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Jonathan Sánchez story shows players are only human with human problems

There is more to the story than his ERA.

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Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

If you mention the name “Jonathan Sánchez” to a Royals fan, the reaction will probably invoke a look of disgust. It’s not hard to see why, the left-handed pitcher made just 12 starts in 2012 with the Royals, perhaps 12 of the worst starts a Royals starting pitcher has ever strung together. He gave up 47 runs in just 53 1/3 innings. He walked 44 hitters - more than he struck out. While he was doing that, the man he was traded for - Melky Cabrera - was turning in an All-Star season with the Giants. Not only did Sánchez pitch poorly in Kansas City, but he seemed to carry himself with an air of indifference. His emotionless was interpreted as him not caring, only compounding his poor image with Royals fans.

But Jonathan Sánchez is still pitching. No, not in the big leagues, far far from it. He is pitching in Mexico for the Saraperos de Saltillo. He’s not dominating or anything - his 4.84 ERA isn’t great, although the thin air of the high-altitude environment makes it a hitter’s haven. But the 36-year old Sánchez is enjoying the game for the first time in a long time, according to a terrific article at The Athletic by Andrew Baggarly

The article is about the tenth anniversary of Sánchez’s no-hitter he threw with the Giants, one magical night in which he put all of his talent together to put his name in the record books. But it really is a long conversation with Sánchez about his career and his life, and in the piece, Sánchez opens up about some of the off-field personal issues that likely derailed his career.

According to the article, Sánchez fathered a child while in college at Ohio Dominican. The woman he had a child with became increasingly erratic, according to Sánchez, and he learned she had a substance abuse problem. Sánchez was asked if he would transfer partial custody of his son, and he spent many trips in the 2011 season flying back to Ohio for court depositions, and other matters relating to the custody of his son.

Sánchez won custody, but continued to battle it out in the courts. His attention was divided, costing him mentally and physically.

“My mind wasn’t on baseball,” Sánchez said. “So I started losing weight, losing my speed, getting hurt. I lost those three years on personal problems.”

Miguel Menjivar, a Giants security guard and longtime friend of Sánchez, echoed those same sentiments.

“People don’t want to hear it, but mentally he was not there,” said Menjivar, who remains a close friend. “He was a head case. That’s what everyone said. Man, if you knew what he was going through …”

The Royals would end up shipping Sánchez to Colorado for pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, in one of the better heists of the Dayton Moore era. Sánchez fared no better with the Rockies, and he injured himself trying to get his career back on track with the Cubs. Sánchez tried a few comebacks - the Royals invited him to spring training in 2017, only to release him in camp. Eventually, he ended up in Mexico.

It is very possible Sánchez would have been awful in Kansas City regardless of his personal problems. He was always a pitcher that struggled with command - he had walked 4.8 per-nine innings in his career at the time the Royals acquired him. But the story does lend a bit more context on what he was facing.

And perhaps we should not be so quick to judge players based on temperment or perceived attitude. Everyone handled adversity in different ways - not everyone smashes Gatorade coolers when they’re upset, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. And we don’t know what is going on in that clubhouse, or even back home, when the player is out of the spotlight, dealing with family, friends, and all the ups and downs that constitute life.