Daily Dose: The Dice-Man Cometh (Back)

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No one seemed to know quite what to expect from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return to the rotation Tuesday night, but he looked like the effectively wild 2008 version instead of the totally ineffective 2009 version. Starting for the first time since June 19 he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, struck out six, worked primarily in the low-90s, and held the Angels scoreless for six frames for just his second victory of the season.
Matsuzaka was far from perfect, throwing just 52 of 93 pitches for strikes and issuing three walks, but even while going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA last year control was always an issue. Prior to coming off the disabled list Matsuzaka had a 3.86 ERA and 23/9 K/BB ratio in 21 innings while rehabbing his strained shoulder in the minors, so there is some reason for optimism even beyond Tuesday night’s impressive return.
While the Red Sox give Matsuzaka a three-week audition for October here are some other notes from around baseball …

* After various setbacks and altered timetables Jake Peavy is officially scheduled to make his White Sox debut Saturday against the Royals. Sidelined since June 8 with an ankle injury and then elbow problems, Peavy is finally ready to return now that the White Sox are basically out of the playoff mix. Kansas City is a favorable matchup to return to, but Peavy is expected to be on a limited pitch count initially.
* After three straight rough outings Cliff Lee bounced back in a big way Tuesday with a complete-game shutout against the Nationals, making him 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts for Philadelphia. Lee has averaged over seven innings per start since the July 29 trade that sent six players to Cleveland, completing three of his nine outings while posting a 60/9 K/BB ratio in 64 innings.
* Carlos Zambrano struggled Tuesday night amid reports that the Cubs plan to shop him this offseason, giving up five runs over five innings in a no-decision against the Brewers. He had a season-high nine strikeouts, but walked four, uncorked two wild pitches, and coughed up a 4-0 lead. Zambrano is owed $18 million per year through 2012, yet has ERAs of 3.95, 3.91, and now 3.94 during the past three seasons.
* News that the Rangers are skipping Kevin Millwood’s next turn in the rotation would raise lots of eyebrows if not for the fact that he’s 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA in his last five starts and 2-5 with a 6.29 ERA in a dozen outings since July 1. Even still rumors are swirling that MLB has told the financially struggling team to limit future commitments and Millwood is just 4.1 innings away from triggering a $12 million option for 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Victor Martinez left the team Tuesday due to an undisclosed personal issue and Kevin Youkilis was out of the lineup with back spasms… Andy Pettitte has been scratched from Wednesday’s start with a sore shoulder … Detroit will pay $18 million to Magglio Ordonez next year after his plate appearance-based option vested Tuesday … David Ortiz went 2-for-4 with a homer Tuesday, surpassing last season’s long-ball total with 24 … Michael Young (hamstring) rejoined the lineup Tuesday as a designated hitter after being out all month … Jarrod Washburn left Tuesday’s start with knee pain after giving up four runs in the first inning … Brett Tomko will have his next start skipped after complaining of elbow discomfort following his complete-game shutout Monday … Travis Snider homered twice Tuesday, but also struck out for the 38th time in 86 at-bats since returning from Triple-A … Tim Wakefield (back) threw a bullpen session Tuesday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return to the rotation.
NL Quick Hits: Adam Wainwright was denied his 19th victory Tuesday despite seven innings of two-run ball … Chipper Jones (groin) is expected to miss at least two more games and could be sidelined for the entire week … Jose Valverde was unavailable again Tuesday because of a 101-degree fever … Adam LaRoche went 4-for-4 with two homers Tuesday and is batting .351 with 12 homers in 40 games since returning to Atlanta … Aaron Cook (shoulder) threw a simulated game Tuesday and reported “no pain” and “a little rust” … Mike Hampton is expected to miss all of next season and may be forced to retire after undergoing rotator cuff surgery Tuesday … Tommy Hanson tossed seven shutout innings Tuesday, allowing three hits while improving to 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA … Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he’s uncertain when Troy Glaus (oblique) will return … Francisco Rodriguez was unavailable Tuesday after his wife gave birth to twins … Manny Parra (neck) will have an MRI exam Wednesday.

Will Kyle Schwarber play in the field in Chicago?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In his comments after last night’s game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon would not rule out the possibility of Kyle Schwarber playing left field as the World Series shifts to Wrigley Field.

The issue, though, is that it’s not yet his call to make. Schwarber will receive a medical exam today to determine whether his surgically-repaired left knee is sound enough for play in the field. Probably in left field, with Ben Zobrist likely moving to right. It’s a dicey proposition even if he’s healthy, given that he’s a defensive liability even at 100%. And given that his injury happened due to an outfield collision in the first place.

But even if Schwarber isn’t available for the lineup, he can still be a pinch-hitting threat. In Game 2 on Wednesday he hit two RBI singles and drew a walk. His presence could alter Terry Francona’s strategy, even if it’s limited.

What would be a good new name for the Cleveland Indians?

SYDNEY, NSW - JANUARY 23:  A Redback Spider is pictured at the Australian Reptile Park January 23, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. The Redback, probably Australia's best-known deadly spider is found all over Australia and is a close relative of the Black Widow Spider from the U.S. Only the female Redback is considered dangerous, with their venom containing neurotoxins, which works very slowly. Fatalities, even from untreated bites, are rare. Australia is home to some of the most deadly and poisonous animals on earth.  (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
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All of the Chief Wahoo talk of the past few days inevitably leads to talk about the Indians changing their nickname as well, not just their mascot.

I’ll grant that there is an argument to be made that they are somewhat different issues as Wahoo is so patently and facially offensive while “Indians” is not quite as viscerally repulsive. I’m not sure I buy that argument — I’d like to see all Native American names, Braves included, go away just to be neat and tidy about it all — but there have been discussions in other sports leagues that have led to accommodations in which Native American names and sports have continued to live on respectfully together, so it is theoretically possible.

But let’s leave that for another day. For now, let’s assume for the sake of off-day argument that Major League Baseball and Indians owner Paul Dolan decide that, in addition to Chief Wahoo going, the “Indians” name is going to go too. I don’t think they’ll actually do this — my guess is that the Cleveland baseball team will be called the Indians for a long time — but let’s just pretend that the two of them have a beer at the Winter Meetings and it’s decided that, going forward, “The Cleveland Indians” will cease to be.

If that happens, what do we call them? Let’s run down some possibilities:

The Cleveland Spiders

The overwhelming answer most people give when the subject of renaming the Indians comes up is “The Cleveland Spiders.” This is understandable, as there was once a Major League team in Cleveland called the Spiders and because no other North American professional sports team has a spider as a nickname or mascot somehow. I don’t like it, though, for a couple of reasons.

A primary reason is that it just seems really 1990s to me. I’m shocked an NBA expansion franchise didn’t use it, actually, complete with black and teal and a ridiculously over-aggressive cartoon mascot because, in the 1990s, everything had to be all grim and gritty and hardcore like that. I can see “Spiders” being treated better than that now than it may have been then, but I could still see all kinds of aesthetic missteps being taken, turning the Indians into a low-level laughingstock.

We’ll leave that aside for a moment, however. A bigger reason is that the name “Spiders” is a reminder of abject failure when it comes to Cleveland baseball.

Contrary to what many believe, the Cleveland Spiders were not a direct ancestor of the Indians. The Spiders started as an American Association team known alternatively as the “Forest Cities” — a mostly disused nickname for Cleveland — and the “Blues.” When they moved to the National League in 1889, they became known as the “Spiders.” Ohio’s own Cy Young starred for them and they had some pretty decent success in the NL in the early 1890s.

The Spiders were most memorable, however, for their ignominious end. They declined from 1895-1898, becoming a middle of the pack club. 1899, however, saw the Spiders experience the worst debacle a major league club has ever experienced. The Spiders owners purchased the St. Louis Browns the offseason before — which is clearly a conflict of interest — and transferred most of the good Spiders players, Cy Young included, to St. Louis. They then turned the Spiders into a sideshow, quite literally, actually, moving most of the team’s schedule to the road. The Spiders were the jobbers of the National League. The Washington Generals without the sympathy. They finished 20–134, which will forever stand as the worst record in baseball history. They finished 84 games out of first place and 35 games behind the next-to-last place team in the league.

The Spiders were so bad that year that they, along with three other NL teams, were contracted out of existence at the end of the season. Ironically, this cleared out some markets and paved the way for the Western League to ramp up to major league status and become the American League we all know today. Which means that the Spiders pathetic futility is the very reason the Cleveland Indians exist.

People usually aren’t thinking about that futile end when they talk about calling the Cleveland team the Spiders. I think most just like the brief nod to history and believe that spiders are badass animals. But it’s hard for me to not think of the Spiders as a relic of one baseball’s darkest chapters. And I’m sorta freaked out by spiders, so they’re not my first choice.

The Cleveland Blues

The Spiders were known as the Blues at times in the 1890s. Nicknames were a lot more fluid then. The name returned to Cleveland baseball when the American League expanded to Cleveland in 1901. For one season, the club that would become the Indians was referred to as the Blues.

There are pros and cons to “Blues” as a name. On the pro-side is an actual connection to the current franchise. Another is the fact that colors-as-nicknames work really well in sports. This goes back to chariot racing in Roman times, by the way, when fans at the Coliseum would root for their favorite chariot driver based on the color of the cloth hanging from his chariot. You were a partisan of the “red” or the “blue” or what have you. In baseball we have the “Reds” and the “Red Sox” and “White Sox.” It’s an extension of that. We see this in soccer and rugby and a lot of international sports too. Blue is a pretty popular color for baseball teams and the Indians already wear a whole lot of blue, but if they change their name to the Blues they could claim it in baseball more affirmatively than other teams do.

The con is one of concrete identity, in that the modern sports economy really pressures a club to have something that can be easily slapped on logos and merchandise. There are some super venerable nicknames like “Dodgers” and “Yankees” which do just fine not being reduced to an actual mascot — the name or initials and a distinctive font is enough — but I’m not sure if the Blues could pull that off so easily. If forced to choose between selling caps with a spider on it and caps with a some vaguely 19th century concept of blue on it, MLB and New Era and all of the stakeholders are gonna pick the Spiders every time, I suspect.

Some Actual Tribe Variant 

Many older Native Americans call themselves “Indians.” “Native Americans” has been taken up by non-indigenous people to refer to indigenous people, but my understanding is that indigenous people don’t often walk around calling themselves “Native Americans” among themselves. They call themselves “Blackfeet” or “Cherokee” or “Navajo” or “Chippewa” or what have you. The link way up at the top of this page goes to the Florida State Seminoles webpage. Florida State may have begun calling themselves that for the same reasons the Indians and Braves and other teams started using Native American nicknames and mascots, but there has since been a dialogue and endorsement from the Seminole Tribe and the university which has rendered the nickname acceptable to most and has seen to it that people and their iconography are not treated disrespectfully.

I don’t know how that has been received by the larger Native American community — I could imagine it still being seen as controversial — but I suppose it’s at least possible for the Indians to take that tack and see if some positive can be made out of so many years of negative portrayal. It’d be a pretty dicey proposition, though, as it would be a process driven by the Indians and Major League Baseball that would be, in essence, asking people for permission that they are in no way entitled to. It’d make Major League Baseball’s century of tone-deafness on the matter of nicknames someone else’s problem, which seems rather rude and presumptuous. And that’s before you realize that, because of the United States’ policy of removing Native Americans from their lands and screwing them over royally for a couple of centuries, there aren’t exactly a ton of Native Americans left in northern Ohio to bestow such permission. I could see it happening in theory, but there may be too many obstacles and too much water under the bridge to even consider it. And that’s before one asks why it’s so important to keep Native American names associated with professional baseball to begin with. Which I don’t think it is. Just throwing it out there.

Cleveland BC

Major League Soccer screwed up in the 1990s by immediately assigning nicknames to every club. They did it, I suspect, because clubs in all other North American professional sports have set nicknames and that’s just what is done, right? But that wasn’t always the case. Many of them developed organically, with the name being suggested by the press or the fans or as tributes to some local idiosyncrasy. MLS has backed off that now, with new teams being allowed to just be identified as the city and “SC” or “FC” or what have you, tracking the habit of international soccer. For teams that were given a nickname — my local Columbus Crew, for example — the nickname is being deemphasized and an organic identity, driven by fans, is being allowed to take hold.

There’s no reason baseball couldn’t do this. Heck, the Indians have their own history of this, as they were known as the “Naps” for the years between the Blues and Indians monikers. That was to honor the club’s biggest star at the time, Napoleon Lajoie, and it went away after he did. There is no way that specific method happens today due to free agency and clubs having no interest in tying their identity to one player (the “Cleveland Klubers? Eh. No), but some natural evolution of a name could come about.

Maybe you start with the “Blues” as an unofficial/official nickname. Call them “Cleveland BC” and refer to them as “the Blues” and see what happens over the course of a couple of years. Maybe that can’t work in the modern era. Maybe those cap sales would suffer too much. But it seems worth a try.

That’d be my choice, anyway. “Cleveland BC. — Go Blues!”

Any ideas of your own?