Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Big Red

I received a call from my dad on Monday night, informing me of the passing of his younger sister. Death is never easy but there are times when it's not a shock, ya know? My aunt had been battling lymphatic cancer for about five years and had just recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Her youngest daughter had spoken about hospice care only a few days before, so, while saddened, it certainly wasn't unexpected.

About an hour later I started seeing the tweets regarding former Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson. It was being reported that he was in a coma in an Atlanta area hospital due to what was described as 'catastrophic organ failure.' A short time later, Tommy's friend and former teammate Jordan Schafer tweeted 'RIP TH.' Although there were no reports of Tommy's death at that time, Schafer's tweet seemed to confirm our fears: the death of a young man whose once promising career had been derailed for physical and, apparently, personal problems. Tommy Hanson should have been in his pitching prime; instead, a wife is morning the loss of her husband, his children, the loss of their daddy and his parents, the loss of a son.

I returned to the hobby in December of 2009 and one of the guys whose cards I sought after was Tommy Hanson. Big Red had rocketed through the Braves farm system- including a brilliant 14-strikeout no-hitter at class AA Mississippi in 2008 (in only his second professional full-season). Later, in the fall of '08, he would dominate the hitters in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and become the only pitcher to win league MVP, all the while cementing his status as the top pitching prospect in baseball. 

Tommy made his highly anticipated major league debut in June of 2009, and despite getting hit hard in his debut, went on to finish 3rd in the NL ROY race after going 11-4, with a 2.89 ERA and a 3.9 WAR over only 21 starts. Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, devastating curve, solid change-up and slider, the 6'6 Hanson looked like he would develop into an ace and anchor the staff for years. 

While he would never post a higher WAR during his career, Tommy continued to develop as a pitcher at the major league level and was a workhorse for the Braves 2010 staff. The first half of his 2011 campaign was worthy of being named an N.L. All-Star, but for some reason he was snubbed. I got the privilage of seeing him and Seattle's Michael Pineda duel on a trip to the Emerald City. Tommy had turned in probably the best performance of his major league career prior to that start (a 7 innings, 3-hit, 14 strikeout performance against Houston), so the excitement I felt was unreal. He threw okay against the M's, picking up the win, and would have two more great starts immediately following the game I atteneded. After that, though, Hanson's career seemed to have started its descent. A major drop in velocity got many fans worried and there wasn't much consistency during the 2012 season for the big righty. I remember many a night being totally frustrated as I watched Hanson pitch, but what I would give to watch him pitch one last time.

I didn't know Tommy Hanson, but by what his teammates and those who covered him during his days in Atlanta say, he was a very affable, generous, kind and gentle soul. He certainly left his mark on the game and on this fan and collector.

RIP, Big Red.

1 comment:

  1. RIP Tommy. Still blows my mind that one minute we had 2 all stars in Tommy and Jair and the best they were both out of baseball. I was talking to a friend about this and he thinks once his pitcing left him Tommy lost his spirit. Such a sad ending to a young man's life.