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Indians Indians Archive View from the Porch: End of Era or Error?
Written by Adam Burke

Adam Burke

HRPorchViewThis past week, the Indians bid adieu to a familiar face. A face that has seen a lot of agony and one that has brought the same expression to Tribe fans. One of the game’s most productive hitters from 2004-2006, Travis Hafner achieved cult status inCleveland. The mezzanine was renamed “Pronkville”, paying homage to his affinity for tape measure home runs to the second deck in right field at Jacobs Field. Pronk, of course, the nickname given to Hafner by former Indians one-hit wonder Bill Selby, a combination of project and donkey, alluding to Hafner’s hitting prowess and running ability.

Adding to the accolades, Hafner, a diehard wrestling fan, had a bobblehead with a WWE Championship belt, a Malley’s chocolate bar named after him, and a loyal base of fans. Coming out of the fields and plains ofJamestown,North Dakota, graduating high school with a class of 12, and playing college baseball at a small school known asCowleyCountyCommunity College, Hafner was baseball’s version of the American dream story.

Did this past week signify the end of an era for the Indians or the end of an error? Nobody will deny that, in his prime, Hafner was a feared hitter. Unfortunately for Hafner, his prime was an incredibly small window, lasting three magical years before injuries derailed his career. From 2004-2006, Hafner’s numbers were eye-popping. He batted .308/.419/.611/1.030, bashed 103 home runs, drove in 334 runs, and played 406 games. In 2006, Hafner had 42 home runs before September even began. He had six grand slams that season. On September 1, CJ Wilson broke Hafner’s hand with an errant fastball, ironically, with the bases loaded, and Hafner was never the same hitter again.

From 2007-2012, Hafner played in just 581 games, batting .261/.362/.440/.802, with 83 home runs and 314 RBI. His bat speed progressively got slower and slower. His ability to play first base ended, rendering him nothing more than a designated hitter. A recurring elbow injury prevented him from throwing the ball if required and various shoulder injuries would turn hitting from a natural ability to an everyday struggle.

During the 2007 All-Star break, Hafner was signed to the now-infamous four-year, $57M extension that has plagued the Indians for pretty much the entire length of the deal. In Hafner’s first four seasons with the Indians, he was worth over 16 wins. Over the final six seasons, he was barely worth seven wins. The Indians paid him $61.1M in that span.

Were there signs that Hafner would regress? The first half of 2007 was a very small sample size, and some argued that Hafner’s lack of production was due to the ongoing contract negotiations serving as a distraction. Hafner batted .262/.397/.452/.849. He walked more than he struck out over those 84 games, which was definitely a welcomed sight for the Indians front office, given their love of walks. Had the Indians, a very cost-conscious organization known about Hafner’s durability, they would have balked at giving him a long-term extension.

What the Indians had in Hafner as a player and as a person went from being one individual to a Jekyll and Hyde wearing #48. Fans generally gravitate towards good players, but they flock towards good players who are good people. Players who are assholes are loved for their production and ignored outside the lines. Hafner, who was always generous to the media, great with the fans, and smiling more often than not, was an infectious personality, beloved by the fans and by his teammates. It’s probably not a coincidence that, as Hafner’s career declined, so, too, did the Indians. Even throughout his struggles, Hafner continued to soldier on, coming back from every injury to try and give the last drops of production his body had left. Whether it was openly said or not, Hafner knew the magnitude of his contract, making up anywhere from 15-20% of the team’s payroll and I firmly believe he wanted to justify the team’s faith in him. I also believe he genuinely feels bad for the way things played out. Not that any blame can be placed on him, but that the circumstances unfolded the way that they did.

Everybody immediately went to the steroid talk with Hafner, labeling him a “juicer” and half-jokingly wishing that he would get back on the juice, that it would somehow allow Hafner to return to the hitter he once was. Hafner staunchly denied ever using any performance-enhancing substance. I, for one, believe him completely. Anyone who has ever met Hafner knows that he is a mountain of a man, and there are countless reports about his love of the weight room.

Ultimately, Hafner will not be remembered for the 2004-2006 glory years. He will be remembered as the “Disabled (List) Hitter”. The guy whose contract served as a major albatross for the Indians, even when he was playing, because his four at bats a game didn’t consist of playing any defense or running the bases at an average level. Hafner’s injuries weren’t from self-inflicted wounds. His body just failed him and the legacy Hafner leaves behind will be a rather unfair one.

Hafner’s final season was marred with injuries as he suited up in just 66 games. For what it’s worth, the team was 31-30 when Hafner started, thus making them 37-64 without him in the lineup. He missed all of June, all but one game in August, and more than half of September. Despite all of that, Hafner had one memorable hit left in him.

Hafner Standing OOn October 2, the Indians were playing out the string, taking the field for the second-to-last time for 2012. Hafner had played in just four games since September 19 and was not in the starting lineup. Jake Peavy was still in the game for the White Sox, looking to polish off a complete game victory, pitching with a 3-1 bottom of the ninth lead. Michael Brantley singled to bring the tying run to the plate and interim skipper Sandy Alomar Jr. looked in Travis Hafner’s direction. Hafner stepped to the plate and took ball one. With what could potentially be his final at bat in an Indians uniform, Hafner got a pitch to his liking, a hanging 79 mph slider on the inner half. He was out in front a little bit, but fate intervened and the ball clanged off the foul pole for a game-tying two-run home run. It was Hafner’s 200th career home run with the Indians.

Hafner would be in the lineup the next night, flaring an opposite field single for his final hit while donning Chief Wahoo. He got a standing ovation prior to his final at bat. During the ovation, I couldn’t help but think back to the Hafner we once knew, loved, and were in awe of. A lot of my favorite Indians memories directly involve Hafner. Here are my five favorite Hafner memories:

#5: Fourth of July Fireworks

In 2005, the Indians played a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Travis Hafner was about as locked in as locked in can get. He entered Independence Day with a .303 average, after having a .275 average a month before. That day, Hafner went 6-for-10 with three home runs and six RBI.

In the fourth inning of Game One, Hafner destroyed a three-run home run to the second level of the picnic plaza in center field. In the seventh inning, Hafner hit a towering fly ball that eventually landed on the roof of the Indians bullpen. Video of Hafner’s Game One.

Game Two was started by some guy named Justin Verlander. This monster bomb wasn’t hit off Verlander, but it may still be orbiting the earth.

#4: The Cycle of Life

On August 14, 2003, the Indians were wrapping up a four-game series at the Metrodome against the Twins. Travis Hafner played all 14 innings the day before, but was in the lineup again for the finale. Hafner was going through some growing pains, batting just .239 through 80 games. It was then that #32 decided to make history.

Hafner began the game with the home run, a deep drive over the baggie in right field off of starter Brad Radke. In his second at bat, he picked up a fourth inning hustle double, turning a ground ball single into extra bases. In the seventh, it was an infield single to the pitcher. With the hardest leg of the cycle remaining, especially for a guy like Hafner, it seemed a longshot. But, Hafner proved the doubters, including himself, wrong as he roped a triple to center field, becoming the first Indian to hit for the cycle since Andre “Thunder”Thorntondid it in 1978.

#3: A League of His Own

2011 was shaping up to be a magical season for the Indians. The city was caught up in Tribe fever on May 13 with the Seattle Mariners in town. To date, the home fans had been treated to a walk-off grand slam from Carlos Santana against the Tigers, Orlando Cabrera’s walk-off single the following night, and crowds that had not been seen or heard at the ballpark since 2007.

The Indians trailed 4-2 in the ninth when Brandon League, who the Indians have a history of beating up, entered the game looking for the save. After back-to-back doubles from Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera made it a 4-3 game, it appeared that the Indians’ rally would fall short. Cabrera was still standing on third after Carlos Santana failed to drive him in with one out. Hafner walked to the plate, centered on a fastball, and did this.

#2: Walk-Off in Grand Fashion

The ship was sinking on July 7, 2011. The Indians had turned a 30-15 record and seven-game lead into a 46-39 record with a 1.5-game lead. The team had bobbed and weaved through a very average stretch for the better part of a month and a half. That Thursday night, they seemed lifeless, managing just six hits over the first eight innings.

Frank Francisco, the Toronto Blue Jays closer, entered the game to get some work in. He allowed a single, a double, and a walk to load the bases before exiting the game. Michael Brantley struck out. Asdrubal Cabrera, who was mired in a pretty big slump, laced a single to left to score a run and set the stage for Travis Hafner. Luis Perez decided a get-me-over fastball was the right idea with the first pitch. It clearly wasn’t. Hammy’s call still gives me chills.

#1: If At First You Don’t Succeed...

Ask any Indians fan about the last 14 years and they’ll take you to October 5, 2007. It was, coincidentally, Indian Summer inCleveland, with balmy, humid temperatures on a clear Friday night. The country became familiar with the insects known as “midges”, ugly little creatures that come in off ofLake Erie. The country also became familiar with Fausto Carmona, who may have had the most dominant performance I have ever been in attendance for.

The Indians were shut down by crafty southpaw Andy Pettitte for 6.1 innings of work. It was a 1-0 game in the eighth when Joba Chamberlain got erratic, clearly bothered by the midges. Travis Hafner walked to the plate with runners on second and third in the eighth. With just one out and the speedy Grady Sizemore on third, Hafner’s job was simple, hit a fly ball. Instead, he swung at the first pitch and hit an absolute laser beam at Doug Mientkiewicz, who was playing in at first base. The catch was as much self-defense as it was a great play. Luckily, Sizemore would score on a wild pitch to tie the game.

In extra innings, Hafner, who got unlucky in the eighth, got another chance in the 12th. This time, with the bases loaded and two outs, Jacobs Field got its chance to erupt.

Also, a nice f*#& you to Joe Buck for seeming so disappointed that the Indians won.


So long Travis Hafner. It’s been fun, it’s been disappointing, it’s been frustrating, it’s been hard, and it’s been entertaining. The road we’ve gone on with him during his 10 seasons inClevelandhave seen every kind of terrain imaginable. But, Hafner should be remembered as a great teammate and a tremendously-talented hitter in his prime. 

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