Monday, September 24, 2007

Shapiro/Dolan redemption premature at best

By Rick Morris

While I respect the hard work and commitment to his job evident in his work, frankly, the gushy-gooey tone towards the Cleveland Indians' front office from Lorain Morning-Journal beat writer Jim Ingraham is sometimes a tad overbearing. As such, he seized upon the opportunity of the Tribe's 2007 division title to proclaim that Mark Shapiro and the Dolan family were vindicated.

At the risk of being labeled a nattering nabob of negativism by the team's homer chorus in Cleveland, pardon me whilst I emit a belly laugh.

THIS is vindication? One division title five years after the "braintrust" burned this team to the ground in the pursuit of financial savings? Whatever happened to the era of championships promised by Mark Shapiro? Evidently, he meant "American League Central Division" championships -- classic bait and switch and lowered expectations.

And those aforementioned financial savings? Although they've been demonstrated to be factual by Forbes magazine, don't look for the amen chorus of ass-kissers in this town to ever acknowledge this -- because they're either feeding at the trough or they desperately wish to someday. The crumb-bums in C-Town who aided and abetted the Dolans in holding back this team for years have much to answer for -- dating back to the vile, behind-the-scenes smear campaign against Jim Thome's health that convinced the big slugger to sign with Philly and led far too many sheep-like fans to perpetuate an embarrassing and unworthy vendetta against him.

Subtly running Thome out of town on a rail was part and parcel of the decimation of this team's talent base at the major league level so as to hold payroll down, maximize profits and pocket that tasty revenue-sharing money that suckers like the Yankees who actually cared about trying to win provided them. All the while, vague promises were made that the team would spend the money to go out and get the extra parts when the standings warranted. Five years later and there's no trace of a 1990s Eddie Murray or Dennis Martinez on this roster. Plus, as was pointed out to me by a person in ill health back in 2002, the Indians really did flip the middle finger to that significant part of their fanbase that had good reason to question whether they would still be alive when and if the Dolans decided to spend money on the team. To try to hoodwink the fans, showbiz-style decisions were routinely made, like rushing Brandon Phillips in 2003 and further contributing to his horrible attitude and air of entitlement -- all because he was the prospect in the Bartolo Colon trade closest to the major leagues and the front office didn't have enough faith in its move to wait for history to judge it in a few years (when the irony is that the judgment of history is that it was a fantastic deal).

This team has been held back by an ownership posture unworthy of even C. Montgomery Burns for a full half-decade, exemplified best by the 2005 collapse. On our show Reality Check, host Ron Glasenapp asked me during our 2005 Indians roundtable preview who the key player for the season would be and I identified Juan Gonzalez. He exclaimed that the team was in trouble if what I said was right and I agreed, pointing out that the team conveniently chose to fill their need for an additional power bat on the cheap and that their insane gamble would have to pay off for the team to succeed. Juan Gone managed all of one at-bat in 2005 and the team fell apart down the stretch and missed the playoffs by a single game in a manner the "experts" deemed inexplicable, even as the Blake-Broussard-Boone heap of fetid guano that was the 2005 bottom-of-the-lineup emitted more odor by the day. Oh, wait, those players all did play better "after June 1," which was the blind homer talking point of the year -- as though the stinko performances of the first two months were given a mulligan by the American League.

Fast-forward to the next year, when Shapiro neglected to bring any kind of bullpen presence to the equation and when he failed to adequately address the loss of Coco Crisp in a deal the team had the unmitigated nards to claim was not merely for the future (a deal which would have been somewhat justifiable in that light and if they made a move to offset it for the present) but also a good trade for the present. The team stunk. Period. As with the year before, seeing the trainwreck coming only protected me from the pain I felt as a fan somewhat.

Now, in 2007, everything has broken their way. I must say, however, that I don't hear the blind homer chorus explaining how exactly their beloved overlords in the front office were all-knowing and all-seeing when most of the key contributions have come from players the team had no intention of using in big-time roles this year (i.e. Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklin Gutierrez, Fausto Carmona). So while they deserve credit for stockpiling depth, how smart were they really when they are as surprised by these contributions as you and I?

For years now on, I have argued with friends and colleagues who wittingly or unwittingly have regurgitated ownership talking points verbatim. They've accused me of not being happy with anything less than Steinbrenner-level spending, when all I have ever called for is for this team to be in the middle of the bell curve in terms of ownership commitment measured by payroll -- nothing more, nothing less.

And for now, the team's determination to try to get something for nothing has actually not stopped them. Even going into the playoffs, there's nothing to fear necessarily when looking at the other teams in October -- all have flaws at least as glaring as those still remaining for the Indians (another veteran power bat, at least one more bullpen arm for the 7th inning), if not more so. But what is frustrating to me is the fact that the relatively minor level of commitment needed to acquire those pieces would have left the Indians as THE overwhelming favorites in this magical year of theirs to win the World Series. Right now, there's much cocky crowing from the front office, ownership and their lackeys on the flagship stations and elsewhere that they did it "their way" -- "something for nothing," although they'll never admit it. The onus is on this team to finish the job and win the World Series. Otherwise, "their way" was the path to ultimate heartbreak in the end and all the flowering tributes to Mark Shapiro from Jim Ingraham won't change that one bit.

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