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Original Issue


Indians fans dread losing their longtime losers

The worry does not end for the Cleveland Indians fan. He scares easily these days. Loud noises cause him to jump. He mutters. He fidgets. He scratches his head. Insecurity is his constant companion.

"Am I doing enough?" he asks. "Can I ever do enough?"

He does not know.

He wears a Cleveland Indians cap. He wears a Cleveland Indians sweatshirt. The light from a table-lamp replica of a Cleveland Indians batting helmet shines on a Cleveland Indians media guide he reads while he listens to a Cleveland Indians game on the radio. His children are tucked into bed in their Cleveland Indians flannel pajamas. His wife cooks a meal from a recipe she found in the Cleveland Indians cookbook.

"There must be more I can do," the fan says. "Something."

What a fool he has been! There is a possibility his team could be moved to another city, to another—what's the term?—major market. He cannot allow this to happen.

"I have ordered the official Cleveland Indians rug for my floor," he says. "I have purchased 150 tickets to a Tiger game and plan to take everyone I know to the ballpark, where we will spend as much money as possible."

The change in the fan's approach to his team and sport has come in the past three weeks. He was informed on May 2 by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent that he's a backslider and an ingrate. How true! Vincent came to Cleveland to lobby for the construction of a $344 million stadium and arena project, and he left no doubt about the town's sorry fan support.

In a whirl of press conferences and interviews, the commissioner warned that Cleveland was perilously close to fulfilling the four requirements that must be met before a team can be allowed to move to another city: 1) franchise losing money, 2) poor attendance, 3) stadium problem and 4) drop in the importance of baseball to the community. The commissioner said that passage of the stadium-arena proposal in a May 8 referendum would be a virtual necessity to ensure the future of baseball in Cleveland.

The fan was shocked.

"I did not know any of this," he said. "I thought owners simply moved teams whenever they pleased. Isn't that what Al Davis did in Oakland, what Bob Irsay did in Baltimore, what Billy Bidwill did in St. Louis? O.K., that's football. Maybe football is different. But what about Walter O'Malley and Brooklyn, Horace Stoneham and the Giants, and Bob Short and the Senators? O.K., that's ancient history. Maybe it's different now."

The fan had to admit that his interest had slackened a bit the past few seasons. He was ashamed to say that the Indians' constant losing possibly had been a factor. The fact that Cleveland hasn't won a pennant since 1954 or finished higher than third since '59 had eroded his enthusiasm. How could this be? It somehow simply happened.

Why didn't he sit in the battered seats of dreary Cleveland Stadium anymore on damp, windy August nights and cheer for a team 25 games out of first? Why couldn't he talk anymore about the glory days of Lou Boudreau or Rocky Colavito? Why couldn't he become enthusiastic about the latest hot prospects or the latest plans for rebuilding? Was it because he had seen too many ground balls go through the legs of too many former hot prospects? Had he watched too many rebuilding programs fail? He was embarrassed. He somehow had equated interest with success.

"The commissioner was so right to be mad at me," he said. "I'll bet I haven't been to a game in September in years. This should be my team, 50 games out or not."

The fan ran to the ballot box to vote for the stadium. This was an obvious first step. Polls conducted before the commissioner's visit had indicated the proposal would be defeated, but in the end it won narrowly. The fan's vote counted. The stadium will be built and is scheduled to open in 1994.

The money for the project will be raised through a "sin tax." A beer will cost 1.9 cents more; a shot of whiskey, 3.7 cents more; the price of a pack of cigarettes will go up about a nickel. The fan did not smoke or drink, but he does now. This is a second step. He is up to two packs of cigarettes and six beers a day with a few extra shots of whiskey on weekends. Anything to keep the Indians in Cleveland.

The commissioner has announced that the heat is off Cleveland now that the stadium project has been approved, but the fan has vowed never to become complacent again. He has a poster of manager John McNamara in his bedroom. He plans to go to every game possible, to buy every product, to memorize every batting average, no matter how low or inconsequential. This is a new time with new rules as cities fight for franchises and guns are placed to voters' heads.

The fan has become wise.

"I know what the commissioner was saying," he said, as he tried out his new Cleveland Indians yo-yo. "This is 1990. A man has to support his team. Even if it always stinks."