Why you care about Jeremy Bonderman

Otto Greule Jr

The former Tigers pitcher is mulling an unlikely comeback, but here are some reasons to root for him.

I know of two good ways to tell if you're a baseball nerd. The first is if on Election Day, when the fate of the free world is at stake, you're writing or reading something about Jeremy Bonderman. So, hi. We should have a secret handshake, possibly one that involves some sort of abacus pantomime.

The second is if you screamed "BUT WHAT ABOUT JEREMY BONDERMAN???" in the theater when you saw the Carlos Pena trade scene in Moneyball, which I certainly didn't, regardless of what my wife claims.

Jeremy Bonderman: baseball-nerd bellwether.

And he's in the news again, believe it or not. Buster Olney reports that Bonderman is making a comeback. Quick, guess how old he is. Bonderman, not Olney. Answer after this quote from the article he wrote. Olney, not Bonderman:

Bonderman bumped into Tigers officials while visiting with (Justin) Verlander, and he left an immediate impression, apparently; there was some discussion about a possible reunion. Bonderman isn't looking for much. "Just a minor league deal, with a major league [spring training] invite," he said.

Bonderman is 30, born in the same year as Jered Weaver and Brian Wilson. And if you're wondering why people were making a big deal when Chris Carpenter showed up at the end of this season, that's probably because the thoracic-outlet surgery that he had isn't something that pitchers always come back from. Bonderman had it and disappeared from the game entirely. He hasn't pitched since 2010, and there's one more wrinkle to this comeback story: Bonderman had Tommy John surgery in April -- that's April 2012 -- so he wouldn't be ready to pitch until the middle of next season, most likely.

And when he was healthy, it's not like Bonderman was a dominant force, like Ben Sheets in his prime:

Year Age ERA IP BB SO ERA+
2003 20 5.56 162.0 58 108 78
2004 21 4.89 184.0 73 168 91
2005 22 4.57 189.0 57 145 93
2006 23 4.08 214.0 64 202 111
2007 24 5.01 174.1 48 145 91
2008 25 4.29 71.1 36 44 104
2009 26 8.71 10.1 8 5 53
2010 27 5.53 171.0 60 112 76
8 Yrs 4.89 1176.0 404 929 90


His last good season was in 2006. The last lineup he faced that year had Emil Brown hitting cleanup for the Royals. There's no reason to pay attention to this comeback story. If he comes back, he can be another Ryan Vogelsong, and we're all pulling for that, but the odds are very much against it.

But here's why we pay attention to this story: Because there's always a could-have-been-a-contender story with every organization, in just about every year. There's always that one young pitcher whose arm or shoulder couldn't hold up to the rigors of major-league pitching, but who should have, dammit. Mine is Noah Lowry. I'll never forget this game from Lowry. My favorite pitch might be the changeup, and that game was changeup pornography. It moved and darted and dropped, and he had great command of it. Lowry was 23 at the time, and he threw 204 solid innings the next year. He was going to be a pillar of the Giants' rotation for years.

Then his body broke down. The same thing that happened to Bonderman, actually -- he had a rib removed to help with thoracic-outlet syndrome, and he never showed up again. The young pitcher for your favorite team who never came back probably had something different, not that it matters. I remember Padres fans agog with Dennis Tankersley, Rays fans entranced with Scott Kazmir, and Yankees fans enamored of Chien-Ming Wang. Every team has a young pitcher who almost made it, or who did make it, but who didn't make it for long enough.

Bonderman is news because you root for him. You root for him because injuries are the worst part of baseball. Or, more specifically, you root for him because you can't punch injuries in the face. One of these days we'll either a) have nanobots quietly repairing torn labrums over a week's time, or b) we won't have time to worry about baseball because the ash cloud from the meteor is blocking out the sun. It's kind of a binary, either/or proposition. But until then, we'll have injuries, and the only positive thing that comes out of them is the occasional comeback story.

They're few and far between. But they can happen. Sometimes.

Godspeed, Jeremy Bonderman. And come back, Brandon Webb? This applies to all of the pitchers who left the league before their time. If Bonderman can succeed, why not everyone else?

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