Thursday, October 27, 2005


Contrary to the opinion of several readers, I didn't die or drop off the face of the earth, but midterms, my internship and newspaper obligations have kept me from posting daily. You'll notice that in the blog description I have removed the word "daily." I'm a realist, and posting on here daily just isn't going to happen. Though there is something to talk about in the world of sports everyday, there isn't always time to talk about it.

Unfortunately, my long-overdue post will be a somber one. Everyone who follows Cleveland sports and pays attention to the Northeast Ohio media probably keeps one name synonymous with all the happenings in the worlds of the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers: Hal Lebovitz. Lebovitz, who had once served as the sports editor for The Plain Dealer and numerous other papers and wrote the famed "Ask Hal" column, died this week at the age of 89. I read his writings in the Mansfield News Journal, which syndicated his columns. Numerous Ohio journalists have written tributes to Hal, and I hope there's room on the bandwagon for this humble blogger.

When I was eight years old in 1993, I loved Bernie Kosar and the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, Kosar's career was showing its downslope in the middle of the season and the team's second quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, began to shine. I typed Hal a letter on an old Tandy 1000, printed it, and after a little parental editing, sent it off to him. I wanted to know if he thought it was a good idea for the Browns to make a quarterback switch and bench the local legend. Two weeks later, Kosar was released. I had forgotten all about the letter in my anguish of seeing Bernie go, but sometime in December, I got a hand-written letter in the mail from Hal. He was very courteous, saying that he anticipated the Browns' management's move, and mentioned that even though my question was moot now (this was when I learned what "moot" meant), he wanted to make sure he replied.

Another story--at age 11, I really felt that my Little League team had gotten railroaded by the umpire on a double play call while we were batting. I'll spare you the details of the play, but in my angst, hoping to prove that I was right, I wrote Hal. It was a longshot that my question would even appear in the column, but it was definitely worth the time to punch out a letter to send to my favorite writer. Sure enough, a question about baseball rules from John Carlisle, Shelby, Ohio, appeared in the paper. The irony was that Hal told me the umps got the call right. I was a little miffed, but I respected his decision because I knew he had years of playing and umpiring experience.

These anecdotes are two of thousands people will use to remember Hal. To be honest, he is probably the reason I have this blog right now. When The Chimes asked me to write a column, his were the ones I modeled mine after. He believed in a straight-forward "Here's what I know, and here's what I think about it" column. The result? A loyal readership and the admiration of players, coaches and owners of the Cleveland area. In the 70s, Indians owners kept considering moving the team out of the city but Hal convinced them otherwise--three times. When Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, Hal tried to persuade him also, but it fell on deaf ears. According to sources, Lebovitz and Modell haven't spoken since.

Lebovitz's style of journalism and sports writing epitomize integrity and loyalty. I will miss his writings greatly, and I send condolences to his family. Thanks, Hal.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005


Still numb from the Indians' collapse last week, I have made myself scarce on this blog. A week removed, though, the wounds were starting to scab over, and I thought I was ready to post again.

And then the Buckeyes played last night...and lost.

Coming into the season, a lot of experts labeled the away night game at Penn State as the "trap game" on OSU's schedule (a trap game is one in which an upset is very possible because of an expected emotional letdown, challenging playing conditions, etc.) Coming into this week, though, the game could not have been labeled as a trap game but instead a just a tough game. Penn State was undefeated, playing at night, at home, in front of some starving maniacally fans (they certainly give Buckeye fans a run for the rowdiness money) and against an interconference rival. The stage was set for upset, and anyone expecting the Buckeyes to walk in there and dominate was kidding him/herself. It was going to take a near-perfect performance to win on the road at Happy Valley, and it just didn't happen.

Did OSU make some mistakes? Certainly. What can't be overlooked, though, is that Penn State is back. You can't keep a good program down for long, and the geriatric Joe Pa appears to have one more loaded cupboard of talent. The PSU defense was phenomenal, which was just a little better than the Buckeye defense, which was terrific. OSU's defense kept them in the game, but the offense stagnated. It's not that Troy Smith played terribly. His interception in the second quarter was a poor decision, but other than that, he did all he could do against a ferocious Nittany Lion pass rush and constantly was looking for receivers who just couldn't get open. If anyone won that game for Penn State, it was the guy who covered Teddy Ginn. Ginn hasn't been able to get any running room for most of the season, which is a credit to the teams we have faced. Those blaming Troy Smith for coughing up the ball in the fourth obviously weren't watching; he was completely cracked from his blind side by the Penn State defender. Whoever let him in was responsible, or perhaps....just maybe....that Penn State defender just stepped up and made a big play, and the Buckeyes couldn't do much about it.

Say what you want about the loss to Texas, but OSU was legitimately beaten last night. They were the better team and deserved to win. Both of Ohio State's two losses have come against top-notch competition, and the win for Penn State is the biggest for their program in years. They just tossed their name into the national title hat. I will continue to root for the Buckeyes, though, and though it would take some help from other teams, they are still in the hunt for a Big Ten title, even if it is a co-championship. If you are so incredibly disgusted with the Buckeyes, though, and you're looking to get rid of some tickets, give me a call; there are still three home games left.

Watching the Browns game on Sunday with Cleveland trailing 10-6 in the fourth quarter, I was already composing this post in my head, thinking the headline would read something like "Ohio football disappoints save the Bengals." But the Chicago Bears fumbled twice in the fourth quarter, gift-wrapping a victory for the Browns. After Dilfer and Bryant capitalized twice on good field position to score touchdowns, the Browns won 20-10, and first-year head coach Romeo Crennel is 2-2. Though deep down I have been expecting dismal performance Dilfer and an eventual start for Charlie Frye, I have to say that Dilfer is no Ty Detmer. He's definitely an improvement on Jeff Garcia, too. Though the Browns' defense is a far cry from what they fielded in the 80s and mid-90s, it's not as terrible as I thought. In the past two games, they have allowed 23 total points. All of sudden, the Browns are weekend saviors. Usually, the mantra among most Ohio sports fans is, "Well, we at least have the Buckeyes." With an undefeated Bengals team and an improving Browns squad, maybe things are changing?

Smile, Cleveland. Your baseball club may not be playing right now, but your football team just won, and LeBron takes the court for games that count in less than a month. Smile, Cincinnati. The Bengals are the talk of the town again, and regardless of what happens in tonight's game with Jacksonville, four wins in the first five weeks is a great start. Columbus, well, you should probably go to a mall or a movie or something. The Blue Jackets and Buckeyes haven't given you much to smile about this weekend.

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Monday, October 03, 2005


We're cursed. We've got to be.

If I had known in late March the Cleveland Indians would win 93 games, I would have said they were a lock for the playoffs. I probably would have said they were a lock to win the division. If you would have told me that the Juan Gonzalez signing would've been a bust, but it wouldn't matter because Grady Sizemore would have a breakout year, I would asked to confiscate your flask. And if you would have prognosticated Bob Wickman's 40+ saves, I would have checked your pulse.

All of those things came true. The Indians also played .700 baseball in August and September. Victor Martinez went from hitting his IQ to finishing seventh in the league in batting.

Unfortunately, if you would have told me that the Indians would contend for the wildcard, only to come up short on the last day of the season, I would have disagreed with my heart and believed you in my head.

There are a few undeniable truths in baseball. If you make the first or third out of an inning at third base, you're probably not going to score. If you're an outfielder and you don't hit the cutoff man, more often than not, that will result in extra run for your opposition. Finally, if your team is in a playoff race in the last week of September and you lose six of your last seven games, you're not going to make the playoffs.

But how could a team that had been red-hot and won 17 of their last 20 games and appeared posied for the postseason drop six of seven? How could they lose five of six at home--two of which to the Devil Rays? And most strangely, how can five of those six losses be one-run losses, and the other is a two-run loss?

I cannot place blame. Shapiro put this team together, so he deserves more praise than I have the energy to give him right now. Wedge deserves manager of the year. After all, this team overachieved, and he handled the pitching staff and substitutions about as well as anyone could as this week. You can't blame guys like Hafner and Martinez. They're the reason the Indians got as far as they did. You certainly can't blame the pitching; it was terrific all week. You might put the blame on Ben Broussard for striking out so much and going 0-for-the-week with men in scoring position. You might even try to blame Ronnie Belliard for hitting into a double play Tuesday night.

If I had to find a culprit for derailing the Tribe's momentum, I point to the Kansas City sun and cosmic powers greater than pragmatism.

Last Sunday the Indians had 92 wins and were rolling toward a four-game sweep of Kansas City. They had a one-game lead in the wildcard over two teams and they were 1.5-games behind Chicago. They had a 3-0 lead behind Jake Westbrook, blew it and in the bottom of the ninth, Sizemore just couldn't pick up the ball in the sun. It happens to every outfielder at least once, maybe more times, in his career. The sun was, indeed, wicked. The Indians should have still had their lead, and it shouldn't have cost them the game--but it did--and it cost them their postseason, too.

You could try to justify the loss, saying "Well, there was that game in Kansas City earlier in the summer where the Tribe won on a dropped ball, so the law of averages is just evening things out." That was my overt philosophy, but inwardly, I had a bad feeling in my gut. It was one loss. It could have meant nothing. A bounceback win against Tampa Bay, and all would be forgotten.
Two losses later, the Tribe finally won, but that hardly qualifies as a bounceback win. The pressure was mounting, and the hope and confidence that had filled the clubhouse was replaced with doubt.

That's the stuff that chokejobs are made of.

It's really no one person's fault, but I guarantee someone will take the fall for it. Ben Broussard may not be back in a Cleveland uniform, and Casey Blake may not either. They are two good guys who fell victim to a cruel game. They were on the front line of a battle the Wahoos lost with fate.

We, as fans, can take solace in next year and the Tribe's exciting young core of players. There is some pride in being a Cleveland baseball fan again.

A city that hasn't had a championship team since 1964 and a ballclub that hasn't won a World Series since 1948, a ballclub that watched two World Series' slip away and just watched their team go from hottest in baseball to crumbling under the pressure has to wonder if there is something at work here that no one can explain.

Offseason priority #1: Break out the garlic and holy water at Jacobs Field.

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