Donnelly's deliveries can be biting
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He's got a World Series ring. He was the winning pitcher of the 2003 All-Star Game. His lifetime big league record is 23-8 with a 2.87 ERA. Major league batters have hit only .219 against him.
But he's not like Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or any of the other young guns in the Red Sox stable of pitchers. Brendan Donnelly is a 35-year-old baseball lifer who was released by six big league teams and played for nine organizations, including two independent league teams, before making it to the majors at the age of 30.
The low moment? That's easy. He was pitching for the Ohio Valley Redcoats of the Frontier League in Parkersburg, W.Va., in 1994. And a young woman stepped to the plate against him.
"I said to myself, 'If I don't get her out, I'm gonna quit,' " Donnelly recalled yesterday after throwing live batting practice at the Red Sox spring camp. "I actually went up and in on her and I got booed by all 12 people that were at the game. I know I got her out. A strikeout, I think. But it's been so long. Those are days I try to forget."
There's a lot to remember. Donnelly was drafted by the White Sox in the 27th round in 1992 and endured a 10-year odyssey en route to the majors. He was released by the White Sox, Cubs, Reds, Devil Rays, Pirates, and Blue Jays. He pitched a couple of innings for Nashua. He pitched in Charleston, Winston-Salem, Indianapolis, Durham, Altoona, Syracuse, and Salt Lake, to name a few. He was let go by the Devil Rays so they could clear a roster spot for Jim Morris -- a publicity stunt that became the major motion picture, "The Rookie."
"Every time you get released it's basically like they are saying you're not good enough," Donnelly said. "It looks worse than it is because there were a few times when I was released that I actually asked them to do it. I had to step aside for Jim Morris and they knew that wasn't fair. Jim Morris is a solid guy, but about half of that movie actually happened."
Donnelly was the real rookie when he was 30 years old with the Angels in 2002. By the end of that season, he had a World Series ring. A year later he was an All-Star.
He's 6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds, wears prescription glasses, and scares the hell out of righthanded batters. Watching Donnelly wind up and throw is somehow like watching Reggie Jackson swing and miss. Let's just say he puts a lot of effort into his delivery.
Donnelly was 6-0 with a 3.94 ERA last year, but the Sox were able to get him in exchange for lefty pitching prospect Phil Seibel. Why so cheap? Word is that Donnelly has lost something off his fastball. Plus, the Angels have long relievers stacked like cordwood.
He has never closed. He has four major league saves. But he'll do it if the Sox give him a shot.
"I just want to get people out and help the team win games," he said. "That's my role. If things shake out that I'm the guy they designate [to close], then I'm gonna do that job to the best of my ability, but right now I'm just concentrating on getting ready for the season. I have a routine that I go through. Whatever happens, that's going to come down to what happens in the spring and what [pitching coach] John [Farrell] and Theo [Epstein] decide to do."
The glasses are not for effect. He needs them to see the catcher's signs. Street signs, too. But he often leaves them at home when driving.
"I make a lot of U-turns," he said.
Donnelly's demeanor in an interview is much like it is when he is on the mound. He's a straight shooter, almost anxious to mix it up. Asked why the Angels didn't do better last year, he said, "Last year's over. I could ask the same thing about Boston last year. That's over. If you want to stir the [expletive] pot that way . . . You want to stir the pot? I'll [expletive] stir it with you."
He makes no apologies for his status as a replacement player (like Brian Daubach and Kevin Millar) or the eight-game suspension he served in 2005 after he was caught with pine tar on his glove (Washington manager Frank Robinson ordered the search).
On signing as a replacement in March of 1995:
"In Anaheim, I told the guys what my story was. I was bouncing in a bar. I was home and had been released twice. Baseball was over. And I got $5,000 and a guaranteed minor league contract for a year and that's what I did with the Reds. I went to lower A ball. And that's what started it back. If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't be here. In Anaheim, [former teammate] Troy Percival tried to talk to the union and tell 'em my story and get me back in and I told him to stop and not do it. I don't even care. I don't think about it. Everybody knows. They know my story. It's not a factor. It's pretty much dead and gone. I'm part of the new agreement. It's a dead issue."
On the pine tar episode:
"Yeah, I had pine tar in my glove. I got eight games. I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't doctor the ball. How about Kenny Rogers last year in the [expletive] World Series? He didn't get ejected. He had to go wash his hands. And I'm fine with that. Guys use something to get a grip. You go ask 30 hitters and ask them if a guy is throwing 90-plus -- do you want him to have a grip on the ball and have control of where he's throwing it? They will all say yes. As long as we don't doctor the ball or change the flight of it. That's something totally different. If somebody wants to call you out and have you checked, then in my mind, they're breaking an unwritten rule."
Great mix of ability and attitude. This guy is going to be a good fit in Boston.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.