Bard's hiatus reminiscent of MLB's lengthiest

July 19th, 2020

On Friday, the Rockies announced that pitcher had made the team’s Opening Day roster. It’s been a long road back for Bard, who last pitched in the Majors in 2013.

After debuting for the Red Sox in 2009, Bard had a stellar three-year run as a reliever, posting a 2.88 ERA across 192 appearances. But he began dealing with control issues in 2012, a season in which he made 10 starts and seven relief appearances, posting a 6.22 ERA. He pitched twice in 2013 before being sent down to the Minors, dealing with the yips in a season where he also missed time with injury.

Bard attempted comebacks with the Rangers, Cardinals and Mets but did not make it back to the Majors. In 2018, he joined the D-backs as a player mentor and mental skills coach. After playing catch with big league players toward the end of 2019, Bard decided to get on a mound again and throw, eventually earning an invitation to Minor League Spring Training from the Rockies. Now, he has returned.

Just how long ago was Bard’s last appearance in the Majors? It was April 27, 2013, for the Red Sox against the Astros. Current Rockies teammate Nolan Arenado had yet to even debut in the Majors. Now, he’s a seven-time Gold Glove winner.

David Ortiz hit cleanup for the Red Sox that day -- and was only a two-time World Series champion at that point. Andrew Miller was one of Bard’s fellow Red Sox relievers. José Altuve was in just his third Major League season.

Bard’s absence doesn’t rank among the longest layoffs in Major League history. That distinction belongs to Paul Schreiber, who appeared briefly for the Yankees in 1945, his first Major League action since he logged 10 games from 1922-23. Bard’s case is special in part because of the significance of his first stint in the big leagues, as well as the length of his absence.

This sort of comeback is rare in baseball history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been six players since 1990 to appear in at least five MLB seasons, then miss at least five full seasons before returning.

Here’s a look at those recent players with MLB comebacks most comparable to Bard’s, though their circumstances differ from his.

Jason Lane (Missed 2008-13)
After debuting as a 25-year-old in 2002, the right fielder hit 26 homers for the Astros in 2005, playing 145 games in his only season as a regular player.

Absence: Lane lost his job in right field to Hunter Pence in 2007, was traded to the Padres toward the end of the season and became a free agent after the year. Unable to make it back to the Majors as an outfielder, he turned himself into a pitcher and found success with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.

Return: Lane signed with the Padres in July 2013. He was called back up on June 3, 2014, and pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief, retiring each batter he faced, even getting two strikeouts of Neil Walker and one of Starling Marte. He pitched in two more games for the Padres and then did not appear in the Majors again.

Roberto Petagine (Missed 1999-2004)
Petagine played in 193 Major League games for four teams from 1994-98, never becoming a regular player and hitting just .225 overall.

Absence: After the 1998 season, the Reds sold Petagine’s contract to the Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball. He spent the next six seasons as a star in Japan, knocking 29 or more homers in each.

Return: Petagine signed a Minor League contract with the Red Sox before Spring Training in 2005 and was called up on Aug. 4. He hit .281 in 18 games in 2005 and .185 in 31 games for the Mariners in 2006 before resuming his career in Mexico, South Korea and Japan.

José Rijo (Missed 1996-2000)
Rijo had a 3.16 career ERA in more than 1,700 innings from 1984-95 with the Yankees, A’s and Reds, making the 1994 All-Star team and receiving both Cy Young and MVP votes in two seasons. He was named World Series MVP with the champion Reds in 1990.

Absence: Rijo missed time in 1995 with an elbow injury and was unable to pitch at any professional level again until 2001. He underwent multiple elbow surgeries, beginning with Tommy John surgery in ‘95.

Return: After appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2001 and receiving a vote, Rijo signed as a free agent with the Reds and attempted a comeback as a reliever. The Reds called him up on Aug. 17, making him the first player since Minnie Miñoso to appear in a game after receiving a Hall of Fame vote. He had a 2.12 ERA in 13 games for the Reds in 2001, then appeared in 31 games, including nine starts, in ‘02, posting a 5.14 ERA.

Steve Fireovid (Missed 1987-1991)
Fireovid appeared in five seasons (1981, 83-’86) but pitched in only 28 games. He had a 3.32 ERA in those appearances, over the course of 65 innings for the Padres, Phillies, White Sox and Mariners.

Absence: He spent the 1987-91 seasons pitching at Triple-A for the Blue Jays, Royals, Expos and Pirates. In 1990, he journaled his experiences, which turned into a book entitled “The 26th Man: One Minor League Pitcher's Pursuit of a Dream.”

Return: The Rangers called Fireovid up in 1992 and he pitched in three games, from April 6-14. He spent the rest of the season with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, and pitched there again in 1993 before retiring.

Warren Cromartie (Missed 1984-1990)
Cromartie debuted for the Expos as a 20-year-old in 1974 and played more than 1,000 games for the club. He received MVP votes in 1981, when he hit .304 in 99 games.

Absence: When he became a free agent following the 1983 season, Cromartie signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan -- a rare move for a Major League player still in his prime, at age 30. While there, legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh helped Cromartie fix his swing, and Cromartie won MVP of the Central League in 1989.

Return: Cromartie planned to retire following the 1990 season in Japan but wanted to play alongside Bo Jackson and accepted a Spring Training invite from the Royals. He returned to the Majors on April 13, 1991, and played in 69 games that season, hitting .313 with a home run before retiring.

Mike Norris (Missed 1984-1989)
Norris debuted for the A’s in 1975 at just 20 years old and went on to pitch nine seasons for the club. In 1980, he finished second in American League Cy Young voting with a 2.53 ERA and 180 strikeouts.

Absence: Norris’ performance dropped off after that 284 1/3-inning workload, and he was sent to the Minors in 1983. He began pitching as a reliever around that time, but was dealing with injuries and addiction issues.

Return: The A’s called Norris back up on April 11, 1990, as a reliever. He pitched in 14 games, at the age of 35, maintaining a 3.00 ERA and recording one win -- meaning he had at least one win for the A’s in each of three decades.