Remembering Erik Bedard

As the Mariners got stomped by the Astros last night, I ended up in a discussion with the other Good Guys about Erik Bedard.  Bedard is, of course, a former Mariner and as such, the cause of much disdain.  He is now a member of the Astros and was last night’s starting pitcher.

Bedard is not well-liked by Mariners fans.  I personally always liked him, but I can certainly see his shortcomings.  He was divisive and frustrating at his best.  The argument against generally centers on four points:

  1. He was the object of a now horrific trade, where the Mariners gave up Adam Jones and more for Bedard before the 2008 season.
  2. He was constantly injured, losing large chunks of every season he played in Seattle.
  3. His dealings with the media were short and brusque, often given in one word answers. He often came across as a smug, rude jerk.
  4. He obtained a reputation of being unable to pitch deep into games, which, combined with the injuries, led to a reputation of frailty and disinterest.

The first point is indisputable but completely out of Bedard’s control.  The trade was not well liked at the time, but it would have been okay had Bedard stayed on the field. He was a legitimately excellent pitcher when he was on the mound.  Unfortunately, that rarely happened.  He was hurt early and often, missing time in each of the four seasons he spent in Seattle.

With most former players, an injury history like that would be the main memory, but judging by Twitter and blog comments during last night’s game, points three and four above have had a more lasting impression.  The issues with the media were real. He seemed unwilling to speak at any length, especially in response to questions he deemed unnecessary.  It’s understandable if fans were turned off by that.  It personally never bothered me, and I doubt it would have made much impact if he had been good on the field.  For what it’s worth, he was never considered or rumored to be a bad teammate.  Watching him in the dugout, he seemed like a good guy who was liked by his teammates.  That’s hardly conclusive data, but it’s something that runs extremely contrary to the popular narrative.  He also signed with the Mariners for virtually nothing after his first two years, out of loyalty for the way they stood by him during his first two injury-plagued years. Dealing with the media was not his strong suit, but he appeared to be far from a bad guy or a clubhouse cancer.

The reputation for not lasting deep in games is a little more difficult to wade through.  From what I remember, the reputation came from an inability to get through seven innings early in his Mariners career, combined with some comments he made saying that he was essentially a 100-pitch pitcher.  I’m going off memory here, so I apologize if I’m off slightly.  In my memory, the comments were more nuanced than simply saying he could only throw 100 pitches per start.  I remember him saying that he was at his best for 100 pitches, not that he would only throw 100.

Incidentally, this is true for nearly every pitcher in the history of baseball. Hardly anyone is especially good after 90-100 pitches.  A good rule of thumb is that once a pitcher reaches that range or faces the line-up for a fourth time that day, it’s probably time to think about getting him out of there.  There are exceptions, of course, but Bedard was just saying what is universally true. Incidentally, other than a couple of starts where he left early for injury or ineffectiveness, Bedard threw 6-8 innings in most starts that first year. He threw about the same innings as anyone else.

What Bedard did was put his limitations into words, and that’s not something we want out of our athletes.  However unspoken or unrecognized, there’s a level of hero worship with our favorite athletes.  We expect them to do what we can’t, and for good reason. Professional and college athletes can do ridiculous things. The worst player at any point in any of the major sports leagues is one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the earth. I was a moderately decent high school baseball player, but I would have no more luck pitching or hitting against a major leaguer than would my two-year-old nephew. Their talent is so far above anything we can imagine, we expect consistent greatness and lose touch with the limits of their ability.

We want our athletes to go to places we can’t reach. We don’t want to see them ever give up. We know that playing through an injury might actually hurt the team, but we still want to see them out there until their bodies actually prevent them from playing. We don’t want to see a pitcher leave the game until he’s failed.  There’s something noble in giving until there’s nothing left, in leaving only when failure of the body commands it.  It may not be smart, but it resonates with those of us who would have given up days ago.

Erik Bedard knew his limitations, and in many ways he was likely smarter for recognizing and dealing with them.  His problem, as it often was for Bedard, was in letting the rest of us in on the secret.  Communication was never his strong suit.  Pitching was, but since his body never let him do that, a promising career ended as nothing but disappointment.


A few Mariners notes after the jump!

  • The team is right about where expected, hovering around .500. The rotation and line-up are both depending heavily on a few guys, which can’t last.  Offensively, a lot of the young guys look better and are hitting the ball hard, but with few results.  That should even out, but with so many young players still, there’s always the chance that they’ll adjust downward and never be the players we’re hoping for.
  • After having to use the bullpen extensively last night, the Mariners switched Lucas Luetge for Bobby LaFromboise. LaFromboise is also a lefty reliever who should eventually be solid if unspectacular.  I would guess this is a short time thing in case they need someone to go a lot of innings tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if LaFromboise would do just as well as Luetge over the course of the year.  I had thought they might go for a true long-man for the pen, but the options were pretty limited on the 40-man roster.
  • Casper Wells was claimed by Toronto off of waivers today, so… goodbye Casper!
  • Brandon Maurer is obviously a problem right now.  Two starts does not mean the end of his career or anything, but it might mean the end of his time in the majors for now.  He looks nervous and overwhelmed with no clear idea how to get major leaguers out.  That could change quickly and any time, or it might not.  It’s impossible to know until it happens.  I’m guessing he’ll get another start or two, mainly because the options behind him aren’t quite there.  Danny Hultzen is throwing well in Tacoma, and in another week or two Jeremy Bonderman should have his arm strength built up enough to be in Seattle if needed.  Neither of those options is enough of a sure upgrade to justify an immediate replacement, though.  The best immediate upgrade, Erasmo Ramirez, is on the disabled list and will need some time in Tacoma before he’s ready for Seattle. I’m guessing mid-May at the earliest before he’ll see Seattle.  It could be rough in the rotation for a bit, but if Maurer and/or Beavan can hold it together for a month or two, there should be a lot of good options once June hits.
  • If you live near Tacoma, you should go see the Rainiers, and soon.  They are loaded with talent, and the Mariners top prospect, catcher Mike Zunino, is hitting the cover off the ball. He has four homers in 5 games and his OPS is closer to 2.000 than 1.000.  1.000 would be the best season by a Mariner in a long time, if you need a frame of reference.  He could be in Seattle by July.  I’m notoriously bad about jinxing my favorite teams so I’m hesitant to say this, but we are looking at the first franchise player the Mariners have had on offense in a long time.  He can’t get here soon enough.



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