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:
- He was the object of a now horrific trade, where the Mariners gave up Adam Jones and more for Bedard before the 2008 season.
- He was constantly injured, losing large chunks of every season he played in Seattle.
- His dealings with the media were short and brusque, often given in one word answers. He often came across as a smug, rude jerk.
- 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! Continue reading