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Indians Indians Archive I Knew It Was You, Shapiro
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Michael CorleoneWhen watching the Indians becomes too difficult of a cross to bear, you might start exploring the other 200+ channels that you pay for each month, but never find the time to watch.  I have to be honest, I’m not certain that I’d ever tuned into AMC before a friend turned me on to a show about a chemistry teacher that cooks meth a few years ago, but its become a staple in our household of late, specifically because of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.  This week, AMC introduced “Mob Week” to the world outside of Dish Network, which gets the attention of a sucker for the genre like me.  However, we weren’t tuning in for the week-long stretch of edited-for-TV week of cinematic gold, which included both of The Godfather movies, Scarface, Donnie Brasco, and Goodfellas.  It was just as easy to go to the DVD shelf, and watch the un-cut versions at our own leisure.  Even as we watched “II”, the final chapter in Mario Puzzo’s Godfather saga (as far as I’m concerned), thoughts of those Cleveland Indians still resonated on my mind.

As we approached the Major League Trade Deadline on July 31, there was a level of uncertainty among Tribe fans, and possibly in the Front Office, about how the brass at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie were going to approach things.  One thing was clear, the Indians needed to be buyers or sellers.  After a big series win over the Detroit Tigers appeared to have saved the season, to have put them in buyer mode in a time when there was a decision to be made, the team crapped the bed in Minnesota, and the picture became murky.  It was obvious that the actions of Chris Antonetti in the following days would offer us insight.  Were they going to be buyers or sellers?  We impatiently waited for an answer.

“You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing.”

Just as Senator Pat Geary thought he was in the driver’s seat in soliciting a bribe from Michael Corleone for a gaming license, the Indians faithful believed that the direction of their baseball club would be revealed before they flipped their 2012 calendars to the month of August.  Both were met with undesirable results, and bold statements were made.  While Corleone, who went on to urge the Senator to pony up the fee for the gaming license himself,  proved that he would not be strong-armed by political corruption in spite of his own, the Indians made a less definitive statement, leaving us to wonder if the Mark Shapiro regime is guy-shy and afraid or simply incompetent.

UbaldoThe two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.  Shapiro has a sketchy track record, to be kind about it, when it comes to being a player at the deadline, both as a buyer and a seller.  These days, we aren’t too fond of the move made to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez, which sent Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and others to Colorado for an alleged “ace”, who is currently 12-14 with a 5.08 ERA in 32 starts as an Indian.  As a seller, he hasn’t exactly received rave reviews on the return on investment for CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee, who were both reigning Cy Young Award winners when they were dealt. 

Truth be told, I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t rather the Indians brain trust keep the dollar in their back pocket, if they’re just going to end up trading it in for a dime and a nickel.  That’s flawed thinking, while you cannot lose if you do not play, you also can’t win.  If the Front Office is content to not take action, that’s settling for mediocrity, which is synonymous with incompetence in this context.

“Because I intend to squeeze you.”

Why was Michael so blunt with the Senator?  Why did the Indians ultimately take no action, either to build for the future or take the risks to win now?

ShapiroWell, Pat Geary made a blatant mistake in judging who he was dealing with in the new Don Corleone, bluntly attempting to extort a $250,000 bribe up front, plus 5% of gross profits, for a game license that only cost $20,000.  As it turned, he was poking bears at the zoo, and instead of being the puppet master, he eventually became the puppet.  Back in 2002, Mark Shapiro, protégé of the great John Hart, may have been the one pulling strings, but we’ve seen the rise and fall of MySpace and a re-booted trilogy of Batman movies since those glory days.  The Indians have one playoff appearance to show for the great savvy it took to squeeze Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips out of the now-defunct Montreal Expos for the rental of Bartolo Colon.

Lately, to stay with the puppet analogy, Shapiro has been the one with a hand up his ass.  That’s going to be the case when you accept a package of LaPorta, Jackson, Bryson, and a player to be named later for CC Sabathia.  Yeah, LaPorta was supposed to be more than a poo stain on the mattress, and yeah, that player to be named later eventually became a solid outfielder named Michael Brantley, but it sets a precedent.  Now, Sabathia was going to walk after the 2008 season, come hell or high water; the rest of the league knew this; hence, there was no offer that they couldn’t refuse.  Shapiro just had to do his best, to take what he could get.  A year later, Shapiro was obligated to move Cliff Lee, and again, he was taking something over nothing, even if Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and a damaged Jason Knapp were only a slight tick above nothing.

Perhaps, one day we’ll see great things from Carlos Santana, Scott Barnes, Thomas Neal, and Corey Kluber, but we don’t dwell on the losses of Casey Blake, Ryan Garko, Orlando Cabrera, and Jake Westbrook in the same way we do over players of Shin-Soo Choo or Chris Perez’s stature.  In fact, Choo for Broussard and Perez for DeRosa are Shapiro success stories in their own right, but it’s the unsatisfactory results of the blockbuster trades that make you think about how Shapiro can’t get good money back for big talent.  The need for the Indians to control players on existing contracts, like Jimenez, takes away a lot of their leverage.  They get squeezed as sellers, and their options are limited as buyers.

“They could win.”

Michael and HymanMichael was talking to Hyman Roth in Cuba, regarding the political unrest, and an incident he saw earlier that day when Rebels were being arrested.  One of the rebels pulled the pin on their grenade, taking out some of the soldiers arresting them, which brought the issue of dedication to the table, and how not being paid soldiers gave the Rebels a chance.  Now, it’s silly to do a literal comparison here because you’re going to be hard pressed to find a volunteer team to beat the Tigers or White Sox on passion alone, let alone the Yankees or Angels.  But, what are the fans of small market teams to do?

Surely, even if the fans can’t convince themselves of this, management has to set out with a plan to win.  If we can table our gridiron angst, we can look to the east, and see a Pittsburgh baseball team that doesn’t have a staggering payroll, possibly en route to some mid-October baseball under the leadership Neal Huntington, a former Shapiro lieutenant.  Sure, it’s possible that Manny Acta’s bunch could have the same optimism in 2012 if their young stars blossomed as simultaneously as Clint Hurdle’s group in Western Pennsylvania has, but I’d take the last two decades of Indians baseball over the Pirates every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

“Those were the great old days,you know... And we was like the Roman Empire... The Corleone family was like the Roman Empire...”

We caught glimpses of the young Don Vito, earning the respect, becoming beloved in his takeover of the neighborhood.  In stark contrast, Michael was ruthless enough to have his brother killed, and was more reminiscent of the Mafioso that his father took down.  Frank Pentageli was using the Roman Empire comparison to remind Tom Hagen of how great it was for the generation before his, before Michael became everything that his father didn’t want him to be.

Pentangeli and HagenThat’s the thing with a naïve Tribe fan, like me.  I’m just stuck in those glory years of Jacobs Field; it pretty much takes an act of Congress to get me to recognize the ballpark by any other name.  I never wanted Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, or even Grady Sizemore; none of them could ever be the next Kenny Lofton.  I’m still mad at Boston and Chicago over Ramirez and Belle, and I still have a hard time swallowing the reality of Omar and Thome in different uniforms.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who misses the team that Dick Jacobs let John Hart build.  But, they aren't the same team, and we aren't the same base.  That "455" in the right field rafters belongs in the past with the fans of that era; it's no longer belongs to us, as it was recently suggested on a blog.

I don’t want to hear about luck, the economy, or the evolution of baseball; Mark Shapiro was part of the original renaissance we experience after Indians baseball was bad enough for enough decades to inspire Major League.  Why can’t he do it again?  Why couldn’t Westbrook, Martinez, Peralta, and Hafner be the next generation of Nagy, Alomar, Vizquel, and Belle?

The reality is that they fell short of doing what Cleveland hasn’t done since 1948 the same then as they do now.  What they gave us was hope, but that hope has died a slow death with even the most passionate fans.  When the dream came to an end in 2002, we didn’t think they’d be down for this long, their great run in 2007 notwithstanding. 

We were once spoiled, now we’re stuck.

“It made me think of what you once told me: ’In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate.’ That was seven years ago”

455If you believe that a third chapter of this story exists, you understand that legitimacy never actually exists when it comes to the Corleones, but you didn’t need Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola, or George Hamilton to poorly act out that reality in the 90s.  You could easily imply the continued corrupt direction of Michael Corleone’s life without Kay Adams, who was probably never able to convince herself that there was good in her husband.  It was her that gave up hope early on, and rightfully so.

That brings us to Mark Shapiro and his tall tale of the window to contend.  It’s true that times have changed, and a small market (I’m sick of that being a crutch) team has to approach winning differently.  There will be no dynasty in Kansas City, Oakland, or Cleveland, just a quick strike, likely followed by a liquidation of assets.  Lightning may strike this year for the Athletics, the Royals probably aren’t more than three years away if a window exists for them, but we don’t spend too much time worrying about those former American League West juggernauts; we want to know when it’s going to be our time.  When are the patient fans that bit their tongues as All-Stars, and possible Hall-of-Fame talent, were sent packing for a bag of magic beans going to be rewarded with their beanstalk?  It is too much to ask to consider that the men we have working on this problem are not capable of getting it done?

“I trust these men with my life, Senator. To ask them to leave would be an insult.”

Insulted, or not, it’s time for the Dolan family to consider cutting ties with Shapiro, regardless of their relationship.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.


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