Spring brings baseball, rain, and stories about how so-and-so is “in the best shape of his life” and “primed for a comeback.” Whether it is 45-year-old Manny Ramirez plying his offbeat brand of bashing in the Japanese independent leagues or 41-year-old Eric Gagne pitching for Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic exhibitions and pondering a return to the major league mound, every spring brings with it these reliable, consistent events; the names change every year, but the stories remain the same.
Peter Gammons – who might be one of the five most important people in baseball history – is still visiting camps and seeking out redemption stories after a Hall of Fame career that’s run almost five decades. With Vin Scully officially retired, the esteemed Gammons now becomes baseball’s living reminder of summer-days-gone-by and elder statesman. And good news, fans! He’s found this year’s Comeback Kid Candidate:
— Gammons Daily (@GammonsDaily) February 24, 2017
Indeed, that is former Boston Red Sox reliever and victim of Blass Disease, Daniel Bard. As a 24-year old in 2009, Bard posted a 3.65 ERA in 49 ⅓ innings with 11.5 strikeouts per nine. He was sensational in 2010 with a 1.93 ERA in 74 ⅔ innings, striking out more than a batter per inning and walking just 3.6 per nine. He wasn’t quite as good in 2011 – a 3.33 ERA in 73 innings, but again more than 9 K/9, and the lowest walk rate of his career: a respectable 3 per 9 innings. Bard was rightly considered one of the best relievers in the American League, and one of its most promising pitchers.
However, the team and the player decided he should become a starter instead. It turned out to be one of the worst decisions in recent baseball history.
When he was last seen on a major league mound – one inning in 2013 – Bard had Blass Disease bad. His last full season in MLB was 2012 when he hit eight batsmen and more than six walks per nine innings in 59 1/3 innings. It was a horror show – a 27-year-old who’d had three successful seasons pitching in the mid- and late innings suddenly could not throw the ball anywhere near home plate. Bard made 19 minor league appearances in 2013 (15 ⅔ innings) of disastrous, no-good, awful ball: three hit batsmen, 36 walks, and 18 earned runs allowed. He logged ⅔ of one inning with Texas’s A ball team in 2014 over four games, giving up 13 runs and walking nine – hitting seven. After taking a year off, St. Louis had him pitch in eight games – three innings, total – where he only hit five batters and walked 13.
Here’s but one example of Bard throwing the ball just a bit outside:
But hope springs eternal and here we are on February 27, watching Daniel Bard throw strikes in batting practice and thinking – “could this be the year?” Of course, this could be the year – Bard was incredibly talented on a pitching mound and he’s only 31. Stranger things have happened, weirder situations have turned upside down.