In Their Words appears Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Sports columnist Dave Hackenberg talked with Bob DiBiasio, the vice president, public relations of the Cleveland Indians.
Bob DiBiasio had a cup of coffee, as they like to say in baseball, in the newspaper business. He was the assistant sports editor of the News-Messenger in Fremont for about six months before he got a chance to live his dream.
DiBiasio is in his 29th season in major league baseball, his 28th with the Cleveland Indians, where he serves as vice president, public relations.
The Indians hired him as an assistant in the PR department in 1979 and he was named the director a year later. After spending just over one year in a similar capacity with the Atlanta Braves, DiBiasio returned to the Indians for good in 1988.
For many years, he oversaw the PR, media relations, and communications efforts while dealing with mostly losing teams - the Tribe lost 100-plus games three times - and small crowds in old, cavernous Municipal Stadium.
But everything changed in the mid-1990s when the Indians found a new home and became an American League power, winning five straight division titles and six in seven years. In 1997, Cleveland lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins in seven games. New Jacobs Field became the place to be in Cleveland and the team hosted an unprecedented 455 straight sellouts.
DiBiasio, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, received degrees in journalism and education from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master's degree in journalism from Ohio State University before his stint in Fremont.
He also serves as president of the Cleveland Indians Charities and on the executive board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland. He is married and has two children.
"MY TIME IN Fremont was wonderful. I started in August and Bob Marker, the sports editor, covered Fremont Ross and I jumped right into the job of covering Fremont St. Joe football. They went to the state championship game that year, so that's not bad for my first job. I enjoyed being in the newspaper business but it only lasted about six months.
"You could ask any of my college friends, anybody in the journalism department at Ohio Wesleyan, anybody in my frat house. They all knew that the only thing I wanted to do was be the PR guy for the Cleveland Indians. That was my goal. I was in contact with Harry Jones, the PR man with the Indians, all through college, all through my time working on my master's degree at Ohio State, all the time I was in Fremont, telling him I wanted his job some day.
"I'll never forget, I was leaving my apartment to go to the St. Joe's gym for a basketball game against Gibsonburg, I think, and Harry called and asked me if I still wanted a job. I started a week later.
"HARRY JONES WAS a nationally known baseball writer covering the Indians for the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer in the 1950s and in the '60s became the Indians TV play-by-play man. When Gabe Paul came from the Yankees to become president of the Indians in the '70s, he wanted a veteran PR guy and hired Harry.
"So I'd been here for a year or so as Harry's assistant, I'm 23 years old, and I'm sitting at my desk one Friday when Harry walked by and said, 'I'm leaving and I won't be back. See you later.' I told him I'd see him Monday and he said, 'No, you won't.' A week later I went to Gabe's office and told him that Harry said he wasn't coming back and, sure enough, he hadn't been in for a week. Another week goes by and Gabe walks in one day and said, 'Hey, kid, you're right. He's not coming back. You're the PR director of the Cleveland Indians. Have fun.'
"There was no handshake, no raise, no further discussion. I didn't take vacation for three years because I didn't want to give Gabe any reason to believe I wasn't prepared for that job at that age. To have a job like this for my hometown team, well, I'm very lucky. And it has been an incredible 30 years, give or take a year.
"THE CHALLENGE in my early years with the team was generating interest and keeping people's attention. It was trying to get players and fans connected, which is the most important bond any sports franchise has. We worked hard at it, but it was difficult. The stadium was a tough situation and we had limited resources because of that. When Mr. [Richard] Jacobs, who owned the franchise at the time, told us a new ballpark was on the horizon and would be a reality, we were all overwhelmed because we knew what it would mean economically.
"We had the same organization and gave the same effort, but now we had the resources to present major league baseball in a first-class manner. We knew we could succeed, we knew we'd create a buzz and turn casual fans into avid fans, but nobody could have imagined 455 straight shutouts. A new ballpark and a winning team, it was like night and day.
"I HAVE TWO favorite moments. The first was Sept. 8, 1995, when we clinched our first division title. What are the odds a team could clinch that early and qualify for the postseason for the first time in 41 years? Yep, it was Sept. 8 and it was my mom and dad's 50th wedding anniversary and they were sitting right behind home plate when I was on the field orchestrating the postgame ceremony. That's as special as it gets.
"The other was in 2001, when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the franchise. We created a top-100 all-time Indians roster and 42 of the 100 were able to come to Cleveland for a celebratory weekend. They were all on the field on a Sunday afternoon and we had the 42 guys pose for a team picture. I stood back and watched. I realized I knew every one of the guys and considered all of them friends. It was remarkable. It connected everything, the old and the new. And it made me realize what a special career this has been."
Contact Blade sports columnist
Dave Hackenberg at: