Taste the Cleve, America


A World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs is a Series between two North Coast teams that have each suffered for such a long time. Whoever wins, it will make many of us sports fans – who tend to root for underdogs – happy. (Those of you who “like a winner” will surely be happy when the payroll-bloated Yankees/Cowboys/Lakers of the world undoubtedly dominate again in the near-future….)

The Cubs, of course, have not won a World Series since 1908, and thus are considered perhaps all of sports’ most cursed team. Their living fans have never tasted victory, are filled with a fatalistic futility, and yet brandish an amazing loyalty and spirit that can only be matched by … well, the city of Cleveland, Ohio, itself. For Cleveland’s part – it, as a city (if not a single team, necessarily) was perhaps sports’ most cursed city. What other major city in America with at least three professional sports teams could say they had not won any championships in any sport in over 50 years (since the 1964 Cleveland Browns)?

Well — until this past June, of course.

This past year’s Cleveland Cavaliers shocked everyone by being the first champion ever to come back after being down three-games-to-one in an NBA Finals — with a game 7 victory away, no less. Against the team with the most wins in NBA history — a team that was looking to repeat as champions, and that claimed the League’s MVP. And they did it with a fairytale, home-grown Return-of-the-King. The Cavs of the Rust-Belt-Cleve beat the pretty boy shooters from their pretty Golden State Bay Area.

It was as good as sports poetry could get, and yet to this day, I sincerely don’t think this has completely sunk in for Clevelanders. There is still a fatalistic, somber feeling to the city — which is why I love it so! (Perhaps it ultimately stems from the knowledge that despite any sports win, there will still be 3-5 months of crippling snow every year?) Cleveland comedian Mike Polk, Jr., makes this point HERE better than I could ever do, with his video that was featured in Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story”. (Yes, Clevelanders – watch it for the 5,000,000th time – you know you love it!)

The cocky-bastard-types can live in the New York Cities of the world, where they can … “make it there” … or whatever. I’ll take the modest, polite, self-deprecating people of Cleveland over that, any day. People like Drew Carey or Phil Donahue. Halle Berry, Steve Harvey, Paul Newman, or Toni Morrison. You wouldn’t have Superman without Cleveland creators Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, nor would you have the term “rock and roll” without DJ Alan Freed…. And a proud contribution to American history, as well, that ranges from John Rockefeller to Bob Hope to Jesse Owens.

Yet I predict – as with Golden State — we will see most of America rooting for the Cubs, for a variety of reasons. Chicago simply has a larger population, with a larger television market, so the subconscious (financially-motivated) bias of the media and Major League Baseball will be to root for the Cubs. And they’ll be considered the “real” underdog. Sure, the Cubs shouldn’t be called underdogs — they had the best regular season record in baseball this year with 103 wins, nearly 10 games more than their nearest rival (Golden State, anyone?), and thus they should be the favorites by pure baseball statistical prognostication. But their team is considered “more cursed” (hey – the Indians just won the Series in 1948, after all…), and their city will be given more sympathy since the Cavs victory was just 4 months ago.

However, I will be rooting for the Indians, and I hope you, dear reader (unless you are from Chicago, of course), might join me. If one looks at the history of the city of Cleveland during the last 50+ years, one can only conclude that it would be poetic justice for the Indians to win, and do it by having the rest of the nation feel the angst and misery of what it truly means to feel “Cleveland”. The bitterness. The false hopes. I want you to have the opportunity to experience this lovely taste, if but once in your $20-chocolate-shop urban playground from which you perhaps hail. The DCs, Seattles, and Austins. … The San Frans, Portlands, and Bostons. You know who you are.

Oh, “poor Chicago,” you say? Um … before this year, the city of Cleveland hadn’t won anything since the 1964 Browns. During that time, what misery had befallen the Windy City? The 1986 Bears: NFL champions. The 2005 Whitesox: MLB champions. The 2010, 2013, and 2015 Blackhawks: NHL champions. … Oh, and then there was this little NBA Bulls team you might have heard something about…. So, yeah, don’t feel sorry for Chicago, ok? They’ll be fine.

Oh!  But it wasn’t just that Cleveland’s teams lost year after year – it was HOW they lost. By now, many of you know about Cleveland sports mythology – its storied tales of pain and suffering, from The Drive, to The Fumble, to The Decision, to The Shot…. Suffice it say, if Cleveland sticks a “The” in front of something, please read it as only Eeyore might….

And it’s not just sports. Cleveland has been the butt of the country’s jokes for over 50 years, as well, as if some grand collusion occurred amongst the rest of the entire country.  “Let’s destroy that town!”  If we were as paranoid as Trump, we might imagine it was all rigged, behind some closed doors, where the captains of industry and the  politicians must have decided sometime in the 1960’s….   The “mistake on the lake” is not quite as flattering as “windy”, no? Cleveland was the city with the river that caught fire — even though every Clevelander will point out that this comes from TIME magazine’s photos focusing on the Cuyahoga River around the period of “The Silent Spring” — while there were plenty of other big cities with plenty of rivers catching fire similarly in that disgustingly polluted American era. But Cleveland was branded, and took the brunt of the jokes – which helped to pass the Clean Water Act, by the way. You’re welcome, America.

It all piled up. The mayor’s hair caught on fire. The once proud city, once sixth largest in the country, brought down and mocked. Johnny Carson started it, and every late-night comedian has followed suit ever since. About a decade ago, “I believe in Cleveland” was a major marketing campaign by the city, and it crumbled into “Yeah, I be leavin’ Cleveland” by Clevelanders themselves the very day it was introduced.

Yet despite these often-embarrassing losses, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory again and again — despite the national ridicule, all the piling on from all directions — despite it all, their fans are always faithful and proud, and their citizens always kind and pragmatic.

And so, while losing to the Cubs won’t feel nearly as bad as, say, losing to the 1997 Fire-Sale Marlins (ugh), it would be somewhat ironic and enjoyable to watch the rest of the country cry out in misery, as the butt of your jokes for so long wraps its cheeks around to bite you all on the ass. To watch as this rust belt town comes back historically, first to beat a beautiful city of the Bay Area, and just months later beats what will inevitably be America’s favorite in the Series. Two wins in the same year after nothing for so, so long. To have others resentful and bitter with US. You would begin to see now how it has tasted? Mm-hmm. Tastes a little Cleveland, doesn’t it?

Copyright 10-22-2016

Check in with S.E. Barcus on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, or email them at barcusse@gmail.com.

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