(Photo: Getty Images)
On the date that Bronson Arroyo made his Cincinnati Reds debut - April 5th, 2006 - Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was somewhere rehabbing his injured knee, Mick Cronin was six months away from coaching his first game at UC, and the ink had barely dried on a deal that gave primary ownership of the Reds to Bob Castellini.
Of the 29 men who played for both the Reds and Cubs that afternoon at Great American Ballpark, only Edwin Encarnacion - then a 23 year-old trying to stop a long string of men who proved incapable of holding third base for the Reds - remains an active player.
It has been a long, successful career for Bronson Arroyo - one that began in 2000 (the names from his big league debut with the Pirates seem like dusty relics of a bygone era: Andres Galarraga. Bobby Bonilla. Brian Giles. John Vander Wal, whose card I think I had when I was 14), continued through his stay on one of history's most memorable teams (the '04 Red Sox), and eventually landed him for what seemed like forever here in Cincinnati.
Which is where it's ending.
Bronson Arroyo was never the best Cincinnati Red. If he was ever the staff ace, it's because the staff lacked experience, better pitchers, or both. He was never the guy you made a point to go see pitch, and truth be told, there were times when he was the last guy you wanted to see pitch. And yet, when you think about certain stretches of time, both when the Reds were struggling to regain relevance and when they finally achieved it, he's one of the fist guys you think of.
Reliability will do that. There is perhaps no more enduring and endearing trait in baseball - and in life - than reliability. There's comfort - value, even - in knowing what you'll get, when you'll get it. You knew what you'd get with Bronson Arroyo. 32 or more starts a year. Most of them pretty good. A few of them really good. And handful of them awful. Regardless of what the last start was, he'd make the next one in five days. And the next one five days after that.
He brought more than reliability. Think of the Reds from about 2002 through 2005 and what comes to mind. Probably nothing. They were bland. Boring. Nondescript even. One might say unlikable. Bronson came here in a move that was talked about more for who the Reds gave up (Wily Mo Pena) than who they received, seemingly the latest in a endless line of transactions by a franchise that never really seemed like it wanted to be and had the collective personality to match.
He was different, with his cornrows (fortunately, unlike the guy who wore them, the cornrows didn't endure), his guitar and accompanying cheesy singing, his willingness to be seen out in the city, his elaborate answers to routine questions, his leg-kick that didn't quite match the velocity of his pitches, his laid-back attitude that - unlike many of his teammates at the time - didn't border on indifference. He was a character, someone that seemed worth getting to know more about during an era when few Reds players had names worth remembering. He was cool. The Reds, to that point, were not.
Bronson Arroyo ended up being the first of what ended up being a slew of players over the years who ended up being good enough to hang around for a while, and thus deserving of our attention and interest. He was part of the team's core, one of the first players the new ownership invested in, and one of the faces of the club's slow climb back to mattering again. As the Johnny Cuetos, Joey Vottos, Homer Baileys and Jay Bruce's made their way to Cincinnati, offsetting moments of hope with bouts with growing pains, Bronson was one of a few mainstays holding things down, providing consistency. Sometimes excelling, occasionally failing with flair, always taking the ball.
When the Reds finally reached the point where they mattered again, we were less interested in Bronson that some of his newer, more capable teammates. The studious Canadian. The Tweeting second baseman. The chubby guy who ran stadium steps. The hard-nosed, no-bullshit third baseman. The flamethrowing Cuban. The tatted-up guy with the crazeball wife. The guy from Jersey.
Each of those guys came in and stuck around. All contributed. Most excelled. Bronson kept taking the ball, sometimes almost taken for granted. Occasionally forgotten.
The 2010 Reds remain one of the charming teams in the franchise's history, a 91-win feel-good story that reminded us what having a winning baseball team was like. They were defined by Votto's MVP season, Gomes' grit, Rolen's guidance, Dusty's deftness, and the comings-of-age of Bruce, Cueto, and late in the season, Chapman.
Bronson Arroyo led them in starts, innings, and wins.
For the next three seasons, as the Reds dipped back to the back, then ascended back to the postseason, first with the 97-win juggernaut that Bronson pitched to a 2-0 series lead in the NLDS, then with the 90-win outfit that seemed to be running on fumes, Arroyo was a constant, holding is own on a staff that was often one of the best in baseball.
Could the Reds have been good without Bronson Arroyo? Maybe.
Would you have wanted to find out if they could've been good without Bronson Arroyo? Definitely not.
We've spent a lot of time this season dwelling on Bronson's (successful) comeback, wondering if it was worth having him take up space in the rotation, then debating whether he had the staying power to stick around, and finally whether it made sense to have him continue. All of that has made it easy for some to dismiss, or even forget, the career he's had, how good he was, and what he meant for the Cincinnati Reds.
But if you think about the Reds the way I do, you don't forget about Bronson Arroyo.