Even for professional ballplayers, many days out of the baseball season are unremarkable. They begin and end without major consequence, with little impact on a historical level. However, every once in a while something ridiculously unpredictable happens.
Ask Phil Humber, unforeseeable owner of the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history and 2014 minor league invitee for your Oakland Athletics.
While Humber’s perfect game on that fateful Seattle day in April of 2012 has been well documented, his descent into baseball anonymity has largely left him little more than the answer to a trivia question. Shortly after the obligatory tour on the talk show circuit, and congratulatory phone call from noted White Sox supporter President Barack Obama, Humber began a steep, injury-speckled decline that has left him dangling precariously on the edge of a complete professional collapse.
The 31-year old’s struggles started immediately after etching his name history, as on the heels of his 96-pitch masterpiece he was abused by opposing hitters surrendering 20 earned runs on 20 hits over his next three starts. A right elbow strain proved to be a culprit in a loss of velocity, and a month long stint on the disabled list gave way to his eventual exit from Chicago’s rotation after the addition of Francisco Liriano.
Hoping for a fresh start in 2013 with the Houston Astros, Humber’s regression reached a new low in 54 2/3 miserable innings split between the rotation and long relief. Eventually losing his spot in the rotation to Erik Bedard, the right-hander was battered to the tune of a 7.90 ERA, 5.02 FIP, with 5.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. After being designated for assignment in mid-May, Humber’s sojourn at Triple-A Oklahoma City was only moderately improved as he allowed a 4.68 ERA in 50 innings pitched.
Signed to a minor league contract by Oakland after his $3 MM option was declined by Houston following the season, Humber will test his fortune this spring on a non-guaranteed contract in Athletics camp. Based on recent performance, it’s safe bet that his chances of making Oakland’s opening day roster will fall somewhere in between slim and non-existent. However, as history has shown–it’s always fair to expect the unexpected.