For a few years, I've harbored a strange obsession with Major League journeyman reliever Jorge Julio.
Not because he's very good, mind you. In fact, the current Milwaukee Brewer is one of the most consistently awful players to make a big-league roster every year. His career is a testament to the severe shortage of quality arms in an era of relief-pitcher specialization: When you use four relievers every game, that's gonna create constant job opportunities for the severely out-challenged such as Julio. In the past five seasons, including this one, he's played on a remarkable eight teams. His beach-ball fastball was booed out of all but a couple of those towns.
And that's why I like Julio: You gotta respect somebody who somehow stretches a career from subpar ability by skating along the margins and keeping a thick skin. That's pretty much what most of us are trying to do in our professional lives.
Of course, that he-is-everyman admiration goes straight out the window when a guy like Julio is blowing leads for your home team.
I was living in New York in 2006 when Julio, only a couple of years removed from being considered a hot prospect, played for the Mets. He spent two and a half months with the Mets before they traded him to the Diamondbacks, finishing his NY stint with an inglorious 1-2 record and a 5.06 ERA. The numbers don't tell the whole story. Julio just has a knack for taking neat leads and smashing them gruesomely like Gallagher with a watermelon. In one of his last games, against the Yankees, he gave up yet another lead, and as he was yanked from the mound, the crowd began chanting, "Foolio!" To be sure, Major League front offices rarely take into the account the antics of a crowd. But, come on -- "Foolio"? The Mets brass had to have noticed -- and he was gone after his next outing.
The next season, Julio started the season as the Marlins' closer -- and promptly went on to have one of baseball history's most disastrous flirtations with the ninth-inning assignment. He allowed 18 hits and 11 walks in 9 innings to post a 12.54 ERA while blowing all three of his save opportunities. The Herald wrote that Julio "couldn't close a suitcase." But he packed one, being traded to Colorado after a month in Florida (for Byung-Hyun Kim, another genius acquisition. Thanks Larry Beinfest!).
I was in Cleveland in 2008 when Julio arrived there, where he started strong but then re-emerged as... Jorge Julio. There, my Jorge-mania reached new and unhealthy levels. I wrote the following for the Cleveland Scene blog:
Over the last week, we've had a lot of strange Jorge Julio sightings. We saw the journeyman reliever dropping a girlfriend off to get her nails done at a place on W. 25th St in Ohio City. Later that afternoon, we spotted him speeding through Downtown in his black Acura SUV with Florida plates, on his way to the stadium.
A couple of days later, we saw him in a side room in the bowels of Progressive Field, surfing the web on a laptop as a lackey shaved away his afro. Later in the week, he was sitting in an empty weight room after a game, his arm iced and gauzed even though he hadn't pitched in days and wasn't injured. He glanced up and stared through us with a vacancy only Jorge Julio can pull off.
And then we noticed him pitching, giving up five runs in 1 2/3 early innings last Friday against the Rangers. As in all the outings in which we've seen Julio suck, he made us think of a baby that really doesn't want to play with blocks anymore, but all his mom got him to play with are these damn blocks. Isn't there some way he could get paid $167,000 per month to hunt turkeys on his Caracas ranch?
We felt the tug of nostalgia with every sighting. We knew he would soon be gone--and if we knew, Julio certainly did.
The day I wrote that, Julio was released, to be later picked up by Atlanta. This season, he's working his fat-pitch magic in Milwaukee. So I was tickled pink to get another look at him last night when he was called in to protect a two-run lead at LandShark Stadium.
It was vintage Julio: he failed to retire any of the six batters he faced and gave up five runs. The Marlins won, 7 to 4.
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If postgame quotes from Brewers manager Ken Macha are any indication, Julio should cancel those house-shopping trips around the Milwaukee suburbs:
"The question wasn't whether I trusted him," Macha said of Julio, who had strung together four scoreless outings after mostly poor work earlier in the season. "He needed to pitch that inning.
"We're stretched out in the bullpen. I had to get that one inning out of him and it didn't happen."
Here's hoping- nay, knowing- that Julio manages to worm his way onto a few more big-league rosters to stretch his remarkably unremarkable big-league career out for a couple of more years. But for the love of God, Marlins front office, no matter how ugly our bullpen situation gets- and it will get Ron Perlman ugly- please, please, look elsewhere for another arm.