And where does Homer Bailey fit in?
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
Before he turned 21, Bob Feller had won 55 games for the Cleveland Indians and pitched 785 major-league innings. It burned out his flaming right arm so thoroughly that Feller managed but 27 victories the next year, and 25 the next. By 1942, there were only two opponents that could cool him down: Germany and Japan.
On the other hand, and closer to home, there was Wayne Simpson, who was 21 as a rocking Reds rookie in 1970, when he went 14-3, and never the same again; or even close.
Jim Palmer was up with the Orioles at the age of 19 and winning 20 at 20, the first of eight occasions on which he would do that. The flip side finds Herb Score, who racked up 36 triumphs by the time he was 23 and didn't win another 20 in the rest of his years combined.
We could keep going. Tom Seaver on one side, Gary Nolan on the other. Greg Maddux for the promise of youth and Mark Fidrych for its ruination. Walter Johnson for the defense, Billy McCool for the prosecution.
But here's the thing. The names and numbers are prolific, the persons and precedents are numbing, and none of them makes a convincing case, either way, for Homer Bailey.
At the gate of the big leagues, there is no cardboard cutout that you have to be taller than. There's no litmus paper to place on a pitcher's tongue. This is all gut and guesswork.
Were another man presiding over the Bailey decision - perhaps Jerry Narron, the Reds' manager, or Bob Castellini, the Reds' owner - the precocious righthander, instead of mounting a mound in Jackson, Tenn., to make his fourth start for the Chattanooga Lookouts, might be on his way to join the big club tonight in Atlanta. But the decision is largely Wayne Krivsky's, and the general manager is regarding it with the utmost caution.
He knows, of course, that Bailey's three previous performances at the Double-A level, to which he was promoted just a few weeks ago, have been marred by not a single run in 17 innings, and only seven harmless hits. He knows that the 20-year-old Texan is the best prospect that the organization can offer, and its best pitching prospect since ... well, if you can believe it, since Jimi Hendrix blew away Woodstock and the Reds drafted Don Gullett out of McKell High School in South Shore, Ky.
Gullett was pitching in the World Series the very next year, at the age of 19, on a staff that included Milt Wilcox at 20, Simpson at 21 and Nolan at 22. We know, then, how Bob Howsam and Sparky Anderson would come down on this matter.
They, however, did not have the benefit of observing how pitcher after prospect would turn sour in the Cincinnati farm system. The recent examples include Chris Gruler, the top draft choice from 2002, who has since had three shoulder surgeries and is now pitching for the training-wheeled Gulf Coast Reds; and Ty Howington, the top draft choice from 1999, who was released in spring training and caught on with the redoubtable Lincoln Saltdogs.
There was also, in 2003, the pause-giving precedent set by Ryan Wagner, the Texas-raised pitcher who was a high school senior when Bailey, as a freshman, beat him in the state finals. A reliever signed out of the University of Houston and rushed, with regrettable results, to Cincinnati, Wagner's ragged work in Louisville has precluded an appointment to even the Reds' revolving bullpen, which Thursday saw one lefty (Brian Shackelford) arrested, another (Michael Gosling) promoted and another (Eddie Guardado) acquired.
What Gruler, Howington and Wagner add up to is a whole bunch of reluctance over Bailey. It would be easy for Krivsky to cave in to a manager who has not concealed his admiration for the kid's 98-mile-an-hour fastball, and to an owner who is proud of his impatience. And if he did, it could easily prove to be the right move - the one that quickens the Reds' pitching staff and hastens a glorious career.
Of course, it could just as easily prove to be the wrong move - the one that strains a growing fellow's fabulous arm and unsteadies his incalculable confidence. Besides which, what to do with him?
One of the charges Castellini gave Krivsky a few months ago was to devise a plan for developing pitchers, with clear distinctions according to age. The blueprint for Bailey involves around 150 innings this year, preferably fewer. He has about 60 left.
That would be enough for a number of shortened starts or a greater number of bullpen appearances, which would be of considerable use to the lead-blowing Reds but perhaps not as much to Bailey, whose future begins in the first inning. On the other hand, Gullett pitched in relief his rookie year and occasionally thereafter. A lot of starters do.
It's all a profoundly prickly issue, and one that defies defining. Basically, it comes down to two guys.
One is Krivsky, whose personnel judgments (Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Phillips, David Ross, Scott Hatteberg ... ) should have earned him our trust by now. The other is Bailey, concerning whom, at this point, prior examples have no bearing whatsoever.
(I mean, who ever heard of a pitcher named Homer? What's next, a cleanup hitter named Whiff?)
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.