It’s autumn and time for annual rituals.
Lucy pulls the football away.
Linus is left alone in the pumpkin patch.
Charlie Brown gets a rock in his trick or treat sack.
Cleveland Indians fans get let down again.
The Curse of the Bambino is dead, but the Curse of Rocky Colavito lives on.
Or maybe it’s the Curse of Chief Wahoo, although the malady appears to affect all Cleveland sports teams.
We get the treat dangled tantalizingly close, one step away, and then “Whoosh!” Flat on our backs, cold and disillusioned, with a bag full of gravel instead of the golden nugget of a world championship.
And we keep coming back for more, year after year, decade after decade.
The Indians defeated the hated Yankees and took a three-games-to-one lead against the Boston Red Sox in the American League championship series. One win puts us in the World Series. One out of the next three.
With two starting pitchers who won 19 game a piece, missing 20 or more wins only because of an August hitting slump.
With hitting threats all the way through the lineup.
With a lights-out bullpen.
One out of three.
No problem, right?
In the same year that the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA finals, only to be swept in four games, and the Ohio State Buckeyes experienced a monumental melt-down in the championship game.
It has to be our year, right? The sports gods wouldn’t pull the ball away from us again, would they?
Then the aces we counted on came up deuces, the big guns in the batting order fired blanks, the bullpen turned out to be a herd of heifers.
The gods laugh and the Boston Red Sox, who already have the privilege of living in Boston, rich in history and great seafood, get to play the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.
Not that Cleveland fans were relishing the thought of playing another team from Denver, after the classic collapses against the Broncos.
But it would have been nice to stand on that stage once again, after an absence of 10 years.
It’s like a gambling addiction. You start off by saying you’ll settle for the small stakes and just beating the arrogant, overpaid Yankees. Everything else is gravy.
Then you sit through enough images of Manny’s dreadlocks, Mike Lowell’s eyebrows and David Papelbon’s Riverdance, not to mention the commenators’ fawning praise of the enemy, and you want more.
A little respect. A reason to celebrate.
Not to be.
There is much to be grateful for. Before Cleveland’s appearance in the Series in 1995, it had been 40 years since they had even a reasonable shot at the postseason.
The next World Series for Cleveland came a mere two years later, part of several years of October baseball after the four-decade drought.
The last playoff appearance came in 2001, followed by years of rebuilding. The Indians now have a young team, with long-term contracts, so we can expect to be playing past September 30 for some time to come.
Tee up the pigskin. Stake out a place to wait for the Great Pumpkin. Hold out that goodie bag. Here we go again.
There’s always next year for the City of Contenders and Pretenders.
The upcoming basketball season, full of promise, has already been tainted by the LeBron James and his heedless choice of headgear during the Yankees series.
We always have the Browns, right? I repeat – good grief!
It was a weird baseball season, that started with four snowed-out games in April and
“home” games at someone else’s park, and ended with a swarm of gnats annoying the
Yankee pitchers and a snarl of Sox unraveling the Indians’ hurlers.
Only in Cleveland, as local bard Alex Bevan sang: “If you like the strange, or crave the bizarre, the Midwest Oz is what we are.”
Add to Right Red 88, the Drive, the Fumble, the Shot, and other chokefests, third-base coach Joel Skinner’s inexplicable decision to hold the speedy and ageless Kenny Lofton from scoring in a one-run, all-or-nothing, winner-take-all game.
The next batter hits into a double play and, instead of a likely tie game and maybe a runner in scoring position at second, the inning (and the season) is over.
And we’re left with a winter of what-ifs.
It’s only a game, as the $23 million traitor and former Indian Manny Ramirez observed. Not the end of the world. Larger losses always loom as the snow clouds gather over Lake Erie.
We’ll drive to work and do our jobs and wait for next year.
We know Charlie Brown is never going to kick that darn football. He keeps on trying, convincing us, maybe, to never give up either.
John Matuszak, managing editor and eastside editor of the Messenger newspapers, was one of 7,000 lucky people at 80,000-seat Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a rainy May night in 1981 to see Len Barker pitch a perfect game. We’ll get ‘em next year, Tribe!