Category Archives: General Sports

Well, That Was a Thing that Happened

LBJ

The day after “The Decision,” almost exactly four years ago, we went to my wife’s friend’s house for lunch. Her husband is a sports guy, and, Cleveland fans being a novelty in New Jersey, I knew I was going to have to talk about it. And talk and talk and talk. I certainly got sick of explaining what it’s like to be a Cleveland fan in those days—some of the ideas I’ve laid out here—and how this thing, much as it sucked, kind of fit. It made sense in the frame of a cosmic self-pity.

So this past Saturday, I went out for bagels at home in Brooklyn wearing my Cavs hat, as I’ve done here and there for a couple of weeks, since it appeared on the top of the pile in the closet. It’s a blue and orange late-80s throwback, from the last time the Cavs were remotely relevant pre-LBJ. If you don’t remember those teams, they were basically that era’s version of today’s Pacers—a balanced, well-oiled regular season machine undone in the playoffs by a transcendent talent (ask Craig Ehlo about that). A guy at the bagel place started up, and the talking began again. Different tone this time, of course—whether they should give up Wiggins for Love—but the same curiosity about what is going on inside the head of a Cavs fan. I can’t speak for all of us, especially people actually in Cleveland, who I’m sure experienced these ups and downs differently than a person like me. You see, I left Cleveland, too. And unlike Lebron, I have no intention of going back (outside of visiting my parents and taking my son to Cedar Point when he’s old enough to appreciate The Gemini). But I can speak for myself about what it’s like to be on the fringes of the most unusual sports narrative of recent decades.

All that talking four years ago did help me eventually articulate what I thought hurt so much about The Decision for a Cleveland fan. And the intervening four years—miserable basketball and management and bizarre, probability-vortex luck—helped me get over it. Even then, I couldn’t really blame the man. That 2010 Cleveland team was crap and had little capacity to improve (despite, according to sources now, LBJ’s best recruiting efforts). As I’m sure all now realize, the pain of the The Decisionwas a product of tone-deafness, though describing it that way is a bit of an understatement. He was supposed to be The One—both hometown boy and the best in the world. We hoped that he “got it,” that he could realize that he somehow meant more to the city than putting a round ball in a hoop. This idea, of what sports means to Cleveland, was best articulated in Wright Thompson’s Believeland Outside the Lines piece for ESPN—to this day the single best piece of sportswriting about Cleveland I’ve ever read. The hangover of its peak, as a hub of early-century manufacturing, came in the 1970s—The Mistake by the Lake. The city’s recovered from that, with ups and downs along the way, but it has never stopped bleeding away the trappings of urban significance. Its status as a three-sport town, despite a population smaller than Jacksonville, Albuquerque, Omaha, and Tulsa, was a callback to its glory days, one of the things that kept Cleveland from just fading away. We mustn’t forget the art museum, symphony, universities, hospitals, etc., but those don’t nearly have the hold, domestically or globally, of being one of the 12 American cities with teams from all three major sports—a club so excusive that it does not count Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco as members. And that is why sports figures so large in Cleveland despite decades of failure—it makes the city matter. LBJ missed this idea in the form, if not the content, of The Decision, and this is why some Cleveland people on my Facebook feed are confused, ambivalent, or bitter about the Cavaliers signing the best basketball player alive. His opting out of being The One was more than a sports decision, but touched some nerve in the Midwestern lizard-brain—one connected to the same pathways as survival, significance, identity. For that reason, people will boo him when he next tosses the chalk at Quicken Loans Arena. Make no mistake.

Whatever disappointment (vitriol?) I had ended very cleanly when I read Scott Raab’s The Whore of Akron. I never put down a book unfinished, but damn I hated that book. Simply put, Raab is a horrible shit, and to turn to a horrible shit looking for some clarity is to go to a very dark, smelly place. This book was such an act of self-loathing, of projection of self-loathing, that I needed a shower after I read it. It was too much, too hopeless, too oppressive, too icky. Hope is embedded in Cleveland’s character. Talk about tone-deaf. All that was left was residue: defeating and defeatist, consuming, silly. (I also credit the excellent and dark movie Big Fan with helping me put this into perspective a little bit—while I make the argument that sports can be more than trivial, the movie’s portrayal of insane, blinding over-emotional fandom is healthy to watch when you’re worried that you care too much.) I’m half-inclined to read The Whore of Akron again, but I simply don’t want to spend one more second in Raab’s pestilential presence.

If I had gotten over LBJ’s departure, and in some glancing way begun to appreciate just how damned good he had become (where was that post game in Cleveland?), prior to all this I still had some ambivalence about the idea of him coming back. Though I’m a naturally pretty cynical person, Cleveland sports makes me want to be an optimist. I figured that if LBJ had decided he wouldn’t be The One, someone else would and it would still be sweet. Kyrie didn’t seem to be wearing the mantle very well, but then there was Wiggins. Hoyer, Manziel, Gordon, Brantley, Kluber? Outlook hazy.

Chagrin Falls, man. The One became the greatest villain since Art Modell and then, improbably, became The One again. If someone had sat me down and asked me to specify a set of conditions under which I would welcome LBJ back to Cleveland, the letter he dictated to Lee Jenkins kind of nailed it. Not gonna lie, I teared up a bit when I read it on the subway. Cynically: it was a beautiful piece of PR. But then again: He does get it! He sees now why he mattered so much. (Is anyone else uncomfortable with how many old, white sportswriters are describing that letter as “mature”?) There’s that silly secret sunniness that lies in the heart of every Cleveland sports fan except the most embittered. I’ve decided I do not have mixed feelings about Lebron’s return. The first thing atlswami texted me after “I’m Coming Home” (is that how it will be remembered?) was that he wasn’t happy for me, but he was happy for my son. Now, my sports inheritance to him maybe won’t be so poisonous. Me, I’m happy for Cleveland. They— not “we”—have got another shot. And, weirdly, the entire sports world, minus the handful of sports fans in Miami and those in Cleveland who hold a grudge, seems to have a smile on its face. Right now, the manager of the Indians, the quarterback of the Browns, and the greatest Cavalier of all time are all homegrown. It’s a nifty moment.

I had this theory—atlswami will attest to it—that LBJ had voluntarily become a Judas, both so he could get some titles and remove that withering and surely tiring speculation, and so that the Cavs could tank the shit out of it and rebuild so he could come back to something promising. It was trying to impose a story on something I didn’t like, but that is, functionally at least, what happened. Think for a second about all the little things that even made this a possible outcome. The #1 picks—three in four years (on top of the one that put LBJ in Cleveland in the first place). The Mike Brown debacle, then picking such a strange and kind of perfect replacement in David Blatt (who I am super-bullish on). You have Dwyane Wade’s balky knees, Riley not wanting to keep Mike Miller around. The fact that Varejao, a LBJ favorite, managed to get hurt enough to prevent a trade that seemed inevitable. Actually maintaining the cap space for what seemed like a pipe dream. Even before LBJ decided to sign, I feel like the usual Cleveland optimism was taking hold. A lot of people love the coaching hires. Wiggins is the right piece at the right time. There is this idea that Irving and Waiters will figure something out and aspire to be Paul and Wade instead of Marbury and Francis. Hell, even Anthony Bennett suddenly seems promising.

The cynical, including Deadspin’s Drew Magary, figure that the latest move is simply a replay of 2010, except with a much more polished turd (Magary also wrote this, this, and this about LBJ). Basketball-wise, it is. In 2010, LBJ left an inadequate team built around and dedicated to him for a better one, alongside two perennial all-stars. In 2014, he left an inadequate team built around and dedicated to him for . . . well, not a better team exactly, but one with much, much better prospects over the next five years or so. A team so loaded with assets that a few smart decisions and a little professional development could turn it into the dynasty that the Heat, with their reliance on two men, never really had a shot at becoming.

Plus, he gets a different role than he had in Miami (and the first time in Cleveland), where he was forced to be a workhorse—picking up all the slack from resting Wade—and a conductor. He was good at it, but it never seemed his nature. He’ll never be like Jordan and there’s nothing wrong with that. He wants to be liked too much, he wants to pass too much. He’s not, in a word, maniacal. It seems like he’s finally sorted that out about himself and now he has a chance to be a white hat, to pass at the end of games without apology. Perhaps he wants to prove that he’s the best ever at making others better. More sunniness.

He might also make Cleveland a destination for other players. It’s not something he was really able to accomplish before—see the Windhorst piece linked earlier—but that could be different now. And this will be the subject of the talk until the season starts—thanks, bagel guy. Mike Miller, Ray Allen, etc., would be nice for continuity and to make sure that the locker-room culture really changes for good. Kevin Love clearly the most obvious, intriguing, and complementary option. How I would love to get him without giving up Wiggins, who seems like the perfect mentee for LBJ. That said, Wiggins is potential and Love is now and only 25. But then again, Wiggins is cheap and Love would mean three huge contracts and little flexibility in case of injury. There’s a few other pieces the team needs—a backup point guard, a defensive big man (Jason Collins would be a feel-good addition for a year and I’m good with Ekpe Udoh and Emeka Okafor for reasons that aren’t clear to me), and shooters (if Miller and Allen are out). The point here is that the Cavs are at a clear inflection point—they either come up smaller than ever before or become the dynasty that Cleveland hasn’t had since Otto Graham and Jim Brown. Somehow it doesn’t feel like there’s an in between. Be bold and be wise, my friends.

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Big or Small?

Big or Small?

It’s going to be a very, very long offseason.


Mmmm … Delicious Hat!

Jason-Giambi-300x199

Boy, Giambi went from ‘roid poster boy to beloved elder statesman and future manager quick, didn’t he?

No team has won 10 straight games to finish a season since 1971. Tribe just did it to lock in home for the wildcard game (and finish just a game back of the Tigers). Needed every one. Win or lose Wednesday, this was a cool season and I like this team. They have the bonhomie of those “idiot” Red Sox teams, without the pervasive douchiness. Hard-working flavor for a hard-working town. Go Tribe! You’ve already come up big. Now go get a little more gravy.

Last week, while the Browns were looking rather sharp in the first game of the Brian Hoyer tank-a-thon (so it seemed at the time), atlswami texted me: “I’m enjoying your karmic comeuppance for bailing on your team,” referring to my spite-add of the opposing defense in fantasy. Dood–all part of the plan. Some national writers talking about them being legit good.

And Hoyer. The mayor.  Look, I grew up playing Browns QB in the backyard too, counting down before lofting a dead duck in the air and running over to catch it myself, and the spinning the ball on the ground while I did the cabbage patch. In fact, my cousins lived in North Olmsted, where Hoyer grew up, and we did this little act in their yard too. So he’s going to win a lot of hearts. Let’s hope he learned a lot from Tom Brady and see how this goes.

How many games do the Browns have to win before I actually have to eat my hat? Can I wash it first?

This is back when it was new. It's not new any more.

This is back when it was new. It’s not new any more.


Laughing Stock or Last Laugh?

Citi+BCS+National+Championship+Alabama+v+Texas+lUjc5A2-HyVl

According to sources, Chud thinks running backs are like tires on a car. Is the vehicle really going to run that much better with a shiny new one than it is with an old bald one? I don’t know. I don’t have a car.

Right now, my vote is for laughing stock, but that’s purely a matter of context, coming after 15 years of mismanagement and failure. I’m looking at you, Holmgren. You were just the latest, but you gave us Shurmur, so no one cares what you think.

Under other circumstances (i.e., anyone with a track record for good decision-making), this reaction would almost definitely have gone the other way. As a football decision, I’m ill-qualified to judge whether TRich was valuable, especially since I rarely get to see the Browns play. But many analysts seem to think this was a bold, courageous, and wise decision on the part of—what are their names again? Does it matter? Here, here, and here. I get their reasoning and why this could be good for the Browns. It’s going to be a couple of years before we know if TRich was middling all along, or injury prone, or will become another name on the list of unique and innovative ways (trading your schedule cover boy two games into a season? I mean, who does that?) that Cleveland franchises shoot themselves in the foot. But it is those few years that are the problem.

As an emotional decision, as a reminder that a new band of serious-looking old guys is asking for yet more patience out of a fan base—the whole thing feels like another punch in the stomach. Those are years that Browns fans will never get back. Just like the last 15. It was a year ago that I wrote this. I think the defense might be better, but the needle doesn’t seem to have moved much. What this management is missing is any ability to inspire confidence in their decisions and pleas for patience. And they know it. We fans can talk ourselves into anything, and while they make it hard for us to keep doing that, they still might get the last word and we’ll eat crow when they deliver us a winner in a couple of years. Right? I mean, right?

Desperation aside, the towel has once again been cast. We give up. Another draft will come, we’ll get a shot of hope for some reason and we’ll be right back where we started. And so we look once again for the comedy in deep spiritual resignation and remind ourselves it’s just a dumb game. We hope the Indians make the playoffs and enjoy watching the Steelers suck (for a little while). Small pleasures.

The text from atlswami about the trade was just minutes old when I logged on to our fantasy football league and dumped San Diego’s defense for Minnesota’s (vs. Cleveland). It’s a good play, man. I figure this kind of declaration of despair would knock the wind out of the whole team. Disloyal? Maybe. In three years of doing this, I’ve always had a Brown and no Ravens on my rosters. No, I prefer to see it as a different form of loyalty—mild, meaningless protest. At least that’s what I tell myself.

teddy-bridgewater-800

This gentleman’s name is Teddy Bridgewater and my understanding is that he is very good at athletic-type things. No one has yet coined a rhyming phrase for blowing your season for him or Clowney (ala, Suck for Luck, Riggin’ for Wiggins, etc.). Is he already looking for houses in Cleveland and Jacksonville?


Mariners’ Passed Ball Ensures 4th Straight Losing Season

The Mariners had little hope of avoiding yet another losing season. But how fitting, in a game they should have won, that their 82nd loss of the season came on a passed ball by Mike Zunino in the 10th inning?

Catcher Zunino lets another win pass the Mariners by.

The Mariners let another win pass them by.

The error ensured a fourth straight losing season for the underperforming Seattle nine.  That’s the longest stretch of losing seasons for the Mariners since their first 14 seasons, ending in 1991 when they eked out a .512 winning percentage. It also marked their fifth straight loss, including getting swept by the Majors’ worst team, Houston.

I cheer again the inclusion of the Astros in the AL West, without whom the Mariners would very likely end up again in the division cellar.


The Wheels Come Off

Brandon Maurer registered an 81 ERA at home after serving up volleyballs to the Houston Astros last night. That lowered his overall ERA to 16.20 and record to 0-2. Those aren’t good numbers. Oh, and the Mariners got spanked 16-9 by the worst team in baseball this season and one of the worst of all time.  Sure, you’re gonna lose a game here and there, but sheesh.

Fortunately, Maurer got a good talking to by pitchers Felix Hernandez and Kameron Loe. “I heard a story about Randy Johnson giving up a few in an inning,” Maurer told the Seattle Times. “That always makes me feel a little better, I guess. It happens.” Maybe Maurer should pick better mentors. Loe got tagged himself for six hits and five runs including three long balls in less than three innings.

Brandon Maurer

But at least the team still enjoys fan support. Fully 10,745 packed into Safeco for the second home game of the season. Wait, that’s not very many people. In fact, that’s the worst attendance in Safeco’s history. Dear god.


2013 Season Is A Lock: Mike Morse Edition

The Mariners have already secured a softer landing in the AL West for 2013, though it’s not thanks to new players Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales or Raul Ibanez. And now it won’t be thanks to sloppy seconds with outfielder Mike Morse, lately of the Washington Nationals, and as of a trade today a Mariner anew.  The thanks lie, of course, with Houston and the hapless Astros, whom Seattle fans are relying on to bring up the AL West rear.

Nonetheless, Morse is a potentially interesting acquisition.  He managed a .291 average last year, with 18 HRs sprinkled in. That average is better than anyone on the Mariners for 2012.

And, like Ibanez, Morse knows what it is to wear teal on your hat and seems to be a fan of Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch.

morse