I love Cleveland sports. Often, this love is unrequited, to say the least.
Like thousands of other tortured souls, I live and die with all three of our professional teams (and by “live and die,“ I mainly reference the former). As Cleveland fans, we spend superfluous amounts of time analyzing our teams’ respective performances, whether we are lauding or criticizing management, coaching, or the players themselves. However, our commentary is usually limited to the what happens on the field, or what contributes to the product each team puts on the field. Today, that’s not what I’m interested in. I want to take a little time to discuss the choices that each of our beloved franchises should make which would have absolutely no bearing on performance. And as for the title, I suppose we already have a monarch who resides in Akron. Perhaps I should rename this piece “If I Were Duke…” (and by Duke, I don’t mean the headhunting Yankees closer from Major League).
First order of business: curing a bit of what ails the Indians. Prior to offering suggestions for reform, I’m obligated to commend the Indians for one move and one non-move. Sacking John Sanders as the television play-by-play analyst was brilliant, albeit long overdue. Sanders is, 1) a former Pittsburgh broadcaster, 2) a former weatherman (huh?), both of which totally disqualified him to call Tribe games. Remember when he started ripping off Tom Hamilton’s “corner of Carnegie and Ontario” line? The nerve of that guy...
Another tip of the cap to Indians management for thus far avoiding the rumored stadium name change. Supposedly we were/are close to having “National City Bank Park.” The “Gnat”? Yuck. Let’s hope the Dolans can ink a deal with former owner Dick Jacobs so that the ballpark remains “Jacobs Field.” I’d sleep easier.
I was alarmed when I turned on my radio for the first Tom Hamiton broadcast of the season to learn that the Indians’ campy intro tune “Talkin’ Tribe” had been replaced by a nauseating imposter. “Talkin’ Tribe” has been an Indians hallmark for as long as I can remember, and I think someone should initiate a grassroots effort to resurrect it. “Talkin‘ Tribe“ was the best way to let young fans know that, “We’ve got a future, we’re headed to the top!”
My most significant Tribe-related grievance: the phasing out, and imminent termination of our venerated mascot, Chief Wahoo. I like the script “I” logo, but its arrival shouldn’t cost us the Chief. Instead of distancing themselves from Chief Wahoo, the Indians should be embracing him. Political correctness being what it is these days, you can hardly open you mouth without offending someone. But the Cleveland baseball franchise adopted the Indians nickname because there actually were Native Americans in the Cleveland area at one time. It’s a tribute, not an insult. The Indians nickname doesn’t offend me, and I’m 1/64th Native American (with the facts to back it up). If there’’s really somebody out there’s who’s offended because they happen to resemble the Chief, well, they’ve got bigger problems than a cartoon character. Chief Wahoo is a loveable caricature, and it’s time for the Tribe to totally revere him, as it should.
The Tribe needs to have more fun (tasteful, of course) with the “Indians” nickname. Remember the giant batting Chief Wahoo who proudly perched atop Cleveland Municipal Stadium? He was about to take a whale of a swing, and The Jake should employ a similar figure on the exterior of the stadium. And nothing against Stonehenge (Heritage Park) in center field, but that’s prime real estate for a giant tepee. Think of the possibilities … Slider could live there, and it could emit smoke signals and fireworks at appropriate times. How cool would that be?
The Cavaliers are the next team on the docket, and my number one gripe is the firing of longtime television man Michael Reghi. In addition to the firing of a broadcaster in such proximity to the season’s start being completely unprofessional, Reghi did a terrific job, and did not deserve dismissal. Fans don’t expect much from a local NBA broadcast, but Reghi’s genuine love for the Cavaliers and city itself was obvious, and his unbridled enthusiasm was infectious. Not to mention that he and Austin Carr shared a high degree of chemistry and a collective love for DiGiorno Pizza. I’m not here to bash Fred McLeod, he doesn’t do a bad job, but Michael Reghi was an institution in Cleveland, and he was sorely missed this season. Every time I go to the gym, I “lift and lace a triple” just for Reghi. (Standing a slight 5’ 10”, I’m unable to “come out of the attic”.)
Other the whole Reghi thing, there’s not too much I’d change on the Wine and Gold side of things. I think the Cavs could do away with the Scream Team, they don’t do much for me. One more thing: retired numbers. The Cavaliers have far too many retired numbers. I’m all for celebrating a team’s history, but the sad fact is that the Cavs just don’t have that much history to glorify. The only thing worse than lacking history is faking it. Here are the retired Cavs: Austin Carr, Brady Daugherty, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, and Nate Thurmond. Obviously, Daugherty, Nance, and Price are worthy of the rafters, and I suppose we can put Carr’s number 34 up there as well, seeing as he was the team’s first star. Although he played in Cleveland for 10 years, Bingo Smith’s number has no business being retired considering that he only averaged 13 points per game over that period, without any other notable statistics. As for Nate Thurmond, he was a great player, and one of the great rebounders in NBA history. However, he didn’t even spend two full seasons in Cleveland, and only played 114 games in Cavs colors. He was a great player, but not in Cleveland. Thurmond’s number 42 should not be retired.
Last but certainly not least is our once proud football franchise, the Cleveland Browns. Earlier, I promised to keep this discussion off the field, but I simply can’t when it comes to the Browns. The first Browns season I remember vividly is 1994, when I was seven. That gives me 14 years (minus three, unfortunately) of Browns viewing experience, and during that period, the Browns have qualified for the playoffs only twice. The Browns’ record since ‘94, you ask? 64-115 (postseason included), good for a paltry .358 clip. Hey Browns, win more games.
As opposed to professional baseball and basketball games, a fundamental difference in NFL games is that the mascot is not a focal point of the organization’s “game experience.” But I think we can all agree that is no excuse for having a lousy mascot. Actually, the Browns don’t have a lousy mascot, they have four of them (CB, Chomps, TD, and Trapper; those goofy dogs you see running around at home games). It’s time for the Browns to make a stand, and either streamline those four canines into one fearsome flea bag, or choose a different mascot. If I had it my way, the Browns would nix the dogs altogether and rejuvenate the Brownie Elf. (Is it me, or does the elf bear a striking resemblance to the Notre Dame Leprechaun, given the events of last weekend?) Make the Brownie the official mascot and not only would the Browns have a superior mascot, but they would have another link to their glorious past, as the Brownie was the team’’s mascot upon the Browns’ inception in 1946.
Speaking of honoring the past, just like the Cavs, the Browns need to sort out some number-related affairs. Two of the Browns’ greatest and most-beloved players, Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe, do not have their numbers retired. I would like to see both numbers retired, especially Kosar’s #19. However, I realize that with a roster size of 53, pragmatically speaking, NFL teams can’t retire scads of numbers. So here’s my alternative: make sure that whoever wears the Kosar’s #19, or Sipe’s #17, is worthy of the honor. And who, pray tell, is sporting Sipe’s digits? Braylon Edwards. Edwards doesn’t cut it. Make guys who want to wear either 17 or 19 earn it.
Will any of these changes help the Browns, Cavs, or Indians win any more games? Nope. In the scheme of things, do I think that any of the teams give a damn about these prospective changes? Negative. But I do think that these changes all represent an improvement from a fan‘s perspective. In professional sports, winning is paramount, and serves as the ultimate remedy. But with a fan base so accustomed to failure, from time to time, maybe we should be content to settle for fan-friendliness.