Enjoy Every Pitch
I cannot tell you how much I loved Warren Zevon, his music, his balls-to-the-walls sensibility. When the troubadour was dying of lung cancer over a decade ago, David Letterman had him on The Late Show and asked how the diagnosis had informed his work—and Zevon said “you’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.”
I’ve been thinking lately about Aroldis Chapman. If that seems like one helluva non-sequitur, hang with me for just a bit. Baseball is over in Cincinnati. Oh, there are games yet to play for sure, but the large lady standing center stage in the viking helmet long ago bellowed out her fateful tune to the Reds. The good folks on the Ohio River have moved on to the local NF of L franchise, the college game and whatever else one does when the tarp is tied to the diamond a final time in preparation for the long, fallow winter ahead.
And yet there is still a week of games left. A final opportunity for those in the Queen City to see something as rare as a supermoon: the Cuban Missile on the mound one more time in a Reds uniform.
All Aroldis Chapman does is terrorize hitters. Reds fans know.
A national audience got a glimpse of this rare comet streaking across Baseball’s sky at the close of the All Star Game this summer when Chapman threw 14 pitches, 12 of which were of the triple-digit variety on the radar gun. Mike Moustakas saw a couple of 103 mph deliveries. According to MLB’s StatCast, his perceived velocity was even higher. Said Mark Teixeira,
“I did my best, fouled off a couple pitches.”
The American League’s best stood at the dugout railing shaking their heads, rapt.
In July, Chapman set a major league record by reaching 500 strikeouts in only 292 innings. Since his debut in 2010, his fastball has averaged 98.8 mph. Good grief.
Chapman was supposed to be a glorious starting pitcher for the Reds for the foreseeable future. Instead, greatness defected to the bullpen, much to the chagrin of many in Cincinnati who desperately had hoped to see potential fulfilled, not merely flashes of brilliance. A rotation that featured Johnny Cueto one night and Chapman the next would have been sublime. Chapman in the 9th, protecting a 3-run lead has been merely prosaic. Sadly, the Reds’ pitcher with perhaps the organization’s highest ceiling never pitched so much as 72 innings in a season.
Now, he’s almost assuredly gone this off season. The Reds have little use for a closer in 2016 — not with a young starting staff still finding their way. GM Walt Jocketty was more than willing to do business at the trade deadline, assuming he could have landed a haul of near-ready MLB talent in return. When he didn’t, it was pretty clear he was content to wait until the winter, when more suitors will be available. In the past, Reds owner Bob Castellini has always viewed the club as a contender and had no desire to part with his star bullpen attraction. But now it appears that Jocketty has convinced him to take a step back in 2016 and get ready to make another run at the division down the road in 2017.
“So this was the time you kind of step back and rebuild it a little … not rebuild, but retool.”
That makes Chapman not just expendable, but his departure almost mandatory, as the organization has holes to fill and the Cuban reliever could still bring considerable gelt. There are plenty of fans who assume Chapman will be wearing Pantone 200 red next spring. That might be a bad bet.
Lately, there’s been only one good reason to watch the Reds: Joey Votto is having a season for the ages. As the Big 162 winds down and this disappointing season grinds to its foregone conclusion, the Cuban Missile’s final days have been as forgotten as last year’s favorite toy the day after Christmas.
We many not realize it now, but we’ll miss him when he’s gone. No, we won’t miss him for the victories he brought to the organization because Bryan Price and his predecessor, Dusty Baker, never used him in the manner to which he was born. His name should have been above the marquee. Instead, he played the role of the extra, window dressing for the lead actors in the third act.
That doesn’t mean Cincinnati won’t wince when they see him wearing another uniform, the way Redleg Nation grimaced, gazing upon Cueto that first night decked out in Royals powder blue. There was always the sense of the unexpected when Aroldis Chapman was around. He might somersault off the mound, as he once did after a save — to the consternation of his manager. He might lose his control and walk three guys before utterly overwhelming the next three. He was definitely fearless. Baseball discovered that when he came back from a vicious liner to the face in a spring training game in 2014:
Which brings me back to Zevon. What was mesmerizing about Mr. Bad Example — music’s Mutineer — was the recklessness of his lyrics, his ability to mythologize life, his celebration of excess. The fearlessness of his protagonists in the face of overwhelming odds. Doesn’t that perfectly describe Aroldis Chapman? The meat of the other team’s lineup awaits. The bullpen door opens as flames launch skyward from the smokestacks in center field; the man enters, the crowd surely feeling what Zevon must have intended when he crooned “I was in the house when the house burned down.” His fastball is all excess. There’s a reckless feeling to the game for both the hitter and Chapman himself there on the mound. The long, slow coil. The smooth unwinding followed by the explosive delivery. The foolish prayer of a swing by the batter—if he’s lucky. The dive to the the dirt if he’s not.
Flinch or Fail. Poor, poor pitiful me.
There are a handful of games left. How many chances to watch Aroldis Chapman mythologize baseball one more time as a Red? Three? Two? One? You’ve got to enjoy every sandwich, Cincinnati. And every last pitch.