Springtime Storylines: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

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Cleveland Block C Cap.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Hello, everybody, Harry Doyle here, welcoming all you Friends of the Feather to another season of Indians baseball!


The
big question: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

We won’t get to the Pirates until next week, but the Tribe has a good argument.  Mostly because of the rotation. Pop quiz, hot shot: how many other teams’ rotations would Jake Westbrook, Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona make? A few? Sure, probably. Now on how many teams would they make the top 3?  Hard to see any to be honest, but they’ll be anchoring Cleveland’s staff. Rounding things out will be Aaron Laffey and David Huff. If the scoreboard at Progressive Field wasn’t electronic the team would have to place a special order for extra crooked numbers this year.

What’s more, the pitchers won’t get much help from the defense, especially on the infield. Cabrera, Valbuena, and Peralta may be the most lyrically-named infield in baseball, but all three of them had negative UZRs last year.  Outfield is better, but not significantly so. Grady Sizemore can cover ground, so that’s nice, but Shin Soo-Choo and Matt Laporta (or Michael Brantley) aren’t any great shakes. They’ll get some offense from that crew, though, so it’s not like the outfield is a black hole or anything.

But really, it does all come back to pitching here. The Indians’ were 29th in the majors in ERA last year, and that was with Cliff Lee on the team until July 29th. Having a healthy Westbrook will be nice, I suppose it’s hard to imagine Carmona being worse this year than he was last year and the youngins are bound to improve a bit, but there’s no escaping the fact that this team is gonna get utterly destroyed by opposing hitters night-in and night-out.

So what else is going on?

  • While the Indians may be the worst major league team this year, they are far from the worst organization.  The trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee and others were depressing for Indians’ season ticket purchasers, but between those moves, good drafts and good scrap heap pickups there is a lot of young talent in the Indians’ system.
  • The stylish Manny Acta takes over in the dugout. When he was given the job in Washington people thought it was a good move because he’s supposed to be a guy who can help young prospects develop and stuff. Only problem is that Jim Bowden never gave him any. He’ll have some in Cleveland towards the end of the season and definitely in 2011. In the meantime, though, his life is going to seem a lot like it did in D.C.: poor talent, little chance to compete and a mandate to keep morale up. With better talent in the pipeline he may find it easier to be optimistic with the Tribe than it was with the Nats.
  • Believe it or not, the Indians are still in the process of trying to unload veterans.  If Kerry Wood has anything more than a weak pulse this summer you can bet he’ll be shopped. Same with Jhonny Peralta.  Any other guy over the age of 25 or so who does anything this season is likely headed to the trading block too, at least for a look-see. Only problem is that the guys they want to move the most have rather ugly contracts: $11.5 million for Travis Hafner, $11 million
    for Jake Westbrook and
    $10.5 million for Wood.
  • The most interesting question in Cleveland this year — at least for people who don’t get off on rebuilding and prospect watching — will be whether Grady Sizemore can return to elite status. Sizemore underwent surgeries to repair his left elbow and abdominal wall last
    September, ending a very disappointing season for a guy who, before then, was considered one of the best players in the game. It’s almost certain that it was the elbow injury and not sudden-suck syndrome that led to the down year, so I’m fairly confident that he’ll rebound.

So how
are they gonna do?

It’s not a team that’s built to compete in 2010, but it will be
competing again soon. In the meantime, Tribe fans should enjoy the fact
that there are plenty of available seats in a pretty nice ballpark. The media will focus on the near-empty stadium and the dismal nightly performances, but the Indians’ situation is not totally hopeless. Just hopeless for 2010.

Prediction: Last place in the AL Central and challenging for the worst record in baseball.

NOTE: Unlike I have for every other team, I will not use the official logo for the Indians (or, like with the Tigers, a vintage official logo).  Why? Because while I don’t get bent out of shape at the team being called “The Indians,” Chief Wahoo is a racist freakin’ logo and I’m not giving him any time face time.  If you insist on it I will write a post next week explaining in brutal detail why I feel this way, but I have covered this before (and here’s a wonderfully comprehensive take on it from some Indians fans).  Besides: the block C alternate cap Cleveland uses is by far the coolest cap in the game. They should totally wear that all the time.

UPDATE: I’m a moron. That cap I had previously pictured above was not the official Block C cap the Indians have used as alternates the past couple of years. It was an original design made by Paul Cousineau at The DiaTribe blog, for a post he did back in January re-imagining the Indians’ uniforms. The real hat — which is up there now — doesn’t have the white piping It’s a great post, by the way.

Former outfielder Anthony Gose is throwing 99 m.p.h. fastballs in the minors

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Anthony Gose played for five seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues. He never hit well enough to be a regular, and a series of altercations with his minor league managers and coaches didn’t do too much for his future either.

His fastball, however, may eventually make up for all of that.

Toward the end of spring training it was reported that Gose would begin work as a pitcher. Given that he was a highly regarded high school pitching prospect with a plus fastball, it wasn’t a crazy notion. When Tigers camp broke, Gose stayed in Lakeland in extended spring training, throwing bullpen sessions and stuff.

Now he’s seeing game action. As the Detroit Free Press reports, Gose threw an inning for the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers against the Palm Beach Cardinals last night. He allowed one run on one hit with one strikeout and one walk, lighting up the radar gun at 99 m.p.h. This is the tweet from Lakeland’s assistant general manager:

The Free Press says that the Tigers’ vice president of player development, Dave Littlefield, is “very optimistic” about Gose’s progress.

Given that he’s still only 26 and he’s a lefty it wouldn’t shock me at all if he makes his way back to the bigs someday soon.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.