No mistaking it: He loves Cleveland
CLEVELAND — I love this town.
That’s right. Cleveland. You call it “The Mistake By the Lake.’’ You make it a punch line for every Rust Belt joke.
Not me. I call it a once-great American city in need of a comeback . . . and a championship, of course.
No fooling. Cleveland is great. It’s got a real downtown. It’s got clean, wide streets that are (unfortunately) never crowded with traffic nor people. Cleveland’s got cab drivers who speak English and know their way around town. Many of them remember when Jim Brown toted the pigskin for the Browns and when Rocky Colavito hit majestic homers for the Tribe.
Cleveland has no pretense. Folks work hard and value their money.
Thirsty? Walk into Flannery’s Pub on East 4th and Prospect. Do not ask to see the wine list. And forget the
Before it was wiped out by foreclosures and unemployment, Cleveland was one of the five largest cities in America, stocked with immigrants from Eastern Europe. It gave America Jesse Owens and the Cleveland Orchestra. It’s where Eliot Ness served as city safety director. It’s got the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. According to Canadian bard Gordon Lightfoot, Cleveland is where the Edmund Fitzgerald — loaded with 26,000 tons of iron ore — was bound when it sank in Lake Superior in 1975.
When I first came to Cleveland in the summer of 1977 the mayor was 31-year-old Dennis Kucinich and there was a downtown nightclub (“The Theatrical’’) that featured a singer named Jim “Mudcat’’ Grant. It was the same Jim “Mudcat’’ Grant who beat the Dodgers for the Twins in the 1965 World Series.
Old Cleveland featured cavernous Municipal Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie. Home of the 111-43 Indians (1954) and NFL champion Browns (1964). Municipal Stadium was the site of Cleveland’s 10-cent beer night (1974), when fans rioted after consuming too many eight-ounce Stroh’s. The Indians had to forfeit the game. In 1986, when the Red Sox and Indians were interrupted and postponed on account of fog (erasing a certain Cleveland victory), the inimitable Oil Can Boyd said, “That’s what happens when you build a ballpark by the ocean.’’
Cleveland’s new venues are downtown and spectacular. Sparkling Browns Stadium stands next to a parking lot at the Municipal Stadium site. The football field is just a few hundred yards downshore from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Less than a mile away, Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field stand, side-by-side. When Progressive Field was Jacobs Field (ever distinct, with its toothbrush light towers), the Tribe sold out 455 consecutive home games.
Cleveland is stocked with sports fans. Foofs and trendies are not welcome. Clevelanders buy gobs of team garb (Indians stuff in the golden ’90s, Cavaliers in 2010, Browns always) and pray for a championship. The poor folks have not been rewarded with a title since the Browns won the old NFL championship game in 1964.
Cleveland is tough on its football coaches. Bill Belichick may be a god in New England, but his name is mud in Cleveland because he dissed local hero Bernie Kosar. Browns fans suffered through John Elway’s “Drive’’ in 1987 and Earnest Byner’s fumble in 1988. The Browns left town in 1995, then were born again in 1999. They hired and fired Romeo Crennel. They drafted Brady Quinn, who is already gone.
The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, an active streak of futility topped only by the Cubs. The Tribe should have won a couple of championships in the ’90s, but couldn’t get it done with talents such as Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, David Justice, Omar Vizquel, and Kenny Lofton. They got to the seventh game of the World Series in 1997, but reliever Jose Mesa coughed it up and the Tribe lost to the expansion Florida Marlins.
The Cavaliers never have won the NBA championship. Their best team of the pre-LeBron era was derailed when Jim Chones broke his foot in 1976. They had the worst owner of modern times in Ted Stepien. They famously took the Celtics to the limit in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals. Last year they were favorites right up until they got spanked by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
I picked the Celtics to upset the Cavaliers in this conference semifinal. Cleveland’s Game 1 victory Saturday night does not change my mind. Boston led by 11 points in the third quarter. The Cavaliers looked vulnerable, especially considering that they were playing at home, where they are 74-8 over the last two regular seasons.
But I hope they make it. Cleveland fans deserve a champion. They’ve been the butt of jokes for too long. And despite everything you’ve heard and read, this is a great town.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.