Age on opening day: 29
2011 stats: 8 games (8 starts), 42.2 IP, 5.91 ERA, 3-4, 28:22 K:BB
2010 stats: 25 games (24 starts), 144.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 4-9, 74:51 K:BB
From hero to zero. That's what happened for Armando Galarraga, who started 2011 as one of the most respected men in sports, but went on a steep plummet thereafter. He basically aced the Trifecta of Suck, being not just crap, but being so while getting paid millions of dollars and exhibiting an appalling attitude of entitlement that put Lindsay Lohan to shame. That played about as well as you'd expect in a clubhiuse run by Kirk Gibson, and Galarraga quickly found himself on a bus to Reno. That reality check failed to fix things, and Galarraga vanished unto the minor-leagues, never to return.
Outside of his near-perfect game, Armando Galarraga hadn't been that good of a pitcher over the previous two seasons. He had a 5.64 ERA with Detroit in 2009, and failed to make the team out of spring training the following year. He eventually made it up in mid-May and had a couple of mediocre starts - six ER in 10.1 IP - before crashing in to public consciousness with his near-perfect game, snatched away by Jim Joyce's blown-call. Plaudits were showered on him for the calm way he apparently accepted the decision, but his pitching the rest of the way was far from perfect, winning only two of 21 subsequent starts, with a 4.82 ERA.
His departure from the Tigers was an odd one. In mid-January, they had just agreed on a one-year, $2.3 million deal with Galarraga, avoiding arbitration. But the team then signed Brad Penny, relegating Armando to likely sixth starter status, and they opted to designate him for assignment. In the ten-day trade window which followed, they came to an agreement with the Diamondbacks, and dealt Galarraga to Arizona in exchange for prospects Kevin Eichhorn and Ryan Robowski. The response from the SnakePit? A collective "meh, though 58% of poll respondents preferred Galarraga as our fifth starter...
At first, he did okay, though more thanks to decent run support than his own merits. After three starts, Galarraga had a 6.00 ERA, but was 3-0, as the D-backs had scored 24 runs over those games. Probably inevitably, that couldn't last. He took the loss the next time out, surviving only three innings,. and the following outing was marred by a dugout spat between him and Miguel Montero (see below). He ended April having allowed 11 home-runs in 28 innings of work - as a yardstick, the master of the gopher-ball Yusmeiro Petit never gave up more than seven in any calendar month of his career
May was when the wheels really came off. Though the ball stopped flying out of the yard, opponents hit .328 off Galarraga in three starts, with a .934 OPS against. Three starts led to three Diamondbacks losses, and after the third - an 8-4 loss to the Padres on May 16 - an obviously-frustrated pitcher blew up when asked if his position in the rotation might be under threat after the game. It wasn't so much threatened as already packing its bags; the next day, Galarraga was designated for assignment for the second time in 2011. This time, no other team worked out a deal, and he was assigned to Reno.
Two starts for the Aces were no better. 16 hits and nine walks in nine innings led to a trip to the "DL" - quotes used advisedly - with elbow problems. He came back at the start of July and made three more, largely ineffective, appearances. The last was on July 17,, quite what happened thereafter is obscure - the Aces' transaction page lists no further DL trip. Galarraga ended the season with a Triple-A line of 24 earned runs allowed in 23.1 innings, nine home runs, and more walks than strikeouts (17:16). Galarraga elected free agency earlier this month. Rumor has it he was recently kidnapped in Venezuela, but released after the perpetrators paid his family to take him back...
Looking back, the imperfect game seems more the exception than the rule for Galarraga in terms of character. Described, for example, as "A display of good sportsmanship, dignity, class and honor," those would not be the first words you would use to describe the player shown in the clip below, remonstrating with his catcher, Alex Avila - the one who called Galarraga's most-famous start - in the Tigers' dugout during a game last August.
This was after a harmless two-out single by Paul Konerko, and according to Avila, "It was just on what we wanted to do to some guys and going through the game plan. It was just a heated conversation." However he cryptically added, "It wasn't just about the pitches," and Galarraga is also seen swinging at another catcher, Gerald Laird. He said, "I just thought enough was going on, and I tried to get in between to kind of calm things down. I think Galarraga kind of took it the wrong way, and maybe I said something I shouldn't have said.... For [Galarraga] to come in and try to embarrass him in front of his teammates like that, I just didn't think that was the right time to do it."
Avila wasn't the only catcher to exchange words in semi-public with Galarrafa. Even this year with Arizona, there were some suggestions Galarraga's temperament was in question. Witness this exchange between him and Miguel Montero during the game on April 29th, and Montero's explanation:
He said 'Why don't you call something else?'" I did call something else. I wanted to throw something else, either slider or fastball in. I didn't want to throw something out over the plate. But he wanted to throw that. Like I told him, if you have conviction with that pitch and he hits a homer there's nothing you can do. All you can do is tip your hat. You wanted to throw it. You made a good pitch. He hit it out. What are you going to do? He was a little bit frustrated to give up the homer. I just tried to make him calm down and relax him. That was all.
Commentating, both Daron Sutton and Luis Gonzalez largely tried to play down the situation. Gonzo said, "That happens with a pitcher and catcher all the time. In the course of a season, arguments like that...are going to happen a lot more times than fans are used to seeing." Daron added, "From what I saw as a fan, I saw players that care." But subsequent events would seem to put a different spin on the incident, suggesting that only one of those involved genuinely cared, at least about the team. For then, after his May 16 start, this happened:
[Video by Craig Grialou and ArizonaSports.com]
"Why would I be worried? Something I have to worry about? You think I have to be worried about it? You think? We'll talk about it at the end of the season. I'm disappointed for this start. I'm not disappointed for the rest of the season. What are you talking about? Are you saying I'm going to lose my job?"
I think this was the moment, when a replacement-level pitcher for whom we felt moderate disdain, turned into perhaps the most disliked Diamondback since Russ Ortiz's contract ran out. Only the previous start, Kirk Gibson had stoically defended his struggling starter; this time the tone was a good deal harsher, "He didn't pitch very well at all, didn't set a very good tone for us... We've talked about accountability, so I think that we talk all the time, and certainly it would seem fair that we talk about it." I'm not sure if that conversation ever took place, for the following day, Galarraga got his ticket punched to the minor-leagues.
Let's give Armando the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this was just a one off. A frustrated pitcher blows up at the media. It happens. I'm sure, now he's down in Reno, calmer heads will prevail. We'll be hearing all the right things about how Galarraga will be working hard to correct his flaws and make it back up to the big-leagues. Or not.
"This year, I had four bad starts," said Galarraga, who was leading the majors in home runs allowed at the time of his demotion. "But the first three games I won. I didn’t struggle the whole year. Nobody can say that. You win your first three games, you’re good. Then I lost the next four and they want to send me down here. I don’t think there’s anything specific I need to work on. Whatever they say, I don’t care.".. Galarraga also made no bones about why he accepted the assignment to Reno when he could have become a free agent. "The money," Galarraga said. "They have to pay me $2.3 million to come here."
Okayyyyyyy... So much wrong in that paragraph, it's almost delicious. Most obviously: "You win your first three games, you're good." Not when your ERA is, as noted, 6.00. Your offense is good, bailing out the pitching. You? Not so much. In a perverse way, I have to respect the brutal honesty about why he accepted the assignment. In his shoes, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't decline and risk losing two million bucks. However, I'm also pretty sure I'd be rather more diplomatic about proclaiming this fact to a reporter.
As they say, "You've got two chances: slim and none. And Slim just left town." Having managed, somehow, to shoot himself in both feet, while simultaneously sticking them in his mouth, that interview probably marked the end of Armando Galarraga as an Arizona Diamondback. The rest of his contract was played out without significant fuss, but the Diamondbacks never looked back. They had a 17-23 record before his demotion, but went 77-45 after he left the clubhouse. It's not difficult to draw the conclusion that, for the 2011 Diamondbacks, Armando Galarraga was about as far from perfect as can be imagined.
Glad that's over.
Yeah, the F seems appropriate, and he's not going to be winning any points for good sportsmanship this year. We may not have expected another perfect game from him this year, but we certainly expected better than this, both on the field and in the locker room, I think. I don't know that we can necessarily read too much into the fact that he was sent down to Reno right about the same time the team turned things around, but getting rid of him certainly didn't seem to hurt the team.
Can it be anything else?? He had potential, got a few lucky starts. Otherwise, a major flop. I had so much fun writing the "Jewel of Denial" article (my article, Jim's title), which Barry and his Reno Aces teammates even read and laughed at! Can't imagine that made the minor leagues much easier for Armando!
An ‘F' that stands for something I'm not allowed to say here...