Though he never actually threw a pitch for the Oakland Athletics, Jeremy Bonderman has profoundly altered the course of the organization.
Bonderman, who is pitching for the Seattle Mariners against the Athletics in game three of the weekend set, was originally drafted by Oakland back in 2001. It was Bonderman’s selection that, according to Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, inspired Billy Beane to hurl a chair at a wall.
Today, it’s almost hard to imagine such fury from the now supremely diplomatic club vice president, general manager and minority owner.
As far as Beane was concerned, drafting Bonderman — a high school pitcher — had been an expensive and reckless use of a first-round pick. Historically, such selections are twice less likely than college pitchers and four times less likely than college position players to make the majors. In fact, the team had taken a college position player with its other first-round pick, a shortstop from Long Beach State named Bobby Crosby.
It wasn’t just the selection of Bonderman that led Beane to fundamentally alter the philosophy of the organization, but it certainly played a large part. In 2002, the team implemented the so-called Moneyball approach to the draft, and on the field that season, the club would win 103 games. That success accelerated an upward trend that had begun in 1999 and would last until 2006, when the team crashed out of the American League Championship Series.
Beane was clearly less than thrilled to have Bonderman in the organization, but the ever-imaginative executive still managed to make use of the hard-throwing right-hander. In the summer of 2002, he flipped Bonderman as part of a three-team trade that netted starting pitcher Ted Lilly. The unassuming left-hander only won two games for the Athletics that season, but he did pick up 12 wins in 2003 before being traded himself for Bobby Kielty.
Bonderman has had an interesting career in his own right. He was the first high school junior to ever be selected in the draft, and he made his MLB debut for the Detroit Tigers at the age of 20. Bonderman was absolutely brutal, however, and lost 19 games.
His best season came in 2006, when he won 14 games and struck out 202 batters. In 2007, he pitched for the Tigers in the World Series, which they ultimately lost. Beginning in 2008, however, a whole slew of arm injuries derailed his career, and the right-hander didn’t even appear in the league in 2011 and 2012.
Just about a decade after Bonderman had originally been drafted, it appeared as though the chair-throwing Beane had been right all along.
Then this past offseason, Bonderman signed a minor league deal with the Mariners. He started the season in Triple-A but was promoted at the beginning of June. He got rocked for seven runs in 4.2 innings in his first outing, but since then he has surrendered just two runs in three starts.
It’s going to take a lot more than that for Beane to start regretting jettisoning Bonderman, or even breaking that chair. But what’s interesting is that after all of this Bonderman is just 30 years old.
He’s probably still too young for Beane, but maybe we’ll see him in an Athletics uniform in 2017.