Before Mike Leake, I was nothing more than a casual baseball fan. I sat at home keeping score while watching Reds’ games, and yes, I pored over the box scores every sweltering summer morning. But that was always a product of my nerdiness not a true neurosis over the game.

Before Mike Leake, I lamented for the days of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn while latching onto Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips to fill the void. I never paid any attention to prospect boards or minor leaguers. They were problems for future me. My only forays into “advanced scouting” were replies left on comment boards that Jay Bruce struck out too much to be a solid everyday player for the Reds (I was wrong) and that Homer Bailey was overhyped and lacked a secondary pitch (0 for 2).

But thanks to a wiry, pit bull of a pitcher from Arizona State University by name of Michael Raymond Leake, I became the neurotic, often psychotic, baseball fan I am today.

Mike Leake had just completed a staggering junior campaign for the Sun Devils—16-1 with a 1.71 ERA. But there were few indications that Leake would leapfrog the Minor Leagues eight months later, nor that he would match the Reds’ franchise record for most starts to begin a career without recording a loss (10). Yet to this day, I still remember sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings with my dad and falling in love with the shaggy-haired, short righty from the West Coast.

Mike Leake quickly nestled under Bronson Arroyo’s wing to learn the dark arts of a soft-tossing righty. But from the get-go, Leake ignored the vestments of Arroyo’s craft. Instead of success by deception, Leake attacked the strike zone and never shied away from his fastball.

Mike Leake was a bulldog from day one. A man with an axe to grind but wasn’t satisfied until he could shave with it.

More than anything else, I loved Mike Leake because he never gave up on hitting. While I reveled in Johnny Cueto’s exploits from the mound, I always looked away when he came to bat because there was just no comfort there. Mike Leake made the batter’s box his home. Following in the footsteps of Micah Owings and Arroyo, Leake wore the mantle of starter who could outhit the bench.

As he got older, Leake shaved the long, shaggy hair, opting instead for a faux-hawk and a goatee. Gradually, his game acquired a certain business-like professionalism that only the veteran players understand.

In May, I was able to see Leake pitch against the Cardinals at Busch. He took the loss after spinning an 8.0 inning gem in front of no offense. A preview of what would be Leake’s final start, I had no thoughts of the end, his end as a Red, that day. Instead, I focused on how Mike’s new look aged him, constantly reminding me that he was the first Reds’ player whose entire career I had followed. He was the first prospect who had piqued my interest because he was so different.

Mike Leake has defied every expectation: the rookie who didn’t need seasoning, the pitcher who traded his wet noodle for a stick of lumber, the interviewee who answered reporters questions without clichés, the small righty who didn’t need the traditional soft-tossing gimmicks to just outpitch everyone.

After Johnny Beisbol’s departure, Grant Freking wrote here that Johnny was Hope, the shining beacon on an otherwise completely dysfunctional team. Mike Leake was never Hope, but he was something else. Mike Leake has provided the Character for this team. He’s has been both the model of consistency and the element of surprise. Mike Leake was the Diet Bronson Arroyo who may have been better than the original. He was the one, who even during times of tribulation, always knew that “Reds Stadium” was home.

 

9 Responses

  1. IrishMike

    Enjoyed the post. This current team is so flawed that it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. I have never seen a recent Reds team so lacking in fundamentals….base- running sucks and the middle relief pitching is abysmal. I hate the line-up…but somehow I shouldn’t. And I’m not sure how much longer I’m gonna let Billy Hamilton’s “potential” continue to disappoint me. In the past week we have given up two pitchers in the top ten in the majors in WAR…for essentially a bunch of promises. It is hard to watch.

  2. Indy Red Man

    Hate to see Leake go? I bet his era will be under 3 pitching in huge NL West parks. He had a 91 mph slider or cutter that was moving 2 feet in his last start before the break in Miami. If he could bottle that then he be an ace out there.

  3. cfd3000

    Maybe not with the same zeal, Wesley, but I really enjoyed Mike Leake’s time as a Red, and I’ll always have a soft spot for him since he went to ASU. My parents met there and I was born in Phoenix so that’s a plus in my book. I wish him well, will follow him with interest and pride, and still have a tiny hope that the Reds will resign him this offseason. Put me in the camp of “Mike Leake is well above average as a major league starter and would be a big part of their rotation for many years”.

  4. Earl Nash

    Mike Leake had some rough losses. It always seemed to happen during getaway day games. He was apart of a couple of the most epic bullpen meltdowns I have seen as a Red fan. I think the crazy leads they blew was something like 7 runs in the 8th to Atlanta. There was a bad one in Philly too if I remember right.

    Mike Leake did usually have a couple of games a year where he looked dominant. The guy is on pace to back to back 200 inning seasons and that has value. The guy pitched over a 1000 innings in his six seasons with the Reds.

  5. Earl Nash

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Leake does well and maybe gets signed by SF if this partial season goes ok. He’s a California guy, I’d think pitching in SF would probably be something he might want.

    I think Cueto will end up in Boston.

    • Obc2

      Definitely a good decision by the Reds organization to move Mr Leake. He is exactly the type of player a small market club must flip after cost control years end. His career 101 ERA+ demonstrates value, but not here and not for his projected 15mm+ future annual salary.

      Fare ye well, Michael. Godspeed.

  6. Art Wayne Austin

    Watched Mike in his first season at Houston. Will always remember his belly-whopping slide into second on a double. While grasping the base he lined up with his legs and body pointed toward direct center direct center. The under-sized Leake’s enthusiasm for the game made him play like a giant. Like Blackwell and Pinson he is one of my all-time favorite Red.