Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb visits Cooperstown
Brandon Webb doesn’t dwell on “what-ifs.”
Webb, arguably the best pitcher in the game during a three-year stretch in the first decade of the 21st century, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on June 6.
Surrounded by the bronze images of the sport’s best, he knew that, if not for an injured right pitching shoulder, he had a chance to join them.
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“If I would have stayed healthy and continued on the track that I was going on, who knows?” the 43-year-old Webb said during his first visit to Cooperstown. “If I could have kept that up I may have had a chance to be here and that would have been unbelievable.”
Webb, famed for his hard sinker, may have been on his way to immortality – the one-time Arizona Diamondbacks hurler capturing the 2006 National League Cy Young Award and following that up with a pair runner-up finishes the next two seasons.
Then an Opening Day start in 2009 would prove to be his final big league appearance. Shoulder issues – including rotator cuff surgery – would ultimately force him to retire, after a number of comeback attempts, in 2013.
“It was awesome. I loved playing. And I loved playing in Arizona,” Webb said. “But the hardest part for me was I was one of the top pitchers at the time and for it to just drop off, just be done, that was the toughest part to swallow. But no regrets. It was unfortunate. I wished I would have played five or eight or 10 more years, but things happen.
“Looking back, I wish I had elbow issues because those are pretty cut and dried now to come back from, but the shoulders are real tough to come back from.”
Asked whether he thought the unique pitching mechanics of throwing a sinker ultimately contributed to his arm woes, Webb doesn’t believe so.
“I didn’t feel like I really maxed effort on my pitches. I didn’t throw super hard; 88 to 91 is where I kind of sat,” he said. “I think for me, years of repetitive throwing just caught up with me.”
A Kentucky native selected by Arizona in the eighth round of the 2000 amateur draft, Webb was a three-time All-Star who ended his seven-year major league career with an 87-62 record, a 3.27 ERA and 1,065 strikeouts in 1,319.2 innings.
He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2006 after going 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA and 178 strikeouts, would finish second in 2007 to the Padres’ Jake Peavy and again finished second in 2008, this time to the Giants’ Tim Lincecum.
Webb’s bread and butter pitch was a sinker that he said “came out of nowhere.”
“After I got drafted, I remember throwing some bullpens and it was just working on a two-seam,” Webb recalled. “One of the coaches, Royal Clayton, was my pitching coach my first year with South Bend in the Midwest League and was like, ‘Hey, let’s work on that sinker next Spring Training.’ I’m like, ‘All right, sounds good.’ So we did and it just kind of evolved to that was my pitch.
“Some games I threw the sinker 90 percent of the time. I just kind of evolved into a sinkerballer. Growing up, I was a huge Greg Maddux fan. That was my guy, just watching what he could do with the ball. Obviously I wasn’t him, but I kind of patterned myself on him and used that pitch to get tons of ground balls.”
A television broadcaster for the past decade, today he’s a pre- and postgame analyst on D-backs games for Bally Sports Arizona.
“It keeps me around the game,” Webb said, “so that’s enjoyable for me.”
Webb and his family – including wife Alicia, sons Austin (12) and Jase (8), and daughter Reagan (16) – all travelled from their Arizona home to the Cooperstown area as his eldest son participated in an area baseball tournament.
“This is my first time here in Cooperstown. Even being from Kentucky, it’s not that far away. But just never ventured my way up here,” Webb said. “Baseball has been my whole life from T-ball all the way up to the big leagues, so to finally be here is pretty sweet. To be in the Plaque Gallery and just see all the guys that I played against, it gives you chills. It’s awesome. It’s a special place.”
One plaque Webb made a point of checking out was the one for Randy Johnson, the Class of 2015 inductee who was a D-backs teammate in 2003 and ‘04.
“He still comes to the Diamondbacks games, so I’ll see him around,” Webb said. “I just took a picture of his plaque and I’m going to text it to him showing him that I was here.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum