MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has a wonderful piece up in which he details Mark Mulder’s attempt to make a comeback in 2014 after nearly six years since he last pitched in the Majors. The whole story borders on too improbable to believe, but perhaps the most interesting part of the story is how the comeback attempt was conceived:
Mulder calls his decision to pitch again “a flat-out fluke.” Some may call it divine intervention.
It happened on a random October night in the living room of his Phoenix home, when Mulder watched Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez pitch, acted out what it would feel like to separate his hands much higher upon his delivery, and came away intrigued.
A couple nights later, he grabbed a rubber baseball, went out to his backyard, handed his wife a cell phone and had her record footage of him repeatedly throwing pitches against the wall.
“And I was amazed that my arm was working the right way,” Mulder said. “I never gave it a thought of coming back before then — furthest thing from my mind, to be honest with you.”
If Mulder makes the Angels’ 25-man roster out of spring training, he will earn $1 million and could earn as much as $6 million in incentives. It appeared that his start on July 9, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park would be the final start of the lefty’s career. After striking out Jimmy Rollins on eight pitches, he issued back-to-back four-pitch walks to Shane Victorino and Chase Utley before walking off the field.
Since then, he hasn’t appeared in the Minors or in an independent league. Instead, he tried his hand at professional golf and became an analyst for ESPN, content to move on from his playing career. Few would have believed Mulder would attempt to reinvent himself for a comeback at the age of 36 in 2014.
Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.
He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team — in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”
Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.
Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.
Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.