Opinion: What Happened to Cleveland Indians Fans?

By Steve DiMatteo

Special to FOX Sports Ohio

The 2012 Cleveland Indians are playing well and sitting in first place above the preordained champion Detroit Tigers. While it’s a long season and it’s only going to get tougher, the Indians are clutch at the plate, have been enjoying a reliable bullpen, and are watching Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera mature into true stars.

Of course, the team is apparently the only group that is seeing this happen. Attendance figures are the worst in the Majors by a mile, and they loom over the club like the ugliest and darkest of clouds.

“They’ll come,” Manny Acta said, in reference to the glaring lack of people in the stands. It’s likely true, but it’s no less disappointing. What makes it worse is the fact that this is simply par for the course over the last few seasons.

What happened here? The 455-game sellout streak seems fake, no more real than Rick Vaughn or Jobu himself. It’s almost embarrassing to consider that, at one point, Indians fans were the best in all of baseball, gluttons for high-octane offense and bloated payrolls. And, once the team was sold to the Dolan family and the payroll was trimmed, everyone was in for a rude awakening.

The full gamut of excuses has been run through time and time again, ranging from the weather to the downtrodden economy, even though the Indians have provided one of the most cost-friendly experiences in all of Major League Baseball. But the biggest reason, the most common explanation for why fans avoid Progressive Field like the plague, remains the owners.

Thanks to the Dolan family, the Cleveland Indians are a team with a perennially low payroll, deeply embedded in the process of utilizing young talent until their star power simply becomes too expensive to keep around. It results in fan favorites being traded for prospects as a method of retooling, and while it does bring with it a few seasons of growing pains, it also brings exciting baseball when everything starts to pan out.

That’s where the team seems to be heading now, but fans have deeply entrenched themselves in some kind of misguided protest against the team’s ownership. Think of it this way: fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that hasn’t had a winning season in 20 years, have every reason to despise ownership. Just try to think about that kind of futility for a second.

From numerous failed free agent acquisitions to a literal admission that the team operates with the bottom line in mind, it would make perfect sense for people to stay away from PNC Park. Yet, the Pirates are averaging almost 23,000 fans per game, nearly 9,000 more than the Indians (14,291).

So… what is it? Was the city spoiled to the point of not really understanding how baseball works in the first place? Do the Cleveland Browns really demand the kind of attention to the point where people can’t even fathom rooting for another team in the city, let alone one that is fun to watch?

There are a million different reasons why the crowds at Progressive Field are sparse and each one is more embarrassing than the next. For a once-proud fan base, the robust crowds that are sure to follow should the team stay in contention will just be a larger black eye, evidence of the city’s true baseball allegiances; that is, to front-runners.

Indians fans have put themselves in an awkward position. By neglecting to attend games, they’ve given away their last bit of leverage to the very group they claim to be protesting. It’s a no-win situation for everybody and it’s insulting not only to the team, but to the long, storied history of the franchise itself.

There are no more excuses for Indians fans. The team has now given its city two consecutive solid starts, and it’s about time the favor was returned.