Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Indians not much of a rival for the Yankees

In Cleveland fans consider the New York Yankees to be bitter rivals. Some commentators dismiss this talk as the rampant animosity the rest of the league feels toward the most successful franchise in baseball. Everybody, they will tell you, hates the Yankees.

This is true. Part of it is the consistent success the Yankees enjoy but the hatred goes much deeper than just jealousy. Fans loath The Yankees because they have always been able to get away with the sort of roster moves that would ruin other teams. George Steinbrenner buried the Yankees in mediocrity for most of the 1980's but managed to buy his way out in the 90's. We have seen him make huge mistakes in recent years but it seems that he always has the money to buy himself a competitive team. They might not win the World Series every year but they're in the hunt every single season. The Indians made a few mistakes in the 1950's and paid dearly for the next 40 years.

Of course we are also talking about New York City. Two things that are hammered at the world by mass media are New York City and Southern California. Through books, movies, television and magazines we are constantly reminded that the vast majority of the people living in the US just aren't smart, sexy or sophisticated enough to handle life in those locations. The Yankees are the flagship enterprise of New York arrogance. If you don't hate them, you're admitting that you aren't worthy. You have no self esteem.

But the Indians might have a good case for claiming a rivalry against the mighty Yankees. Some fans would insist that it dates back to the 1940's but The Indians weren't exactly a post season fixture back then either. They won the World Series in 1920 and 1948, lost it in 1954 and spent the next half century waiting until next year. As a long time Tribe fan I can only attest to the misery. The Indians have been inept at their best and embarrassing at their worst.

Nope. If we're going to claim that a rivalry exists we have to show cause in the modern era and with the Indians spending the second half of the 1990's as a playoff regular this is where you can start to make the connection. Of course, even that is a stretch considering the Indians never managed to win a World Series while the Yankees claimed four rings. However, it's not just about post season success, regular season numbers come into play.

Since 1995 the Indians have played the Yankees 104 times. They have won only 40. That's not including the current 2006 season which is far from over and fans might point to the 19-1 beating the Yankees endured on the 4th of July, but at the time this article was being written the Yankees were on their way to drubbing the Indians 9-3 in the eighth on July 5th. Even if the Indians manage to pull it out and win three in a row against this so-called rival, they will only match their best winning streak against the Yankees since 1989. It's been 16 years since the Indians have swept a series. Hardly the stuff of bitter rivalries.

Not only have the Indians failed to post a .500 record against their hated counterparts over the past decade, season by season, regardless of how dominant the Indians have been, the Yankees have always been competitive either taking the season series or splitting it. The 1994 Yankees went 9-0 against the Tribe before that season was halted. In 1995, when the Indians were one of the best teams in the history of the game, Cleveland went 6 and 6 against the Yankees. The best the Indians could do in 2000 was split the series 5-5 with the Yankees coming out ahead every other year. In fact the Indians are well over 1000 losses in the all time series. Rivalry?

Now fans will tell you that the stats don't tell the whole story, but what other story do you have? It's not like the Indians have stolen any titles from the Yankees. The playoffs haven't exactly been a regular hangout for the Indians. Cleveland got the best of the Yankees in the 1997 Divisional Series, but New York returned the favor by beating the Indians in the ALCS in 1998. In either case the Yankees enjoyed the last laugh because they won it all in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The Indians essentially served as a doormat so Atlanta could finally win a World Series in 1995 and of course who could forget how the lowly Florida Marlins backed into a world title after the Indians piddled away a win in 1997? Even when you throw out the stats and just look at the big picture the Indians look less like a rival and more like that old college buddy who always lays down a week's pay on poker night.

Sadly the Indians just don't have any rivals. They haven't been good enough to foster any real animosity on the field. They haven't established themselves as a force to be reckoned with and they haven't spoiled anybody's season. Other than their own. The closest they came was last year when they clawed their way into a battle for the AL Central title that Chicago thought it had in the bag all season. With a week left to play and a winner takes all series on the line the Indians folded up shop and handed the White Sox a title. In fact, one could argue that the Indians gave the Sox the jolt they needed to get in gear for the playoffs. Had the Indians failed to force Chicago to play for something at the end of the season, the White Sox might have been flat in the playoffs. That's hardly the stuff of rivalries. A rival doesn't want to send you a championship ring for being such a great practice squad.

There are those who will say I'm being too hard on the Indians. Others will claim that I'm not a true fan, but history doesn't lie. The Indians stink a lot more than they shine and lousy teams don't have rivals. Especially rivals who seem to have a shot at winning a title every year. Tribe fans should keep this in perspective before talking smack.

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