When you share your first name with one of the most famous and successful animated characters in American TV history, people kind of expect you to be successful…or at least funny.
Well, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey is no joke, and if living in the shadows of The Simpsons isn’t hard enough, following in the footsteps of the greatest strikeout pitcher in MLB history has got to be the ultimate challenge.
The gifted hurler threw the last of 2012’s seven no-hitters 10 months ago against Pittsburgh, and the first of ’13 against the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night. The last pitcher to throw one no-hitter and then another before anyone else in the majors accomplished the feat was Bailey’s hometown idol Nolan Ryan. According to STATS, “The Ryan Express” did it for the California Angels on Sept. 28, 1974 against Minnesota, and June 1, 1975 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Every kid wants to measure himself against his idols, and Bailey’s doing it one no-no at a time. “Obviously (it’s special with him) being from Texas and what a legend he is,” said Bailey, who wears No. 34 in tribute to his boyhood hero. “To do it once is extra special. To do it twice - I don’t really have the words for it right now.”
Ryan entered the league at 19, went 29-38 his first four seasons and couldn’t control his blazing heat, so the Mets traded him to California where he won 62 games the next three seasons. From there, Ryan went on to set strikeout records that may never be broken. To this day, Met fans lament the itchy trigger finger by former Mets ownership in dealing with the promising youngster.
Despite Bailey’s affinity for no-hitters, he’s not mentioned amongst the game’s dynamic starters. In seven MLB seasons, he’s just 43-39 with an ERA of 4.36; But he didn’t come out of nowhere.
After finishing a legendary career at La Grange H.S. in Texas, Bailey was the “can’t miss” seventh-overall pick of the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft, wearing Ryan’s number 34.
He burst onto the scene with mega-hype, but like his idol, didn’t immediately take MLB bull by the longhorns.
After riding up and down the minor league to major league elevator for several years, Bailey’s first two seasons with the Reds were shaky, to say the least. He was just 4-8 with a whopping 6.85 ERA, and he was getting shellacked early in the ’09 season. It got worse in ’10 as Bailey ended up on the DL with shoulder inflammation, and during rehab, the team considered moving him to the bullpen.
Upon his return, Bailey staved off demotion to the pen by allowing just three runs or less in his final nine starts and finishing the season with a respectable 4.53 ERA in 113 1⁄3 innings. Last season was his coming out party, as the 27-year-old Bailey (13-10) had a career high in wins. Finding superstar consistency is Bailey’s final step to becoming an ace. He’s 5-6 this season, but he’s pitching like a vet.
Throwing a no-hitter is the ultimate accomplishment for a pitcher, but some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history have never done it, so it’s hardly a mandatory component of greatness. A lot of bums have captured lightning in a bottle once.
Mound-moguls like Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Grover Cleveland, Don Drysdale and Steve Carlton had all the gaudy stats, short of a no-hitter. None of Atlanta’s Big Three (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) ever did it, either.
Every time Bailey gets busy like that, he conjures memories of the gritty, fire-balling Ryan who threw a major –league record seven no-no’s in his incomparable 27–year career. Good thing, Cincy chilled on that bullpen plan. It’s turning out to be the best move Cincinnati never made.