Whether it's Babe Ruth downing a dozen hotdogs at League Park or Bob Feller's tendency to terrorize waiters with practical jokes, sports columnist Hal Lebovitz's mind is a locker room full of the sports moments and characters we've collectively obsessed over for generations. A new book, "The Best of Hal Lebovitz: Great Sportswriting from Six Decades in Cleveland" (Gray & Co., $24.95), collects his most memorable observations.
We recently sat down with Lebovitz to talk Tribe and share the view from his roost as one of the city's most revered sports columnists.
How would you rate the Tribe's performance so far in 2004?
"I would have to rate them at least a 'B' because I think they've been an unexpectedly good hitting team and they got a couple starters that have come on from nowhere. And except for the relief pitching, which has just been horrendous, they'd be in first place."
When general manager Mark Shapiro started the team's rebuilding process, he said he expected the Tribe to be contenders by the 2005 season. Could they contend this year or next?
"The problem is who's out there? Who can you get? And what are you going to give up to get it? If you could get one of the top closers, I'd consider it, but otherwise no. I would rather keep building the way we are now. Everyone is looking for a closer and that is going to be tough to get. You pretty much have to grow your own."
How did you end up meeting Babe Ruth?
"I was working to get some money for college in the concession stands at League Park, selling Cokes and hotdogs and peanuts and Baby Ruth bars. On an early day in 1930, I was selling hotdogs and I was assigned to the section behind the third-base dugout. Babe wasn't playing, so he sat behind the dugout that day. I came by and he called me over and bought a couple hotdogs. Over the course of that game, he ate 12 hotdogs."
Who was the most memorable player to wear a Tribe uniform?
"The most unforgettable guy to me was Satchel Paige. He was an icon and if he had been the first black player to come into baseball there would have been no fuss at all because all the white players looked up to him. They revered him. He didn't give a damn about time or place and didn't know the names of players. He was like Ruth in that respect. He called Bob Feller [whose nickname was Rapid Robert'] Bob Rapid.' Half the players, he didn't know their name at all. --
"The second would be Feller. People didn't realize he was a practical joker. He had a plastic cube that looked like an ice cube with a fly in it. He would drop it in a drink at a restaurant and show it to the waiter."
What rules should a sports columnist follow?
"Be objective, analyze fairly, tell it like it is and try to get the full story. Too many writers and radio people know they can get an audience by knocking people. Who's the No. 1 sports-radio guy in town? Mike Trivisonno. Is he fair? He's knocking [Indians shortstop Omar] Vizquel every day. It's a game and it's not honest. But it gets an audience."
The Indians front office has worked the script "I" logo into the uniform design. Is the Chief Wahoo logo on its way out?
"I don't think so and I think [the controversy] is an unusual phenomenon. A friend of mine has a Wahoo cap with a battery that lights it up and he's walked into an Indian reservation out West and they loved it and wondered where they could buy one. If they called the Cleveland Indians the Cleveland Jews, I'd be honored."
ESPN recently named Cleveland the most tortured sports city in the country. What do you make of that?
"Ted Williams, who became a close friend of mine, once said Boston Red Sox writers are the worst and Cleveland Indians writers are the second worst. I told him 'Ted, I'd rather be the first worst.' So, I guess I'd rather be the most tortured than the second-most tortured."