Browns and Indians fans got a look behind the curtain in the past week or so and they have a little better idea about how things work at the professional level. Professional sports franchises do not work the way normal businesses do. I know there has been a pecking order at every radio or television station that I have ever worked for, but normally, the job description or title takes care of confusion. Sports franchises, however, work differently. Of course, the business side of the team runs like a normal business, but things change when you get to the locker room. According to the old saying, power is not given, it is taken.
And that power, at least in football, generally applies to the quarterback. In baseball, it’s often the shortstop. The unquestioned leader in the Browns locker room is Baker Mayfield, while Francisco Lindor takes that spot for the Indians. You saw examples of their leadership in the past couple of weeks.
Unlike LeBron James, who has been labeled a “coach killer,” one who goes over the standard protocol to get things his way, Mayfield and Lindor stay within the accepted unwritten rules. When Browns running back Duke Johnson reported to organized team activities, he reiterated his desire to be traded. Mayfield came right out and said “you’re either on this train or you’re not – it’s moving. You can get out of the way or you can join us.”
Lindor took offense to the lack of hustle by center fielder Leonys Martin in the first inning of a game in Texas last week and didn’t wait until the game ended to let him know how he felt. The two had to be separated by coach Sandy Alomar while manager Terry Francona looked the other way.
Showing some leadership, also, were Francona and Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens, both keeping their distance from the fray and letting the matters run their course. Kitchens didn’t respond much to Mayfield’s comment and let the locker room decide what was right. Francona didn’t have to say a word, knowing Martin was going to be released, or to use baseball terminology, designated for assignment. The two players (Martin and Johnson) are similar, at least before Martin was let go. He was the fourth outfielder, maybe fifth, but he deserved a pass for the most part because of his near-death experience last year and the team couldn’t have done more to help him through the experience, whether he could correctly track down a fly ball or not. Truth be told, he was a terrible defender and couldn’t hit enough. Yet he was popular with the fans.
I have always said that Johnson is in the top 10 most popular Browns players with the fans at this point, because there are so many players that we haven’t seen yet in a Browns uniform. But Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey are waiting to see whether he can fill a role or whether they can make his trade value rise. Don’t forget suspended running back Kareem Hunt won’t be available for at least eight games and an injury to starting running back Nick Chubb could change Duke’s role with the team.
Usually teams like to hold on to their dirty laundry. But seeing the way Lindor and Mayfield view their leadership positions, I don’t think anybody minded what they saw and heard from the leaders in the locker room.