Cole Hamels retired from baseball on Friday, inflicting important consternation to individuals who learn that headline and thought they’d been transported again in time to the winter of 2019. (Purchase a home now, when you nonetheless can, and be sure you top off available sanitizer.)
It’s been 4 years since Hamels pitched successfully within the main leagues; earlier than the 2020 season, he signed a one-year cope with the Atlanta Braves, and was restricted to simply 3 1/3 innings by accidents to his triceps and shoulder. Two additional comeback makes an attempt, with the Dodgers and his hometown Padres, got here to nothing. Hamels by no means fairly recovered from a 2021 surgical procedure to restore a torn rotator cuff, and was still unable to throw without pain when he decided, at age 39, that he’d lastly had sufficient.
Hamels, the 2008 NLCS and World Sequence MVP, will in all probability seem on only one Corridor of Fame poll. However few gamers’ reputations suffered extra by comparability to their fast environment than Hamels’ did; he was one or two breaks from giving a speech in Cooperstown sometime, even when no one realized it on the time.
Exterior of Philadelphia and Texas, the place he loved his biggest success, Hamels might be most remembered as a topic of images. The baseball author Ted Berg kept an encyclopedic collection of awkward Cole Hamels photos, which was a simple factor to do within the late aughts and early 2010s. Hamels was a first-round choose at 18, a giant league debutant at 22, an All-Star and Cy Younger contender at 23, and the World Sequence MVP at 24. He ascended from childhood to nationwide stardom earlier than he grew out of his child face or ditched his by-then-dated boy band haircut.
However as a result of he was good-looking and profitable, Hamels ended up starring on billboards and TV commercials. He and his then-wife, a former Survivor contestant, ran a much-publicized charity, and the Hamelses have been regulars at an annual fashion show to benefit teammate Shane Victorino’s basis. In distinction to the laconic Chase Utley, Hamels was outgoing and unafraid of celeb. His nickname in Philadelphia, “Hollywood,” referenced his Southern California roots and penchant for big-game heroics however by no means felt greater than 90% complimentary.
My favourite picture from Hamels’ profession is a photo from October 10, 2010. Hamels had simply climbed the ladder with a 95 mph fastball to strike out Scott Rolen, the 119th and ultimate pitch in a complete-game shutout that despatched the Phillies to the NLCS.
Hamels had a particular windup, deliberate and clean and unmistakably left-handed, the pitcher’s model of Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing. Hamels was all-around athlete; he hit .169 for his profession, with two triples, two residence runs, and a stolen base on his document, and retained these lean, managed actions nicely into his mid-30s.
Even at 6-foot-4, and able to mid-90s velocity when he wanted it, Hamels was a finesse pitcher at his core. His greatest pitch was at all times his changeup, and he leveled up in his late 20s when he discovered a cutter and began mixing it in along with his four-seamer; all the things labored due to his impeccable command. However whereas Hamels was as sleek as a sea lion in water on the mound, he could possibly be as ungainly as a sea lion on land off it, as anybody who’s seen him on a catwalk can attest.
The celebration after his complete-game shutout in Cincinnati was the proper fusion of the 2, a herky-jerky fist-pump-and-kick that degaussed three hours of pent-up stress out of him straight away. I watched this sport with a good friend in a packed bar in Northeast Philadelphia, and in that second everybody within the room felt the very same mixture of pleasure, aggression, and aid Hamels expressed one state over.
It was a masterful efficiency, the likes of which you merely don’t see in postseason baseball anymore, and it obtained utterly swept beneath the rug as a result of three days earlier Roy Halladay had thrown a no-hitter.
That’s the Hamels story, in a nutshell. Constantly nice, steadily clutch, repeatedly overshadowed by somebody higher.
When Hamels obtained traded from the Rangers to the Cubs in 2018, he was 34 years outdated with 47.4 profession WAR. Given his command, sturdiness, and refined arsenal, I figured he may proceed to be a league-average pitcher till he was 40, perhaps even longer. After the commerce, he was excellent for the Cubs, posting a 2.36 ERA in 12 begins towards the top of that season.
He wanted just some extra seasons of league-average manufacturing to get to the 60-WAR threshold that normally begins a Corridor of Fame dialogue. If he’d lasted lengthy sufficient to get there, 200 wins was a risk, and three,000 strikeouts a close to certainty. On the time, I used to be making ready a Corridor of Fame case that in contrast Hamels favorably to Tom Glavine. (I admit that it’s important to actually wish to see such a comparability, however I had by no means cherished a baseball group as a lot as Hamels’ Phillies nor hated a baseball group as a lot as Glavine’s Braves. Suffice it to say, no one wished that comparability to work greater than I did.)
In the long run, it didn’t matter. Possibly if the 2020 season had gone forward as scheduled, Hamels would have had a standard ramp-up and prevented screwing up his triceps on the eve of the season. And if that hadn’t occurred, perhaps he doesn’t undergo the shoulder damage that in the end ended his profession. It’s all tutorial now anyway.
However even when Hamels had hit these key statistical markers, my Glavine comp in all probability would’ve gotten laughed out of the room. Glavine received two Cy Younger Awards; Hamels by no means completed within the high three. For a couple of decade, from 2007 to 2016, Hamels was among the finest 10 to twenty beginning pitchers in baseball most years. However he was not often the very best pitcher on his personal group.
After storming via the postseason in 2008, Hamels took an enormous step again in 2009. Or a minimum of he appeared to; his strikeout and stroll charges remained about the identical. His FIP was precisely the identical in 2008 and 2009, all the way down to the hundredth of a run, however Hamels’ ERA jumped from 3.09 to 4.32. On the time, he suffered a precursor to what Aaron Nola’s gone via the previous few years — the outcomes are normally good, however frustration at his dangerous outings outweighed the positives of his good ones.
On the deadline, the Phillies traded for Cliff Lee, one other athletic, command-first left-hander who did all the things Hamels was good at somewhat bit higher. Lee endeared himself to followers shortly along with his angle of what I’d name aggressive nonchalance, which appeared to convey a lovely self-confidence that Hamels didn’t possess at that stage of his profession.
Relegated to no. 2 starter standing after Lee’s arrival, Hamels obtained hit exhausting in his first postseason begin of 2009. He made the beginning — and I can barely imagine this occurred as I’m typing it now — whereas his spouse was going into labor. That outing, wherein Hamels allowed 4 runs in 5 innings, wasn’t as dangerous as folks keep in mind; the Phillies nearly got here again to win, actually. However the distinction to Lee was plain.
After getting lit up by the Yankees in Recreation 3 of the World Sequence, a weary Hamels advised reporters, “I can’t watch for [the season] to finish. It’s been mentally draining.” It will’ve been bizarre, all issues thought-about, for Hamels to not have felt one thing to that impact on the time, nevertheless it was unwise to say so in public, notably contemplating that he was lined as much as begin a possible Recreation 7. Three days later, teammate Brett Myers accused Hamels of quitting, and the 2 practically got here to blows within the clubhouse. (Of all of the issues Hamels has taken crap for over time, making an attempt to battle Myers has aged the very best.)
The arrival of Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt the next season took among the strain off Hamels, who got here to view Halladay as a mentor. Halladay died abruptly in a aircraft crash in 2017; one among my most vivid reminiscences of that day was of Hamels, then with the Rangers however nonetheless spending his offseason in Philadelphia, coming again to Residents Financial institution Park to speak to reporters about his former teammate. Hamels additionally spoke at Halladay’s public memorial service on the stadium every week later.
After Halladay joined the group, Hamels responded by reeling off seven consecutive seasons of a minimum of 200 innings, a minimum of 194 strikeouts, and an ERA of three.65 or decrease. That took him via the steadiness of his time in Philadelphia and his first season and a half in Texas. Playoff success adopted as nicely, as Hamels posted a 0.86 ERA throughout his ultimate three postseason appearances in a Phillies uniform.
Hamels’ fame amongst Phillies followers had principally recovered by the top of the group’s dominant run in 2011, nevertheless it was simple to overlook simply how dominant he’d been in 2008 as a result of within the seasons that adopted, Lee and Halladay made such postseason excellence look routine:
Phillies’ Postseason Aces, 2008-11
|Cliff Lee||2009||5||40 1/3||4||0||1.56||1.91||33||6||.186||.219||.241|
Then, because the 2010s progressed, Madison Bumgarner took the established commonplace for dominant postseason pitching, picked it up, and swallowed it complete like one among Cronus’ kids. It doesn’t matter what Hamels did, there was at all times one thing extra spectacular to level to.
Hamels wasn’t the final of the championship Phillies to depart; Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz lasted a 12 months longer than Hamels did. However he was the one one of many three in something resembling his prime when the top got here. The truth is, Hamels’ final look in a Phillies uniform was one among his greatest: a 129-pitch no-hitter at Wrigley Subject.
Watching that video, seeing the names who’d changed Utley, Rollins, Jayson Werth, and so forth, drives residence how far the Phillies had fallen: 102 wins in 2011, 99 losses simply 4 years later. Hamels joined an up-and-coming Rangers group in want of a playoff-seasoned ace whereas Yu Darvish recovered from Tommy John surgical procedure.
Hamels obliged, and pitched Texas to inside three innings of the franchise’s first playoff collection win since 2011. All of us keep in mind the wildest inning in baseball historical past, culminating in José Bautista’s iconic three-run, game-winning residence run and bat flip. In typical style, Hamels’ position has been overshadowed. He took the mound within the backside of the seventh with a one-run lead; the Rangers then dedicated three errors behind him on the primary three batters of the inning. The successful run Bautista drove in ended up being an unearned run charged to Hamels.
What are you gonna do? Between Recreation 5 of the Rangers-Blue Jays collection, the weather-suspended Recreation 5 of the 2008 World Sequence, and 2018’s NL Wild Card Recreation, wherein Hamels pitched two innings of scoreless aid, Hamels has no scarcity of weird playoff reminiscences to name on. Had he been wholesome sufficient to stay it out with the Braves in 2020 and 2021, he might need had extra. However that’s the what-if of his would-be Corridor of Fame case once more.
There are two sorts of Corridor of Very Good pitchers. The primary: Johan Santana, Bret Saberhagen, and arguably Lee as nicely. These have been no-doubt no. 1 starters of their prime, however stated prime got here up agonizingly wanting lasting lengthy sufficient to convey vital milestones into the dialog. The opposite: Hamels, Jon Lester, Kevin Appier. These pitchers’ peaks have been undeniably excessive, together with a number of All-Star appearances and even some postseason success, however not excessive sufficient to go the Corridor of Fame scent take a look at.
Hamels is all however sure to make the group Wall of Fame in Philadelphia, the place he had his biggest successes and threw about two thirds of his main league innings. Retiring a jersey quantity is an honor the group tends to order for gamers who’re inducted into Cooperstown, although the membership made an exception for Dick Allen after his near-miss in 2015.
Other than Halladay, who performed solely two full seasons in Philadelphia, there isn’t a no-doubt Corridor of Famer from that five-year run of NL East titles, and no one from the 2008 championship group. Utley has a bulletproof case, for my part, although I concern that BBWAA voters, even now, will underrate a participant whose profession document depends so closely on protection and effectivity. Hamels and Rollins don’t have an actual case for the Corridor of Fame however meant extra to the group particularly than the game typically.
Hamels is fourth in franchise historical past in WAR amongst pitchers — behind Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, and Pete Alexander, all Corridor of Famers — and third in strikeouts. Since Carlton left the membership in 1986, no one has thrown extra innings in a Phillies uniform. Hamels was the postseason MVP of the franchise’s solely championship-winning group since 1980. Numbers get retired for much less.
Some gamers belong to an period aside from the one they really performed in. Some gamers have been born 10 years too early or 10 years too late. Or each, in Hamels’ case. He was one of many final pitchers to stay as much as the expectation that an ace throws 200 innings a 12 months, yearly, with out fail. His exact, refined sport won’t have been appreciated immediately. For that matter, it’d even have been survivable immediately, such is the standard of the fashionable main league hitter.
Alternatively, it’s a bit jarring to look again at Hamels’ 2009 season with 2023’s sensibilities. These days, he by no means would have been requested to pitch that playoff sport towards Colorado. Public pitching evaluation has improved to the purpose the place his up-and-down common season would’ve been written off as dangerous luck. And whereas expressing a public need to finish the season whereas the World Sequence hangs within the steadiness would by no means have performed nicely, I believe that had Hamels admitted to feeling psychological fatigue in immediately’s local weather, it will’ve gone over higher than it did 14 years in the past. Even Phillies followers are beginning to notice that whereas giving a participant a tough time could be cathartic, and even justified, it isn’t at all times constructive.
I received’t declare to understand how, or even when, baseball historical past will keep in mind Hamels. He had an incredible profession and was concerned in so many necessary moments. However there’s at all times a greater pitcher on the market someplace.