Jeremy Bonderman And The Harsh Reality
Jeremy Bonderman is a miracle. Not so much in the classic sense, not so much according to the definition of the term, but Jeremy Bonderman slipped off the major-league radar, and then he re-emerged. Pitchers aren’t supposed to do what Jeremy Bonderman did. Pitchers aren’t supposed to get hurt and disappear, then start throwing again and make it all the way back to the bigs out of effective retirement. And to do it with the local team was only a plus. Bonderman had some of his thunder stolen by Scott Kazmir, who’s another improbable story, but Bonderman was supposed to remain a part of baseball history, not a part of baseball’s present.
Now the Mariners have designated Bonderman for assignment, clearing room for Lucas Luetge and, probably, later, Erasmo Ramirez. Bonderman’s comeback is probably finished, and the Mariners had been making noise about how Ramirez wasn’t far off. Again healthy, Ramirez has earned a promotion. Bonderman earned a dismissal, posting some of the worst numbers in the league. Though his fastball got back into the 90s, Bonderman exits with baseball’s second-lowest strikeout rate, and as baseball’s only pitcher with more walks than whiffs. What Bonderman did was pitch again, in the majors. What he didn’t do was pitch consistently, reliably well. Fans will welcome Ramirez back, as he’s thought to be a part of both the present and the future. With every additional talented young player, this team becomes more and more interesting.
Bonderman, objectively, was one of baseball’s best stories, considering the long odds he faced. Good stories tend to be all about underdogs, about players emerging from unusual circumstances, and Bonderman hadn’t pitched since 2010. I’d like to say that I was all about giving Bonderman an extended chance. But I know I didn’t want him in the rotation, and I know I’m not disappointed by this latest news. Everyone loves an underdog, but in sports, that isn’t enough in and of itself.
Bonderman’s gone, and before him, Alex Liddi was shipped away. Liddi is the game’s first Italian, by nature and nurture. Tom Wilhelmsen left the game to travel and tend bar and get himself high, and it looks like now he might be re-claiming his familiar closing role after a period of struggles. Steve Delabar was a teacher in high school before he was a pitcher for the Mariners, which came before he was a pitcher for the Blue Jays. Incredible stories, all of theirs. But what we all feel more than the stories is the performance, and when the performances haven’t been good, the patience has worn thin. Revealed is a simple and binary truth.
Players are either for the team, or against it. Not literally, but players are either helping or hurting. And so follows the mass opinion. We all want to believe we’re noble, magnanimous, deep in character, but for at least most of us, sports are easy. They couldn’t be simpler. We like teams, and we like players who help those teams. We have considerably less patience for players who just get in the way. It matters little where those players might have come from.
Oh, people eat stories up. If there’s some player with a great story on another team, he’s easy to root for from afar. If there’s someone on the current team with an interesting background, and if he’s good, people will happily spread that story around, they’ll tell their friends all about it. We love to believe good players are more than just good players, and so we look for additional reasons to like them, and like them more. But they have to be good players first. That’s when it matters how they are what they are.
Think of a story like fresh maple syrup. Most people love syrup, but they wouldn’t eat it out of the jar. It’s a topping, it’s supplementary, and it works best on something that’s already good. Syrup can’t save a lousy brunch. Syrup can’t save a burnt pancake. It’ll make the pancake taste a little bit better, but no one’s going to want to have more of the pancake. Syrup alone won’t determine how much you care for a meal.
What’s best for the team is what’s best for us. What’s best for the team is winning, and as much as we want to think of ourselves as higher thinkers, winning’s the priority, winning over all else. With a winning team, you find more things to like about it. With a losing team, maybe there are the occasional bright spots, but what you want most is for the team to stop losing. I know I feel like the wrong level of human for not giving Jeremy Bonderman more support, given his background, but I don’t root for the Mariners because this guy escaped from the streets, or because this guy lost a sibling to illness. I root for them because I want them to win, and that makes me feel absurdly simple, but fandom is simple, as complicated as it is.
A compelling story is great, but its resonance is directly proportional to the quality of the player it’s attached to. This is the way in which most fans operate, and it’s one of those things that’s difficult to reflect on, because it demonstrates the silliness of the whole entire exercise. In theory we want sports to be about people, but we really want sports to be about winning, and then we’ll take the people we’re given and make the best of the assortment.
Jeremy Bonderman was a baseball miracle, and now that he’s gone, the Mariners should be a better team. And that Erasmo Ramirez? Rare player from Nicaragua, he is.