As the Cleveland Indians prepare to host their first World Series game since 1997, general manager Mike Chernoff can’t help but look back at the journey the franchise has taken over the last decade and beyond.
“When I got here 13 years ago, there was a real pessimism in the air,” Chernoff said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The economy wasn’t doing very well, the Browns had not been good for quite a long time, and we hadn’t won a championship, I think, in 58 years. So it was sort of inevitable that any time you got close, something was going to go wrong. When we saw the Cavs win the championship here, it was a turning point for the city. It became a more optimistic place. We had the Republican National Convention here afterwards. Forget about your politics. It was just a good thing for the city. It brought a ton of people here and a spotlight on the city. We went through a 14-game win streak right after the Cavs won the championship here. So you kind of had these things feeding off each other, an optimism building in the city, and in a lot of ways that’s culminating here with a World Series bid for us. We’ve seen our fans really support us tremendously through the second half of the year this year, and hopefully we can carry it into potentially a second championship for the city.”
The Indians have finished with a winning record in four consecutive seasons – something they hadn’t done since 1995-2001 – and Terry Francona has been a big reason why. Francona, who won two World Series titles with Boston, where he coached from 2004-11, was eager for an opportunity in Cleveland. A hard sell from Chernoff wasn’t necessary.
“Not at all,” Chernoff said. “He was really focused on people. He had built a relationship with Chris (Antonetti) and Mark (Shapiro) in 2001 when he was a special assistant. He was looking for a place where – look, the media spotlight and pressure is not the same here as what it is in Boston and New York. This was a more, I think, maybe welcoming spot for somebody who had been through what he had been through and accomplished what he had accomplished where he could potentially accomplish the same thing but maybe do it in a little bit of a different way.”
That includes using bullpen dynamo Andrew Miller in a variety of ways: closer, set-up guy and long man, among others. Miller was named ALCS MVP, this after striking out 14 of the 26 batters he faced.
Chernoff said he was “uncomfortable” trading for Miller at the deadline, mainly because he had to give up outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty Justus Sheffield and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen.
“We’re a small-market team,” Chernoff said. “We don’t usually dive in headfirst like that and we feel like we gave up tremendous talent to the Yankees. There’s a chance those guys come back to really haunt us. I think they will probably. But at the same time, this was a moment we felt we had to take advantage of. Andrew is a perfect fit for our team. We had a great clubhouse culture here where guys were really team-oriented and selfless in that way. Andrew took that to a whole new level. For a guy with his pedigree to come in here and not care when he pitched in a game is pretty special and was really contagious. It carried over into every other guy on this team and how they went about their business. It’s been amazing to see it, and it’s carried into the postseason. It’s probably been magnified even more where he’s coming in in the fifth or sixth inning of games and just shutting guys down. It’s really been tremendous to see that.”
The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. The Cubs have not won one since 1908. It seems like this fate versus fate – at least from the outside.
“For us, these are just baseball games,” Chernoff said. “We’ve been overcoming a lot of adversity with some of the injuries we faced. We take each game one step at a time, and I think we’ve tried as much as we can to just put aside the whole World Series thing, put aside the whole narrative of some of these storylines, and just focus on winning four more games.”
Brandon Tierney – and countless baseball fans across America – would love for the Indians to incorporate Ricky Vaughn, Pedro Cerrano, Roger Dorn and the rest of the “Major League” cast into the World Series in some form or fashion, but Chernoff is focusing on the baseball side of things.
“I’ll let the marketing guys handle that one,” he said, laughing. “We’re focused on the baseball field. I do think it would be a fun thing for our fans. The Cleveland fans have been waiting for this for a long time. That movie encapsulates a lot of those sentiments probably, so it would be a fun sentiment to play into.”
Game 1 is Tuesday in Cleveland at 7 p.m. ET.