Still hungry after all these years

This wasn’t the column I had hoped to write. It was supposed to be about how the famine had ended for Cleveland, the city in which I grew up and learned the important lessons of life, including the value of hard work, the necessity of education and the importance of rooting against the despicable New York Yankees.

It was to be about a hunger finally being satisfied. About how Cleveland may have become “Believeland” in June when its Cavaliers won it all on the basketball court, but how that was only a tasty appetizer. The Indians clinching the World Series, I wanted to write, was the entrée.

Instead, the Chicago Cubs served up another heaping plate of letdown.

How hungry were we for that meal? When I was six years old, Cleveland celebrated a World Series victory; when I was 22 it won the championship of the National Football League. And that was it. For 52 years it won exactly nothing. No other city with three major professional sports teams can make that claim. Or would want to.

Cleveland became a city that accepted defeat as its destiny. The hapless butt of easy jokes — mistake on the lake, burning river city, buckle of the rust belt and all that razz. Rodney Dangerfield should have been our mayor. Hollywood produced not one, but two movies in which the likelihood of the Indians even making it to the World Series was portrayed as a comedy. Or a fantasy. A city where the phrase “Wait ‘til next year” stretched into “wait ‘til next decade,” because next year always wound up being just as lousy as last year. When sports fans of other cities bragged about their teams’ triumphs, all we could retort was: “Jim Brown.”

Whether its hired athletes have won championships should not be the metric by which a city is judged, of course. Any place that has a world-class symphony orchestra, top-notch museums and an unexcelled hospital shouldn’t have to apologize for itself.

And let’s keep it in perspective. The hunger for a sports championship is nothing compared to real hunger, the kind that occurs in impoverished nations, or in sections of ours. Winning a World Series will do nothing to end famine or poverty. Baseball won’t cure one disease or end one war.

It is, after all, merely a diversion, a game played by highly-paid performers that has no real impact on our lives.

Still, being able to say “Cleveland Indians” and “World Series champions” in the same sentence would have been as satisfying as a plate of pierogies with a side of kielbasa. Now all we can do is eat our hearts out.


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