WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - In January of 2004, Aaron Boone went from gilded hero to traitorous goat in a New York minute.
Just three months after his epic 11th-inning home run had lifted the Yankees to a Game 7 victory over hated Boston in the American League Championship Series and into the World Series, Boone tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
He was injured playing pickup basketball, of all things.
Before you could say he shoots, he scores, the Yankees dribbled Boone right out of town.
The Indians' $3.6 million investment in Aaron Boone looks a little better with his .367 batting average in spring training.
TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge
They also voided his one-year, $5.75 million contract, which included language saying it would not be guaranteed if Boone played basketball. Free-spending owner George Steinbrenner still had to fork out 30 days of termination pay to Boone, or $917,553.
However, Boone's injury and release paved the way for the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez in a deal with Texas.
Swapping Boone for Rodriguez was a slam dunk for Steinbrenner and the Bronx Bombers.
Boone eventually landed in Cleveland last summer, where the Indians were seeking a right-handed bat with some punch for their lineup.
Nobody can explain why the veteran third baseman got a two-year, $3.6 million contract that includes a team option for next year which could make the total package worth $11.1 million, including incentives.
When the Indians signed Boone last June, he was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. Two months later, he suffered a setback that required a second surgery, and he ended up missing the entire season. Boone's bothersome knee is feeling better now. He is batting .367 in 10 games this spring, and insists his knee is pain-free.
"I think I've tested my knee just about every way you can," Boone said. "I have done all the drills. I feel like myself again. The biggest thing now is trying to build up some endurance."
Boone, 32, is confident his skills will eventually return and he will regain his edge. But after two surgeries and a year off, there are no guarantees. It's possible he may never have the same range, the same power, or the same speed.
Remember, we're talking about a guy whose last plate appearance was a sacrifice bunt in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series against eventual champion Florida. Boone did sock 24 homers and drive in 96 runs that season while splitting time with Cincinnati and the Yankees. And he was a National League All-Star.
The Indians figure Boone can come close to matching those numbers again, but it won't be easy. His knee won't allow him to play in 160 games like he did two years ago.
"We're hoping he can drive in some runs, give us some stability in our lineup and play solid defense," manager Eric Wedge said. Boone, whose return has forced Casey Blake to move from third base to left field, comes from a three-generation baseball family.
His brother, Bret, plays for Seattle. His father, Bob, was a major league catcher for 19 seasons. And his late grandfather, Ray, got his start with the Indians. He was a rookie shortstop in 1948, the last year Cleveland won a World Series championship.
Fifty-seven years later, Wedge is counting on easy going Aaron Boone to help make the Indians a factor in the AL Central Division. Boone is just hoping this season has a happier ending than the last two.
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