I read on ESPN this morning that former San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry has postponed a workout with several prospective teams in his bid to return to the majors after a two-year absence.
“He’s close to where he wants to be,” his agent told The Associated Press on Monday. “We’re confident once Noah throws for teams questions will be answered. Noah’s missed a lot of time and understands the importance of this audition. If he’s at 90 percent now, we’re going to allow him the time to get to 100 percent because we know clubs have questions based on the time he’s missed.”
The skeptic in me thinks: Bullshit. I’m guessing Lowry is worried his time away from the game has hurt his velocity and is desperate to postpone the inevitable. It seems akin to asking for more time on a big assignment in college. Granted, baseball seems like an easier sport to resume playing after a long delay than football, which requires meticulous precision and conditioning that can erode with even a short absence. Just look what’s happened to Mike Williams or Michael Vick. Still, it seems like it would be tougher to return to baseball as a pitcher than in another position.
Looking over the annals of baseball history, there aren’t too many pitchers who come to mind who’ve had successful comebacks. Here are the results of a few:
Jim Palmer: Colossal fail. Palmer aborted his attempt to return in 1991, after giving up five hits and two runs in two innings of a spring training game. According to his Wikipedia page, his trainer remarked, “You’ll never get into the Hall of Fame with those mechanics,” to which Palmer replied, “I’m already in the Hall of Fame.”
David Cone: He fared slightly better than Palmer, making it to the regular season after sitting out a year, but quit again with a 1-3 record and 6.50 ERA.
Jim Bouton: He first retired midway through the 1970 season, following the publication of his bestseller Ball Four, but returned to the majors eight years later at the age of 39. Bouton went 1-3 in five starts with the Atlanta Braves, later saying his motivation was to do something that had never been done before.
Roger Clemens: This return started nicely with Cy Young-caliber pitching, but ended horrifically with Clemens implicating his wife in front of Congress for using Human Growth Hormone. Short of Barry Bonds, Pete Rose or the Black Sox, Clemens has perhaps the most inglorious exit in baseball history, as well as the all-time greatest excuse for not using performance enhancing drugs: I didn’t, my wife did.
Dazzy Vance: This might not technically be termed a comeback since Vance bounced in and out of the minor leagues after briefly making his major league debut in 1915. Still, he had to persevere before settling into a Hall of Fame career.
Bob Feller: Another comeback that might not be termed as such, as Feller successfully resumed his Hall of Fame career after seeing combat in the Pacific theater in World War II. There are a number of other pitchers like him from this era, along with guys like Warren Spahn who got a late start due to military service.
Lowry might be better served to come back as an outfielder. Lots of former pitchers have transitioned to that successfully, from Smoky Joe Wood to Lefty O’Doul to Rick Ankiel.