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The Steven Wright experiment was the perfect storm for both the Indians and Red Sox

Oh, what could have been at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

What if you mixed in an effective knuckleballer into the middle of a group of high velocity starters? And what if that knuckleballer was the guy most were considering for the starting spot in the All-Star game, and not those Cy Young caliber flame-throwers?

I know, wish in one hand and...well...you get the point.

In 2010, Steven Wright was a struggling reliever for the Cleveland Indians, and was at wits end after being demoted from the Triple A Columbus Clippers, to the Double A Akron Aeros. While warming up before a game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Wright was soft tossing a pitch he had been throwing since he was a kid. The pitch, a knuckleball, was taught to Wright by a former big league pitcher, Frank Pastore, who Wright remained friends with.

When Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard and Indians baseball operations special assistant and former Indians' starter Jason Bere saw him throw it, they both thought one thing: "out pitch."

In what would become an odd mix, Hibbard and Bere thought that rather than become a 'knuckleball' pitcher, he could utilize the knuckleball in two-strike situations, giving Wright something he had never had before, a wipe-out pitch.

What transpired over the next two years would be a long-and-winding road for Wright, as he returned to the starting rotation, but was sent down to the lowest levels of the Indians' minor league system, to rebuild his career as a straight-up knuckleball starter.

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There are moves that Major League teams make that leave you scratching your head. If you're a Cleveland Indians' fan, these moves have come regularly over your lifetime. This is the curious case of Steven Wright.

It's unknown what a front office is thinking when they make such strange moves. There are so many levels of thinking. Is it a move based on need? Is it a move based on a "what the hell are we going to do with this guy" sorta theory? Is it a move that a player asks for, behind the scenes? Is there a relationship that isn't working?

The list goes on-and-on, and in the end, when the move is just plain bad, there really isn't a good reason for moving a player, is there.

In the case of Wright, the Indians just plain blew it. Those are the breaks.

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On July 31, 2012, the life of Steven Wright changed forever, and for once, things were going his way. It was that day that the former 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians was traded to the Boston Red Sox, for the infamous Lars Anderson.

Lars....

Freakin'....

Anderson...

While Indians fans across the North Coast and beyond are beginning to immortalize this deal as one of the worst in the history of life itself, it was a deal that likely had to happen for Wright to become a legitimate starting pitcher in the big leagues. Blame the Indians if you will, but it's hard to argue that getting a chance with a team influenced by one of the great, recent knuckleballers on a day-to-day basis might solidify a pitch that is anything but predictable.

Sure, at the time of his deal, the 27-year old was 9-6, with a 2.49 ERA after converting to a straight up knuckleball in 2011.

Sure, the Indians were behind Wright's shift to using the knuckler as a reliever, as another pitch in his arsenal.

Sure, the Indians were the ones that asked Wright to become a straight-up knuckleball pitcher, and also moved him back to the rotation.

Sure, the Indians contacted the "knuckleball network," including former Indians' starter Tom Candiotti, and current (at the time) Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, to help clear Wright's path a bit. That "knuckleball network" is a clear pipeline between the knuckler's brotherhood. If you throw the pitch in the professional levels, you can gain easy access.

In other words, the Cleveland Indians were doing everything they could to make Wright a legitimate knuckleball starter...

...and it was working.

IT WAS FREAKING WORKING!

But you know how it is...the club didn't have a legitimate corner infield prospect, and the Red Sox had Adrian Gonzalez at first base, blocking Anderson. Of course, it didn't help that Anderson wasn't all that good. Sure, he was a top prospect at one point for the Sox, but those days were long past.

Still, the Indians needed a future first baseman more than they apparently needed a knuckleball starter.

Hello Darkness my old friend....

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In spring training of 2011, former Indians'knuckler Tom Candiotti, and another wily knuckleballing freak, Charlie Hough, began fine tuning Wright's pitch. The Indians moved him through the system that year, giving him starts at all levels, and while success on the field was elusive, he slowly gained the confidence to throw the pitch every day. As a reliever, he used it as part of his arsenal. As a starter, it was his goto pitch.

In 2012, Wright was improving in Double A, but the Indians honestly didn't have a clue on what to do with him long-term.

Let's be honest here. To say Wright figured into the Indians' long-term plans would be an overstatement. It's somewhat confounding, because the support system from the k-network had enveloped him over the previous 18 months. Candiotti was a phone call away for any verbal support he would need, while Hough was meeting with him on-the-ground, throughout the year. In the meantime, Wakefield had offered up his services as well, like I said, it's an exclusive club, and they live to help each other out.

Ask R.A. Dickey.

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A lone Red Sox scout, John Lombardo was on the lookout for someone the Red Sox could train as a knuckleball pitcher, and this is where baseball gets fun. The drop-dead wonder of baseball is that there are so many of these collision courses. Perhaps it's the length of a baseball season that allows this to happen, or maybe it's a little bit of the magic that the game holds for those that pay close attention.

Imagine a team actually looking for a knuckleball pitcher. Sure, the Sox had Wakefield on their staff at the time, but c'mon, how many organizations send a scout out looking for someone who could be a knuckleball starter?

Maybe they should, and go figure, the Indians already had one they were grooming.

The Boston Red Sox hold annual conference calls with their scouts, a sort of training call, in which they go over certain aspects of players that they should be looking for. At a particular conference call that must have taken place somewhere before the seasons started in 2011 (or just after the beginning), the Sox brought in Wakefield to help profile the type of player that a scout could turn into a knuckleballer. It was odd to have a current rostered player attend a meeting like this, so Lombardo took it extremely seriously.

It's also interesting to note that Terry Francona was the manager of the Red Sox at the time. No, he wasn't at the forefront of this move, but certainly was sitting at the big-boy table for the organization.

Wright's name didn't come up during that meeting, because Wakefield didn't even know he was a knuckleballer at this point (Wakefield and Wright wouldn't meet until a spring training game in 2012), but Lombardo, who was hired that year as a scout, took a boatload of notes, and visually went after the archetype that had been drawn out during the meeting. It's really important to realize that Wright wasn't discussed here. It was a workshop for scout. "Yo scouts, knuckleballers come in all shapes and sizes, and likely don't know they're knuckleballers yet. This is what you should look for."

We've all had those meetings before, learning about a skill that we're perhaps not 100% familiar with. The Red Sox and Wakefield understood that anyone could be a knuckleballer, but...here's what you look for.

Wakefield, himself, had been drafted in the eighth round in the 1988 MLB first-year player draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an infielder. After two years of struggle, his knuckleball experience began. Three years later, he was pitching in the big leagues, and 19 years after that, he retired from the game of baseball...at the age of 44...because he threw knucklers.

This is where things get fun for me. Over the years of attending Kinston Indians games, I've had the pleasure of meeting tons of scouts, including Lombardo, in one form or another. While their profession is very detailed, especially as it pertains to what the front office is looking for, what's always been special are all of these notes that they 'back-pocket."

I've heard hundreds of these 'back-pocket' stories, from the elusive 100 MPH hurlers to the insane deliveries, to the country bumpkin hitting rockets over the barn. Every scout has one, and every scout is looking for one. It's funny the questions you get asked, if the scout begins to trust you. I remember one day in 2007 sitting behind the plate at a Kinston game, a scout asked me about a 'power-hitting' catcher named Max Ramirez. He wasn't a scout that I knew, or that knew me, but he had asked the regulars if there was anyone that attended all the games.

He asked me a few questions about calling the game, then asked me if I knew what types of pitches he liked, and if the park was conducive to power or not. He offhandedly said to noone in particular, "man, if I could just find the catcher that can drive the ball to the opposite field." I'm not sure if he thought Ramirez was that kid, or if he was just on the lookout for that one player, that played catcher, and could drive the ball out on to the opposite field with regularity, as though that's the key to the perfect catcher (it can be, I guess). Well, the scout was from Texas, and a month later, Ramirez was dealt to the Rangers for Kenny Lofton.

I clearly made this deal happened (not really, he probably thought I was an idiot, but it goes to show you what kind of things these scouts 'back-pocket').

Obviously, knuckleballer-traits is one of those 'back-pocket' skills, because there just aren't that many around, and it's not like you come across someone "tinkering" with the pitch. Of course, as a scout, these are the things that you never forget, and equally likely, never use. Well, not every scout, but clearly, Lombardo.

So ponder this for a moment. On the Indians' end, the club had asked Wright to go all in on the knuckleball, after seeing it here-and-there, as a reliever. On Wright's end, he was about to become a Dad, was making all of $15-20,000 a year, and likely a release candidate in 2011, if this pitch didn't work. Then there's the Red Sox, who have this commodity in Tim Wakefield, and used him to put "knuckleball" into their scouts' heads, just in case they came across something that could transcend the profile.

This is the magic of baseball, the confluence of events that ultimately allow a player to find the one place that can make him a success story. Wright at his wit's end, the Indians figuring out what to do with him, and the Red Sox seeking out...well...him.

Magic.

Lombardo came across Wright early in 2011 on a visit to Kinston, and likely wasn't there scouting for a knuckleballer. He was just there looking at some players, and there was Wright, throwing a conglomerate of pitcher, including the knuckler. What struck Lombardo is that he didn't realize Wright had shifted to a complete knuckleball pitcher, and was piqued by the fact that Wright was really working on the pitch.

He did his homework. He talked to the Indians' organization. He talked to Wright's teammates. He talked to Wright himself, and realized that this was the exact player they were describing in the work session a few weeks earlier.

Again, this was early in that 2011 season. The Red Sox didn't deal for him until July of 2012, the last day during the trade deadline.

What the hell took so long?

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Baseball took so long.

Lombardo bought in, hook, line and sinker, but it was clear that Wright had a long way to go. He struggled in 2011, but after he watched he throw a start, he realized quickly that the only thing holding Wright back as a knuckler was the simple fact that he still threw the ball like a traditional pitcher. He was inconsistent, but Lombardo believed he could be the carbon copy of what Wakefield described, if he could find that consistent delivery.

Thus began the Lombardo push.

Unfortunately, in the game of baseball, those pushes often go unheard, either because the big league organization doesn't have an opportunity, or because they just don't see it. At the time, it was likely a little bit of both.

I'm sure there was a combination of "Wright struggles" and "situation" and perhaps a little bit of the Indians just trying to figure out what they had in Wright.

It took over a year, but the Indians came knocking on the door during the deadline, asking about Lars Anderson.

Lars...

Freaking...

Anderson...

After an internal discussion, the Red Sox offered up Anderson, for Steven Wright.

Talk about your perfect storm. For the Red Sox, they were able to put him around a support system that had already been in place for Tim Wakefield. For the Indians, they were about to deal for, well, you know.

Almost six months later, Anderson was a part of the massive three-team trade between the Indians, Cincinnati Reds and the Arizona Diamondbacks, that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds, and brought back Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw to the Indians. There were a lot more moving parts there, and  Anderson was one of the parts sent to Arizona.

Anderson is currently playing in Triple A Oklahoma City, as a 28-year old minor leaguer in the Dodgers' organization.

Wright is currently 8-5, with a 2.18 ERA for the Boston Red Sox, and is on some lists as a potential All-Star game short list as the starting pitcher for the American League.

Sigh...

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Cleveland Indians' General Manager Chris Antonetti has made small deals throughout his career that have been absolutely brilliant. He has acquired many players, such as Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber and Carlos Santana (Santana was under the Mark Shapiro regime, but Antonetti had already begun to make the call on several trades, and likely had a major voice in this one).

I'm sure, when he traded Wright to the Red Sox for the former top 100 prospect in Lars Anderson, he was thinking the same thing. In Wright, he was serving up a knuckler to the Red Sox, and I'm sure Antonetti figured that the path would be a difficult one for a guy that just learned the pitch. To the Sox, Wright was icing on the cake for this fleecing. In Anderson, I'm sure he thought he was getting a guy they could polish into a major league starter, fairly quickly, and at a position of high need.

Remember, in July of 2012, the Indians had Trevor Bauer, and were massively high on Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

The Indians had also had success dealing for first baseman in the past, when they dealt for Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner. While this wasn't the same type of deal, it's likely that Antonetti was hoping for that kind of outcome.

Sell it however you want, but it's clear the Indians didn't see Anderson as that type of player after they acquired him.

While Anderson turned out to be a small piece in the Bauer deal, it was clear that the deal was a massive bust, and while some make the "well, who would you rather have, Bauer or Wright" statements, I find it hard to believe that LARS FREAKIN' ANDERSON WOULD HAVE HELD THAT DEAL UP.

Give me a break.

In the end, Wright has turned into an innings eating starter, that very much resembles a certain former Red Sox knuckler that pitched until he was 44, while Lars Anderson is busy being a minor leaguer at 28.

A good case can be made that the 'perfect storm,' while wiping out the Indians in this scenario like George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg were steering the ship, needed to occur for Wright to find this Major League success. Perhaps it was never destined to happen for the Cleveland Indians, who ultimately found their 'perfect' rotation in Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Josh To
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