September 30, 2005

Cleveland Rocks, Baby

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The Tribe has come a long way since 1974.

That season, the Cleveland Indians were the bottom-feeders of the American League. They set record lows in attendance – with an average of less than 8,000 per game. And those were tickets sold – not fans who actually showed up to old Municipal Stadium.

So the Cleveland management came up with the ultimate promotion. On June 4, 1974, the Indians sponsored “10-Cent Beer Night.” For 10 cents each, you could buy as many Strohs beers as you wanted. More than 25,000 fans showed up.

It was not a pretty sight. As early as the second inning, a woman jumped into the on-deck circle and exposed her breasts. In the fourth, a naked man inexplicably slid into second base. In the fifth, a father and son team mooned the crowd together.

By the bottom of the ninth, a steady stream of fans had made their way onto the field. Just as the Tribe was in the midst of a comeback rally, a near-riot was ignited when a fan stole the glove of Rangers second baseman Jeff Burroughs, prompting Burroughs to climb into the stands. Texas manager Billy Martin, himself a bit of a tosspot, armed himself with a bat and commanded a mission to rescue his star player from the mob.

At about this time, umpire Nestor Chylak was hit by a chair and ordered the game forfeited to the Rangers.

There will probably never be another “10-cent Beer Night.” Nowadays, at Jacobs Field, things are a bit more serene – the most exciting promotion this season was Coco Crisp bobblehead night. Without naked people and angry mobs, the Indians have quietly put together a special product – a quality baseball team. This October, the Tribe could win the World Series.

It did not look this way early on. By June, the Indians were four games under .500 and were already out of contention. But on June 4, 2005 – exactly 31 years after “Beer Night” – the Indians fired hitting coach Eddie Murray and began a remarkable turnaround.

As of right now, the Tribe is fighting the White Sox for the Central Division championship and is one of the teams fighting win the AL Wild Card. The hottest team in recent memory has been playing .750 ball for the past two months.

What’s not to like about this team? Almost exclusively home-grown, they are the anti-Yankees. They are a testament to what’s right with baseball.

Their payroll of $41.83 million ranks them 26th in the majors. Their two challengers for the Wild Card – New York and Boston – have payrolls totalling $325 million. Alex Rodriguez alone makes more than 10 times the combined salaries of the top-5 hitters in the Cleveland lineup ($2,076,900).

But, as Randy Newman once said, Cleveland is the “city of magic.” Where else could you win more than 90 games with a roster of complete unknowns? Who is Grady Sizemore? Isn’t Coco Crisp a type of cereal? Can Jhonny Peralta spell? What exactly is a “Pronk,” and why is that Travis Hafner’s nickname? How has Victor Martinez batted .386 since the All-Star Break?

The playoffs will return to Jacobs Field this year – the setting of the Tribe’s pennant winning seasons in 1995 and 1997. But unlike the star-studded rosters of Cleveland’s past winners, this year’s team bears that unmistakeable fairytale aura.

These Indians consistently silences doubters. Do they have any reliable power? The Tribe leads the majors in slugging percentage. Can their pitching carry them through the playoffs? Cleveland’s starting five is 15-3 in September.

How fitting would it be if Randy Johnson faced Cliff Lee? It is a fine match-up – they are both left-handers and they both have ERAs of 3.79. Johnson’s record is 16-8, while Lee’s is 18-5.

However, Johnson will make $15,419,815 this season. That’s almost a million dollars for each win. Lee will make $345,000 this year. That’s less than 20 thousand dollars per win.

June 4 is clearly a date that will live in infamy. It marks beer night from 1974 and the Tribe turnaround in 2005. It’s also the date Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968 and the date Giacomo Casanova – the world’s greatest lover – died in 1798.

If there is anything to love about sports this October, it’s the Tribe.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen