'Pronk' is more like 'Clunk'

Travis Hafner is lucky LeBron James can't shoot straight. As long as King continues to struggle, our Pronk will own only the second-most famous slump in Cleveland.

Travis Hafner is lucky LeBron James can't shoot straight. As long as King continues to struggle, our Pronk will own only the second-most famous slump in Cleveland.

LeBron had 21 points and 13 assists Monday in the Cavaliers' 88-77 victory over the Boston Celtics in the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals. The best-of-7 series is even at 2-2.

It's all good. Yet Clevelanders continue to fret because James was a so-so 7 of 20 from the field Monday and is shooting a chilly 25.6 percent (20 of 78) in the series.

This can be viewed as a positive for Hafner, the Sykeston, N.D., slugger for baseball's Indians who not long ago looked ready to become a bona fide superstar. James' slump has pushed Hafner's problems off the front pages of Cleveland-area sports sections.

And compared to James' four-game swoon, Hafner's is one of epic proportions.


Hafner, the Indians' left-handed hitting designated hitter, is batting .223 after going 2-for-4 in a victory against Oakland on Tuesday. His slugging percentage, an indication of power, is 300 points lower than Hafner's monster 2006 season. He's struck out in more than one-fourth of his at-bats and has just three home runs.

Fans of the popless Minnesota Twins will appreciate this: Hafner's numbers look remarkably similar to those of Jason Kubel.

Pronk has turned to Clunk.

"We're working on specific things," Hafner told the Cleveland Plain Dealer when asked what he's doing to climb out of the black hole. "You always want to play your best. I know what I mean to this offense. I hope it's something that will work out for me and the team and get me back on track."

The scariest part of the deal is that it's been more than a year since Hafner's hit like, well, Hafner. After a torrid April of 2007, Hafner nosedived through most of the rest of last season (although his power numbers still looked OK with 24 homers and 100 RBIs). He said throughout spring training this year that the problems had been solved, that '07 was long gone.

Turns out the only thing long gone is Hafner's power stroke. He isn't pulling the ball or driving it. Instead, his hits are coming on slaps the opposite way.

This from a player with a cartoon-like build who from 2004-06 averaged 34 homers and 111 RBIs and was one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Hafner early last season was rewarded with a four-year, $52 million contract extension through 2012. That brought the total value of his current contract to about $65 million.

The pressure of the big money, of course, is one of the numerous theories behind Hafner's slide. Also on the list is that Hafner got married before last season, that he's getting old (31 in June), that he hits the weights too hard, that his mechanics are a mess.


Meantime, Hafner was benched for a couple of games in late April and slid from third to sixth in the Indians' batting order.

No word if Cavs coach Mike Brown is taking similar action with King James.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970).

He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or .

McFeely's blog can be found at

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