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Terry Mulholland and other punished pitchers of the past

You probably don’t remember Terry Mulholland.

There’s no real reason you should, unless you’re one of those weirdos who fall head over heels for middling lefty relievers. And Mulholland was that, par excellence. Over a 20-year career, he pitched for 11 different teams in every part of the country in both leagues, from contender to cellar-dweller. He was the kind of guy who probably made my dad excited when I turned out to be left-handed.

Mulholland caught my eye recently because, for some reason, he’s got an Indians hat on when you search for him on Baseball Reference. Amid 11 teams, a 61-game stint has sealed itself on the Internet. It’s very strange, considering his resume. He also has one other special place in the history of Major League Baseball, at least as a footnote. He was one of the most-victimized pitchers in Barry Bonds’ career. Which is certainly something to note, if not to be proud of.

A lot of pitchers suffered at the hands of the greatest hitter of the last half century. It just happens that a guy the Indians employed for a brief time in the early 2000’s is one of them. The numbers are actually quite stunning, too. In 67 plate appearances, Mulholland allowed eight home runs to Bonds. Which doesn’t sound like much, and really it’s not even the most home runs a single pitcher gave up to Bonds. That would be Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, with nine. Mulholland, along with a couple other pitchers, was quite efficient in his work.

He worked hard to compress that work into a nice tight sample size:

Pitchers most efficient at allowing home runs to Barry Bonds

Name PA HR OPS PA/HR
Name PA HR OPS PA/HR
Terry Mulholland 66 8 1.231 8.3
Chan Ho Park 64 8 1.283 8.0
Pete Schourek 50 7 1.317 7.1
Denny Neagle 56 7 1.251 8.0
Andy Ashby 70 7 1.363 10.0
Tom Browning 59 5 1.175 11.8
Tim Hudson 34 5 1.500 6.8
Kevin Tapani 28 5 2.006 5.6
Jose Lima 32 5 1.942 6.4
Jose DeLeon 40 5 1.379 8.0
Greg Harris 39 5 1.373 7.8

This is a nice collection of middling 90’s pitching. Tim Hudson was pretty good, Tom Browning threw a perfect game, but there’s names here that barely register. It’s really quite impressive the hell these men faced when Bonds stepped to the plate. Tapani in particular got truly blasted, to a degree he’d have wished he was Mulholland. Bonds was 12-for-22 with six walks against Tapani, who was saved at least by pitching only 13 games on an NL West roster. It would be amazing to think what Bonds would have done to him had he had a few seasons’ worth of chance to face him as a Padre or Dodger or Rockie.

And that, too, is part of what makes Mulholland so peculiar to me, why his name jumped out, along with Denny Neagle and Pete Schourek. More so than they would otherwise. Bonds, being a left-handed hitter, was supposed to be susceptible to the lefty pitching. And he was, at least somewhat. His OPS against right-handers was 1.084 for his career, and “just” .986 against southpaws. All three of those guys — Neagle, Schourek and Mulholland, men whose careers were built mostly on being able to do one single thing – get out left-handed hitters – were creamed by Bonds. He did it quite a bit to a lot of lefties, but usually for 25 or 30 plate appearances. When we’re dealing with twice that number you start to feel like he had something against these guys. Or maybe they were just terrible, or caught in a Bondsian buzzsaw, I don’t know. Actually, probably that last thing.

If you were curious, no, Mulholland did not face Bonds when he was on Cleveland. The two last squared off in 2002 before the Indians traded for the crafty lefty, with Bonds homering and walking against Mulholland on April 3rd. It was Bonds’ 571st. After that Mulholland was mercifully freed of the devil that hounded him all those years.

He was never a milestone, not like Terry Adams (500) or Kip Wells (600) or Jake Peavy (700) or Byung-Hun Kim (715) or Mike Bacsik (756). He’s just a little blip, barely a percentage point, of the total output of what Bonds did to baseball. Bonds probably doesn’t remember Terry Mulholland – though some of these guys have the most weirdly exact memory of each and every pitch they see – and he surely doesn’t remember Mulholland as an Indian. But he sure left an impression on the lefty.

I wonder if Mulholland thinks back to those 67 plate appearances and whether he thinks fondly of the nine times he struck Bonds out, or whether he’s jolted awake at night by a loud crack of a bat ringing in his ears and a half-remembered image of a glowering behemoth jogging a circle around him. Mulholland, like so many pitchers, lived a career on the margins. Bonds simply eliminated that margin better than any man living.

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