In his wide ranging interview with Fox Sports Ohio last week, Indians president Mark Shapiro covered pretty much the entirety of Tribe baseball as we know it. Amid all that, one thing that stuck with me was the love Shapiro has for the game. It was something touched on throughout his repeated mentions of taking the game at an intellectual level, dealing with the varied issues the team president has to handle, all that jazz. He kept on mentioning that he understands the Indians fans pain, that he wants a winner that makes for a great time at the ballpark.
It came to me as I was reading this that it now makes sense why the team re-signed Grady Sizemore to a $5 million dollar deal last offseason: It was the move of a fan.
Shapiro said early in the interview that he was an Orioles fan growing up, a big Brooks Robinson fan in particular. He gets to live the dream (amid dealing with marketing and personnel beyond the field and all the other boring stuff that inevitably comes with awesome jobs) and sometimes, nostalgia and fandom and whatever you want to call the love of the game creeps in.
Grady Sizemore, for two or three years, might have been the best player in the game. Nobody played better defense, he tickled 40/40 time and again, and man was he just a blast to watch. The old “He plays 100%, all the time” was beat to death around Grady, but it’s never been more true. Even after his harsh fall, his per-162 numbers (which he’d play if allowed) are pretty beastly.
When Tom Verducci wrote his “One Sizemore Fits All” article back in 2007, it was a magical time for the Indians. First place, an MVP candidate or two (Victor Martinez was pretty good that year) and a future so bright new retinas were the top selling item in Cleveland. where they were getting all these donated eyeballs from remains a mystery, but winning covers up shady dealings.
In that article, Shapiro noted, “To watch him play day in and day out is a rare treat. All of us, from the front office to the players to the bat boys, are fortunate to see him every day. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation.”
He’s right. Grady was that. For all the nickel and diming Shapiro is forced to do, the $31 million he laid out for Sizemore was a woeful underpayment at the time. Nobody argued with it though—everyone was just excited this marvel would be wearing a Tribe uniform for years to come. It all went downhill, but hey, Shapiro had the right idea. He saw what Grady was and what he meant to the team. The guy was a player.
So when it came time to get that big contract off the books, it had to be done because the Indians just aren’t rich like that. But the one-year deal had to be done. How many of us imagined Grady returning to full strength in, say, May and being that catalyst that sealed the Indians in first? Shoot, I just wanted to see him play again, if only to see a flash of what once was. Shapiro wanted that as much as all of us, and even if in hindsight they ended up paying a guy $5 million to run on a treadmill, he was ours, dammit. Hope doesn’t always pan out, but sometimes, like when you’re a Tribe fan, it’s all you got.
Whether or not having a guy who will go with his gut on a player run your team is something to ponder. After all, the Giants won their second championship in three years and their GM is notoriously old school. Maybe front offices have a new way of doing things. is being a bit marginalized. Now it’s about chemistry and guys feeding off each other and some player or other coming up huge. Pablo Sandoval is a fine player, but Buster Posey is the centerpiece of that team.
Shapiro has done a decent job for the most part. Some trades or a bunch of draft picks haven’t panned out and how he didn’t get more for Cliff Lee is baffling considering there was a year plus left on his contract, but little of that is his fault. Baseball is hard to predict, sometimes you have to go with what feels right—and that meant giving Grady Sizemore one more shot.