Almost immediately after hanging up the phone, thereby finalizing a deal that would rebuild a franchise but alienate a fan base, he felt a sense of joy and pain, almost all at once. Yes, this move was necessary. Without it the Cleveland Indians -- long considered losers until a stretch of success in the late 1990s that invigorated the city -- would again suffer through harsh seasons, though he knew the trade would not be popular among fans.

Who could have known that the trade would be the resounding success that has put the Indians back in playoff contention for the first time since 2001, only a half-game out of the wild-card lead behind the New York Yankees? It was the immediate reaction from fans that worried Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro.

His father, Ron, an inveterate agent who represented, among others, Cal Ripken Jr., had warned Mark to stay away from managing the careers of players. There are better things to be, Ron said, than an agent.

But Shapiro couldn't completely separate himself from baseball. At age 23, after an uneventful year working for a home builder in California, he sent letters to every major league team asking for employment. Only one of them, the Indians, responded. He was given an entry-level job and worked his way up to general manager.

So here he was, in 2002, with his life tied to the whims of millionaires, as his father had warned. The first to leave had been Manny Ramirez, who prior to the 2001 season signed an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Boston Red Sox the Indians could not possibly match.

Admirably, the Indians kept afloat in the standings the year after Ramirez's departure, exiting in the first round of the playoffs. But the team was in the midst of a decline in 2002 and Shapiro sensed it. So he shopped his best player, pitcher Bartolo Colon, and found a taker in the Montreal Expos, a team that appeared headed for contraction with a general manager eager to make one last push for the playoffs.

"The Colon trade was the start of everything," Shapiro said. "It started the change. That was the defining trade."

With that phone call on June 27, 2002, Shapiro sent Colon to the Expos for outfielder Lee Stevens, prized shortstop prospect Brandon Phillips and two other lesser-known minor leaguers, lefty Cliff Lee and outfielder Grady Sizemore.

Shapiro knew he had made a good trade, but he didn't feel good about it. He sat in his office for several moments, and the severity of the trade and how fans would react struck him.

"Tomorrow, for the first time," Shapiro thought to himself, "we're going to walk out of this building without winning being the goal."

The Indians are winning again, yet the Colon trade still seems to haunt the franchise, despite the fact it also revitalized it. The fans have not yet embraced this young, resilient team that on June 5 was three games under .500, but has roared back into contention. On a night last week when the Indians were fighting for a playoff spot, Jacobs Field was only half full. The Indians were 12th in the American League in attendance through Monday, ahead only of Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

"It would be nice if we had it like they have it in Boston," outfielder Coco Crisp said. "I think we have a good, young, exciting team."

These Indians are a motley group: a third baseman, Aaron Boone, trying to escape the large shadow of one momentous postseason home run, who only signed because a knee injury before the 2004 season ended his stay with the Yankees. A slugging first baseman, Travis Hafner, nicknamed "Pronk" -- part project, part donkey -- who was acquired simply because the Texas Rangers did not think he could field his position. A starting pitcher, Kevin Millwood, who signed a one-year contract to prove his health in hopes of a multiyear deal at the end of the year.

The three are surrounded by a corps of young players -- some homegrown, others acquired via trade -- that sent Cleveland to a 50-32 record since June 7.

"It's amazing how many good, young, and advanced players we have," Boone said.

It is Sizemore, though, who thought so little of that momentous trade he hardly remembers the day when asked about it, who may be the best.

"It was so long ago," Sizemore said. "I was in the minor leagues."

Sizemore, 23, leads the team in hits (155), triples (10), stolen bases (20) and runs (93) while playing stellar defense. It was the play of Sizemore, catcher Victor Martinez and shortstop Jhonny Peralta that compelled Manager Eric Wedge to plead with Shapiro not to trade Millwood in July when it appeared the Indians might fall out of the race. This time, Shapiro did not make the move. The core remained intact and the Indians are in the race.

"It was the belief in our younger players," Wedge said. "I felt that our most consistent days were ahead of us."

A victory last Monday was typical of the Indians' summer. The Tigers scored five runs in the top of the first inning and appeared to be headed to an easy win. Instead, the Indians scored six runs in the bottom of the inning and went on to win the game. That six-run inning was welcomed by a standing ovation from fans.

"Yeah, the couple of fans we had at the game," Crisp joked. "I think two people stood up. A couple stood out in the bleachers."

That game was still on the players' minds the next day. Their game against the Tigers was called off early in the day because of rain, but a healthy group of Indians came to the ballpark anyway to work out. And amazingly, with an entire evening free, most decided to stay awhile.

C.C. Sabathia, the hulking left-handed pitcher who has taken Colon's place as the team ace, slumped in a large leather sofa and watched television. Peralta and Ronnie Belliard played cards. Sizemore signed autographs while seated at a table. Shapiro, with a team in contention again, walked into the clubhouse and headed for the gym. Yes, as his father had warned, baseball could be a delicate business. But as the photos in Shapiro's office of his father, laughing wonderfully at a game, proved, baseball could be a wonderful business, too.

Strong play from the Indians' Jose Hernandez, left, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner has Cleveland in the playoff race.