Believing Conventional Wisdom Isn’t Always Wise
An old axiom is that it’s not always wise to believe “conventional wisdom”.
This is certainly accurate when applied to the 2013 edition of the Cleveland Indians.
Starting with the hot-stove period over the seemingly endless winter, and throughout the spring, nearly all of the beat writers, baseball pundits, and sports radio personalities were lukewarm about the Tribe’s prospects for the upcoming season. Most of them figured this Tribe team could only muster a .500 record, give or take a few games.
Even expert prognosticator and IBI Editor-in-Chief, Tony Lastoria surmised that the Indians would finish at between 83 and 85 wins.
About Conventional Wisdom
Pre-season baseball predictions are often steeped in conventional wisdom based on recent past performance or common belief. For example:
- Conventional wisdom said that the Tribe starting rotation was suspect but the bullpen would surely be the strength of the team; because that’s the way it has been for the past two seasons. But injuries, inconsistency, and periods of overwork have exposed this bullpen as a weakness instead. Yet the Indians starting rotation has been surprisingly strong as the Indians have registered a league-leading 12 shutouts in slightly over half of the season.
- Conventional wisdom said that on paper, it would be impossible for the Tribe to compete with the juggernaut Detroit Tigers. We heard about how the Tigers were absolutely loaded. They had far superior pitching and hitting. They had access to nearly unlimited funds by reaching into the very deep pockets of owner Mike Ilitch. This would enable them to quickly acquire additional talent to load up for the stretch run and plug any holes due to injury. As if throwing around money is all it takes to win a World Series. If you believe that, go talk to the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Mets or last year’s Marlins, now known as this year’s Toronto Blue Jays.
- Conventional wisdom trembled when examining the strikeout totals of the Tribe’s newly acquired players. A big deal was made about how a penchant for the swing-and-a-miss would lessen the production that was expected from Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and Nick Swisher. But going 1-for-3 with a home run and two strikeouts looks much better in the scorebook than banjo-hitting-to-contact that results in three weak infield groundouts. Last time I checked, Bourn was setting the table at the leadoff spot while hitting close to .300, Reynolds, even while struggling, has 47 RBI, Stubbs is demonstrating a rare combination of power and speed, and Swisher appears to be close to getting into a good, run-producing groove.
- Conventional wisdom also says that there is no momentum in baseball, or as Earl Weaver put it “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”. But there are many recent examples that challenge this:
- Last season, the Oakland A’s won 57 and lost 26 after June 30 to skyrocket to the AL West division championship, topping the heavily favored Texas Rangers.
- The 2011 Tampa Bay Rays ended up winning 35 and losing 20 after July. They were 9 games out at the beginning of September yet the Rays won the wild card when the stars aligned on the last day of the season with an amazing comeback win from a 7-0 deficit vs. the Yankees in the now infamous “Game 162”.
- The 2007 Colorado Rockies won 21 of their final 22 games to tie for the NL lead. The momentum carried over as they won a wild-card playoff game and then rolled to the World Series.
One can understand the perceived lack of confidence about the Tribe’s fortunes. On paper, the Tribe had too many unknowns. But the wonderful thing about Major League Baseball is that it is not played on paper. You just never know. That’s why teams show up every day and compete for six months.
My gut told me not to buy into the theories that we would be enduring yet another mediocre season. I saw promising signs that this year’s Tribe would not only be a decent team, but would be a strong contender in the AL Central division.
In Spring Training, I witnessed an enthusiasm, a desire, and a confidence with this Tribe team. I was encouraged by the way the team was re-structured by keeping the younger core players and bringing in talented veterans. Early this season, I was bolstered by the way the Tribe continually fought back: late in a game after falling behind; through a tough losing streak that could have disheartened them; and every hard-fought game when battling division rivals.
In Case You Missed It
There were past seasons when, due to certain events, Tribe fans did not embrace the team early on, and as a result, missed out on memories of a lifetime when the team rose to glory.
- In 1994, the labor strike prematurely ended the season, and sadly, canceled the entire post-season. At the time the season was suspended in August, the Tribe was only one game out of first place and in position to contend for the post-season. The labor strike spanned into the next year and delayed the start of the 1995 season. Many fans were outraged and boycotted baseball, refusing to attend games or watch players who they perceived as spoiled millionaires who were too selfish to respect this great game.
- But something magical was happening at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In 1995, the Tribe won the AL Central division by 30 games en route to a 100 win season and a World Series appearance. And even though The Jake was filled to capacity every game, some fans didn’t get to enjoy the full experience because they were still smarting from the labor strike and were turned off by the seemingly uncaring players and officials in Major League Baseball.
- The 1995 Indians were a true juggernaut and scored so many runs that they often beat their opponent into submission. But an offseason pickup, right-hander Orel Hershiser, bolstered the pitching staff. Hershiser posted a remarkable 16-6 regular season record and was a stalwart in post-season play. His performance was a surprise as he battled shoulder injuries in prior years. What is most impressive was his leadership and drive that earned him the nickname “Bulldog”.
- In 1997, it appeared that the Indians would suffer an under-achieving year. At the All-Star break that year, the Tribe’s record was only eight games over .500, only one game better than their 2013 record at the break. After coming off two years of winning a total of 199 regular season games, the 1997 team did not appear to measure up to those high standards. But the Tribe got hot in late summer, eventually winning an admittedly weak AL Central division. Their efforts culminated in an extra inning win, when second baseman Tony Fernandez drilled a home run over the right field wall at Camden Yards to defeat the Orioles in the ALCS and send the Indians to the World Series.
- A catalyst that year was young pitching prospect Jaret Wright, who started the year at Class AA Akron, and made his major league debut in late June. Wright was a welcome addition to the pitching staff and took the ball to start Game 7 of the World Series that season. No one expected the young flamethrower to have such a dramatic and immediate impact, similar to the way that Corey Kluber was not on anyone’s radar early this year.
What If ?
My family and friends know that I am an eternal optimist. They caution me not to get too excited about the Tribe’s potential. They advise,
“The Indians will always disappoint, so don’t get your hopes up”.
Look, I love getting my hopes up! I love dreaming about what’s possible, about how this team could become very special. On any given day, the Indians can beat any team, even when a Cy Young award-winner is on the hill for the opponent. Be victorious a mere 60% of the time, and we could be witnessing meaningful games in late September; and maybe even into late October, when those cold winds carry the occasional snow flake from the lakefront over chilled fans in a packed Progressive Field.
Tossing conventional wisdom out the window, this vision might not be as far-fetched as you might think.
What if left-hander Scott Kazmir continues his impressive comeback from injuries and provides team leadership the way Orel Hershiser did?
What if Corey Kluber transitions from unexpected mid-season addition to impact pitcher the way Jaret Wright did?
What if Most Valuable Kipnis channels Tony Fernandez in the ultimate clutch performance?
What if the Indians grab the momentum to put on a late season run that rivals the A’s, the Rays, or the Rockies?
Now is the time for fans to pay close attention to this year's Tribe or they might miss out on something special. These Indians could transform the city of Cleveland into “Believeland” this fall. Don’t miss out on what could be an incredible journey.