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Giving thanks at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

...it's a tradition...you know...

Giving thanks at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
November 27, 2013
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There isn’t a better time to be sitting here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario than at Thanksgiving.

Okay…that’s not totally true.

I’m a Cleveland Indians’ fan…which brings with it…irony.

The irony is that more often than not over the past 42 years of my life, the cupboards have been more empty than full this time of year.

Not this year.

My, what a difference a year makes.

With that said, it’s time to kick off the annual Giving Thanks episode in my weekly Corner diatribe, which I’ll try to get out before the Cavs welcome the Miami Heat and LeBron James to Cleveland tonight, and before LeBron treats his Miami Heat pals to a good ole’ Ohio Thanksgiving tomorrow.

It sure gives you the warm and fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Ironic indeed…

With that said…

I give thanks to Danny Salazar, who “surprised” many last year. During my thanksgiving column last year, I mentioned Salazar, who I thought was primed for a big 2013 season.

“He’s the one mid-to-top-of –the-rotation guy that we have in the minors, and he’s coming on strong. My bet here is that the Indians are going to monitor him over the first half of the season, moving him from Akron to Columbus, than perhaps give him a shot in the bigs sometime between July and September. He’s not necessarily an ace, but I do think he can be. We’ll see if I’m right.”

In a year in which I rarely threw bullseyes, I’ve had a bead on Salazar for awhile. There are some players that really have the “IT Factor,” and while it’s a rare thing, it’s easy to see. Salazar provided the Indians with perhaps its most important boost in August, and on two fronts.

When Salazar made his second start on August 7th against the Detroit Tigers, there was a buzz. While the Indians rotation had been so much better than anyone expected, what Salazar did on the 7th was unlike anything that anyone had seen here in Cleveland in a long time. The box score shows that he gave up four earned runs, but heading into the eight inning, Salazar had a 3-2 lead against arguably the best offensive team in baseball.

He struck out 10.

He walked one.

He struck out Miguel Cabrera three times: once looking, and twice swinging.

The fourth time proved to be too much, as Salazar gave up a two-run blast to the eventual MVP, but the message had been served.

Danny Salazar was here.

He also bumped Ubaldo Jimenez from his start, providing a secondary boost to the Indians.

Why?

Ubaldo didn’t have a game in which he gave up more than three runs after that. Salazar provided the wake-up call that likely pushed Jimenez towards his September stretch, and also supplemented Jimenez well by being an extremely important in his own right.

I am truly amused at the arguments that ultimately crop up about Danny Salazar being an “ace,” and how offended some folks get when it’s said regarding the Indians righty. It’s truly an insignificant argument that I’d prefer to stay out of. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying perhaps the best pure pitching talent that’s stepped on the mound in Cleveland in a long, long time.

I give thanks to Ryan Raburn.

My only memory of Raburn before the day the Indians signed him to a deal was of him crashing through the fence at Progressive when he played for the Tigers. He didn’t make the catch, but I loved how hard he played.

Like Kazmir, I though, there has to be upside there, right?

He hit .320 in April, with four homers…and was hitting over .600 for a bit.

So, maybe not that much…but boy, what a boost.

Speaking of boost…THANK YOU YAN GOMES.

I was part of a contingent of writers that said he didn’t have a chance in the world of making this team, let alone be good.

I believe it was one of our voracious readers, jwahoo, who thought Gomes could be something more than minor league fodder.

He was dead right. I was dead wrong.

Gomes turned out to not only be a good replacement for Lou Marson, but the new starting catcher for the Indians…so I guess…

thanks Lou Marson, for an injury that allowed Gomes to get a chance.

I love that about baseball…it giveth…and it taketh away.

I have to give thanks to Nick Swisher, and it really has nothing to do with any numbers. I realize the importance ofJason Giambi on last season’s ballclub, but I do think that it overshadowed just how much Nick Swisher played a part in the transformation of this team.

Swisher isn’t a superstar.

Swisher isn’t LeBron James.

But, he is an Ohio guy who, for whatever reason, found his way “home” to the Cleveland Indians. Now, I’m not that much of an ideologue to believe that Swisher went into last offseason saying, “I’m going to Cleveland, no matter what.” It was likely the exact opposite.

Swisher found himself behind a bit of an eight ball thanks to the qualifying offer that he received.

I’m also not deluded into thinking that $56 million didn’t have something to do with that.

The Indians took advantage, and found a much needed bat, and had the financial flexibility to get it done.

Swisher really was so much more than a bat though.

While most would agree that Giambi was a much-needed voice in the clubhouse, and Giambi also provided probably the most memorable hit of the 2013 season, Nick Swisher was a guy that immediately looked like he wanted to be here after he signed with the Indians.

His press conference announcing the signing was truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen with the Indians.

He had more energy in that one presser than the Indians had from July on in 2012.

Swisher mentioned the Indians wooing him on his visit:

“We were walking out of here like, ‘Man, these guys did it right. It was just an amazing situation to be in. They tugged on the right strings, man…all the places we visited, it was nothing compared to this.”

You know I’ve heard players say things like that before, but Swisher meant it.

Whatever was the confluence of events that brought Swish here, once he signed his name, it was synergy.

“It’s going to be great, man. It’s going to be super exciting,” said Swisher, who was bro-ing it up that entire press conference. “I can’t help it, man. I’m pumped. I’m excited. I feel like I’m smiling a lot.”

That energy never stopped from the time he first put on the jersey.

He played through injury.

He never whined or complained, but always was the guy willing to be front and center, and was a whirlwind of positivity.

I love Terry Francona, but this team wouldn’t have been the same without Swisher, and I doubt very much that the transition from cellar to the playoffs would have been as quick without him.

I give thanks to Cody Allen. Last season wasn’t anywhere near perfect for the rookie reliever.

Alright, I take that back.

In his first full season of big league action, Cody Allen went 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and two saves. He struck out 88 batters in 70 1/3 innings, while walking only 26. He had a 2.99 FIP, and a 3.27 xFIP.

Did he have his struggles?

Sure.

Did he have moments in which he looked like a kid, instead a ten-year vet?

Sure.

Were those moments so few and far between that he was still only moderately arguably the best Indians reliever in 2013?

Yes.

I often found myself looking at Allen differently because I had been watching him for a couple of years during his meteoric rise through the Indians system. At times, I forgot just how “new” he was to the team.

His. First. Full. Season.

Now this isn’t to take away from Joe Smith, who truly was outstanding.

This isn’t to take away from anyone else in the bullpen either.

But Allen was a guy that could replicate what Vinny Pestano had done in the past. He had the stuff, the demeanor and the game to help soften the blow of losing the Indians best reliever in 2012 once they sent him down to Columbus.

What would have happened to the pen without Allen this year?

Are you listening C.C. Lee?

I give thanks to Scott KazmirI know, I know, for last year, and hopefully…next.

It’s sorta funny listening to all the websites talking about his “value,” after the mere thought of Kaz being a good pitcher in 2013 brought derision when the Indians signed him last year.

Yes, many moves like that Kazmir signing don’t work out, but who cares. If he doesn’t make the team, he essentially costs nothing.

Well, he did make the team, and it’s not even arguable that he was the #2 pitcher performance-wise in September.

I have no clue what the soon-to-be 30-year-old will make next season, but I certainly hope that the Indians are signing his paychecks.

My hinting suspicions are that Kazmir has many more years left of outstanding play, and he’s not scratched the surface yet. As a lefty power-pitcher, he could be a bargain, even at $10-plus million.

The irony?

If the Indians sign him to an expensive deal, they’ll likely get slammed for it again.

We all know how that turned out last year.

I give thanks to Mark Rzepczynski, for making me have to look up his name every time I write about him.

I also give thanks to the fact that he righted the bullpen ship. I know the Indians didn’t make a big trading deadline deal, but don’t shirk this one either.

I’m not sure the Indians make the playoffs without his lengthening of the pen.

No, I’m not going to give thanks to Rich Hill.

I give thanks to Mickey CallawaySeriously, it’s too easy to say Terry Francona. We all know what he did for this franchise.

I suppose at this point, Callaway is an easy get as well.

What did Callaway do?

Ubaldo Jimenez pitches like the best pitcher in baseball?

Check.

Scott Kazmir returns from the Twilight Zone and becomes far more than functional?

Check.

Zach McAllister arguably is the best pitcher not names Masterson in June and May?

Check.

Corey Kluber stops being a minor league pitcher with lots of stuff who never shows it, and starts becoming a major league starter with lots of stuff and is compared in demeanor to Cliff Lee.

Check.

Danny Salazar showcases an ace-like ability to dominate, pitches over 150 innings, and didn’t miss a beat?

Check.

The bullpen went from just being horrible, watching an effective closer become bad and an effective set-up guy head to Columbus, to solid-by-September.

Check.

There were some hiccups in the season, but not many.

If Callaway can figure out the enigmatic Trevor Bauer and the headcase known as Carlos Carrasco in 2014, I may write him in for president in the next election.

I give thanks for Jacob’s Progressive Field. I’m disgusted with Indians’ fans that they don’t show up, but 100% know that fans will show up to watch this team with repetitive winning.

I know if I lived back home, I’d have season tickets again, or some form of ticket package.

That’s me.

My family had season tickets prior to the 90’s run.

To understand Indians’ culture, you have to look at the big picture, and understand this team over the past 50-60 years, and not just the past 20.

Yes, I know the economics of today, and the past 20 years.

Yes, I know the economics of the owner, and the changes in team dynamics.

Yes, I know the economics of the Indians as a small market team.

People fail to realize that the history of the Indians over the past 50 years have been questionable at best.

The culture of this team was bad, and the foundation, while often inflated, isn’t as good as people think.

I know that there’s a lot of banter about why the Browns are always drawing, and not the Indians, and I get that there’s really know excuse for it, but there’s a couple of generations that essentially ignored the Indians.

Those generations ignored the Indians because they were bad. Bad doesn’t really describe it. They were terrible.

I know that the NFL was bad as well, but the way that the NFL was marketed over that time, and the dynamics of how the Browns and NFL became a cultural phenomenon over the past 45 years plays such a part.

You incorporate large followings at the high school level, as well as the college level, and you develop NFL fans in much the way you develop NFL players.

Baseball has none of that.

When you combine a lack of fan base creation in a town that has massive gaps in generation fan building, combine that with a downturn in economics and lack of consistent winning, you create a culture that doesn’t support their team unless they KNOW they are going to win, and win consistently.

I think back to the 1990’s, and the hundreds of games that I went to. I watched as nonchalant fans came to the game with their novels and their pals and barely paid attention to games. If you have season tickets and went, you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been to several stadiums, more than half in the bigs, and it’s just a different culture in Cleveland. The Indians have always been a passing fancy since the late 50’s. Perhaps passing fancy isn’t the right word…

What’s my point? Why do I love Progressive Field?

On one special night in October, the Cleveland Indians had a playoff game at the Prog. They didn’t win, but boy was it fun to see the stands full of Indians’ fans.

It brought back memories.

No, this town won’t ever “sell out” seasons again, but they can draw. We just have to remember the history, understand the dynamics, and continue to allow Terry Francona to build that culture.

I give thanks to Carlos Santana.

I love stars who most people don’t think are stars.

Look, I love the old stats, and I still do.

I love 30 homers, and I love 100 RBI, and I absolutely abhor fans that pooh-pooh them because of opportunity.

Any sensible person knows that RBI are opportunity, but that absolutely doesn’t matter.

It’s just part of the game.

Maybe it won’t be 100 years from now, but who cares.

Manny Ramirez drove in 165 RBI in 1999, and watching that freak show was brilliant. He drove in 122 in 2000, in 118 games.

Did he have more meaningful stats than that?

Absolutely, but WHO CARES!

Everything doesn’t have to be analytical.

Everything doesn’t have to make sense.

But Santana IS special, and you’d never know it, but I don’t fault a single soul for feeling that way.

The nuances of baseball are absolutely special, and Santana is one of them. Imagine all the Santana’s that we’ve missed in the past.

I suppose this is soap box-ish, but I do wish we’d stop trying to take the nuance out of baseball. The sport will never be black and white, and trying to make it so is just silly.

Part of what I love about the game is listening to one Steve Orbanek opine about Ubaldo Jimenez because he’s the underdog, and because of a beaming smile.

Part of what I love about the game is listening to my boy Michael Hattery and his incessant love for Drew Stubbs.

I grew up loving Charlie Spikes and Duane Kuiper.

Numbers had nothing to do with it, but some would absolutely thrash any discussion of any of those players because they failed to match some sorta black-and-white standard of what a star is.

I give thanks for an incredible set of blogs that support this team. I’ve been around the blogging block, and I can honestly tell you that the sites here in Cleveland are phenomenal. I don’t have to speak of Tony Lastoria here at IBI over the years, and the incredible cast of characters that we have covering all the angles in many different styles. If I could begin to even tell you that vast encyclopedia of knowledge that we have in guys and gals like Orbanek and Hattery, Ellis and Piascik, Berdysz and Metzger, Kinney and Jake…and I could go on forever.

The cast here at IBI is amazing.

I love hitting up all the rest as well, from The Diatribe to WFNY…and so much more. These sites are full of knowledgeable writers that I look forward to hearing from day-to-day, and week-to-week.

It’s a phenomenal community, and one I’m proud to have been a part of since way back in 2001…it’s hard to believe I’ve been writing about this team for that long.

I also give a whole ton of thanks to folks like Anthony Castrovince, Jordan Bastian, Terry Pluto and Paul Cousineau. Castrovince is simply the best baseball writer at MLB.com, and you could make a case that he’s the best baseball writer in America, especially with the special interest stories he puts up.

The piece he wrote on the families of Tim Crews and Steve Olin this year was just something special, and just one of many. I’ll be tracking down Mr. Castrovince for an appearance on our podcast as soon as I can…if he’s got the time, and can put up with our randomness.

Jordan Bastian had big shoes to fill, but he understands Cleveland baseball, and is on top of everything. The fact that he can weave a tale and incorporate a sense of humor with it is special. We’ve had back-to-back best with Bastian and Castrovince.

Terry Pluto just may be the most gracious writer in the game of baseball. He’s a reader here at IBI, and he’s not afraid to send an e-mail to say thanks, and has answered every email I’ve ever sent him.

I imagine he gets a few.

I haven’t read his book with Joe Tait yet, but boy, I can’t wait.

Paul Cousineau isn’t a writer for this club anymore, but I’ve shared a few Indians’ discussions with him over the past year via email, and I can promise you that he still can give a good diatribe about this team.

If you haven’t read his stuff at the Diatribe, you need to go over there and take a look. If there’s been a better pure blogger/writer than PC that’s ever walked the face of the planet, I’ve yet to meet him.

I love storytellers, and Cousineau did it with such style. The fact that he understood the metrics as well pushed him over the edge to me.

I’ve mentioned them before in this piece, and I’ll mention them one more time. I give thanks to my brothers here at IBI, Steve Orbanek and Michael Hattery. I talked to each daily, and it’s been a true blessing to get to know them as well as I have.

Let me tell you something…these two can write.

Michael is IBI’s Sabr-specialist, and he has an innate understanding of the numbers, and actually pulls out the metrics that are actually relevant.

Metrics is a land of finding the next tool and making a name for yourself. It’s fun to watch, but it’s also painful when the folks finding the new numbers have no grasp on the ones that are already out there.

Hattery isn’t always dead-on, and he’ll admit that, but he is 90% of the time.

He understands the game first, and incorporates the numbers from there.

Orbanek is another one of those storytellers I was telling you about.

Truth is, I’ve been reading his stuff for a couple of years both in our shared hometown (he used to work full time at the Erie Daily Times, and now freelances for them…which is where Castrovince used to work, by the way), and there hasn’t been a story I’ve not been pulled into.

If you haven’t read Orbiting Cleveland or Trendspotting on Thursday’s and Friday’s here at IBI, give them a read. You won’t be sorry…even if you disagree.

You can also check us out, talking Cavaliers and Browns at our “sister” venture to IBI, atwww.clevelandsportsinsiders.com. It’s a place where we at least try and tell some stories, like we do here.

I give thanks to meaningful baseball. When the season ended last year, it didn’t look good.

It wasn’t fun.

Then Francona got hired and it all turned around.

Since the beginning of last October, it’s been a lot of fun, and this is coming from a guy that doesn’t mind following the Aaron ‘Freakin’ Cunninghams and the Mike Fishlins and the Pat Dobsons.

That run in September was unreal, and it really gave us all a kick in the pants that baseball is more fun than not.

It’s frustrating…

It’s mind-numbing…

It’s anger-inducing…

…but when the planets are aligned, there isn’t anything that can synchronize a baseball fan’s life more than winning baseball.

Finally, let’s all give a bit of thanks here to Mr. Tony Lastoria. IBI has given us a little place to call our own with regards to Indians’ baseball. He’s almost my age, so we both chewed off the same Indians’ bad-ness growing up.

Four years ago, I ended up here at IBI…well…IPI back then.

Over the years, he and I rebuilt the site a couple of times …told a few stories…and watched Ubaldo a few too many times on Tuesday Nights.

There really isn’t another site that covers as much ground as IBI with regards to all of the minor league teams…and the big league team. When I first joined up with Tony, there were a few writers, and we didn’t cover the Indians at all. We had one-to-two stories a day, and didn’t miss much…

…but boy…

…what a difference a few years make.

Now there are three-to-four pieces up a day put up by a fellow group of volunteers that are second-to-none…and that will surely continue.

With all of that said…I give thanks to all of you…the readers…that make this all worthwhile. We all have other jobs past this writing gig that we spend hours at, but always come back to tell the story of these Indians. Without all of you, liking and hating our stuff, it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving with your families and hope that your kick-off to your Holiday Season is as relaxing as it can be…

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Jim
November 29, 2013 - 2:15 AM EST
Thanks all for reading this...I had a lot of fun doing it...and just like that...a year until the next one.

Perhaps next year we'll be giving thanks to a World Series victory...
John
November 28, 2013 - 7:44 PM EST
Cheers, Jim
BrianM
November 28, 2013 - 4:21 PM EST
Very good Jim
DJ
November 28, 2013 - 12:52 PM EST
Jim: Thanks for a great reminder of the treasures we have when it comes to following the Tribe. IBI is by far the best web site for the Indians and the entire baseball organization. Helps make the off-season go by much faster.
Tony
November 28, 2013 - 12:19 PM EST
Thanks Jim.....great work as always. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Scott Webber
November 28, 2013 - 10:46 AM EST
Great story Jim, I couldn't agree more. All of the amazing writers you mentioned, Terry Pluto, Paul C., Jordan B. And Anthony C., we're very lucky to have all of them writing abut the Tribe. I know tgat I can pick up the tablet or IPad on any given day and find a realky good story about our Tribe! Keep up the good work and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
alton
November 28, 2013 - 2:21 AM EST
I joined this site less than a year ago after the collapse of the sportstime ohio page and I must say I couldn't be happier with the decision. The variety of opinion and depth of coverage is unmatched.

I will forever miss Paul Cousineau tho, he always seemed to tackle issues I pondered about the team in incredible detail.

I'm thankful to find this many kindred spirits that care about the tribe as much as I do.
Roger
November 27, 2013 - 10:04 PM EST
jim I thank you and tony and the restof you ibi writers for their excellent work over the years. We indians fans are a unique group of people but no one can ever accuse us of being champion chasers but we love the tribe win or lose! and you writers bring us informtion and optomism to us and that is fantastic to get up to IBI first thing in the morning every morning in the winter sprin summer and fall. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ONE AND ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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