Update: On August 4, 2023, Noah Song cleared waivers and was returned to the Red Sox. He was assigned to single-A Greenville.
Remember Noah Song?
Once upon a time, back in those heady days of 2019 when we were all innocents and didn’t even know what a pandemic was, Noah Song was a young graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He’d been a record-setting and award-winning pitcher in college, a finalist for the Golden Spikes and the Dick Howser Trophy, among other accolades.
Song was considered a first-rounder in the draft but his service commitment to the Navy scared teams off. He was eventually drafted in the fourth round by Dave Dombrowski’s Red Sox (another time of innocence, can you remember it, kids?).
The US military academies, which are tuition-free, require a service commitment upon graduation: five years as a commissioned officer. After that, the alumni can go on their way and do whatever they want.
A few athletes have gone on to have stellar professional careers after this service, most notably Roger Staubach (Navy). NBA Hall of Famer and Navy grad David Robinson, by the way, wasn’t exactly one of those. He was granted an unusual waiver due to two late growth spurts. He grew too tall to serve on naval ships, so ended up serving only two years.
In recent years, there was some support for allowing athletes from the military academies to defer service time. This waiver program has since been ended, but the idea was that recent graduates should be given the opportunity to forge a professional sports career while their physical skills were at their peak, and fresh from collegiate play. There’s a big difference between a 22-year old athlete who’s sharp and a 27-year old who hasn’t played in five years. The waiver policy, which allowed for case-by-case review, not automatic deferments, began to be implemented under then-President Obama’s administration, and was also a keen interest of then-President Trump.
So Noah Song gambled a little bit back in 2019. He applied for the waiver, asking to serve in the Naval Reserves instead of active duty so that he could play professional baseball at the same time.
Immediately after graduation, Song played for the Lowell Spinners in Class A. (Hey, remember them?) He threw in the upper 90s and pitched to a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings.
But his waiver wasn’t granted. Despite Song’s appeal, the Navy wouldn’t release him from active duty, so he went to flight school and his baseball career was put on hold.
Fast-forward to December 2022 when Dave Dombrowski, that old fox, stole Song out from under us in the Rule 5 draft. I have a strong feeling that he enjoyed that move to no end, giving a middle finger to Chaim Bloom and reuniting with an old friend in the process, a favorite tactic of his.
In February 2023, Song transferred to the reserves and resumed his baseball career, now with the Phillies.
He hadn’t pitched since 2019 and it showed. He went on the IL with back tightness almost right away. Then in rehab, he pitched 11 innings, striking out 16 and walking 11. His ERA in that small sample size was 7.36. Most dramatically, he lost several mph from his fastball. Whether it’s due to the injury or the layoff is immaterial; he’s not the same pitcher.
Song has been self-aware, saying in March:
“I’m trying to manage expectations. I don’t really necessarily know what my future or ceiling might be.”
In many ways, Song’s dream of making it to the big leagues was always unlikely. There’s only a tiny precedent for former Navy Midshipmen players in MLB.
One (free agent pitcher and Worcester native Oliver Drake) left the Naval Academy after his second year, thereby avoiding service time entirely. Nemo Gaines entered the majors in 1921 after completing his service time. Interestingly, like Song, both of these guys are pitchers.
Which brings us to Mitch Harris.
Mitch Harris was also an award-winning pitcher at Navy who spent five years away from baseball as he completed his service. Like Song, his velocity dropped (to 80 mph at its lowest point). He debuted in the big leagues in 2015 with the Cardinals, who had drafted him years earlier, and his velocity returned as he rebuilt his arm strength.
Harris won the Tony Conigliaro Award at the end of that season. It goes to a major leaguer who “has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.’’
The season turned out to be Harris’s last. He suffered arm soreness and elected to undergo UCL repair rather than Tommy John surgery. He didn’t pitch again.
Maybe Song can follow in some of Harris’s footsteps: rebuilding strength and stamina, and regaining velocity.
As for his current situation, he was designated for assignment by the Phillies on July 30. They don’t have room for him because they’re looking to contend and they can’t use a roster spot on someone who needs time to develop. (Because he was acquired via Rule 5, Song would have needed to be on the 26-man roster for 90 days in order to stay with the team.) Song isn’t their guy right now.
But could he be Boston’s guy? I hope so. He’s got four pitches — curveball, slider, changeup, and a four-seam fastball — and he had magic once. Why not let Song try to work things out?
If he clears waivers, he can be offered back to the Sox for $50K. If that doesn’t happen, he goes back to the Phils.
I think the Sox will take him back in a second. It feels very Bloom-like: a bargain that’s wrapped in a gamble.
Clearing waivers, which I suspect he’ll do, could happen any moment now, but certainly today, Friday. Let’s see what happens.