The fall of former premier set-up man Daniel Bard of the Boston Red Sox has been very sad to watch, hear and read. This saga came to what appears like an end when Bard was designated for assignment this weekend by the Red Sox. Bard is in a 10-day waiting period where he goes through waivers. He can be claimed by any team and the Red Sox can either let him go to that team or potentially work out some sort of deal. There is an outside chance that he could return to Boston, but that might be very unlikely. Who would have thought in 2011 this would end up happening to him?
At one point not all that long ago, Bard was simply the most dominating reliever in all of MLB. Quite honestly, his pitches were filthy. There was so much late movement and he had a variety of different weapons which can make a reliever that much more scary. In 2010, he had a 1.93 earned run average and 76 strikeouts. He was the guy who got the big out in the eighth inning and that season, he usually did and with authority. He carried that dominance into 2011 where he had 25 straight scoreless appearances. It could be said looking back that perhaps his problems started at the very end of that season when he started getting wild and had an ERA of over ten during the month of September. This may have been overlooked, however, because of the Red Sox’ epic collapse at the end of the year.
The next season, Bard wanted to become a starting pitcher. This was surprising because Jonathan Papelbon had left as a free agent and it always had been sort of assumed that Bard would move up into that role. It was interesting that it seemed like he didn’t want to be a closer and pretty much said so. Those aren’t words you really want to hear from the guy you assume is going to be your future closer. Bobby Valentine can be blamed for a lot that went wrong in 2012, but he did not want Bard to start and hate to say it; he was right.
He struggled in the beginning, but most people assumed it was because he was learning to be a starter. However, his last game in the rotation against the Toronto Blue Jays, he walked six batters and hit two of them in a little over an inning. And it has been downhill ever since.
It seems as though Bard caught what is known as Steve Blass Disease. If you aren’t sure what that is or who that is, Blass was a very good pitcher during the 1970s for the Pittsburgh Pirates who, out of nowhere, couldn’t get the ball over the plate. And in a blink of an eye his career was over. A more recent example is Rick Ankiel who looked like the second coming of Sandy Koufax when he was a rookie and then he just melted down during the 2000 postseason. Painful to watch. Bard was sent down to Triple-A and then Double-A, but nothing seemed to work well. He was hoping and Red Sox Nation was hoping he could get it back together because an effective Bard really could have been an important piece of the bullpen.
It just never worked out and it’s sad. Steve Blass Disease has to be worse than Tommy John surgery for a pitcher because you can fix an arm. The head is so much more complex and there are not many pitchers, if any, who have ever been able to come back from this malady and be even near the player they were. Perhaps a change of scenery, a new system, a fresh set of eyes might help Bard get back to being somewhat of the talent that he was.
If he does, that is a good flyer for some team. If not, we will remember how truly dominant Bard was and how mysterious and sad it was to see him fall apart.