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Hustle Double Debate: Whose injury-related downfall was more tragic?

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Two writers enter. They likely exit with debilitating chronic injuries.

Welcome to the first-ever Hustle Double debate! Our question this week comes from Scott Brady, who asked “Whose injury-related downfall was more tragic: Sizemore or Hafner?”

Merrit Rohlfing and Matt Schlichting volunteered for the debate. Merritt chose tails, and through random assignment gets the last argument and the chance to argue for Sizemore. Matt will begin and argue on behalf of Hafner.

The winner of our debate will be determined by your votes! In the poll before the debate, 89% of voters believed that Sizemore’s downfall was more tragic, and the remaining 11% voted for Hafner. The debater who moves a larger proportion of the vote will be judged the winner of today’s Hustle Double, while the loser is awarded a TOOTBLAN.

Let us begin.

Schlichting: Introduction, Arguing on Behalf of Travis Hafner

Travis Hafner posted three consecutive seasons of at least 150 wRC+ from 2004-2006. His average on-base percentage during this time exceeded .410, peaking with a monumental .439 in 2006.

For three years, the only hitter in baseball better than Pronk was Albert Pujols. It was pretty close. In that period by fWAR, he trails only Hall of Fame-caliber players. A first baseman/designated hitter whose calling card was a remarkable eye and blistering hard contact? We’ve seen dozens of these types age gracefully into their thirties; there was no reason to believe Hafner would decline if he could avoid injuries. And as a 1B/DH, there are so few opportunities to really hurt yourself, aren’t there?

He signed a four-year, $57 million contract extension, and then the injuries simply began to pile up. He broke his hand. He strained his shoulder. He did it again. It became inflamed. He strained his oblique trying to compensate. He strained his foot. Knee surgery. Lower Back Inflammation (how?!).

The moment that Cleveland believed they had locked up a generational talent for the long-haul — something that the franchise had failed to do since the ‘90s renaissance began — he disintegrated into an empty $14.25 million contract commitment. It still haunts ownership.

Hafner inexplicably fell from a peak he shared with Albert Pujols. His playing style should have afforded him another decade of success, yet he and the Cleveland fanbase was robbed of an all-time slugger. This is the tragedy of Travis Hafner.

Merritt: Introduction, Arguing on Behalf of Grady Sizemore

When we talk about superstars in baseball there are tiers within those heights, ranging from merely a great player to franchise cornerstone, all the way to Face of Baseball caliber. The last is a rare breed, a perfect combination of supreme talent, charisma, looks, and that ineffable “It” that makes a player more than merely mortal.

Teams are rarely blessed with a player like that more than once a generation if even that often. That’s what Grady Sizemore represented for Cleveland. In every way, he was perfect; a five-tool player so good that, for me at least, Mike Trout or Mookie Betts are fair comps from the last 20 years. A decade after a brilliant list of stars marched through Cleveland, Sizemore was the synthesis of them all. Lofton’s speed and defense, Manny’s power, Thome’s eye at the plate and connection to the fans, Belle’s … uh, drive to win? He was everything you could want in a player.

This is where the tragedy unveils itself. Through no fault of his own — except perhaps for an insane motor and single-minded will to win that led to his running into walls a bit more than is healthy — Sizemore had his talent ripped from him, his abilities fading with each trip to the DL. In short, we missed out on the birth of a legend. Stan Musial was once described as “Baseball’s Perfect Knight”. This is what Sizemore could have been, but fate felt he was too good for the world.

Schlichting: Rebuttal

We should discuss our “more tragic” clause. It implies a sense of unexpected and unavoidable pain and loss.

Sizemore played 639 of 648 possible games from 2005-2008 with reckless abandon. As fans, we love this, but we know that there are possible repercussions. This is even more true of coaches and management.

Was the loss of Grady Sizemore more devastating to Cleveland than the loss of Travis Hafner? Yes. But was it more tragic? Absolutely not. Cleveland was negligent by allowing a young center fielder to throw himself around the diamond without trying to make his game more sustainable.

Merritt: Response

On May 14, 2007, Sports Illustrated had Sizemore on the cover, the first time they featured a Cleveland player since Manny. Tom Verducci said in the article that Sizemore was “without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation”. The loss of a talent this great is inherently tragic.

To your point, he’d been an iron man his whole career, until he wasn’t. Sure, his style of play has a history of shortening careers in the past. Until he was knocked down, Sizemore was untouchable. Saying we all knew he’d be essentially damaged goods by 26 is crazy.

Schlichting: Conclusion

Saying we all knew he’d be damaged goods by 26 is crazy. I am glad I didn’t.

Hafner was Pujol’s equal. A hit-by-pitch hand injury triggered a cascade of injuries that turned him worthless.

That is a greater, more unexpected tragedy than losing the kid who kept running into walls.

Merritt: Conclusion

Sizemore owns two of the 19 6.0+ WAR seasons in Cleveland over the last 50 years. One more healthy campaign and he’d start overtaking off top 25 players in franchise history, all before he enters his “prime”. This was a loss for all of baseball, not just one team.

Vote

Poll

Whose injury-related downfall was more tragic: Sizemore or Hafner?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Travis Hafner
    (31 votes)
  • 83%
    Grady Sizemore
    (153 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now