Former Phillie Ryan Madson thriving after long road back to MLB


Former Phillie Ryan Madson thriving after long road back to MLB

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One or 2 percent. That was it.

That was the chance that Ryan Madson gave himself of ever pitching again in the big leagues.

Once a dominant closer with the Phillies, a telltale twinge in the right elbow that resulted in Tommy John surgery had ushered Madson toward a premature retirement. He was content with what he had accomplished in baseball, even if he was frustrated by the finish.

"I thought I would bounce right back. I did everything everybody wanted me to do," Madson said this week. "I did everything under the sun trying to get back, and it took me getting released for the first time in my career, not being in the major leagues since being called up in 2003, to really feel that punch. And it knocked me down. It almost knocked me out."

It didn't do that, though. Not by a longshot.

After signing with the American League champion Kansas City Royals in the offseason, Madson arrived in spring training with no guarantees. Somehow, he earned a spot in their vaunted bullpen, and then validated his spring performances with a dynamic start to the regular season.

Madson has appeared in 17 games and has a 1.83 ERA, the best of the 34-year-old reliever's 10-year career. He has struck out 20 with just four walks, every bit as dominant as he was in Philly.

"It really is remarkable what he's doing right now," said fellow Royals pitcher Chris Young, the AL's reigning comeback player of the year. "Granted, I never played with him, but I've played against him, and his stuff is as good as I've ever seen."

Madson spent most of his career in Philadelphia, even auditioning for a season as a starter, before heading to the bullpen full-time. His best year came in 2011, when he took over the closer role following injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, and finished with 32 saves.

He parlayed those numbers into a deal with Cincinnati for 2012, and that's when the elbow injuries began. Madson had surgery that spring and never pitched for the Reds. He never pitched for the Los Angeles Angels, either. He signed with them the following year but spent the entire season on the disabled list, never getting in a game before getting released.

Madson came to grips with the end of his career, happily retreating into family life. He has five children, ages 1 to 9, and the life of a doting father appealed to him. He enjoyed being able to welcome them home from school, being home for dinner every night.

For some reason, though, he never formally retired.

There was always that 1 or 2 percent.

"There was always a small buzz that I could come back," Madson said, "but I knew it was so far away. So much work had to be done. Even guys that do retire and stay retired, they have that 1 or 2 percent that they want to go back and play, for years. I don't know how many years that lasts. But I think I was in that category. I thought I was truly done."

That is where his story begins to mirror the "The Rookie," that Disney film based on the real-life comeback of Jim Morris, who went from teaching science to pitching in the big leagues.

Madson started working with children of his friends, teaching proper fundamentals. Then he started working with a standout high school prospect near his home in California, and that led to a serendipitous meeting with Jim Fregosi Jr., who had once scouted Madson in high school.

"He works for the Royals now," Madson said, "and that's how I got in."

Madson had decided to give it one more shot. The Royals had provided the opportunity.

There was no assurance he would have a job, especially considering Kansas City was already armed with baseball's best bullpen. But it didn't take long for Madson to begin raising eyebrows.

"My first thought was, `OK, why did we sign this guy?' Guy hasn't pitched in three years and last time he tried, he wasn't very successful at it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "So then I went out the first day of live batting practice and watched him throw BP and it knocked my eyes out.

"From that point on," Yost said, "every time he threw, I made sure I was there to watch."

During his retirement, Madson explained, he had grown steadfast in his Christianity. So he took it as a sign that he was getting baptized the same day the Royals called to offer him a job.

Madson is the first to admit the season is still young, the sample size small. But with the Royals leading the AL Central heading into an off day Thursday, the veteran right-hander is just happy to be pitching in the big leagues again, in games that really matter.

"Everybody in this bullpen has good stuff. They pitch lights-out," he said. "You have to keep up. But it's a good thing. It's a very good thing."

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

USA Today Images

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."


You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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