Ah 2003, the year everyone in baseball universally decided that sleeves were for losers. After a fire sale that saw us get rid of pretty much everyone from the 2001 playoff team except C.C. Sabathia and Omar Vizquel, it was hard to form too many attachments to players on the ‘03 team. A few names emerged by seasons end that would become staples in Cleveland baseball for a few years, guys like Ben Broussard, Casey Blake, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, and a few more, but it’s also the team most likely to garner a response of “Who?” from me if you bring up a player. Baseball Reference tells me Angel Santos and Zach Sorenson played 35 games a piece that year and quite frankly I don’t believe them.
But if there’s one thing I remember from the 2003 season it was the emergence of a rookie left fielder named Jody Gerut. His team leading 22 home runs were a steep drop off from the 52 Thome hit the year before, but much like someone just getting out of a relationship, 8 year old me was looking for a rebound player and Gerut (also Casey Blake) was it. Who knew he’d be my generation’s Joe Charboneau, nearly winning rookie of the year and then fading into irrelevance almost immediately after (he did have a really nice 2008 season with San Diego actually). All I knew was there was a new sheriff in town and I was on board. I like to think that I was slightly less enthralled than my friend Vinny who personally GUARANTEED that Gerut would one day be a member of the 500 home run club (there’s still time).
The Indians got off to an abysmal start, and quite frankly they were an abysmal team. They never really had a consistent lineup either. Only one player, Casey Blake, played more than 128 games. They were constantly shuffling pieces around trying to see if anyone would emerge that they could flip in a trade, or pencil in as a part of their future. 25 different position players and 29 pitchers suited up for the Indians that year, very few of them amounted to anything, but that’s the thing with rebuilds, if you want to do them right they take time.
By this point Jacobs Field was fairly empty most nights, going to a game was still my favorite thing in the world to do, but nobody else in Cleveland seemed to share my enthusiasm.
The good news is that by 2004 the pieces were starting to fall into place and a new group of players were making a name for themselves. My Grandpa’s Indians teams had Herb Score, Rocky Colavito, Hal Naragon, and Gary Bell. My Dad’s had Buddy Bell, Duane Kuiper, and Toby Harrah. 2004-2007? Those were my teams. Guys like Casey Blake, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner, were who I grew up watching play every day, and I remember those days fondly.
Join us tomorrow as we discuss the 2004 team that was far better than anticipated!