Progressive Field

The Cleveland Indians are taking social media really, really seriously


I may waste about 93% of my day cracking wise on Twitter, but I’m no social media expert. I can’t say, therefore, what an aggressive social media initiative can do for a business.  I understand how buzz can make people click YouTube videos and low transaction cost things like that, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to figuring out whether one’s efforts to translate buzz into cash on the barrel head are truly working. I do know this, though: the Cleveland Indians are going to figure it out before any other baseball team does.

The Indians took a big step into social media last year, getting active on Twitter and Facebook and doing fun things like launching the Tribe Social Deck, which was a dedicated and decked-out space in the left field seats for bloggers and tweeters and stuff.  I was invited to the Social Deck a couple of times last season. It was great fun and led to some connections between some plugged-in Indians fans and me.  This year, however, the Indians are ramping things up in a major way. There’s a video press release of it here, but here are the relevant details:

For starters, they have moved the Social Deck from left field to an actual suite, and have renamed it the Indians Social Suite.  The team will continue to invite social media mavens to the space this year on a game-by-game basis (you can apply for an invite here).  I’ll be in the Social Suite on Opening Day as the Indians take on the White Sox next Friday and I’ll be tweeting and blogging and stuff from there.

And yes, I’d be blogging about all of this even if I hadn’t been invited. There is certainly a public relations aspect to all of this, but the Indians have made a point to invite bloggers who are critical of the team. Heck, I’ve been critical of the team and will continue to be as criticism is warranted, and they’ve continued to be swell to me.  Not that I’ll name any names, but a lot of other clubs could take a hint. Some ballparks won’t let you bring an iPad in.  Others have media relations people who seek out bloggers and try to intimidate them when they write negative stuff.  Get a clue fellas.

Beyond the Social Suite, the Indians are introducing discounted tickets for followers of the team’s social media outlets (i.e. Facebook and Twitter feeds).  They’re also going to be using the At Bat 11 application in the the ballpark during games, allowing fans to receive discounts on various things. I presume this means concessions and refreshments and whatnot.

Finally, they’ve released a really comprehensive list of the team’s active Twitter accounts, including Mark Shapiro (@MarkShapiro), Chris Antonetti (@IndiansGM), Manny Acta (@mactriber_11) and the Indians radio guys (@IndiansRadio).  Their PR department has long been active on Twitter (@tribetalk).  A handful of Indians players are also on Twitter, most notably Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc). Well, notable for my daughter’s purposes anyway.

Like I said: I don’t know what this could mean to the Indians bottom line. Social media is a world where, I suspect, more people are making money by selling their services as so-called social media experts than by actually using social media to sell products.  In this, it’s akin to the California Gold Rush and any number of other times in history where those working on the periphery selling dry goods and the like do better than those actually mining for gold.

But the Indians are a team in a competitive funk in a financially-challenged city with a declining population.  They have nothing to lose here, and they should be credited for trying something new to drum up interest.  Good for them for being creative.

The Days of Chief Wahoo are numbered

Fox Entertainment

One of the more common responses to what I’ve posted about Chief Wahoo lately is “it’s just a cartoon character! Nobody cares!”

Well, looking at that guy in the photo above and many others dressed like him at Progressive Field the past two days is evidence that it is not just a cartoon character. A certain swath of Indians fans think that, because of their team’s name and mascot, it’s totally acceptable to show up in public looking like this. Wahoo as an official trademark of a Major League Baseball club gives people license to dress up in redface — or in this case, red and blackface — with headdresses on, turning a real people and a real culture into a degrading caricature. It’s not just a cartoon character by a long shot. To many it’s a get-out-being-called-a-racist-free card.

As for “nobody cares,” well, yes, someone does. Go read this from Sterling HolyWhiteMountain over at ESPN, talking about both Chief Wahoo as a symbol and America’s treatment and conception of Native Americans as a whole. It’s moving stuff that puts lie to the idea that “nobody cares.” It likewise puts lie to the false choice so many Chief Wahoo defenders reference in which they argue that people should care more about actual injustices visited upon Native Americans and not mascots. One can and should care about those injustices. And one can do that while simultaneously finding Chief Wahoo to be an odious symbol that serves to dehumanize people. Once people are dehumanized, it’s far easier to treat them as something less-than-human, of course.

But it’s not just Native Americans or anti-Wahoo folks like me who care. While I have been critical of Major League Baseball for not taking its own stand against Wahoo publicly, it seems pretty clear at this point that the league is weary of Wahoo and is looking to pressure the Indians to eliminate it. Last night, at the Hank Aaron Award ceremony, Manfred spoke more expansively about Wahoo than he did the day before. Manfred is a lawyer and he does not choose his words carelessly. Read this and parse it carefully:

“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.

“I’ve talked to Mr. [Indians owner and CEO Paul] Dolan about this issue. We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”

Yes, he’s still trying to be diplomatic, but note how he (a) acknowledges that Wahoo is offensive to some people; (b) that “all of us at Major League Baseball understand why” and (c) does not validate the views of those who do not find it offensive. He acknowledges that they feel that way due to history, but he does not say, as I inferred from his previous comments the day before, that both sides have merit. Indeed, he says he’d like to hear Paul Dolan’s side, suggesting that while he’ll listen to argument, he doesn’t buy the argument as it has yet to be put.

I still wish that MLB would come out hard and strong against Wahoo publicly, but the more I listen to Manfred on this and read between the lines, the more I suspect that Major League Baseball is finally fed up with Wahoo and that it wants to do something to get rid of it. That it’s not just the hobby horse of pinko liberals like me. I believe Manfred realizes that, in 2016, Chief Wahoo is an embarrassment to an organization like Major League Baseball. Maybe, because of p.r. and political considerations, he doesn’t want to stand on a soapbox about it at the World Series, but I believe he wants to put an end to it all the same.

You can call me names for being against Wahoo all you want. But you can’t say it’s a non-issue. You can’t say that it’s just a cartoon character and you can’t say that nobody cares. To do that is an exercise in denial. I have come to believe that Major League Baseball cares and that it’s going to push hard to make the 2016 World Series the last time it is embarrassed by anachronistic racism on its biggest stage ever again.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.