Giles an underappreciated superstar

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giles padres.jpg.315/.418/.614, 39 HR, 115 RBI
.315/.432/.594, 35 HR, 123 RBI
.309/.404/.590, 37 HR, 95 RBI
.298/.450/.622, 38 HR, 103 RBI
That was the four-season run Brian Giles had from the time he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1999 through 2002. Of course, it was a time of whopping numbers, so Giles never led the NL in a major category. He finished fifth, ninth, 10th and second in the NL in OPS those years, though. And all he had to show for it was two All-Star appearances and a high finish of 13th in the MVP balloting, that coming in 2002.
A 17th-round pick of the Indians in 1989, Giles had the misfortune of trying to climb his way through one of the games most stocked organizations during the early-to-mid-90s. It certainly didn’t help matters that he didn’t hit for power in the low minors. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A in 1993, hitting .327/.409/.452. A similar year followed in Triple-A in 1994, but the Indians didn’t have any room for him. He ended up posting OPSs of 869, 896 and 989 while spending most of three seasons in Triple-A. The Indians found a role for him in 1997, and he hit a respectable .268/.368/.459 in 377 at-bats that year and .269/.396/.460 in 350 at-bats in 1998. But rather than commit to him as a full-time player, the Indians, helped by John Hart at the time, instead traded him to the Pirates for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon that November.
Giles was an instant star in Pittsburgh, at least on the field. His 115 RBI in 1999 was the high total for a Pirate since Barry Bonds had 116 in 1991. He became the first Pirate to turn in back-to-back .300-30-100 seasons. His first four seasons rank fifth, eighth, 10th and 15th on the team’s all-time list for OPS. He ended up spending 5 1/2 years in Pittsburgh before being traded to the Padres for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, something else that paid off big for the franchise. He currently ranks as the franchise’s all-time leader in OPS at 1018, topping Ralph Kiner at 971.
With Petco Park taking a heavy toll, Giles stopped putting up superstar numbers upon arriving in San Diego in 2003. Still, he was an outstanding player in 2005, when he hit .301/.423/.483 and finished a career-best ninth in the MVP balloting. He also excelled as a 37-year-old in 2008, hitting .306/.398/.456 in 559 at-bats. Unfortunately, he fell apart all at once last year. He hit just .191/.277/.271 in 253 at-bats before the Padres essentially told him to take the rest of the season off. Still hampered by physical problems this spring, he chose to retire Thursday rather than carry on with a long shot bid to make the Dodgers.
Unfortunately, while Giles was very clearly one of the NL’s best players for a time, he was never recognized as such. His big seasons in Pittsburgh came for sub-.500 teams that got no attention at all. He went to the postseason twice with the Padres, but he failed to excel in the spotlight. He went 7-for-27 with just two RBI as the Padres lost back-to-back NL Divisional Series to the Cardinals in 2005 and ’06. In all, he was a career .208/.311/.286 hitter in 77 postseason at-bats, most of them coming in Cleveland before he had really established himself.
I certainly don’t expect any sympathy for Giles. He made more than $80 million over the course of his career. I suspect that both he and his younger brother Marcus abused performance-enhancing drugs at various points of their careers, though there’s no evidence that Brian ever failed a drug test. Giles was also accused of domestic violence and sued for $10 million by a longtime partner, and while we have no way of knowing the truth behind her stories, there’s a pretty damning video still floating around that appears to show Giles beating the woman in a bar.
But on the field, Giles was a true star for a time, one who put a bunch of wins on the board for some otherwise lousy or mediocre teams. He ranks with Bobby Abreu, Robin Ventura and Mike Cameron among the game’s most underrated players of the last 20 years. He finishes his career with an outstanding .291/.400/.502 line and 287 homers. His 902 OPS ranks 64th all-time among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He’s not nearly a Hall of Famer given his late start and lack of defensive value, but he did play like one when he was at his best.

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?