Key to late innings, ex-journeyman rose from mysterious Bermuda Triangle of Triple-A Oklahoma City
Todd Williams is back in the Orioles bullpen. That might not mean much to many Orioles fans, since he is a middle reliever, the type of player destined to toil in obscurity unless his own mistakes cost his team victories.
Like Jim Brower, for instance. His name is on many people’s lips, but for all the wrong reasons.
Regardless of the fact that few fans would recognize Williams without a scorecard, the Orioles desperately need him. They activated him before Saturday’s game and manager Sam Perlozzo wasted no time in putting the right-hander to work, calling on him in back-to-back games. "If he pitches the way he's capable of pitching, it'll give us a big boost," Perlozzo said.
So far, so good: Williams, who has been one of the bullpen’s most reliable arms the past two years, responded with two scoreless innings. That’s really beside the point, though. No matter what happens this season, more people should know the story of Todd Williams’ career.
Two years ago at this time, he was at Triple-A Oklahoma City, pitching for his eighth organization. He was 33 years old, well past the point of being called a prospect. It had been three years since he had appeared in a big league game, for the Yankees.
One of his teammates in Oklahoma City was David Newhan. By July, the two minor league journeymen were both playing regularly for the Orioles – joined briefly by, for all you trivia buffs, backup catcher Ken Huckaby. What are the chances that three players on a Triple-A team, in this case the affiliate of the Texas Rangers, would wind up in the majors four months later with another organization?
What’s even more curious about Oklahoma City is the amount of traffic headed there from Camden Yards. So many ex-Orioles have passed through in recent years it’s like some sort of minor league Bermuda Triangle of former Baltimore prospects. In 2005, Manny Alexander, Chris Richard and Matt Riley all played there. This year, Gary Matthews Jr. and Rick Bauer have suited up with the Oklahoma Redhawks, as they are now known, having dropped the “City” from their name in a marketing move similar to removing “Baltimore” from the Orioles road jerseys. But I digress.
If you want to be completely accurate, the connections don’t end there. Going back to 2004, the Rangers featured no less than five players who had previously played for the Orioles: Scott Erickson, in the last unsuccessful stages of trying to resurrect his career (though he's still hanging on at Triple A Columbus); reliever John Wasdin, who had pitched in Baltimore in 2001; Dave Dellucci, who started his career with the Orioles; Gary Matthews Jr.; and Huckaby, who Texas picked up after Baltimore released him that year. And all that doesn’t count Ramon Nivar, who the following year would be traded for Riley and who is probably best known for repeatedly showing up late to batting practice at the end of the 2005 season.
Riley, incidentally, in the "Where Are They Now?" files, is attempting a comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, his second. Rangers manager Buck Showalter said recently that Riley looked good in extended spring training.
So, what does all this mean? The bottom line is, if you think Orioles pitching has been bad the past couple years, imagine being a Rangers fan. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; if that’s the case, Texas could open its own recycling plant. It’s certainly collected more than its fair share of garbage.
How they let Williams slip away, then, is even more of a mystery. But relievers bounce from one team to the next, piecing together careers wherever they get the chance. Brower, who’s been miserable so far this year, has pitched for six teams in eight big-league seasons. Cincinnati once traded him to Montreal for Bruce Chen, his current teammate.
The return of Williams, who did not allow an earned run in 54 of his 72 appearances last year, gives a much-needed boost to the bullpen. But should it continue to falter, the O’s might have another rabbit to pull out of their hat. The Sun’s Roch Kubatko wrote in his blog Sunday that the closer for Triple-A Ottawa, Julio Manon, has been pitching well to start the season, with 7 saves and 15 strikeous in 10 and two-thirds innings, having allowed just one earned run and two walks.
Manon, who turns 33 in July, played in Korea the last two years and is now working for his sixth organization. His only big league experience came three years ago, a 23-game stint with Montreal. If Williams is any guide, that sounds like a future star in the making.