Make no mistake, Erik Bedard is a pain. It's been true in Baltimore, Seattle, Boston and I assume Pittsburgh, too. Now, he's raising eyebrows in his new hometown of Houston. Though he's got incredible talent, he doesn't truly love playing baseball, and that shows. It showed again on Saturday when he removed himself from a game in which he was throwing a no-hitter.
Sure, his own manager protected him. Astros skipper Bo Porter said he respected Bedard's decision. But he may have been the only one.
“I wouldn't have done what he did," said Mariners starter Joe Saunders, who watched from the opposing dugout. “I would have done things different and I think a lot of people would have.”
Saunders wasn't alone.
“If I hadn't given up a hit in a game, I would never take myself out -- no matter what age or how bad or good I'm feeling,” Dodgers pitcher Ricky Nolasco explained to The Associated Press. “I don't think any pitcher would ever take themselves out of a no-hitter.”
I personally spoke to two other pitchers who echoed that sentiment. Clearly, he is in the minority, but did Bedard do the right thing?
In order to answer that question, it helps to take a step back.
The Bedard quandary is indicative of what may be the single biggest debate in sports today. Short-term gain vs. long-term results. Should a pitcher exceed his pitch count for an anomalistic achievement or should he make sure he's available for the rest of the year? Should the Nationals shut down a healthy Stephen Strasburg in hopes of keeping him healthy for the length of his contract? Should a supposedly frail Ichiro dive for a line drive or should he avoid bodily contact to keep him in position for 200 annual hits? Should Buster Posey block the plate to save a run and maybe win a game or does his team need him to avoid collisions altogether?
Beyond baseball, should a quarterback throw the ball away on third down or risk throwing an interception by forcing it to a questionably open receiver? Should Gregg Popovich send his aging stars home early from a condensed-schedule road trip knowing that he wants them rested for a stretch run? Is it OK for Milan Lucic to avoid full-steam contact in some regular-season games in order to be fully able to do his locomotive impression in the playoffs?
Unfortunately for us fans, the answers from a team perspective are almost always the opposite of what we want to see as paying customers. A team can afford to give up a run in May. It can't be without its star catcher, even if we love to watch home plate collisions. Football teams have done the math and realized that turnover ratio is a positive indicator of winning percentage. They don't want to see too many risks, even if fans love watching fearless Favrian gunslingers. I'd love to see stars play hard every night in the NBA or power forwards bang in the corners for 82 hockey games per year, but it doesn't help their teams when they know more than half of the league will make the playoffs and records will be reset in the postseason.
The truth is that a long-term approach may help your favorite team win a championship, even while it deprives you of seeing a great performance on a given night when you paid for tickets. For many (including myself), the ends justify the means. Championships are everything. But the flip side is that it hurts the game as a whole even while it helps an individual team win.
With the July 31 deadline approaching and the Red Sox dealing with a pair of frontline starters with issues, they find themselves dealing with the same central themes. Should they trade good prospects for a shot at a championship? Should a pitcher try to battle through an ailment when he could rest for a few weeks and come back better than before?
The question of short-term vs. long-term thinking is never too far from the top of the mind.
And from my perspective, Bedard should be in the clear. What does a no-hitter really matter compared to his health? At 109 pitches through 6 1/3 innings, he probably wasn't going to finish the game. Porter tries to keep his starters under 120 pitches, and Bedard has had all kinds of health problems.
“I've had three shoulder surgeries,” Bedard reasoned. “I'm not going over 110. I'd rather pitch a couple more years than face another batter.”
Throwing a no-hitter obviously doesn't mean much to Bedard. Why would it? This is a guy who plays baseball for a living because he's good at it and it pays the bills, not because he loves to do it. And I should respect his reasoning. I would, after all, have supported Porter taking him out.
But there is another force at work here. Bedard upset other players. As he's often done, he forced his teammates to shake their heads at him because they are willing to grin and bear it when he does not. They fight hard to stay in games while he needs everything to be in perfect order just to take the mound. They go out there and take the ball because someone has to, and he hangs them out to dry.
They sacrifice for the good of the team while he does not.
As weird as it sounds, I think I would rather Bedard want to do the wrong thing (stay in the game) and be told the right thing by his manager. Maybe I'm overthinking this (I probably am), but I think players should want to play hard all the time and leave it up to their coaches to peel them back.
We are never going to satisfy everyone here. Athletes, managers, coaches, GMs, owners and fans all have their own perspective on how hard players should play at any given time. But I think where Bedard goes wrong is that his team is not in the playoff hunt. He isn't keeping something in reserve for a more meaningful game.
Caring about his health more than some silly individual achievement is actually admirable. And as Dan Brooks (at the fantastic BrooksBaseball.net) points out, Bedard's velocity was dropping rapidly by the time he left. But proving once again to your already skeptical teammates that you don't truly love to compete has to cancel that out. And trust me, it isn't like Bedard is a stathead who has studied the effects of exceeding a pitch count.
How does this relate to Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and the Red Sox? It may not. We don't know how seriously Buchholz is injured. He'll consult Dr. James Andrews for what John Farrell leadingly referred to as “piece of mind.” Asked about Buchholz, Curt Schilling said last week on WEEI that pitching through discomfort is part of the job of a major league starter. None of us can put ourselves in his shoes, but we can ask whether it's important for him to make sure he's as effective as he can be come playoff time. I think it is, even if it's frustrating for fans to wait.
Meanwhile, Lester has vociferously declared himself to be healthy. I have no reason not to believe him, except that I don't. At least not entirely. If he is masking an injury and pitching through it, he is setting himself up to be crushed by fans for poor performance and lauded by teammates for gutting through it. If that's the case, and if he could be aided by a stint on the DL, he might not be helping his team as much as he could. But in a baseball culture that praises Lester for his toughness, it would take someone in management to force him to sit down, if he's even injured at all. Maybe that is behind the extra (and now even more extra) rest he received at the All Star break. Or maybe not. We are, after all, in the speculation zone here.
Just as Bedard's peers were when he asked out of a no-hitter.