Bradford: In appreciation of now-retired Daniel Bard

Rob Bradford
January 04, 2018 - 2:20 pm

USA Today Sports

You might remember the story.

It seemed everything was set up perfectly for Daniel Bard.

By the time the end of August 2011 rolled around, he was continuing to cruise through his big league career, serving as one of the late-inning answers in the game. Sure, Jonathan Papelbon may have been the Red Sox closer, but he was headed to free agency after that season and Bard was inevitably going to take over the role.

When September hit, Bard was still rolling. In 181 major league appearances, the reliever had managed a 2.42 ERA, and .186 batting average against, with the Red Sox going 123-58 in games he pitched. Oh yeah, there were also those strikeouts. In 186 innings, he had 202 of them. He was one of, if not the, best set-up men in Major League Baseball.

Then, almost without anybody realizing, everything turned.

So many were focused on the stem to stern issues facing the Red Sox during their historic September collapse in 2011 that Bard's out-of-nowhere struggles didn't seem a priority. But in his 11 innings that final month of the season, he gave up 14 runs while striking out and walking nine. Most chalked it up to flat-out fatigue. OK. 

The problem was that when the following spring training rolled around, with Bard's role making an about-face to the world of starting pitching, the high-90's velocity wasn't there, and neither was the command. Perhaps he was easing into his new role. (To hear Bard talk about his decision to become a starter, click here.) The Red Sox were certainly hoping it was a blip in the process, relying on the righty to be a difference-maker in their rotation. But after a June 3 outing in Toronto, in which allowed five runs on one hit while walking six, it was deemed this was more than just a slump.

Bard would return to pitch eight more times in a Red Sox uniform, all out of the bullpen. His last appearance came on April 27, 2013. Two batters, two walks. That was it. He had thrown his last big league pitch at the age of 27 years old.

Thursday, SB Nation published a story that Bard was officially retiring, a decision he confirmed to via text.

For me, to sift through what has happened with the former Red Sox first-round pick over the past five years is overkill. Nothing worked out. There were his thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, mental blocks, and a wave of delivery adjustments. He was deemed worth taking a chance by a variety of organizations, with Texas, the Mets, Pittsburgh, St. Lous and the Cubs all giving Bard another chance. None of it took root. It happens. 

What should be remembered is just how good Bard was. That's why, all these years later, people still care.

Starting with that first big league game on May 13, 2009, it was clear to the Red Sox what a difference-maker Bard was going to be. There weren't a lot of guys who could help a team escape like Bard. For example, in his three years of relieving for the Red Sox, the righty faced 39 batters with the bases loaded. He gave up a total of six hits, striking out 12. There is no other way to put it: He was a weapon.

Simply put, Bard was a power reliever before they became the norm.

But he wasn't just unique on the field. It didn't take long to realize the University of North Carolina product's thought process was a bit deeper than most. Maybe that didn't help when trying to figure things out at the end, but it certainly wasn't a bad thing for those striking up the clubhouse conversations, and can't hurt in what will be undoubtedly a promising future.

This was a guy worth appreciating. Today seems like a perfect opportunity to do just that.

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