Antonetti: ‘Manny is not the only one to blame’

Some quotes from Indians general manager Chris Antonetti about the decision to fire manager Manny Acta:

First, Antonetti, who appeared a bit more emotional than usual, took part of the blame.

“This decision really reflects on our disappointment in our Major League performance this year, but more importantly in our determination to get better as an organization. Ultimately, the accountability rests with me and I along with the rest of our front office will work tirelessly to improve our performance moving forward.”

Is Manny just the scapegoat?

“Manny is not the only one to blame. We really need to look hard organizationally to figure out how we can continue to get better, especially at the Major League level, because our performance was not what we had expected and not what we had hoped. We all have higher expectations and we need to do a better job at identifying those solutions and how we move forward.”

How much of the blame falls on your shoulders?

“A lot. I think we all share in the responsibility with how things have played out this year. Myself, the players, the coaches and Manny. It’s also my responsibility to make sure we’re better moving forward and that’s where we will spend our focus. We’ll begin the manager search immediately, probably starting tomorrow, and we’ll look to try to get a new leader in place that can hopefully allow us to have more success moving forward.”

How do you survive this season and Manny doesn’t?

“I’m accountable for some of those things. Certainly, many of the decisions that we’ve made haven’t worked out as we hoped. At the same time, I continue to believe in the talent that we have on this roster and I’m hopeful moving forward that the group of guys we have here will perform better. Unfortunately, that did not happen this year.”

How did Manny take the news?

“As you would expect. He is a complete professional. I hope at some point when I face those moments of adversity like Manny did, that I can handle them with as much dignity and professionalism as he did. He was exceptionally gracious of the opportunity and the experiences with the organization and I was appreciative of how he handled it.”

Is Sandy the front-runner for the job?

“Sandy brings a lot to the table. He’s been a managerial candidate in other places before here. I’m confident that he can be a primary candidate. Where he will fit among the other alternatives, I don’t think it’s fair for me to speculate at this point.”

How difficult of a process has this been?

“It’s a tough day. I not only have a great deal of professional respect for Manny, but I care deeply about him as a person. To have to deliver that type of news is never fun, especially when I know I’m also responsible. This burden doesn’t fall solely on Manny. It’s a tough day, but it’s a day we’ll move forward from and hopefully we’ll find a leader for the clubhouse that will give us an opportunity to be successful moving forward.”

When did you start to think that the club might need a new manager?

“Our preference all along was not to make a change. I always remained hopeful that our play would improve and we would turn things around in the second half. Unfortunately as the days dwindled, that didn’t happen. At some point, as our attention started to shift from day to day to evaluating and assessing the season. Once we did that and had some dialogue internally, we arrived at this decision.”

What’s the organization’s message to the fanbase?

“We made this decision with the goal and expectation of getting better moving forward. We are determined to do that. That will be how we’re operating from here on, is with that intent. How can we get better moving forward? How can we earn their support back? We understand we have to earn it.”

 

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Stayin’ Alive: Manny Acta’s Swan Song

For about the last month, any time someone asked Manny Acta how he was doing, he offered the same reply.

“I’m stayin’ alive, like the Bee Gees,” the Indians manager quipped.

Acta knew his days as Tribe skipper were numbered. No manager survives a 5-24 month of August. No manager retains his job after a first-place team morphed into a division bottom-feeder almost overnight. No manager avoids the role of scapegoat when the turnstiles are standing still as a near-empty stadium hosts a club 25 games under .500.

That’s not to say Acta deserved this fate. He did, however, know it was coming.

You could sense it in his demeanor. Acta has always been an upbeat guy, his positive manner being a reason why he was hired before the 2010 campaign and a reason why media enjoy his presence. But as the losses piled up during a summer to forget, Acta’s words became stale, his optimism falling upon deaf ears.

No one could have expected this roster to win 100 games, but few anticipated it would lose more than 90. When Acta’s squad got off to a fast start for the second consecutive season, that set the standard. The front office and ownership assumed the club would maintain that first or second-place standing within the AL Central, barring another onslaught of injuries, the plague that hindered the Tribe from competing in the dog days of last summer.

When the club took a nosedive in July and August, Indians CEO Paul Dolan even admitted he had no idea how Acta’s bunch had fallen so far, so fast.

“I don’t really know what’s happened to this team,” Dolan said. “It’s going to take more time to assess what we have and what we need and what we’re capable of doing.”

Acta was left in a predicament. He could explain away the Indians’ struggles by saying players weren’t living up to expectations, which would incriminate himself as a manager, or he could relay the truth, that the team needed a boost in talent. He had a few moments in which he vented about the lack of additions to the roster, but for the most part he took the high road.

He’s no longer stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I’m not necessarily saying Acta should have kept his gig. The frequency of losing became toxic and the clubhouse evolved into a poor-spirited setting. Something had to change — and this move might not be enough.

The numbers would suggest that Acta won’t land another managerial job anytime soon. His record in Washington was even worse than the two losing seasons he logged in Cleveland. That being said, Acta would be a benefit to any big league coaching staff.

You won’t find a snappier dresser as manager. You won’t find a nicer, more cordial and fun guy in a Major League clubhouse. When paired with a woman named Eileen at the Indians’ annual golf outing in 2011, he spent the entire round performing his own rendition of the ’80s pop song “Come On Eileen.” Acta also does a great job at giving back to the community with his ImpACTA Foundation, with which he hosts an annual charity bowling function.

No longer can Acta retort that he’s merely “Stayin’ Alive.” Ahead, there will be “Lonely Days” for one of the nicest guys in the game.

 

Tales From The Yankees Clubhouse

The Indians clubhouse is typically a subdued place, somewhere between a library and a museum. The team’s top talker, closer Chris Perez, usually sits at his locker, positioned behind a pillar. To poke the bear, a reporter must often peek beyond the obstruction and commence conversation.

Sometimes, pitchers will play cards at a table out in the open. Asdrubal Cabrera will sit at his locker and occasionally turn on a Spanish Pandora radio station. Other than that, the decibel level in the place is rarely noticeable.

Take one step into the Yankees clubhouse. It’s a zoo.

Different from the Royals clubhouse, where a gaggle of youngsters goes crazy over an MLB video game on the big screen TV.

Different from the Red Sox clubhouse, where a wrong look at a veteran player could warrant a snide remark.

Instead, approach a room where All-Star appearances are a foregone conclusion, World Series rings a prerequisite for entry.

I was covering solely the Indians last season when the Yankees visited Cleveland, so I wasn’t able to tour New York’s locker room. I made several stops in last weekend, and here’s what I saw:

Photo / TVGuide.com

Derek Jeter sat alone, watching The Jerry Springer Show. Andruw Jones and Robinson Cano joined him momentarily, but the trash TV was apparently too much for them to handle. I caught a glimpse of the show and saw a pregnant woman yelling at her brother. I’ll leave it at that.

Ichiro probably has smooth feet. After all, the Japanese star sat at his locker for no less than 45 minutes, lathering his feet with lotion. It must be quite a change for him, going from Seattle, where he was the only iconic player, to New York, where media mostly leaves him alone. I didn’t feel like interrupting his lotion session to ask him if he has warmed up to the city of Cleveland at all. Remember, he once said that, “If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”

CC Sabathia likes Superbad. The husky southpaw sat on the main couch in the visitors’ clubhouse on Friday, hours before his start, and watched the comedy featuring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. Nothing like gearing up for your first start since coming off the disabled list by hangin’ with McLovin’.

Curtis Granderson is one smart donut, err, cookie. The Yankees center fielder offered some dieting tips on Sunday morning as he devoured two donuts, some bacon, waffles and eggs. “If you have the mindset that you should be eating what you’re eating, then you’ll be healthy,” he said, adding that no matter what he eats during the season, he doesn’t gain weight, though he typically puts on 5-10 lbs. in the offseason. Perhaps he could teach a nutrition class. A very well-spoken guy, Granderson said if he didn’t end up a baseball player, he probably would’ve taught at the college level. Both of his parents are teachers.

Succulent scandal: Kerry Wood gambled on — and may have fixed — the Hot Dog Derby

Former Indian Kerry Wood

Former Indians closer Kerry Wood and bullpen catcher Dave Wallace gambled on the Hot Dog Derby while knowing the race’s winner ahead of time, a current Tribe player told Throwin’ Heat.

During the 2009 season, Wood and Wallace placed bets on each game’s Hot Dog Derby, the popular three-condiment race that takes place after the fifth inning at Progressive Field. At one point on the running tab, Wallace owed Wood about $2,000.

Wood would walk to the bullpen in the fifth inning of each game. Because he had a bad back, he would get a heating pack and begin his stretching at that time. On his stroll to the ‘pen, he would pass the three hot dogs as they mapped out their plan for the race. According to the source, the hot dogs would tell Wood which participant — either Ketchup, Mustard or Onion — was bound to be the winner. Thus, Wood was able to rack up the $2,000 credit.

The source said there were “whisperings” in the Indians’ clubhouse that year that Wood offered the hot dogs money to confide in him or even let him pick the winner, but such activity could not be confirmed.

Wood and Wallace would each select one hot dog as their projected winner. If someone chose correctly the previous race, that person would have first selection the next day. Wood would sometimes voluntarily forfeit that privilege, just to appear even more prophetic.

Wallace, baffled at Wood’s ability to pick the winner, eventually caught on, the source said. However, he kept that a secret from Wood, and instructed the hot dogs to provide Wood with misinformation. They obliged, allowing Wallace to erase his debt by the end of the season.

Wood, 35, retired this season after a 15-year career. The Indians traded him to the Yankees in July 2010. Wallace is in his first season as manager of the Class A Lake County Captains.

Wood, Wallace and all of the three hot dogs could not be reached for comment.

“What ever happened to Gaylord Perry?”

Before I could even glance at the menu, my grandma handed me a blank notebook.

We were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant, the prototypical hole-in-the-wall eatery that always seems to offer more savory food than any mainstream dining spot. Being the Chinese food savant that I am, I wanted no part of whatever activity my grandma had in store. I just wanted to devour my generous portion of Kung Pao chicken and fried rice.

Of course, this was a business lunch. My grandma was my de facto manager, a position appointed to her, by her.

As I clutched the notebook, filled with hundreds of barren, white pages, she began to rattle off story ideas. I had been hired full-time by MLB.com about a month earlier. My grandma was the first person I called to share the news, which was as exciting to her as it was to me.

So there, at the Chinese restaurant with only about 10 tables inside, my grandma and I sat as she unleashed an onslaught of ideas she hoped I could transform into 800-word masterpieces.

“You can write something about baseball cards. Do kids still collect those?”

“What ever happened to Gaylord Perry?”

“What percent of baseball players are from foreign countries?”

As I often did, I let her finish her always-lengthy train of thought before finally interjecting: “Um, grandma, I don’t have a pen. Can’t we do this another time?”

Without hesitation, she summoned the waitress, not for tea or water or wonton soup, but for a writing utensil. My grandma’s ideas were going to be etched onto paper, if not engrained in my memory.

“Can you do something on Ted Williams?”

“Do older players haze younger players?”

It takes a special person to take interest in your interests, especially when that bond is genuine. My grandma wouldn’t know Jason Kipnis from Jason Voorhees, but once my career took me to the realm of Major League Baseball, the sport became a greater part of her life as well. That, of course, was by her choice. And that’s something I’ll always appreciate.

Many grandparents are storytellers, and my grandma was no different. Some relatives will bore you to tears with tales of days past that have no relation to your life or interests.

Sports, however, have a magical way of linking together different generations. The history and tradition in baseball makes that especially easy. The Browns and Cavs didn’t always exist when my grandma grew up in Cleveland. The Indians have been around for more than a century.

I earn a living watching and writing about baseball, yet there are always facts about the sport that my grandma could deploy that I’d otherwise never know, random tidbits about Bob Feller or Lou Boudreau. That’s the thing about baseball: Everyone, everywhere has some story or memory.

My grandma pulled a slip of paper from her leather purse. From across the table, it looked like a single piece of notebook paper that had taken a spill in a vat of ink. Blanketing both sides of the sheet were illegible scribbles. To her, they were fodder for future stories. To her, the chicken scratch was pure gold.

My grandma passed away early Friday morning, rather unexpectedly and far too soon. As the harsh, inexplicable reality sunk in, stories started to flood my thoughts.

I recalled the seven or eight times she told me the story of how the Cleveland Browns would practice at a nearby high school field when she was a teenager. She would watch from afar and star running back Jim Brown, she claims, would stare at her and flirt with her.

I recalled how she heard on TV one day that the Indians were giving a Mike Hargrove bobblehead to fans in attendance. She remembered Hargrove as a player for the Tribe in the ’80s and not as much as the manager who led the club to a pair of World Series appearances a decade later. When I brought her the figurine one day, she sat and watched its incessant twitching, amazed at the concept’s simplistic absurdity. For some reason, she kept referring to it as a “googlehead” or “bubblehead,” almost as if she was purposefully refusing to address the thing by its actual term.

Some people strive to make a difference in other people’s lives. Her list of story ideas, many of which I’d never even consider taking on, demonstrated her drive to assist me in any way she could. It’s not just me — she spent more time volunteering than anyone could imagine.

When I returned home from lunch, after I snapped out of my food coma, I placed the notebook on my nightstand where, over time, papers and receipts and cards pushed it out of sight and out of mind. I did write the piece on rookie hazing, a feature story that ran last week. I have yet to discover what Gaylord Perry is doing with his spare time, though he’ll be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in August, so I suppose I’ll have a chance to cross that idea off the list.

This is one story idea I wish I never had to conceive. But now I realize that I’m armed with tales of a remarkable woman that I can share with the rest of the world.

Chris Perez expands on his comments; Mark Shapiro responds

Chris Perez met with the media Sunday morning to expand upon his comments from Saturday evening, when he expressed displeasure about being booed during a scoreless appearance on Thursday and about the club’s home attendance, which ranks last among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Below is a full transcript of Perez’s comments from Sunday and comments from Indians team president Mark Shapiro on his reaction to what the Tribe closer had to say.

PEREZ

Is this something that has been building up for you?
There’s no motivation. I don’t have an ulterior motive. I’ve been here since 2009. I was one of the first trade pieces when the team signaled they were going to start rebuilding. So, I’ve been here. In 2010, I wouldn’t have said those comments. We deserved to get booed, we deserved for nobody to be here. But we’ve been building up for this season and we’re good. We have a good team. We haven’t even played our best ball and we’re in first place. It’s been years building up and Thursday was the last straw for me. I had it on Thursday and yesterday was my first time to talk.

Are you worried about any backlash from fans?
Nope.

Were you amused by the backlash?
Some of it was funny. It entertained my timeline last night. That was fun. I expect it, but I really don’t care anymore. I’m here to do my job and play for this team and if the fans come, they’ll come and if they don’t, it’ll be just like it was in April, so who cares?

Have you talked to other players who have specifically said they don’t want to come here?
I have not. I’m just talking about perception of teammates and guys on other teams, not guys that have had the chance to say no to coming here, but guys looking on the outside in. I’ve talked to ex-players, guys that we have released in recent years. It’s the consensus pretty much.

…that they don’t want to be here?
It’s not a good atmosphere. It’s not fun to be here. Especially when you’re not playing well or not getting that many hits or you’re not pitching well. Baseball is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s a child’s game, I understand that. But if you have the choice to go an atmosphere where it’s fun every day, like Philadelphia or some place like that where every day it’s fun just to go there, that helps you get through some seasons sometimes, some games. In August, when it’s 100 degrees out and you come back from a West Coast trip and you’re tired, that energy can help you push through a couple of games. Maybe it gets you a couple wins here or there. It makes a difference, it really does.

Why yesterday?
Like I said, it was the first time I got interviewed since Thursday. I got booed for no reason.

Have you talked to Sandy Alomar, who was here when the energy sparked them in the ’90s?
I have. I talked to ex-players who were here when it was like that. Ask Derek Lowe. When he was with Boston, they were like, ‘God, we’re going to Cleveland. That place is loud. They’re on you. That’s the home-field advantage. That’s what I want to get back to. That’s what helps us win. That helps us get to where we want to go. It’s not like that anymore, unfortunately. I don’t say that teams like coming here, but it’s just another game for them. It’s not like, ‘Oh god, we’re going to Cleveland. It’s going to be a loud series.’ When we go to Boston, it’s going to be loud. We just know. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s fun to play in those kind of situations.

So why do you want to be in Cleveland?
Because we have a good team. I want to get back to that. I was in Florida in ’97 when they lost the World Series to the Marlins. I saw the atmosphere here. It’s great. It’s a good baseball town. I don’t know how to get back to that. I think everybody says ‘Winning, winning.’ Well we were in first place for three months last year. We’ve come out strong this year. Obviously it’s not a fluke. Last year, we tailed off because of injuries. This year is a different year. At the end, if you don’t want to get your heart broken again, then we don’t want you.

Why do you think people don’t come?
There are all kinds of reasons: weather, the ownership. I hear it all the time. You guys know the reasons. I’m just repeating what you guys write.

Why do you think the fans are so negative toward the ownership?
I think some of it is the media. Some of it is the fans. They want a winner. I think some of the ownerships in this city aren’t accountable. There are a lot of reasons. The economy. I’m not stupid, I understand the economy is bad around here. I understand that people can’t afford to come to the game. But there doesn’t need to be the negativity. I don’t understand the negativity. Enjoy what we have. We have a first-place team. How many teams in the country would want that right now? You think the Tigers are happy? They’re in third place. You might think, ‘Oh, they can turn on that switch.’ It doesn’t work that way. We’re in first place. Enjoy it. We could be in last place. We could be the Royals or the Pirates and haven’t won anything in 20 years. We’re not. Enjoy it. I don’t understand the negativity.

Do a lot of your teammates feel the same way?
They feel the same way. They just won’t say it.

Do you feel like this could ignite fans that have been waiting for somebody to speak up?
I hope so. Like I said, I don’t have an ulterior motive. I’m going to go out there and play well and do my job. School is out now. The last three days have been amazing weather. The fans are going to come. I know that. It’s just a slap in the face when you’re last in attendance. Last. It’s not like we’re 25th or 26th. We’re last. Oakland is out-drawing us. That’s embarrassing.

Have you given away tickets yourself?
I’ve basically bought season tickets for six seats for the rest of the year. I’m not doing anything to bring any extra attention to myself or distract myself from the team. I’m here to win. I want to win here. I care. We have guys on the team that care, younger guys. Kipnis cares. Pestano cares. Older guys care. We want to win. But right now, we’re winning for ourselves, basically.

Has anyone from the front office approached you?
I talked to [general manager Chris] Antonetti. I don’t really want to get into what we talked about. I didn’t get reprimanded or anything. I’m not suspended or fined. We had a good talk.

Did they force you to talk today?
No.

What was this for?
Just to keep it out of the locker room and so I could do it all at once.

Is it deceiving when you go out through the offseason and see what seems to be a swelled fan base at the mall tours and the offseason public appearances, but then you get here and see the empty seats?
It’s not deceiving. It is what it is. It’s been like that since I’ve been here. It’s not like that’s a one-year thing. It’s been like that since I’ve been here. That’s why it’s frustrating, because it doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better. What else can we do? That’s the frustrating part. I understand 2010. We were terrible. I wouldn’t want to come watch crap baseball either. But we’re getting better. That’s what you do with a hometown team. You watch the rookie come up and struggle and then two years later he becomes an All-Star or whatever. Then you say, ‘Hey, I remember when he couldn’t do that, and now look at that.’ That’s what you do with a team, at least when I grew up that’s what I did. I think most fans do that. They fall in love with a team. The names change, the players change, but it’s the team. We play in Cleveland. We’re here.

There were the two largest crowds Friday and Saturday since Opening Day. Do you think that’s a sign of things to come?
I hope so. The weather is nice. All of the factors are lining up for the fans to come. It’s a weekend. We’re playing well. I expect it to continue. I hope it does. It helps. It really does.

 

SHAPIRO:

I, myself, and we, as an organization, have a lot of respect and appreciation for Chris. I understand the emotion and the passion and the competitiveness that drives his performance. I mean he’s been one of the more dominant closers in baseball this season. What drives him to succeed in that role is his emotion and his competitiveness. I think a lot of that was what behind he said yesterday. Talking to him with Chris Antonetti, it’s clear that what’s behind that emotion is how great he feels our situation is. How incredible he feels the team is, the ballpark is, and his desire for more people to experience that. That’s the root of it.

We as an organization clearly disagree with him. We appreciate our fans, we respect our fans. We certainly want more to come and we’re working extremely hard to make that happen, but it’s our underlying belief that if the team continues to play the way it plays and we continue to win, then more fans will come out. It was about this time last year that more and more fans began to come.

Do a lot of players feel the same way as Perez?
No. I get the sense they do [want to be here]. You have two recent examples in Asdrubal and Carlos Santana that signed extensions. In my experience, this has been a place that, for certain types of players, they want to be here. They want to come here for the culture, for the city, for the quality of life. Great ballpark, great place to play. I’m sure there are some that don’t, but a lot do.

Were fans too spoiled with old ownership?
One of the unfortunate aspects of our current owners is the timing of when they bought the team. I think that, to be judged through the lens of the mid-90s teams is unfair. It’s a different situation in every way. If you measure us as a different era of Indians baseball, we’ve done well. They are an ownership that cares deeply about the team. It’s frustrating for me to see them criticized, but I understand that people need to point a finger somewhere. I don’t think people are making a decision not to come to games because of ownership. The bulk of people anyway. Ultimately, we’re focused on trying to control the things we can control.

Did you ask to speak with Perez?
Yeah, but we have a good relationship with him. He’s certainly one not to shirk from responsibility. Easy conversation. Obviously he’s a guy with strong opinions, and he’s a smart guy. He had thought out what he said, and had some reasons behind what he said. It was a good conversation. I think we agree on a lot of fronts, and disagree on a few.

Are you disappointed in the attendance?
Am I disappointed? I want more people to experience what we have going here. I have that feeling in a moment, but I turn that more to resolve because I think once they get here, they’re going to want to come back again.

Are you worried about the comments alienating the fans even more?
I don’t. I really feel like it’s a moment in time. It’s a story for right now. If you polled our players by and large, if you talked to our fans by and large, and if you talked to every single person in this organization, what you’d see is a largely universal respect for our fans.

Is ownership is a scapegoat?
I don’t know if it’s a scapegoat. I think we, as a society, tend to need to place our finger on one aspect to be able to understand and digest things that are challenging for us. I think that’s unfortunately where a lot of the focus has gone in recent years.

What was your initial reaction to Perez’s comments?
I tend not to react too quickly until I have all the information. My initial reaction was just, ‘What happened? What was said?’

Do you think Perez disrespected the fans?
I don’t, but I’m not going to speak for Chris.

Do you think it could distract Perez’s on-field performance?
That’s a unique role, and I would say no. That role is all about how a guy handles the blown save, how a guy handles the tough moments. He’s shown over and over again is he can handle the tough times.

Could this ignite fans to come out?
Talking to [Perez], I think some of his hope is that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying, ‘Hey, pay attention. Good things are happening here. Look at this ballpark, look at what you’ve got here. Come on out.’ I don’t know whether that will happen, but I would conjecture that part of his desire is for that to happen.

If You Build It, Stay In First Place, Improve the Weather, Lower Prices, etc., They Will Come

“You’re hitting .185? Are you serious? I don’t even think you weigh 185.”

A clever heckler shouted those words at Chicago’s Brent Lillibridge during the first game of Monday’s double header between the Indians and White Sox. You didn’t have to be within earshot to hear the trash talk at Progressive Field on the sunny afternoon, when the announced attendance of 9,196 appeared to be closer to about 600.

After all, how many people have the flexibility within their schedule to skip work on a Monday and attend a makeup game? Well, crowds that scarce have been the norm at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Team president Mark Shapiro told me the attendance has been “slightly below expectations,” but the Indians rank last in all of baseball in attendance, averaging 14,291 fans per home game. Given the dynamics of April and May weather in Cleveland, that number might not appear too surprising. But the Tribe ranks far behind the rest of the pack, checking in more than 5,000 fans per game behind Oakland, which ranks 29th with 19,763 fans per contest.

“Weather, certainly for cold-weather markets like this, has a huge impact,”  Shapiro said. “There is a lot of weather volatility that exists early in the season. So when we plan here, and I would assume other teams plan similarly, although on a different scale, we certainly take into account the challenges that exist in April and May. Our expectations are different in April and May than they are in June, July and August.”

Weather can’t be the only decisive factor shunning fans from the ballpark. When the two-time reigning American League champion Texas Rangers were in town last weekend, the Indians averaged about 18,000 fans for the three games that included the first fireworks show of the year, a Chris Perez replica jersey giveaway, the grand opening of the Indians Kids Clubhouse and ideal spring weather.

The Indians compare their ticket sales and revenue streams to clubs in similar markets, such as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Kansas City. All five of those teams rank in the bottom half of the league in attendance. Still, the Reds draw more than 10,000 fans per game more than the Indians. Even the Pirates, who have suffered through 19 consecutive losing seasons and countless chilly springs, attract nearly 23,000 per night.

So what’s the difference in Cleveland?

The Indians once set the standard for attendance, selling out a then-record 455 consecutive games. Shapiro cautions not to make comparisons between the era of the ’90s Indians and today.

“The 455 is representative of a great era of Indians baseball that’s worthy of celebration,” he said, “but when calibrating business expectations and metrics, it was a different city with a different set of market conditions. Our organization was run with a different set of operational parameters. It’s not a lens which we can look through or should look through when setting expectations or evaluating performance in today’s world.”

In the ’90s, the Indians prospered from a booming economy, being a perennial championship contender playing in a brand new ballpark and the fact that Art Modell relocated the Browns. Fans, tired of repeated rebuilding processes over the last 10 years, have routinely quipped that they’ll start showing up when the team proves its merit on the field. Not everyone buys that notion, however.

“We’re in first place,” said Tribe closer Chris Perez. “What else do they want? They keep saying, ‘We’ll see if this team’s good.’ Well what are you waiting for? We’re in first place. Are you going to wait until we win the World Series and then come to the parade?”

Perez has a point. The Indians drew even fewer fans last spring. Attendance through 18 home games in 2012 is actually up four percent. Crowds increased as spring turned to summer, but only by enough to get the Indians to 24th in the final attendance rankings for 2011.

This might just be the Cleveland standard, however. In 2007, when the club last qualified for the postseason, the Indians ranked 21st in attendance. The following season, the Tribe checked in at 22nd.

“There is no question that making the playoffs has an impact on attendance the following season,” Shapiro said. “From market to market, the magnitude of that impact varies greatly. There are a host of variables that affect how great of an impact it has. Recency of playoff performance and contention, size of market, any number of factors can enter into it.”

For the 2012 campaign, the Indians have sold a little more than 8,000 season ticket packages. When faced with economically driven choices, Clevelanders would prefer to spend their disposable income on the Browns, who drew nearly 66,000 fans per home game in 2011, 18th in the NFL. While they filled 90 percent of Cleveland Browns Stadium, no NFL team filled less than 75 percent. The Indians, on the other hand, have filled 32.9 percent of Progressive Field this season.

The Indians have done everything in their power to alter that line of thinking. They have lowered bleacher seats to $10. They have tried to combat high concessions prices with All-You-Can-Eat seats. They have given away tickets on social media outlets.

Is the problem baseball as a whole? Fourteen years ago, the sport captured America with its thrilling home run race. Then, the game appealed to anyone with an appetite for round-trippers and slugfests. Now, as @ZoneStar26 pointed out on Twitter, we live in an age of instant gratification. So as the sport evolves and becomes more statistic-based, people have lost interest. After all, most people don’t find sabermetrics sexy.

Minor League options might also take away from the Indians’ ability to draw. Anyone within a short distance of Cleveland can drive to Akron to see the Aeros, Lake County to see the Captains, Columbus to see the Clippers or Lake Erie to see the Crushers.

Shapiro said he is “not surprised and not worried” about the early-season attendance figures, predicting that the ballpark will host a greater number of fans when the weather heats up.

“The more we can heighten demand or provide greater value in April and May and win, the better chance we have of increasing attendance,” Shapiro said. “But it’s always going to be, to a certain extent, a lot less than the summer months.”

Manager Manny Acta didn’t want to touch the subject when asked. He did, however, project optimism.

“They’ll come,” he said.

Clearly, there are a number of external factors keeping fans away from the ballpark during the season’s early months. Surely, more fans will pass through the turnstiles as the weather heats up and if the team remains in contention.

But will the crowds be large enough to drone out the hecklers?