Those awaiting a triumphant return for Mark Mulder may want to hold their breath. The oft-injured southpaw, who decided to make an attempt to return to baseball this off-season after successfully mimicking Los Angeles Dodgers’ reliever Paco Rodriguez’s delivery, has already encountered a setback. The odds that Mulder, now 36, could make a comeback after a five year layoff were already doubtful, but with today’s news of an ankle sprain, the odds against him becoming a member of the Los Angeles Angels rotation only grow smaller.
Once upon a time, Mulder loomed large on the list of Major League Baseball’s brightest stars. The former second overall pick of the 1998 draft entered the 2000 season as Baseball America’s 12th highest ranked prospect after holding his own in Triple-A Vancouver, he was a near certain lock for the Oakland Athletic rotation for years to come. A scout during this time period described Mulder’s delivery as “almost poetic,” which only made hitters all the more off-guard when his 94 mile per hour fastball came bearing in on them.
Unfortunately for Mulder, his career did not play out as planned. After being traded by the A’s to the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 2004, the 6’6″ left-hander failed to earn his keep for his new franchise. Despite earning over $25 million while pitching for the Cardinals, Mulder only made 53 starts across four seasons from 2005-08, winning just 22 games and pitching to a 5.04 ERA in the process.
Thanks to chronic shoulder problems, a once promising pitcher destined for stardom was forced out of the game after the 2008 season, a year that saw him struggle to retire even minor league hitters. Mulder would go on to eventually announce his retirement before the 2010 season, and from that point on seemed to be focused on starting a new career with ESPN as a Baseball Tonight commentator, not on a comeback that was deemed already doubtful from the start.
What happened next is something that could serve as the fuel for feature news stories all the world over. Tired of spending his new-found free time working on his golf game, Mulder unexpectedly decided to make a return to baseball after the 2013 season concluded. While watching Dodger reliever Paco Rodriguez’s delivery, Mulder discovered an ability to pitch effectively in a new way, impressing scouts with a fastball that managed to top 90 miles per hour on radar guns.
The fairy tale story continued on January 1, as the Angels extended Mulder a formal offer in the way of a spring training invite. The comeback trail was in full session, and the Angels, hoping the veteran could fill the fifth spot in their rotation, were looking for a miracle. All of this seemed somehow possible until today’s incident occurred; Mulder finished his first day of warm-up drills in a boot and crutches, the result of an ankle sprain.
While this occurrence may not spell the end of Mulder’s already doubtful comeback bid, the chances of a successful return were most certainly not boosted by this setback. The Angels might not want to plan on Mulder fitting in at the end of their rotation, and Mulder may want to decide if a career in broadcasting is not perhaps a less strenuous fit after all.