Pluto Talks Faith, State of Cleveland Sports
By Josh EchtThe crowd gathered in anticipation of hearing a sportswriter speak -- a flash mob without the flash. In they strode; a teenager in…
By Josh Echt
The crowd gathered in anticipation of hearing a sportswriter speak — a flash mob without the flash.
In they strode; a teenager in an Indians cap, a father in a Browns polo, a mother wearing wine and gold.
Cookies and orange punch — a touch, a tribute to Cleveland’s favorite football team — rested on one table.
The sportswriter’s books — orange and brown, red and blue as prominent colors — rested nearby, dueling with the food for the crowd’s attention.
Chester Township residents and Kirtlanders alike packed a meeting room to capacity at the Kirtland Public Library Aug. 14, waiting to hear Terry Pluto talk.
He threw out a fastball to warm the crowd up, a Tribe tale involving his father.
“My father was an Indians fan. He had a stroke,” Pluto said. “Sports was a great diversion for him and it is for us, whether we are dealing with strokes or cancer. Although my father could not talk, or cut up food, he could watch the games with us.”
For two hours, Pluto danced from one topic (sports) to the next (faith), often returning back to Cleveland sports.
The Associated Press named him the top sports columnist for medium-sized newspapers twice and he also logged nine Ohio Sports Writer of the Year awards.
Additionally, he has written 21 books about sports and faith, along with the “Faith and You” column that appears in The Plain Dealer, according to his website.
Kirtland Public Library Director Jane Carle said the idea to host Pluto started last year. The Friends of the Kirtland Public Library wanted to host a speaker series with local authors, so they came up with a few of them, including Pluto.
“He was always on our short list,” Carle said.
She accessed him through Gray & Company, a local publishing house specializing in books about Northeast Ohio, according to the publisher’s website.
In the fall, the library will host retired Lake County Judge Paul Mitrovich, who will discuss a book about the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Board of Education.
Tribe Town Then, Now and Tomorrow
Pluto told a story about how he received his first autograph from the Indians’ legendary pitcher James “Mudcat” Grant.
Years later, he met Grant and asked him if he remembered signing the ball for Pluto. The pitcher said he had, but also added a memory about the Tribe trading him to the rival Minnesota Twins.
The sportswriter produced a vignette about Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel — “He would buy people ice cream at Edgewater Park” — and other Tribe stars.
“They may not remember those memories,” he said of ballplayers. “But we fans do.”
Throughout the night, he remarked how sports served as a diversion to “problems we can’t solve” in real life.
He urged current sports stars to sign autographs to maintain goodwill amongst fans and supporters.
“Sports serve a purpose. Not life and death,” Pluto added.
He told stories about legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, whom he covered as a reporter for the late-1970s-era Baltimore Evening Sun, a now-defunct evening edition of the current Baltimore Sun daily.
“Who you see on the outside is not who you see on the inside sometimes,” he said of Weaver, who managed the Orioles from 1968 to 1982 and again from 1985 to 1986.
“He was one of the first managers to write books about the art of managing the game,” Pluto said. “He had lots of profanity, but he taught me baseball. And he taught me about life.”
As far as this year’s Tribe? They have potential, he said.
‘If They Go 9-7, There Will Be Songs’
Pluto discussed how his faith column came to be.
An editor with the Akron Beacon-Journal, his former stint before the PD, suggested he write a column.
Pluto was initially hesitant, but after working in prison ministry with inmates at the Summit County Jail in Akron, his experiences helped shape an idea for a weekly column.
“Instead of tackling faith issues other writers better than I have written about (like abortion and gay marriage), I wrote about my experiences with the jail,” he said.
Regarding reading the Bible early on in his faith journey, Pluto worked in a non-Cleveland reference.
“Isaiah? The book of Isaiah? The only Isaiah I knew was Isaiah Thomas, the great point guard for the ‘Bad Boys’ Detroit Pistons in the ’80s.”
The conversation transitioned back to the Indians — this time the ’95 team.
He said pitcher Dennis Martinez was nervous in his duel with the Seattle Mariners’ Randy Johnson in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Martinez paced often before that game.
“Dennis wanted Tony Pena as his personal catcher,” he said. “He had a catcher’s mitt that looked like someone threw up in it. But it worked.”
Weird mitt or not, the Tribe won, 4-1, and advanced to their first World Series in 41 years.
He worked in a tale about Albert Belle, whom he said studied pitchers.
Belle also had “a great work ethic and knowledge of baseball history,” Pluto said.
One time, Belle referenced Hank Greenberg, a first-baseman for the 1930s Detroit Tigers.
“He knew Greenberg had 90 RBI by the All-Star break, which was a record,” Pluto said. “Most people have never heard of him.”
On basketball, he said Cavs head coach Lenny Wilkens was “quiet, but smart and a good man” and said the area’s mid-major coaches — Gary Waters at Cleveland State, Keith Dambrot at the University of Akron — give hoops fans hope.
Then, fans asked him questions, such as Bob Moster of Chardon Township.
Moster, who moved to Chardon in 1998, has been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan since 1959. He asked why umpires were aggressive and Pluto told him they should tone it down.
“If you ground a kid and you send him to his room, he will be upset, but you must stay calm and not chase after him,” Pluto told Moster.
His take on the Browns drew interest. The crowd stirred and leaned forward in their chairs.
“This town is loyal,” he said. “People still talk about (quarterback) Bernie Kosar and he was last here in 1993. He was last good in when? 1989 (the Browns’ last division title). And people still love him.”
He added, “You have to be almost 30 to have any memory of the Browns being good.”
Pluto told stories of how faraway troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would send him emails, asking about the Browns’ line and annual quarterback controversy.
“Imagine if they improved,” Pluto said. “If they go 9-7, there will be songs this year.”
He then told everyone to be proud of Cleveland’s Midwestern heritage.
It is not L.A. or New York City, but “you don’t have to worry about a traffic jam at 3 a.m. like you do in Los Angeles,”?he said.
As the evening wound down, Pluto signed autographs, a line stretching to the back of the room like the line of cars’ headlights at the end of Kevin Costner’s 1989 film, “Field of Dreams.”
Outside, the sun set, casting shadows on the library and Kirtland High School’s football field — Cleveland Browns orange, of course.
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