Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come Forth, Lazarus

Admit it. We are all suckers for redemption stories. There have been several this season and two just this week. On Sunday, Jerome Williams got his first win since 2005 and on Wednesday, Sean Burroughs rose from the dead and hit his first home run since 2005. Six years is an awful long time in baseball years and for both players to make those accomplishments after so long a period of time was beautiful to see. Both players have had long roads against heavy odds. But here they are in the majors and on teams fighting for division titles. How cool is that?

Since it happened earlier, let's talk first about Jerome Williams. Williams was once a first round draft pick and was the 39th pick overall in the 1999 draft for the San Francisco Giants. There is a bit of an unsolved mystery in his page. Their pages always list the high school the player attended and if any, the college. Williams has his high school listed and is also listed as attending Southeastern Louisiana University. But the site goes on to list Williams playing in the minors in the Giants' system in 1999 as a 17 year old. How does that all work? Either there is a possibility that something is amiss with his listed age or something there.

And that mystery kind of sums up Williams' professional history. It reads like a road map. After landing in Baseball America's top 50 prospects in 2001, 2002 and 2003, the pitcher got a call up from the Giants in the 2003 season and made 21 starts for that team. To be honest, this writer doesn't remember him at all. And that's odd because in 2003, the Giants were under intense media focus with Barry Bonds. Williams did pitch well that season and finished at 7-5 with an ERA of 3.30. He made 22 more starts with the Giants in 2004 and went 10-7. Not a bad start to the young man's career, right? But there were signs that something wasn't quite right. His ERA, WHIP, HR/9 all went up while his K/9 went down.

Jerome Williams' luck ran out in 2005 and he started 0-2 for the Giants and they traded him to the Cubs with David Aardsma for for LaTroy Hawkins and cash. Williams pitched fairly well for the Cubs in 2005 and went 6-8 with them with a 3.91 ERA. But his K/9 was down to 5.0. His diminished strikeout totals lead this author to believe that Williams wasn't right at the time but as happens many times, kept pitching. He started badly for the Cubs in 2006 but then pitched a brilliant game against the Mets. But in that game, he sprained an ankle and went on the disabled list. When he returned, he got cuffed around and was diagnosed with a rotator cuff problem. When he did pitch that season, it was in the minor leagues in the Cubs' system.

Here is a timeline for Williams' wanderings after that season:

  • 2006 - Cubs released him. Claimed by the A's. Non-tendered. Free agent.
  • 2007 - Signed by the Nationals. Pitched mostly in the minors but made six MLB starts. Went 0-5 with an era over seven. Released August 5. August 8, signed a minor league contract with the Twins.
  • 2008 - Signed a contract with an independent minor league team in April. Contract purchased by the Dodgers in June. Signed by the A's in December. Played winter ball in Puerto Rico.
  • 2009 - Pitched in the minors for the A's Played winter ball in Puerto Rico.
  • 2010 - Pitched for Uni-President Lions in Taiwan.
  • 2011 - Signed a minor league contract with the Angels in June. Pitched in the minors until his contract was purchased by the Angels.

And the rest is history. That's quite a story!

Sean Burroughs is another story worth telling. His father is Jeff Burroughs who was a slugger in the majors for sixteen seasons. Jeff compiled 240 homers in his career and finished with a 121 career OPS+. He also won an MVP award for his play for the Rangers in 1974. In all honesty, that's an award he should not have won as several players actually had better seasons. But anyway, the father was a good ball player.

Jeff Burroughs again made the spotlight when he coached the Long Beach, California Little League team to championships in 1992 and 1993. His star pitcher was none other than Sean Burroughs. This author can remember those championships and watched the young Burroughs pitch. He was amazing. Sean Burroughs even appeared on the David Letterman Show. 

Not surprisingly, Sean Burroughs was drafted by the San Diego Padres as the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 1998 June amateur draft. For three years running, from 2000 to 2002, Burroughs was among Baseball America's top ten prospects in the country. The Padres called him up in 2002 and in 63 games, batted .271 with a .317 OBP but with no power. 

The latter was Burroughs' problem with Padres fans. Unlike his father, Sean Burroughs was never a power hitter. His .445 slugging percentage in the minors was mostly due to other extra base hits besides homers. When a fan base has high expectations for a first round draft pick, they expect power, especially in a third baseman. But that wasn't Sean Burroughs' game plus he played half his games in the cavernous park in San Diego.

Burroughs hit .286 and .298 in full time duty for the Padres in 2003 and 2004. But his OPS was only .755 and .713 in those two seasons. To Padres, his nickname became, "The Bachelor" because all he hit were singles. 2005 saw him lose playing time and in 93 games, only hit .250 with an OPS of .618. The Padres traded him to the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays after that season for Dewon Brazelton, a pitcher who ended up with an 8-25 record in MLB and is now out of baseball. In fairness to Burroughs, the Tampa team didn't give Burroughs much of a shot in 2006. They only gave him eight games and 25 plate appearances. He only got four hits and they dispatched him. He was designated for assignment in August of 2006.

Burroughs allegedly had a substance abuse problem following his Devil Rays days and supposedly was living in Las Vegas and eating out of garbage cans. Burroughs claims to have been clean since 2010 and began his comeback after years out of baseball. The Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league contract in November of 2010 and he began this season in Reno. He was called up to the Diamondbacks on May 19, but after a month, the Diamondbacks designated him for assignment. After he passed through waivers, he went back to Reno. All told in Reno, Burroughs hit .412 in 34 games with a .450 OBP. He even hit two homers there.

The Diamondbacks had enough of Melvin Mora and released him and called Burroughs back up on July 1 and has played for them since. But then last night, he hit a two-run homer accounting for the only runs of the game for the Diamondbacks. Those two runs, along with the pitching of Ian Kennedy, allowed the Diamondbacks to end a six game losing streak and keep their position in first place in the NL West. It was an amazing moment for a guy who hadn't hit a major league homer in six seasons. And for the homer to win a game for a team fighting to win a division, it couldn't have been sweeter.

Yes, we are suckers for redemption stories. This season of Ryan Vogelsong and others have made it a year rich with such stories. Jerome Williams and Sean Burroughs made it all the sweeter as they too added their own stories. Risen from the dead, Williams and Burroughs made this writer smile. Good for them...and us.

No comments: