It seems recently that everyone in Cleveland is talking about the Tribe and their poor attendance figures. Tony Rizzo has devoted a lot of time to the topic, Paul Cousineau and Gary Benz wrote about on the Cleveland Fan and Terry Pluto has also penned an article. The short story is that the Indians are 25th in the majors in home game attendance. That is not good.
Everyone has their own reasons for this, from Cleveland's economy, to Cleveland fans being spoiled with the 90s and (of course) the Dolan's low payroll (you may have heard that it's below Kansas City's!).
Now, don't get me wrong, I think the lack of fan participation isn't simply one single thing but a combination of many forces. That being said, I am a bit surprised that no one has mentioned what I think is one of the main factors in the unwillingness to get behind this Indians team.
The trade of Coco Crisp.
Now, I have no way to prove this, but I think the trade of Coco to the Red Sox for minor league 3rd baseman Andy Marte hurt the Tribe much more than they could've imagined.
After barely missing out of the playoffs in 2005, the Indians come into 2006 by... trading a popular outfielder for a minor league 3rd baseman who no one has heard of. From a baseball stand point, was it a good deal? Meh, neither Crisp nor Marte has lit it up, but the Tribe had Grady Sizemore ready to step in for Crisp. It may not have been the best deal but, from a baseball side, it was defendable.
But not from a public relations side. Tribe fans had just spent the past few seasons watching the team trade away veterans for minor leaguers (when they weren't walking away for more money). This was simply the worst time to trade away a popular figure. The team was starting to come back around and form its own identity and the Tribe trades away a young veteran (with a neat name!) for yet another minor league prospect.
They said it wasn't a cost cutting move, but one believed it. For better or worse, it looked like that the Tribe, again, couldn't afford it's own players and would trade them away for that perpetual 'next year'.
Why should fans come out for this team? They'll fall in love with the regulars but by the time the team is set to make a move, they'll just trade them away because "Dolan is cheap".
Dolan has said that he'll spend the money when the time is right and, from where I'm sitting, that time is now. I've been saying for awhile now, if the Tribe came out tomorrow and offered CC and Hafner fair market deals (just biting the bullet) that Tribe fans would begin to come out to the ballpark.
Is that too simple? Maybe. But I really do think that fans simply don't trust management to do what it has to do in order to win. They see Coco traded away, they see the Tigers trade for Gary Sheffield while the Tribe shops for pitchers off the scrap heap year after year and they see a payroll at the near the bottom of the majors. This team is one of the best teams in baseball, the payroll is, if nothing else, "thrifty" and yet they're still shopping for tainted goods? They can't afford real talent? They're signing guys coming off of surgeries, guys who retire before the year starts?
Do you trust the Dolans to make that signing that puts the team over the top? Do you trust Shapiro to go get that right handed bat? Aren't we all expecting some kind of Matt Lawton/Trot Nixon type deal?
Is it fair? Probably not. Can I prove my little theory? No. But, for whatever reason, the fans don't trust this team.
I can't blame them.