Don't blame Dolan -- blame yourself


That single word best describes the hordes of people calling themselves Cleveland Indians fans who believe that the franchise owes them a $350 million plus offer to Frankie Lindor to keep their tepid, fair-weather support.

Francisco Lindor (34794674122)

Before we go further, remember that this is the same fan base that was given a 93-win campaign last season WITH Frankie Lindor and manged to best only 8 other MLB teams in fan attendance.

Not only did the 2019 version of the Indians have Lindor, it had Jose Ramirez coming off of two all-star seasons. It had an exciting young rotation, even after its top-flight starters fell away. It was led by arguably the best manger in baseball. It had a management team that found a way to add at the deadline and was in a playoff chase until the final week of the season. The Indians should have earned the benefit of our doubt by that point, being one of the most consistent winning teams in all of major league baseball over the last decade. How did Tribe "fans" reward this competence? They continued to stay away in droves.

"But Milwaukee can do it" some overweight radio talk show host surely bellows from atop his soapbox as I write, referring to the Brewer's resigning of Christian Yelich.  As you might know, Yelich is a recent National League MVP who boasts the highest batting average in the majors over the past two seasons (.327) and also ranks second in the majors in on-base percentage (.415), slugging percentage (.631) and OPS (1.046) over that same period of time.   All the same, Lindor would laugh off the $215 million nine year extension that Yelich signed.   My guess is that the Indians would have signed that same deal to keep Lindor in Cleveland yesterday.  But pretending that the situations were similar, what is lost in the shouting is that the Milwaukee fans have earned the owner's confidence to support a higher level of payroll by showing up at the gate.

The Brewers have a smaller metropolitan market than Cleveland, yet drew the eighth MOST fans to the ball park in 2019.  That is right behind Boston for comparison.

Brewers fans didn't sit home complaining that their 89-win squad had no realistic chance of beating the loaded LA Dodgers in the playoffs. They didn't deprive themselves of the opportunity to come out to the park and enjoy watching Yelich play because the front office might not sign him to an extension at the end of the season. They supported their team at the gate and enjoyed their time with one of the game's superstars.

Even in 2016 -- the year that the Indians played a game 7 in the World Series while having the third worst attendance mark in Major League Baseball -- the Brewers drew well over 2 million fans to the ball park to watch their team's 73-win season. Placed into further perspective, the smaller market Brewers drew more fans during that 73-win season than the Indians drew in 2017 after coming off a World Series appearance AND having a record breaking 22 game winning streak that propelled the attendance from a "disappointing" level to a "lukewarm" level.

In case you need a reminder of what a "baseball city" looks like, try Milwaukee.

The LA Angels have followed a model of signing the very best players in baseball to contracts, paying whatever it takes. They are paying Trout. They paid Albert Pujols. Why not, they can afford it.  Truth is, however, that they would kill to have the Indians' record of success over the last ten years. 

Let's walk that back. The Angels draw two times what the Indians draw at the gate, have a rich television contract, are owned by Disney, and haven't been able to match the Indian's consistent winning over the past decade.

The big market Boston Red Sox decided it wasn't financially prudent to keep Mookie Betts -- Lindor's contemporary and a superior offensive player, if only by a little. Boston is a top 10 team in attendance and a top 5 media market. Without Mookie Betts, they'll still be a major league leader in attendance because they play in a great baseball city.

Want a bottom line? The 2011 Manny Acta-led Indians drew over 100,000 MORE fans (1,840,835) than last year's 93-win team with Lindor (1,738,642)! Outside of a period over twenty-five years ago when the stars aligned for Dick Jacobs and nobody was competing for Cleveland sports entertainment dollars, Cleveland has shown itself to be a poor baseball market. So tell me how you think you have earned the owner's trust that if he digs deeper into his pockets that the fan base will reward it.

Indians management has a plan -- a plan that has worked very well over the last decade. Identify young talent, acquire it through the draft and trades, develop it and try to extend young players early if they excel. The problem is that Lindor bet on himself and was willing to trade short term security for the opportunity for a huge pay day. Now he's at the finish line. Good for him.  But his successful gamble has priced him out of the Indians' future.

There is a economic reality in Major League Baseball that small market teams need to do it differently. Teams with poor fan support in small markets like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have it even harder.  A good baseball team is made up of more than twenty players.  Counting heavily on one player by paying him 25% of a team's total payroll leaves little margin for success and no margin for error.  Few mega long-term contracts given to top players at the peak of their careers have proven to be good for the team in the long run.  Travis Hafner was an offensive force at the time the Tribe extended him to a long term deal.   Although nowhere near the deal Lindor will command, the contract became an albatross around the team's neck.

While there is little risk for the Yankees, Dodgers or Cubs to entering into these kinds of deals that drive the market, they can be disaster for smaller markets.  How happy do you think Indians fans would be with Lindor playing around last year's Detroit Tigers squad?  Staving off a multi-year period of fielding a non-competitive baseball team is essential to the franchise's attempt to avoiding the looming threat of MLB contraction and consolidation of teams.   Do not fool yourself -- it is coming.  And Cleveland is on the short list behind only teams like Tampa Bay and Miami.

The Indians have been the model for small market franchises over the last decade for a reason. They have executed a plan to stay competitive in a limited-revenue market with a fan base that has proven to give them diminishing returns with added payroll and competitive baseball.  In even good years in recent decades, Indians fans have proven that team success or fielding MLB stars will not dramatically move the attendance needle. 

Say you don't go to games because Dolan is cheap if it makes you feel better about yourself.  Understand, however, that growing cities like Columbus would kill to add the cultural attraction and bolstered local business economy that a major league baseball team attracts 81 days a year and may very well be a suitor when the Indians' lease with Gateway expires in 2023.  Heck, Cleveland fans have already built Dolan's case for relocation to Major League Baseball.

As for Lindor, we'll all miss him when he is gone and should take the opportunity to appreciated him while he is here.  But do not feel sorry for him.   His exit to a big market will give him the chance to be the next Derek Jeter -- something that would never have happened in Cleveland.
Don't blame Dolan -- blame yourself Don't blame Dolan -- blame yourself Reviewed by AT Dawgger on 7:07 PM Rating: 5

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