Just after the 2012 season ended and the dust had not had a chance to settle, the Cleveland Indians organization was just about at rock bottom. They had reached a crossroads. Manager Manny Acta had been let go. The team was coming off of one of its worst seasons in recent memory. Fan anger was at an all-time high. Trust for the Dolan family ownership group and their trusty lieutenants, President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti, was at an all-time low. Apathy, which is the worst thing possible, was setting in.
My season ticket group is a prime example. As the season came to a close last year, I had five out of the six people tell me they were done. They just didn’t care anymore and were tired of watching this process unfold.
Things all began to change quickly. Paul Dolan came right out with his full endorsement of Shapiro and Antonetti, which was summarily panned from a fan base tired of hearing about market inequities. But Shappy and Kid Chris played their trump card, which tied them to the organization for the foreseeable future—they leveraged their close relationship with two-time World Series champion Terry Francona into a home run. Tito took the Indians managerial job when nobody thought he would, and he did so because he wanted the opportunity to work with his two friends. I for one was completely stunned. Nevertheless, the hiring of Francona signaled that things were going to be different.
Even still with a highly respected manager on board, the roster had more holes than a golf course. But Tito and Antonetti went to work. In late December, word came down that Nick Swisher, one of the biggest names on the free agent market, would be signing with the Indians on a four-year deal worth $56 million. It was the richest free agent deal in Tribe history and a contract that we never thought we would see this ownership take on.
But Swisher was the right guy at the right time.
The 32-year old 1B/OF came over from New York with consistent numbers and a personality that you can’t help but love. His “Welcome to Cleveland” press conference was something that nobody in this town had ever seen. The positivity, the excitement, and the pure giddiness about coming “home” that Swisher exhumed was incredible. Not to mention, it was so real. The guy isn’t phony. What you saw was what we would be getting.
The Indians ran with Swisher’s excitement and put him out in front as the new face of the franchise. Commercials were made. Pictures were taken. The Ohio State alum with the movie star wife and good looks (my wife loves him) coming back to his roots was the storyline that was going to be out front to entice the fans to come back.
Things got even more real when out of nowhere right before Spring Training, the Indians landed a second big-name free agent to come on board when center fielder Michael Bourn was given four years and $48 million. While that was the move that brought many people back (my ticket group reunited the day after the Bourn signing), it was still Swisher’s team. Bourn is a quiet, do-it-on-the-field kind of player. Swisher is a public relation director’s dream.
The city was falling in instant love with the excitable Swisher without a single game being played.
Fast forward to today, June 27th. The Indians are Team Streak. At 40-37, winners of 10 of their last 14, our boys are two-and-a-half games back of Detroit in the AL Central. A lot of goodwill has been building with this team not just because they are winning, but because of the likable characters in this group. Between the honest and openness of Francona, the big brother nature of Jason Giambi, the fun-loving ways of Swisher, and the hard-nosed play of Jason Kipnis, it is tough not to get behind these guys.
Swisher is the one who is out front and center. His face is on the billboards. His t-shirt is the one you see the most around town. But there is something that is flying way too far under the radar: Swisher’s play on the field has left a lot to be desired.
Last night, the Tribe’s first baseman took another 0-fer, dropping his average to .229/.330/.383 with seven homers and 25 RBI. In June, Swish is hitting .125 (8-64) and all eight of his hits are singles. Left-handed, Nick is at .212/.310/.358.
The lack of hitting in the clutch was a knock on Swisher coming over from New York. He was hitting in a lineup full of All Stars which gave him a lot more protection. But here in Cleveland, he was plugged right in a the cleanup hitter. Nick has never had to be “the man” before. So far, that criticism has been warranted as he is hitting just .206/.349/.353 with runners in scoring position with just one home run.
Yes, he has battled some shoulder problems, but he has been deemed healthy by the Indians training staff as he staved off a DL stint a couple of weeks ago.
Consider this, fans often bang on RF Drew Stubbs because he trikes out a lot and has trouble with right-handed pitching at times. But you know something? Stubbs is outperforming Swisher offensively AND has game-changing speed. He is the only regular in the American League who has yet to ground into a double play and plays gold glove defense in right. Swisher plays a solid first base, but at times, including last night in the eighth inning, has struggled to make the easy play.
Take a look at the numbers side by side:
Swisher: 240 AB, .229/.330/.383, 7 HR. 25 RBIs. 62 K. 34 BB, .206 w/RISP, 34 runs, 0 steals
Stubbs: 236 AB, .242/.297/.381, 6 HR, 26 RBIs, 76 K, 19 BB, .246 w/RISP, 30 runs, 8-8 steals
Imagine if Swish had the personality of say Albert Belle. He would be getting destroyed here for his lack of production. But since he is such a great guy and is still on the honeymoon here, he gets a pass.
I love Swisher, but he got to turn things around at the plate. It should be interesting to see if Francona moves him down in the order with all of his struggles. This isn’t Kipnis struggling for three weeks in April. This is late June and Swish still hasn’t come close to doing what he is capable of and hasn’t caught a hot streak.
Nick is still the face of this franchise, it would just be nice if he started to play like it. Imagine where this team can go if he is clicking on all cylinders. The sky is the limit. Swisher just needs to come around. The sooner the better.