FanPost

Golden Age-ism and the "Cleveland Isn't a Baseball Town" Myth

I pasted the following from a response in a game wrap thread that went on a little longer than I anticipated, so I pasted it here, where it might be more appropriate, if this fairly well-worn topic actually produces some conversation.

Color me skeptical of the “Cleveland isn’t a baseball town” argument. The lack of attendance at Indians games owes to the way a peculiar set of peculiar, highly contingent circumstances that unfolded over time to produce a unique situation, not the character of the city as a “baseball town.” It goes back to the twinned ideas “Jacobs is a civic hero, Dolan is cheap.” Jacobs bought the team for $35 mil., used his political connections to have a taxpayer-financed stadium built, and benefited from Hank Peters’s excellent team building blueprint, the absence of football, and a period of widely perceived economic prosperity to pack the Jake for a few years. With the Browns about to return and John Hart having traded away what was left of a system that was no longer producing elite talent, Jacobs held a blind auction to squeeze every last penny from his investment, and Larry Dolan unwittingly offered tens of millions of dollars more than the next highest bidder.

Jacobs retired a civic hero who helped to usher in the “golden age” of contemporary-era Indians baseball. While he certainly presided over a number of impressive teams, his FOs were no less beholden to the bottom line of turning a profit than the people who work under Dolan. As we have seen, however, Jacobs had the luxury of a new stadium, no Browns, an economic boom that revitalized downtown Cleveland for a spell, and, until John Hart traded the young talent away for a series of competent, unspectacular stopgaps like Kevin Seitzer, Ricardo Rincon and Bob Wickman, a loaded farm system that produced a string of superstar bats. Enter Dolan, who, despite authorizing the highest payrolls in team history while in a far more precarious personal financial predicament, is seen as a cheapskate. Here, I tend to think the economic downturn that has rocked NE Ohio since the early aughts, the failure by the FO to target aggressively the correct players for extensions (CC could have been extended at the time for less than the Hafner and Westbrook deals, for example), and the resort to fan bashing by a FO that was spectacularly awful at PR (blaming the trades on lack of attendance is dumb even if its true) in the wake of the high profile trades which jettisoned talent that should and could have been retained all conspired to paint the current Indians ownership in the least sympathetic of colors.

Unfortunately, this unique clusterfuck wasn’t created overnight and won’t go away by itself. I agree that it will take a couple years of sustained contention to bring people back to the park, but I don’t see any reason related to the character of the typical Cleveland sports fan and their predilection (or lack thereof) for baseball that demonstrates why attendance cannot exceed 2.5 mil per year in the near future. With Francona and Swisher, we have some useful assets on this team that draw on the team’s rich history and can help connect the Indians to fans who have been disaffected by various circumstances beyond (long term economic downturn, Browns return, etc.) and within (poor use of financial resources, horrible PR) the team’s control. I’m looking forward to the resurgence, and, with it, a time when “Cleveland isn’t a baseball town” will no longer be seen as a useful explanation for a mediocre team in a peculiar predicament shaped by forces largely outside its own control.

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