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Misc General General Archive In My Lifetime: Volume 35
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

0-JimKernUsually, it happens around the MLB All-Star break.  It's mid-July, and without a regular slate of games, it's virtually a couple of days without sports.  It's really some birthday present for someone like myself; I'm craving a game to watch, but the gods are telling me that I will get nothing, and I will like it.  On the other hand, it gives me some time to reflect on what's happened during my time in this world.  Sure, it isn't as fascinating as the story of Forrest Gump, or even a real person whose story might include more relevant occurrences than a regular kid from Cleveland, but this is my story, and the only one I can tell with such a degree of accuracy.

35 years ago, Jim Kern represented the Indians in the Mid-Summer Classic in San Diego, with his 6-3 record and 7 saves, as the National League All-Stars bested the American League by a count of 7-3.  Kern came on in the 7th inning of a tie game, struck out Reggie Smith of the Dodgers, surrendered a double to Pete Rose, retired Joe Morgan on a flyball, and issued a free pass to George Foster, before AL skipper Billy Martin went with his guy from the Yankees, "Louisiana Lightning" Ron Guidry.  Guidry got them out of the inning, but the stars of the Senior Circuit took batting practice of 1st-year Yankee Goose Gossage in the eighth inning to secure the win.  When it was over, the result was logged in the annals of baseball history and forgotten.  You'll have to forgive me for the lack of details, I was literally born at 10:36 that morning, and unable to ask the powers-that-be at Euclid General to put the game on.

BarkerOver the next six or seven years, things would happen and I was very much oblivious to them all.  The Tribe would go on to lose 90 games, despite Kern's success; he was 10-10, but kept the ERA just over 3 in '78.  Dave Garcia would take over for Jeff Toborg in the middle of the 1979 season, salvaging a "winning" season at 81-80, something the Indians would do only 1 more time in their remaining days at The Stadium.  Of course, I was too young to comprehend any of that, as well as the better years of Andre Thorton, Sid Monge, Toby Harrah, and Lary Sorensen.  Coincidentally, it was Sorensen, representing the Milwaukee Brewers at the time, who preceded Kern in San Diego on the day of my birth.  Having missed "Ten Cent Beer Night" by a few years, the most significant baseball-related event in the history of that ballpark would have to be Len Barker's Perfect Game in 1981, but I was alive, so let's just say I was there...only because everyone else does. Truthfully, any recollection I have of the Tribe starts 28 years ago with a George Brett solo-shot off Vern Ruhle (the only run of the game), spending my 7th birthday with my pops down at the ballpark, even though it was not the first game I ever attended.

I don't know exactly how old I was when I began to understand that Cleveland was a Browns town, but it was at a very young age.  I can't confirm any of this, but I'm pretty sure that learned to dislike the Pittsburgh Steelers sometime between my first steps and my first words.  I was likely sucking on the corner of a blanket when Brian Sipe was leading the Kardiac Kids into Don Cockcroft field goal range against the Raiders.  Who am I kidding, I was probably sucking under a blanket during Shurmur-ball.  Ultimately, Red Right 88 was the last definable moment of Cleveland Sports misery that I wasn't subjected to, but I promise you that the Browns were sure to fill my misery quota in the years I do remember.

Kosar and DanielsonWhile I don't exactly see Bernie Kosar as the deity that some people my age do, there is no denying that there's a parallel between me being a fan of the Browns and the kid from Miami being their quarterback.  Gary Danielson actually started against the Redskins for the favored Browns (not that I had any understanding of Vegas spreads), but it was Bernie Kosar that would finish that 14-7 loss at The Stadium.  The next time I saw or heard from Gary Danielson, he was calling Big Ten games on ABC.  A week later, the Browns would travel to the concrete tomb next to the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio River in Western Pennsylvania.  The Browns had lost 16 straight to their rivals in that house of horrors, and that cold October day in 1985 would be no different, but it would be the last day of The Jinx.  I may not have understood why "field goals" were kicked after touchdowns were scored, but I had a very clear understanding the of The Jinx.

From 4-4 after that loss to the Redskins to 8-8 at season's end, the Browns were Champions of the AFC Central Division, despite scoring 7 fewer points than they allowed.  They drew a game against Miami, the defending conference champs, in the Orange Bowl, a game they dominated for the first 30 minutes.  This was the first time Cleveland would break my heart, and also the first time my pops and his buddies would mess with me...only I don't say "mess".  So I would like to take this chance to apologize to Browns fans everywhere; apparently, our beloved Dawg Pound let Dan Marino and company back in the game because I didn't put my plastic hutch Browns helmet on at the right times during the game.  My bad, Cleveland, my bad.  If it serves as any consolation, I spent a long time under the dining room table crying my eyes out.  The fact that Miami lost to New England the next week, and that New England team was destroyed in the Super Bowl by the Bears, might suggest that the 8-8 Browns weren't going very far.  As a 7-year old, for some reason, I put a lot of stock into transitive properties.

WorldMeanwhile, at the Coliseum, a building I've only ever entered in its Indoor Soccer venue configuration, the Cavaliers were recovering from the Ted Stepien era.  On the list of things I missed, the ineptly owned Cavs of the early 80's ranks somewhere between the Vietnam Conflict and the draft where the Browns took Mike Phipps.  I vaguely knew the Cavs; they had a guy named World B. Free, and a guy named Dirk Minnefield, who I deduced was Frank's brother.  I deduced incorrectly.  The picture becomes a little more clear, as Ron Harper, Brad Daugherty, and Mark Price enter the picture the next season.  They were entertaining and as likable as anything that I only knew through Channel 43 could be, but I didn't have that connection with basketball.  I never played organized basketball, which isn't much of an excuse, because I never played soccer, yet we made the journey down I-271 to the "Palace on the Prairie" in Richfield, Ohio to see Kai Haskivi and the Force of the MISL.

New things, things like Super Bowl hopes and Chief Wahoo on the Indians caps entered the picture in 1986.  On a much more personal level, the local high school in my community played for the state championship.  Setting me up for the lifetime of disappointment ahead, they lost.  Speaking of losing, the Cleveland Indians did a whole lot of it, losing 102 games in 1985, but bounced back in 1986 with their cartoonish-looking caps to win 86 games in a year they drafted Greg Swindell out of Texas.  Pat Corrales had them looking so good, that in 1987 Sports Illustrated spoke very highly of them...but, it didn't end the way SI promised us it would. 

The scheduling gods certainly didn't take it easy on the Browns to start 1986.  The Bears, fresh off their Super Bowl massacre of the Patriots in New Orleans, were still the Bears and were in no mood to lose their opener to the Browns at Soldier Field.  I couldn't even get upset, remember the kid crying under his father's dining room table the last time the Browns played, they were the Bears.  With apologies to "The Wiz", they were the Bears and NOBODY beats them.  They bounced back to beat the Oilers of Houston the next week, and The Jinx was buried in Week 5.  They would win their last 5 games to finish 12-4, and clinch a playoff spot.

For me, that was the beginning; here is almost everything pertinent between then and now...

  • That first playoff game was nerve-racking.  They played the Jets, actually it was what was left of the Jets, and they were down and out.  Now, I get on Dodgers fans for leaving games, specifically Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, but Browns fans bailed when they were down 10 in the second half.  Kosar lead a comeback, and Mark Moseley finally made a few field goals, filling in for Matt Bahr.  The critical one came in the second overtime for a 23-20 win and the right to host the AFC Championship.
  • A week later, they were six minutes from their first Super Bowl in franchise history.  John Elway demonstrated the difference between being six minutes away and being "there".  The Browns didn't get to be "there".  History has come to know this as "The Drive".  ESPN knows it as an old stand-by to torture Cleveland.
  • The next year, 1987, the only thing that was different was the location.  In Denver, it appeared to be the Browns, and mostly Earnest Byner, who would be part of a historical comeback.  Down 38-31, it was Cleveland, with their own version of "The Drive", about to tie the game.  Jeremiah Castille stripped the ball from Byner headed for the endzone, as Webster Slaughter looked on.  He should have been blocking, instead of looking on.  Anyways, they call that one "The Fumble", and it is the fries to the burger that is "The Drive".
  • A few years later, the Browns ended up playing, and losing, another AFC Championship in Denver, but it was the 1989 Divisional Playoff against the Bills at the Stadium that sticks out.  Ronnie Harmon dropped what would have been another dagger in the heart of Cleveland fans everywhere, then Clay Matthews was the hero on the game's final play of consequence.  Related: The Browns played the Vikings in the coldest regular season game in Stadium history; I was in the Dawg Pound for that one, a game that ended on your typical Mike Pagel-to-Van Waiters fake field goal walk-off TD pass.
  • In 1993, the Indians played their final game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  The Indians were swept in a 3-game series that ended with one-time prospect Mark Lewis striking out.  They dug up home plate and Bob Hope told some jokes.  It was the end of an awful era that included a Dave Martinez home run off Jose Canseco's head in that '93 season, a 1991 invitation to a keg party that Joey Belle violently sent his regrets for, and an epic brawl between Dave Stewart and Pat Corrales that took place out in Oakland in '86.
  • September 10, 1989: Browns 51 Steelers 0
  • Only worth mentioning because it's part of that Cleveland Misery montage that ESPN always has queued up, Michael Jordan hit a series-clinching shot from the top of the key with Craig Ehlo defending.  It was a first round matchup in a year that neither the Bulls or Cavs had any prayer of winning the Eastern Conference.  What's worth discussing was Jordan's overall dominance of the Cavs; even when Wayne Embry brought in Gerald Wilkins to defend the greatest player of all-time, all I remember was how much better Gerald's brother Dominique really was.
  • When the Indians left the Stadium behind for the new ballpark at Ontario and Carnegie, they left their losing ways behind.  Despite Eric Anthony's home run and Randy Johnson's flirtation with perfection at Jacobs Field in the venue's very first game, home was a sweet home for the Tribe.  They pulled that opener out in extra innings and created excitement that made fans ambivalent about the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series that year.  I still remember that Dennis Martinez's first pitch in that game to Rich Amaral was a strike.
  • With Jordan standing in the way, the Cavs weren't winning anything more than the occasional playoff series.  One of those series would have been a 7-game series with the Celtics in 1992, highlighted by a half-court shot from Steve Kerr to end the third quarter of Game 7, which was Larry Bird's last game.  The unknown Bobby Phills played in 10 regular season games and made just 5 appearances in the post-season, averaging 2.2 points per game, but there's more than meets the eye.  If you look at the cumulative stats, which as Joe Tait once said, don't mean squat, he averaged 17 per 36 minutes during the year and 33 per 36 in the playoffs.  Phills played in Cleveland for 6 seasons, his best in 95-96, before going to Charlotte in 1997, where he played until his tragic death in 2000.
  • I have to admit that I didn't go to nearly enough Browns games, maybe 1 per year, if that.  Fortunately, a classmate of mine had tickets for a game with the Chiefs in 1995.  Fortunately, I had a car, which was the #1 thing that qualified me to go with him.  The Browns won big, 35-17 in a game that was sealed on two Steve Bono pick-sixes in the 4th quarter.  Had I known they would be gone forever after the season, I would have gone more often.  Aside from costing the Browns that game in Miami by not wearing my helmet right, it's my biggest regret as a Browns fan.
  • To soften the blow of losing the Browns in a Browns Town, the Indians reached the World Series.  They even won a game, two actually, something the 1954 American League Champions failed to do against the New York Giants in Cleveland previous appearance in the Fall Classic.  I had the pleasure of attending Game 3, which featured a walk-off hit for the win.  Though the Tribe would lose in 6 games to an overdue Atlanta team, there was a feeling that this was only the beginning of a long run of success for Indians baseball.
  • The Indians were back in the post-season in 1996, '97 (so I'm told), '98, '99, and 2001.  Every time a star faded, a new one came in and Mike Hargrove's team didn't seem to miss a beat.  The Paul Sorrento, Carlos Baerga, and Albert Belle types of yester-year were replaced by the likes of Matt Williams, Roberto Alomar, and David Justice.  No titles, because the stars apparently don't align like that for Cleveland, but it was easily the finest era of Cleveland sports in my 35 years.
  • The Indians did lose the 1997 World Series to the Marlins in 7 games.  Jose Mesa apparently had a role in this October series.  Ignorance was bliss, as the games were not shown and were not offered any updates at Parris Island, South Carolina.
  • In the midst of that successful run by the Tribe, the Browns, or something resembling the Browns came back to town in 1999.  We didn't give it a clever name like The Jinx, but the 43-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the first game for the reincarnated Browns was only a sign of things to come.  Hell, they even won a game in Pittsburgh on a Phil Dawson field goal as time ran out, but that hardly alleviated the sting of the Steelers dominance over the Browns, if you even want to call them that.
  • Before Charlie Manuel's club was eliminated from the playoffs by Seattle in 2001, Lou Piniella brought his club to Cleveland in early August.  Of all the games I'd think about lying and saying I attended, the game on August 5, 2001 was the one I was closest to attending.  The Mariners went up 14-2 early and Pinella benched a lot of his regulars, then the Indians came back in the late innings to win 15-14 in extras.  This happened on ESPN Sunday Night baseball, but oddly enough, it hasn't been re-aired or mentioned by the Worldwide Leader for the next 11 years, 11 months, and 6 days.
  • Butch Davis took over for the overwhelmed Head Coach Chris Palmer after two miserable seasons of the rebooted Browns.  They made a token playoff appearance after the 2002 season, thanks in part to an outstanding breakaway run from William Green in the season finale, then a goal-line stand to defeat the Falcons for their ninth and eventual playoff clinching victory.  The Browns collapsed in the second half against the XFL hero Tommy Maddox; however, neither my father nor his friends were able to blame this one on me.  Put this one on Butch, and consider how welcome his resignation was two seasons later.
  • The Cavaliers, on the verge of changing their colors and head coach, were awarded the 1st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.  The pick was Lebron James from Ohio, who changed the Cavs losing ways around and changed the culture of basketball fans on the North Coast.
  • August 31, 2004: Indians 22 Yankees 0
  • After Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel was next up as Head Coach of the Browns in 2005.  After a continued lack of success, the Browns found themselves playing a light a schedules, which was confused with finding lightning in a bottle with Derek Anderson.  They went 10-6, and Crennel's lame duck season ended up not being so lame.  They missed the playoff, due to being on the wrong end of a tie-breaker when quarterback Jim Sorgi failed to defeat the Titans in what amounted to a meaningless game for the Indianapolis Colts.  Crennel's lame duck year came in 2008, when no tie-breaker was required to prohibit the 4-12 Browns from post-season action.
  • A season after running into a road-block in the form of the Detroit Pistons, the only thing that stood between the Cavs and their first Finals appearance in franchise history were those same Pistons.  On the verge of going down 3-2 in the series, James took over.  It was his coming out party, and one of the greatest moments in Cleveland Sports history.  Many would like to declare that entire era dead, but July 8, 2010 was still a few years away.  The San Antonio Spurs would sweep them in the Finals, but who cares?  How about that Sopranos finale?
  • A few months later, with Derek Anderson leading the Browns resurgence, the Indians returned to the playoffs after a 5 year hiatus.  With the help of some Canadian soldiers, the Indians effectively ended the Yankees dynasty of the late 90s and early 2000s.  They had the Red Sox on the ropes with the vulnerable Colorado Rockies just waiting to lose to the American League Champs in the World Series.  After gaining a 3-1 lead, Eric Wedge's Indians could not win another game; it probably has something to do with the stars, but I'm not sure how that stuff works.  By the way, the Tribe has not returned to the post-season since.
  • CC Sabathia for Michael Brantley and 3 guys who aren't playing Major League Baseball in 2008
  • Cliff Lee, with a year and a half left on his deal, for Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp.  That's right; THE JASON KNAPP.
  • The heavily favored Cavs lose Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference, and find themselves in grave danger (is there any other kind?) of losing Game 2 when Lebron James hits a miraculous 3-pointer to even the series at 1.  James would put them team on his back on more time, in Game 5, but he and his teammates didn't have enough in the tank to compete with the red-hot Orlando Magic, and the Cavs had joined the Browns and Indians in the Pantheon of Letdowns.
  • "In this fall, this is very tough, in this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat."
  • Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for a few months of Baron Davis and a future with Kyrie Irving.  Other than a win over Miami in March that brought the short-lived catch-phrase, "Not in our Garage", that was the highlight of the year for Cleveland sports in 2011.
  • Led by unlikely heroes, such as Jack Hannahan and Shelley Duncan, the Indians soar out of the gate to a 30-15 start in 2011, they fall expeditiously back to earth.  In July, the Tribe satisfies fans by being on the other side of an established player for prospects trade; Ubaldo Jimenez disappoints after the Indians unload their top prospects. They finish the season 80-82, and 2007 is such a distant memory at this point.
  • Cleveland celebrates its first championship as the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
  • Not that I watched, but I'm told the Oklahoma City Thunder were defeated by a team from Florida in the 2012 NBA Finals
  • The Indians don't have quite the same type of sizzling start that they did in 2011, but Manny Acta's squad still manages to lead the Central Division by half a game on June 23rd.  By the time the Browns were 0-3 in late September, the Tribe was in last place.  Sandy Alomar Jr. managed the final series of the season, the Indians managed to stave off the hapless Twins for 4th place at season's end.
  • 2 years of Pat Shurmur was all Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner needed to see before terminating him and GM Tom Heckert after the 2012 season.
  • Terry Francona was hired to replace Manny Acta as the Indians manager, in a move that changed the culture of Cleveland baseball.  With 2 World Series rings in his back pocket, Francona left ESPN after one season as an analyst to manage the team that he and his father once played for.  Free agents like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn end up signing with Cleveland, and there is honest dialogue whether or not this is the biggest free agent haul in Cleveland that didn't involve Art Modell's Discover card.  When Byron Scott was let go on April 18th, Francona was the longest tenured "head coach" in Cleveland with a 5-5 career record as the Cleveland skipper.

SalazarThat brings us to July 11, 2013.  Andrew Bynum agrees to terms with the Cavs, in a move that shocks some people.  Danny Salazar makes his Major League debut and gets the win over Toronto, keeping the Tribe within 2.5 games of the 1st place Tigers.  If you go 35 years in the other direction, Cleveland has their 1948 World Series title and 4 NFL Championships, not to mention their dominance in 4 years of play in the All-American Football Conference.  That must mean the next 35 will offer us nothing but good tidings.

The only question is, what will we do to kill time between the championship parades down Euclid Avenue?


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