Only in Cleveland: The “Major League” Conspiracy
We are all witnesses.
That’s been especially true for Clevelanders, since we’ve had to witness an awful lot of heartbreak over the years. Unfortunately, apart from the LeBron era, anything Clevelanders witness tends to go unnoticed outside of Ohio. But even while LeBron was with the Cavs, anything that wasn’t happening on a basketball court in C-town was generally overlooked. That’s how in 2008, baseball’s Cleveland Indians were able to pull off a monumental piece of performance art…without anyone noticing.
Over the course of the 2008 season, the Indians eschewed the conventional wisdom for operating a professional baseball team in an effort to create a ball club that would serve as a re-creation of the team from the 1989 movie Major League.
That’s right, having just won the AL Central in 2007 and come within one game of going to the World Series, the Indians decided that the only way to overcome the pattern of heartbreaking loss in Cleveland sports was to field a team that would, in the tradition of the Major League films, come from out of the gutter in an improbable championship bid riding on the bats of a collection of misfits and has-beens. But just how could they get that magic from the silver screen to the modern MLB?
The Roster: Fielding a team of misfits
Basically the plot of Major League consists of an evil owner who fills the Indians with washed-up players so that the team will tank and she can move to South Beach. Sound familiar?
Specifically, the antics in Major League revolve around a team loosely made up of Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (a reckless flamethrower played by Charlie Sheen), Willie Mays-Hayes (a speedy, young diamond in the rough portrayed by Wesley Snipes), Jake Taylor (a hobbled veteran), and Pedro Cerrano (a power hitter with a glaring Achilles heel).
The Indians front office made sure the 2008 team had all these elements as well, starring Fausto Carmona as the Wild Thing:
The ’08 Indians also featured Grady Sizemore as the speedy young-gun, Casey Blake as the team’s wily veteran, and Travis Hafner as a power-hitter who can’t actually hit. Altogether, this combination would have to make the Indians storybook underdogs, wouldn’t it? Carmona’s flashes of brilliance intermixed with the random and total losses of control, Sizemore’s star-status, Casey Blake’s reserved leadership, and Hafner’s slumping average would all but guarantee an improbable championship run in 2008. No?
The Stadium: Jacobs Field becomes Progressive Field
Major League took place in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, which was demolished in 1996. So, in order to get the setting right the Indians had to re-brand Jacobs Field. And in January 2008, it was announced that Jacobs Field would be re-named Progressive Field, after the Progressive Insurance company. Innocuous at first, yes, however I can’t shake something here about insurance… Hmmm, insurance. WAIT!
That’s right, Pedro Cerrano from Major League, is “The Allstate Guy.” Admittedly, by itself this wouldn’t be much to go on, but taken along with the other elements of the 2008 Indians, a pattern begins to emerge…a Major pattern.
The Manager: A mustachioed man
Finally, if the 2008 Indians were going to walk the walk and pull off this Major League stunt, it had to start at the top. For any ball club that means the skipper has to embody the team’s attitude. For the Indians, manager Eric Wedge went all-in by sporting a sick moustache.
When it came down to the ‘stache, the Indians’ transition from World Series contender to cinematic underdog was complete. All that was left to do was to sink to the bottom of the standings and let the magic happen.
The Indians went on to finish 3rd place in the AL Central that year and followed-up in 2009 by finishing 4th place, never even posting a record above .500 during the 2009 season. But, the wins never came. And unfortunately, after 2009 the Indians’ experiment with Major League was called off and a mustached Eric Wedge was sent packing. And that’s how it happened.
Convinced? To be fair, maybe the fact that the 2008 Indians season was marred by injuries played a part into how the Tribe went from the ALCS to 3rd in the Central. Maybe baseball is a beautifully complicated game and fans will look for anything to rationalize it when their team underperforms. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Isn’t it possible that in an incredible example of life imitating art, the Cleveland Indians paid homage to a sports-cinema classic, using the 2008 season as their canvas? Look at the evidence, you be the judge and let us know what you think in the comments.
[UPDATE 1/19/12: After being arrested in the Dominican Republic, it has been revealed that “Fausto Carmona” is actually “Roberto Hernandez Heredia” and that he is 3 years older than he claims; story here. Of course this means Carmona, having illegally faked his own identity, has actually been a felon since joining the Indians, making it undeniable that he is, and always has been, the “Wild Thing”.]