- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THERE WAS once a time when the elite, multisport athlete gladly chose baseball, passing up the fame and floodlights of football Saturdays on American campuses for the scruffy, two-bunk dorms of places such as Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and the apprenticeship that involved afternoon minor league games played in sweltering heat before about 50 fans and among players who, with few exceptions, would never realize their major league aspirations. There was a time when players, upon securing that first big contract, thanked their team and their parents for their loyalty, with not a whiff of entitlement. A time when a well-struck ball in the gap or a one-hopper to the mound obligated the same effort on the base paths: full tilt.
If those days sometimes seem as long gone as classic rock and 220.9-inch-long, four-door, 452-cubic-inch-powered luxury convertibles made in Detroit, you haven't seen Indians centerfielder Grady Sizemore play baseball--or drive to work from his downtown Cleveland apartment. Sizemore will jump into his baby blue 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible, the one with the suicide doors, the eight-track tape player and the occasionally balky alternator, turn up the Doors or the Beatles and steer his land yacht two miles to Jacobs Field to put in another hard day's night.
"You're doing a story on Grady?" asks veteran Cleveland reliever Roberto Hernandez, who lockers next to Sizemore-- whose own locker is, appropriately, hidden behind a large pillar. "Good luck getting him to talk about himself. He's such a quiet guy who's only interested in playing baseball and doing what he can for the team."
"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."
Sizemore, according to the website baseball-reference.com, is statistically most similar to Hall of Fame slugger Duke Snider at the same age, and, as his on-base percentage trend shows (.333, .348, .375 and, this season, .410 at week's end), he's getting better all the time. At 6'2" and 205 pounds Sizemore features a historic combination of extra-base power and speed. Last season, when he hit .290 with 28 homers, 53 doubles, 11 triples and 22 stolen bases, Sizemore became only the seventh player in history--and the youngest ever--with more than 90 extra-base hits and 20 steals in the same season. (The others were Chuck Klein, Ellis Burks, Brady Anderson, Larry Walker, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alfonso Soriano, who, at 26, had been the youngest.) He was the first leadoff hitter since Anderson in 1996 to surpass 90 extra-base hits.
"A lot of times an extra-base hit is determined by how you get out of the box," Sizemore says. "Last year was crazy. Just one of those years when the ball found gaps."
At week's end he led the AL in pitches per plate appearance (4.50), was tied for third in stolen bases (nine), ranked fourth in runs (24) and walks (25), and was first in the hearts of baseball aficionados who marvel at his well-rounded skills and humility. The guy is a walking, running, diving, hustling clinic.
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen calls him "the best player in our league" and "Superman." Two years ago, even as his White Sox celebrated the last out of a division-clinching win, Guillen marched across the field specifically to shake Sizemore's hand and tell him how much he admired him. Sizemore's teammates still talk about the catch he made in the last week of the 2006 season, when he dived headlong on the cinders of the warning track, dangerously close to the wall--in a meaningless game for an 84-loss team that had long before been eliminated from the playoffs.