Let me start this morning with a tip of the cap to Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; … it was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”
No, I am not going to talk about soccer in Europe. Rather, those words applied to the sense of optimism and the sense of despair felt by baseball fans in two American cities during the last offseason. In Cleveland, there was reason for optimism. The Indians won 85 games last year only 5 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and only 4 games behind the wild-card KC Royals, who just happened to make it to the World Series. Jonah Keri covers baseball at Grantland.com and he picked the Indians to win the AL Central. Sports Illustrated went one up on Professor Keri and put the Indians in the World Series for 2015. About now, the fans in Cleveland are looking at their 2015 “spring of hope” turning into a “winter of despair”.
As of this morning, the Indians record stands at 12-21; only the imploding Milwaukee Brewers have a worse record in all of MLB. The Indians are 9 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and are in danger of losing touch with the race. Making matters a lot worse – and recognizing that the season is young and the situation has time to change –, the Indians are 6 full games behind the Minnesota Twins. The breakdown of the Indians’ record provides little solace; they are 7-16 in games against AL Central opponents and only 6-12 at home. Their Cy Young winner from last season just won his first game of the year this week and their dismal record stands in spite of the fact that six players are hitting .288 or higher and three players have an OPS higher than .850.
The Indians’ 6-12 record at home has to be ominous but perhaps a small part of that dismal record has to do with playing at home in Cleveland. Last year, the Indians were contenders for the AL Central title and for the wild-card slot for virtually the entire season. Nonetheless, the average crowd in Cleveland was only 17,746. The only team close to that meager an average attendance was Tampa Bay which does not draws fans even when the team is in first place and the Rays were not in first place for much of 2014. The Cleveland attendance in 2014 was pathetic. So, with the “spring of hope” and predictions of good times coming, how have the Indians drawn so far this year?
In 18 games so far this year (22% of all the home dates on the schedule), the Indians are drawing 15,540 folks per game. That is more than 2000 fewer fans per game than the full season average from last year.
To be fair, Cleveland attendance usually increases as the summer arrives. Nevertheless, this is not much of a “home-field advantage”.
In another major league city, Philadelphia, there was little reason for optimism over the winter. The Phillies only won 73 games last year finishing last in the NL East a measly 23 games behind the Washington Nationals. The team traded away one of its aging stars, Jimmy Rollins, over the winter but did not get back a phenom; Cliff Lee’s arm troubles were worrisome in the winter and became problematic when they showed up again in Spring Training. The team has bloated contracts it cannot move and the team offense that was suspect over the winter has shown itself to be worse than anemic in 2015. Consider:
The Phillies have exactly 1 position player (Freddy Galvis) batting over .300 and his OPS is .815.
Chase Utley has gotten off to such a bad start (.118/.209/.403) that three pitchers on the team have better batting stats so far.
The Phillies sent 3B, Cody Asche down to AAA to learn to play left field which leaves open the question of the future of former wunderkind, Dominic Brown.
The roster is a mess; the team record so far this year is 13-23; the team will have to pick up the pace to win 60 games for the year. Last year, the Phillies’ average home attendance was 29,924 which is pretty good for a team that never had a prayer of making the playoffs. In 19 home dates this year, the Phillies are still drawing an average of 26,106 to the park every night. Philly fans have not abandoned this team – – yet. However, last winter’s despair has carried over into this spring and will surely remain over the summer months. By August, it should not be difficult to walk up to the ticket window and get a ticket for the game that night.
Since I was talking about ticket-buying and attendance figures above, let me switch sports for a moment. In July, the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame will welcome the arrival of Brett Favre and the team will retire his number. Given the less-than-fully-amicable parting of the way between the team and their former QB, this is a good thing. The Packers decided to open this event up to more fans than were going to be able to fit into the Hall of Fame structure; and so, Lambeau Field tickets were offered up so that fans could come and view the ceremony on the video screen at Lambeau. The agenda for the evening calls for Favre to make a cameo appearance at Lambeau “on his way” to the dinner and ceremonies for the evening.
The good news here is that the team did not use this opportunity to gouge the fans and dip even deeper into their pockets. Tickets cost $4 – that is not a typo; that was Favre’s number that is about to be retired – and the money will go to Favre’s charity foundation, Favre 4 Hope. According to reports, the Packers sold 67,000 tickets in less than 24 hours.
Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:
“Sign hoisted by a Milwaukee Bucks fan, after Chicago jumped to a 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series: ‘But you still have Cutler.’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………