When I was a kid, we had this really fun and kind of crazy dog. Not always crazy in a good way; some of these things led to him earning the nickname “Satan” during his younger days. I could tell you any number of weird stories, about how he’d steal my teddy bear and replace it with one of his chew toys. Or the time that he was riding in the car he got so excited that he got himself stuck in the steering wheel while we were driving down the street. Unfortunately, as with every living creature, he really started to slip later in life. He had bad arthritis, and would lose his mind and bark for hours at seemingly nothing, earning him the new nickname of “the crazy old man.” When I think about him, the “crazy old man” version pops into my head first. He was that way for a number of years, and it was really may last memory of him in a chronological sense.
I’m not telling this story in order to compare Grady Sizemore to an aging, arthritic dog. The parallel I’m seeing here is that Sizemore struggled so much during his last years in Cleveland, went through so many physical issues, that you forget how great he once was. Our SABR group had a hot stove luncheon last weekend and we spent time near the end discussing Sizemore and the fact that sometimes you forget (or don’t appreciate) his greatness. (It didn’t hurt that there was a framed picture of him on the wall of the restaurant to remind us). I remember the microfracture surgeries, the $5 million, one-year deal in 2012 to run on a treadmill and never actually don an Indians uniform. My mind immediately drifts to the “what-if Grady is finally healthy again this year” that went through my mind each spring during his final years with the Tribe. This was a player that some fans may have thought had a limited time with the Indians. Not because he was destined to be injured, but because they figured it was just a matter of time before he left Cleveland for greener and higher-paying pastures (likely pinstriped pastures).
Before I get into Sizemore’s incredible stats over that four-season span, let’s first discuss his durability. I had completely forgotten that for a time, he held the Indians’ active record for consecutive games played. He played the full 162 in both 2006 and 2007, and came close to a full season in 2005 with 158 games played, and also appeared in 157 games in 2008. In four seasons, he missed just nine games. By 2012, you’d be happy to even see him play at all in nine total games. Was his durability a part of his later undoing? There are theories that he played so hard, with such disregard for his own physical safety, the wear and tear added up quickly.
During his first full season in the majors (2005) Sizemore was part of a 90+ win Indians team that narrowly missed the playoffs via the wild card. He hit .289/.348/.484 with 22 home runs, 37 doubles, 11 triples, and 22 stolen bases. In 2006, even though the team took a step backwards, Sizemore sure didn’t – he hit .290/.375/.533 with 28 home runs, an AL leading 53 doubles (tied with Freddy Sanchez for the major league lead), 11 triples, and 22 stolen bases. His batting average dipped slightly in 2007 as the Indians won the AL Central and came within one game of the World Series, although his other stats remained strong or even improved – .277/.390/.462 with 24 home runs, 34 doubles, 5 triples and 33 stolen bases. In 2008, his last fully healthy season, Sizemore hit .268/.374/.502 with 33 home runs, 39 doubles, 5 triples and 38 stolen bases. By 2009 he only played in 106 games and his OPS had dropped below .800 for the first time since he was initially called up in 2004. It was a downward spiral after that point.
Even though it has certainly looked bleak for Sizemore, judging by the 2009-2012 seasons, he’s still just 31-years-old. There’s still time for him to land with a team and attempt to make a comeback. Even if he’s not the same caliber of player, it would at least be nice to see him healthy and able to finish on his own terms. I’ve always had a theory that part of Sizemore’s injury problems came from the fact that he was such a hard-working and dedicated player. I’m not even necessarily addressing the idea that he ran his body into the ground by playing too hard. I just think that after the first injury, he was so desperate to get back on the field, and to get back on the field quickly, that maybe he came back a bit too soon. Maybe that caused a repeat injury, or caused him to unnaturally favor other parts of his body in trying to cope with the injury. Maybe it’s just a ton of bad luck, nothing more, nothing less. Just some cruel twist of fate that took him from one of the more durable players in the game, to one of the most fragile.
Even though Michael Bourn now dons the number 24, you’ll still see plenty of “Sizemore 24″ shirseys and jerseys floating around northeast Ohio. I joked to someone once that for several years in the mid-to-late 2000s it was required by law for every resident to own one. (I own a Sizemore shirsey, so I wouldn’t be in violation of such a law). Instead of reminding me of the good times with Sizemore, all of the jerseys and shirseys instead remind me of his absence. It’s like they’re a constant reminder of what could have been without the injuries. With the deal Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees this offseason, can you just imagine if the 2005-2008 Sizemore had been on the market this winter? I guess I shouldn’t be so sad – if he was still playing at that 2005-2008 level, he wouldn’t be doing it in an Indians uniform anyway.