Before Joel Zumaya delighted Detroit Tigers fans with his blazing fastball, another reliever once lit up triple-digit readings on the radar gun at Comerica Park. Matt Anderson was the Tigers' No. 1 draft pick in 1997, a flamethrowing closer out of Rice University.
Anderson's star burned bright before quickly fizzling out, and he was finished with the majors by 2006. But after two years out of baseball, he's attempting a comeback. On Friday, Anderson, 34, signed a minor-league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The first overall selection in 1997, Anderson was supposed to be the team's closer of the future and began his Tigers career with great promise. After a very short minor league stint, Anderson struck out 44 batters in 44 innings during his rookie season of 1998. Three years later, it looked like he was ready to follow through on his potential, racking up 22 saves and striking out more than eight batters per nine innings.
However, it all fell apart for Anderson the next season. He tore a muscle in his right armpit and couldn't reach the high-90s on his fastball after that. Many believe that Anderson hurt himself participating in an octopus-throwing contest outside Comerica Park in which the winner got tickets to a Detroit Red Wings playoff game.
(That was a hot ticket at the time, with the Wings in the conference finals against the hated Colorado Avalanche and on their way to an eventual Stanley Cup championship.)
Anderson denies that he hurt his arm tossing an octopus, but it's not at all implausible that doing so contributed to his muscle tear. (Pitching at Rice may have worn out his arm too, as that program has developed a reputation -- perhaps undeserved -- for overusing pitchers.) But between living that down and the actual injury that limited him to 35 appearances over the next two seasons, Anderson's Tigers career was essentially over.
After spending the whole 2004 season with Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers let Anderson go and he signed with the Colorado Rockies. In 2005, he appeared in 12 games for the Rockies.
Since then, Anderson has become kind of a cautionary tale for teams considering using an early first-round pick on a relief pitcher. He had the potential to be a star in Detroit and became popular with fans in his short time with the Tigers. If can make it back to the majors, it would be a great story to follow.