Houston Astros v Pittsburgh Pirates

Who, exactly, expects the Astros to be good?


A silly column from Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.com today. In it he looks at the Astros who, I think anyway, everyone expects to be a really bad team who will finish in last place.  Knobler, though, is reading people I haven’t read yet:

Someone’s going to be wrong about the Astros. Someone’s going to be very wrong.

Maybe it’s us. Maybe it’s them. Maybe it’s the baseball bloggers who love them. Maybe it’s the traditional baseball men who hate them.

To illustrate this alleged dichotomy, Knobler cites some scouts who, perhaps jokingly, predict 40 wins for the Astros. Or less. The best he can do in citing a “blogger” who “loves” the Astros is his CBS colleague Dayn Perry. Except what apparently qualifies as “love” is saying that the Astros will be terrible now but in four years they won’t be laughingstocks.  That’s the “love.”

At this point it’s probably worth noting that the last historically-awful team was the 2003 Detroit Tigers. They lost 119 games! Three years later they were in the World Series. As such, I don’t think saying the Astros won’t be comic relief in four years is the sort of irrational bloggy love Knobler makes it out to be.

And make no mistake, he is clearly of the view that there is irrational love on the part of we Internet people when it comes to the Astros. Why? Tribalism!

Luhnow was an easy target for traditional baseball types, and the way he built the Astros front office has only fed the perception he wants to change everything about how the game is run … They even hired writers and bloggers to help work in baseball operations … No wonder the bloggers love them.

I love the Braves, and they run their front office on moxie and Commodore 64s as far as I can tell. But if I’m wrong about that it’s no more wrong than Knobler is about the Astros’ big “bloggy” front office moves:

“I think a lot of people out there think it’s a lot of guys with spreadsheets making baseball decisions,” Kevin Goldstein said. “It’s just not true.”

Goldstein came to the Astros from Baseball Prospectus, and there were certainly eyebrows raised when he was named the team’s pro scouting coordinator. But in his first seven months on the job, Goldstein has proven to be a lot more scout-friendly than some in baseball (and in the blogger world) would have expected.

Kevin Goldstein has been writing from a scout’s perspective for years. When he was with Baseball Prospectus he scouted. And his biggest sources were scouts. He even wore a bad scout fedora years before he was hired by the Astros. And the Astros hired him to, you know, run their friggin’ scouting department. The dude is legit. In light of all of that, the only people who find Goldstein to be more “scout-friendly” than expected never read his work before and assume that anyone who writes on the Internet is informed by some outdated (if it ever was true) idea of a computer baseball enthusiast stuck in his mother’s basement. It’s funny. Knobler’s whole column is about how two camps have competing narratives but the whole thing itself is an exercise in narrative.

A phony one, really. I’d love to see links to any bloggers who think the Astros are actually going to be good this year. I’d love to hear how saying “they’re going to stink, but they probably won’t set all-time records for futility because such teams are really, really rare” constitutes “love.”

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?