Every year, a few players whom you've long since decided you'll never see again resurface on someone's roster. In most cases, you think you've seen the last of them because they've washed out of the majors and have either taken some time off or continued to toil in lower-profile, lower-level leagues. But eventually, they work their way back to the big leagues, at which point you spot their name in a box score, do a double-take, confirm that they're the same player, and catch up on where they were all that time. Because I wrote the Angels chapter in Baseball Prospectus 2011â€‹, I remember two typically obscure lost-and-found players, Mike Ryan and Cory Aldridge. Before getting into a few games for the 2010 Angels, Ryan hadn't been a big leaguer since 2005, and Aldridge hadn't appeared on a major-league roster since 2001.*
I bring this up now because two players whom we long since gave up on and began to forget have just given us a reason to remember. Both of them played in the majors on September 30, 2007, then dropped off the map until this past Sunday, when they were both recalled from relative anonymity.
The first prodigal player is Lew Ford. Ford had an excellent age-27 season for the 2004 Twins, but he wasn't much use after that. Following two roughly replacement-level seasons in 2006 and 2007, Ford became a free agent . Over the next five years, he played for:
- The Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League
- The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League
- The Louisville Bats, the Reds' Triple-A affiliate, where he went 6-for-38
- The Guerreros de Oaxaca of the Mexican League
- The Ducks again
- The Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate
Aside from his short stint with the Bats, Ford played well at each stop, which kept him from dropping completely off the radar. On May 1st, starting Orioles left field Nolan Reimold went on the DL with what would turn out to be a season-ending neck injury. Just over two weeks later, the O's signed Ford, who went on to hit .331/.390/.550 for the Tides in 62 games. Meanwhile, Xavier Avery, Endy Chavez, and the other outfielders with whom the team had tried to replace Reimold weren't hitting. So on Sunday, Baltimore called up Ford, who started in left and batted fifth. (Yes, fifth. On a team that was two games away from a wild card spot.) He did this:
But Ford's return isn't the only exciting development on the players-we-last-saw-five-seasons-ago front. Also on Sunday, the White Sox called up Ray Olmedo to replace utility guy Eduardo Escobar, who was traded to the Twins in the Francisco Liriano trade. Olmedo owns a career.228/.276/.293 line in the majors, which is why we haven't seen him for so long. Since 2007, he's played for the Triple-A affiliates of the Nationals, the Rays, the Brewers, the Rays again, and finally the White Sox, who liked his .273/.340/.335 line enough to bring him back to big-league life. Olmedo is only 31, which means he has plenty of time to make his career -1.6 WARP even worse.
Olmedo hasn't gotten into a game yet, so I can't show you any highlights of the long-lost infielder. Instead, I'll show you this awesome Olmedo post-game performance from 2011 (h/t Adam Sobsey).
Remember Mike Ryan and Cory Aldridge, those improbable 2010 Angels I mentioned? Neither of them has been in the majors since that season. And that's the hardest part of the improbable player comeback tale: right after we get used to the idea of having them around, we have to say goodbye again. Ford and Olmedo are feel-good stories. Just don't get too attached.