Sizemore Sure Deserving Of Deal

Grady Sizemore

Mark Shapiro's heart was racing about 200 beats per minute as he watched his young outfielder dive headlong near the warning track in left-center field. The Tribe's general manager then held his breath as he stared at the 23-year-old from Seattle, Wa., who laid on the turf at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven for a few seconds.

Finally, Shapiro was able to exhale as the Indians' new $23.5 million man got to his feet and walked slowly back to centerfield, all the pieces of his finely-tuned body still in place.

Shapiro let out a nervous chuckle, knowing that the effort he had watched was an example of why the Indians had only hours earlier signed Grady Sizemore to a record-breaking six-year contract, with a team option for a seventh season.

This was a meaningless exhibition game against the Houston Astros. It was a game that, if Shapiro had his druthers, would have found manager Eric Wedge playing his starters for only couple of innings.

But Wedge wants to have his players "hit the ground running" -- as he likes to say -- when the regular season gets underway, hoping to avoid the early-season problems that have haunted the team in each of his first three years as the Tribe's skipper.

Shapiro is not opposed to that ... but doesn't care to see his core players hit the ground diving for meaningless fly balls in meaningless exhibition games.

"But that's just the type of player Grady is," said Shapiro, who was not the least bit surprised by Sizemore's effort.

From the day he joined the Indians organization as part of the trio of young prospects received from the Montreal Expos in exchange for pitcher Bartolo Colon, Sizemore has shown he knows only one way to play the game ... with all-out hustle.

He demonstrated that in 47 games at Class A Kinston, where he reported after the June 27, 2002 deal. Sizemore hit .343 with three homers and 20 RBI for the Little Indians.

He then moved up to Class AA Akron in 2003, hitting .304 with 13 homers and 78 RBI in 128 games.

That performance made him Indians Ink's No. 1 prospect in the organization heading into the 2004 season. Sizemre started that year with Class AAA Buffalo, where he hit .287 with eight homers and 51 RBI in 101 games. It earned him a couple of call-ups to the majors that season and he responded by hitting .246 with four homers and 24 RBI.

Even though his stats weren't tremendous in his first go-round with the Indians, he quickly endeared himself to Tribe fans by giving 100 percent on every play, be it in center field or running to first on a routine ground ball.

This past year, those numbers did become tremendous as he hit .289 with 22 homers, 81 RBI, 111 runs scored and 22 steals while making just three errors in center field.

Sizemore reminds me a great of former Tribe Gold Glove center-fielder and current television analyst Rick Manning, who also became a fan favorite.

In Sizemore's case, the good-looking bachelor with the boyish smile is probably more popular with the female fans than Manning ever was. Part of that is because the current Indians front office has done a lot more to promote his popularity, including the marketing of a popular pink t-shirts with the words "Mrs. Sizemore" on them.

Two hundred of the shirts were sold the first day they went on sale last summer. And the team reports that female viewership of Tribe games increased 200 percent in 2005.

Maybe not all of those numbers can be attributed to Sizemore. The fact the team won 93 games and made a playoff run that lasted until the final week of the season undoubtedly contributed to the overall improvement in the TV numbers.

But there's no doubt Sizemore's play on the field and his popularity off of it were contributing factors.

The amazing thing about Sizemore is that he has not changed one bit with the admiration that has come his way. And I doubt that it will. Nor will the millions of dollars that he has been given in return for the contributions he has made to the organization alter his personality.

Thus far, there's has been a recurring theme in regards to all of the players Shapiro has signed to multi-year contracts. C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Sizemore are not only All-Star quality players, they are also All-Star quality people.

And every one of them has remained just as personable after signing their big contracts as before they became millionaires.

That might be the biggest difference between this crop of players getting the big bucks as compared to the group from the mid-1990s. In reality, most of the guys from that era –- Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Charlie Nagy and Carlos Baerga, just to name a few -– remained media and fan friendly.

But guys like Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton were the rotten apples who at times spoiled the entire basket.

At this point, there's no one even close on this team to Belle or Lofton personality-wise. And there probably won't be due in the fact Shapiro and his fellow front office decision makers like scouting director John Mirabelli, assistant GM Chris Antonetti and minor league operations director John Farrell often place as much importance on a player's personality as they do athletic ability.

There's an old saying that "good guys" finish last. The Cleveland Indians proved that wasn't true last year.

This year, they have a chance to change that cliché completely and show that "good guys" can finish first, and remain good guys while doing so.

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