Fire Everyone! - The Fans

Editors' Note: This is the ninth installment in a 12-part series.  Our guest columnist is Vince Grzegorek, writer/editor for Scene Magazine and author of '64 and Counting.

Yes, you, Indians fans. What? You thought you were absolved of the egregious sins on the field just because you don't play for the team, own the team, pick the players or in any way support anything called a Dellucci or a Michaels? Sorry, you're in line to get clipped just like everyone else. I'm pretty sure after the LGT firing spree is over, the only person left is going to be the dude that sets off the fireworks on Friday nights. He's going to be a lonely man.

I know what you're thinking. But, Vince, this is happening TO us. We are the victims here. Lame excuse. Don't get all defensive on me here. You can't claim active fandom and then get all passive when things fall apart.

In 2008, Forbes, in one of their ever-so-scientific rankings, listed Indians fans as one of the ten least loyal in baseball. Turns out when our wife gets fat, we start looking up old girlfriends and checking out the secretary at work. (For the record, when that happens in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Boston, they buy their wives some plastic surgery.) Well, you know that saying, "No one hits my littler brother but me?" For anyone who could care less what Forbes thinks, I'm here to lay down some righteous analysis as to just what degree, exactly, Indians fans suck enough to get canned. I'm big brother and little brother in this case.

Are we good fans? Can Cleveland support a major league franchise? Is there any way we could trade that nun who always shows up for a Satanist with a direct line to Mephistopheles? Read on, youngins.

The Myth of 455

Indians fans like to defensively point to the 455 game sellout streak as some sort of badge of fan honor. Look, we are good baseball fans. We show up when the team's worth seeing. No offense, Cleveland, but all that the sellout streak confirms is that 1990's Cleveland was filled with just as many yuppies with disposable income as any other city. The ancillary to that fact is simple: bandwaggoning. Supply, demand and success meant that the Jake was a place to see and be seen. It was the simple possession of tickets, especially for corporate types, not knowledge of the team, that carried social cachet.

Don't get me wrong, the atmosphere at the stadium, the mood around the team, the palpable excitement among citizens and fans was electric and would never have been the same without The Streak. No disputing that. It's historical fact -- a document of a time in Cleveland with the perfect storm of a competitive team, no Browns, a crappy basketball team, a new stadium and a revitalized downtown entertainment district. It is not, however, a testament to the quality or quantity of the fanbase for any period of time longer than from the first sellout to the last. Let's face it, boredom and a short-term surplus of discretionary entertainment income isn't really a feather you really want in your cap.

Just peep the Tribe's attendance since 2001:

2001: Ranked 4th; 3,175,523
2002: Ranked 12th; 2,616,940
2003: Ranked 24th; 2,421,358
2004: Ranked 25th; 1,814,401
2005: Ranked 24th; 2,013,763
2006: Ranked 25th; 1,997,995
2007: Ranked 22nd; 2,275,916
2008: Ranked 22nd; 2,169,760
2009: Ranked 27th; 1,607,615 (as of this writing)

Yeppers. Look at that there 2007 attendance number. Indians fans sure come out strong when the team is winning. Oh, right.

Put the 455 defense to rest already.

Indians Fans are True Baseball Fans: True or False?

So what cities have produced comparable attendance numbers in the last three years -- the period from the doorsteps of the World Series to the cellar of the AL? We're talking about Pittsburgh, Oakland, Florida, D.C., Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Anyone inclined to thump their chests about how great Indians fans are after looking at that group? No, seriously, go ahead. I'll wait to count the hands. Didn't think so.

Earlier this season I attended a Red Sox vs. Indians game. Naturally, "The Nation" was in full effect -- louder than the Tribe fans, more into the game, more decked out in gear (even if it was pink and green Red Sox crap).  I was sitting in the bleachers amongst the Sawx fans when Boston made the call to the bullpen for a reliever. I didn't know who he was then and I certainly don't remember his name now, but I do remember that he had recently been called up from Pawtucket. I'm not a Red Sox fan, so I'm really not on the hook for knowing every recent AAA callup — I wouldn't expect them to know who Greg Aquino is, but I do least expect them to know their own kind.

So, like any good curious baseball fan and brave denizen of the Wahoos, I started wandering the bleachers looking for some answers. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Does anyone here wearing anything with a Sox logo on it have any idea who plays for their team? Twelve times or so I bellowed out the question to the pink and green masses. No one knew. I took a measure of pride in that, especially when I asked a guy sitting next to his girlfriend or wife and he didn't know the answer, and especially especially when the girlfriend's eyes immediately told him and me that he was less of a man than he was seconds before I accosted him with the reasonable inquiry.

And it was a completely reasonable question. I mean, even if these guys were born and raised in Willoughby — which, they were, but it's okay since Willoughby is like basically Southie, right, brah? — they claimed Sox allegiance and the rules, unwritten though they may be, are sacrosanct, and they say that you know your guys. These schlubs, sadly, did not, and this particular exercise in wit ended when one fan, looking exactly how you might expect a Boston fan to look, responded negatively to my repeated inquiries about guys that played for "his team" and  threatened to "end me." Not wanting to be "ended," I gave up, a self-satisfied look on my face nonetheless.

You don't find that kind of lack of knowledge among Indians fans.

Does that mean we're "better" fans despite the fact that no one shows up to our games while the Red Sox sell out Fenway like a mother?  (They've destroyed the Indians' 455-game streak.)

I don't know, why don't you ask the Tigers or Sox or Yankees fan sitting next to you at the Jake next time you're there.

It's the Economy, Stupid

So, why don't we go to games?

The sellout streak has probably skewed the realistic expectations for how many people should pour through the gates. If Indians fans use the streak as a defense for how supportive they can be during good times, it's just as easy for the rest of the world to point toward the attendance woes of recent years as reasons why Indians fans aren't all that and a bag of peanuts.

It's no secret that Cleveland and the surrounding areas have been absolutely taken behind the woodshed, economically speaking, for the better part of the last decade. Fans say this is why they can't go to games — the dollars just aren't there anymore.

The response from those on the other side of the argument is that the Browns still sell out, even with higher ticket prices, PSLs, steeper concession prices and parking, and, quite honestly, a more embarrassing product.

To that I would say this: Ohioans bought 380,465 gallons of Kamchatka vodka last year. This particular brand of vodka, if you aren't familiar with it, is decidedly disgusting — straight stomach-burning solvent filtered not five times like the good stuff, but likely zero. It was also the number one selling liquor in the state during 2008. Think about that for a second. When a drinking population can't even comfortably buy some Absolut, you're looking at a group of poor freaking people.

On the other hand, if Cleveland's economy has been taken behind the woodshed, Detroit's has been tied up with duct tape inside the woodshed, and yet the Tigers have managed to draw 2,320,678 fans this year, good for 13th best in the majors.

That's one way to look at the argument and it conveniently takes us to ...

"It would help if the fans showed up and came to the games. That's why the team didn't make money, because the fans weren't there, supporting the team."

You know that it was Cliff Lee who uttered that sentence, but it might as well have been one of the Dolans. That's their trademarked argument. We'll spend money when you spend money. Until then? Here's a nickel. Can I have it back now?

The Facts as I see them: I don't think fans are going to cascade through the turnstiles at the Jake until the team is demonstrably better for more than a couple years in a row. Even if they do, the Dolans are businessmen who are going to make sure their bottom line is right. The Dolans aren't going to lose as much money as they say this season thanks to revenue sharing and other avenues. The Indians will rank somewhere in the 20's in attendance save for some extraordinary confluence of circumstances (like LeBron leaving and the team advancing to the playoffs for, like, five years in a row).

The intricacies of running a baseball team in a small to mid-market have been discussed eloquently elsewhere, both in this series and the rest of this site. They've also been discussed by people with metric tons more knowledge of the economic factors involved than I possess. But if putting a competitive team on the field, or the lack of ability to do so, is going to be blamed by the owners and the players on the fans, well then, we've really crossed some sort of threshold that I didn't sign up for when I first fell in love with the Tribe.

Perhaps it's time to face the reality that while Indians fans might be better baseball fans than those in Florida, Pittsburgh, Oakland, or D.C., we'll just have to base that knowledge on something ethereal and incalculable since Cleveland's fanbase will be indistinguishable from those in the other cities based on attendance alone. If the Dolans and the likes of Cliff Lee can't see that, then they can bite me. Victor would never say something like that.

Just Because Part I: Fire This Blog

Most of us don't get paid anything at all, or, at the most, take home extremely pitiful compensation, for spending hours thinking about, researching, and writing about this team. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer gets fired from a joint he doesn't even work for? Right, well, as depressing as it may be to fire someone the charitable equivalent of a volunteer, it must be done. If there's anything more pathetic that the group of people who get paid good money to put the lousy product known as the Indians on the field year after year, it's the group of people who get paid literally nothing to cover them. Ditto goes for those that read and comment on those blogs. I recommend taking up a more rewarding hobby. Maybe knitting or coin collecting.You don't want to be the Wal-Mart greeter of baseball fans.

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