the Tribe through April with a winning record to quiet those who will happily call for his head. And with Buck Showalter on the staff as an advisor, the front office has a replacement at the ready.
And unlike past years, Wedge can't manage as if April games are extended Spring Training (he has a combined 38-59 record in four seasons) because he has a team capable of going 15-10 to start the year and Detroit (16-9 in 2006) and Chicago (17-7 in 2005) will not wait for the Indians to get their act together.
With Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia, the team has four All-Stars in the prime of their careers. With Josh Barfield at second and Andy Marte at third, there's been an upgrade from Ronnie Belliard and Aaron Boone. Sinkerballer Jake Westbrook must be sleeping well, dreaming of all the double plays those two will help turn. Jhonny Peralta is the infield's major question mark, and he has to be better than he was last year. Casey Blake, a decent utility man, will be playing first, though we'd all rather see Ryan Garko (who farted RBIs after his late-season call-up) get 100 games there.
With Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd, the rotation is capable. Joe Borowski gives the team a closer with more than five saves on the back of his baseball card. Like Peralta, the rest of the bullpen can't be much worse than last year.
General manager Mark Shapiro has to know that a team doesn't need a stud at every position to succeed, which makes the David Dellucci and Trot Nixon signings curious. The forgiving Cleveland fans would much rather see capable youngsters like Trevor Crowe, Shin-Soo Choo and Franklin Gutierrez mature at the Major League level than an injury-prone guy like Nixon struggle in the outfield.
So yeah, this year's team will be better than the one that played in 1987. They'll be better than the one that disappointed Clevelanders last year, too. The problem? Just like in 1987, the Twins, Tigers and White Sox are still all better than the Tribe. And the Royals won't be pushovers, either.