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.

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10 comments

  1. Rich

    January 13, 2010 08:06 PM

    Brett Myers did all the Phillies asked of him, most of the time pretty well. He tried his best, didn’t cry about things and was a real trooper.

    He may have been crass, rude, upseting, but I also remember a commercial he did a couple years ago that showed his ‘other’ side.

    Myers has earned a special place in Phillies history, it’s not every day you treat your “Opening Day” starter of three years in a row like an old piece of newspaper and that’s how I think the Phils treated Myers in the end.

  2. Mike

    January 13, 2010 10:33 PM

    Great article. Sums up much of how I feel about Brett Myers as well. I think the Phillies will miss him in 2010 and I hope he does well for himself in Houston.

  3. FuquaManuel

    January 14, 2010 10:59 AM

    I’m not so sure about the work ethic thing. Yes he worked hard to come back from serious injuries ahead of schedule, but he often showed up to camp way overweight and out of shape which may have contributed to some of his injuries over the years.

    Also, unrelated to this, decking his child out in confederate flag T-shirts is completely beyond the pale to me and above all else makes it impossible for me to ever root for him. In fact, I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to root against him.

  4. WholeCamels

    January 15, 2010 08:26 AM

    The torn labrum that Will Carroll is talking about is the shoulder labrum, not the hip labrum that Myers required surgery for. Big, big difference.

  5. Travis M. Nelson

    January 15, 2010 12:48 PM

    I’m with you on most of this, but I have to take exception to your assertion that, “Few pitchers have the ability much less the willingness to convert from a starting pitcher to a reliever.” Really? Have you checked that? Because almost every good major league reliever was once a starter, many of them in the pros. A quick perusal of the annual Saves leaders shows lots of guys who were starters in MLB before being converted to closers: Mariano Rivera, Bob Wickman, Keith Foulke, Eddie Guardado, Derek Lowe, Tom Gordon, Eric Gagne, Jason Isringhausen, Jose Mesa, John Wetteland, Dave Righetti, Mark Davis…the list goes on, and those are just the league leaders.

    Granted, a lot of those guys were mediocre or lousy starters (Gagne, Rivera, Wetteland) or had injury problems (Gordon, Smoltz, Izzy) but others were simply deemed more valuable to the team as a reliever, like Rags and Mesa.

    Myers was only asked to do what dozens of other pitchers were asked to do, and for the same reasons. He had not “excelled for a long period of time” at starting. He had a career ERA of 4.34 coming into that season, and was 0-2, 9.39 at the time. He was a middling starter, the team needed a closer, and he was offered the job. Not sorting mail, mind you, either, but racking up Saves in a major league bullpen for a team trying to compete for the playoffs. That he didn’t balk at it doesn’t make him anything special. It just makes him not an idiot.

  6. Bill Baer

    January 15, 2010 02:52 PM

    Travis, perhaps I should have merged my “ability much less the willingness” and “position of comfort/position of uncertainty” statements, as that would have been more accurate as you point out.

    I do think you pass over Myers’ role in the Phillies’ starting rotation much too casually. He was the Phillies’ Opening Day starter in 2007 and had put together two very impressive seasons as a starter in 2005 and ’06, with the ERA’s mentioned in the article above. That’s no small beans. He was no C.C. Sabathia but he was worth ~3.5 WAR in both seasons.

    Last year, Edwin Jackson was worth 3.5 WAR as was Scott Baker. Matt Garza and Mark Buehrle were worth 3.4. That’s the level of production Myers was at.

    That he didn’t balk at it doesn’t make him anything special. It just makes him not an idiot.

    Don’t forget Jimmy Rollins refused to bat anywhere other than lead-off and Cole Hamels refused to pitch on short rest in the post-season. Other Phillies have had the opportunity to pitch-in unselfishly. Myers is at the forefront of the few prominent Phillies who have made a sacrifice to help the team.

  7. GSS

    January 15, 2010 08:17 PM

    As far as the wife-beating goes, color me skeptical that Myers has actually reformed. His comment that the whole incident was “blown way out of proportion” tells me that he hasn’t really changed. I was almost willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in the matter until he said that. The fact that his wife has forgiven him doesn’t mean much either. It’s VERY common for women to get back with their abusers, even after repeated incidents.

    So bye-bye, Brett. Won’t miss ya.

  8. Wet Luzinski

    January 15, 2010 10:47 PM

    Agree with FuquaManuel on the conditioning front, but your article did at least get me to think about this a bit more deeply, and reconsider his recovery last year, which by all accounts was way ahead of schedule. My skeptical side wonders how much that was team-serving and how much it was self-serving; I think more the latter than the former. And let’s not forget he compromised and set that same recovery back with his baffling bar/restaurant/wiffleball injury. Whatever. He’s an idiot.

    I can’t root for the guy probably for the same reasons that you do –there’s a lot to like, talent-wise, but so much more to hate and really wonder about. My bottom line is that he has wasted his potential and, what’s more, compounded errors with really bad decisions. I see his decision to sign with the Astros as one more–this is a bad park for him, with flyball tendencies, in a division with both small ballparks AND fearsome sluggers. Had he decided to reinvent himself in the AL or NL West, I might have given him a bit more credit.

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