ANAHEIM, Calif. – Yeah, it's not going so well.
His team isn't very good, his record is awful, his changeup went AWOL for more than a month, and the bullpen gave up leads three or four times when he pitched decent.
Some pitchers survive these kinds of seasons. The stuff guys pitch until their stuff is gone, and then they remake themselves and try pitching some more, and somebody hires them, hoping the stuff comes back.
When you never really had a fastball, when you're going on 38 and your contract is expiring, when your game blends guile and survival and – sometimes, in real crises – a double-arm-swing delivery, and when you've been folded into the rap sheet of baseball's steroid era, this is a potential career killer.
So, here stands Paul Byrd.
Fourteen years ago, for no real good reason, the Indians dumped him from their Double-A roster in Canton-Akron. For a week he sat on the bench anyway, no chance to pitch and no team to pitch for even were someone to hand him a baseball.
That got him to thinking. You know, a little between-innings self-assessment.
"I'm not tall," he recognized, "I don't have long arms, I don't throw hard, I'm balding."
Kym, his wife, who'd no doubt noted those limitations herself, suggested they consider going back to Louisville, to a normal life, to a place where a fastball's velocity wasn't always the measure of a man.
They gave it a year, tops.
Six teams and 101 victories later, Byrd is still hanging around, and still carrying around that tumor on his pituitary gland. He's again suffering from the consequences of coming off HGH, which he says he did a couple years ago when the tumor was discovered (not when the San Francisco Chronicle discovered him); the fatigue, the weight loss, the insomnia. The Mitchell Report shoveled him onto the pile of cheating miscreants, and inaccurately presented Byrd's story anyway (he didn't take HGH to treat the tumor, but rather stopped the treatments because of the tumor), and extended his dissatisfaction with the entire affair.
Byrd strikes me as an innocent man, the guy who slows down at the traffic wreck to see if he can help, only to get rear-ended and find himself part of the accident scene. Nevertheless, in his book, a cool, conversational read called, "Free Byrd," (In which there's a chapter titled, "Jacob Wrestled God; I Wrestled Eddie Perez"), he wrote, "I felt like a big fake" and worse for him, perhaps, "a spiritual con artist."
But, time plods on, particularly when it's the dead of summer and you're in Cleveland and the Indians are all but done and CC Sabathia is gone and others are sure to follow. Byrd gets the tumor checked once a year and so far the endocrinologists aren't alarmed. He tries to nap during the day. He takes in as much protein as he can. He adjusted his workouts.
There's just so much he can do. His energy, he said, "Goes like this," and he maneuvered his hand and forearm as if they were a snake slithering over railroad tracks.
"It's just something I kind of deal with," he said.
He remains capable. He beat the Angels on Monday night, when, to the detriment of the Angels' left-handed hitters, his changeup returned. He had the Detroit Tigers beat in his previous start, and then the bullpen door opened. Another good start and he could find himself back in a pennant race, maybe traded to a place such as St. Louis, or back to Philadelphia, or in Texas. But he muses over the damage to his reputation, over what general managers might think of him. He's been close to the end of his career before, he thought, after surgery or ineffectiveness, or in those moments when baseball perceptions chased him down.
Now that light blue Mitchell book is out and crammed into shelves in front offices all over the country. And he's in it. Damn, he's in it. And who knows what that means?
"I don't really know," he said. "I'll tell you what's frustrating: The information in the Mitchell Report about me is wrong. I hope that doesn't turn out like a Hollywood blacklist thing where 30 years from now people are saying, 'Paul Byrd, he was in the Mitchell Report.'"
Not even a year ago, he had beaten the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs, double-pumping and working changeups and carving the strike zone with his fastball, such as it was. And the Indians almost – and should have – gone to the World Series. Now the baseball is different and left-handed hitters are killing him, and he's straining to keep the ball in the ballpark.
Yeah, it's not going so well.
But, and Byrd smiles at this, he's already made more of a career than any scouting report would have predicted. And, well, who knows, they've been wrong before. He's not ready to go. Hell, he's made it this far.
"I'm battling," he said. "I'm fighting. I've been a fighter my whole career. I've been a grinder. I've been here before, I'm trying to say. There's no reason I can't turn it around again, right now. And, you know what? I still love it."