Friday, 16 December 2011

You Never Know

This morning, I saw a sports news article that left-hand pitcher Dontrelle Willis has signed a contract to pitch next year for the Philadelphia Phillies.  In and of itself,. a rather unremarkable story, really.  Guy was 1-6 last year in Cincinnati, ERA of 5.00.  The Phils are taking a chance on him, with a plan to use him as a lefty-lefty specialist next year in the bullpen (lefties hit .127 against Willis last year, which means that right-hand batters must have clobbered him, given his ERA).  There's a ton of these guys who hang around to come in to games in the seventh or eight innings, ostensibly to get one batter out.

What's interesting, and in my view, sad, about this story is the trajectory of Willis's career.  He was the rookie of the year in 2003, and was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award in the National League in 2005, when he went 22-10, tossing five shutouts in 34 starts.  At the time, Willis was 23 years old, and looked to have a long, bright career.

Since the season he chalked up 22 wins, he was won a total of 26 games.

Over six seasons.

And 22 of those 25 were in 2006 and 2007.  For the past four years, Willis has bounced around, pitching pretty poorly for three teams, and winning four games.

Dontrelle Willis, by all accounts I've read, is seen as a pretty good guy.  He never gets in the news for bringing a gun to a nightclub.  Or fighting with a photographer.  Or sending lewd "tweets" to some woman not his wife.

It's truly a bizarre and unfortunate turn of events.  Apparently, his control simply abandoned him, bringing to mind the old maxim (I think from Casey Stengel): "A pitcher who ain't got control, ain't got much."

Essentially, Willis is looking to hold on to what's left of his professional career, which may be over.  He is 29 years old.  You really never know how things are going to work out, and if you need any evidence of why to be grateful for the opportunities and successes you've got when you have them, a reason not to look with envy  or complaint about what you don't have, think about Dontrelle Willis and his career trajectory.

Willis is joining his boyhood friend Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia, and had this to say about the announcement:
Wherever they need me, whatever role.  I heard someone talking about pinch-hitting, so whatever role. With all of these starters going nine and 10 innings, I'm not sure I'll get the chance to do that. But I just want to get into the best shape I can be and I feel great. I'm not going to rock the boat; I just want to get on. 
 It's a refreshing, and realistic assessment.  No whining; no complaining.  No demand to be a starting pitcher or else.

I sincerely hope that the "D-Train" will make the Phils next year, and have a great season within whatever parameters he is allowed to operate.

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