Friday, October 28, 2011

A LONG AND WINDING RHODES

The world of Major League baseball is full of strange, odd, and often wondrous characters. This year‘s candidate would have to be Arthur Lee Rhodes Jr.

Born in 1964, in Waco Texas, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988, he made his first appearance in the majors in 1991 (the 10th youngest ever) and is now pitching for the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals and is the third oldest man playing today.

The road from here to there is filled with moments of wonder a tragedy. Yet he will receive a World Series ring no matter which team wins. Until August 2nd of this year when they gave up on him and released the elder statesman, Rhodes played for the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals opponent.

Rhodes was signed to a one year contract on August 8th by the Cardinals which by the byzantine mathematical rules of baseball compensation are require to pay only 100,000 dollars of his 1.2 million dollar yearly salary. The Rangers, whom Arthur would now dearly like to beat, get to pay the rest. The  rules also say if you play the substantial part of the year for the team that wins the Series, you get a ring.

 To say that Arthur has “been around” baseball is an understatement. He wandered through the Orioles organization for some 12 years before he became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Mariners where he pitched for four years. He moved on to Oakland in 1999. There was little success there in the role the manager had in mind for him so he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and on to the Cleveland Indians before the season even began in 2000. In 2006 he was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies and released at the end of the year.

In 2007 Seattle offered him a minor league contract. He soon injured his arm, had a tendon replaced in his elbow in what is known in baseball parlance as “Tommy John” surgery. It is named for the first baseball player to have it done, rehabilitate successfully, and pitch well after having it. It is now so common that when it is done and the expected recovery time is 12 months. He never pitched in 2007.                  

In 2008, Seattle gave him another chance to make it back in the minors and he spent part of the year on their roster.

Arthur finally hit the jackpot when he was signed for two years by the Cincinnati Reds who went on to the playoffs and Arthur set a Major League that season with a record  33 consecutive game appearances without giving up a run. Now, in his late thirties, Arthur was still a very good big league pitcher and described by managers and fellow players as most likeable, hard working, and a man capable of putting his personal life on hold while he plays the game.

His nomadic wanderings took him to the Rangers this year where he pitched well, but  he seemed to show his age, ineffective in a number of appearances in late July that led to his release.

The iconic pitching coach in St. Louis, Dave Duncan, who has been doing the same job for the same manager for 32 years for three different franchises thought Arthur might have some “gas left in his tank”, so urged his manager for all those years Tony La Russa to pick him up. At the time the Cardinals didn’t look like they would be playing any games in October. Somehow they managed to come from many games back in August and find themselves in the playoffs and Arthur was right there helping them get there.

As one wag in the press box has put it, if the World Series ended in a tie, Arthur would be the only one to get a ring. He still wants to win it outright but he says he’ll take it one way or the other. A man who has been in the game for 20 years roaming the back roads of the league, renting rooms in more cities than most of us have yet to visit deserves it.  

There is only one other pitcher in the history of the game that has pitched more innings (900) than Arthur before reaching the World Series. In his first World Series game he got the out he was asked to get. The next night he wasn’t as lucky and in the book of his manager, who uses pitchers in "situations" perhaps more than any other, there hasn’t been a reason to put him in a game since. He's had a wonderful seat in the bullpen watching the rest so far.  That does not make him happy, but he will shake that all off just as he has the surgery and more importantly, the loss of his son in 2008.

When Arthur enters a game, the first thing he does has nothing to do with baseball. He bends down and scratches the letter JR on the mound behind him before he warms up. Arthur says he will never get over the loss of his boy and that without the support of his daughters he would have left the game he loves after it happened. Yet now he sees it as having JR out there with him. “He’s right behind me,” says Arthur, “he helps me get through it.”

After tonight, Arthur has no idea what will happen to him. He would love to keep playing and teach the kids what he knows. Yet that isn’t up to him. When the winter turns to spring, someone may see that Arthur still has something to offer. If they don’t, he’ll move on, both in life which he knows is the most important thing, and in baseball, which he knows deep inside is only just a game.

3 comments:

  1. What a great story! I'm glad Arthur got his ring the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. RWP:

    Arthur pitched to one hitter in the last game and got him to ground out much to his great pleasure, he was a part of it to the end.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for the Arthur story; I had no idea, even though we watched all the games. I also wanted to thank you for the post in August about the "front porch" closing down. I was surprised how sad it made me. I really miss her blog since I love that area of Montana so much and spent many happy summers there.

    Pacifica5

    ReplyDelete