Friday, May 29, 2015

Remembering the Real Grady Sizemore

This afternoon, the Phillies designated outfielder Grady Sizemore for assignment. 
What this means is that the Phillies removed him from their roster in order to make room for the return to the team of Cody Asche, who was demoted a few weeks ago in order to become more acclimated to a position switch from 3rd base to left field.
Sizemore now has to decide whether or not he wants to remain with the Phils organization, accepting an assignment with AAA Lehigh Valley in the hopes of eventually working his way back to the big leagues, or become a free agent and try to seek employment with another team that might want him at the major league level.
Whichever decision that Sizemore eventually makes after consulting with his family, his agent, and his own conscience, this outfielder whom the Phillies just DFA'd is not the Grady Sizemore about whom I am referring in the title of this piece. 
I'm not talking about the player who hit .250 with three homers, 18 RBI, and one stolen base in 280 plate appearances across parts of 99 games with the Phillies.
The Grady Sizemore that I want to remember here is the one that many fans, especially younger fans, may not know has ever existed. 
You see, a decade ago, Sizemore was one of the most exciting young players in all of baseball. That is the Sizemore that I want to take a few minutes to remember. For some of you, it will be an introduction.
Entering the 2004 season, Sizemore was a member of the Cleveland Indians organization, one of the Top 10 prospects in the entire sport based on rankings by the noted authorities on such things at Baseball America. 
Sizemore had been originally drafted by the old Montreal Expos in the 3rd round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft.
Just over two years later, on June 27th, 2002, with the Expos sitting at 41-36 and 6 1/2 games out in the NL East, the Expos made him a piece in one of the biggest blockbuster deals of the decade. 
Montreal sent 1st baseman Lee Stevens and three high-level prospects in Sizemore, 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips, and a lefty pitcher whom you might have heard of named Cliff Lee to the Cleveland Indians for then 29-year old emerging ace Bartolo Colon and reliever Tim Drew.
Grady Sizemore
A decade ago, Sizemore was one of the most exciting young all-around players in baseball with the Cleveland Indians. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane) ORG XMIT: OHRS101
The deal did not work out as Montreal hoped. The team had to win it's final four games just to finish in 2nd place with a winning 83-79 record, but it was a distant 19 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves (and just 2 1/2 ahead of the 3rd place Phillies, who were beginning to emerge.)
For the Indians, it was an incredible boon., even when the veteran Stevens would retire following that 2002 campaign after a 10-year big league career. 
But the three prospects all became stars in Major League Baseball over the next few seasons.
Lee would pitch for parts of eight seasons with the Indians, compiling an 83-48 record and winning the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with a 22-3 season. 
Phillips never quite caught on as a regular in Cleveland, despite substantial playing time in 2003. He was eventually flipped to the Cincinnati Reds, where he has become a Silver Slugger winner, a 4x Gold Glover, and a 3x NL All-Star.
For his part, Grady Sizemore made his MLB debut in 2004, and took over as the Indians starting center fielder for the 2005 season. 
Though he had gone 29 plate appearances over the limits during 2004 to allow him to qualify for the '05 AL Rookie of the Year Award, he fashioned a tremendous first full season with the Tribe.
In that first full 2005 season, Sizemore hit .289 with 22 homers, 81 RBI, 111 runs scored, and 22 steals. 
His catches in center field were often of the diving, lay-your-body-on-the-line highlight reel variety. Sizemore was a sensation, and he even received AL MVP votes at the end of the year, helping the Tribe to a 93-win season.
There would be no 'sophomore slump', as Sizemore produced the first of three consecutive AL All-Star campaigns in 2006. That year he hit for a .290/.375/.533 slash line, with 28 homers, 76 RBI, 22 steals, and a league-leading 134 runs scored.
In 2007, he won the first of back-to-back Gold Gloves, hitting .277 with a .390 on-base percentage, 24 homers, 78 RBI, 118 runs, and 33 steals. 
Sizemore was a major cog that year as Cleveland went all the way to the ALCS, where they took a 3-1 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox. Those Bosox rallied incredibly to win the last three in dominating fashion, snuffing out the Tribe hopes of a World Series.
In 2008, still at just age 25, Sizemore upped his game to another level. He hit for a .268/.374/.502 slash line, with 33 homers, 90 RBI, 101 runs scored, and 38 steals. 
He was a 2008 AL All-Star, even competing in the Homerun Derby at old Yankee Stadium. Sizemore finished 10th in the AL MVP race, and won both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.


At that point, Sizemore was perhaps the best all-around player in baseball. He had both power and speed, and he played a dazzling center field. 
Entering 2009, he was committed to playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. But then fate began to intervene in his career, and not in a good way.
The injury bug bit him, with a left groin injury early on in spring training causing him to miss representing his country in that WBC. And whether in some way compensating for the injured groin, or completely separate, he injured his left elbow as well. 
The throwing arm hurt him all year, though he mostly tried to play through it. The result was a subpar, to that point, 18 homers, 64 RBI, 73 runs, 13 steals season. Little did anyone know, it would be a portent of things to come.
In 2010, Sizemore lost nearly the entire season when, just over one month in, a sore knee turned out to require microfracture surgery. He was done for the year after just 33 games. 
After returning in 2011, Sizemore again was rattled by injuries. In mid-May he hit the DL for just over two weeks with a right knee contusion. Then in mid-July, a more serious injury to the same knee, as well as sports hernia surgery, knocked him out until September.
Sizemore
Sizemore (24) in a game May 2015 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Having missed most of the previous two seasons in a stretch of injuries that went all the way back to September of 2010, the Indians decline his 2012 contract option. 
A free agent, the club was able to negotiate his return at a reduced rate with a $5 million contract offer. But it turned out there would be no comeback in Cleveland.
In spring training of 2012, Sizemore experienced back discomfort that required surgery. He suffered numerous setbacks all year long with both his back and his knees, eventually leading to microfracture surgery on his right knee - the same procedure that he had on his left knee back in 2010. 
He missed not only that entire 2012 season, but also the 2013 season as he tried to get himself physically capable of performing.
Most of the baseball world assumed that Grady Sizemore was finished. Back surgery, microfracture surgeries to both knees, and two full years out of the game. 
He hadn't played full-time since early September of 2009. The player who from 2005-08 was one of the game's brightest young stars appeared to have lost his career to injuries.
But Sizemore had a final act left in him after all. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in the off-season prior to 2014 for a minimal guarantee. 
After a strong spring training and against all odds, Sizemore was named the Opening Day center fielder for the Bosox. He hit a homerun vs Baltimore in the opener, and another big one to help win a game at Yankee Stadium two weeks later.
For the first couple of weeks of the 2014 season, Grady Sizemore was perhaps the best story in baseball. Was he really back? Could he possibly keep this up? 
The answers proved to be no on both counts. He slumped precipitously, and was eventually released by Boston in mid-June.
That's where the Phillies came into things. With the club struggling through it's major downturn, the Phils decided they had nothing to lose by taking a shot with him. 
Sizemore signed with the Phillies on June 24th, went to the minors for some conditioning, and was called up just prior to the All-Star break.
That bring us full circle to the Grady Sizemore that fans watched over roughly a year here in Philly. It was not the Sizemore who literally flew across big league diamonds a decade ago. 
That Sizemore was, for a quick four-year burst, one of the best players of the last decade. 
It's that tremendously exciting young player that I wanted to remember here today, as the Phillies possibly say goodbye to the shadow of that former greatness.

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