I've been absent for a while now, and I apologize. There were family issues but, menacing as they appeared as summer ended, they've dissolved, leaving me in an eerie cloud. I was sure I was going to lose a family member, and I sat at a train station and sobbed. Then, startlingly and suddenly, I learned I wasn't going to lose a family member, at least not right now or for the reasons I'd thought. It was like a failed version of that old tablecloth trick, but in reverse—when I'd arrived, the glasses and dishes appeared smashed, all over the ground. A few moments later, by some sleight of hand, the place settings were where they belonged, and my whole family was sitting down to a meal together. Things are back to normal, except that they're not—I can't just forget that I saw everything in pieces, irreparably strewn all over the hardwood. I'm thankful, of course, incredibly thankful. Still, eerie is the word for it and as I write this, I can feel my vertebrae contracting, trying to make sure I'm ready in the event someone drops another piano.
Not surprisingly, writing about the Cleveland Indians has not fit neatly into my worldview over the past two months and, candidly, I've struggled with how to rejoin the ranks here, how to reengage with what has consistently been an area of play for me, one that's allowed me to blow out levels of myself and my personality to near (or total) parody.
Grady's professional trajectory does not require, for my purposes, a detailed analysis. Famously, at least in the right kinds of circles, Baseball-Reference consistently made otherworldly comparisons for Sizemore early in his career. At age 22 and 23, his most similar batter was Duke Snider; at 25 and 26, it was Barry Bonds. These comparisons were used as blunt instruments to highlight just how terrific Sizemore was as a young player and to define just how volcanic his potential remained. Now, in the spirit of turnabout as fair play, it's just as simple to point towards the comparisons that Baseball-Reference has drawn for Sizemore in his most recent campaigns: Bobby Bonilla (in a cosmic joke, the less talented Pirates teammate of Bonds), Hank Blalock, Ron Gant, and, especially, an outfielder that I've never heard of named Reggie Smith.
All of Sizemore's most recent comparables are good baseball players, but it's obvious that he has slid into a different category as he's aged. Grady is now part of a group that is largely defined by struggling to play over 130 games in a given season and by bringing good, not great, offense to a team. These things do not need to be said but I will write them anyway: Sizemore's hall of fame candidacy is dead on arrival; he is not a player like Duke Snider or an early career Barry Bonds; and, this is the one where your throat might swell to twice its normal size, he is not going to be one of Cleveland's all-time nine, or anything close. Now, as much as ever, it is not obvious who will walk around spring training and make jaws drop on the days Jim Thome has other engagements.
With Sizemore, I imagined the aftermath of the successful tablecloth trick. The ending I envisioned was the one we all wanted, where a satisfied and exhausted Sizemore stands at the podium in upstate New York and describes what it was like to steal that base in Game 5, how he always felt he had it in his body to wipe away all that losing. This was foolish of me, and my punishment is having to reconcile that imagined visual with the reality of standing ankle deep in fractured crockery, the trick butchered.
The worst part of both narratives, the personal one and the Indians one, is that the outcomes I imagined were not unreasonable—they were nearly reality. In my personal life, the tragedy that seemed so imminent was not trumped up or laughable. We were simply lucky to beat long odds—the trick should have gone wrong, it just didn't. And, with Sizemore, the talent was not imagined or conjured out of self-delusion. I saw him run and hit—we were not overstating his case for the title of 'the next great one.' Grady had all the ability to perform the sleight of hand we needed, to turn the illusion beautifully. He simply couldn't stay upright long enough to do it and now, as before, we're left looking for another magician.