CLEVELAND — There was a recent time when some of the hardest concepts to define had to be put into words for the Cleveland Indians.
Not even three years ago, manager Terry Francona’s third season with the club took a different feel when Cleveland dumped four veterans around the trade deadline and placed its faith in a younger group of players signed to long-term contracts.
In concert with Francona, that group of players — including Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes — came up with what amounted to an accountability contract for each player to sign. They drew up versions in English and Spanish to make sure everyone understood what was expected of them while they played for the Indians.
Now with Cleveland in its third year of owning a stranglehold on the American League Central Division despite what has been an occasionally challenging 2018 season, the document isn’t required reading for those who occupy the home clubhouse at Progressive Field.
“I think it’s one of those things that we’ve developed and built a culture here of playing the game the right way, preparing for the game the right way, things like that,” Kluber said. “I guess that’s just part of who we are now. I don’t think we have many instances where we need to fall back on that type of stuff. I think it’s ingrained in the team now.”
The concept boils down to a belief in playing the game “the right way,” as Kluber and Brantley put it. It’s not the easiest concept to define, but the Indians tried.
“You show up, you’re a good teammate first and foremost,” Brantley said. “I think that’s the most important thing. Then you go out there and play hard. You’re committed to a group effort. No one person is going to carry us every single day. We have to do it as a team.”
Reflecting back, Francona was quick to point out that a piece of paper with words is nothing more unless those to whom it is addressed actually try to abide by it. Similarly, asking players to approach the game a certain way or handle their business in a certain manner is no guarantee that the team will win a single game or the World Series.
But it can help.
“Because they did it, they took ownership, it was very meaningful,” Francona said. “It’s what we aspire to be, and it’s hard, but that’s what can be a separator to make you go from good to potentially great.”
Since the contract was drawn up, starting pitcher Mike Clevinger has made his way to the majors and solidified himself in the rotation. He hasn’t seen what it spells out, but he has gotten a feel for it.
“You see it from the minute you walk into the clubhouse, just how punctual everyone is,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of telling them to do this or do that. Everybody is a bunch of professionals who handle their own business in the right way, and you don’t want to be that odd man out.”
Therein lies one of the primary goals of the contract. This year, the Indians will have to make decisions on Brantley, relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, who when healthy have all been significant parts of this recent run of success.
As players come and go, the hope is that the ideals remain and the feeling of a closing window of success is diminished.
“I think if you’re looking at it from that sense, ideally the culture of the team is solid enough that younger guys who come up who are eventually going to be in that position, they adopt those same ideals,” Kluber said. “Then you don’t really have that clock-ticking type of feeling because it feels more continuous if everybody buys into it.”