On June 28th 2010, Joel Zumaya threw a fastball against the Minnesota Twins that ended up turning the stomachs almost assuredly of all Tigers fans, and even some fans in that opposing dugout and across America. Not because one of his blazing fastballs got turned around and landed in the seats, but because he absolutely destroyed his elbow throwing a pitch. Instantly, I knew that this was beyond any normal injury, and told a friend I was watching the game with, “he just broke his arm”.
Zumaya’s pain was readily apparent to anyone watching, as his hand was twitching while he tried to hold his arm as if there was a sling there. What wasn’t readily apparent was how long he was going to be gone, or if he would even come back. At that point though, I just felt for the kid. The baby-faced Zumaya, and all of his promise, had just suffered what may have been a career ender.
You see, Joel Zumaya isn’t just a pitcher to Tigers fans, he is somewhat of a rock star, and a legend. Even if he did only give us that one full special season in 2006. We didn’t know anything about Joel five years ago in Detroit, except that he was young and he threw real hard. It didn’t take long though for Tigers fans to fall in love with the 100 mph fastball throwing relief pitcher that came out to Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child”.
Later, Zumaya would get flame tatoos on his arms to show major league hitters what was coming, and even then a lot of hitters struggled to hit it. It was a challenge to not only hitting a pitch, but a challenge to his manhood to be able to overpower a batter. But Zumaya’s biggest asset has also become his biggest downfall. He checks the guns at the stadium, taking pride in his triple digit heat-seeking missle, forgetting completely that it isn’t normal to put that much torque on one man’s body. The amount of stress that Zumaya puts on that golden arm of his is unbelievable, and it all came to a head on that night in June in 2010.
Zumaya had missed plenty of time prior to 2010, with a bunch of issues. He had a finger injury, a shoulder injury, and a famous “Guitar Hero” injury that he suffered to his wrist in the 2006 playoffs. While his talent is immense, his injury issues have been equally frustrating, and haven’t always happened on the diamond. Still, Zumaya’s presence, and his larger than life personality have continued to tantalize the Tigers front office and fans. Just as he was slipping from Tigers fans consciousness, after not pitching at all in 2011, Zumaya made an appearance in the post-season to deliver a game ball, and reminded us all that he will be looking to pitch in 2012.
The question is, do the Tigers want to put themselves as an organization, and us as fans through more heartache?
The answer most likely will be yes. Zumaya is a free agent heading into the 2012 season, and I am sure that there is some organization that will take a flyer on him and his arm. Even if he dials his fastball that sits at 99 mph down to 95 mph, he still has some value. Though there will be more pressure on Zumaya to learn how to pitch now instead of trying to blow everyone away. If I had David Dombrowski’s ear, I would tell him to try and convince Joel to signing a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. After all, the Tigers have stuck with him throughout his medical issues, and given him multiple chances to prove his health.
I don’t think there is anything to be lost in giving Joel Zumaya yet another chance, though I am not sure I can take it. I like the “Voodoo Child” Zumaya, the 104 mph throwing Zumaya who lives to blow away the best hitters in the world in that batters box. If he can’t be that, there is a bit of sadness there for me as a fan. It’s like watching a superhero limp off after getting it handed to him in a fight.
That being said, Joel Zumaya has dealt with so much, the fact that he still wants to continue giving baseball a try has me pulling for him. Detroit Tiger or not.