Bob’s 2005 Season in Review

By: Joseph Ladd

As disappointing as the Tribe’s playoff chase ended, Bob Wickman fans everywhere can reflect on #1 Warrior’s awesome accomplishments in 2005 with great satisfaction. Bob’s many critics had him tagged as a mistake waiting to happen in early spring, but the Indians’ organization and the Warrior Faithful placed their trust and confidence in his ability to get the job done. All Bobby did was come through with a magnificent career year, meeting every milestone by taking it one day at a time. These highlights are a few of my personal favorites from my friends’ wonderful comeback year…

April 6th in Chicago: The sense of relief that I felt knowing Bob made it through spring training healthy quickly evaporated as our closer turned Kevin Millwood’s 3-0 gem into a 4-3 loss. Bob was hit hard; the winning run scored on a sac-fly that recorded his only out of the day. His ERA standing at a horrific 108, he quickly realized that he best stop trying to blow people away and go back to being Bob Wickman.

April 8th in Detroit: Bob rights himself; he’s on the winning side of this 4-3 game. Pitches a 1-2-3 9th for his first save. ERA drops to 27!

April 17th at home: Travis Hafner is hit by a pitch to force in the go- ahead run in the eighth. Bobby pitches a perfect 9th for his 4th save. Indians 2, Twins 1. What bad start?

May 3rd in Minnesota: “The Wickman Intentional Balk” is introduced to the world. Remembering a blown save against the Angels a week earlier where Bob felt the runner at second was stealing his signs, our hero purposely balks Mike Cuddyer from 2nd to 3rd with one out and a 4-2 lead. Save #6 is in the books, as well as a brilliant new baseball innovation.

May 23rd at home: One of my baseball dreams comes true: The Indians choose “yours truly” to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Mr. Bob Wickman to kick off a key homestand against the Twins. Throwing a pitch to Bobby from the same mound he would later record his 13th save on is my thrill of a lifetime. Indians 2, Twins 1.

May 27th at home: Bob scares the hell out of me. Coming in to get some work in a 4-0 game against Oakland, Wick gives up a base hit and a couple of walks and then starts acting strange on the mound. Kicking the dirt, wagging his head and bending over to touch his toes, the sinking feeling in my gut tells me something is wrong with the big guy. David Riske comes in to save the 4-1 victory; Bob’s problem turns out to be a mild back strain from stepping in a hole on the mound. My heartbeat returns to normal once I find out his arm is OK.

June 11th in San Francisco: With a 7-3 lead in the 9th, Bob Howry gets into trouble by giving up a run and putting a couple on with no outs. Enter Bobzilla, recording 2 quick outs that score 2 runs. Refusing to let old friend Omar Vizquel be the hero (he wins the game with a gapper), he walks little “O” and strikes out J.T. Snow for his 16th save. It was Bob’s 95th save as an Indian, moving him past Mike Jackson for 3rd place on the all-time Tribe saves list.

June 28th in Boston: In a game that looked like a Tribe loss, Pronk hits a grand slam late for the 12-8 win at Fenway. Bobby comes in for some work and posts a rare 3-pitch ninth inning.

July 1st in Baltimore: My fellow road trippers and I enjoy Bob’s 22nd save at Camden Yards by helping the Tribe cool off the hot Orioles permanently by taking 3 of 4. Spending the weekend at the same hotel as the Indians is a great way to interact and spend time with the team, and all the players (especially Bob) were extremely cordial.

July 3rd: Bob Wickman is named to the 2005 All-Star team, the Indians’ sole representative.

July 12th in Detroit: Bob enters the ninth inning of the 2005 All-Star game with the American League leading 7-3. Bobby walks Atlanta’s Andruw Jones on 5 pitches and is removed for pitcher B.J. Ryan of Baltimore. Hey, he was just getting warmed up! The American League eventually won 7-5. Bob was happy just to play, and the Wickmans had a wonderful time in the Motor City.

July 14th at home: In all the excitement leading up to the All-Star game, I forgot to ask Bob to get me a souvenir.  As he hands me a bag containing an official All-Star Game tee shirt and 2 autographed hats, I realized that I didn’t need to. “I always take care of my friends,” was his reply.

August 4th at home: The angriest I’ve been all year. After recording saves 28 and 29 the previous two nights, the stinking Yankees were ripe to be swept. Kevin Millwood dazzled New York for 8 innings and held a 3-2 lead. Eric Wedge makes the decision to use Bobby for the ninth instead of letting Millwood complete the game, giving home plate umpire Bob Davidson a chance to throw the game back to the Yanks. The strike zone suddenly shrinks to the size of a shoebox for the parade of steroid-heads scheduled to bat in the ninth. Wick gets lucky as Sheffield gets under one and flies out to deep center, but A-Rod, dug in and watching obvious strikes go by that are being called balls, finally tees off on a pitch Bob is forced to make down the middle. One batter later, patiently waiting out his five strike at-bat, juicer Jason Giambi launches another homer off Bobby to complete the robbery. Ironically, it was Bob’s last blown save of the season. After saving 3 games against the Yankees already this year, they had to cheat to beat Bob Wickman.

August 7th in Detroit: Bobby records career save #200 at Comerica in a 6-5 win over the Tigers.

August 23rd in Tampa Bay: The “Bob Wickman is killing me” game. Sure, it’s hysterical now, but this save (#33) was a patented Wickman nerve-wracker that featured an apparent game tying balk of a runner at 3rd that wasn’t called and a Lou Pinella on-field meltdown. Indians win 5-4.

August 31st: Fed up with unfair criticism of him on radio talk shows, Bobby lashes out at the media. Despite leading the league in saves, anchoring the best bullpen in the majors and putting up an MVP performance this year, Bob is being ripped for allowing too many base runners and taunted over his weight. Talk show hosts question his ability to lock up saves down the stretch and complain that he isn’t Mariano Rivera.

September 8, 9, 10 at home: The Wickster goes back-to-back-to-back for saves 37, 38 and 39 against the Tigers and the Twins.

September 13th at Home: In great save #209, Bobby Wick collides with Oakland’s Dan Johnson covering first on a double play. After both men are sent sprawling, Bob smartly retrieves the ball in foul territory and steps on first base for the out. Johnson never touched the bag! Save # 40 in the books.

September 13, 14, 16, and 17 at home: Bobby Wick saves 4 games in 5 nights. Dude is on fire! Having their mouths shut by the master yet again, his critics crawl back under their rocks were they belong.

September 23rd in K.C.: Bob goes 1-2-3 against the Royals for his final save (#45) of the season in the 7-6 win. Who could have ever predicted the final week collapse that was to come?

October 2nd at home: The Indians playoff hopes ended, Bob Wickman comes on to pitch one last time with the Tribe down 3-1. Putting an exclamation point at the end of his brilliant comeback season, our closer records 3 outs on 3 pitches. His goal of finishing the season strong completed, he shows that he’s a cut above the others by throwing baseballs to the fans and waiving goodbye long after the game. He is the only Indians player with the class and dignity to remain on the field to thank us, the fans. I hope that’s not the last time I see Bob on our field, but if it is, that’s the most fitting way for me to remember the greatest ballplayer I’ve ever known. J.Ladd 10/3/05

 

*The Indians bullpen saved 51 of their 66 (77.3%) chances in 2005 and set a single-season franchise record for team saves. The old record was 50 in 1995…Bob Wickman posted a career-high 45 saves which marked the second highest single-season total in club history behind Jose Mesa’s 46 in 1995…Bobby ended the campaign with 124 saves as an Indian, which is second in club history to Doug Jones’ 129.

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

GAME OF THE DAY / INDIANS 2, TWINS 1

Wickman starts, ends

Key stretch begins with clutch save

ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Cleveland -- Almost three hours after Bob Wickman squatted to catch the ceremonial first pitch, he threw the last one to silence Minnesota.

   Wickman stranded the tying run at third base in the ninth inning and sent the Cleveland Indians to a 2-1 win over the Twins in a peaceful series opener between the bitter AL Central rivals on Monday night.

   The Indians, starting a 13-game stretch in which they'll face either Minnesota or first-place Chicago 10 times, have won three straight and are inching closer to .500.

   "This was another big win," Wickman said.  "We're all chasing the White Sox.  But we need to get to .500 first."

   Before the teams renewed their heated rivalry, Wickman went out to catch the first pitch thrown out by Joe Ladd, the president of "Wickman's Warriors," the closer's official fan club.

   "I'm glad he threw a perfect one," Wickman said.  "I was nervous.  I'm not too mobile, and I was worried because I had all those people behind me getting ready to sing the national anthem."

   For one of the few times in the past few seasons, the Twins and Indians stuck to baseball without any brushbacks, beanings, or barking.

   There was barely a tight pitch or menacing glare between the clubs, who have been at odds the past few years.  Before the series started, Major League Baseball warned the teams to behave, sending a letter to both managers to keep their players in line.

   "I think it's kind of overblown," said Indians starter Scott Elarton, proudly wearing his blue "Wickman's Warriors" T-shirt complete with its "In Bob We Trust" insignia.  "It's a mutual respect more than anything."

   In the eighth, Victor Martinez, in a 1-for-24 slump, broke a 1-all tie by hitting a sacrifice fly to center that score Jhonny Peralta.

The Locker of Power

In a far, dark corner of the Indians locker room, hidden behind two pillars next to the electrical circuit box is the Locker of Power. It was where Bob Wickman, the Indians greatest closer, dressed for six years.

It is reserved for veterans or long-tenured players. Previous occupants included Jack Morris, David Justice and Orel Hershiser. C.C. Sabathia took it over after Wick was traded to Atlanta in 2006.

After C.C. was traded to Milwaukee on July 7th, Casey Blake decided to move into a new neighborhood. Blake still headed for his old locker out of habit when entering the locker room, so Tony Amato, the Tribe’s clubhouse manager, jokingly posted a map on one of the pillars showing the way to Blake’s isolated new digs.

 “He moves all the way to the other side of the locker room and he’s still hanging out over here,” said Kelly Shoppach, Blake’s former neighbor. “He can’t stay away from us.” “Seriously, I feel pretty honored to be here, considering all the good players that that have hung their hats here,” said Blake.

But much like the killer car in Stephen King’s “Christine,” the locker has a habit of doing away with occupants that it feels “unworthy.”

On July 26th, Casey Blake was traded to the Dodgers, and Tony Amato decided to isolate the locker with yellow police tape.“For the second time in 20 days a prominent member of the Indians that dressed there has been traded. We’re going to let it cool off for a while. You’re talking about two big moves in the same month.”

In addition to holding the Indian’s all time saves record, Bobzilla also holds the record for the most time spent in Jacobs Fields infamous “Locker of Power.”

“I STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE”

2-19-2005

The Indians had 21 blown saves before the All-Star break last year.

Manager Eric Wedge described the situation this way: “We chased our tail for a while in the bullpen trying to find someone to close. It affected everyone in the pen.”

Whether the tail-chasing ends rests largely on the shoulders of Bob Wickman. When Wedge met Wick on Friday in their annual one-on-one spring training sit down, he told him simply, “All I want you to do is prepare to close on opening day.”

Bob had considered retirement at the end of last season but changed his mind in November.

“I still had the heart for the game,” he said. “I was able to finish up, I believe, strong. I wasn’t just going to leave it at that. I still had something to prove.”

Wick missed the 2003 season completely due to Tommy John surgery, then missed the first half of 2004 after re-injuring the elbow in spring training. He returned in July to convert 13 of 14 save opportunities after the All-Star break.

There were other factors in Wick not retiring. When he filed for free agency, he found out the Indians weren’t the only team interested in him.

“I said, ‘Boy, I guess I must still have something left.’”

Wick’s wife Sue and their 3 children, Kaylee, Ryan and Ethan had a say as well.

“There’s no doubt the kids want Dad home,” said Bob. “But we talked to them. I told them I wanted to try this for a couple of more years- really, I’m going month-to-month now- and they understand. They’re excited and they enjoy it.”

Every pitcher that tried to replace Wickman as closer last year failed.

“You need time to work on pitching the ninth inning,” said Bobby. “You can’t just throw a guy in there and say, ‘Here you go, the ninth inning is yours.’”

Wickman, 36, says he’s had no pain in his elbow and that his winter throwing program went well.

“In my mind I passed every test I needed to pass last year. I pitched three days in a row. I pitched four out of five days. In the last day of the season, when we finished the suspended game against the Twins, I warmed up about five times.”

- Excerpts reprinted from “Wickman answers another call”, by Paul Hoynes – Cleveland Plain Dealer

He's Baaaaaack!   

Warhorse Wick Signed for 2005              

I knew Bob couldn’t let it end the way 2004 did.

Too much heart. Too much integrity to just bolt after scoring his big-money contract. Most people just wrote him off after the injury saying, “He’s getting paid, what does he care?”

It’s true that getting paid $6 million a year makes rehab a lot easier, but that’s not the true picture of what Wick went through. I know. I saw.

 Any man worth his salt wants to earn his wages, whatever they might be. Bob has always been a blue-collar type of guy, and it gnawed at him not being able to fulfill his contract. He was never on the DL in his entire 10 years prior to signing in 2001; so why would he think that he wouldn’t be able continue to get the job done?

 He tried to pitch through the early 2002 injury. Only he knows the pain of trying to throw a baseball 94 MPH with a torn ligament in his elbow, but I know the pain was constant for 4 months until the numbness caused him to loose all control. The doctors had to wait an additional 4 months just for the swelling to subside, and when they went in they found his elbow joint to be a complete train wreck.

 He did all the same grueling rehab work that other Tommy John surgery pitchers do, but at 34 the body doesn’t bounce back the way it does when you’re in your twenties. When he re-injured the arm in spring training 2004, it should have broken his spirit. All that pain and hard work down the drain. Another year and a half older.

But we all know the happy ending to the story. Bobby refused to quit and eventually returned to his old excellent form- converting over 90% of his save opportunities.

 With the closer market for 2005 so small and premium relief pitchers so ridiculously high-priced, Bob will return to the Tribe at a bargain basement price. That will free up more money for Mark Shapiro to pursue a top-quality starter.

 “Bob is a known commodity for us,” said Shapiro. “He expressed the desire to once again be back here pitching again and that was all the incentive I needed to realize that he was the guy for us. He did not care about the money, just the desire to be an Indian again. Bob wants to retire on his own terms, not just pitching the last 3 months of the season.”

Sure haven’t heard many ex-Indians talking like that! But coming from Bob Wickman, it doesn’t surprise me one bit.

J.Ladd 11-24-04