Remembering Robb Nen
It is safe to say that some of the players in the current World Series are playing through injuries. After completing a 162-game regular season, injuries are inevitable. One of the strengths of the 2006 Cardinals was the number of players they had who were recovering from injuries as the Series started, instead of playing through them.
Baseball fans expect their favorite players to play through injuries. For fans, watching their team win the series is about as good as it gets. Players are being paid millions; they can suck it up and play seven more games. This is all fine in the abstract, but what does it mean when we are talking about real, concrete human beings? Let me briefly recount the story of Robb Nen to remind us of players’ humanity.
Robb Nen is the all-time saves leader for both the Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants. For a time from 1996-2002, Nen was one of the 5 or so best closers in all of baseball. He was the closer on th 1997 World Champion Marlins. In thanks, the Marlins traded him in the offseason to the Giants for the unforgettable Mike Pageler, Mike Villano, and Joe Fontenot. (Only Fontenot ever made the majors, as he pitched 8 games in 1998.) With the Giants, Nen preceeded to have 5 of the top 10 single season saves seasons in franchise history in his 5 season with the club.
In 2002, Nen blew out the rotator cuff and labrum in his pitching shoulder in June. Nevertheless, Nen kept pitching for his team as they pushed their way into the playoffs as the Wild Card. He pitched 2 and 2/3 scoreless innings in the LDS with 2 saves, then followed that up by giving up 1 run in 3 1/3 innings in the LCS with 3 saves. In the first 5 games of the World Series, Nen pitched 1 and 2/3 scoreless innings and recorded 2 saves. Then came Game Six.
With the Giants up 3-2 in the Series, they brought in a pitcher without a functional shoulder to get the final 4 outs of the game and hold a 5-4 lead with runners on second and third. On a 2-1 count against the eventual World Series MVP, Nen’s fastball no longer works. Troy Glaus hits a 2-run double. Nen guts out the final 4 outs to conclude the Giants loss. He never pitches again. The Giants drop Game Seven and the Series to the Angels.
It is easy to ask a player making $8.3 million, as Nen was in 2002, to suck it up through the pain and win us a World Series. In the case of Nen, though, sucking it up turned him into one of the World Series great goats. Curt Schilling is famous because he succeeded in overcoming an injury; Nen is, at best, forgotten because he could not overcome a worse injury. As fans, we must remember that our favorite teams are full of human beings giving us their best. They may not always succeed, but that does not make them lesser human beings; instead, it makes them human.