Tomo Ohka appeared in 202 games over 10 years, and I can’t remember a single one. Can’t remember any of the games, either. It’s not that he was bad. He was a solid starter for a large part of the decade. But he was a room temperature glass of milk, nourishing and necessary, flavorless and boring. His career strikeout rate was 5.0 per nine innings, which is perfect. Not nearly enough to excite you; not quite low enough to make him a fun anomaly.
This is what I remember him for, mostly:
The most interesting, exciting baseball thing that Ohka has ever done? We’re living it. He’s back. After not appearing in affiliated ball in the United States or Japan since 2011, after not appearing in a level higher than an American independent league since 2014, the soon-to-be 41-year-old got a minor-league deal from the Baltimore Orioles after spending years reinventing himself as a knuckleballer.
There are at least five great parts to his story in that one sentence, and I’m rooting for Ohka harder than I’ve rooted for a pitcher since ... Rich Hill. Or Bartolo Colon. Or Scott Kazmir. Or Ryan Vogelsong. See, this is my catnip. I love pitchers who emerge from a mountain bunker with a long, long beard after several years, squinting at the sun and ready to take the world on again.
Now that Ohka is giving us another familiar name trying to beat the odds, it’s time to get together and select a pitcher from the past who would tickle us the most if he were to announce a comeback today. You are a warlock with a bag filled with Rich Hill dust, and you have to choose a pitcher.
There’s just one sprinkle left, though.
So you have to choose wisely.
- The pitcher has to be younger than 45 now, and preferably younger than 40, unless you have some sort of reason to believe he’s ageless.
- Stars are fun and all, but it’s even more fun to dig deep in those memory pouches and come up with someone random. Like Rich Hill or Tomo Ohka.
- There’s a balance between “just retired” and “has owned a sporting goods store for eight years now.” Ohka almost broke it, but he was pitching in a Japanese independent league for a while, so not quite. It’s a fine line, and I trust you can find it yourself.
Some of my contenders:
He’s one year older than Rich Hill. I know I suggested you shouldn’t go for stars, but this is my only exception. Webb was an ace who either won the Cy Young or was a runner up for three straight seasons. Then he went out for an Opening Day start the next year and never came back.
It’s just about the saddest danged injury story of the last 50 years, and I feel the universe owes him an apology. You punk kids can’t appreciate a sinker until you’ve seen video of Webb’s best.
It’s a sinker that’s so unnatural, it snuck up on him one winter and devoured his shoulder. He deserved better. We deserved better.
Webb tried to make a comeback as recently as 2012, and he still looks like he’s shoplifting frozen turkeys in his calves, but after watching this, it’s clear that he isn’t coming back.
I’m including him because we should always remember how much fun Brandon Webb used to be.
Also, Mark Prior, Dontrelle Willis, or Johan Santana could go in this spot, too. They’re all from the same genre.
[crosses fingers so damned hard]
Don’t remember much about him, either. He was a superlative stuff/middling results guy, I think. Threw hard. Born in the same year as Vogelsong, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, and Javier Lopez, so it’s not outlandish to think he could come back. He last appeared in the majors in 2009, but that’s what training montages are for.
I would also appreciate the confusion. Get him and the other Adam Eaton on a team with both Chris Youngs, and drink the fresh-brewed chaos. The broadcasters would quit or quietly melt into their own tortured minds.
Eaton is also included in this article as a reminder that Rich Hill was roughly as random of a comeback story. There were more minor-league stops and independent league hiccups with Hill, but Eaton had a much more extensive major-league career.
Maybe the perfect analog for Hill? His problem wasn’t that he couldn’t pitch. It’s that he couldn’t stay healthy.
Baker is still just 35, and he used to be fantastic. In 2011, he walked 32 and struck out 123 in 134 innings. His command was always on point, and he had just enough offspeed stuff to miss a bunch of bats. Like Hill, he hasn’t given up just yet, last pitching in the majors in 2015 (for the Dodgers), so he can’t be too out of shape.
[cut to Baker doing chin-ups in front of a newspaper that reads Rich Hill Signs 3-Year Contract and is taped to a wooden beam in a log cabin]
That’s the spirit. We’re five years removed from his last good season, but we were eight removed from the last good season from Hill.
Maybe if Baker learns 37 different curveballs and how to throw them wherever he wants ...
I thought Baker would be the winner, but no. We have to go back to the Diamondback well and get a pailful of funk. Baseball is better with weirdos, batters who slap at the ball with swinging bunts, knuckleballers, and Pat Venditte. But we don’t have nearly enough side-armers.
Brad Ziegler is a fine representative, but I’m greedy. I want more.
That is a fun baseball pitch, and Kim has also been active recently. He pitched for the Kia Tigers in 2015, his fourth straight season in the KBO. He, uh, wasn’t good in any of them, finishing his last season with a 6.98 ERA in 49 innings, but let’s not forget Scott Kazmir’s 5.34 ERA for the Sugar Land Skeeters two seasons before his comeback.
Kim is about to turn 38, which means he’s in his prime for a funkballer. His problems began when he attempted to convert to a starting pitcher back in 2005, so we’ll keep him in the bullpen for now.
MARLINS: Two years, $16 million. We can’t include a no-trade clause.
Uh, well, he’s not really making a comeback, see, this is just a silly Friday article filled with hypoth...
MARLINS: Two years, $18 million. We still can’t include a no-trade clause.
Sold. And I’ll take my five percent. Thank you.
And we’re probably done here. It’s a fun game, though. Here’s a list to help you out. Kris Benson! Carlos Marmol! Noah Lowry! Wade Miller! And when you’re done picking out your comeback story, reflect on how weird Rich Hill is again.
Maybe we’ll get something similar with Tomo Ohka. He’ll be 41. He hasn’t pitched in the states in years. And he throws a knuckleball now. Let’s hold hands and hope that baseball is getting ready for something silly.