To see the world there all by itself likely brings to mind a bee, but that’s not the kind of buzz that I’ll be talking about today from my perch here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
The buzz that I’m talking about is all about action. The buzz that I’m talking about is what you see and hear traveling through the streets and buidings of downtown Cleveland during this bright and sunny Indians’ summer day. The buzz that I’m talking about isn’t all that unfamiliar to the fans here on the North Coast, even though they acted that way during the regular season run, when they failed to show up at the gates.
That was then.
This is now.
Your Cleveland Indians are playing October baseball once again.
Your Cleveland Indians have been here before.
Maybe the buzz started back at League Park in 1920, when the Cleveland Indians played in their first postseason. That Tris Speaker-led team fought through the adversity of star player Ray Chapman’s death after he was hit in the head by a Carl Mays’ pitch to win the franchise’s first World Series title.
Maybe the buzz started back at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium in 1948, when the Cleveland Indians played in their second postseason. That Lou Boudreau-led team had the American League’s most innovative owner in Bill Veeck. That team also had the American League’s first African-American ballplayer in Larry Doby. That team also managed to win the very first one-game playoff in major league history against the Boston Red Sox, to get to the World Series.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1954, when the Indians finished the season with a then-Major League record for wins at 111-43, with the .721 winning percentage still holding the record. The Indians lost that now-infamous-no-thank-you-Willie Mays-over-the-shoulder-catch series in four straight, but the strength of that team will never be forgotten. The rotation was stellar, led by Early Wynn and Bob Lemon’s 23 wins a piece, and had an offense led by Doby’s 32 homers, and Rosen’s 24. Only one starter had less than 10 homers.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1986, when a major real estate developer, Richard Jacobs, became the primary owner of the Tribe. There was a movement in Major League circles to get the Indians out of Cleveland, and Jacobs and his brother stepped in and bought the club for $35 million.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1987, when new owner Dick Jacobs re-hired former Indians director of player personnel and assistant GM Hank Peters and told him to “Run the club as if you own it.” Peters had put together the great Oakland teams of the 70’s. Peters had also put together the World Series teams in Baltimore in 1979 and 1983. His first move? He offered John Hart a job as his General Manager. Baltimore blocked the move, however, as they saw Hart as a potential Big League manager. Peters never gave up hope, and three years later, Hart joined the club as a special assignment scout, then interim manager, then Director of Baseball Operations, before taking over for Peters himself in 1991.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1989, when the Cleveland Indians traded their best player, Joe Carter, to the San Diego Padres for two potential stars in Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar Jr. (sorry Chris James, but at least you got a mention. That trade signified the start of a rebuilding effort that would end up launching the Indians into the upper levels of baseball during the latter-half of the 90’s. That trade was only the beginning, as Peters and Hart rebuilt the minor league system, and made brilliant trades (for Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, to name a few) to build the nucleus of a champion.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1992, when John Hart, soured by the Greg Swindell arbitration hearing, created a new blueprint for the Indians. Prior to the 1992 season, Hart and his then-right-hand-man, Dan O’Dowd, signed several young players to long-term contracts. Yes, several of those players didn’t pan out. Yes, the Indians maybe spent too much money on some. But, the Indians were able to keep their nucleus together for the rest of the 90’s, and created a model for small market teams that is still used today.
Maybe the buzz started prior to 1994, when Jacobs and Hart found a way to get the Indians OUT of the A.L. East, and into the newly created A.L. Central.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1994, when the new “Gateway Project” became a reality. The Indians began play in the brand-new, state-of-the-art Jacob’s Field. The team, anchored by the core of players that had already been signed to long-term deals by the foreward thinking GM and his team of high-IQ lieutenants, went 66-47 that year, and were fighting tooth-and-nail for first place in the American League with the Chicago White Sox, when a strike ended the season.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1995, when the Cleveland Indians steamrolled to a 100-44 record, and finished in first by an insane 30 games. That team had 12 walk-off wins in only 72 total home games. That team swept the ALDS against the Red Sox in three games. That team beat the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS in six games in one of the most entertaining series I’ve ever seen. That team lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games, five of which were one-run deficits.
Maybe the buzz started back in 1997, when a Cleveland Indians team that really wasn’t as good as the ’95 or ’96 teams just kept finding a way to win. Gone were Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Paul Sorrento. In their place were a transplanted Jim Thome, Tony Fernandez, Matty Williams, Brian Giles, Marquis Grissom, David Justice, Bartolo Colon and Jaret Wright. That team beat the Yankees and the Orioles, before coming two outs away from a World Series title.
Maybe the buzz is simply something that was created by all of the 90’s excellence. Those teams were special. Those times were special. There was nothing like prior to that in Cleveland, and really nothing like it since. There was a feeling every year during the fall that the Indians would be playing for something meaningful…that elusive Cleveland title. It wasn’t a question of would they, but only a question of when. Cleveland was draped in Red and Blue from April until October every year.
Maybe the buzz is a remnant of the 2007 Indians. That same club had made a run in 2005, but came up a bit short. The 2007 Indians though, took it to the next step. They rode the arms of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. They were launched by the bats of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner. All five had at least 20 homers that year. That was the year that the Midges overtook Jacob’s Field in a biblical swarm to help Fausto and the Indians run over the Yankees in the ALDS. That was the year the Indians took a 3-1 lead against Terry Francona’s Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. That was the year that Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirezhit everything everywhere during those final three games, and went on to their second World Series title in four seasons.
But perhaps this buzz is something altogether different. Perhaps this team isn’t about the past at all. Perhaps it’s all a microcosm of events that led to tonight’s baseball game.
Perhaps this buzz really started during the middle of the 2011 season, when Ubaldo Jimenez was traded to the Indians. Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joseph Gardner and Matt McBride are all essentially forgotten players right now in that deal, and he’s turned into a phenomenal ace, even if it turns out to be only for a half a season.
Perhaps this buzz really started in 2009, when the Indians traded VMart for a package of players that includedJustin Masterson.
Or perhaps this buzz really started exactly one-year ago, when the Indians began talking to Terry Francona about taking over as the field manager of this team. Think about that. The Indians officially hired Terry Francona as the 42nd manager of the Cleveland Indians on October 6, 2013. They introduced Terry Francona as their manager on October 8, 2013. Today is October 2, 2013.
Francona had a lot to say during that impressive press conference debut that created plenty of buzz. When he was asked about the Indians current team and where they were going to head in 2013, he wasn’t shy, and he was extremely realistic:
“We’re going to compete…we’ll not win every game, but we won’t back down from anybody. We’re going to hit the ground running. My job is to be the manager…but I’ll be happy in just taking the players we have, and trying to get them to play the best baseball they can.”
Francona immediately created buzz by showcasing an intimate knowledge of something that past managers have struggled with, and that’s communicating with all the stakeholders of the Indians:
“The goal here is for me to spend all my energy trying to ensure that these players play the game correctly and with respect so when people of Cleveland…are proud to say they’re a Cleveland Indian fan.”
Most impressively though, is that Francona realized that the key to a winning season so close to a losing season was building trust within the clubhouse.
“Inevitably you have to tell players things they don’t want to hear, but when they trust you, it gives you a fighting chance, and we’re going to do this right. You do things as a ballclub…and that’s what we’ll begin here NOW, is trying to start forging an identity and relationships. You start trying to forge things that bring loyalty. Players are players, and my job is to try and get the most out of them as a player…whether you’re a starter or a bench player…build relationships with every player on the team. What we’re trying to do is get the most out of them.”
That presser was October 8, 2013. Its. Less. Than. A. Year. Later.
It’s eerie when you take into account the players that had career years, and moves that Francona was able to make late in the season to help set this team up to win. Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez were supposed to be the back end of the bullpen, and during the second half, both were removed, and the team didn’t miss a beat.
Mark Reynolds, a much-loved player in the clubhouse who carried this team in April and May was released, and the team kept right now going.
Francona is now starting Yan Gomes at catcher, and the team is plugging right along. Many felt Santana wouldn’t put up with the move, but here we are in the playoffs, and it’s almost an afterthought.
Ryan Raburn exploded this year, and so did Gomes. Francona said “you do things as a ballclub,” and is there any part of this team that doesn’t ooze that sentiment?
That buzz carried into the offseason, as the Indians completed their coaching staff by Halloween of 2012. He kept Sandy Alomar, who was passed over as coach, and brought in former bench coach and Astros manager Brad Mills. He hired former Columbus skipper Mike Sarbaugh as his third base coach, and Mickey Callaway as his pitching coach. He also hired Ty Van Burkleo as his hitting coach, and Kevin Cash as his bullpen coach. That same day, Travis Hafner and Fausto Roberto Carmona Hernandez were granted free agency.
And so the buzz continued.
On December 18 they signed Mark Reynolds, and three days later, they signed Scott Kazmir (It wasn’t a popular move…check out the comments…http://www.indiansbaseballinsider.com/blog/indians-sign-scott-kazmir-to-a-minor-league-contract-34867…and I apologize about the idiocy of some posters and their lack of tact).
Then on January 3rd, they signed Nick Swisher, their biggest free agent signing in years.
They then signed guy to a minor deal on January 19th…some guy named Ryan Raburn.
On February 9th, the Indians signed Jason Giambi.
Then the biggest splash, and biggest surprise…on February 15th, the Indians signed Michael Bourn.
This was a new team, with a new voice, and a whole new approach.
It never stopped once the season started.
On April 12th, the Indians got to see a couple of new, high price free agents win a game that could have extended a bad stretch of baseball. The Indians had lost four of five until Nick Swisher hit a two-out, walk-off single against the White Sox. Michael Bourn scored the game winner.
On May 3rd, two more new pickups did some more damage in the midst of a six-game win streak when Drew Stubbs hit a one-out, walk-off double in the tenth against the Minnesota Twins. Mike Aviles scored the game winner.
The Indians would then close out their 22-4 run with three walk-offs in four games against the hapless Seattle Mariners. On May 17th, Jason Kipnis hit a walk-off, two-out, three-run bomb in the tenth against the Mariners to win that game 6-3. The next night, Mark Reynolds hit a walk-off, bases loaded, ninth inning fielder’s choice that scored Kipnis in a 5-4 win. Then on May 20th, Yan Gomes hit a walk-off, three-run, 10th inning blast with the Tribe down a run.
For those counting at home, that’s five walk-offs in the first two months, and five different players.
On June 14th after a 4-16 stretch heading into, Jason Kipnis hit a walk-off, one-out, ninth inning fielder’s choice with runners on second and third, scoring Drew Stubbs against the Washington Nationals.
On July 26th, Ryan Raburn hit a walk-off, three-run, 11th inning home run against the Rangers after falling behind by a run, to win the game 11-8.
On July 29th, Jason Giambi became the oldest player to ever hit a walk-off home run with a solo blast that gave the Indians a 3-2 victory over the White Sox. That was the second walk-off against the Sox, and the Indians weren’t close to being done with them.
On July 31, Carlos Santana then hit a lead-off, tenth inning walk-off blast against the White Sox, giving the Indians a 6-5 win.
Then came the September run, and this was some important buzz for a team that was on the verge of making the playoffs.
The Indians had lost 4-of-6 to the Royals over a two-week span, and many felt that the Indians were on the verge of falling out of contention for the wild card spot.
Enter Matt Carson, and pennant buzz.
Carson laced a walk-off, two-out, eleventh inning single, scoring Yan Gomes in a 2-1 win. It was a day after losing to the Kansas City Royals. They wouldn’t lose another game in the 2013 season.
But the buzz wasn’t done.
In a season of buzzworthy moments, there wasn’t a bigger hit than the walk-off on September 24.
Chris Perez entered the game with the White Sox in the ninth inning with the Indians’ sporting a 3-2 lead. He would give up two runs, blowing the save at a time when the Indians needed to win in the worst way.
In the bottom of the ninth, with one on and two outs, Giambi jacked a shot to deep right field that was gone from the second he hit it.
That’s 11 walk-offs on the season…and an explanation point was added when the much derided Ubaldo Jimenez won the final game of the season to lock up the #1 spot in the wild-card.
Perhaps the best pitcher in baseball during the second half of the season.
Remember what Terry Francona said about building trust?
The Cleveland Indians are facing off against one of the best small market teams in all of baseball, if not the best.
They’re facing off against one of the best managers in the game today in Joe Maddon.
They’re playing in a game that most people expect them to lose.
You know, because the Indians buzz never really leaves Cleveland.
The Indians are playing meaningful October games once again, and that old familiar feeling is back.
Progressive Field will be packed.
Cleveland will be shrouded in Red.
The Indians are the hottest team in baseball, even though most outside of the Forest City say it’s all because of their schedule.
Yeah, there’s even bad buzz.
But do you know what’s scary?
This thing here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario is just getting started.
The Indians are going to win tonight, and head to Boston for an interesting series with Terry Francona’s old team, the Red Sox.
Do you think that will create any Buzz?