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The War (Not WAR) Between Casual Indians Fans and the Deeply Devoted

Everybody Hates Cleveland is loaded with excellent writers with a deep knowledge of the Cleveland Indians, the minor league system, the statistics, and more. I admit, I'm not one of them.

I would consider myself less of an expert and more of an everyday fan, but more devoted than the average fan. I have some decent knowledge, and I do watch a lot of games, but that's about it. With the exception of my military service in the mid-to-late 1980s, I have watched or listened to a majority of Indians games since the late 1970s. Baseball is my first love, and the Indians are my favorite Cleveland team.

There is a disconnect between the team and your average or casual fan. This makes the devoted fans very upset. They say that Cleveland is not a good baseball town. They get irritated with talk about how cheap the Dolans are, not because they necessarily disagree, but because they've heard that for 15 years now. They blame at least some of the team's budget issues on fans not going to the games. 

I get the devoted fans. But I also get the casual fan. And to be honest with you, I am more sympathetic to the casual fan.

Though many treat it like a religion, professional sports is really just entertainment. We all have an emotional connection to our teams, just some more than others. Those in love with the Indians just can't understand those who aren't. And with the Indians, if you look a little deeper than the surface, you have a team that has much to love.

But not everyone is interested in things beyond the surface. They want to flip on a game, watch their team win, and compete in the standings. They can't get excited in May about a team in last place just because in the past the team might have hit the gas pedal in August or September, which really isn't as prevalent as some devotees would have everyone believe.

Under manager Terry Francona, the team has exactly no playoff appearances. (They had that one-game wild card contest with Tampa Bay back in 2013, but I will never consider that a playoff appearance.) Let's look at the Indians' record for the last three seasons by month:

2015 - Overall win% .503

2014 - overall win% .525

2013 - overall win% .554
2013 was phenomenal and the Indians couldn't seem to lose in September. For that one game against Tampa, Progressive Field was packed and rocking! But 2014 and 2015 left a lot to be desired. An awful April in 2014 was followed by a mostly mediocre season. Same for 2015, with the exception of August. 2013 had three months with a better win percentage than any month in 2014 and all but that August in 2015. 

Despite what the devotees see, this is what the casual fan sees. They get excited about the season starting, the season starts off horribly, and they lose passionate interest. To them, the team is a lost cause. It's a little hard to argue as the team has finished those season with win percentages that were close to .500. 

And if you look at wins from 2013-2015, you see this decline: 92, 85, and 81.

Let's look at runs scored and where the team placed in baseball over those three years: 2013, 745 (tied for 5th); 2014, 669 (11th); 2015, 669 (18th). Again, in terms of ranking, a decline with matching numbers of RS last year and the year before.

"So what?" the purists will scream. "There are many other factors and statistics than these primitive categories. Also, the pitching has improved!" (Those devotees are about to get really upset because I'm going to reference ERA, which they find repugnant. Stick with me, guys.)

In 2013, the team's season ERA was 3.82, which ranked 15th in MLB. 2014: 3.56, 14th. 2015: 3.67, 8th place. What if we looked at season Earned Runs Allowed? 2013: 611, 13th. 2014: 581, 15th. 2015: 584, 8th.

So, yes, the pitching has improved. It's no secret that the team has one of the best rotations in baseball. Chicks may dig the long ball, but champions are built on the mound. If you look at team ERA in just the American League, the Tribe, from 2013-2015 finished 7th, 6th, and 2nd!

The problem is that with the increase in pitching performance paired with the decrease in offense as led to a mediocre record year over year. Now, add to that a team that has made one playoff appearance since the Dolans decided to drastically cut the payroll over a decade ago, and you have a lot of pessimism from those who don't look at the team with a magnifying glass.

I know that the devotees are ready to throw themselves into traffic as I sit here and give out such barbaric information as Team ERA and Runs Scored, but what they won't accept is that this is what the average fan looks at. They don't care about jWAR and DIP%. Average fans see wins, losses, and scoring. Fair or not, that's just the way it is.

So the Tribe headed into the offseason seen as someone who will not make moves to vastly improve problems, as a team that will sit and rely on minor league players and free agents who passed their primes years ago. And what did they do to improve the sputtering offense? They signed Raja Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe. Ages? 35, 34, and 36.

The devotees will come back and ask, "Well, who should they have signed?" And when the average fan can't answer that, or give the name of a free agent that was overpaid, the devotees scoff at them for their ignorance and then use this as Exhibit B on how Cleveland is not a good baseball town. They'll talk about the upside of Tyler Naquin, the guy slotted to start the season as the team's starting centerfielder. They'll also talk about defense. (Here I go again using ancient, barbaric stats)

In 2013, the teams fielding percentage ranked 21st in the Majors. 2014, last place. But 2015? 5th! And that was after a rocky start to open the season.

Improved pitching, improved defense, and all the average fan wants to talk about is offense??? 

Yep.

Sorry, but that's true about every sport in this country. Soccer, despite being the biggest sport internationally, can't seem to catch on because Americans don't want to watch teams play 2-1 contests. Same with hockey. Even if their NFL teams win, they find a 9-6 game to be dreadful.

And, to be fair to those casual Indians fans, where the team has finished in the overall standings has mirrored the trend of how they did on offense, at least over this small sample size:


(This isn't exactly fair to point out, as a lower or higher ranking does not mirror actual performance of the team, but rather how they compared to other teams. Also, since I apparently don't know how to manipulate the table, here, lower is better.) 

We can see how similar wins and runs scored did mirror each other over this time period. Also important to point out to those about to lose their statistics-driven minds, most fans don't really care about all the factors that lie beneath these. Again, they're only interested in wins. This chart above, love it or hate it, is reality to most fans.

So this war of attrition between the hardcore fans and the average or casual fans continues, each making very good points, in my opinion. 

The hardcore fan knows that the team is really one small break away from going from mediocre to a really good team. And they know that, with the rotation they have, the team would be a beast in the postseason.

The casual fan knows that the team never makes it to the postseason in order to be a beast. And since they don't see any noticeable improvements made to the team that struggles to score enough runs to give their excellent rotation a chance to win games, they don't have a lot of hope heading into 2016.

I get it and I get it. And I wish there wasn't so much animosity between the two sides. In the end, we all want to see the team win. It's the question of faith that separate the two.

Let me end this with an illustration that may better explain it.

The Indians are a relative that is addicted to heroin. (I know, an ugly way to illustrate it, but maybe some can see how unimportant fandom is versus real-life problems. Okay, probably not.) Some people in the family love the addict so much, that they can't help but see the positives. They are really pulling for the addict to overcome the darkness of their issues and come into the light of sobriety. 

Others in the family also love the addict, but they've heard the promises and all they see are the relapses. In the past, they got their hopes up, only to be hurt by the person they love who refused to make the changes necessary. Short of seeing actual results, they've given up much hope.

This attitude angers the hopeful. Why can't those other relatives be more supportive?! Why can't they see that the addict, though failing, is really trying to get better?! Maybe if the other family members were more supportive, the addict would be able to get out of their rut!

The other relatives wonder how blind the hopefuls can be, how all of this talk about a sunny tomorrow always end with the same dark, cloudy weather. Heck, some think that the hopefuls may even be enabling the addict by never taking him to task for his behavior.

To be honest, both sides have a really good point. The love isn't any less in one group than the other. The difference is in faith. The hopefuls have it, and the others don't. But both would love to celebrate the relative's sobriety.

Now, this is baseball and nothing as serious and destructive and awful as heroin addiction. But that example of faith is what separates the two sides of Indians fans. The love isn't the question. The hope is the question.

We're DAYS away from the 2016 season opening. I'm so excited, even though, if asked to predict, I would say the Indians are going to finish mediocre again. and I'll be watching and I'll be going to the games regardless. I guess you can say that I have a tempered hope.

But to the fans who stand aside with a smirk and their arms crossed, I get it. I really do. This team has not shown you any reason to truly believe that winning means more to them than budget. I don't believe that is true, but I understand how this is what you see.

I have no hope of stopping the Twitter firefights and the laying of blame on the other side. My one true hope is that the Indians simply win. And if they do, come October, I know both sides will be celebrating together.

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