The day after this piece originally ran on March 15, it was revealed that Bronson Arroyo had torn the labrum in his throwing shoulder, ending his comeback and likely his career. So, while the sentiment of this piece remains the same in terms of appreciating Arroyo, we're now appreciating a career that is at its end, and David Ortiz is now actually the last of the 2004 Red Sox champions still in the game.
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Red Sox fans, especially those who were around to see it all unfold, love the concept of The 25. These are the players who brought a World Series championship to Boston for the first time in 86 years by doing the unthinkable and defeating the Yankees after losing the first three games of the American League Championship Series before then sweeping the Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
The thing is, we're 12 years removed from 2004 and its glory, meaning The 25 are scattered. Just one major-league player remains from that group, and that man, David Ortiz, is set to retire after 2016. When Ortiz is gone, that's it: The 25 might still be around on television (Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez) or as coaches or front office types around the league (Keith Foulke, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek), but there won't be any left playing the game.
That is, unless Bronson Arroyo makes the Nationals this year and then continues to pitch in the majors beyond 2016.
Arroyo is currently on a minor-league deal with the Nats, and has been pitching in their big-league camp. Arroyo pitched for Washington's new manager, Dusty Baker, on the Reds for six seasons, so the two are familiar, and it also helps his case that Arroyo has performed well this spring and the Nats have a need for depth. The question of his return to the majors is still a fair one, though: he hasn't pitched since 2014 at any level after suffering the first major injury -- and disabled list stint -- of his career. Arroyo just turned 39, and while he's as crafty as they come, he was also clearly on the downswing of his career before his injury.
Maybe part of that was the need for Tommy John surgery that limited him to 86 innings, and maybe part of it was pitching for the Diamondbacks in hitter-friendly Chase Field. We won't know if that's the case until he's pitching in the majors once more, and when we do know the answer, we'll have a better sense of if he'll be hanging around after 2016 when Ortiz has hung 'em up.
You might feel a little sad that Ortiz might not be the last of The 25. Go on, admit it: you don't have to feel guilty about it. Ortiz has far more of a legacy in Boston than Arroyo does, and also in the game as a whole. There's something fitting about Ortiz, who helped make three World Series titles possible after he was released by the Twins before the 2003 season, being the last champion from 2004 to walk off into the proverbial sunset.
Ortiz has been the Red Sox for over a decade now. Love for Big Papi isn't a thing that gradually took hold of the fan base or the region: he broke out in the second half of 2003, hit clutch homers throughout the 2004 postseason, and was a legend before he even turned 30. Everything since then has just been building on that: Arroyo was a fine pitcher for the Sox, but there's no comparison.
With that being said, Arroyo is still one of The 25. He had an excellent and underrated 2004 campaign in which he made 29 starts, threw 178 innings, and produced a 120 ERA+ that put him third behind Curt Schilling (148) and Pedro Martinez (124) among Sox starters that year. Arroyo so capably held down the fifth spot, between his production and health, that the Sox only had a handful of spot starts during the entire season.
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He was great in his Division Series' start against the Angels. He got crushed by the Yankees as the starter in that 19-8 drubbing from the ALCS, but it's not like he was alone in that embarrassment. He made up for it by pitching a scoreless 10th inning in Game 5, then coming in to relieve Schilling in Game 6, which in turn helped keep the pen fresh for the decisive Game 7 and history. Arroyo more than did his part, to the point where maybe, maybe, we can forgive him for the unfortunate decisions he made with his hair that fall.
No, Arroyo isn't a future Hall of Famer or the focal point of the most successful period in Red Sox history. He's had a fine career, though, one with nearly 2,400 better-than-average innings that included a place on the team the majority of Red Sox fans still hold most dear. His time on the Red Sox was some of his best, and if he ends up being the last of The 25 to play in the majors, then we should be excited the legacy of the team has that chance to continue on beyond what Ortiz's calling it quits would allow.
And if this is it for Arroyo? If 2016 is his last season as well? Then hey, it was a pretty good run there. Remember, at one point it felt like 2004 was never going to happen. Now, it's 2016, and the Red Sox have three more World Series championships than they did then, and we've still got members of that 2004 team all over the game even if they aren't playing it. They did alright.