Bob Re-ups with Braves

Atlanta signs greatest ballplayer ever for 2007

By: Joseph Ladd

As predicted here by yours truly, Bobby Wick shunned free-agency, agreed to a one-year deal with a modest pay increase to close for the Atlanta Braves in 2007. Preferring to take things one year at a time since his stellar comeback from Tommy John surgery 3 years ago, Bob once again put the comfort of him and his family above all else and stayed where he was welcomed and treated fairly. Now, we can all get back to what it's all about - watching our guy winning ball games and having fun.

Details: The Braves reached agreement on a $6.5 million, one-year contract extension with the burly right-hander Wednesday. Wickman made $5.4 million, counting incentives, this season. The 37-year-old converted 15 of his first 16 save opportunities with the Braves and had a 1.19 ERA in 24 appearances. He struck out 22 and walked one in 22 2/3 innings. Asked where the Braves would be if Wickman had been with the team all season, general manager John Schuerholz said emphatically, "We'd be in the playoffs."

"It all just kind of came together over the last week," Wickman said. "We weren't rushing things. We told them to take their time, and they said they wanted to get a deal done before the end of the year. Things worked out great." 

Raves:" He's a great guy and a tough competitor," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He comes to win. That's what you want."

"I think [Wickman] just promotes confidence in guys' egos, really," Braves right-handed reliever Chad Paronto said. "He makes you feel good about yourself."

"Obviously we've all gotten better since he got here," Macay McBride said. "He's taken care of us, and we've learned from him by watching him."

“He's worth every penny he got," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said.

"He's done a great job for us and had a real impact on our pitching staff and team," John Schuerholz said. "It's a real important piece going forward next year."

Wickster's Thoughts: "I said, 'Let's just go year-to-year in case something happens,' " Wickman said. "If I get hurt or something, then nobody owes anyone anything the next year. I can just go home [to retire], and I'm not letting anyone down."

 "This worked out great," said Wickman about ending the suspense early. "I made it public right away that I wanted to play here."

Bobby Wick's Brave Debut

Philadelphia — Bob Wickman didn't get a save in his Braves debut, but that was only because his new teammates had given him too much of a lead. Stymied by Brett Myers for eight innings, the Braves scored four times in the ninth, and Wickman wasn't about to let the lead slip away Sunday night.

Wickman, acquired Thursday from Cleveland, struck out Aaron Rowand looking, got David Bell to bounce out and retired pinch-hitter David Dellucci on a grounder in a perfect Braves debut. "He threw an awful lot of strikes and put it right on the corners really, really good," Cox said. "He's a tough competitor."

Wickman was 15-for-18 in save opportunities for the Indians, a big improvement over the Braves' dismal record of 20 saves in 40 opportunities. "That was a great feeling to have a guy like Wick coming in the game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said."There's a lot of season left. It's not over yet. I know where the Braves are in the wild card and a know where they are in the division."

 Asked how close he came to signing with the Braves during the winter, Wickman said, "It came to the last four hours."

The veteran closer was scheduled to come to Atlanta for a physical on Dec. 8, the day after Cleveland's deadline to re-sign him. Wickman never made it south. The Indians made an offer of $5 million for one year and the big right-hander took it. Family considerations played in a big part in his decision. "It is home. We've been there six years," said Wickman, who has children ages 9, 7 and 2. "The easier it is with the family, the easier it is for me to play."

But Wickman, 37, didn't say "no" to the Braves this time. He could have vetoed Thursday's deal as a player with 10 years in the majors and five with the same team. In fact, he did say "no" to a couple of earlier deals.

The Braves, though, were a team Wickman said he had always been interested in, and he wasn't going to miss another opportunity. He last pitched in the postseason in 2001. Braves have been there 14 consecutive years and just might make it back again. "It's a challenge," Wickman said of coming to the Braves. "Hopefully we can get into the playoffs.

Carrying his gear in an Indians travel bag, Wickman arrived in the Braves' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park about 4:20 p.m. Friday and immediately began meeting his new teammates.

One of the biggest challenges for the Braves was finding a uniform to fit Wickman, who appears much heavier than his listed 240 pounds.When the Braves acquired Bob Wickman on Thursday, their clubhouse staff had to figure how they were going to dress the imposing veteran closer. Contrary to what was in the Indians media guide, he's about 5-foot-11 and weighs approximately 260 pounds. According to assistant clubhouse manager Fred Stone, who is serving as the club's representative on this trip, Wickman needed a size 56 jersey. The only way Stone was able to acquire such a jersey was to call Majestic Athletic and have one of their employees drive the jersey to Philadelphia.

Fortunately, Majestic is located in Bangor, Pa., which is approximately 90 minutes from Philadelphia. "If we were anywhere else, it might have been a problem," Stone said. In order to get Wickman his uniform pants, Stone was able to use an extra pair that had been made for Braves right-handed reliever Chad Paronto, who also has a healthy offensive lineman's frame.

Wickman admitted that it was "hard" leaving Cleveland, but he's finally made it to the Braves. "I'm ready to do whatever I can," he said.

                    

 Wickman's fans are real warriors

  
   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
    Published on: 08/13/06

Once Bob Wickman began converting save opportunities with the Atlanta Braves, the president of his Cleveland Indians fan club decided something else deserved converting and saving: the Wickman's Warriors Web site with the slogan "In Bob We Trust" and the "Bobzilla Zone."

At wickmanswarriors.com a fan can click on the Atlanta link to see pictures and stories about Wickman since his July 20 trade to the Braves.

"I'm going to try to get some people involved from down there to send some stuff in," said Joe Ladd, the club president. "My wish now is that Braves fans everywhere can use it to get to know what a fine ballplayer they have in Bob Wickman. He's one in a million."

Before the trade, there were more than 250 Warriors on the club roster, including four from the Atlanta area and a couple from England. Each paid $26 (for Wickman's former number) to the Cleveland Indians' Charities and got a T-shirt decorated with an eagle, two American flags and Local 26.

"Local 26 is a union thing," Ladd said. "We're a blue-collar town and I thought that fit."

Since Wickman changed his number with the Braves, the Atlanta page is "Local 28."

"Joe wouldn't let it end," Wickman said of the Web site. "He has too much pride in everything he's put together. All the money goes to Cleveland Indians' Charities, and we've made some pretty good money over the past few years for it."

Wickman's Warriors officially began in 2001. After Sept. 11, 2001, Ladd saw it as a novel way to raise funds for charity. The T-shirts were as much for Wickman as for the fans.

"He started up Wickman's Warriors because whoever makes up T-shirts for all the ballplayers would never make up a T-shirt for me," said Wickman.

Why not? "I wasn't one of the big boys on the team," Wickman said. "Whoever was in charge of that I think dropped the ball."

But Ladd was there to pick it up. Before starting the club, the 44-year-old postal worker sought permission from Wickman and the Indians, something he didn't have to do but which earned Wickman's participation.

Club members sent in photos and anecdotes for posting on the site. On a couple of group outings to the ballpark, about 40 of them sat in the "Warrior's Den" in the bleachers.

"He's an icon in Cleveland, from what I understand," Braves pitcher John Smoltz said. "I think they like the way that he is who he is, his appearance and he just goes after hitters."

Ladd said that when "the trade first hit, it kind of sucker-punched me," but he acknowledges that it was best for Wickman, who had veto power. When the trade caused the burly closer to miss a scheduled appearance at a luncheon at the Winking Lizard, "We were all so bummed out," Ladd said, "it turned into a big therapy session instead of a luncheon."

Ladd met Wickman soon after he was traded from the Brewers to the Indians in 2000.

"I said, 'Hey, Wickman,' and I wave to him, and he comes running from halfway across the field and shaking our hands and talking to us," Ladd said. "We struck up a friendship from there."

Ladd drove two hours to Pittsburgh to see Wickman pick up save No. 4 with the Braves and said Wickman was surprised to see him before the game. He also paid $130 for a half-season television package and may come to Atlanta for a game since his brother Lou lives in Doraville.

"He's jumping up and down; he's excited because they finally got a closer," Ladd said. "I'm crying in my beer over here: You got my guy."

Wick’s A Winner!

Bob pitches back-to-back innings and picks up his first win in nearly 4 years

Bob met another challenge on his remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery, and it resulted in first win since August 10, 2002.

The Warriors Club remembers that win well. It’s the “Bobzilla Sighting” piece that’s been archived on the Bobzilla page since that August day. Bob and I took the surgery picture spoofs that we used while he was rehabbing after that game, and we both wondered if he would ever pitch again after that win. It was his last appearance of the season, and Bobby had the surgery in December after waiting 4 months for the swelling in his elbow to subside.

Three and a half years later, Bobby worked 2 innings in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh for the first time since July 7, 2001.

“We were going to try it a couple of other times earlier in the season,” said the Wickster. “With the off-day tomorrow, we decided to try it.”

With the score tied 2-2 in the ninth, Bobby put Jeremy Burnitz and Ryan Doumit on with no one out. Jose Hernandez laid down a bunt that Ben Broussard fielded and gunned down Burnitz at third. A 6-4-3 double play ended the threat.

Wick pitched an uneventful 10th, and Grady Sizemore’s line drive over Burnitz’s head in the bottom of the inning scored Aaron Boone from third to give Bob the win.

At 37 and on top of his game, Bob Wickman continues to smash down all barriers in his way. 5-21-2006

 

 

1)On his arm & mind

2)On his approach and technique

3)On the 2006 bullpen

CLEVELAND -- There was one very good piece of news for Cleveland fans on Saturday: Closer Bob Wickman said that he was "99 percent sure" that he would return to pitch for the Indians next season.

On the field, the news was definitely not encouraging, as the Indians lost again to the Chicago White Sox, 4-3. The Indians now need a victory on Sunday combined with a loss by the Boston Red Sox to tie for the American League Wild Card berth and force a one-game playoff.

But Wickman's comments, made in an interview with MLB.com before the game, give the Indians legitimate promise of another very solid bullpen for 2006. Wickman is currently leading the AL with 45 saves, one off the club record held by Jose Mesa.

Wickman earlier in the season had been noncommittal about his possible return, saying only that he would discuss the issue with his family at the end of the season. That discussion will still occur, but Wickman said on Saturday that one thing keeping him 99 percent certain that he would come back rather than 100 percent certain was the possibility that he would suffer an arm injury in the final days of the season.

"That's the one percent," Wickman said. "I wouldn't want to do that to the organization. I wouldn't want to do that to my family."

It has been an amazing comeback for Wickman, who not only had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in December, but then suffered a serious setback to the elbow in Spring Training of 2004 and missed more than three months of that season. Wickman has gone from apparently being at the end of his career to being one of baseball's premier closers.

"I never expected to get another 31 saves to get to 200," he said. "I never expected to be one save away from tying Jose Mesa's best year ever here."

Wickman, 36, was a fine closer before the surgery. He was known as somebody who could be relied on, not only because of his ability and his competitive nature, but because he would take the ball whenever it was offered to him -- he would pitch with pain. Before the surgery, he was trying to pitch with an elbow that, as it turned out, contained a bone spur lodged in the middle of the joint that was shredding a ligament every time he extended his arm on a pitch.

"The doctor told me it was a train wreck in there," Wickman said.

Now, pitching while free of pain is a revelation to Wickman. "From last year, when I came back from the mishap in Spring Training, I have no idea what happened to my arm," he said with a smile. "[Orthopedic surgeon Lewis] Yocum gave me a 30 percent chance of coming back. Every time I see him out in Anaheim, or he calls, he says, 'How are you doing?' I say, 'I'm doing great. I thought I was supposed to feel pain.' They all say it's a new arm. It's unbelievable the fun I've had this season pitching with it. There is no pain. I do my normal routine every day, and let's go get 'em.

"It's something now to be able to just go out there and compete and say: 'Hey, if I get beat, I get beat with what I'm throwing up there.' It's not my arm restricting me."

Part of what will help to bring Wickman back is the Indians' very bright outlook for success next season. With the second-half resurgence of this club, even if this season does not end happily in Cleveland, it will be a season to build on with plenty of reasons for legitimate optimism.

"It's tremendous the way these guys have grown up, the way they've handled the pressure, and just the way they go about their business," Wickman says of this teammates. "Maybe it isn't right for me to say this, but if we don't get in [to the postseason], I still believe that these guys should be very proud of themselves for what they've accomplished. You know people might not like to hear that, but this organization, starting at the top with the Dolan family to [general manager] Mark Shapiro to the last guy -- whoever it is -- on the totem pole, should be proud of what they're building here."

Reaching the postseason would be the ideal culmination of a brilliant comeback season for Wickman. It may be that he has proven about as much as any post-surgical relief pitcher could prove in a single season. But he's still in the middle of another baseball project. His two oldest children are eight and six years old, and having them watch their father play, and developing an understanding of the game, is part of the process.

"My goal was to pitch one day in the Major Leagues," Wickman says. "My dream was fulfilled. But the goal I want out of baseball yet, is that my kids could understand, growing up and watching baseball played the right way. So if they come to the point where they want to play baseball, they at least understand the game."

Even if the Indians do not reach the postseason, this club's second-half performance and the presence of so much young talent proves that this is a team headed in the right direction. And its prospects for 2006 will be that much better when Bob Wickman's return moves from 99 percent certain to 100 percent certain.