Travis Hafner

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Travis Lee Hafner

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Biographical Information[edit]

"He's got better numbers than probably anybody in the home run derby... He probably should have been an All-Star three years in a row." - C.C. Sabathia, talking about Travis Hafner

"I’m not very smart, but I can lift heavy things." - a T-shirt sometimes worn by Travis Hafner, who was good-natured about being called 'Pronk', according to one site

Travis Hafner was, at one point, quite possibly the most underrated player in major league baseball. He led the American League in Adjusted OPS+ (an overall measure of how good a hitter is) in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In spite of that, he got no first place votes as MVP in any of the three years. His career Adjusted OPS+ through 2006 was 159, the same number that Stan Musial had in his career.

Hafner was born in North Dakota, and graduated in a class of eight people in high school. He attended Sykeston High School. Drafted in the 31st round of the 1996 amateur draft, he attended junior college in 1997 at Cowley County Community College, and was MVP of the NJCAA Division I Baseball World Series. Teammates were Junior Spivey and Travis Hughes. He signed in June, 1997 and languished in the minors for six years, in spite of generally good performances from 1999-2002. He finally got a shot at the bigs with the Texas Rangers for 23 games in 2002.

When Travis Hafner was acquired by the Cleveland Indians from the Texas Rangers after the 2002 season, he was considered by many scouts to be a project player. His new Cleveland teammates compared him to a donkey. After many different combinations of the words project and donkey, the players finally decided to call him Pronk. He lent his nickname to a chocolate candy bar that bore the name "Pronk". His cheering section at Jacobs Field was called "Pronkville".

He led the league in being hit-by-pitch in 2004, finished 5th in the 2005 AL MVP vote, and then in 2006, he set a record by hitting five grand slams before the All-Star Game. He ended the season with a .308 batting average, close to his previous best, a .439 on-base percentage, his personal best, and a .659 slugging percentage, also a personal best. He was 3rd in the American League in home runs, 6th in RBI, tied for first in on-base percentage, and first in slugging percentage. Even though David Ortiz got the lion's share of the attention with his 54 home runs, Hafner's slugging was 23 points better. However, his season ended prematurely on September 1st with a broken right hand which limited him to 129 games.

2007 was the worst of his full major league seasons, although he was a key player on the first division-winning Indians team since 2001. He played 152 games that year, hitting .266 with 24 homers and 100 RBI, but it was his last fully healthy season. After that he struggled with injuries and missed a lot of games. The injuries affected his knees and his back, mostly.

He never appeared in an All-Star Game, something his fans found outrageous and was partly a result of his playing most of his games as a designated hitter. Indeed, at the end of 2012, he had played 971 games as a DH, and only 72 as a first baseman, his last appearance wearing a glove having come in 2007. He has the highest proportion of games played as DH of anyone with more than a trivial career in the major leagues.

After the injury bug began to bite him in 2008, he only played as many as 100 games in a season, once, in 2010 when he got into 118 games. When he did suit up to play, his production was way down, with his best marks from 2008-2012 being 16 homers, 57, RBI and a .280 average. After the 2012 season, the Indians decided not to pick up the option for the least year remaining on his contract, buying out his last year for $2.75 million and making him a free agent at 35. While it looked to be the end of the road for the big slugger, the New York Yankees, decimated by injuries and departures through free agency since the end of the previous season, expressed interest in his services and signed him to a one-year contract for $2 million on February 1, 2013. He played 82 games in what was his final season, hitting .202 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs. Overall, in 11 seasons, he hit .273 in 1,183 games, with 213 homers and 731 RBIs.

According to similarity scores, the most similar player through age 28 was slugger Dick Stuart, but while Stuart hit lots of home runs he was never anywhere near first in the league in Adjusted OPS. Hall of Famer Bill Terry was also on the list of the ten most similar players. By the end of 2012, Stuart was most similar, with a score of only 907, though, showing that Hafner was somewhat of a unique player in major league history. Others on the list included Tony Clark, Kevin Mitchell and Kevin Millar, all players who had some outstanding years mixed with a lot of injuries that depressed their overall production. He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019 but did not receive a single vote in his lone appearance on the ballot.

He is a big pro wrestling fan.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (2006)
  • AL OPS Leader (2006)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 4 (2004-2007)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 2 (2005 & 2006)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2006)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 4 (2004-2007)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (2006)

Records Held[edit]

  • Grand slams, season, 6, 2006 (tied)
  • Grand slams, Before All-Star Break

Further Reading[edit]

  • Will Leitch: "Better than you remember: Travis Hafner: Pronk's three-year run among this century's best",, May 1, 2020. [1]

Related Sites[edit]