Some Cleveland Sports Thoughts

January is a slow month for sports in Cleveland.  The Browns failed to make the playoffs again.  The Cavaliers are doing well, but the NBA season is still about a month away from the All Star break.  The Indians are about a month away from the start of spring training in Winter Haven.  So, I just wanted to offer some thoughts on the sports scene…
*  With a lean free agent market in baseball this year, Mark Shapiro continues to do an excellent job procuring talent.  He focused on strengthening the team’s bench, which could pay dividends during the season.  Guys like Eduardo Perez, Todd Hollandsworth, and Lou Merloni are all serviceable subs who will help this ballclub.  I’m still a little concerned about the bullpen, but all in all, the Indians are still a legitimate contender for the American League pennant in 2006.
*  WKNR’s Kenny Roda pawns himself off as a Steelers’ fan and a Browns’ fan, but he seemed a bit too happy after Pittsburgh’s 41-0 hammering of Cleveland on Christmas Eve.  If indeed you are a fan of the brown and orange, you could not be so gleeful after that performance.  Roda was delighted to rub the Browns’ collective noses in that mess.  He follows that up by conducting a Steelers rally in the heart of Browns country, which is advertised on the station.  You cannot be a fan of both teams, anymore than someone could be a fan of both Ohio State and Michigan.
*  More on Roda…Here’s hoping he doesn’t hurt himself patting his own back.  The afternoon host on 850 AM is taking partial credit for Browns GM Phil Savage keeping his job.  The fact is the outrage of the fans contacting the team’s office and that the organization was becoming a national joke is the reason for Savage staying.  Several days later on Greg Brinda’s show, The News-Herald’s Jeff Schudel told Brinda that no radio talk show host saved Savage’s job.
*  Listening to the Cavs’ game the other night, I noticed that play by play man Joe Tait has started to criticize the defense of guard Damon Jones on the air.  Tait is critical toward officials, but rarely does a Cavalier incur his wrath.  This is usually a sign that management is not happy with the player’s performance and he soon could be relocating.  Just something to keep in mind…

Cavs' Jones Should Shut Up!

After Saturday’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Cavaliers guard Damon Jones lashed out at the fans telling them he did not want to be cheered anymore, because he was booed during the game after missing several three point shots.  Jones, the self proclaimed "best shooter in the world", is in a slump hitting less than 20% of his shots after moving to the starting line up after the injury to Larry Hughes.
Jones should shut his mouth.  First, nothing good can be gained by getting into an argument with the fans.  Fans go to the game for enjoyment, and although they may not know what they are talking about, they are paying money to go to the games.  Jones may have been a key player for the Miami Heat last season, averaging 12.2 points per game, but Cleveland fans didn’t see that.  They judge Jones only on what they have seen since the guard put on the wine and gold, a supposed great shooter who is tossing enough bricks to build a new wing at Quicken Loans Arena, and a guy who couldn’t guard someone in a phone booth.
I guarantee you that if LeBron James or Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a couple a subpar games the crowd would not be up in arms.  That’s because Cavs’ supporters have seen enough of a track record from these players to give them the benfit of the doubt.  They would understand that the player is going through a slump.
The crowd at the "Q" hasn’t seen enough good games from Jones to allow him the same slack.  It also doesn’t help Jones cause that he talks better than he has played so far.  He’s the guy who came to Cleveland talking about how good he is.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.  If you are going to tell everyone how great you are, then you have to produce.  If Jones had signed with the Cavs without saying much, the fans would probably be more understanding.
Cleveland is a city that likes athletes who work hard.  Look at some of the players it embraced over the years, Brian Brennan, Danny Ferry, Omar Vizquel (there is another theory at work here too).  The people of this city do not like guys who are all flash and no substance.  That’s what Jones is. 
I can tell Damon Jones this.  Once the shots start falling, the crowds at the "Q" will fall in love with Damon Jones.  Jones will become more popular in this city, and this is a city who puts its athletes on pedestals.  That is if Jones hasn’t damaged his relationship with the fans by opening his mouth.  You can’t dig a hole you can’t get out of.  Hopefully, Damon Jones can climb out of his hole with the fans.

Will Cavs' Depth Be Enough?

The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered their first major injury of the 2005-6 season with the news that guard Larry Hughes will miss 6-8 weeks due to surgery to repair a broken finger.  GM Danny Ferry wanted to put together a deeper team for this season, and although Coach Mike Brown likes to go about eight deep in games, Hughes’ injury will show if there is depth for the wine and gold.
Last night, Brown started Damon Jones in place of Hughes, and the early return was not promising.  Jones made just one shot, a three pointer, and struggled on defense as usual.  In fact, Brown turned to seldom used Mike Wilks to place defense after watching Milwaukee guard Michael Williams drive the lane uncontested several times late in the third quarter.  Shortly thereafter, the Cavs went on a 19-0 run to take the lead and put the game away for good. 
The guess here is we will see more Ira Newble and Luke Jackson in Hughes’ absence.  Newble offers the defensive presence that Hughes gave the team, and Jackson can provide the offense once he gets more confortable on the court.  The team will need Donyell Marshall to provide the scoring that will be missing as Hughes is the second leading scorer at 16 PPG. 
However, the biggest thing that Hughes supplies is a second guy who can create his own shot.  Outside of LeBron, the Cavaliers really do not have anyone else who can do that.  Also, the former Wizard is another player who will hit the open man.  So, his loss will be more of a factor on offense than people may think. 
The Cavs’ are going to need someone to step up while Hughes is out, both offensively and defensively.  How successful they are in finding someone could determine whether or not they have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  After so many years on the outside looking in, that’s a pretty good thing to have to worry about.

The Right Guy is Gone

This morning, the word came out of Berea that Browns’ President John Collins is out, apparently losing his power struggle with Vice President and GM Phil Savage.  After Friday’s rumor that Savage was about to be fired by Collins, a move that would have set the franchise back yet again, Randy Lerner’s ownership was about to be hammered by the fans and the media.  Thankfully, Lerner came to his senses and unloaded his yes-man.
The reason this team hasn’t won since 1964 is because very rarely has the organization been run by a football man.  In the mid 1980’s, Ernie Accorsi ran the organization and brought in guys like Frank Minnifield and Kevin Mack from the USFL, and helped orchastrate the Bernie Kosar drafting.  The Browns went to three AFC Championship Games, although they lost to Denver.  The point is the team won. 
Usually guys like Art Modell and Carmen Policy were running the operation, guys more interested in marketing and promotion that winning football.  This is the kind of man John Collins was.  The Cavaliers used the same metality when Gordon Gund owned the team.  Gund changed uniform colors, brought in star players, traded players he thought had questionnable friends.  Fans stayed away in droves.  There is only one thing that draws in Cleveland, winning!  If the team wins, people will go to the games.  If Randy Lerner wants the Browns to regain the lofty perch they enjoyed until the team left in 1994, winning should be the primary focus.
Collins’ resignation means that Savage will remain in control of the football operation, which is a very good thing.  It has been reported that Head Coach Romeo Crennel went to bat for Savage, probably because he doesn’t want to continue to coach poor personnel forever.  Crennel and Savage worked closely in training camp, making decisions on who can play and who cannot.  A head coach would rather discuss those decisions with a football man than another suit in the front office.
A decision to get rid of Savage would have stamped the organization as a laughing stock.  After all, it hasn’t even been a year since the GM joined the team from the Ravens.  A two game improvement from the 4-12 record in 2004 would have went down the drain.  This is a team on the rise, with a coach and general manager who have experience with winning teams.  Maybe Collins didn’t like the attention the two were getting.  Or maybe Collins was looking for a scapegoat for the 41-0 drilling by Pittsburgh, instead of just seeing the game for what it was, a better team winning.
Today, at least, common sense has taken control in the Browns’ organization.  Randy Lerner chose the right man instead of an ass kisser.  Phil Savage has a stronger hold on his position in charge of football operations.  Perhaps three years from now, Savage should be on the hot seat, but not now, not after one year in the position.  Phil, keep wearing the baseball hat with the suit, if you win, it will be colorful.  No matter what John Collins thinks.

Will Tribe Spend Money From New TV Contract?

The Indians announced the formation of their new television network on Monday, and made a big deal of saying the proceeds from the new venture would be put in the payroll budget, raising that number to around $60 million.  In 2005, the club spent an estimated $43 million on their players’ salaries.  However, looking at the transactions Mark Shapiro has made this winter, it appears he has most of that money left on the table.

Cleveland lost Kevin Millwood, who signed a ridiculous five year deal with Texas, and replaced him with Paul Byrd, who is making the same $7 million as Millwood did in 2005.  Bob Wickman re-upped with the club at roughly double his $2.5 million salary in 2005.  The team also lost free agents Bob Howry and Scott Elarton, but signed innings eater Jason Johnson from Detroit at $3.5 million for 2006. 

So, it appears before the raises being given to the younger players like Sabathia, Hafner, Martinez, etc., The Indians increased their payroll by about $4 million, leaving $13 million left for Shapiro to spend.  Let’s say those raises talked about earlier add up to about $5 million, so Shapiro still has about $8 million left to dole out.  Where will it go?

The front office complains about the lack of buzz surrounding the team even though they won 93 games last season.  However, it is hard to create interest when your chief competition, the White Sox, has added Jim Thome and Javier Vasquez to a team that won the World Series in ’05, and you signed Paul Byrd.  I’m sure the Tribe’s marketing department is wondering how to promote the ’06 Tribe.

This is not to say Shapiro should have given huge jack to guys like Burnett, Ryan, and even Millwood.  Those would have been bad investments.  Will this team use the $8 million or so it has to spend to obtain players from a team looking to cut payroll?  There is still a month and a half before training camp opens, so there is plenty of time to upgrade the roster.

Taking low risk gambles on Danny Graves and Steve Karsay are smart moves, but they don’t create a big splash, and they certainly don’t sell tickets.  Shapiro has some money, and he certainly has the smarts.  Will he make a creative move to take on payroll and improve his club?  Could the extra cash be spent on bringing Manny Ramirez back to the Wigwam? 

Let’s see what happens in these next six weeks to see if the Indians can create a buzz going into the 2006 season.



The Rivalry Should Be On Now!

For the many Steeler fans out there who do not think the Browns game is a big deal since Cleveland is not any good, the performance of the black and gold on Saturday should get the fire burning among the Browns players in 2006.  If I were in the front office, I would ask the schedule makers to allow the two teams to get together as early as possible next season.
Yes, Pittsburgh dominated in every phase of the game in the 41-0 pasting at Browns Stadium.  And yes, they are a better team, as they try to make the playoffs again with their 10-5 record going into their game with the equally wretched Lions on Sunday.  However, it was the way the Steelers won that should leave a bad taste in the mouth of every person in the Cleveland organization. 
Pittsburgh mocked the Browns.  They ran up the score with a long pass to Quincy Morgan, who amazingly held on to the pass, in the fourth quarter.  The subsequent kickoff looked awfully like an onside kick, as well.  The constant preening and posturing of Steeler players in the rout should stick in the craw of Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel, and every other Brown.  Bill Cowher’s smug smile was every bit as annoying as Morgan’s gesturing after his touchdown.
The game showed Pittsburgh did not take the Browns seriously from the moment the game began.  The Browns players and coaching staff said after the game they were embarassed by their performance.  They should be. For the most part, they mailed it in on Christmas Eve.  You can count on one hand the players who were disgusted by their play as the game went on.  Reuben Droughns’ effort on a fourth down carry in the fourth quarter showed his passion for the game. 
The Steelers acted like the big bully on the playground on Saturday, making fun of the little guys as they repeatedly they gave them noogies.  Nest year, here’s hoping the Browns get up off of their collective butts, stand up and kick the bully right in the family jewels.  I’d love to see Cowher grimacing along with the rest of the guys wearing black and gold.

It's Official: The Browns Are Better Than '04

With all of the bitching about the Cleveland Browns over the past few weeks, you would think the team is taking steps backward.  However, with yesterday’s 9-7 win over the Oakland Raiders, the team has now won five games on the season, one more than 2004’s 4-12 record.  See, the Browns are getting better.
It is difficult to think Cleveland will beat the Steelers on Christmas Eve (that’s right, I wrote CHRISTMAS!!!), but a victory in the season finale at the Stadium against the Ravens isn’t so hard to fathom.  That would mean the brown and orange will end up with a 6-10 record, a two game improvement.  The Browns also appear to have found a quarterback for the future, with Charlie Frye’s continued good play. 
Yesterday was Frye’s first win, and it was a come from behind effort at that.  Yes, Frye made some ill advised throws, such as the sideline pass to Corey McIntyre that was picked off.  But, he also made some excellent throws like the one to Antonio Bryant where Frye was almost broken in two.  The rookie from Akron displays great touch, but also can put some mustard on the ball as well. 
On defense, the team allowed just one touchdown, although Sabastian Janikowski did help by missing two field goals.  This was done despite the defense being on the field most of the second quarter.  Cornerback Leigh Bodden appears to be a guy who can be a starter in the NFL, but as a #2 corner.  Chaun Thompson shows signs of being a big play guy, and  Andra Davis signed a five year contract, so he will be one of the building blocks of the defense. 
The team still needs a pass rusher though.  Even though the sacked the QB a few times against the Raiders, the Browns lack a consistant pass rush.  With oodles of dollars under the salary cap, and a probable top ten pick in the draft, GM Phil Savage can continue to build on this season.  There will be changes in the coaching staff, if only because Romeo Crennel will have more time to put his staff together.  He didn’t have this last year because he was hired late. 
Unlike last year, you have to feel better about the Cleveland Browns than you did at this point in 2004.  There is stability in the front office, the head coaching position, and at quarterback.  I know that won’t stop the complaining, but it should.

Brown Needs to Put His Foot Down

New Cavaliers coach Mike Brown came to Cleveland with a defensive reputation.  He served as an assistant to the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Pacers’ Rick Carlisle, both coaches who stressed the defensive part of the game.  In his first 20 games in charge of the Cavs, Brown’s team has not displayed much ability defending the opposition.  With the season 1/4 of the way through, the new coach has to do something to turn it around.  Maybe even something drastic…
Like making an example of his superstar, LeBron James.
Supposedly, James has a good relationship with his new coach, so it would not be stepping on LBJ’s toes.  In fact, you could clue him in to the plan if you want.  The next time James is not performing well on the defensive end, Brown should have him take a seat next to the coach.  If that doesn’t send a message to the Damon Joneses, Luke Jacksons, and Donyell Marshalls on this team, nothing will.  You don’t try on defense, you do not play, no matter who you are.
This stance needs to start tonight against the Denver Nuggets.  Cleveland needs to be show more effort and be more physical on defense.  Especially guys like Alan Henderson and Zendon Hamilton, who are on the team to do the grunt work.  Maybe Brown should give players like that more time at the expense of those unwilling to defend. 
The one thing the Cavs do not need is Ron Artest.  As ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg said " Run as far away from Artest as you can".  The one thing this team does not need is an unstable personality.  James is still a kid, Drew Gooden is a young player, so are Anderson Varajao, Luke Jackson, and Sasha Pavlovic.  They need to learn with veterans who play and act the right way, not be exposed to a nut case.  The wine and gold do need a physical defender, but you can get a role player for that purpose.
The Cavs are a team with many, many new players.  They will get better as the season goes on from the experience of playing together.  However, they do need to know the importance of defense.  It isn’t too early to begin concentrating on that end of the floor.

Cleveland Sports Fans are Funny

I have been a Clevelander all my life, and a sports fan as well.  I also am a fan of comedy, which means I am saddened by the death of Richard Prior.  However, to find the best comedy around, I suggest you listen to the post game radio talk shows after the Browns games.
Maybe I’m confused, but I see two games where the Browns had a chance to win against Jacksonville and Cincinnati, two teams that will make the playoffs, as progress.  Let’s face it, Cleveland does not have the talent of either of those teams.  It is well documented how the Browns have had only one Pro Bowl player since returning to the NFL in 1999, and do not have any player ranked in the league’s top 100 players compiled by The Sporting News. 
One caller even brough up Butch Davis, citing that he took over a team that won three games and moved them to seven wins and then nine wins in his first two years.  He neglected to mention the Browns then went into the toilet, mainly due to Davis’ talent evaluation.  This is the mess that GM Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel are trying to clean up.
This is not going to be a one year process.  Nobody claimed it would be.  Did any Browns fan really expect the team to make the playoffs in 2005?  No.  Would fans have been pleasantly surprised by an 8-8 record this year?  Yes.  So, why all the hand wringing about a 4-9 record.  Look, I’m frustrated by the losing too, but the big picture mandates this was not going to be a quick process.  Losing close games to two of the best teams in the AFC is progress in my book.
I don’t want to hear how this is the Cleveland mentality, that it is okay to lose if the team tries really, really hard.  I don’t believe that for a minute.  Any move any professional team makes should be for the sole purpose of winning a title.  I think the Browns are starting the long climb up hill.
Charlie Frye, Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, and Reuben Droughns give the offense some fire power in 2006.  Coordinator Todd Grantham has the defense doing well without a lot of talent, so it stands to reason the unit will be better when he gets guys who can rush the passer and cover wide receivers. 
This team is making the right moves.  Now Browns’ fans need to get off the cliff so they can see that for themselves. 

No Panic About Not Getting Hoffman

When news came down that the San Diego Padres had virtually given away 2B Mark Loretta to Boston for back up catcher Doug Mirabelli, I know the money the Pads had saved in that deal would go to Trevor Hoffman, and the Indians would not get the ace reliever.  However, it was much earlier that I was hoping Hoffman would not be heading to Jacobs Field for the 2006 season.
The reason is Cleveland’s guarantee of a third year on the contract.  Hoffman is 38 years old and the thought of paying $7 million for a 41 year old closer is scary.  Getting back Bob Wickman on a one year deal at less money is a better alternative.  I know, I know, the ninth inning with Wickie is an adventure, but if the veteran isn’t effective, he will not be back in 2007, nor will the Tribe be paying him.
The biggest reason I like the signing of Paul Byrd is that it is only guaranteed for two years.  The dollars were a little high, but after the contracts given to Esteban Loaiza by the A’s, and A.J. Burnett by the Blue Jays that is the going rate.  Fans do not want to hear this, but inking Byrd for two years is better than giving Kevin Millwood four or five years.  Teams like the Tribe can’t afford to lose payroll flexibility, especially in the pitching staff.
This is the time ballclubs can start looking for bargains, after the teams throw incredible amounts of cash at the "premier" free agents.  Teams like the Indians will be able to find players who may out produce the Burnett’s and Hoffman’s of the world at less than half the price. 
Cleveland will look to add a right handed set up man to share the eighth inning with Arthur Rhodes would solidify the bullpen, and allow the team to work Fernando Cabrera into the set up/closer role slowly.  I’m still not convinced David Riske will be back with the club in 2006. 
I’m also sure GM Mark Shapiro is not done looking for another starting pitcher.  Perhaps Scott Elarton will return as the fifth starter.  Maybe a trade is in the offing.  But, do not believe for a minute that this team will go into spring training with Jason Davis, Jeremy Sowers, or Fausto Carmona as the only candidates for the last spot in the rotation.
Shapiro also needs a bat, preferably right handed.  While Nomar Garciaparra’s name has been mentioned, with the acquisition of Brad Wilkerson, Texas may now be interested in moving Kevin Mench.  There are also platoon guys like Matt LeCroy, who spent 2005 with the Twins, and Jeff DaVanon, just designated for assignment by the Angels, who annihilate left handed pitching and are available. 
Remember that the Indians have a good farm system with a plethora of mid range prospects and could include some in a trade.  Guys such as Davis, Brandon Phillips, or Jason Cooper could be key components for a team looking to rebuild their system. 
By no means is this team ready to open the regular season.  More moves are coming, because Shapiro and the ownership know this team and this city are ready to win again.