Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

February 5, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: Webb's career chocked full of terrific moments

ASHLAND — Former National League Cy Young winner Brandon Webb is retiring from baseball, according to his agents at Millennium Sports.

The news came across Twitter like so much does today. But there weren’t alarms going off like when some breaking news is delivered via social media.

For many outside his hometown, Webb was already off their baseball radar.

He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since the opening game of 2009. His comeback from shoulder surgeries didn’t work out, but he can look back on a career full of amazing highlights.

Webb had been pursuing yet another comeback attempt, but instead announced his retirement Monday in a statement released by agents Jonathan Maurer and Mike Montana.

“With retirement, Brandon looks forward to focusing on more time with his family,” the statement said. “He would like to thank all the countless coaches, players and friends for their support during his career.”

When Webb won the National League Cy Young Award in 2006 while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he talked about how that award is something no one can take away. It’s almost become part of his name. Most stories that mention him, at some point, say: “Brandon Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner ....”

That’s not a bad tag to carry with you.

And just imagine how close Webb was to winning three consecutive NL Cy Young Awards? He was runner-up in 2007 (Jake Peavy) and 2008 (Tim Lincecum). And, if he had been playing for a regular contender instead of the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s hard saying what might have happened with his career.

As it was, the Diamondbacks made the playoffs once, in 2007, when Webb was there. And he won a playoff game over the Cubs (NLDS) before losing against the Rockies (NLCS). He was also a three-time All-Star. In 2007, he threw three consecutive shutouts and had a 42-inning scoreless streak — the 12th-longest in baseball history.

Webb was at his best during the 2005-2008 seasons when he won 70 games, more than any other pitcher in that time span.

All this from a boy who cut his baseball teeth on Ashland fields and played catch with his father, Phil, from a young boy to a major leaguer. It was like a dream come true for both of them.

Webb turns 34 in May so the biological clock was ticking on his career. But the shoulder injuries took away from what already was a remarkable career. Still, it’s hard not to think what if. How good could he have been?

It was going from the top of the game, being one of the best pitchers on the planet, to not being able to throw, that worked on Webb the most. He worked hard in rehabilitation time after time after time. The dream was still within reach. He had done it once so he could do it again. He knew he could do it again. The deadly sinkerball was practically unhittable during his prime.

But despite shoulder surgeries to repair the damage, the velocity never returned to his fastball, leading to a premature retirement.

Webb never wanted to bounce around in the minor leagues trying to reinvent himself. He was at the top of the mountain before the injury knocked him down.

Webb pitched more than 200 innings in five consecutive seasons for Arizona and in today’s game that qualifies him as a workhorse. Maybe he was too much of a workhorse. Webb was 22-7 in his last full season. He was a pitcher who took the ball every five days. You could count on him. Managers did count on him. Fans counted on him and so did the Diamondbacks.

He was also the consummate professional who was the ideal teammate. Webb always had their backs in interviews, never blaming anyone but himself for losses (even though fielding was less than sterling when he pitched in the desert).

He never did anything to embarrass himself, his family or his hometown.

You want a model for how to act as a big leaguer? Take a snapshot of Brandon Webb.

Webb had only one season that wasn’t All-Star caliber when he went 7-16 in 2004. That was his only losing season, a year when Webb walked a career-high 119 and threw 17 wild pitches. His control numbers were never near that again. He learned to trust his stuff.

Brandon Webb has been giving Ashland thrills for 25 years, including his days as a cool 11-year-old pitcher whose swooping curveball helped Ashland American win the state championship in 1990. He went from there to being the ace of the Ashland Tomcats and then to becoming the No. 1 pitcher on the University of Kentucky’s staff.

How much does his hometown love him? Who else has a stretch of highway named after them?

His 87 victories and 3.27 earned run average in seven seasons (six if you don’t count the season where he made only one start) are numbers that will stand up against anybody. He pitched in 199 games, 198 of them starts, and struck out 1,065.

I’ll never forget driving to New York City with his father, grandfather and two others for the first start of Webb’s career. He delivered seven brilliant shutout innings while striking out 10 as the Diamondbacks defeated the Mets in Shea Stadium in the first game of a doubleheader that Sunday afternoon.

That was the first of his 87 career victories, every single one of them giving Ashland a bump of pride. The only thing we didn’t like was that most of his games were on the West Coast.

Webb’s career parallels another great area star, left-hander Don Gullett. The Lynn native’s pitching career also was cut short by injury after nine seasons with the Reds and Yankees. He won 109 games with a 3.11 ERA and pitched in 266 games, 186 as a starter. He struck out 921. Gullett was 27, six years younger than Webb, when his career ended.

But who would have guessed that Webb would have more strikeouts than Gullett? And in two fewer seasons.

Webb’s last start was an opening day assignment in 2009. I wonder how many other starting pitchers in baseball history made their last start on an opening day? I’m sure it isn’t many, if any.

Webb’s pitching career is now officially behind him, but his legacy, much like Gullett’s, will live forever in these parts and beyond.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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