The good news is that the Cleveland Indians are coming off a season in which they made the playoffs! The bad news is that one of the most popular Indians of the past 20 years not only looked to invalidate that in the press this off-season, but might have alienated himself from these new Cleveland Indians in the process. Anthony Castrovince uncovered the tale of playoffs, current Indians leader Nick Swisher and the archetype Cleveland Indians center fielder, Kenny Lofton and it reads a bit ugly for someone like me who always wants everyone to get along. The thought of Swisher and Lofton being at odds when the Indians seem set on potentially doing something good in this new Terry Francona era makes me sad. It’s especially sad to me when I think they’re both right in their own way.
We all heard when Kenny Lofton invalidated the one-game playoff as a playoff. If I remember correctly, at the time, I just fluffed it off as an old school baseball player being critical of the newer MLB arrangement. Apparently, Nick Swisher had no such patience to just let it go by. Swisher sought out Lofton and got in his face, seemingly telling him “You’re either with us or you’re against us, and there’s the door if you’re against us.” On the one hand, good for Nick Swisher. He’s got a job to do right now as a highly paid player and leader in the Indians clubhouse.
That doesn’t mean I don’t understand where Lofton is coming from because I know all too well what kind of runs the Indians were on during my formative years as a baseball fan. I understand what it means to feel a little old school too as the game changes around us. We’ve all debated the merits of a one-game playoff even as we relished the opportunity to see the Indians play in front of an epic sold out crowd in downtown Cleveland. I will speak glowingly of that playoff game forever in one breath and still criticize the idea of a one game “series” in the next. For fans it can be complex.
For Nick Swisher it’s not complex. He’s the leader of a team that is looking to continue to build something in 2014. It’s much easier to build something on a foundation of success like, you know, a playoff appearance. I don’t blame him for not having the time or patience for a former player who seems intent on taking that foundation and slapping a bundle of TNT on it.
Lofton’s message is one being spoken in the wrong venue. If he wants to philosophize on high about MLB and how they enact their competitive playoff structure, he needs to do so outside the realm of the Cleveland Indians. He needs to say that it’s good that the Indians had a shot in the playoffs, but that an old guy like him can’t get with Bud Selig’s new format. If spoken like that, I even agree with him. I think baseball superiority is decided horribly with regard to the one-game battle.
Regardless of my philosophies regarding MLB playoffs, the practical fact is that everyone knew the system on the way into the year. Everyone knew that the Indians would be better served by winning their division. They tried to do that and failed, so regardless of some kind of inequity, the Indians were responsible for where they ended up. To Kenny Lofton’s point, they weren’t responsible that it happened to be a one-game home playoff contest because that structure was out of their control.
Even if Lofton had a point, I’ve learned over the years that being “right” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be especially in the face of having a job to do with real goals. Kenny should know better than to continue to harp on the issue and try to prove that he’s right as he did yesterday on Twitter. Kenny stood by his statements and even kept harping on the fact that he “gave 110%” for the city of Cleveland as a player, which was never at issue. What Lofton needs to understand is that even if he is right, he’s wrong because of where and when he said these things. He’s wrong in saying something that has an impact in this time and place against the fortunes of the people with which he’s trying to be affiliated.
I find it unfortunate that Lofton put himself in a position to receive the “cold shoulder” treatment from current Indians upon his visit to spring training this year, but it all makes sense. In this case, Kenny probably should have just excused himself as an old man, apologized and tried to be a part of building what Nick Swisher and Terry Francona are building here in the present where playoff appearances do occur in a single game.
Image whipped together by Scott Sargent/WFNY