Back in the 1980s the Atlanta Braves tried to bill themselves as “America’s Team.” That was 100% based on the fact that they, unlike all but one other team, the Cubs, had national television coverage via a superstation. The team itself was flaming trash, however, and, not surprisingly, the “America’s Team” moniker did not stick with anyone who did not pull a paycheck from TBS or the Braves.
Before that the 1970s-80s Dallas Cowboys had a bit more success in billing themselves as “America’s Team.” They had a couple of better things going for them in that regard, including (a) the fact that they were good; (b) the fact that they got way more national coverage than a lot of teams; and (c) the fact that football tends to lend itself to more bandwagon fans than baseball does (what, you think all of those Patriots fans you know outside of New England were super into the Tony Eason years?). Even with the Cowboys, however, the “America’s Team” thing was used sarcastically and derisively by many and did not end up lasting.
In light of that you’d think that no one would really try to apply that moniker to a sports team anymore. Especially a baseball team, given how much more local baseball fandom and coverage is now compared to the way it used to be. Yet, someone is trying to do that today. Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He applies it to the Cleveland Indians:
They have become America’s team, those lovable Cleveland Indians.
They win 21 games in a row, the most by any team in American League history, and we want the streak to keep going.
We see those empty seats at Progressive Field, and we want them all filled.
We listen to manager Terry Francona’s self-deprecating humor, the front office’s wit, the unbridled passion of Francisco Lindor, and don’t want them to stop talking.
It’s Cleveland baby, the epicenter of baseball.
I can’t begrudge the excitement. The Indians have been fantastic lately. They haven’t lost in the last 21 games, you may have heard. They’ve been highly entertaining in the process, too. Francisco Lindor is showing why he is one of the most exciting players in the game. Corey Kluber has been fantastic. Players who, until recently, were not that well known outside of Cleveland like Jose Ramirez have been introduced to an increasing number of baseball fans. It’s a great team and a great story and it’s hard not to root for them, if only a little, even if your usual allegiances run to one of the other 29 clubs.
It seems possible, however, to overstate the impact of the team. I think Nightengale is doing it here. They’ll lose a game eventually. They’ll be matched up in the playoffs against Boston or New York or Houston or Minnesota — or maybe the Angels or someone else — and they’ll be met, when visitors, with 40,000 or so fans hostile to their cause. They’re a great story now, but the story will ebb and flow and, come October, they’re just gonna be one of ten teams with passionate fan bases, all of whom feel the way Nightengale feels about the Indians here.
Sorry, they’re not “America’s Team.” No one is. No one in baseball probably ever can be. It just doesn’t work that way.