Fat lady. Songs. Door. Ass. Toast. We’re done for. The 2008 Cleveland Indians season is done. And it is a colossal failure. As of this morning, the Indians are 10 games below .500 at 37-47, 11.5 games out of 1st place in the AL Central, and in last place in the division behind the decades-long slumping Kansas City Royals. The good people at Baseball Prospectus have the Indians chances of making the playoffs (PECOTA-adjusted) at less than 1%. The cool people at Coolstandings.com have the Tribe’s playoff chances at a slightly cooler 2.5%. The Indians captain, Victor Martinez, is on the DL indefinitely. Their fearsome DH has been relegated to a similar status by a bum shoulder and a nasty case of "being very un-dude". Their hangover inducing, ice-cold young pitcher is also out. And their reliable, innings-eating sinkerball machine has been sunk off the coast of TJ. The Indians season is done like a late-night frozen pizza left in the oven overnight after you passed out on the couch watching re-runs of Man vs. Wild on Discovery. Pack up your bags and go home.
But is it really? Is it over? No. Every season begins with the goal of winning the World Series. For the last 60 years that is what the Indians have tried, and failed, to do every year. This year is no different. The 2008 Indians will not be World Champions. But that goal of winning a World Series does not exist as a singular monolith separate from the actions of those events and people which surround it. It is in actuality a product of those events and people. In baseball terms, this is the stuff of player performance, development, coaching, and organizational decisions. And while the World Series is a convenient threshold denoting the end of one season and ushering in the beginning of another season, all of those things which go into a World Series are not so easily compartmentalized. Players’ abilities are continuous variables, measured out in discrete plate appearances and games, but constantly changing in processes of growth and decline. Likewise, an organization is a dynamic system, with players entering, leaving, underperforming, and exceeding expectations. And the performances of one season bleed into the next. The games played in Cleveland, and Buffalo, and Akron, and even all the way down in Winter Haven will have some impact on the organization going into next season and beyond. They will help decide the fates of all the moving parts which make up the Indians organization.
I came of age as an Indians fan in the late 80s and early 90s, just in time to catch a decade of stunning major league baseball in Cleveland. But I did not begin to truly appreciate baseball on more than a season-to-season basis until 2002, when it became clear the run of fantastic teams in Cleveland was coming to an end. And it was then that I became aware of the true depth of being a baseball fan. That the success of players was not a given. That in order to really appreciate the players on the field in Cleveland, it helped to have a sense of where they had come from and how they had gotten there. What decisions had been made to make them part of the current set of players striving for the goal of World Series glory?
And that is where the organization stands now. Obviously we are on the brink of changes, both large and small, which will go a long way in determining who we have and what chances we have at the 2009 World Series and beyond. And as a fan, that means that while the 2008 season has ended, the 2009 season has begun. We are now beginning a 78-game, late Summer, pre-Spring Training in which the performances of players across the organization will be tracked in order to determine what role and future they have with the Tribe. The ability of players will continue to change as improvements are made, strength is gained, pitch recognition improves, or age begins to sap away at these abilities.
And baseball will be played. In Cleveland. In Buffalo. In Akron. In Kinston. In Eastlake. In Mahoning Valley. In Winter Haven. Even in the Dominican. Players will take the field, the dirt will be groomed and watered down, someone will yell out "hot dogs!" while someone else yells "cold beer!". Fireworks will get shot off. Kids will laugh and smile. And games will be won and games will be lost. But baseball will still be played because the season of baseball never ends.