Infielder likes youth movement in Cleveland

Originally Published: June 26, 2004
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Aaron Boone promises he's finished with basketball, and eager to help the Cleveland Indians rebuild.

The free-agent infielder signed a two-year contract with an option for 2006 on Saturday, and said the Indians' prospects for a resurgence with a talented core of young players was a key factor in his decision.

"I originally told my agents I would like to stay out west," said Boone, who recently moved to Phoenix. "Then I had a lunch meeting with [general manager] Mark Shapiro and [manager] Eric Wedge and came away saying, 'I want to be an Indian.'

"Their reputations preceded them. When they explained their plan, I did my homework and found out all the talented young players they have coming up. That sold me."

The Indians signed Boone to a $3.6 million, two-year contract with a team option for 2006 that could turn into a three-year deal worth $11.1 million.

He gets $600,000 this year and $3 million in 2005, and has the chance to earn an additional $2 million in bonuses next year. Cleveland has a $4.5 million option for the third year, and Boone can earn an additional $1 million in bonuses that year. The contract also contains attendance bonuses.

Shapiro said Boone's off-field attributes are attractive as his playing numbers.

"We believe we have added not only a championship-caliber player, but also a person who we deem fits our program and can take us to the next level."

Boone, whose 11th-inning homer in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS put the New York Yankees in the World Series, hasn't played since injuring his left knee during a pickup basketball game in January.

"It's a little more than four months post-op and knock on wood, I feel like I'll come out of this in the best shape I've ever been in," said Boone, who had reconstructive surgery Feb. 16.

"I feel good that's it is going to be a lot sooner than later now until I play. I'm fired up."

Boone will continue his rehab in Phoenix and join the Indians when he is cleared to resume baseball activities -- likely in early August.

"It's going to be like spring training for him," Shapiro said. "But he will play for us this season and in a meaningful amount of games, hopefully by late August or early September."

His off-season injury had far-reaching effects. After tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, he was released by the Yankees, who eventually traded with Texas for All-Star Alex Rodriguez.

Boone said that at the time he didn't realize that his one-year, $5.75 million contract with New York prohibited him from playing basketball. He got only 30 days termination pay -- $917,553 -- from the Yankees.

"That's it ... no more basketball," Boone said. "Sometimes you are better for going through adversity. It is what happened. I can't change that.

"It was just one of those things where I wanted to get a workout in and figured I could run up and down the court a little. Some 'Johnny Hustle' clipped me from the side, I went down hard and then picked myself up and cried my way home. I was in a lot of pain."

Boone said he doesn't know who hit him and has never received even a phone call of apology.

Boone said it would be special to be in a pennant race with the team that last won a World Series in 1948 -- the year his grandfather Ray was a rookie for the Indians.

"Grandpa has been ill lately, he's doing a little better, but this will be neat for me and nostalgic and neat for him," he said. "I've got a World Series photo of him with his Indians hat. My wife says I look just like him."

Boone will look good in uniform for a young club that has pushed its way into contention in the AL Central by winning 17 of 28 games.

"It is symbolic that we have signed Aaron for this year and next," Shapiro said. "It is meaningful for us. It shows that agents and players recognize where we are at [in rebuilding]."

Wedge said Boone's versatility -- he's played 21 games at second base and 30 at shortstop, in addition to 679 career games at third base -- fits in with the club's philosophy.

Incumbent third baseman Casey Blake also plays first base, second baseman Ronnie Belliard can play short and third, and top minor league prospects Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta have been alternating at second, short and third all season at Triple-A Buffalo.

The 31-year-old Boone has a .270 average with 92 homers and 393 RBIs in 722 career games. He had 24 homers and 96 RBIs last year and played in his first All-Star game while splitting the season with the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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