Regardless of his sub-.200 batting average, Brendan Ryan left his mark on Mariners baseball. Ryan is one of the best infield gloves we’ve ever had the chance to witness in a Seattle uniform, making him a runaway winner of the Fielding Bible Award last season as well as a Gold Glove finalist. In fact, it’s safe to say that Ryan losing the AL Gold Glove to J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles last season is one of the reasons they have radically overhauled the judging criteria for that prize this year.
On defense, Ryan had no peer.
Offensively, he was challenged. He knew it, you knew it, I knew it. Heck, we all knew it. On a great team, he’d be a valued asset you could live with — well, maybe if the batting average was about 30 points higher — but on this Mariners team, there was no sugar-coating it. He became a liability. That’s why he lost his job to Brad Miller a few months back and why he was traded last night to the New York Yankees for a player-to-be-named later. Ryan won’t be eligible for post-season play even if he helps the Yankees get there, but at least he’ll have a front-row seat to some interesting baseall rather than seeing his former Mariners team get clobbered by the worst team the sport has to offer.
I’m not here to kick Ryan as he’s headed out the door. Yeah, he’s one of the reasons this team was so bad this season. But he’s got company. And he’s taken enough guff from folks over the years that he doesn’t need any more of it from this corner.
That’s why it’s tough not to root for the guy. Despite all of what he’s had to take without flinching — the comments about his attention deficit disorder, the dissing by former teammate Chris Carpenter in St. Louis, the Gold Glove loss to Hardy, the Mendoza Line jokes and the ignomity of being benched in favor of a player practically straight out of Class AA — Ryan has remained true to himself.
He’s a good guy. Not just because he talks to the media, but because he is. And believe me, we’ve had enough allegedly-talented, not-so-nice guys pass through this so-called family-friendly franchise in recent years that we can appreciate the difference.
Ryan gets a lot of flak thrown his way. From coaches, teammates, fans and players. Some of it good-natured, some of it not. And he’ll take it. Like a man. Not like a prima donna. Ryan knows his place in the world, accepts it and is happy to be where he is.
Sometimes, his excitement at being alive gets the better of him, to the point where he needed to be reeled in. He keeps special pillows to prevent his neck from getting stiff — the byproduct of an injury suffered in an on-field collison two years ago. There are coaches who’ve had to remind him to bring a pillow on the road, so he doesn’t forget and have to miss a game. To be where he has to be at a meeting or on the field. Not because he’s lazy. Just because he has so much fun engaging others in conversation that he can get distracted.
On the field? He was the defensive quarterback.
When I was researching a story on Brad Miller a month or so ago, his father mentioned to me how much of an impact Ryan had on his son. Miller’s dad said he couldn’t be more grateful to Ryan for putting aside his personal situation and giving everything he had to help Miller succeed in the majors at his new position. I didn’t use that in the story I eventually wrote, but you store stuff like that for background knowledge about a person. Apparently, Kendrys Morales — a guy who doesn’t even speak English — has also made an impact on Miller, which is something to keep in mind the next time we get into a stats-oriented debate about the value of keeping him.
Ryan was also the guy who’d be out there to deal with the media after a loss when teammates making far more money were hiding in the players’ dining room, or shower stalls. Guys who couldn’t wait to get their next ticket punched out of town. Veteran players and coaches who know what they’re doing love guys like Ryan who can do that, because he takes the heat off of others — especially on a young team. Ryan would speak his mind and say what he really felt. Not every guy who has worn a Mariners uniform the last decade can claim that.
Hey, for all I know, Ryan’s career may be done. I can remember talking to another guy I really liked, Homer Bush, about 11 years ago when he was in the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field and had just been designated for assignment by Toronto. I told him, while saying goodbye, that he was too young for it all to be over. And he was. But his career was done, as he’d learn several aborted comebacks from a hip problem later. But the thing is, I never worried about Bush. Because he knew who he was, what he was and was grounded enough to handle whatever came his way.
Years later, when I ran into Bush on the field prior to some ceremony he was back for, I learned he was an investment advisor in Texas and seemed to be doing quite well for himself and his family. Not a surprise. There are guys you just know are going to handle whatever life throws their way.
Conversely, there are guys you know will be haunted long after their playing days are done. There’s one guy in particular I see often on Twitter and actually feel sorry for because he’s turned out just as we all suspected he would. And you don’t wish that on anybody. Bush wasn’t one of those guys.
And Ryan isn’t one of them either.
Any guy who would arrange a special date at the top of the Tokyo Tower in Japan a year ago last spring to propose to his girlfriend has to have his priorities straight. Ryan’s the guy who used to deliver pizza to Mark Langston’s house as a kid and get a kick out of it. Now, he’s playing Major League Baseball and building his own dream house in Los Angeles not far from where he delivered those pizzas.
He’s the guy who made people laugh with his Robert De Niro impressions from the time he was a kid, to when the Mariners needed tension relief in their clubhouse.
And if you keep yourself and others laughing, you’ll live a long and healthy life, regardless of what you do for a living.
Ryan knows better than any of us what his shortcomings were and what has to change if his career is to continue. But I’ll gladly root for him. As painful as this team can be to follow at times, Ryan made it easier. And he did it with a defensive skill on the field that was just as hefty as his presence off of it.
For that, the Brendan Ryan years in Seattle will certainly be remembered.
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