Indians Owner, GM Continue To Sell 'Small Ball'

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) - When Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro traded Roberto Alomar last month, he quipped that he'd need to don a flak jacket.

He said Wednesday that the wrath of Indians fans hasn't been quite that bad. But Shapiro and owner Larry Dolan have had to spend the offseason trying to explain their shift from a power hitting, superstar-laden team to a pitching-focused club that plays "small ball."

The concept hasn't resonated well with fans.

"We've taken a lot of heat. Some of my e-mail has been awful," Dolan said at a luncheon Wednesday with fans and media.

"Baseball and sports in general are an entity that people don't want to react intellectually to," Shapiro said. "They don't want to hear the reasoning behind it. They're emotional about it.

"It's hard to talk with ration and reason about things people don't want to be reasonable about."

Shapiro traded Alomar in an eight-player deal and allowed run-producer Juan Gonzalez to leave as a free agent, along with veterans Kenny Lofton, Dave Burba and Marty Cordova.

Dolan told Shapiro to trim $15 million off last season's $91 million payroll, and said Wednesday that he's trying to assemble a winning team that is financially responsible.

"Robbie Alomar is going to help us be a better ball team this year by playing for the New York Mets," Dolan said.

He said it would have been easier not to trade Alomar for outfielder Matt Lawton and prospects, but it wouldn't have prepared the team to compete in the future.

He said most fans he's talked to this winter have taken a "wait-and-see" approach to the Indians new philosophy. That includes a group of season-ticket holders he met with who questioned Dolan's goals and considered dropping their tickets.

"The question I think they were really asking: are we going back to the '60s and the '70s and the '80s," Dolan said referring to Cleveland's abysmal teams from those decades. "I told them we're not."

He said he was able to persuade 75 percent of those ticket holders to come back for another year.

Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said they've lost some season-ticket holders and gained some, but that 24,000 to 25,000 of Jacobs Field's 43,368 seats have been sold in season-ticket packages, on par with last year.

Dolan acknowledged that he is concerned about individual ticket sales -- which begin next week -- because of a weak economy and weakened power lineup.

He said he understands the theatrical value of a home run from a Manny Ramirez or Juan Gonzalez, but that long balls haven't brought a championship to Cleveland.

"We've had the home runs and we haven't won," Dolan said.

Shapiro said that past Indians teams have been talented, but underachieved because they relied on somebody hitting a three-run home run to win. He said another 90-win season is not unrealistic because past teams should have won even more games.

"We're building a team instead of just collecting talent," Shapiro said.

A fan at Wednesday's luncheon asked Dolan and Shapiro for a flat out prediction on how the Indians would finish the season, Shapiro jokingly whispered to Dolan, "You take that one."

Dolan laughed, then offered: "Come and watch, it will be fun."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)