I’ve watched baseball through most all of my life. I was just wide-eyed enough in 1990 to dance around the living room like an idiot when Carney Lansford popped out to Todd Benzinger, a storm of a celebration that abated instantly the horror I’d felt earlier that day when Eric Davis lacerated his kidney.
If ever there was a lull in my following of the game, it came during my college years, when games were no longer so easy to pick up on TV down in Nashville, and other existential questions such as “is 17 beers too many” and “can you ski jump off the roof of the garage and clear the creek” occupied a greater cavity of my brain. Of course, that the Cincinnati Reds had hit the early-aughts lull after the disappointing end to the 1999 season certainly contributed to that temporary abandonment, since tuning in to find where Aaron Boone would be traded became the one real story worth following.
Boone ended up with the New York Yankees, of course. The Damn Yankees, the team bursting at the seams with money, the ones fresh off a handful of championships and sporting a star-studded cast that dwarfed anything the Reds could roll out, the injured Ken Griffey, Jr. especially included. If anything during that time, my loathing the Yankees’ excess and success took the reins previously reserved for just enjoying the game itself, certainly a dark period in my ability to enjoy baseball in its best forms.
So, like most of the rest of the baseball world, I took great interest in the 2004 postseason, especially when the Boston Red Sox - lovable losers in their own right to that point - began to emphatically put history on their shoulders and the kibosh on the Yankees in the ALCS, coming back from not just a 3 games to 0 deficit, but doing so after a 19-8 drubbing in Game 3. I was no Red Sox fan, but I salivated at watching every minute of the most potent, prestigious team in the game fall utterly and completely apart on the biggest of stages.
And honestly, there was nothing more memorable from the Yankees’ epic collapse than when Alex Rodriguez, the quarter-billion dollar star and best player in the game, went full-on bush league in the throws of Game 6, slapping a ball out of the glove of a lanky, frisbee-tossing reliever in one of the biggest spots in the whole series.
If hating the Yankees was easy, hating A-Rod was easier, and instead of launching a game tying 2-run homer in that 8th inning, he brought a personality to the bully/underdog drama that was already playing out on the team level. And that instantly meant that Bronson Arroyo, the cornrowed pitcher on the other side of the line, became a player I was damn sure going to pull for.
When he came to the Reds a year later, he did so in similar style, bringing his slight frame and soft-tossing to Cincinnati in exchange for Wily Mo Pena, a player whose build and skill set couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. So even if you’d been stuck in a Cincinnati-based bubble and ignored what Arroyo had done prior to coming to the Reds, your first impression of him was of a seemingly square peg in a round hole, a far cry from fireballing prospect Homer Bailey, the pitcher who was tasked by most of us at the time with kicking the franchise’s rotation woes to the curb.
Arroyo, you’ll recall, became an immediate hit with the Reds, leading all of baseball in starts (35) and innings pitched (240.2) in his first season in Cincinnati, soft-tossing his way to a 6.8 bWAR season, his first (and only) All Star Game appearance, and even to some down ballot MVP votes. More importantly, however, he’d been the first real instance in some time that the Reds had actually found something, actually won a trade, actually brought a player from a big-time market to a team that hadn’t made the postseason in over a decade and shown that maybe, maybe the front office had the club back in the right direction after years of personnel turnover.
* * *
Here we are, some eleven years later, and one day removed from Arroyo being transferred from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL with a shoulder issue that had melted his soft-serve offerings into homer-prone goo. And, as he told FS-Ohio’s Jim Day yesterday, it’s more than likely that we’ve seen Arroyo throw his last pitch already, as the 40-year old’s right arm is now dealing with shoulder issues after a two-plus year struggle through elbow injuries.
If it’s indeed a wrap on his career, it’s at least fitting that he got to give it one last ride with the Reds, the team with whom he had the most personal success. Though he never made it back to as grand of a stage as he patrolled in 2004, he was a stalwart on the mound for a trio of Cincinnati teams that put the punch back in the franchise, being worth 21.5 bWAR during the 1690.1 IP he threw for the Reds from 2006 through 2013.
Though his 71 innings this year have been just about as bad as one could expect, it at least appears he’s set to finish the season with the team, in the dugout, and around the younger players on the roster, which is something to which he’s drawn equal praise throughout his career as the success he’s provided on the mound. Which makes sense, of course, since nothing about his style or career has ever been smash and grab.
On a personal level, it’ll also close the book on the career of the final player still with the Reds from when I first stumbled onto Red Reporter dot com some ten years ago. After Brandon Phillips was traded to Atlanta earlier this year, Bronson’s comeback attempt was the lone tie-in with the clubs that chose Paul Bako over David Ross, that traded Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns for half a shoulder and Bill Bray’s sideburns, and paid Eric Milton to provide souvenirs to all paid ticket holders in outfield seats. And when you think back that far and try to categorize all that’s changed with the Reds, and with baseball, during that time, it’s remarkable in its own right that we’re still talking about that lanky, frisbee-tossing pitcher still to this day.
Congrats on a heckuva career, Bronson, and for making us all feel old today.