Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Abbreviated Baseball Life of Brad Halsey

Independent baseball has a sort of charm to it. Each league has its own different rules that shape the way a roster is formed. The Frontier League is based predominately around rookies (less than 150 ABs or 50 IPs). Each team fields roughly twenty rookies, meaning this league serves as another stepping stone for college players who have just graduated. The now defunct Northern League was a little looser with the roster. Teams could only have a maximum of four veterans (six or more years in professional baseball) with a minimum of five rookies, so the team experience could range greatly. The level of play is slightly above the Frontier League, with the players having played in affiliated baseball for a few years before their teams cut them loose or those looking to rehab from an injury. The former is the case of Brad Halsey.

Brad Halsey really caught my eye during my internship season with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. Brad Halsey had a pretty interesting story by the time he reached Gary. He was an important starter with his collegiate team, Texas, where he led the Longhorns to a national championship in 2002 with teammate Huston Street. He was then drafted by the Yankees and made his major league debut roughly two years later. He was then a major chip for the Yankees when they shipped him to Arizona for Randy Johnson.

After a season with Arizona in 2005, he was traded to Oakland for former Chicago favorite, Juan Cruz. He became a piece of baseball lore during the 2006 season when Barry Bonds hit home run 714 off of him, tying Bonds with Babe Ruth for 2nd most home runs of all time. In 2007, he butted heads with the front office after being told he would garner a major league start, but then was held out at the last minute because of a questionable MRI. This cost him quite a big payday and valuable MLB service time. He would later file a grievance against Oakland and won. Later that year, he would have surgery to repair a torn labrum, a relatively serious surgery, especially for someone who makes a living with his arm.

This is where I come in. I was lucky enough to land a summer internship in lovely Gary, IN. Being a faux-baseball historian, I would look into some of the backgrounds of some of the players. That team also included Christian Guerrero, cousin of Vladimir Guerrero, but I’ll save that for another time. After finding out about some of the facts above, I found it amazing that a former major league could be so humble around some fresh-faced kids out of college and guys that will never even sniff affiliated baseball. You can’t say that about some other former major leaguers (not naming any names!). The RailCats had not employed many former major leaguers, but Halsey needed to rehab and show that his arm had fully recovered. Halsey did not return to the RailCats the next season. That was because the Yankees decided to take a chance on him in 2011 and signed him to a minor league contract. He spent much of the season in AA before eventually being released after the season.

It’s always interesting to learn about these players, their hobbies as well as their back-stories. Halsey’s background will always strike me as one of the most interesting because of his potential, as well as his actual accomplishments, collegiality and professionally.

Halsey passed away this past week in a rock climbing accident at age 33. Although I did not interact with him every day (I blame my lack of baseball talent on that), he will remain one of the more famous players to ever don a RailCats jersey, even if he only wore it for one season.

- Jimmy Bobowski

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