At the Browns game yesterday, there was a sign hanging in the corner of my end zone that read: “King Who?? Cleveland is Cribbs Country!” A great sentiment, but one thing stuck out from the sign was a #23 with a circle and slash through it. And that gave me pause, because in my estimation there are two young men on the Cleveland sports landscapes with bright futures who both wear that number on their backs. Why should they be punished for the transgressions of another?
I’m not saying that these two guys will somehow render moot LeBron James and all of the baggage he has here. Far from it. I guess my point is this: let’s look forward. Let’s look at these young, new #23s and perhaps see them as symbolic of a new generation of young stars to hone their sports crafts in Cleveland.
CF Michael Brantley – #23, Cleveland Indians
Brantley, who came over in the CC Sabathia trade in 2008, finally got to spend the second half of the 2010 season with the Tribe firmly planted in the leadoff spot. After having a solid September in 2009, Brantley made the opening day roster but struggled, hitting 5-for-32 (.156) in nine games before heading back to Columbus. Brantley then had a great first half in AAA Columbus (67 games, .319/.395/.425). Once the bloom was off the rose for the Tribe, Brantley was back for good in July. And, in his first eight games back he continued to struggle: 3-for-36, .083
But, for whatever reason, Brantley had some kind of light flip on for him right around July 16th. From that point on, he hit .284 (65-for-229) with a .336 OBP from the leadoff spot. Brantley has continued to play a solid center field, and as a “true” lead-off prospect Brantley should allow for Grady Sizemore to move down in the lineup to a spot where he may be better used. At age 23, Brantley has a bright future ahead of him in Cleveland.
CB Joe Haden – #23, Cleveland Browns
Haden, the 7th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, is the first pick of the new Holmgren/Heckert front office regime. With that, he—whether rightly or not—becomes the standard bearer for their ability to build a team. To this point, Haden hasn’t had a ton of playing time, but when he’s played he looks like he belongs. He’s made several great special teams tackles, and he has 14 total tackles (12 solo) in four games so far, including six in Sunday’s win over the ‘Nasty alone which perhaps indicates some improvement and increased stats going forward. The 21 year old has three passes-defensed in four games.
While not having the impact of his rookie secondary-mate TJ Ward, Haden physically looks ready to play CB in the NFL, and at age 21 is only going to get better the more he plays. And, as the theoretical standard-bearer of the Holmgren/Heckert front office, he’s most likely going to get every opportunity to do so.
So, while I would agree that neither of these guys has yet had the statistical impact to make us forget that “other #23,” I would argue that given their ages and their potential we might someday in 2011 or 2012 look at both of them and wonder why we ever put up that #23 with a circle-slash for all the world to see.