Thursday, January 24, 2013

By Brian Waller - Columnist

During the offseason it gets a little slow around the message boards. Even though it’s the offseason, there is still plenty of Angel’s baseball to cover. Some like David Saltzer get some terrific interviews while others like Gregory Bird provide great in-depth analysis regarding how the line-up should be constructed. I personally have always enjoyed taking a look back at former Angels players and not only recap their career with the team, but also take a look at what they are up to today.

Nobody would ever describe Jarrod Washburn as a dominant pitcher. His “stuff” was not over powering and his success was never over whelming. The lefty however holds a special place in Halo fan’s hearts due to his contributions to the 2002 World Series club. Jarrod Michael Washburn was born August 13, 1974 in La Crosse Wisconsin and would spend the majority of his childhood in Webster, Wisconsin. Washburn would go on to graduate from Webster High School in 1992 and would later attend the University of Wisconsin (UW) at Oshkosh where he won the championship game of the 1994 NCAA Division III World Series. Washburn played just 2 years at UW Oshkosh, but he left his mark with a 15-2 record, a 1.97 ERA, and 141 strikeouts in 118.2 innings. Washburn entered the 1995 amateur draft and was selected with the 31st overall pick by the Angels. He was the 3rd highest selection ever from UW Oshkosh and would go on to have the most productive and successful career of any Titans player in the school’s history.

Washburn had decent success in the minor leagues as he was ranked the #66 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 1997 season and #73 prospect prior to the 1998 season. He debuted with the big league club in 1998 in grand fashion as he pitched 6.1 scoreless innings, striking out 5 while picking up his first major league win against the Kansas City Royals. Washburn posted a 6-3 record for the Halos during his rookie season and would go on to compile a 75-57 record with a 3.93 ERA over 8 seasons with the Angels. Washburn’s breakout season came in 2002 when he won 12 straight games at one point during the season en route to an 18-6 record with a 3.15 ERA. His stellar campaign would earn him consideration for the Cy Young award; he would end up finishing 4th in voting.

It was also during that 2002 season that one of the darker periods in Washburn’s career took place. Allegations were made that Washburn was involved in a sexual assault involving a 16-year-old girl. Washburn and his agent, Scott Boras, maintained all along the allegations had no merit. After investigating the claims for approximately 10-days the Orange County District Attorney’s office decided not to file charges against Washburn due to lack of evidence. The legal woes of a teammate during the season can easily create a distraction for a team. A good example of this would be the Tony Phillips incident in 1997 when the hardnosed fiery leadoff hitter for the Halos, who helped the team reach the top of the AL West at one point during the season, was arrested for possession of cocaine. At the time of Phillips arrest, the Halos were flying high but the off field distraction seemed to derail playoff hopes in Anaheim as the team finished in 2nd place in the AL West with a record of 84-78.

Rather than slow the Halos momentum in 2002 though, Washburn’s legal drama seemingly solidified the bond of the team as respected team leaders such as closer Troy Percival showed nothing but support for the lefty. Percival responded to the news that Washburn’s case had been dismissed by exclaiming, “Fantastic!” Percival also commented, “`it’s a shame he had to go through all that. Obviously, things worked out the way things should have worked out. Now we can get back to baseball. Hopefully, this is the end of it. Hopefully, it'll make as much front-page headlines in reverse.'' It didn’t take long for the Angels to get back on track as the team won 5 out of their next 6 games following the news the charges had been dropped. Of course we all know the team went on to roll through the playoffs and would eventually win the World Series.

After his time in an Angel’s uniform had come to an end at the conclusion of the 2005 season, Washburn signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners. Washburn would play 3 ½ seasons in Seattle, compiling a 31-49 record with a 4.17 ERA. His lackluster record with the Mariners could in part be attributed to anemic Seattle offenses which provided very little run support for the former Halo. During his last season with the Mariners in 2009, Washburn pitched like he hadn’t since his breakout 2002 campaign; he posted an 8-6 record and a 2.64 ERA for a sub-par Seattle squad and suddenly became very desirable to other teams in contention as the trade deadline approached. Washburn would eventually be dealt to the Detroit Tigers as they looked to make a strong playoff push to close out the season. Despite pitching for a contender, Washburn faltered down the stretch with the Tigers, going 1-3 over 8 starts with an ERA of 7.33. After a rough finish to the season, Washburn no longer felt a desire to pitch at the major league level; he quietly retired at the conclusion of the 2009 season at the age of 34.

Despite receiving offers from multiple teams to pitch in 2010, Washburn made the decision to retire and focus on his family and fishing. Washburn was inducted into the (UW) Oshkosh Hall of Fame in 2010 and prior to ceremony he spoke with the school’s newspaper regarding his future. Washburn explained that financially he was comfortable and he had accomplished all he set out to accomplish at the major league level. He cited his desire to spend time with his children as the reason for walking away from baseball and further explained he didn’t feel right playing the game just to collect a paycheck if his heart wasn’t in it.

Although never considered an ace, Washburn was consistent and reliable having tossed at least 149 innings every season from 2001 to 2009. Washburn made 300 starts during his 12 year career while notching 9 complete games, with 4 shutouts, and 1 save. Washburn’s career record stands at 107-109 with an ERA of 4.10 to go along with 1,103 career strikeouts.

Washburn is currently enjoying his retirement; he is the owner of the Clam River Whitetails deer farm where he tends to approximately 200 deer. The former Halo even made an appearance on the television show “Keith Warren’s Outdoor Adventures” in March of 2012 to discuss his deer farm and his life post-baseball. He and his wife, Kerrie, a former track and field All-American at (UW) Oshkosh, live in Webster, Wisconsin with their 3 children Jack, Owen and Ava. Although many believed Washburn walked away from the game prematurely, it appears he is leading a satisfying life focusing his time on what he truly is passionate about; his family and deer farm. Angel fans will always remember and admire the determination and competitiveness the gritty left-hander displayed on the mound; Nobody can deny he played a very important role during the magical 2002 season helping the Halos win their first ever championship.

Follow Brian Waller on Twitter @BrianWaller1
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