Why I’m Rooting for Brett

Throughout 2009, I prepared myself for a rather unimportant event: Brett Myers’ leap into free agency. Many thought he was finished with the Phillies when he frayed his labrum in May. He, of course, worked his tail off to get back into a Phillies uniform and made a concerted effort to contribute to the team in a limited role out of the bullpen during the month of September. When he was left off of the NLCS roster several months ago, I recollected my favorite Myers moments.

Brett MyersMyers is part of a lot of my favorite Phillies moments of the decade. Perhaps the oddest is when he took that line drive off of his head in Chicago, stayed in and nearly out-dueled Mark Prior in a 1-0 game. Then you have those at-bats in the 2008 NLDS and NLCS against C.C. Sabathia and Chad Billingsley. That knee-buckling curve that clinched the division on the last day of the regular season in 2007.

Myers is easy to hate, but he may have been the Phillies’ Forrest Gump. He wasn’t exactly the catalyst for it all, but he found himself involved in many different ways. Now that he’s in a Houston Astros uniform, he still has everybody talking with his proclamation that he’d like to “stick it” to the Phillies.

I don’t have a problem with what Myers said. In fact, I like it and we should expect no less from a player as competitive as him. And I’ll be honest: I’ll be rooting for the guy when he’s not pitching against the Phillies.

As mentioned above, Myers is easy to hate: he hit his wife, he’s outspoken and a bit arrogant, and he just looks like someone that deserves our loathing. And at that rate, Myers and I likely have nothing in common. I’m pretty sure that if we hung out, we’d be bored with each other*. So I don’t really have a solid investment in Myers in hoping for his future success, but hear me out.

Does Myers like reading books and playing Rock Band? I don’t like guns and beef jerky. I’m pretty sure Match.com would not pair us.

On the domestic abuse incident: First of all, his wife has forgiven him and has stayed with him through it all. Secondly, he showed genuine remorse and went to marriage counseling to try to resolve his issues. I figure that if his wife can forgive him, so can I. And I’m not one to judge. I refuse to hold this — as far as we know, an isolated incident — over his head in a holier-than-thou fashion as I am not holier than Brett Myers or anyone for that matter. I have my own skeletons in my closet (as Barry Bonds would say) as does everyone else passing judgment.

As baseball’s steroid “issue” shows, baseball fans tend to be very judgmental. If we could, we would burn Bonds and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro at the stake like Salem witches. We would tar and feather them. For what? Because they (in Bonds’ case allegedly) put chemicals in their body to alter performance. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!

I refuse to pass judgment on Myers as long as that incident is isolated. That’s not meant to justify it — all violence is reprehensible whether against a man or woman — but simply to do what many people have trouble doing in this supposedly Christian nation: I am forgiving Brett Myers, as his wife has.

Work Ethic: For all the criticism Myers receives, one thing is for sure: he has quite a work ethic. He has worked his tail off to return to the baseball diamond not once but twice ahead of schedule. Last season, Myers could have taken it easy and played it safe, but he wanted to help ensure the Phillies’ success in September.

He last pitched on May 27 and resumed pitching on September 5. That’s three months and nine days. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus called the torn labrum — which landed Myers on the disabled list — “baseball’s most fearsome injury” back in 2004. He noted:

Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level.

Of course, as time has progressed we have learned more about the injury and it’s likely that Myers had much better medical treatment than his predecessors. But to recover from such a devastating injury in three months and nine days? Credit that to his incredible work ethic.

Teammate: Few pitchers have the ability much less the willingness to convert from a starting pitcher to a reliever. John Smoltz, of course, comes to mind as does the great Dennis Eckersley. Myers did exactly that for the Phillies in 2007 and became a crucial factor in the Phillies breaking their playoff drought.

I don’t think we baseball fans give enough credit to players willing to switch positions, especially from a position at which they have excelled for a long period of time. Even if his salary stayed constant, I don’t think a CPA would enjoy sorting mail for the entire office, even if it would help the company out.

Myers had logged exactly one save in his Minor League career and zero prior to 2007. In the two seasons prior as a starter, he had compiled ERA’s of 3.72 and 3.91, certainly decent numbers for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Myers went from a position of comfort to a position of uncertainty to help the team out. There was no guarantee that Myers would have been as successful as he was, and it was more likely than not that Myers would fail, potentially costing himself millions of dollars. He did it anyway.

Watching Myers pitch over the past couple years, admittedly, has been tough. He gave up way too many preventable home runs for my liking and he seemed to defeat himself when dealing with adversity on the mound. He certainly was not productive enough to earn himself the clemency I am awarding him, and he wasn’t exactly a Good Samaritan either. Still, I appreciate what he did in his time as a Phillie and I’ll be rooting for him in Houston.