Erik Bedard has been on the road back for a long, long time. Initially, some estimates gave him a shot at returning in the middle of May. Others said June was more likely. Time wore on, and Bedard didn't come back, as some little setbacks pushed his timetable into July. At last, he seemed poised to throw in a Mariner uniform again after a AAA rehab outing last week went off without a hitch, but some eleventh hour discomfort has delayed him once more until after the All Star break.
Bedard's bumpy recovery has left a lot of people frustrated. Here I present an argument that Erik Bedard might actually be the most likable player on the team, and that his constantly being on the verge of returning only contributes to his appeal. That, though it's cool when Erik Bedard is a Mariner, he's more of a gift when he's almost a Mariner.
I haven't decided if I buy this argument yet. But I'm giving it some thought.
Reasons why the current version of Erik Bedard might personify the fan ideal:
- He's very good. Though the correlation coefficient isn't perfect, fans will, by and large, prefer a good player to a bad one. And between 2006-2009, Erik Bedard posted a 3.40 ERA over 91 starts, with more than a strikeout an inning. As a Mariner, Bedard posted a 3.24 ERA with similarly strong peripherals. He's an excellent pitcher when he's healthy, and he's still a damn fine pitcher when he's not. He's a tier below the Cliff Lees and Felix Hernandezes of the world, but that tier still contains some aces. Bedard can be an ace. He's been one in the past.
- With time, his flaws are forgotten. Think about your favorite players. Now think about their flaws. Felix can be immature and inconsistent. Ichiro doesn't hit for power and bunts too often with runners in scoring position. Guti is an incomplete hitter who probably doesn't belong in the middle of a championship team's order. And so on. These things are fresh in your mind. Now consider Bedard's flaws on the field. Sometimes he loses his command, and he works pretty slowly. We know these to be true, but because we haven't watched him in a while, they aren't fresh. As time has passed, we've remembered that Bedard has ace-like ability and we've pushed aside his shortcomings in favor of emphasizing the positive. So our collective impression of Erik Bedard the pitcher is inflated beyond what is warranted.
- His biggest drawback is out of his control. The things that frustrate us about our other favorite players are pretty much entirely their fault. Felix doesn't have to lose his cool or rely too much on his fastball. Ichiro doesn't have to bunt so often. Guti doesn't have to get himself out by swinging through pitches. But there's nothing Bedard can really do about being injury-prone. You can only do so much to strengthen a hip or a shoulder. Some people are just prone to getting hurt more often than others, and as such those people are viewed as unlucky. It's an endearing quality in a way - one that provokes far more sympathy than getting out on a pitch in the dirt. Poor Erik. He doesn't deserve to be so fragile.
- He's a gamer. There were a lot of questions about Bedard's toughness when he first got hurt. A lot of questions, everywhere. People thought he was weak, that he lacked passion and didn't have any competitive spirit. Then it came out that he'd been pitching hurt for months. That turned everything around. Though it's stupid for a player to try to perform through pain without telling anybody, it's still considered tough and ballsy, and people like ballsy. Bedard played through pain. He's trying to fight his way back from a bunch of injuries right now. There's no longer any questioning Bedard's attitude, as he's earned the old boys' stamp of approval.
- He has a refreshing personality. I know much of the media sees Bedard as kind of a dick, but fans love a guy who strays from the ordinary, and Bedard had me from "four questions". Though he can be sarcastic and abrasive, he can also be affable and insightful, and a lot of fans just eat that up. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy who gives what he gets.
There's no taking him for granted. One of the most unfortunate things about a team's best players is that, over time, you begin to grow accustomed to their high levels of performance. This then shifts your expectations northward, making it more difficult for the player to please you. Every so often we have to force ourselves to take a step back and really appreciate everything that guys like Felix and Ichiro really are, and we have to do this because on a day-to-day basis it's easy to forget that they're awesome. There's no doing this with Bedard, because he hasn't performed. You expect him to be good as soon as he comes back, but the prospect is still exciting, because it feels new. Ichiro is a video game. Erik Bedard is a toy in a box.
- He's a beacon of hope. This is really the big one. For as long as Erik Bedard is nearly back, but not quite back yet, we get to let our imaginations run wild. In March, there were dreams of three aces for three quarters of the year. When he was delayed, those dreams remained. And even when the season was lost, we still knew that Bedard was on the path towards returning, and that he could help provide better days ahead. Be they in the second half or through 2011, Erik Bedard provides something to look forward to. Games come and go, but hope? Optimism? Those are greater than games. Erik Bedard is factoring into some peoples' thoughts of a playoff team next season. Is that right? Does it matter? The thought of Erik Bedard makes people happier with a team that's made a lot of people unhappy.
It's an argument. The only thing Bedard really lacks is actual on-field contribution. People really like Ryan Langerhans, for example, in large part because of his two walk-off dingers last year. But then, how do you weigh actual on-field contribution against the promise of future on-field contribution? Would you rather have memories, or hope? I guess that's kind of a false dilemma, but it's close. Erik Bedard doesn't have Ryan Langerhans' walk-offs, or Russell Branyan's ability to go deep in any at bat. But Erik Bedard does have a track record of great success in the past, and as long as he's just on the verge of returning, he allows us to get carried away. There aren't many players of whom you could say the same thing.
I don't know if I've explained myself very well. This is something that's been on my mind for weeks, but it still feels kind of disjointed. I hope the point comes across. I like Erik Bedard. I like him a lot. And I think I like him more when he's buffering than when he's streaming live. When a video is buffering, you can only imagine what's coming next. When a video plays, it goes down paths that stifle opportunities for more.
Erik Bedard, the almost-Mariner. In a way, he's perfect.
And it's just a matter of time before he comes back and ruins everything.