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Camino Scratch: Investment from ownership paying off for Tribe
For years Paul Dolan was criticized by many Indians fans, the misguided narrative is over now
By: Nick Camino
CLEVELAND – Everything changed on Oct. 6, 2012.
The Indians had just finished their regular season, a never-ending six month marathon that saw them go 68-94, finishing fourth in the AL-Central, 20-games behind the Division Champion Detroit Tigers. A week prior, Tribe brass decided to fire manager Manny Acta.
The season ticket base was plummeting. Fans were losing hope and the golden era of the 90s felt like a lifetime ago. It had been five full seasons since the club was even back in the MLB Playoffs.
The franchise needed a jolt. More than that. It needed lightning to strike at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
And it all happened.
Terry Francona was hired as manager.
Since the day Francona was introduced as Indians manager, the culture surrounding Tribe baseball has changed. Citing his strong relationships with former team president Mark Shapiro and then general manager Chris Antonetti, Francona made it clear he wasn’t taking this job opportunity in Cleveland to “go to pasture.” In other words, this was not an excuse to collect a virtual retirement paycheck. Tito, as he is affectionately known, was here to win.
And win he has.
Now in his fifth season as manager, Francona has helped guide the Tribe to a World Series appearance, an ALCS Championship, an AL-Central Division crown and a playoff appearance via the one game wild-card in his very first season. In fact, over the last five seasons, no club in the American League has won more games than the Indians. And let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but it would take a monumental collapse for this current club not to win its second-straight division crown.
The hiring of Francona may mark the single-greatest hire in the history of Cleveland sports. That may be until the Browns next head coaching hire. Okay, that was too easy.
Francona will be enshrined in Cooperstown one day as a Hall-of-Fame manager and if he happens to win his third World Series ring here in Cleveland, ending another long drought as he did in Boston, not once but twice, he may go down as one of the greatest MLB managers of all-time.
High praise for Tito. And let’s not forget, the players on the field ultimately have to play at a high level as well.
Yet, while the Indians are putting together another terrific summer of baseball, with hopefully another run to the World Series, one man seems to be getting overlooked and throughout the years has been no stranger to criticism in this town; with mostly unfair criticism at that.
I’m referring to Indians owner Paul Dolan.
For years, Dolan was being blamed by fans for cutting payroll, trading players the club was never going to realistically re-sign and not coming up with $500 million out of his own pocket to sign the next big free agent that off-season.
Dolan, and his father Larry before him, became easy scapegoats that uneducated fans continually blamed even when it didn’t make sense to. Whether it was calling into local radio shows, writing in to long-time Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com beat writer Paul Hoynes or ultimately not showing support by boycotting games, some fans felt it was their divine duty to blame ownership.
Finally, with consistent winning baseball back at Progressive Field the silly narrative of blaming ownership in a smaller MLB market appears to have quieted down. In fact, it’s my belief that most fans understand how this system actually works. When revenue for a franchise goes up, through annual television and radio rights fees, increases in season tickets and yearly attendance gate sales and merchandise sales along with several other avenues, owners will indeed spend more money on their product.
It has been this way for years, but apparently it took winning baseball for it to finally sink in.
What needs to finally be understood by the passionate fan base in Cleveland is, without Dolan and his devotion to the Indians and his Northeast Ohio roots, this current successful era of Tribe baseball may not be possible.
It was Dolan that gave his blessing to acquire new outfielder Jay Bruce in the middle of August. When the New York Yankees were unwilling to pick up the final two months of his salary in a proposed trade with the New York Mets, it was Dolan and the Indians that opted to pick up the tab on the remaining $4 million left on his contract.
Even if Bruce happens to be a two-month rental for the club, Indians ownership understands the window of opportunity to win a World Series is now and next year is never guaranteed.
After the trade to acquire Bruce, Francona was quick to praise Dolan, understanding the economics of baseball and that Cleveland financially will never outspend the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s literally impossible. Fans finally seem to be coming around to this.
The unfortunate aspect of ownership being an unfair scapegoat over the years in this town is that it quite simply was never true.
Back in 2001, the Dolan family spent more on the Indians payroll than in any year previous owner Dick Jacobs owned the club. Fact checkers are scrambling to prove me wrong on this. Don’t bother. In 2001, the Indians payroll was $93 million. Higher than any of those golden era 90s Tribe teams.
Have we even considered the financial commitment that was made by Dolan to land Francona? A two-time World Series skipper from Boston. Sure, Tito’s relationships with Shapiro and Antonetti was helpful, but as in life, money talks in professional sports as well. For an MLB manager, Francona is cashing a nice paycheck every two weeks. Not that he doesn’t deserve it. Hell, Tito is worth his weight in gold and then some, when it comes to this ball club. But landing a manger of Francona’s caliber took at least two Brink’s truckloads backing up to his scooter.
Not long ago in 2013, Dolan and Indians ownership shelled out $117 million in guaranteed free agent contracts for Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds in one off-season. Yes, ONE! That was more than the Yankees, Dodgers, Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs that year.
Are you beginning to understand how utterly ridiculous the “ownership is cheap” claims actually were yet? And gosh, if they still do exist, you should probably have your fan card immediately pulled.
Now, would it have been nice if one of those four free agents in 2013 panned out on the field? Sure. But, it’s not on ownership to identify talent. They simply write the check.
And then most recently, Dolan and the front office landed free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion for $60 million over a three year contract, making him the highest paid player in club history. Edwin and his parrot appear to be paying off.
Some fans have pointed to the fact that John Sherman was recently added as a vice chairman for the Indians and minority owner. And, of course, any time you can add additional dollars that helps.
But while you are enjoying another winning season of Indians baseball, a club that should easily win its second-straight Central Division crown, and looks destined to get back to the World Series where they fell just short in a historic Game 7 a year ago; it may not hurt to take a minute to understand and appreciate the financial investment of the Cleveland front office.
Dolan, a Northeast Ohio native from Chardon, would love nothing more than to bring his hometown team its first World Series crown since 1948.
If Francona and this star-studded Indians roster of talent that ownership has invested in can win it all when late October arrives, perhaps Dolan will finally get the credit he is long overdue for.
*Nick Camino’s column will appear weekly on WTAM.com and can be linked up through Facebook and Twitter. Nick is the nightly talk show host on Newsradio WTAM 1100 and also helps anchor sports at Cleveland 19 News.