“Wahoo’s tail of tears”

Cleveland Frowns does not like the Cliff Lee trade, but it’s for bigger picture reasons, not necessarily because of the return realized by Mark Shapiro:

But it becomes harder and harder to care about how these trades pan out as it becomes easier and easier to be sure that any real star developed by the Tribe will be shipped out of town on or near a contract year . . . Competitive balance in baseball continues and will continue to get worse and worse . . . It’s a classic case of the rich getting richer. There’s simply no way to look at the data and conclude that payroll doesn’t make a significant difference in teams’ ability to compete.

An imbalance that corresponds to our growing indifference toward our Indians and the MLB as yet another scalp is dropped along Wahoo’s Trail of Tears. Albert, Manny, Thome, Bartolo, CC, and now Clifton Phifer Lee.

The guys at Cleveland Frowns and I have gone around and around on competitive balance issues before. And though I’d argue that the Lee trade isn’t a classic instance of “the rich getting richer” as Frowns puts it (there are lots of other things going on here), I’ll grant that it’s depressing to see so many stars go out the door.

But the fourth name on Frowns’ “trail of tears” is worth thinking about: Bartolo. As in Colon. As in the big money pitcher who shipped out several years ago amidst the gnashing of teeth and the renting of garments. Shipped out in exchange for . . . Cliff Lee, among others.

If I had to guess, I’d say that there’s no Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore or Brandon Phillips in the haul received from Philly, simply because that kind of talent doesn’t grow on trees. Also because, unlike that Expos team, Omar Minaya isn’t the Phillies’ GM. But still, it’s worth remembering that one can’t judge a trade like this by only looking at the star that went out the door. One must also consider the talent returned. And, in the case of a prospects deal, the talent returned may take a year or two to consider.

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Comments

  1. APBA Guy said...

    Cleveland will get lots of sympathy from us Oakland fans. Our list may be longer, but I doubt our stars were bigger than Cleveland’s:

    Giambi, Miggy, Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Haren, Harden…

    We try not to think about what our team would have been like last year, starting 44-29, if we’d kept Harden and Haren for the whole year.

    And as for the prospect return:

    1) it takes several years to show a return
    2) you must possess a bushel basket of prospects, since you can’t accurately predict who will turn into a major league regular. The talent is just the ante, the real differentiators are work ethic, adjustments, persistence, and luck.
    3) The trick is to get your core group to mature at roughly the same time, then augment with a couple of free agents. At Oakland we’re into year 3 of our rebuilding. It will be at least until 2011 before we see results (my opinion) as the pitchers will need another year to shake out, and the position players are not now strong enough to contend, as a group.

    Good luck, Cleveland. Look at it this way. Good seats will be easy to come by for a while.

  2. Jason B said...

    I know we like our instant analysis and everyone enjoys making a snap judgments of trade winners and losers, but I would soooooooo much prefer waiting a year or two down the road to see how things play out.  Did the traded star continue performing at the expected level?  Did he help his acquiring team to a division title, pennant, or World Series title that they otherwise wouldn’t have won?  Did the traded prospects develop into something more than expected? Something less? Did they progress? Regress?

    It’s like we’re judging “War and Peace” on the opening couple of paragraphs, or declaring the winner of WWII on the outcome of the first skirmish.

    (Likewise I think it’s asinine to grade NBA, NFL, or MLB draft results before any of the selected players plays the first bit of meaningful ball. But I digress.)

  3. Mike Eller said...

    Jason,

    It probably is a good idea to wait a year or two to see how this trade plays out. Jason Knapp intrigues me and I think that Carlos Carrasco’s 5 ERA is a little misleading, even in Triple A.

    However, it seems to me that the problem at hand is the philosophy of the Indians. This the second year running we’ve given up. Only this year we give up 2009 (inevitable) AND 2010!

    As for Mark Shapiro. You’re telling me the Indians couldn’t compete with an aging White Sox team, a Twins team with major holes, and a Tigers team with no hitting? With some minor league influx such as Hector Rondon and another free agent hitter or two, I can’t see why we couldn’t have a shot at the division next year. This team is an atrocity. Matt LaPorta better play every game the rest of this season. However, he will not, because Eric Wedge will come up with awful reasons as to why he should not.

  4. Peter Campbell said...

    I really admired your recent Rickey Henderson post.  I know you’ve spoken to this in the past, and I know that many consider “Wahoo” to be inevitable/not that big of a deal, but the Chief Wahoo mascot is, incontrovertibly, a racist caricature, and the phrase “Wahoo’s trail of tears” promotes the same racist diminution of American Indian culture and history that the mascot itself does. 

    The connection is evident in the similar work performed by the mascot and the phrase: “Wahoo,” the mascot, represents and promotes a series of racist stereotypes and images of American Indians.  To call bad trades made by the Cleveland organization “Wahoo’s Trail of Tears” devalues the horror of the real Trail of Tears – one of many bloody chapters in the genocide(s) perpetrated against indigenous people in the Americas by European colonizers. 

    If casual, racist references to Rickey Henderson’s speech are unacceptable, then the attitude should be – keep your racism off my baseball!  As an analogy – if the Cleveland Indians were the Cleveland Darkies, using the phrase “The Darkies’ Middle Passage” would (I hope) be self-evidently unacceptable.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Peter—that phrase came from the post I was quoting (and related to the key pasage on which I was commenting). My use of it in the title was not meant to glorify it or anything; simply to draw people into the subject.  I probably wouldn’t choose to use it myself, but at the same time, I’m not going to censor someone else’s writing either.

    If you do a Google search for “ShysterBall” and “Chief Wahoo,” I think you’ll find that I am more than in agreement with you regarding his merits as a mascott. I’ve written on the topic many, many times.

  6. Peter Campbell said...

    Craig,

    I should have been more clear about this in the beginning of my comment – I have read (not all, but a lot) of your writing on the subject, and (as I indicate in reference to your Rickey Henderson post), it is one of the reasons I appreciate your baseball commentary.  I admire you, and other baseball writers like Rob Neyer, for being so public with such an unpopular position. 

    My point is that I think that if you feel compelled to respond to an author’s use of racist speech/imagery/connotation in writing about Rickey Henderson, then the (unecessary) use of a metaphor like “Wahoo’s trail of tears” should receive the same response. 

    I also appreciate that your post engages the substantive discussion of competitive balance in trades, and that it does not endorse the phrasing in the post.  My argument is not for censorship – it would certainly be possible to both object to the use of a racist metaphor and then identify and engage the interesting and substantive discussion about baseball. 

    As a writer, I can definitely appreciate the desire to avoid redundancy, or to not beat a dead horse when you’ve made your position very clear. 

    However, comments like that from kyle s make me think that for a large scale change in United States baseball fan’s attitudes toward the Chief Wahoo mascot to occur, respected baseball writers (like yourself) need to object to the deployment of the mascot in EVERY instance.  This may seem extreme, but - 

    I’m a grad student at the University of Illinois at Uraban-Champaign (home of “Chief Illinewek”).  At the end of a class discussion on “the Chief,” a Chinese student of mine (from Shanghai, and attending school in the states), came to my office hours and asked me why the students in the class could not see the evident analogy between the racism of having an Indian caricature as a mascot and something like the “Fighting Negroes.”  I told him that I didn’t really know for sure, but that one thing I suspected was that the history of racism against Indians in the United States is so much more INVISIBLE, particularly for people who live and grew up in locations that no longer have substantial American Indian populations. 

    So I guess my point is that the only way to fight this invisibility is to protest phrasing like this whenever it comes up.  Again, I think you could do that AND then write the rest of your post.

  7. Motherscratcher said...

    Peter – I’m an Indians fan and I agree with your points.  I would gladly give up the Chief Whaoo mascot.

    I think that the difference here may be that Craig condemned the Rickey Henderson writing because the whole point of that story was based in racist sentiments.  The “Trail of Tears” line is an unfortuate desription used to describe a topic completely unrelated to racism at all, that being the state of the Indians ballclub.

    If Craig wanted to start this topic again, he could have, as he has numerous time in the past (which you already know).  But what Craig found more interesting here has more to do with the actual game of baseball and that’s what he commented on. 

    Now, let’s hope that someone way more articulate than me chimes in.

    As far as the topic of the post, I think Craig may be missing the point a little bit.  Nobody in their right mind would argue that the Colon trade wasn’t a great one for the Indians.  The long term results of these trades are not what the Cleveland Frowns guys are getting at.  It seems to me that their point is that it completely sucks to be an Indians fan and have every great player we develope be traded because we know that we can’t pay them.  We get attached and they are gone. 

    I’m already preparing myself for the loss of my current favorite player, Future Yankee Grady Sizemore.  Whether or not the difference in payrolls has a negative effect on competative balance is beside the point.  The point is it’s too bad that some teams continually have to lose their favorite players to teams that can pay more, reguardless of the long term results of the trades.

    And yes,  I was pissed when we traded Colon.  It’s the only thing that gives me hope now.

    Now I will post this before I read it.  That way I can’t erase it when I realize it makes no sense.

  8. Pete said...

    It’s easy (and fashionable in Cleveland) to blame the spot the Indians are in, which forced this move, on:

    - the Dolans, for penny-pinching
    - the economics of baseball, where teams in small(ish) markets can’t pay market rates for proven stars
    - the economy in general

    In reality, the blame should lie almost solely at the feet of Shapiro. His regime’s complete inability to draft (or sign internationally) and develop stars is what really crippled this team. It’s what forced it to head into a season where it had delusions of contention, but starting pitching options that included Scott Lewis, Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, Anthony Reyes, and Carl Pavano.

    The regime’s apparent skill in trading veterans for prospects has allowed them to paper over this flaw to some extent, but in the end you just cannot contend in Cleveland if you have, basically, nothing to show for more than a half a decade of drafts and international signees but Ryan Garko and one good season from Fausto Carmona.

    The hardest part to swallow is that there doesn’t seem to have been that much bad luck involved—guys like Jeremy Sowers and Trevor Crowe have basically maxed out their ceilings, but still aren’t good enough to be significant contributors at the major league level. Teams like the Indians need to hit the jackpot in the draft and internationally every once in a while if they hope to contend, and taking guys like Jeremy Sowers when you have the sixth overall pick is just not going to lead to that type of payoff, ever.

    What makes me uneasy about this Cliff Lee trade isn’t that the team dealt another star for prospects, but rather that, with the exception of Knapp, it seems to have gone with probability over upside—an apparent extension of the player development strategy that helped to lead us here. Shapiro has a great track record when it comes to trades like this—let’s pray he knows what he’s doing here…

  9. Motherscratcher said...

    “Shapiro has a great track record when it comes to trades like this—let’s pray he knows what he’s doing here… “

    This statement reflects the only thing keeping me sane (allegedly).  I’m absolutely certain that Shapiro knows way more about baseball then I, and most other people, will ever know.

    It does, however, make me nervous to have guys like Keith Law call this a “heist”.  Not good times.

  10. Jason B said...

    As a Blue Jays fan, I will say be careful what you wish for—we can develop and keep long-term some players envisioned to be franchise cornerstones.  Sometimes that’s not all it’s cracked up to be (paging Vernon Wells), if you don’t have the depth of resources that allow you to easily cover those mistakes.

    I guess what I’m saying is…I’ll gladly trade our slightly greater ability to sign longer-term, higher-dollar deals, and instead work under tighter payroll constraints, if we can swap divisions. A fixed, semi-permanent ceiling of third place sets a franchise adrift in the sea of malaise, just beyond the straits of despair.

  11. dlreed52 said...

    Thank you, Peter Campbell, for speaking out on the subject of racial stereotypes. 

    I too appreciate Mr. Calcaterra’s writing and also the stand he’s taken against the odious Cleveland mascot in the past.  His work today was not one of his more thoughtful efforts.

  12. Cleveland Frowns said...

    Mr. Campbell, dlreed52; 

    Your criticism of Mr. Calcaterra re: his use of “Wahoo’s Trail of Tears” is misplaced. 

    He was quoting me there, from Cleveland Frowns, where I write a lot about “The Curse of Chief Wahoo,” which is an idea that attributes Cleveland’s unprecedented sporting misery to karmic obligations resulting from the City’s clinging to the awful mascot.  Craig has written on our Curse piece before. 

    So when I write the phrase “Wahoo’s Trail of Tears,” in a post at Frowns, it serves to emphasize that the competitive imbalance in baseball, and the pain experienced by we Cleveland fans as a result, might just be another element of our sporting misery that we’ve brought on ourselves. 

    Hope this makes sense.

    Will address the rest of the thoughtful comments about competitive impbalance here shortly, but wanted to come to Craig’s defense when I saw your criticism.

    Here are the relevant links:

    http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/2008/06/curse-of-chief-wahoo.html

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/shysterball/article/retiring-wahoo/

    http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/2009/05/problem-with-cleveland.html

    Thanks,

    Pete
    Cleveland Frowns

  13. dlreed52 said...

    Pete of the Cleveland Frowns—

    Although you addressed both Mr. Campbell and me, I’ll speak only for myself.

    I’m aware of Mr. Calcaterra’s laudable stance on the Chief Wahoo logo.  If I didn’t make that clear in my earlier post, let me do so now.  I also appreciate your view that it’s an awful mascot. 

    But I believe the diction being used is faulty and the excuse that he was quoting you is facile.  Whatever the intentions were—and I believe they were utterly without malice—the linking of a professional sports franchise’s shortcomings with a tragic episode in the systematic genocide of an indigenous people is a lapse of taste to say the least, as unacceptable as trivializing, say, the Holocaust by comparing it to an extended losing streak.

    For my part, I’m accusing neither the originator of the phrasing nor the quoter thereof of being racist, but I am stating unequivocally that such writing is thoughtless. As the coaches used to say to the players a few decades back, “Have an idea out there.”

  14. Cleveland Frowns said...

    Dang, there are some excellent writers here.  Appreciate that. 

    Also really like the phrase that “the coaches used to say to the players . . . , “Have an idea out there.”

    And “Thoughtless”?  Not if viewed in the context of my writing about the Cleveland Indians at Frowns.  And probably the opposite. 

    Far from “trivializing” the Trail of Tears, I suppose we’re actually calling attention to its awfulness, and I’m not sure why it’s out of bounds to do so just because it happens to be relevant to a discussion about baseball.

    Perhaps I could see where you’re coming from if I agreed that “the state of the Indians ballclub” is “a topic completely unrelated to racism at all,” but I in fact emphatically reject that notion; at least if only because I believe in basic principles of karmic justice (similar to those that underpin most major religions), and I do not believe I (or you, or anyone else) has enough information to dismiss a connection between what’s befallen Native Americans, and what’s befallen the sports fans of a City that supports a logo that mocks the Native American plight. 

    With that context in mind, please consider that to criticize me (and Craig) on the grounds that “the only way to fight this invisibility is to protest phrasing like this whenever it comes up,” completely ignoring the context of the phrasing, seems a lot more thoughtless than today’s usage at Frowns. 

    As for “tasteless,” I guess there’s little accounting for that.

    Do appreciate the feedback, thanks.  And I do look forward to addressing the “competitive balance” comments here too. 

    Pete
    Cleveland Frowns

  15. dlreed52 said...

    “Far from ‘trivializing’ the Trail of Tears, I suppose we’re actually calling attention to its awfulness”

    Discussing this topic, even a person of good will, is like watching Julio Lugo going after a routine grounder: you know he’s never going to get it, but you keep hoping nevertheless….

    <sigh>

  16. Cleveland Frowns said...

    Oh, Coachie, you obviously just don’t get it.  You’re like Julio Lugo in this way.

    (???)

  17. coachie ballgames said...

    Just wanted to defend Cleveland Frowns. A casual reading of frownie’s site will reveal that he is most ardently against Wahoo.
    And his use of the phrase “wahoo’s trail of tears” could indeed imply that the team continues to experience bad times because of its continued use of such an offensive logo and character.

  18. dlreed52 said...

    The second sentence should read: “Discussing this topic, even with a person of good will, is like watching Julio Lugo going after a routine grounder: you know he’s never going to get it, but you keep hoping nevertheless….

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