Why can't Bob just be Bob?

Bob probably shouldn’t have spoken out publicly about his critics in the media and the sports-blab circuit last week. It’ll only stoke their idiotic fires and make him look bad for even caring about what they think of him. But it doesn’t make him wrong, and the fact that their constant verbal attacks bother him speaks volumes about the type of guy Bob Wickman is.

We Indians fans have wonderful baseball story unfolding under our very noses this year, and a lot of us are missing it. The fact that Bob was able to come back from Tommy John surgery at age 34 and compete at all last year is a minor miracle. There was skepticism on whether his arm would hold up for an entire season going into the 2005 campaign, and Bob had the added stress of knowing that it could be “game over” if the wrong pitch tore his repaired elbow apart.

Yet with the mountain of odds stacked against him, Bobby steadily racked up great achievements and passed milestones en route to a banner season in which he’s carried his team to the brink of the playoffs on his 36-year-old shoulders.

Leading the league in saves most of the season, he passed 200 career saves last month. Anchoring the best bullpen in baseball, Bob was the Tribe’s lone representative at this year’s All-Star game and is nominated for MLB’s comeback player of the year. 

Problem is, Bob Wickman doesn’t seem to fit into most peoples’ pre-conceived notion of what a big league closer should be. He’s brutalized mercilessly in articles and on talk radio over his weight, which has absolutely no effect on his pitching prowess. His saves aren’t “pretty” enough for his critics' liking, and they judge him against the standards of other closers that he’s outplaying this year. Most discussions comparing closers inevitably end with the infuriating statement: “Wickman’s OK, but he’s no Mariano Rivera.”

On the first point, focusing on Bob’s weight all the time implies that he’s a shiftless and lazy ballplayer that sat around eating brats and drinking Budweiser until his elbow healed up. Truth is, his rehab program would have broken most men before they even got started. Among the most intelligent relief pitchers in the game, Bob can be seen in the bullpen around the eighth inning of a close game studying printouts and charts of batters that he may soon be facing, while some others sit and watch the game.

Secondly, who appointed “Mariano the Infallible” the god of all closers? Didn’t Sandy Alomar punk him in ’97? Didn’t he lose the seventh game of the 2001 World Series? Who did the Red Sox beat last year to slip into the World Series when the Yankees had a commanding 3-game lead? And yet a lot of Indians fans are wringing their hands and moaning that we’re stuck with Bob Wickman.

Bob is our guy. Isn’t that what its all about-- rooting for our guys to beat their guys?

That’s what Bob deserves to be hearing from the fans this year. With all of his sweat and toil finally paying off as the Tribe races towards a photo finish, Bob shouldn’t have to hear his kids asking, “Why is everyone mad at Dad? I thought he was doing good.” J.Ladd – 9/4/05