Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t thrown a pitch in professional baseball since 2010 and it looked like he was hanging up his cleats for good. He saved his money wisely and seemed ready for a backwoods retirement in obscurity.
But he couldn’t quite close off that part of his life. The former Tiger hurler who spent eight seasons in the major leagues is trying to make a comeback, and yesterday, his hometown Mariners made that comeback a possibility by signing him to a minor league contract. Jeremy Bonderman might not be done after all.
Bonderman went 67-77 with a 4.89 ERA in 207 games with the Tigers from 2003-2010, including some durable and effective seasons from 2003-2007. In 2006, he posted a 3.29 FIP and 6.1 WAR, which were both career bests. He was by no means a great starting pitcher in the mold of Johan Santana or Roy Halladay, but he was the Tigers workhouse until Verlander took over that role.
The whole of his career is respectable and unimpressive. He made it to the big leagues early because the Tigers were terrible and needed pitchers and because he left high school a year early and got his GED so he could enter the draft at 17. He’s also famous for causing Billy Beane to throw a chair through a wall. Yes, that’s a real thing.
But that 2006 campaign was great. Only Johan Santana and Brandon Webb had better FIPs and WARs. Aren’t those a couple of names from a time long since passed?
The potential was always there for Bonderman, who had a solid fastball and an excellent slider. He worked year after year on a changeup, but it never materialized and injuries soon caught up with him. He had four above average major league seasons, one of them great, before his 26th birthday. Most pitches don’t hit their peak until ages 26-30. Bonderman’s came long before.
Bonderman will spend the entire 2013 being 30 years old. He’s missed two years being semi-retired, and he’s still thirty.
If the arm speed is still there and the fastball and slider can still work, he could be a good piece out of the bullpen. I always thought he could thrive in the pen. When the injuries came, I thought they should have moved him to the back end of the ‘pen, but alas, it never happened and he walked away from the game.
Until now. Now, Jeremy Bonderman is making a comeback. I’m not sure if there’s a more romantic quest in sports than the grizzly veteran seeing if he has something left. Think The Rookie or Bull Durham. Think about the awesome Sports Night episode, “The Sword of Orion,” in which part of the story centers around Dan’s desire to watch a washed up starting pitcher start a comeback in an exhibition game with the Baltimore Orioles.
Something about a comeback speaks to us at a very emotional level. The idea of thinking something is over, only to find out that there is still time, is a powerful feeling. So we love when athletes try to conquer father time and mother nature and play beyond when we thought they could.
I’m dying to see Bonderman make this comeback. I’ll be waiting up for West Coast games, just hoping he’ll get the call. I want to see what he has left. The look in a man’s eye when he realizes there’s a little bit left in the tank that no one thought he had, that’s the look we live for.
The idea of a peak is everywhere in life. Some people peak in high school when they’re named prom king. Some in college. Baseball players in their late 20s. Others in their 40s. Whatever and whoever it is, we all peak. But what comes after the peak is still meaningful. There’s still something there. The party isn’t over.
The best days of Bonderman’s career may be over, but there may yet be days ahead. He might have another pitch, another game, another season, or another five seasons. He might have nothing left. But Bonderman was a big piece of some of my earliest baseball memories and I’ll be cheering like crazy for him. I love comebacks and I’m dying to see what Bondo has left, even if it’s just one more pitch.