The five things that we'll remember most about Dontrelle Willis' career
Sadly, Dontrelle Willis didn't have one more comeback left. On Friday, Willis, who hasn't been in the Majors since 2011, told the Brewers that he was hanging them up as his stiff neck was preventing him from pitching this Spring. It's a sad day for fans of a player who was among the most popular players in the early-to-mid 2000s.
Let's look back at the five things we'll remember most about D-Train's career.
1. The Leg Kick
When Willis first came to the big leagues, his motion looked less like something he was taught and more like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Just look at that high leg kick -- the way his back bends before his arm comes swing around from the left, his limbs twisting and contorting like a Rube Goldberg device made of spaghetti:
It's a motion that's immediately identifiable, putting Willis among the all-time great deliveries that we know just by silhouette. Like Juan Marichal:
Or Hideo Nomo:
2. Individual Style
Of course, Willis' leg kick was only a small part of what made him an icon. To go along with the kick, Willis was constantly smiling, rocking high socks and was one of the first players to go with a hat slightly askew:
Also, sweet flip phone, dude:
3. Great Games
Of course, it helps that Willis was one heck of a pitcher. In 2003 -- Willis' first season -- he went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA en route to an All-Star election and an NL Rookie of the Year Award. That included his one-hit shutout of the Mets on June 16. Only a Ty Wigginton single stood between Willis and immortality:
He was even better two years later. Willis came in 2nd in the Cy Young voting in '05 when he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA, leading the league with seven complete games and five shutouts. That included two straight to start the season.
In addition to setting a Marlins record for victories in a season, Willis also became the first pitcher since Mike Hampton in 1999 to win 20 games while collecting 20 hits. No one has done it since.
Which brings us to our next point:
4. His bat
Yep, Willis could strike it like few other pitchers. His nine home runs puts him ahead of 10 current Major Leaguers with at least 1,000 at-bats and his .665 OPS is higher than 27 Major Leaguers. He's tied with Willie Bloomquist and Cliff Pennington.
He also hit a grand slam off another fan favorite, Jose Lima, in 2006.
He wasn't afraid of trying to take the extra base, either. Willis hit six triples in his career. That's twice as many as current active pitcher A.J. Burnett's total.
5. His comebacks
Sadly, Willis never had another great season after '05. The southpaw went 12-12 the next year with a 3.87 ERA, but posted a 5.07 ERA in 205 1/3 innings in '07. He would never pitch more than 75 innings in a season again.
At the same time, he never quit. Even when Willis' control disappeared into the ether, he kept trying to make comebacks, showing sparks of the player he once was.
Following the 2008 season in which he walked 35 batters in 24 innings with the Tigers, Willis' second start of '09 was a 6 1/3-inning shutout performance:
And in his first start with the Reds in '11, he went six innings while allowing two runs.
He, of course, also picked up a hit that day:
Since his last big league appearance, he's pitched in Norfolk, Long Island, Salt Lake, Bridgeport and Fresno before arriving in Brewers camp this winter. Hopefully he's got one more comeback in him -- after all, he's already come back from one short retirement in 2012, what's to say there's not one more?