I get it. I do. Just as much as the next person. I want to see the Tribe’s glory days of the 1990’s return. I was lucky to have the Tribe’s successes as many of my earliest baseball memories, but also unlucky enough to know the heartbreak that accompanies losing 2 World Series in 3 seasons. I know that joy and that pain just like every Indians fan. I am a Indians fan by birth, not by choice. The 1990’s was the first time in my dad’s lifetime his beloved Wahoos were good. He was born in the 1960’s and lived in Cleveland when the team was so bad that they stopped charging admission at Indians games after the 3rd inning. He watched them every day, they almost never won but he was there anyway. Needless to say I was born into an unbreakable love of the Cleveland Indians. This is, however, not my point. The point of this article is to discuss the almost crippling nostalgia that surounds the organization and fans have for the 1990’s winning ways. It is bad for the franchise and does more harm than good.
I completely understand the desire to root for a winning team. It is very hard to watch the Indians every night when they suck. Unfortunately, constantly wishing Kenny Lofton, JIm Thome and Omar Vizquel (among others) to come back won’t help the team win. Sadly, that might be what it takes to put more butts in the seats. I can’t really say I would not like to see that, but I can argue that it would do the team no good. Celebrating the past is one thing, wanting to constantly live in and replay it is another. As much as the team needs to cut it’s ties with Travis Hafner’s contract to move forward, the franchise needs it’s fans to do much of the same with the not so distant past. True diehard fans have already embraced the team’s current state, looking towards the future and the hope of another succesful run. Those are the few thousand who make the trip to the Jake every home game. A fan base that only cares and shows up when times are good will not inspire the franchise to put forth the effort to put winning product on the field, it will also not inspire the players on the team to put on a show for the fans.
I am not suggesting we forget the 1990’s and the pennants. I am just saying that the team’s future success has a lot do do with the fans moving on from the “glory days”. Because of the recent struggles, fans are neglecting the team, which will only limit the team’s window for success when it arrives. The fans of teams aroiund the league show up, regardless of the team’s current states. This allows the team to spend more freely on star players. The Baltimore Orioles are a prime example. They suck. But if you go to Camden Yards to see them play, almost no matter what, there will be a big crowd. There are however, many extenuating circumstances that cannot be ignored. The population of Baltimore and it’s surrounding areas is much larger than Cleveland, and the general economy of the area is better. There is also less sports competition to take fans away from the baseball diamond. Cleveland is obviously a Browns’ town and for the last 8 years it was also LeBron James’ town.
The Indians’ popularity in the 1990’s peaked due to a successful team, the lack of a football team in Cleveland and a very bad Cavaliers team. Times have changed, the Browns are back and sell out almost every game despite how bad they might be. With LeBron no longer competing for attention with the Indians across the street the Tribe could see a boost in popularity. Not likely though. Those fans won’t come out until the team wins or brings back some old faces from happier days. Vicious circle isn’t it? The Indians need support and income, but won’t get it unless they blow a bunch of money in an attempt to appease a nostalgic fanbase and put a bunch of over the hill 40 somethings on the field to draw fans, which would do nothing to allow young talent to develop and create a winning environment. I am not going to complain if the team signs Vizquel to a small deal to fill the role of 3B and utility infielder, to mentor Asdrubal Cabrera and others, unless that signing sacrifices the future of the team for a couple hundred of butts in the seats each night. Would signing Vizquel and possibly Thome/Manny etc… really bring in enough revenue to offset the costs of employing them? Highly unlikely.
The bottom line is that while wanting to see the 90’s guys on the team again might be fun, it would be of no real benefit to the team. Fans need to accept the current state of the team and buy into the organization as it rebuilds. Supporting the team in a rough patch now will pay off in the long run, but in a long stretch of poor baseball, that idea gets lost in the minds of the fans. The Yankees sucked for 15 years before becoming the best team in baseball the last 20 years, but fans kept pouring into the stadium to watch them play, allowing the team to build up the resources that allowed them to become who they are today. The fact of the matter is, in today’s world and economy, can you expect a franchise to want to remain in a city when no one there seems to appreciate it’s presence. Even in 2007 the stadium did not rock like it did during the seasons in the 1990’s until the playoffs came around, and it still was not the same. In 2005 the Jake looked empty all year long, despite the team making a great run at the playoffs. One day the team’s ownership may not be so willing to pay so much money to field a team in Cleveland that only brings them a fraction of the cost back in revenue. I’m not going to suggest that the team is going to leave any time soon, if ever, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. I am also not going to suggest that we all go buy our season tickets for the next decade now, it would just be nice to go a day without hearing someone say how they wish it was still 1995. That attitude will not help the team get any better, it will only prolong the ‘curse’ of a small market baseball environment, which can be overcome with a dedicated and present minded fan base.