This is at the heart of what Pioli and Shapiro talk about most. They have been friends the longest—they go back to their Cleveland days, when they were both just starting out, and Shapiro was a front-office staffer with the Indians. Pioli has talked to Shapiro at great length about his Washingtonville High football team. They both know he's never going to replicate that, not exactly. He's never going to be able to build a team filled with longtime friends who grew up tough and care only about one another and want to win because winning is the biggest thing in their imagination. No, this is pro football, this is major league baseball, this is the NBA, and there are billions of dollars involved and millions of fans and salary caps and free agency, and you can't cut through all of that and build a team like Washingtonville.
All you can do is try.
A few years ago the Indians had talented but volatile outfielder Milton Bradley. Shapiro and Pioli had long talks about him. Bradley was probably Cleveland's best player in 2003. He was also a constant distraction. The Indians lost 94 games that year. "I really leaned on Scott then," Shapiro says, "and it came down to this: Are you going to stand behind what you say? Is this about mission statements or is it about what you really believe?"
Shapiro traded Bradley to the Dodgers before the start of the 2004 season. The Indians won 93 games in '05, with Bradley's centerfield position taken by the consummate Shapiro player Grady Sizemore, and two years later they made it to the American League Championship Series, where they lost to Francona's Red Sox in seven games.
"In the end," Shapiro says, "the question is, Are you going to stand for anything?"
THE BIG DESK
When Scott Pioli was eight, his father's union at the phone company went on strike. Ron Pioli was out on strike for half a year. Those were tough times, the sort of times an eight-year-old never forgets. There were four kids, a mortgage, mother Diane trying to keep it all together. Everything felt fragile. Nobody was sure how it would all turn out.
Ron Pioli took on three jobs. He pumped gas at Doc's Sunoco on Route 208. He drove a cab. And he worked for a plumber, Mr. Picone, on weekends. None of the jobs paid great, but together they paid enough to get by for those long months.
And this—more even than the unbeaten high school football team, more than the lessons from Belichick, more than all the talks with all of his friends—stamped the idea of team in Pioli's mind. Why? Well, Pioli says, it's obvious, isn't it? Doc didn't need anyone to help him pump gas and couldn't really afford to take on help. The cab company didn't need another driver. Mr. Picone did not need a part-time assistant.
But they all gave Ron Pioli work because he needed it, because he had a family to feed, because times were tight. They didn't do it because it was the right thing to do or because it was the charitable thing to do. They did it because that's what people did in Washingtonville and thousands of other places like it. That, Scott Pioli believes with all his soul, is what great teams should do. They take care of one another. They stand behind one another. They rely on one another. Linebacker misses a tackle, a safety is there to make the play. Quarterback is in trouble, a receiver comes back to help. Running back is too beat up to block, a guard takes on two men. It's the same thing.