From my many years of following Cleveland professional sports I could probably write a book about the strangeness of being a fan. Well this is a blog and not a publishing site so I have no intention of writing that book. But with the Browns owner Jimmy Haslam currently scrambling for cover, I found my mind wandering to some of the stranger things. Don’t worry. This is not going to be a replay of the “Drive” or “Fumble” or any other tale of woe for championships lost.
Let’s go back to the earliest days of free agency in baseball. The Indians made one of the biggest splashes, if not the biggest splash, as they signed the young 26 year old Ace pitcher of the Baltimore Orioles, Wayne Garland. In 1976 he was 20-7 with a brilliant 2.67 ERA. The Indians signed him and he pitched all year in 1977 ending up with a 13-19 record and a respectable 3.60 ERA. But he didn’t look right and he wasn’t. The Indians signed him to the richest contract in the history of baseball and he was injured from that point forward. Pitching until 1981 for the Tribe, he never won more than 6 games and never had an ERA under 4.61. Most ERAs were way over 5 and in the year he was diagnosed with the injury it was 7.89. He NEVER had a winning record for the Indians. That contract stifled the finances of the team for years and probably stopped the team from signing any other worthy top free agents from then on for fear of history repeating itself. I remember how excited I was when the team announced the signing. I remember how mad I was for the next 5 years. Question: Would that have ever happened to the Yankees?
The Cavaliers had the tremendous luck of winning the lottery when LeBron James came out. Sounds great right? Well it was in a way. We had winning teams and went once to the NBA finals. But we still never won a championship. That is not what I find odd. I do find it odd that we hired a coach, Byron Scott, to finally give LeBron the direction he needed. Make no mistake about it, the team never really planned for what happened. From the very start they were convinced James would be back. Scott, like a good soldier, said all the right things. He told all of us he wanted to be here and he did not take the job because of the prospect of coaching James. After the decision, it was clear that the team would have to cave to the bottom in order to have a chance to rise back to the top. And it was clear that they would have to lose for multiple seasons. Well, they accomplished that masterfully and then Scott is fired because of the pathetic team play and poor defense. So he is gone and now the team has to hire another coach. So who is the current top candidate to replace Scott? The very coach they fired to hire Scott and who was fired by another team in between. Wow. Who could have written that story? Now this is not to argue the merits of Mike Brown as a “return” coach. I will do that later. But it is just so strange to contemplate and I doubt there is any similar precedent in the history of the NBA. Question: Do you think the Celtics would follow a similar path?
No one can question the historic importance of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. They are one of the most iconic franchises and have one of the most widespread and largest fan bases in the league. And yet, they were wrenched from Cleveland with disregard by an owner who couldn’t handle his finances and a league that was happy to oblige in their quest to extort cities into building new stadiums. Cleveland became the example that any team can leave if the city does not comply with the NFL’s need to modernize their stadiums. So we get a new team and the league makes the franchise suffer through a poor franchise deal because some previous new teams had “too much success” early in their existence. They get a new owner who wanted, in some sense, to make amends for his part in the departure of the Browns. He had the means and the determination to bring the Browns back to prominence. Then he died. Then his son inherits the team and doesn’t really want the team and goes through multiple management “groups”, none of which work. He hires a respected football man who was known for his ability to find and develop quarterbacks. He never found a quarterback (not even close) and was fired because the owner decided to sell the team without him having a clue it was happening. The new owner had a squeaky clean history with a successful family business over 50 years old. He comes in. Says all the right things (except for candidly). He is enthusiastic, energetic, and promises to do things the right way. He hires a curmudgeon (check the dictionary) and rehires one of the most distasteful front office types from our past. He leaves the Browns. Goes back to the parent company because he “forgot how much he loved it”. We find out later that the real reason might have been the hint of the coming Armageddon from the FBI. We suspected all along that the reasons were kind of weird when he returned abruptly. And now, instead of focusing as we should on the upcoming draft, we are hearing a Jimmy Haslam press conference every other day. He discusses the trials and tribulations of Pilot Flying J, a company we all could have cared less about 10 months ago and never mentions the Browns. WOW WOW !! Who could have written that script? Oh, and I almost forgot, the team who he LEFT as a part owner was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Question: Would this story have even a ghost of a chance of happening in Pittsburgh?
So, maybe Cleveland isn’t jinxed. Maybe Cleveland isn’t unlucky. But it sure is STRANGE how things happen in Cleveland Sports. As all of you know, there are many more stories I could have covered tonight. At times like this I kind of feel like I am in the Twilight Zone and hope the show will eventually end. It never does. Maybe Cleveland Sports is a combination of Groundhog Day in the Twilight Zone? Can I change the channel?