Grady Sizemore: A Sad Story of a Special Player
I wrote on Sunday that it looked like the end was near for Boston Red Sox outfielder Grady Sizemore. A former All-Star Ben Cherington pulled out of baseball’s bargain basement in January, the 31-year-old’s playing time was being cut in favor of more productive players like Brock Holt and Daniel Nava, while Sizemore continued to look like a shell of his former self.
The roster move forecasted by your’s truly has come at last, with Sizemore being designated for assignment Tuesday afternoon to make room for prospect Garin Cecchini, called up from Triple-A Pawtucket for the second time in the last month.
But the point of this article is not to give myself a pat on the back for my innate ability to look into my crystal ball and read Cherington’s every move. It is to look back at the unfortunate story of a great player whose body had different plans.
It’s a similar story to iconic Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. He was a player who fans came to watch play; a player who was one of the faces of baseball; a player who appeared to be a slam-dunk Hall of Fame infielder. That was until his body let him down, fading after a number of great years, but not enough great years to punch his ticket to Cooperstown.
The 2007 Cleveland Indians were led by a 25-year-old Sizemore when they came within 27 outs of eliminating Boston — the eventual World Series champion — in the ALCS, before blowing a 3-1 lead to add to the lengthy narrative of misery that is Cleveland sports.
At the time, Sizemore was baseball’s best young player. Similar to what Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Andrew McCutchen are to baseball in 2014. Much like the echoing sentiment around Trout every March, the lead question of every Spring Training conversation in the latter years of the 2000s was “Is this the year Sizemore wins the MVP?“
Sizemore had all the tools. He could hit. He got on base. He could run. He could throw. He could defend. He did it all.
The numbers backed it up. From 2005-08, Sizemore had a .281/.372/.476 slash line, averaging 116 runs scored, 180 hits, 41 doubles, eight triples, 27 home runs, 81 RBIs and 29 stolen bases, playing 639 of a possible 648 games for the Tribe. In 2008, he became the 32nd member of the 30-30 club when he hit 33 home runs and stole 39 bags.
During Spring Training in 2009, Sizemore pulled his left groin. For one of baseball’s most durable players, it appeared to be a light rain shower. But that sprinkle turned into a flood, as Sizemore would end up undergoing elbow surgery, knee surgery, abdominal surgery and back surgery over the course of the next four years.
He played just 210 games between 2009-11. He didn’t play a single major game in 2012 or 2013.
The Red Sox gave Sizemore a chance in January, signing him to a one-year deal with a base salary of $750,000, with incentives that could total as high as $6 million.
Sizemore got off to a great start to the season, highlighted by his opening day home run in Baltimore, just as Tony Conigliaro did to kick off his Comeback Player of the Year season of 1969. A great parallel proved to be a false hope, however, as Sizemore emulated none of the five-tool player we saw in Cleveland. He hit just .187 with a .530 OPS in his final 42 games, going homer-less in his final 173 plate appearances.
It would’ve been an amazing story. But Sizemore had nothing left. Injuries and so much time away from the game had taken its toll.
It’s not tragic — stories like Harry Agganis or Lou Gehrig are tragic — but it’s unfortunate to see.
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