By the time I knew enough to know where I was but not how I got there, I was four years old and living in Cleveland, Ohio.
I probably shrugged at the news. You will excuse me. As the years rolled by I learned that life in Cleveland imposed obligations on its residents, some of which touched me only occasionally, like school report cards or freezing cold snow-clogged winters.
Other conditions were visited upon me daily: my mother’s cooking, three semi-civil siblings, being a fan of the Cleveland Indians. These assignations were beyond my powers to reject. None were optional, certainly not snowy winters, sulking siblings nor team allegiance.
My loyalty to the Tribe was subject to no debate, any more than if I were born into a family of Episcopalians, Norwegians or marsupials. My family members followed the Indians, and therefore Ipso ergo, caveat de facto, Me Too. (All our neighbors were of the same faith.)
The die was set, the curse cast, the path cleared and when the dust settled it left me branded a lifelong fan of the Indians. It was stamped into my blood, my DNA.
Cool! had anyone asked me. It wasn’t like I had a rebellious streak and yearned to follow the Cincinnati Redlegs. The Cleveland team emblem was, happily, the best in all baseball and perhaps in all sports: A cartoonish caricature of a cheerful Indian with a toothy grin and a single feather. Lucky me.
Most teams had lousy mascots. The White Sox had two socks to enjoy, as did the Boston. The Dodgers had nothing and the Yankees had a striped top hat. Baltimore’s Orioles wore a bird, and the Tigers had … well, guess. Washington was “Senators,” whatever those were, and the Giants had “NY” on their caps. Bizwow.
The Indians had been powerful in the 1940s and through the ‘50s, but those years were followed by droughts, cheap owners, plagues of locusts and dwindling attendance.
They won few games and no World Series under my 70-year watch, but it never bothered me. I’ve always felt more than a little proud sticking with Cleveland, both team and town, when my city became a perpetual butt of dumb jokes (“River caught fire, har har!” “Mistake by the Lake, ho ho!”) among talent-free standup comedians. Meanwhile the Tribe stumbled through losing records for the 13th (or is it 16th?) consecutive season.
If the Cleveland Indians ever had a better, more loyal fan than me I’d like to meet him. I’d love to discuss Lou Boudreau tagging out Phil Masi at second in the ’48 Series against the Boston Braves, rookie Joe Charboneau’s season-long heroics in ’80, Bob Feller’s 260 and 348 (lifetime wins, season strikeouts) and Frank Lane, Bill Veeck, and a thousand (no, two thousand) other bits of lore and semi-sweet memories.
Our relationship was deep. Lifelong. But nothing was semi-sweet about the breakup. Cleveland Baseball, Inc., decided a few years ago that older fans were no longer a desired demographic; I was given my unconditional release, so that corporate bosses might better appeal to the vast (not!) Woke crowd.
The smiling cartoon face of Chief Wahoo was scuttled to show solidarity with decisions banning Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, the lovely lass gracing Land O’ Lakes Butter packages, Dilbert, and dozens more.
Suddenly I was A Man Without a Team. Yes, yes, many have suffered far worse losses and more anguishing breakups. But Cleveland’s Baseball Corporation’s craven cave-in was pointless posturing to curry favor with people who haven’t been to a baseball game in a decade and wouldn’t know Rocky Colavito from Rocky Raccoon.
The upshot? Major League playoffs are once again in full swing (it’s October) but I’m unavailable. I don’t know who’s playing whom, nor what teams made the playoffs or favorites to get to the World Series.
The idea of missing a World Series would have troubled me a few years ago. Now the notion I’d watch it seems ridiculous. Stop me on the street any old time and I’ll give you a dozen reasons why and how the game has alienated me. Just one involves Chief Wahoo.
I Used to Care, sang Bob Dylan, but Things Have Changed.
(Tom Hine, when he isn’t busy writing his weekly column, spends time wondering whether you’d prefer to be suffering from a serious wound or have just spent six years in a horrible place. Or would you choose seeing your dog get run over by a truck? Or have headphones glued to your ears and be forced to listen to “Louie Louie” 24 hours a day for the next 365 days? Time spent on such questions is why he gets nothing done, and why he doesn’t get along very well with his invisible pal, TWK.)