All-Time Indians: Travis Hafner

Name: Travis Lee Hafner     Position: DH    
Nick Name: Pronk           Number: 48      
Tribe Time: 2003-2012         DOB: 06/03/1977    
Accolades: Top 10 MVP (2005-2006), Top 25 MVP (2004)      
Stats G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OBP SLG AVG OPS
Best Season (2006) 129 454 100 140 31 1 42 117 100 111 0 .439 .659 .308 1.098
Career 1077 3730 582 1038 238 11 200 688 558 881 9 .382 .509 .278 .891
Post Season Career 11 43 6 8 1 0 2 4 7 15 0 .300 .349 .186 .649

Travis Hafner was just another example of a great trade created by Mark Shapiro, bringing in the player who would eventually become the greatest designated hitter in franchise history in exchange for back-up catcher, Einar Diaz. Hafner had been a firstbaseman and DH for the Rangers in 2002, where he hit his first career home run. The following season, his first in Cleveland, he was given the nickname Pronk, by Bill Selby in recognition of his "project" status and donkey like physique. The nickname stuck, despite the fact that the project ended very quickly as he turned into a star.

In his first season (2003), Hafner split time with Ben Broussard as the Indians looked for their first baseman of the future to replace Jim Thome, who left via free agency for Philadelphia the season prior. Hafner played in fewer games than Broussard, but was the better player, hitting 14 home runs as a rookie and knocking in 40 RBI. Although Hafner was the better hitter, Broussard was the better defender and they both stayed in the lineup, with Pronk becoming the full time DH in 2004. That season, he lead the team in average (.311), home runs (28) and RBI (109) and came in 24th in AL MVP voting, tied with teammate Victor Martinez. Despite this and many other great seasons, Hafner never made it into a single All-Star game, although he was very deserving multiple times. This was largely because he was behind David Ortiz as the top DH in the league and the position has been generally underrated since it's creation.

Hafner had another great season in 2005, setting a new career high with 33 home runs, but dealt with adversity for the first time in his career. In July, he was hit in the face by a pitch from Mark Buehrle, sending him to the DL and starting a long history of injuries that would ultimately end his career early. Despite the missed time, Hafner still lead the team in home runs, RBI (108), average (.305) and doubles (42). He finished fifth in the MVP voting, with the DL stint and position choice most likely keeping him from finishing as high as third.

In 2006, Hafner posted the greatest season by a power hitter since Thome set the all-time team record with 52 home runs and no one has surpassed either season since. Pronk lead the league in slugging percent (.659) and OPS (1.097) and lead the team in home runs (a career best 42), RBI (117) and walks (100). This year, Hafner also tied the Major League record for Grand Slams with six on the season. Grady Sizemore also had a career year out of the lead-off spot and the two combined for 234 runs scored and 193 RBI. While the offense was ready, the pitching staff wasn't quite up to play-off standards and the team finished 78-84, eight games out of first after almost winning the Wild Card in 2005 (93-69). Things were just slightly misaligned for the Tribe as the following season, they would have one of the best starting rotations in decades.

Hafner's 2006 season was cut short again by injury, this time after he was hit on his hand by a pitch. In addition to being hit in the face and hand, Hafner began to deal with lower back pain, knee pain and eventually a torn labrum. All these combined lead to a downfall in his power, right after signing the largest contract extension in Indians history, a four year extension signed during the middle of 2007. The deal actually covered two years he was already under contract for (2007 and 2008) and lasted through 2012 with an option for 2013 and was worth a total of $57M.

After signing this massive extension, he began to struggle. In 2007, while playing in all but ten games, Pronk batted just .266 and hit just 24 home runs. There were some positives from that season, however, as he knocked in 100 runs for the fourth consecutive year (and last time in his career) and the Indians made the play-offs for the first time since 2001. Their success, however, was based more on the Cy Young season of C.C. Sabathia and a young sinker-baller name Fausto Carmona. In those play-offs, Pronk held his own, hitting two home runs and batting .300 as the Tribe beat the Yankees in the ALDS before ultimately losing to the Red Sox in seven games in the ALCS.

Things were only going to get worse for Hafner from then on. In 2008, he dealt with a torn labrum and missed most of the season, batting just .197 when he did play. The shoulder continued to bother him the following year although he did play in 94 games, adding another 16 home runs and 46 RBI to his already impressive career totals. Through the rest of his contract, he continued to be a serviceable hitter, but never managed to play many more than 100 games per season or knock in more than 50 runs. While this still made him one of the best hitters on the team, it was more a state of the poor offense in Cleveland than Hafner's own success. When the time came around, it was easy for the Indians to decline his option for the 2013 season and Hafner instead signed with the New York Yankees for his final season in baseball.

In all, the end of his career was a disappointment, but when looked at a whole, Pronk's time with the Tribe was a resounding success. He currently ranks 8th in Indians history with 200 career home runs and his 42 in 2006 rank in the top ten for a single season. As a full time DH, the Indians have never had better as Hafner out slugged, out hit and got on base more often than his only true competition, Andre Thornton. Even with all the injuries, Hafner still batted .278 on his career and knocked in a very impressive 688 runs. Hafner currently coaches alongside fellow Indian great, Len Barker, for the Notre Dame College baseball team.

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Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians.

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