Joel Hanrahan and Micah Bowie were teammates on the 2007 Nationals pitching staff, after which their respective careers took very different paths. Hanrahan, after crashing and burning when the Nats tried to make him their closer in 2009, wound up a two-time All-Star with the Pirates. Bowie, the consummate journeyman left-hander, appeared in only 10 big league games after leaving the Nats following that 2007 season.
Both wound up in the news on Friday, for very different reasons.
Hanrahan was named pitching coach for the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate in Altoona, a big step up for the right-hander who has been trying to work his way up the coaching ladder the last few seasons. He can certainly share a wealth of personal experiences, good and bad, with the pitchers he’ll be coaching.
Hanrahan always had a big arm and potential closer stuff, but he simply wasn’t ready for the assignment when the Nationals gave it to him coming out of spring training in 2009. He blew three of his first five save attempts, was demoted to a setup role, then got one more chance to close, only to blow two more save opportunities.
His confidence shot and his ERA approaching 8.00, Hanrahan was shipped to the Pirates along with Lastings Milledge in the trade that brought Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to Washington. Who could have imagined how that would all play out over time. Milledge and Morgan were the bigger names when the trade went down, but each flamed out. Burnett wound up becoming a big part of the Nationals bullpen through the 2012 postseason, while Hanrahan made the most of his fresh start and became a dominant closer.
He notched 40 saves with a 1.83 ERA for the Pirates in 2011, then 36 saves with a 2.72 ERA in 2012, making the National League All-Star team each time. He was then traded to the Red Sox in a deal that sent a guy named Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh - the connective tissue of some of these transactions is just amazing, isn’t it? - but blew out his elbow after only nine appearances for Boston and never pitched in the majors again.
Now Hanrahan will try to work his way back to the big leagues as a pitching coach.
The news isn’t nearly as uplifting on Bowie, who sadly is fighting for his life at home in Texas. Thom Loverro of The Washington Times wrote a heartbreaking column on Friday about Bowie, whose 2016 surgery to attempt to fix a baseball-related back injury led to complications that included damage to both of his lungs and a ruptured diaphragm.
The 44-year-old lefty hasn’t recovered, and he now requires what he described as “hospice-level” oxygen intake simply to keep him alive.
Making this story even sadder is the fact Bowie isn’t able to afford his massive medical costs. He has tried to qualify for disability payments through the Major League Baseball Players Association, but he says he doesn’t qualify because he was 20 days shy of the minimum four years of big league service time the union requires for automatic pension benefits.
Bowie has tried to appeal his case with the union, but so far to no avail.
It’s a devastatingly sad story for the former pitcher, who doesn’t know how much longer he has to live.
And it’s a harsh reminder to all of us who see these players come and go over the years, many leaving only minimal impression on us for their on-field performance, that they remain real people with real families and real problems.
Here’s hoping Bowie’s story somehow gets a happy ending.