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The Cleveland Indians, the WSOP, and luck

A healthy Asdrubal Cabrera will be crucial for the Tribe's success this year
A healthy Asdrubal Cabrera will be crucial for the Tribe's success this year
Norm Hall/Getty Images

I love the World Series of Poker. I’ve daydreamed probably more than I should about playing in it someday. Naturally within this daydream I go on to crush a field of thousands, winning the bracelet and a pyramid of cash in the process.

But back in the real world of yard work, taxes and stress headaches, I know it’s unlikely I’ll ever be joining the throngs of dead-money dreamers who descend upon Las Vegas every summer. I’m too rational.

First, if you’re there as an unknown amateur, the deck is decidedly stacked against you. The $10,000 entry fee for the WSOP Main Event is just a drop in the bucket for bankrolled professional poker players. But for Bob the Accountant from Des Moines who saved up for five years to get his shot, every chip is guarded with concern. Pros will sense this and feed upon any player who thinks this way.

And even if you play relaxed, smart and occasionally with reckless aggression, about 5,738 things still need to go right for the impossible to become reality. It might help you marginally to possess a superior knowledge of all things poker, but in the end it all boils down to luck. How many times can you correctly guess a coin flip? If you have streaks that consistently run into the twenties, then I like your chances. My streaks never even begin.

The same principals hold true within Major League Baseball. Bankrolled pros like the Yankees and Phillies will always have the upper-hand. They throw money around like a rap star making it rain at a strip club. But they don’t always win. Occasionally Bob the Accountant wins.

And yes the Cleveland Indians are Bob the Accountant.

How many things have to go right for the Indians to make the playoffs this year? Probably a few less than 5,738 but it’s still a whole lot.

First off, the Indians have to win the AL Central to reach the playoffs. Sure, there’s an AL Wild Card spot available, but they should rename it“the playoff spot we give to either Boston or New York”. These two teams have reached the playoffs via the wild card 11 of 16 years. An AL Central team has only made the playoffs as a wild card once – Detroit in 2006. No, it’s pretty obvious there is only one road to the playoffs for the Indians… through the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and *cough* Royals.

And for the Indians to finish ahead of these teams, luck must be involved. Maybe Sox ace Mark Buehrle strains his shoulder while making another ridiculous play in the field. Maybe Twins catcher Joe Mauer takes a Carlos Santana-type collision at the plate. Maybe Tigers star Miguel Cabrera falls off the wagon. It’s not that I’m wishing ill-will on any of these players; I’m just saying that for the Indians to realistically have a shot, the teams around them need to stumble. And sometimes that’s a result of plain, dumb luck.

Then there’s the uncertainty surrounding the Indians own injuries. It seems like every player on the roster is coming back from some kind of damage. Grady Sizemore – knee surgery. Asdrubal Cabrera – forearm injury. Carlos Santana – knee surgery. Travis Hafner – an endless three-year shoulder injury. Matt LaPorta – hip surgery and turf toe. Mitch Talbot – back injury. Fausto Carmona – mostly mental (bruised ego?)

If all these players come back AND overachieve, the Indians have a shot. But that “overachieving” part is tricky because good health doesn’t guarantee success. And sometimes even talent doesn’t guarantee success. Sometimes again, it all boils down to luck.

There’s a telling discussion from Bull Durham (debatably the greatest baseball movie ever made) where aging catcher Crash Davis – Kevin Costner – describes the distinction between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter. He explains that the difference between baseball obscurity and the Hall of Fame essentially boils down to just one lucky hit per week. One more “dying quail” or “ground ball with eyes” each week and you’re in The Show. Crash realizes that just a few more of these strokes of luck and he could have made it.

This scene always resonates with me because it’s a man coming to the realization that life isn’t fair. You can do everything right and still fail. And that’s the position the Cleveland Indians find themselves in. So much has to go right just for the Tribe to even have a shot, and it still might not be enough.

Is a playoff spot in the cards this season for the Indians? A Magic Eight-Ball would say “don’t count on it”. Fans will say “not a chance”. But coaches and players will tell us that’s still the ultimate goal. They’ll get a chance to prove us wrong in just one week; Opening Day is April 1st.

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