By the age of 25, Grady Sizemore had been an All-Star three times, won two Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, and received MVP votes in four seasons. Now, at the age of 28, he is a shell of his former self, playing in 200 games since the 2009 season began, and he is about to have microfracture surgery on his right knee after having one on his left knee last year. This surgery is basically a knee replacement without metal rods, fracturing bones to cause blood and bone marrow to create a blood clot, which in turn creates cartilage-building cells. It will end his season and leave the Indians with an interesting decision: pay Sizemore $8.5 million next year or a $500,000 buyout to try to re-sign him at a discount or let someone else take a gamble on him.
When compared to other players by age, Sizemore was closely linked to Duke Snider and Barry Bonds, but why not Mickey Mantle? Sizemore didn’t have the raw power that Mantle had, but he did succumb to the knee issues just like Mantle, but Mantle began his collapse at the age of 30, Sizemore began his at 25. In Mantle’s first four full seasons, he had 88 homers, 103 doubles, 33 triples, scored 449 runs, and had 380 RBI. Sizemore posted 107 homers, 163 doubles, 32 triples, scored 464 runs, and had 325 RBI in his first four full seasons.
Sizemore wasn’t just elite, he was what every team wanted. He was the face of a franchise, he has kept clean and out of trouble, and he was a producer. He hit for power, had speed, and played incredible defense. A center fielder who had an OPS between .832 and .907 in his first four years, he was Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Curtis Granderson before they were around. He was a player that ladies and fantasy players alike drooled over.
It’s a shame to see greatness crumble. At 28, Sizemore will join the likes of Tony Conigliaro and Don Mattingly as a great young player who had injuries that devastated a career that would have put them in the Hall of Fame if it kept going the way it started. As Sizemore heads to the Disabled List, we are left to wonder what might have been. As we can link him with Mattingly and Conigliaro, we can also put him next to Mickey Mantle as a devastating offensive weapon and center fielder whose knees crumbled a career too soon.