It is Friday 14 August 2020. We are about one-third of the way through this bizarre season. For many reasons, 2020 has not been a good year, so we are in need of an upbeat, feel-good news story. And they don’t get much more upbeat and feel-good than this.
The 2006 draft was hit and miss for most clubs. Luke Hochevar went first, Evan Longoria third pick and Andrew Miller was the sixth. All perfectly fine picks until you realise that you could have had Clayton Kershaw (7th), Tim Lincecum (10th) or Max Scherzer (11th). The majority of the first-round picks were misses.
Taken towards the end of the first round, Daniel Bard was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He was a college pitcher expected to progress quickly through the minors to become a dominant reliever.
The hype was strong and Bard entered Baseball America’s Top-100 prospect list for the 2007 season.
He debuted in the majors as a 24-year-old in 2009 and put together a pretty decent stretch of 63 strikeouts in 49 innings with 3.65 ERA, but it was in his sophomore year that Bard became elite. In 73 appearances, he returned a sub-2.00 ERA with 1.00 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. He was the heir-apparent to Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Life was good.
He remained dominant in 2011 (2.03 ERA, 9.15 K/9) until a fateful, career-changing month, when the calendar flipped to September.
Stretching back to the start of the 2010 season, Bard had made 132 appearances (136⅔ innings) allowing just 30 earned runs and 45 walks. That September, in 11 appearances, he walked nine, gave up 13 earned runs and was tagged with four losses and three blown saves. Life was never the same again.
With hindsight, it was an ill-judged move by the Red Sox to attempt to convert Bard to a starter for the 2012 season, but that was one of many reasons for his dramatic decline. Thoracic outlet syndrome and, in his own words “overthinking” led to unassailable problems.
“It was kind of just a perfect storm of the physical issue and the results taking a turn for the worst quickly that affected my mental state. I stopped trusting myself and trusting what I was doing. I started getting into just figure-it-out-and-fix-it mode, which is never a good place for a pitcher to live.”
The tone in which “The Yips” is spoken about by the general fan is an embarrassing indictment we have in society with mental issues. This is one of the finest throwers of a ball on the planet. Someone who can reach back and fire a baseball at over 100 mph, but who suddenly and inexplicably cannot perform routine throws.
Bard only threw 15 innings in 2013 across three levels of the Red Sox Minor League system, before being released.
After thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Bard signed with the Texas Rangers for the 2014 season. He faced 18 batters over four single-A appearances but only recorded two outs.
2015 started full of optimism as he told the Boston Globe:
“I feel now as good as I’ve felt since before 2012, maybe before 2011. I’m throwing as well as I have since then. I haven’t seen a radar gun, so I don’t know if I’m back to what I was, but just the way it’s coming out of my hand, I’m really encouraged by what I feel.”
He signed with the Chicago Cubs but didn’t pitch at any level in 2015.
In early 2016, Bard signed a Minor League deal with the Pirates. Surely, this was his final roll of the dice. If Pittsburgh’s pitching coach Ray Searage couldn’t revive his career, then no-one could.
Bard, now 31, was released before Opening Day.
In May 2016, he had a second final throw of the dice when the St Louis Cardinals called, but he walked 13 batters with eight earned runs in just three innings in High-A.
He was still on St Louis’ books to start the 2017 season, but 10.38 ERA and 2.88 WHIP over 10 appearances in Double-A and his tenure with the Springfield Cardinals came to an end.
Amazingly, he had another shot at the big time when he signed with the Mets midway through 2017. He played one game, his final game as a professional, in the Gulf Coast League. Starting pitcher, 19-year-old, Dalson Acosta was pulled after seven innings of three hits and eight strikeouts. 32-year-old Bard came on in relief but walked five and gave up four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
It was a sorrowful end to what should have been a magnificent career.
He retired from the game in 2018 with a parting statement of:
“Everyone who was part of that journey can say that Daniel Bard never made it back to where he wanted to be, but to hell if he didn’t give it everything he had.”
Retirement from playing allowed Bard to finish his degree and join the Arizona Diamondbacks as a mental skills coach.
Fast-forward to February 2020 and, as they say, tenacity never dies. Bard, now 34, signed with the Colorado Rockies but looked predictably awful in pre-pandemic Spring Training.
Let’s be honest, we didn’t expect what happened next.
First, he was added to the 60-man pool. Then in July, he was added to the Major League roster. Remember, he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2013.
Then on Saturday 25 July, at Globe Life Field in front of zero paying spectators, Daniel Bard made it back to the majors tossing 1⅓ scoreless innings.
I don’t know how or when this fairy tale ends, but if it was a Hollywood script, the writers would be editing the end to make it a little more believable.
Zero walks, 12 strikeouts, 0.41 FIP, with a high-spin fastball nearly touching 99 mph combined with a hard, tight slider, Bard picked up his first save since 2011 and is currently leading all relievers.
Now that is a feel-good story we can all enjoy.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps