Photo via Kentucky Athletics
When I was a child, I was a much bigger baseball fan than I am nowadays. Players from 2005 to 2009 are etched into my memory, and I’m able to recall names, positions and teams from those days much quicker than I am for those today.
Perhaps my interest was magnified because I, like many other kids that age, had dreams of playing in the big leagues one day. Back then, everything about the MLB seemed so magical and gigantic. I was too young to care about player/owner negotiations and just old enough to savor the crisp pop of a catcher’s mitt.
When the MLB Draft happened this week, I wanted to rekindle some of that naive fondness. I began researching Kentucky baseball players who played in the majors when suddenly a name popped up that ignited the nostalgic flame: Brandon Webb.
I did a little digging around the internet for Brandon Webb content and found this story published on MLB.com by Will Leitch. Leitch recounts Webb’s fascinating but confounding professional career while posing the age-old question: Is it better to burn out or fade away?
It’s an appropriate thing to ask when it comes to Webb, who enjoyed a three-year stint as one of the MLB’s most dominant pitchers but hung up his cleats after just six seasons.
Interestingly enough, before any of the All-Star honors and shoulder surgeries, everything started in the Bluegrass for the Ashland, Kentucky native.
Webb left his mark as a Kentucky Wildcat. He remains the team’s record holder for career strikeouts (259) and games started (46). While he never experienced a winning season with the Bat Cats, his consistent fastball and lively sinker turned heads. His last season in Lexington, in which he went 7-3 and threw three complete games, saw him set a single-season record with 123 strikeouts.
He was drafted in the 8th round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
6/5/00 – The Arizona #DBacks forfeited their 1st Rd. pick to the Atlanta Braves w/the signing of Russ Springer, but drafted SP Brandon Webb out of Kentucky in the 8th round (249th overall) in the #MLB Entry Draft. Their first pick was RHP Michael Schultz (2nd Rd, 69). RattleOn pic.twitter.com/6AE82h5sgh
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) June 5, 2020
After refining his repertoire in the minors, Webb made his big league debut in 2003.
He learned to control his sinker, which quickly became his calling card. It was the first pitch I remember seeing that seemed unhittable. That thing would fall off the table and make guys look silly.
The best stretch of his career came from 2006-2008. Webb was setting the baseball world on fire. I’m talking consecutive All-Star honors, MVP votes, and even a Cy Young in 2006. At one point, he had a streak of 42 straight scoreless innings. He threw 12 complete games over those three years. The D-Backs thought they had an automatic win every fifth day when Webb took the mound.
But in 2009, everything changed. Webb was pulled just four innings into his Opening Day start and later diagnosed with shoulder bursitis. He had season-ending surgery and planned on returning the following year, but the injury resurfaced.
It turned out that the Opening Day start in 2009 would be the last of his career.
He has since been inducted into the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame and established the Brandon Webb K Foundation that benefits at-risk children.
Is it better to burn out or fade away? I remember feeling pride when I saw Webb pitch. He was someone from my state. Who grew up like me. Who made it to the bigs.
MLB players used to seem like legendary figures, like they existed on a planet all their own and couldn’t be just anybody. Brandon Webb showed me that idea wasn’t entirely true — even people from little old Kentucky can really make it if they work hard enough.
Obviously I’m no big leaguer, but that lesson can translate to anything in life. It’s with that mindset I can say Webb may have burnt out of the MLB due to an unfortunate situation out of his control, but he will never fade from the memory of Kentuckians.
For more on Webb’s MLB career, check out Leitch’s article here.