Cleveland Indians: The Importance of Crowd Noise


I went to Game 1 between the Cavs and the Celtics last week.  Cleveland fans caught a lot of crap for that game – for the confetti, the towel waving, and for a somewhat lame level of enthusiasm throughout the game.  I showed up for that game expecting the fans to act like a man getting laid for the first time in years – after all, since LeBron left there had been one postseason game in this city, and that game, the Indians’ loss in the 2013 wild card game, came and went before we had a chance to get excited about it.

Instead…  Let’s just say I thought the criticism was valid.  We waved our towels when they told us to, made noise when  the word NOISE appeared on the scoreboard, but the rest of the time the noise level was approximately the level of a Wednesday night game in December against Sacramento.  Which got me thinking.  I have been going to Cavs and Cleveland Indians games for more than forty years.  At some point during those four decades, the noise level at Cleveland sporting events has become totally dependent on outside forces for motivation.  Indians fans clap rhythmically when John Adams plays the drum, then we stop when he stops, which for reasons I cannot fathom, is just as the pitcher goes into his windup.  Cavs fans require a Michigan logo or a photo of Ben Roethlisberger to appear on the scoreboard before they make noise when an opponent is shooting a free throw.

It’s not like this in other cities.  Anyone who watched the Cavs games in Boston knows better.  Before you go there, it has nothing to do with attendance.  The games that sell out aren’t all that much louder than the weeknights in April.  Nine thousand fans can generate enough noise to make things unpleasant for the visiting team if they put their minds to it.  It’s not about just screaming your lungs out for three hours, either.  But when a rookie pitcher has trouble throwing strikes, the crowd can rattle him enough to impact the outcome of the game.  Not by clapping rhythmically during pauses in the action, but by a constant barrage of vocal intimidation that gives the pitcher one more thing to overcome.

The Indians face this sort of barrage at road games all over the league.  When Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer struggled to find command over the past few seasons, they faced merciless fans on the road, because the fans knew they were not mentally tough. It is no coincidence that Carrasco’s road ERA was 1.08 higher on the road than at home over the past three years; Bauer’s was higher by almost two full runs.  It’s worse in some cities than others; fans in Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit seem to feel they have a duty to get under the opposing team’s skin.

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If you want to identify a common link between these cities, it may be the fact that they all have an NHL team.  If you have ever been to a hockey game, especially a playoff game, you are well aware that the noise level is not dependent on the scoreboard or cheerleaders or anything else.  It is constant, it is loud, and it borders on vicious.  How much this actually affects the players, especially those who can lose three teeth and be back on the ice for their next shift, is hard to quantify, but it is fair to say that no true hockey fan needs to be told when to be obnoxious.  If fans in cities with strong hockey traditions transfer that style of support to other sports, especially baseball, it gives those teams an edge that fans in Cleveland need to step up their game to compensate for.

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