By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Cleveland has undergone an extraordinary urban renewal-like transformation from Loserville to the City of Champions this year, shedding a down-and-out image for a winning one.
Even among historic losers, Cleveland over the decades has comes up second best.
Compared to the Chicago Cubs, the so-called Loveable Losers they will meet in the best-of-seven Fall Classic beginning on Tuesday, the Indians are clear runners-up.
It has been 68 years since the Indians last won a World Series but that seems almost like yesterday compared to the 108-year title drought endured by the Cubbies and their supporters.
When the Cubs last won World Series in 1908 man had just discovered flight, the Wright brothers taking off from Kitty Hawk in North Carolina in 1903.
“I can’t wait to see what it’s like in Cleveland, honestly,” said Indians ace reliever Andrew Miller. “The crowds for the playoff games at home have been special, as you would expect them to be.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Fun and sports are two words that have rarely appeared in the same sentence in Cleveland.
While the Cubs have been embraced for their futility, there has been nothing poetic or romantic about Cleveland’s loser image.
Across the American sporting spectrum no city could match Cleveland’s malaise which ended last June when LeBron James, after returning home from Miami, led the Cavaliers to an NBA championship.
The Cavs became the first Cleveland team to win a championship in 52 years, ending what had been the longest drought between titles in North American professional sports.
For decades, Cleveland, situated hard on the shores of Lake Erie, was mocked as the “Mistake by the Lake”, a decaying Rust Belt relic that attracted the global spotlight in 1969 when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River, which runs through the city, famously caught fire.
When Hollywood made a movie about a hapless Major League team it was a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians.
When players got good they fled.
Unable to bring Cleveland a title, James in 2010 famously took his “talents to South Beach” turning his back on a city battered by unemployment, high taxes and lousy weather.
A local high school student who became a once-in-a-generation player, James was a rare beacon of hope to a city dubbed America’s Most Miserable.
Before James became public enemy number one, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell held the distinction for moving his team to Baltimore in 1996, leaving the city without a National Football League franchise until a new team was created in 1999.
The National Hockey League’s Cleveland Barons left town in 1978 after just two seasons and have never returned while the Cleveland Grand Prix Indy Car race, a summer fixture for 26-years on the city’s lake front, disappeared in 2006.
Even with an NBA title and a return to the World Series, Cleveland has not entirely shed its loser image.
The Browns are winless this season and unlikely to win a Super Bowl anytime soon.
(Editing by Andrew Both)