The Man Who Wasn’t There
As smarter Mariner fans will already know too well, Erik Bedard was unable to make his season debut on Tuesday. This news was probably not shocking to anyone who follows the M’s. After arriving before the 2008 season — in a trade engineered by then-GM Bill Bavasi that sent Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and all of Seattle’s first-born males to Baltimore — Bedard pitched only 160 innings in 2008-09. Though he performed not terribly when healthy (posting a 4.13 xFIP over those 160 or so innings), Bedard’s time in Seattle was, as you are probably all-too aware, something less than ideal.
Signed this offseason by the All-Knowing Jack Z., to a mere base salary of $1.5 million, Bedard seemed poised to make a different impression this year, coming to the team less as The Guy for Whom We Mortgaged the Future, and more just as A Dude Who’s Been Injured Recently. When reports in early April suggested that he was well ahead of his once-projected June return, this version of Bedard seemed that much more likeable. He was only going to be the cherry on the Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez sundae, not the ace upon whom everyone was relying.
The most recent injury setback certainly complicates that quite a bit. But it only adds to the narrative that already exists for Bedard.
For whatever reason — and I’m the sort, for better or worse, to attribute such things to celestial machinations rather than mere chance — for whatever reason, when I heard that Bedard would be unable to make his season debut, the title of a lesser Coen Brothers film immediately came to mind: The Man Who Wasn’t There.
Though not a great film, The Man Who Wasn’t There distinguishes itself for this reason: it features a protagonist — Billy Bob Thornton’s eponymous Man (Ed Crane) — who is more or less silent throughout the duration of the film. If you’ve seen Easy Rider, Peter Fonda’s character (Wyatt) is a decent comp. In both cases, the distinguising characteristic of the main character is that he’s surrounded by talkers — people jibbering and jabbering — but does little talking of his own. The result is that we end up knowing little about the main character except how he’s perceived by, and processed through, other characters.
If I’m correct, this has largely been Bedard’s legacy in Seattle. Bedard has been, for a couple reasons, that Man: first, because he’s often not been there, pitching probably about 40 percent of the innings that Seattle would’ve liked when they originally traded for him; second, because he’s quiet and does little to construct anything like a persona. (Running a Google search for “erik bedard introvert” returns more hits that one could very probably expect for most other ballplayers.) As a result, that persona has been constructed for him, more often than not to his detriment.
Even in a comparatively tame market such as Seattle, Bedard has come under fire just as much for his lack of small talk as for his lackluster performance. Your fearless captain, Dave Cameron, addressed this issue — at least, in part — this past February after columnist Steve Kelley issued the lamest apology imaginable to Mr. Bedard.
“Why is this helpful to talk about?” maybe you’re asking. Well, for me, there’s some pleasure in being able to say “this one thing is like this other thing.” Analogies are helpful, both for the similarities they reveal, and also the differences. In this case, we potentially see a similarity between Bedard and Thornton’s Man: that they’re essentially bit players in their own life stories.
Bedard’s recent setback only adds to this notion: he wasn’t there on Tuesday. One is compelled to wonder if he ever will be.