On August 31, 2011, Daniel Bard was one of baseball's most dominant setup men. The hard-throwing right-hander handled the 8th inning for the Boston Red Sox, keeping opponents at bay far more often than not before handing the ball to Jonathan Papelbon. Bard, then 26 years old, was widely expected to be Boston's closer of the future, except by those in the know that figured he'd find his way to the top of a rotation that also included Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. He pitched a scoreless 8th in a win over the Yankees that night, striking out one and lowering his ERA to 2.03.
that culminated earlier this week with his release by the Texas Rangers. In 11 innings that forgettable September, Bard walked nine batters, allowed 13 runs, and was charged with four losses, spiraling out of control as the Red Sox similarly spiraled out of contention.
Bard posted a 1.736 WHIP in 2012, walking 43 and allowing 60 hits in 59.1 innings. He only appeared in two games for the Sox in 2013, making his last major league appearance on April 27, 2013.
Claimed by the Cubs and then waived, Bard was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and underwent surgery in February before being signed by the Rangers.
He faced 18 batters this spring for the Rangers' Single-A Atlantic League franchise, the Hickory Crawdads. None of those batters got a hit, and only one of them put the ball in play. But 16 of them reached base, nine via walk and seven via hit by pitch. Bard's 175.50 ERA and 13.50 WHIP are among the saddest, most cringeworthy numbers this side of Steve Blass and Rick Ankiel.
"Of all sad words of tongue or pen," wrote John Greenleaf Whittier, "the saddest of these, 'it might have been'". Watching someone tumble from such heights threatens us with our own sense of emotional vertigo - if that could happen to someone among the most elite in his field, what might happen if we stop delivering spotless TPS reports? Baseball mortality mirrors our own, forcing us to think thoughts we prefer to leave laying quietly unthunk.
Daniel Bard pitched for parts of five years at baseball's highest level, so he's not likely looking for our sympathy. But we're rooting for him to figure it out, because his potential redemption means we've got a few years left, too.