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Indians Lookback: Former Ace Justin Masterson Uses a Memorable MLB Career to Help Others

When it comes to a career that was up and down, the Cleveland Indians career of pitcher Justin Masterson had more ups and downs than a new roller coaster at Cedar Point.

For a few years Masterson was considered the ace of the Tribe’s pitching staff, but then a contract situation and a poor season combined to see the Indians move Masterson midway through the 2014 season.

Masterson was born in Kingson, Jamacia, and his father, who was a pastor, and mother, relocated when Masterson was young to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

He attended Bevercreek High School in Bevercreek, Ohio, where he played both basketball and was a pitcher, catcher and first basemen for the school’s baseball team.

He began attending college at Bethel University before transferring to San Diego State. Masterson began to get noticed in the summer of 2005 when he played college summer ball in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

It was there he posted a 1.15 ERA and had 39 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. His performance that summer earned him a bust into the CCBL Hall of Fame in 2017.

Masterson was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 2006 MLB Draft, and was sent to the minors to work on his stuff, including his best pitch which was a sinking fastball.

By 2008 he was up with the big league Red Sox, earning some starts after transitioning between being a starter and reliever.

The Indians had their eyes on Masterson, and pulled the trigger to get him in 2009, trading popular catcher Victor Martinez to Boston for Masterson and minor leaguers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price.

His first season with the Indians was filled with plenty of growing pains, as he went just 1-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 10 starts with the Tribe.

In 2010 the growing pains as a starter continued for Masterson, who started the season 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA.

He finally started to get some run support, and he went 6-7 the rest of the way, ending the year at 6-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 29 starts.

The 2011 season saw Masterson go 12-10, putting up career best numbers in having career bests in ERA (3.21), innings pitched (216) and home runs allowed (11).

The 2012 season started with Masterson throwing on opening day, and while he earned a no-decision in a game which went 16 innings, the season again saw the Tribe pitcher have struggles.

Masterson went 11-15 with a career-high 4.93 ERA, and while he led the American League with 34 starts, he had consistency issues and it always seemed he would pitch the nights the Indians offense would decide to take off.

Then Tribe manager Manny Acta was fired with six games remaining in the regular season, replaced by interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr.

That offseason Masterson’s old manager was brought in to be the new voice of the Tribe – Terry Francona.

Francona knew all about Masterson from his early years with the Red Sox, and was responsible for trading him to Cleveland during the 2009 campaign.

This time around though Masterson was the best pitcher on the roster at that point, and Francona gave him the ball opening day against NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, who was traded that offseason to the Blue Jays.

Masterson started the year with a win over Dickey, and a few days later was matched up with the prior seasons AL Cy Young award winner, David Price of the Rays.

The Tribe ace went seven impressive innings, not allowing a run on just two hits as he beat Price to move to 2-0 on the year.

It also was a bit of history, as Masterson became the first pitcher to start a season beating the two Cy Young award winners from the season before.

By the end of May Masterson was 8-3 with an ERA just over three, and entered the All-Star break at 10-7 with a 3.78 ERA.

He was selected to the American League All-Star team and represented the Indians in the mid-summer classic in New York at Citi Field.

The rest of the season saw Masterson finish the year 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA as the Indians hosted the AL Wild Card game, falling to Tampa 4-0.

The offseason would be a tense one for the Indians pitcher, as he was about to enter the final year of his contract, and the Indians wanted to ink him to a long term deal.

The two sides went back and forth through the offseason, but no deal could be reached, and by March 21 talks had broken off.

"So even though it didn't happen right now, I'm not overly disappointed," Masterson said at the time.

Oddly enough one of the stumbling blocks to the deal was a contract inked by a fellow pitcher, that being Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey.

Bailey and Masterson had similar stats, and in February of 2014 Bailey and the Reds agreed to a six-year, $105 million contract through the 2019 season.

Bailey’s deal at the time came with a $25 million mutual option for 2020 and carries a $5 million buyout.

The Tribe’s offer was nowhere near what the Reds paid Bailey (who in 12 seasons with the Reds went 67-77 with a 4.56 ERA).

Masterson’s agent, Randy Rowley, made a proposal to the Indians for a three-to-four year deal, with the money being between $40 to $60 million.

The Tribe said no, and Masterson himself had enough of going back and forth, and talks broke down.

Masterson was already under contract for the year with a one-year deal worth $9.7 million, as the two sides avoided arbitration.

"We tried to do everything we could to make that happen, and we weren't able to come to an agreement,” Masterson’s agent told in March of 2014.

The 2014 season saw Masterson start the year with five starts without a decision, but he had struggles early on.

After going seven shutout innings on opening day against the Oakland A’s, but the next start he lasted just 3.2 innings against the Twins, giving up six runs on seven hits.

His worst outing came May 18 at Progressive Field against the A’s, who beat him up for seven runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings in a Tribe 13-3 loss.

The Indians never had the lead in the division, and by the All-Star break sat at .500 at 47-47. Masterson was 4-6, and in his last outing for the Indians July 7 against the Yankees he lasted just two innings, giving up five runs on six hits.

Rumors circulated that Masterson was on the market for the Tribe, as the team felt that they wouldn’t be able to get a long-term deal done that offseason with the pitcher being a free agent.

Masterson’s stock had dropped throughout the season as he struggled, and by the trade deadline it was apparent the Indians were not going to be able to get a lot in a deal for the pitcher.

On July 30the Indians pulled the trigger on a deal, sending Masterson to the St.Louis Cardinals for minor league outfield prospect James Ramsey.

Ramsey played a season and a half for the AAA Columbus Clippers before the Indians cut their losses, designating him for assignment as he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 2016 season.

Back to Masterson, he would end 2014 going 7-9 record and career-high 5.88 ERA, while dealing with inflammation in his knee that landed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

That offseason he inked a one-year, $9.5-million deal with Boston. The decision to turn down the Indians offer cost Masterson millions, and also put his baseball career on life support.

He pitched in 18 games in 2015 with nine starts. He wrapped up the season with a mark of 4-2 with a 5.61 ERA.

Masterson went back into the free agency pool that offseason, appearing in minor league stints with the Pirates and Dodgers before retiring.

In the end, he spent parts of eight seasons in the majors with the Red Sox, Indians, and Cardinals. In 258 appearances, 184 of which were starts, the right-hander compiled a 4.31 ERA with 1,004 strikeouts and 498 walks in 1,201 innings of work.

While looking back is easy to do, for Masterson he doesn’t regret not taking the Indians multi-year offer, and with all the charity work he and his wife Meryl do, he stays busy all the time.

"Surprisingly enough, as I think about it now, you would think that would come into play, like you'd say, 'Man, I wish I would've taken that,'" Masterson told the Boston Herald in 2015.

"But honestly, not a single time did it come in. Because, for me, if I didn't do well, I wouldn't feel great about coming into something (with Cleveland). I'd almost feel like, 'Man, I want to earn this.'"

The Masterson’s have been warriors in helping others, and in 2013 with business partner Matt Zappasodi the two founded the “Fortress Foundation,” a program which over the years has provided over 100,000 meals in countries all over the world to those in need.

Masterson himself worked in 2008 in the Dominican Republic to support another charity, “One Child Matters,” and in 2013 worked with “Bright Hope,” which works in poor countries to provide medical care, food and even just clean drinking water.

Now 35 years old, Masterson continues to work to help others, using what he did on the field for the Indians and other teams to provide support and help all over the world.

Sometimes it’s bigger than money, and Masterson in his eight year Major League career proved that you could be successful both on the field and in life as a person that helps others.

"My net worth is not found in a game. It’s found in the grace of God – in Jesus and what he has done," Masterson said in a story on in 2018.

"In each failure along the way, I experience more of the success of my Savior!"