This season, baseball historian Bill Savage has been contributing a Chicago Cubs fan's perspective from his seats at Wrigley Field in a column called The View From Section 416. For the World Series, Cleveland Indians fan and baseball writer Susan Petrone has joined the party and will write The View From The 216 -- aka Cleveland's area code.
It's been a strange and heady year here in Believeland. If you live in the 216, it's a fine time to be alive. We're currently grooving on the Indians in the World Series. The wind off Lake Erie smells of hope and energy. It started this past summer when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the city's first major sports championship in, like, forever, and has carried right on over into October. The idea that the Cleveland Indians are playing in the World Series right now and that they haven't been swept but could actually win this thing, is simultaneously overwhelming and joy-inducing.
The only problem is, it's a little lonely. Judging from the news and social media, it appears that just about everybody outside of Northeast Ohio is rooting for the Chicago Cubs in the Series. In a way, it's understandable. The Cubs have lost for so long and in so many ways that a sort of mythology has sprung up around their epic World Series drought. Embracing the lovable losers has become almost, well, cute. Cleveland, on the other hand, has lost not only baseball games but population and jobs over their 68-year-drought. We have learned that losing isn't cute or cuddly.
People are hesitant to cheer for the Cleveland Indians for any number of reasons. To put it in human terms, if my city were a person, she'd be the funky chick hanging out on her own, moving on the periphery of the cool crowd. She's the one who sometimes tries too hard to act cool. She can be defensive when she thinks she's being insulted, probably because she has been given a lot of grief in the past just for being her. And then there's her tattoo. Somebody said she got it a long time ago and knows it's horrible. She's still gathering up the courage to get rid of it. Some of the popular kids who've talked to her one-on-one thought she was really cool, fascinating, beautiful even, but they'll never say so. Nobody will admit to actually liking her.
And it seems that nobody will admit to actually liking the Indians. I'm not asking you to buy season tickets here, just to give them a chance. Why should you get behind Cleveland?
Getting behind the underdog is an American tradition
The Cubs have a $186 million payroll and a near-perfect roster of marquee players. By contrast, the small-market Indians have a $114 million payroll and maybe two guys and one pinkie that anyone outside of the city has ever heard of. On paper, Cleveland is grossly overmatched. Nobody thought they'd make it past the American League Division Series, much less all the way to the Fall Classic. But here they are. In a World Series of baseball's two perpetual underdogs, we're the underdogs.
They keep finding unusual ways to win
If you're reading this, you probably already know the litany of injuries. The Indians were without their most productive hitter (Michael Brantley) for most of the season. They were without their regular catcher (Yan Gomes) for most of the season. They entered the postseason with two-thirds of a starting rotation. They won Game 3 of the American League Championship Series despite losing their starting pitcher in the first inning because he was bleeding all over the ball. They clinched the ALCS with a rookie making his second major league start on the mound. Terry Francona is reimagining the way modern managers use their bullpens on the fly. Who does this sort of thing? Don't you want to see what they'll do next?
Cleveland needs this more
Let's start this with a question. Ask 10 people where they'd rather live: Cleveland or Chicago? Let's start with you, would you rather live in Cleveland or Chicago?
It's okay that you said Chicago. We're used to that.
For Cubs fans, this World Series is about winning baseball's ultimate title. In Cleveland, the World Series isn't just about baseball. We don't have the luxury of a second major league team. Our football team has never won a Super Bowl. Chicago's basketball team alone has won more championships on its own than our entire city has won in the three major sports in the Super Bowl era. Chicago has never been the punchline to a stale joke.
By now I'm sure you've seen the MLB-sanctioned T-shirts for the postseason. They feature an identical tagline with only the city name changed. When I saw the "Respect Chicago" shirt, I almost laughed. When have people not respected Chicago? That's about as daring as saying "Respect Tacos." Now a T-shirt exhorting you to "Respect Cleveland?" That's a bit more challenging, isn't it?
We are a small market city. The national narrative about this World Series is still focused on the Cubs. Even when the small market team wins, the rest of the world doesn't say "Cleveland won." Instead, people wonder how the big market team lost. Even if the Indians win it all this year, the national headlines won't read: "Cleveland wins World Series." They'll read: "Chicago Cubs fans continue to suffer." By cheering for the Indians, you will help to subvert the dominant paradigm.
Think about getting behind them. You don't need to buy the "Respect Cleveland" shirt. But call up that funky chick and ask her to hang out. Get to know her a little bit. Show her some respect. And root for her in the World Series.