Mark Fidrych. Pat Listach. Joe Charboneau.
Major League Baseball’s history is littered with players who dazzled in their rookie debuts but never again reached the same heights. Today, we examine a recent member of the Cleveland Indians who may be living through a similar fate.
Rickey Relish languished at Triple-A Columbus for more than five years before finally earning a call to The Show on June 9th, 2017.
Ketchup suffered a case of soggy buns and the Indians had no choice but to move him to the disabled list and call up the minor league veteran. Some sausages spend decades in the minors without a sniff of Major League playing time. Would Relish make the most of what might be his only shot with a Major League club?
A perennial fan-favorite at Huntington Park, rumors swirled as early as 2014 that the sausage might be an asset to the Major League club. Relish wasted no time endearing himself to the fans of Cleveland. In his first Hot Dog Derby appearance Relish zoomed past Onion and Mustard with his final strides to take first place.
Relish's big-league debut: Who ya got? https://t.co/rh1WCRAsEU— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) June 11, 2017
Just as Lou Gehrig once turned “Wally Pipp” into a verb, would Relish’s emergence relegate Ketchup to permanent backup duty?
It was not to be. Ketchup returned from the disabled list the next day. Relish rode I-71 back to Columbus, robbed of an opportunity to prove himself by byzantine sausage disabled list rules.
Or was there more to it than that?
“We love what we saw out of the kid,” Mike Chernoff might have said if ever asked about Relish. “What concerned us more than anything is that while the skillset is obviously there, we think he might have some growing up to do.”
It’s true — watching the video above it’s clear that Relish didn’t heed the advice Andre Knott would never have actually whispered to an anthropomorphic sausage: “Act like you’ve been here before.”
A rival GM might have weighed in on the situation with, “Cleveland struggles to recognize talent in the minor league ranks sometimes. It makes you wonder. Brandon Phillips, Jesus Aguilar [...] Relish might be the next prospect they ever [sic] quite give an opportunity to and end up regretting it.”
Relish would not be deterred. He returned to Columbus and posted a 39% winning percentage during his time there. This is exemplary — in the long history of between-inning three-sausage races, winning percentages tend to hover right around 33%. Only the true greats ever approach 40%, and the last time a sausage or hot dog posted a 40% win rate for a whole season was 1941.
Then, in September, Relish returned as a September call-up.
Even sportswriters like Jonah Keri covered the news, confirming the Indians’ claims that scouts rated Relish’s power tool at a 70/80. Fans on twitter were thrilled at the prospect of a #FreeRickey.
How did Relish handle his extended shot on the big stage?
There’s a long history of minor leaguers finally getting a shot in the majors and falling short of expectations. For Rickey Relish, the skills, the drive to win, the flavor — it was all there. But in sausage, racing there are certain intangibles — the binding of their meat, the juiciness of their jump, the crispness of their casing. Relish failed to put it all together when given his opportunity.
Relish remains stuck in Triple-A Columbus. He may stay there as long as Onion continues to start in Cleveland; Most GMs feel there is no need for two vegetable-condiment starters on one roster. To make matters worse, the organization passed over him in 2018 when the Indians chose to introduce Bacon as a fourth contestant in the derby. To his credit, Relish released a measured response through his agent.
"I am extremely excited to see what Bacon can bring to the organization. I like to believe I'm a team player and whatever is best for the @Indians is what I'll support. I look forward to having another chance to compete with @TribeHotDogs in the very near future!"— Columbus Clippers (@CLBClippers) May 23, 2018
-Rickey Relish https://t.co/kSenE4brEk
One must wonder how genuine these feelings are, though. The on-field product suggests that Chernoff may be right — the sausage may never play the game the right way, despite his immense gifts.
Will Rickey Relish finally earn an invitation to spring training? Will there ever be a #FreeRickey? This definitely popular and real social media movement may never get what it wants.
Let’s Go Tribe contacted @TribeHotDogs on twitter to seek comment from Rickey Relish for this article, but tweets were not returned.