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Friday, August 22, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 1/12/2005

Juan Gone is back, and it could be good

He's back.

Hide the women and order more athletic bandages, Juan Gonzalez is a born-again Cleveland Indian.

Four years too late, but he's back.

Broken down and to the point of being used up, but he's back.

Relegated to signing a minor-league contract despite 434 career home runs, but he's back.

Gonzalez Gonzalez
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There are more than 100 million ways to squander a potential Hall-of-Fame career - one for each dollar Gonzalez turned down to play for the Detroit Tigers - and Juan Gone has used up just about every one.

Gonzalez is here to remind all of us to be careful how you treat people. Because those folks you meet on the way up are the same ones you meet on the way down.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The best offer Gonzalez and his agent could come up with was a one-year contract worth $600,000 - if he makes the Indians' roster. It's loaded with incentives that could push the deal into the low seven figures - provided Gonzalez manages to stay healthy, of course.

Given Gonzalez's track record, that's anything but a sure thing.

There was a time when Gonzalez was one of baseball's beautiful people. Blessed with twinkling eyes, a powerful physique and a thundering bat, he had the whole world in his hands.

He hit .325 with 35 homers and 140 RBIs in 2001. It was his first and only season in Cleveland - right after refusing to sign a huge deal with the Tigers - and the last season he was healthy.

Don't be fooled by appearances. Gonzalez has a body only an HMO could love. He's one big sneeze away from the disabled list.

On the outside, he's all muscle and hard edges. Line drives explode from his bat. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Gonzalez could easily be mistaken for his namesake, All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Looks, however, can be deceiving.

Gonzalez played in a total of 185 games the last three seasons. That's the equivalent of one full season plus 23 games. It's great work if you can find it.

He could always find plenty of willing teams - until now. The disbelievers in his skills now far outweigh the believers.

Gonzalez, 35, is damaged goods.

His first year after leaving Cleveland, he had a thumb injury. The next year he had a calf injury. Last year it was a back injury.

With Gonzalez, it's always something.

He stays hurt, but he doesn't play hurt. Refusing to play hurt is his calling card.

But because Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro was willing to gamble on this aging, once-feared slugger, it could be a win-win deal for the Indians.

When it comes to Gonzalez, Shapiro knows the right buttons to push.

Shapiro knows that Gonzalez responds to easy money the way Pavlov's dogs responded to the ringing of a bell.

In this case, by staying healthy or even by being willing to play hurt for a change, Gonzalez will make enough plate appearances and be given the opportunity to put up the kind of numbers that will put plenty of money in his pocket and help the Indians win games.



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