It’s not often you get to ask the boss of a professional sports team unfiltered questions, but attendees of Temple Emanu El Brotherhood’s 27th annual Sports Night in Orange got that chance May 3 when Cleveland Indians owner, Chairman and CEO Paul Dolan provided a candid state of the team before answering questions from the crowd.
Dolan began by apologizing, as he said he’s usually one of the last people in the organization to learn news, and mentioned he spent the week of April 24 in Israel. Dolan said his trip to Israel was fabulous and found it a wonderful country with “one dramatic flaw.”
“In one week of traveling around Israel, I only saw one baseball field,” Dolan said. “I did discover that Israel and Cleveland do share a reverence for the year 1948.” The Indians last won a World Series in 1948, which was also the year Israel was founded.
During the program, Dolan said:
• Fans should be concerned ace pitcher Corey Kluber went on the disabled list, but not to worry too much, as the team only expects him to miss a start.
• One of the biggest moves the franchise made in turning itself around was hiring manager Terry Francona in October 2012. “Tito Francona was our MVP last year,” Dolan said, using Francona’s nickname, and adding that Francona’s leadership guided the team to the World Series.
• The team expected to re-sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, two members of the 2016 Indians, and probably would have had their agents read the free agent market correctly. He said the team reached “a little bit more than we usually do” to sign slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
• He initially didn’t understand the logic behind trading two of the team’s better prospects (outfielder Clint Frazier and
left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield) and other prospects for left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who would later earn MVP honors in the American League Championship Series, and needed the front office to explain. “They said, ‘When you get to the playoffs, a guy like Miller is a special weapon,’ and we saw that,” Dolan said.
• He wasn’t too concerned yet about Encarnacion’s early-season struggles. “If we get a typical Encarnacion year, then we’ve got a lot coming,” he said.
• The team is studying the issue of the pace of play in a game, which is a focus of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. Dolan said the team has data showing that a percentage of people, particularly young people, have issues with the pace of a game. He said he didn’t think the new rule change to issue automatic intentional walks would be a big factor. “That might save two seconds,” he said.
• About the controversy surrounding the team’s name and logo, Chief Wahoo that “some want to keep (Wahoo), some want to get rid of him, but the issue is not going to go. We are mindful that there are people who are offended by it, and frankly if you leave Northeastern Ohio, it changes, the prospective on this changes. We were on some path towards a middle ground, I don’t know what that path was, and that’s still where we’re headed, but we’re headed there faster than we’ve ever liked because the commissioner of baseball weighed in on this.” Dolan said Manfred had reached out to the franchise about its logo, particularly after a Canadian lawsuit was filed against the team and MLB for using the logo during the playoffs against the Toronto Blue Jays in October. Dolan said he favors a reduced use of Wahoo without eliminating the logo, but he suspects the logo will be resolved one way or the other within a couple of years.
• The team expects to have more than
2 million fans in total attendance this season and hopes to break 2.5 million. “We’re not going to return to what happened in the ’90s and the earlier part of the century,” he said, referring to the years when the Cavs were not an NBA Finals contender and the city had no professional football. “That was a unique circumstance that goes along with various things that were in place then, and we’ve changed as a community.”
• He expects shortstop Francisco Lindor to be the face of baseball and will have the opportunity to look for a really big stage, but is focused on enjoying the next five years of Lindor in Cleveland. “I know what is not enough, we tried,” Dolan said, alluding to a seven-year contract extension Lindor reportedly turned down. “I don’t know. We love Lindor.”
• His family has no plans to sell the team, whether it wins a World Series in the next few years or not.