I blame Bud Selig. Sure, there are probably a bunch of other folks more responsible for the perpetuation of Chief Wahoo's "boy do I love scalpin' those whiteys!" toothy grin, but I blame Bud Selig because he's Bud Selig. He's everyone's favorite scapegoat, and not without good reason (way to go on that whole DirecTV deal, Bud!).
I'm not going to dwell on the politics of why it's unconscionable to keep using athletic symbols like Chief Wahoo, Chief Illini, and the Washington Redskins, no matter if the majority of people--even those people portrayed--don't seem to care (there are any number of websites out there that address this). I'll just say that it's akin to using Cletus the slack-jawed yokel to represent the entirety of the white race. Except, you know, there's that small issue of Native American genocide. So it's probably more like using Aunt Jemima or Sambo. Enough already. Even the Atlanta Braves, despite the continued mildly offensive and incredibly annoying tomohawk chop, have jettisoned all organizational reference to ridiculous Indian images (see Gage's Atlanta preview for a lovely racist Brave depiction), adopting the incredibly benign Homer as their mascot. Anyway, on to baseball.
The Cleveland Indians win my award for the most disappointing team in all of baseball in 2006. After an up-and-down 93 win season in 2005 when they gave the White Sox a huge scare at the end of the regular season with their lights-out play, they absolutely tanked in 2006, finishing with a record of 78-84. Not surprisingly, a lot of folks are picking the Indians as their sleeper team this year, sure to rebound with all their young talent after a disappointing hiccup last year. But are they really going to give the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins something to worry about this year? I'm not so sure...
That skepticism has little to do with the lineup, though. Somehow Travis "Pronk" Hafner remains one of the best kept secrets in baseball--as much of a secret as a guy who hits 42 homers and drives in 117 can be. It's absolutely absurd that Hafner, who has finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting the past two years, has yet to get to an All-Star game. He really got screwed last year by the White Sox bias--after David Ortiz, Thome and Konerko were the reserve first basemen/DHs. And the fans stuffed the ballot box for AJ Pierzynski to get the last spot over a much more deserving Hafner. Hey, maybe Hafner will hit 50 homers and drive in 140 this year just to prove that, behind Ortiz, he should be the most feared lefty in the AL. That would not bode well for the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central.
And Hafner's only a fraction of Cleveland's offensive firepower--Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, and Casey Blake are no slouches. I'm going to be really interested to see how the oft-traded, highly touted Andy Marte performs this year, in what is essentially his rookie season (he was the main prospect in the deal that sent Edgar Renteria to Atlanta in 2005, then Coco Crisp to Boston last year). Jhonny Peralta isn't much of an offensive threat, but he does have a mysteriously placed "h" in his name which could easily confuse opponents. But it's not the offense that's got me thinking the Indians might not see a resurgence this year. It's that pesky pitching staff.
CC Sabathia is good, and Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee are competent starters behind him. But after that is Paul Byrd--quite possibly the ugliest man in baseball--and a rookie, Jeremy Sowers. Yeah, you might skate by with those guys, sure... but when your closer is Joe Borowski, regardless of his 36 saves last year, you can't feel too comfortable. Can you? I wouldn't, anyway. As scary as the thought is, I'd rather have Bob Wickman closing games. That, and 42-year-old Roberto Hernandez was their big set-up bullpen pick-up to help out the magnificent self-destructing Fausto Carmona. It's been exactly a decade since Roberto last played for the ChiSox. Wow.
So, maybe that's not the most convincing argument in the world, but I just have a feeling about the Indians. And that feeling is that they're just not as good as people would like to believe--they'll be fighting with the Twinkies for third in the AL Central this year instead of competing for a division title.