The Man Who Wasn’t There

Carson Cistulli · July 8, 2010 at 1:10 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

26 Responses to “The Man Who Wasn’t There”

  1. SonOfZavaras on July 8th, 2010 2:52 am

    There are times when I think Erik Bedard to be neck-and-neck with Pokey Reese as “The Man Just Not Meant To Placate Mariner Fans”.

    I admit to wondering if that deluxe curveball of his will ever regain the depth and break that it had before. The version a healthy Bedard could throw? It was one of the dozen best I’d ever seen in 20+ years of being a fan and following major league baseball.

    I’m a Bedard fan, but if he has to shut it down for longer than just past the All-Star break, he’s just gotta be thinking “What is it with me and this team?!”

  2. okinawadave on July 8th, 2010 3:05 am

    Really enjoy your writing, Carson. And you finally got me to look up “eponymous”.

  3. Chris_From_Bothell on July 8th, 2010 8:02 am

    Well written, and good points all around.

    I’ve come around on Bedard just having a very unfortunate injury history, and not being a matter of effort, character issues, etc. on Bedard’s part. He’s trying. He’s a professional. The talent is obviously there, when he’s on. It must be immensely frustrating, and a daily test of his patience and professionalism, to be a competitor who can’t comfortably do the biggest thing his life (his professional life, anyway) revolves around.

    But like Jack Wilson, and a host of other Mariners who’ve come and gone over the years – just because he’s good on paper when he’s healthy doesn’t mean he’s useful, or worth the expense and risk, after a certain point. His undisputable talent does need to be heavily modified, if outright negated, by his injury history and therefore future injury risk. Even though all signs looked promising early in the year, and even as recently as a couple weeks ago, this outcome was just too likely.

    I’d like to think that Bedard and Wilson for injury history, and Bradley, Kotchman, Byrnes and others as reclamation projections, are object lessons to this organization. There’s only so much risk overall that is acceptable when constructing a roster. The price was right; the upside was definitely there; however, a roster shouldn’t have too many players like this on it.

    The Ms need to limit the number of reclamation projects and injury risk sorts of pickups overall in the future. Even if the talent and potential are there, even if the cost is really low, players like this have to be 25th man on the roster, and not #s 20, 21, etc. The pocketbook needs to be open for a bit longer for healthier quality players, before rounding out the roster with whatever secondhand bargains you can find.

    A step forward would be if the 2011 roster has only one or two players like Bedard or Bradley on it, and not 5 or 6. If you’re going to take risks, take them on (healthy, teachable, cheap) youth, not on more Bedards.

  4. Wallingfjord on July 8th, 2010 8:11 am

    It must be immensely frustrating, and a daily test of his patience and professionalism, to be a competitor who can’t comfortably do the biggest thing his life (his professional life, anyway) revolves around.

    Luckily, he likely remains quite composed in the face of this daily test when cashing his paychecks.

  5. PackBob on July 8th, 2010 8:17 am

    But, we have our mainstream sports writers to help us out.

    Early on, Seattle sports writers showed off their spectacular lack of imagination by leading off every story with some variation of “Bedard doesn’t like to talk to reporters.” Hmm, just exactly what does that have to do with anything other than sports writers?

    The next story line was “Bedard has no heart.” Jeez, these stories just write themselves.

    The next story line was “I apologize, except, not really.” and, “There’s no way in hell I’d ever apologize to anyone for anything, much less a non-talking, no-heart moron that gets paid more than I do for doing nothing.”

    And now we are left with the truly weird expectation that Bedard should be expected to be pitching already, because he was pronounced ahead of schedule at different times. Granted, there were a few stories that cautioned against this wind, but many of them also fanned the flame of hope for 3 aces in the rotation, Mariners management not excluded.

    Coming back from the type of injury he had, if Bedard pitches at all this year, and especially if he pitches anywhere near to what he once could do, that would be a major success story.

  6. PBS on July 8th, 2010 8:47 am

    what a great analogy…

    Can I try a few?

    The Mariners road record reminds me of the movie “The Road”… ya know cause there’s this road, and a bunch of bad things happen on it.

    Milton Bradley reminds me of “The Fugitive” because he always has to move around a lot, and nobody understands him.

    Jack Wilson reminds me of “The 6 Million Dollar Man”, because he makes $5M, which is almost $6M. And because we’re always having to put him back together, hopefully stronger than before.

    OK, last one. Felix and Cliff remind me of “Twilight” because I used to think I would always be on Team Felix, but now after seeing Cliff pitch, I think I might be on Team Cliff, and I just can’t make up my mind. ;)

  7. JerBear on July 8th, 2010 9:06 am

    That’s a good comp, Carson. Nice Work.

    I’ve never seen a Coen Brothers film I didn’t like, but I think The Man Who Wasn’t There is definitely an over-looked and under-appreciated flick. Plus it has a young Scarlett Johansson, which… well you can never go wrong there.

  8. Liam on July 8th, 2010 9:06 am

    Are we sure this is about Erik Bedard and not Carson’s absent father?

  9. MrZDevotee on July 8th, 2010 9:42 am

    I’m still holding out for it being that Bedard’s “injury” is really just keeping him on hold in case we need someone to start tomorrow’s game against the Yankees (in absense of Cliff Lee)…

    Not anything more than, (Z & Wak converstation) “Erik’s got a little fatigue in his shoulder, let’s sit him in case we need to start someone on Friday… And keep Hyphen on his regular day against someone he has a better chance to beat (if he can throw a complete game)… and if Lee stays, than Bedard doesn’t need to start until after the AS break…”

    I think it made more sense to keep Hyphen on his schedule, against KC, and have Bedard’s first start come against the Evil Empire (or later), than move two different pitchers around and start Hyphen against a stiffer opponent after a missed start.

    But then again, I’m equally able to be convinced that Bedard will never pitch another inning in the Majors for the Mariners.

    The optimist in me hopes it’s a toss up, a 50/50 chance, between those two outcomes.

  10. MrZDevotee on July 8th, 2010 9:44 am

    Liam-
    I like that… And isn’t there a movie about to come out, starring Cliff Lee, where he talks all hyperactive and says:

    (holding his hand down low)
    “This is your chances of winning without me…
    (holds his hand way up high)
    “And with me…”
    (back low)
    “Without me…”
    (back up high)
    “With me…”

    “Without me… With me… Without me… With me… Got it?”

    (And if I’m not mistaken, I think Lee is about to make as much money per season, as Tom Cruise makes per movie)

  11. bat guano on July 8th, 2010 10:00 am

    So if Bavasi traded our first born males to Baltimore, does that make Peter Angelos Rumpelstiltskin?

  12. henryv on July 8th, 2010 10:04 am

    Crash Davis: “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

    Crash Davis: “Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.”

  13. joser on July 8th, 2010 10:11 am

    And you finally got me to look up “eponymous”.

    It’s the one REM album you should own if you’re only going to own one.

  14. MrZDevotee on July 8th, 2010 10:20 am

    Joser-
    And a good companion to Eponymous is The Baseball Project (band name)…

    Came about when some mutual friends were talking about their love of baseball during REM’s induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

    It’s Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughney (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus Five), Linda Pittman, and Steve Wynn…

    Playing all songs about baseball. They’ve got two releases so far.

    A couple of songs I particularly appreciate…

    Ted Fucking Williams
    &
    The Yankee Flipper

    Everyone should check ‘em out. Pretty fun stuff.

  15. MrZDevotee on July 8th, 2010 10:21 am

    The Baseball Project

    Classic lines in some of the tunes like:

    “But the new year brings high hopes… The Padres might be surprised…” off the song “All Future, No Past”…

  16. Carson Cistulli on July 8th, 2010 10:28 am

    @MrZDevotee They appear to have employed the same graphic designer as Tango et al did for The Book!

  17. rcc on July 8th, 2010 10:41 am

    Great post Dave. Including a reference to a Coen Brothers movie….priceless. To think that hacks like Steve Kelly and Jim Moore get paid to write drivel…neither guy could carry your laptop.

  18. Chris_From_Bothell on July 8th, 2010 11:03 am

    rcc – Wasn’t written by Dave. All (well-deserved) praise goes to Carson, on this one.

  19. Chris_From_Bothell on July 8th, 2010 11:08 am

    So if Bedard does start in Lee’s spot on Friday, would more people than usual go out to see him?

    And if Lee isn’t traded by end of week and he makes his next start, would people go out to that?

    I know it’s hard to get a good read on it because the nice weather on a Friday night draws larger crowds, and the Yankees in town draws larger crowds.

    I might tolerate the Yankee Stadium NorthWest effect in order to see Lee’s last home start as a Mariner (assuming I didn’t already see it last time he was in town…) but I don’t know as I’d put up with the stands full of Yankee fans to watch 5 innings or less of Bedard.

  20. spankystout on July 8th, 2010 11:33 am

    Erik Bedard is coming back from a torn labrum! I injured my left shoulder a couple years back and went to a Virginia Mason shoulder specialist. He told me (not exaggerating) “if I wasn’t a pitcher throwing 95mph” I would just have to “learn to deal with it.” Why such terrible advice? Because I injured my labrum, and shoulders are shaky joints once injured. My point being: Bedard is coming back from a very serious injury with no guarantee it is ever going to hold up enough to pitch. ACL & MCL, microfracture knee, and Tommy John injuries used to be major, if not career ending. Maybe in the near future labrum surgery will progress, until then his career is in jeopardy, and has been since the injury.
    Great piece Carson……. Much better than that lame “apology.”

  21. tylerv on July 8th, 2010 11:55 am

    so now there is charles mudede pseudo intellectualizing on ussm? totally vapid post.

  22. henryv on July 8th, 2010 12:14 pm

    Using the word “vapid” in a post without an capitilization is fantastically ironic.

    I mean, that’s an 11 out of 10, if not more.

  23. fermorules on July 8th, 2010 5:19 pm

    I’ve re-read virtually everything written about Erik Bedard on USS Mariner the last 29 months. And if one didn’t know better, you’d get the impression Erik Bedard was just a ballplayer who quietly went about his business, like an Edgar Martinez or Alvin Davis. That’s the theme over and over again, Erik Bedard is just a quiet, shy guy who pleasantly goes about his business at the ballpark.

    I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it. Putting Bedard’s physical woes aside, he went out of his way to make life tough on himself by acting arrogant and uncooperative. Yes, that’s his prerogative, but if he had shown just a tiny bit of willingness to meet people halfway, things would have been much easier for Bedard in Seattle.

  24. spankystout on July 8th, 2010 6:04 pm

    Fermorules

    Meet us halfway on what? If he can’t throw, he can’t play and can’t change peoples minds. It is not like Bedard was this outspoken leader, pie-in-the-face teammate in Baltimore and then suddenly became introverted under the Seattle lights. Go read all his Baltimore interviews, he is the same. Maybe he came out of games at 100pitches because his shoulder was falling apart? Its not Eriks fault Bavasi was desperate enough to sell the farm for him. Bedards lingering issues are more frustrating than normal because of how he was acquired. If the M’s signed him to a free agent deal or a normal trade, he would never come under such scrutiny.

  25. scott19 on July 8th, 2010 6:23 pm

    Felix and Cliff remind me of “Twilight” because I used to think I would always be on Team Felix, but now after seeing Cliff pitch, I think I might be on Team Cliff, and I just can’t make up my mind.

    Speaking of all things “Twilight,” the team this year reminds me a bit of my favorite episode of the original Twilight Zone named “The Mighty Casey” — in which a clutching-at-straws manager of a horrible last-place major league team (played by Jack Warden) enlists the services of a left-handed rookie fireballer named “Casey.”

    The good news is…”Casey” wins games and instantly becomes a fan favorite…

    The bad news is…Predictably, the team ends up losing his services, anyway — after it’s discovered that “Casey” is actually a sentient android who winds up getting suspended by the league for not being “human.” :o

  26. SonOfZavaras on July 9th, 2010 2:24 am

    And you finally got me to look up “eponymous”.

    It’s the one REM album you should own if you’re only going to own one.

    I own and enjoy that one a lot, but most respectfully disagree- I regard “Automatic For The People” as R.E.M.’s finest hour.

    And this is out of the ten albums I have of theirs!

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