It's safe to say that the Indians' Era of Champions is over. But don't lose heart just yet. While the Tribe may not be highly regarded by Sports Illustrated or ESPN's Peter Gammons, we tracked down a couple of guys who do have encouraging words for them. Sort of.
"Not shitty," assesses Keith Uchima, a man with a history of saying otherwise. Uchima played the foul-mouthed groundskeeper in the 1989 movie Major League (and its 1994 sequel), during which he spent most of his screen time calling the Indians shitty.
Of course, the movie's fantasy -- that of a scruffy Tribe team getting its act together to become champions -- was morphing into reality by the time Major League 2 hit video stores. And Uchima doesn't discount the chance for more diamond magic in Cleveland soon.
"I really think there is some talent on this team," he says now. "And if things fall into place, things will work out." (The Tribe hosts the Chicago White Sox at its home opener at Jacobs Field on Monday, April 7, at 1:05 p.m.)
Though he's a resident of Chicago (where he's still active with local theater and music projects), Uchima considers himself a loyal Tribe fan. And while his forecasts ("Maybe these guys ain't too fuckin' bad") aren't exactly pep talks of the highest order, that's OK -- because James Gammon, the veteran actor who played Coach Lou Brown in the first two Major League films, is quick to step in with encouragement.
"Everybody was a nobody at some point," Gammon says today, apparently still in character.
Gammon, like Uchima, is an Illinois native, and the similarities between the two don't end there: Gammon, too, professes to being a die-hard Tribe fan, and he compares this year's team to the one that floundered -- then thrived -- under his management on the big screen.
"Hell, [the Indians] have got as good a chance as the next guy," he says. "It's definitely exciting to get to know a bunch of new players and to watch them come along. You can't go in feeling defeated."
So let's review: In short order, the Indians have gone from having an all-star at every position to finding comfort in the "veteran leadership" of Terry Mulholland. Jim Thome's with the Phillies, and Bartolo Colon's with the White Sox. But maybe Brandon Phillips will hit .300 this year. Maybe C.C. Sabathia will win 18 games. Maybe Matt Lawton will bounce back from an awful '02. And maybe Travis Hafner will make us forget all about Thome. "Everything is fresh and new right now," Gammon says. "If things click the right way, who knows?
"Just go out, have a good time, and give a few guys an old shitburger."
Once a Major Leaguer, always a Major Leaguer.