Bracket Breakdown, Round TWO, Part 1
By Andrew Clayman & Jeff Ellis
It's finally time to charge full force into Round Deux of 64 Since '64: the bracket style tournament that finally confirmed, once and for all, that Earnest Byner was better than Craig Ehlo. Now that the 64 are down to 32, the talent gap is thinner, the debates are testier, and the votes are likely to get a lot closer. The winners advance to the "Sweet Sixteen of So What," proving their place as mighty, modern era Cleveland sports heroes. This week, Jeff Ellis and I explore the first half of the remaining brackets, including King James' next test, a pair of former Browns teammates locking horns, and Man-Ram crossing paths with a legendary linebacker.
And now, without further ado, let us begin Round Two!
Round 2, Brown & Orange Regional
#1 LeBron James vs #8 Victor Martinez
Round 1: James def. Couch (96% of vote), Martinez def. Sherk (72%)
JEFF ELLIS: Round two begins with the Cavs and Indians respective captains of recent history. Of course, Victor has since been shipped to greener pastures (and monsters), but most of the city’s attention remains focused on the future address of King James. It’s probably safe to say that just about everyone in Cleveland would prefer to lose Victor five times over than watch LeBron suit up for the Knicks. So I don’t anticipate this one being close at all. We all know that this tournament is #23’s to lose. The question is, who can give him a contest?
ANDREW CLAYMAN: It’s not hard to find parallels between LeBron James and Victor Martinez. Both were signed by their teams as teenagers. Both became the best players and undisputed leaders of their teams right around the same time period—2004. And both players could be playing on the East Coast next year. Umm. Only kidding, of course. In any case, Victor made his mark in Cleveland to be sure: over 100 homeruns, 500 RBIs, and a .297 batting average across his eight years here. But it’s mainly just another testament to the cartoonish might of LBJ that a player of Martinez’s talents doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in this matchup. Much like his BoSox teammates, Vic can go home and enjoy the offseason, because his tournament ends here.
#4 Earnest Byner vs #5 Kenny Lofton
Round 1: Byner def. Ehlo (78%), Lofton def. Metcalf (87%)
JE: Fresh off easily besting Eric Metcalf, Kenny Lofton has his running skills challenged again by one of the Browns’ all-time great backs, Earnest Byner. This is a matchup of two underrated athletes. Lofton was overshadowed at times by the big boppers and bigger personalties on the ‘90s Tribe teams. Byner, of course, played second fiddle to Bernie Bernie Bernie, and to a lesser extent, Kevin Mack—whose bruising style seemed to appeal a bit more to the fan base. Anyway, Kenny still managed to make 6 All-Star Games and Byner was named to two Pro Bowls, but I’d say neither quite got their due until we faced the voids they left behind (namely, prototypical leadoff hitter and big play running back). My vote goes to Byner. Lofton had more sizzle, but Earnest’s value to the Browns was enormous, and the franchise never fully recovered from his departure to Washington. It should also be noted that Earnest Byner is the 16th leading rusher in NFL history, making it all the more shameful that we ought to remember him for one unfortunate incident.
AC: Jeff, you do realize that both of Byner’s Pro Bowl seasons were with the Redskins, right? In fact, he rushed for more yards during his 5 years in Washington (3,950) than his 7 years as a Brown (3,364). He was a better receiving RB in Kosar’s offense, but a more valuable player as the featured back on Washington’s 1991 Super Bowl Championship squad. Because he split time with Mack (and later Leroy Hoard), Earnest was never “The Man” in Cleveland. Kenny Lofton, on the other hand, was the star on top of the Indians’ Christmas tree in the ‘90s. He was the best leadoff hitter in baseball, led the league in steals five consecutive years, won four Gold Gloves as the best defensive center fielder in Tribe history, and hit .300 with an .800 OPS during his 10 years in Cleveland. Kenny ranks 3rd in Indians history in runs scored, 9th in hits, and of course, first in stolen bases. He constantly made things happen—at the plate, on the bases, in the field. I forgave Byner for the Fumble many moons ago, but he has no business winning this one.
#3 Manny Ramirez vs #6 Clay Matthews
Round 1: Ramirez def. Free (84%), Matthews def. Thornton (80%)
AC: At first glance, this doesn’t seem like that much of a contest. Clay Matthews, four-time Pro Bowler though he was, never enjoyed the sort of dominant, superstar reputation that Man-Ram has since his final years at the Jake. On closer inspection, though, I have a feeling this may be an extremely close vote. Ramirez excelled at his sport with far greater ease than Clay, ranking statistically with some of the greatest power hitters of all time without ever seemingly breaking a sweat. Matthews, by contrast, was the grind-it-out workhorse who would probably be in the Hall of Fame by now if he’d played on a coast, but instead, remains primarily a cherished figure of local sports mythology—the most respected defensive player in Browns history and the team’s all-time leading tackler. 16 years of service will earn you some votes, especially over a kid who followed the cash to Boston. But if we remove our hearts from the conversation, Ramirez advances: 8 years in Cleveland, 800 RBIs, 1.000 OPS. That’s Manny actually being Manny.
JE: I pretty much concur. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see Matthews win this match. He was basically the Browns pillar of strength during the final era of the original franchise. But as much as I loved Clay, it’s damn near impossible to look past Ramirez and his likely Hall of Fame career. I know some people will attribute a lot of his numbers to the juice, but since we’re talking about the steroid era, we can only compare Manny to his contemporaries, and you’d be hard pressed to find a sweeter right-handed swing or a more productive run producer over the past 15 year stretch. He’s been to three times as many All-Star/All-Pro games as Matthews, and in a tight contest, I think he bests Clay here, too.
#2 Ozzie Newsome vs #10 Greg Pruitt
Round 1: Newsome def. B. Bell (91%), G. Pruitt def. M. Pruitt (75%)
AC: After dispatching of his non-brother Mike in somewhat surprisingly easy fashion, Greg Pruitt will likely be leaving us now. He’s squaring off with a Hall of Famer and a man who helped change the way his position was played. The Wizard of Oz was on the field essentially every Sunday for 13 years, and he did absolutely everything that could have been asked of him, starting with converting from receiver (as he’d been at Alabama) to tight end in coach Sam Rutigliano’s offense. He had two 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the early ‘80s, was a key part of the Kardiac Kids and the Kosar teams, and caught a pass in 150 consecutive games. Newsome’s underrated ex-teammate Pruitt deserves some serious respect here, but all rational thinking puts Ozzie into round 3.
JE: It would probably surprise you to know, as it surprised me, that Greg Pruitt actually made more Pro Bowls than Ozzie Newsome, by a 5-3 count (four of those came as a Brown). Then again, Newsome did make 3 first team All Pro and 5 second team All Pro teams, so maybe the recognition comparisons aren’t incredibly helpful here. If anything, the recognition Ozzie got in Canton is the one that will weigh over this game. As good as Pruitt was as a dual threat returner and running back, it seems very unlikely that Newsome can lose. He is the best tight end in franchise history and the Browns last Hall of Famer. If there is any knock on him, it’s that he captained the evil, mutated Browns (the ones in Baltimore) to Art Modell’s first Super Bowl Championship. But this isn’t about Newsome the GM. It’s about #82, and he’s got this one.
Round 2, Wine & Gold Regional
#1 Bernie Kosar vs #9 Sandy Alomar Jr.
Round 1: Kosar def. Dawson (95%), S. Alomar def. R. Alomar (81%)
JE: Obviously, there’s no reason to think this will be close. Sandy outperformed his brother in round one (possibly for the first time in his life), but that was largely from the bleeding heart vote. No such luck this time, as Cleveland’s excess sports nostalgia tends to find its way to Bernie Joseph Kosar, Jr. in far more ample amounts than Sandy Alomar, Jr. As the local hero and QB of the Brownies, Kosar got his team to the cusp of the Super Bowl three times. Alomar enjoyed some thrilling playoff moments of his own, and he was kind of the first piece of the puzzle to be put in place for the Indians’ ‘90s success. But outside of 1997, Sandy was hardly ever stirring the drink—hampered by constant injuries, as we discussed in round one. In a yawner, Bernie moves on.
AC: Bernie moving—never a pretty sight. But yeah, I didn’t even think Sandy necessarily deserved to be in this game, considering the ridiculous numbers Roberto Alomar put up during his three years here. But I also realize that longevity is a big factor in these votes, and rightfully so. Sandy was a fixture here, but as Jeff basically said, you can’t outfixture the mother of all Cleveland sports fixtures himself, the ever present and opinionated ex-quarterback out of Boardman High School. While he didn’t usually put up huge numbers, Kosar is generally considered a “winner” (I used the very word myself in round 1). Sometimes, our perceptions can be distorted by our ability to relate to a slow, gangly local boy, though, because Bernie’s career record as a QB in Cleveland was actually a mere 53-51-1. Like LeBron, the #1 seed beats an ex-Tribe catcher here, but how much further should Kosar go?
#4 Brian Sipe vs #5 Brad Daugherty
Round 1: Sipe def. Charboneau (93%), Daugherty def. Ilgauskas (58%)
JE: It seems like appreciation for Brad Daugherty has unjustly faded over the years. He was the Cavs all-time leading scorer until LBJ arrived, and if he had managed to stay healthy, he’d have given LeBron a much greater mountain to climb to reach that milestone. Let’s remember, Brad played in a time of great centers-- Hakeem, Robinson, Ewing, Shaq, Mourning, Mutombo-- which generally left him playing second or third fiddle in the national pecking order. Having retired at just 28, it just seems like Daugherty’s legacy never got its due. On the other end of the spectrum, I might ruffle a few feathers here, but I think we’ve all overhyped Brian Sipe for long enough. I know the Kardiac Kid days were magical, but Sipe is a player who only twice posted a QB rating over 80 in his career. He had one spectacular year and a few solid ones, but he always struggled for the most part to keep his turnovers down (he threw 149 INTs to 154 TDs in his career), and he only won two more games than he lost for his career (57-55). For consistent production at a prime position, I got to go with Daugherty.
AC: While Jeff talks about appreciation for Daugherty “fading” over the years, the fact is, he never had the most stellar reputation to begin with. Compared to the other A-List centers mentioned above, Daugherty was often labeled as “soft”—unwilling to take the hard foul or take it strong to the basket and impose his will (which one would presume to be considerable at 7’ and 250 lbs.). He averaged 20+ ppg for three straight seasons and 10+ rebounds for four straight, so there’s no denying his production. But he also had Mark Price setting him with easy layups and Larry Nance and Hot Rod Williams creating second chances for him underneath. Of course, Sipe had his share of help, too. But if we’re going to give Brad credit for being the Cavs all-time scoring leader (pre LBJ), it’s only fair to mention again that Brian Sipe is the all-time Browns passing leader, and is second only to Otto Graham in touchdown passes and games started. Kind of hard to vote against the most productive modern era quarterback from one’s beloved football team.
#3 Sam McDowell vs #11 Doug Dieken
Round 1: McDowell def. Rucker (73%), Dieken def. Schafrath (63%)
AC: Doug Dieken was sort of the Clay Matthews of the offensive side of the ball—durable, reliable, insert cliché about hard hat and lunch pail, etc. But he wasn’t as talented as Clay, nor was he a better tackle than the man he beat in round one, Dick Schafrath. If we agree that a man’s later press box accomplishments shouldn’t impact our judgment of him as a player (keep this in mind when Austin Carr’s number comes up again), then Dieken is really heading for a lopsided beatdown in this matchup with Sudden Sam McDowell—arguably the greatest Tribe southpaw of all-time. Only a guy named Feller struck out more batters for the Wahoos, and during his prime (before personal problems bogged down his career), McDowell was flat out filthy, leading the league in K’s 5 times and making 6 All-Star teams. Sam should advance easily here.
JE: This is actually a matchup I fear will go horrifically wrong. As Andy mentioned, Dieken had no real business getting out of round one. His name notoriety got him over the hump against Schafrath, and it may help him pull off an upset here, too. Dieken was a solid player-- no doubt-- but McDowell was a dominant pitcher, striking out more than 300 twice and averaging 9.2 K’s per 9 IP during his decade in Cleveland. By comparison, CC Sabathia averaged 7.4 SO/9, and Cliff Lee finished at 6.7 SO/9. Even when McDowell left the Indians, he helped out the club, bringing Gaylord Perry into the fold via a trade with the Giants. Sudden Sam is definitely a Sweet Sixteen worthy player in this tournament.
#2 Omar Vizquel vs #7 Leroy Kelly
Round 1: Vizquel def. Baerga (95%), Kelly def. G. Perry (66%)
JE: Everybody loves Omar—his eye popping web gems, his joy for the game, "Omar y Amigos"—what’s not to love? Regarding his second round match with Leroy Kelly, though, my simple question is, Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer? Kelly is already in Canton; having replaced a legend in Jim Brown and earned his own spot on the NFL’s All-Decade squad for the ‘60s. In most cases in this tournament, a Hall of Famer beats a “yet to be determined” or “borderline” type of guy. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all for Omar to win this one thanks to his love affair with the city. Sizing things up objectively, though, I’m not so sure we’ll see Vizquel in Cooperstown any time in the next decade. He would have to follow the Ozzie Smith track in, but it’s hard to say that Omar had the same high profile on a national scale as Smith, even if his numbers and defensive wizardry (no pun intended) compare favorably. My vote goes to Kelly, who excelled at all aspects of his position (rather than being more of a specialist) and filled some enormous shoes… slightly bigger than Felix Fermin’s.
AC: I suppose we could debate this one all day, but I’m pretty confident than Omar is cruising to round 3. While this tournament was technically created with objectivity in mind, is there really any such thing when we’re talking Cleveland sports? There have been many great players who’ve suited up on the North Shore since the ‘60s, but only a handful have been embraced like family and held up as true role models. And among those, it’s hard to think of a more likable Cleveland sports figure than Omar Vizquel. I’d be willing to cast that fact aside if he’d been an average ballplayer. But as a big believer in defense being a skill no less challenging and no less valuable than offense, I consider Vizquel a GREAT player, certainly worthy of the Hall one day, and not undeserving of a victory over Kelly. A vote for Leroy is not a foolish one at all. He was a phenomenal tailback. But being no less biased than any other amigo del Vizquel, I cast my vote for Omar.
Next week, we'll break down the second half of the second round and determine which players make up the Sweet 16 since '64. Until then, be sure you post your second round votes!