Catching Up With Jody Gerut
Steve Eby | On 03, Dec 2014
Sometimes when a player makes his mark with a certain ballclub, that player becomes a lifetime member of that team.
“I think it’s true with most players that come up and make their mark with a team and reached the Big Leagues with,” former Indians outfielder Jody Gerut said, “they always end up identifying themselves as to that’s what they were.”
For Gerut, the first mark that he made in the Major Leagues was an impressive streak with the Cleveland Indians that nearly culminated in a Rookie of the Year award.
Early in the 2003 season, the previously widely unknown Gerut was called up to provide a spark to a struggling Tribe team that was sitting with just a 7-16 record. His impact was felt almost immediately, as the 25-year-old roped three base hits in just his second Major League contest. The call-up to the Big Leagues came without much warning for Gerut, who was less than two years removed from the trade that brought him to Cleveland from the Colorado Rockies system.
“I was called up when I was in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and I had to be in Oakland the next day for a day game,” Gerut remembered. “I got called up in the afternoon so it was very quick…like, ‘Your flight leaves in an hour and a half. It’s time for you to jump’. It was a quick goodbye.”
Not taking long to become a regular in the Tribe lineup, Gerut continued to grow and impress in 2003, flashing impressive power that surprised everyone in Cleveland except for himself.
“No,” Gerut said. “It wasn’t a surprise.”
During his initial campaign, Gerut batted an impressive .279 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI. He played in 127 games and clubbed 22 doubles to finish fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Gerut credits his approach at the plate to go along with his physical gifts as the main reasons for his breakout performance.
“The transformation power-wise came from something specific that I do now,” Gerut said. “As a part of a non-profit effort, I created something called MAPP hitting. I formed a little concept on how to teach it, but it’s all about how you hit in the Big Leagues. It got me to where I was with the Indians. I formed a website and I’m doing some things with some local players. Once I figured out how to conceptualize it and teach it, it’s become beneficial to the kids I work with.”
The MAPP Hitting System (Mechanics + Approach = Power + Performance) is a system that preaches a hitter’s approach at the plate as an extremely important and underrated component in becoming a successful hitter. One of Gerut’s current projects is working with young players on the concept that he claims was the secret to his success. In addition, Gerut also gives credit to a baseball legend who helped him to refine his approach.
“My greatest influence came from Eddie Murray, who was the hitting coach at the time,” Gerut said of the Hall of Famer. “He really gave me the courage and guidance to put things on the line and just go for it at the plate. A lot of what I teach to kids now I got from Eddie and I’m very grateful for that.”
Murray was the Indians hitting coach during 2003—the season that would eventually prove to be Gerut’s best. Gerut’s personal success, however, just proved to be one of the lone bright spots in a 68-94 season of transition for the franchise.
“It’s difficult to nail down what was the best part about 2003,” Gerut said. “That season wasn’t a year that we won very much, so from a team perspective it wasn’t a particularly good year. On a positive note, it was a good year for me personally.”
One of Gerut’s personal highlights came late in the year as the Tribe was visiting a stadium that Gerut grew up just about 20 miles from.
“Getting that 20th home run was something that happened in Chicago against the White Sox, which is the team that I grew up rooting for,” Gerut remembered. “It was against Esteban Loaiza, who was having a kind of magical season for the White Sox, so that was definitely a highlight, too.”
The 2003 season cemented Gerut’s name in Eric Wedge’s lineup for the immediate future, as Gerut was the regular right fielder for the 2004 season as well. In 2005, as the Indians really began to improve as a team, injuries started to take their toll on the 27-year-old Gerut.
“Injuries essentially derailed my career,” Gerut said.
After appearing in just 44 games for the 2005 Tribe, Gerut was traded to the Chicago Cubs in mid-July. By the end of the month, the Cubs flipped Gerut to another team again, this time a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates for former Indian outfielder Matt Lawton.
After just four games in Pittsburgh, injuries really hampered Gerut and sidelined him for the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons. A student of the game, Gerut now sees different things coming in terms of how teams deal with injuries compared to how things were a decade ago.
“The next step that every team is evolving toward is how to prevent injuries from happening,” Gerut said. “If you can predict them, then you’re going to be better than the next guy. In a lot of ways, it’s the real life version of The Minority Report, that Tom Cruise movie, just applied to baseball. If you can predict when an injury is going to happen, you can pull that player off of the field and see what’s going on before you do anything to hurt his long-term prospects.”
In 2008, Gerut got another opportunity in The Show when he signed with San Diego. Gerut notched the highest batting average of his career that season, as he batted .296 with 14 home runs in 100 games for the Padres. Earning regular playing time again, Gerut made history on Opening Day in 2009 by opening the New York Mets’ Citi Field by clubbing a home run in the first at bat in the stadium’s history. No other stadium has ever had that feat occur.
The following season in May of 2010, Gerut again put a stamp on baseball history when he hit for the cycle as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers at Chase Field in Arizona. Gerut was just the sixth Brewer to accomplish the rare feat, but Gerut puts his Citi Field moment ahead of his only career cycle.
“The Citi Field moment got me in the Hall of Fame and has kept me in the Hall of Fame, where the other one didn’t.”
After 32 games in Milwaukee and only 32 years old, Gerut formally announced his retirement from baseball. The announcement came as a bit of surprise, as Gerut seemed still young enough and productive enough to keep playing.
“I retired because my wife still likes me and I’ve got three young kids and I enjoy being home for dinner with them. It was ultimately the time to do it,” Gerut said. “I knew I was going to do something else no matter how many years I continued to play.”
As it turned out, Gerut didn’t get too far away from the game following his retirement.
“I’m an agent with Wasserman Media Group, which is the group that represented me in part when I played,” Gerut said of his current gig. “We represent Jason Giambi, Carlos Santana and a bunch of the current Indians guys. I don’t do any of those guys, but that’s the company that I work for.”
“It keeps me close to the game. Agency has always been in my blood. I’ve been a union rep on every team that I’ve played for. It’s a fitting position and keeps me close to the game.”
Now doing so much to give back to the game, Gerut continues to follow the first team that gave him a chance and remembers the city of Cleveland fondly.
“I think that my time in Cleveland is marked by a whole bunch of different things,” Gerut remembered. “I miss things like Corky and Lenny’s deli out east and a little Chinese joint on the east side that stayed open until 1:00 in the morning and it’s where I got my Chinese food from. I miss being able to shop at the West Side Market. I think I was a guy of the city more than anything else. But I did enjoy my time playing there, and obviously playing well helps.
“I certainly still follow the Indians. In general, I think that’s how baseball will recall me, but on my side, I will always be a Cleveland Indian.”
Photo: Ron Schwane/Associated Press