Return of the Golden Arm?

When we first saw him, we were amazed.

I mean, it’s not every day some cocky kid takes the mound and not only hits 100 mph on the gun, but hits 102 or 103. It’s the kind of stuff that we, as fans, dream about. This kid is special, we thought. This kid is the closer of the future…for years to come. No more trotting Todd Jones out there to float junk up there and hope for the best. This kid’s going to be a star in Detroit. Get your popcorn ready and enjoy the show.

Then the setbacks happened. One after another. The dream arm exploded and had turned into a nightmare. The baseball gods were once again being cruel to the Detroit faithful, but more importantly, cruel to this kid’s big league dreams. He’d come back and go down. Back and down.

Well, he’s back again.
No. Not him. I’m talking about someone else. But yeah…good luck to you, too, Joel. Congrats on getting another raise for being hurt all year.

More after the jump.

No, I’m talking about this guy. Matt Anderson. Friday, it was announced that Matt signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s 34 years old now and is probably forgotten by many current Tiger fans. But when he came up in 1998…wow. He was awesome.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Anderson, here’s a quick(?) rundown on him. Matt attended Rice University where he set school records in wins (30) and saves (14). In his final year with the Owls, he put up a 1.82 ERA and that, with his power arm, was enough for the Tigers to make him the #1 pick of the 1997 amateur draft.

In 1998, Anderson was in the minors with an ERA of 0.70 when the Tigers decided to call the kid up and see what he had. He pitched in 42 games for the Tigers going 5-1 with a 3.27 ERA, 145 ERA+, and 44 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. He regularly hit 100 mph on the gun and was recorded at 103 on two separate occasions. And the kid had flair. He’d strike a guy out and then swing his arm and body in celebration after. I loved the guy. At 6’4, 200 lean pounds, and with that amazing arm, what wasn’t there to love about him?

So, of course, it all went to hell after that.

At first, Matt couldn’t find the strike zone. In 37 appearances during the ’99 season, Anderson walked 35 batters in 38 innings, while his strikeouts dropped to 32 and his ERA climbed to 5.68. He rebounded in 2000 a bit walking only 45 in 74.1 innings, while striking out 71. It was enough to convince the Tigers that he was ready to close, and they traded away closer Todd Jones to the Twins for starter Mark Redman. It was Matt’s time to shine.

He did save 22 games. And his control was better, walking 2.9 per 9 innings versus 5.4 the year prior. But he was giving up a hit an inning and his ERA was 4.82, hardly what you want from a closer. But man…that arm. You just knew he was eventually going to pull it all together, right?

Nope. Anderson in 2002 tore the muscle in his armpit while warming up. Famously, earlier in the day, he had taken part in an octopus-throwing competition at Comerica Park. Many tried to blame the injury on that, but he and the Tiger front office denied any truth to the rumor. Kinda eerily similar to Zoom, isn’t it, my Guitar Hero playing friends?

But many didn’t care what Anderson or the Tigers had to say and kept running and running...and RUNNING with the stupid octopus story and it continues to this day. In the freep’s quick blurb about the Anderson/Philly signing, writer James Jahnke, of course, insinuated that the stunt was the cause of the injury. Jahnke can get f-cked with a broken beer bottle, as far as I’m concerned. Sorry...I’m very protective of my odd choices in Tiger heroes.

Anyhoo, after that, the golden arm was gone. After topping 100 mph so many times, Anderson struggled to hit the low 90’s. He would only pitch in 12 games in ’02, putting up a 9.00 ERA in 11 innings pitched. In ’03, he pitched 23.1 innings, only stuck out 13, and his ERA sat at an unimpressive 5.40. And after 220 strikeouts in 246.2 innings pitched, the party was over for Anderson in Detroit.

He would spend 2003 and 2004 in Toledo, his first stint in the minors since being down there working on his control in 1999. And he didn’t impress in those two years, giving up 38 earned runs in 72 innings, while only striking out 56 hitters. The Tigers gave up on him after the 2004 season.

The Rockies took a shot at Matt in ’05 and he spent the year with their AAA ballclub in Colorado Springs, pitching 47 innings, while striking out 46. In 2005, Anderson quietly made his return to the big leagues with Colorado. Sadly, in his 10 innings back, he walked 11 batters, gave up 3 home runs, and allowed 14 total earned runs. He never pitched in the majors again.

While the Tigers were having their miracle run in 2006, the guy who was supposed to be their closer was getting shelled in Fresno of the Giants organization, and then getting cut and settling for pitching in the independent Atlantic League for the Bridgeport Bluefish. He didn’t pitch at all in 2007 and appeared to be done. Then, he received a minor league contract and an invite to Spring Training from the White Sox in ’08. He was sent to Charlotte where he gave up 11 earned runs in 17.2 innings. How the mighty had fallen. And that was it.

Or was it? As I said, the Phillies have signed Anderson to a minor league deal after all this time away. Reportedly, Matt was spotted working out at a rehab facility in Arizona frequented by major leaguers and former big leaguers trying to make a comeback by Philly scout, Del Unser. Unser happened to see the big right-hander throwing and was impressed with what he saw. A week later, he came back and was impressed again giving reports that Matt’s hitting the mid-90’s on the gun again.

So, where he ends up now is anyone’s guess. He’s quite the long shot, of course. But he’ll be there in Spring Training trying to make his 34 year old arm look 21 again. As someone that’s about to turn 34 myself in May, I don’t see how he can do it. But, I’m impressed beyond words with his tenacity and wish him the best in his comeback. Matt is “Always A Tiger” to me and I’ll be keeping an eye on him. And who knows? He might just pull it off.

I mean, if Don f-cking Kelly can make a big league roster and spend the entire season on the team, why can’t Matt Anderson?

Ha. Kick some ass, Matt. And say hi to Polanco for me. I’d burn down an orphanage to have him back on the team…