Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor heel turn quick and upsetting
Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor’s new villain role is alarming
June 14, 2015, the Cleveland Indians are down 5-0 in Detroit when the Tribe pulls David Murphy for pinch-hitter Francisco Lindor, marking his major league debut. Lindor would strike out in that at-bat, but would come back in the ninth inning for a single off Tigers closer Joakim Soria, rounding first and falling flat on his face in one of the more memorable first hits in recent Cleveland history.
Lindor didn’t take long to establish himself as the Tribe’s everyday shortstop, finishing the year with a triple-slash of .313/.353/.482, good enough to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Houston’s Carlos Correa. Cleveland was in the midst of a middling season, one where they would finish 81-80 in third place in the Central, but the future was looking bright with Lindor thriving in his first taste of the big leagues.
September 26, 2016, the Cleveland Indians defeat the Detroit Tigers 7-4 to clinch the club’s first division title since 2007 with Francisco Lindor slashing .301/.355/.429 to that point in the season.
October 6, 2016, Roberto Perez’s timely hitting, Francisco Lindor’s first career playoff home run and Mike Napoli’s infectious clubhouse presence fuel the fire of a Cleveland World Series run. We all know how this one ended, we won’t dive into the specifics. Cleveland had an incredibly young core with unlimited potential that made a World Series in just it’s second full year. Despite the result the optimism for 2017 was sky high.
August 25, 2017, Major League Baseball launches the inaugural Player’s Weekend series, where Mr. Smile is introduced to baseball. Now with a nickname to match his bright on-field personality, Lindor begins to ascend to MLB Superstardom as he clubs 33 home runs and 44 doubles en route to a fifth place finish in the AL MVP voting.
March 25, 2019, Indians owner Paul Dolan unleashes the quote that made Tribe fans’ stomachs sink across the country; “Enjoy him.” The comments coming in just the first week of the 2019 season signaled something long feared among fans, that with just three seasons of control left the team wouldn’t be able/willing to shell out a mega-deal for its star shortstop.
This was the beginning of the end, more or less, but Cleveland would host the All-Star game in 2019, and Lindor was the most gracious host for his city. Mic’d up during the sixth inning with broadcaster Joe Buck, Lindor repeatedly called Cleveland “my city” while flashing his signature smile and ribbing his fellow on-field All-Stars live on air. At that moment, it felt like Dolan’s comments carried no weight, that Lindor and the front office would work out a deal that benefitted both sides.
Flash forward to August 29, 2021. Let’s get a few things straight before we move forward. In no way is this a hit piece against Francisco Lindor, more of an exasperated rant from a fan and writer. Lindor has 32 games left in his first full season with the New York Mets, one riddled with disappointment due to a glacially slow start and a somewhat lengthy stint on the injured list.
When Lindor was traded to the Mets I understood his frustrations in Cleveland. It didn’t make it sting any less, but Dolan’s unwillingness to spend money has long been a complaint shared by the fans. Cleveland opened the check book to sign Edwin Encarnacion in 2017, but a $100M+ payroll never saw the team advance beyond the ALDS, or even the Wild Card after the run to the Fall Classic in 2016, marking four consecutive first round exits since 2016.
At the time of the trade I had viewed Lindor (through rose-colored glasses) as the face of baseball for several seasons, stuck on a small market team without much national exposure. Before Fernando Tatis Jr. took the league by storm, Lindor was THE blend of personality and talent that baseball desperately craved, someone to not only sell merchandise, but drive broadcast numbers.
Even headed to the Mets I held Lindor in such high esteem, hoping the move to Queens would give him the market and platform he needed to finally become the ever-smiling face of baseball. Three separate remarks made by the player I valued above all of baseball himself began to tarnish those lofty ideals. Not necessarily in the order the remarks were made, but the order in which they started to get under my skin, his admission to not giving his best effort at the end of 2020 was the first.
2020 was a difficult campaign not just for Lindor and the Indians, but for quite literally all 30 teams as the league played a 60 game sprint with COVID delays, expanded rosters, new rules and no minor leagues. For Lindor to say he wasn’t putting his best effort in during workouts and to see it translate to games when the team needed him most it’s easy to understand how Cleveland fans, still licking their wounds from the trade, would accuse him of quitting on his city and team.
Cleveland would be swept out 2-0 in the Wild Card round by the Yankees in MLB’s expanded playoff format for 2020, with Lindor finishing his time on the shores of Lake Erie slashing .258/.335/.415 with eight home runs and 13 doubles.
Lindor’s next admission that irked myself, and the fanbase as a whole, was his apparent dislike for his shorthanded nickname in Cleveland, “Frankie.” The fact he didn’t enjoy the shorthand didn’t bother anyone, but insinuating the entirety of the Tribe’s fans were “lazy” for calling him by that nickname was a de facto red flag.
Fans who worshipped him while in Cleveland, and a city he claimed as his own just a year before, cast aside like nothing. Frustration with ownership is one thing, but to come after the fans is completely different. More on this in a moment.
The final straw for myself, and I think much of the fanbase, Lindor’s recounting of how he handled the rain delay during the 2016 World Series. Now, Lindor was just 22 at the time, and his leadership had since developed after stepping in as the leader of the team when Napoli left in free agency after 2016, but to admit that he went down into tunnels, saw the plastic wrap in the locker room and decided to nap in the weight room goes beyond leadership.
This one left me flabbergasted. I went through all the stages of grief in under 10 minutes in a whirlwind of emotions attempting to process this anecdote without unleashing a hot take for the world to see. For these tidbits to come out so soon after departing Cleveland, and all three of these remarks/anecdotes in such a short period of time, made me genuinely concerned for Francisco Lindor. All of this, coupled with his bumpy first season in Queens, culminated in this;
Now, I get it, New York fans are a completely different breed, especially the Mets. Mets fans have experienced similar heartbreak and mediocrity that Cleveland has, but with a much larger market and a much more successful cross-town rival. Mr. Smile hasn’t exactly endeared himself to his new hometown fans, both with his play and this gesture, as Lindor is slashing just .224/.316/.370 in the first season of his 10-year contract.
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I wholeheartedly believe Lindor deserves the boos from Mets fans. This is a team that had heavy expectations entering 2021, but now sit in third place in the NL East at 63-67, underperforming nearly every way imaginable after the All-Star break. But again, the true concern here is how a 27-year-old superstar went from contending to be the face of the entire sport to falling completely from grace in less than 365 days.
I’m frustrated with Lindor not only for the scars he left Cleveland and the fans with, but now with how he’s turned heel to the league and his home market in an inconceivably short time. These somewhat villainous tendencies and acts to fans that adored him, and maybe even handled him with kid gloves not all that long ago. My heart aches for Cleveland and the sport of baseball, and I’m left pondering one question; where did the real Francisco Lindor go?
At just 27 Lindor has plenty of time in his career to find his contagiously fun and talented self yet again. 235 days have passed since Lindor was traded, and the speed at which we’ve reached what I hope is the bottom is utterly alarming. I don’t believe less than a full season in a New York market, even with boos and struggles, could cause this much damage to a transcendent player’s image and performance, but for the sake of Francisco Lindor, his impact on baseball and the New York Mets, I hope he finds himself again.