Tommy Hanson was the Atlanta Braves’ biggest pitching prospect of the first decade of the new millennium, the most precious arm this pitching-powered franchise had drafted and developed since Steve Avery. His major-league debut in June 2009 was such an event that the Braves cut Tom Glavine — then attempting to close his Hall of Fame career with a final comeback — to make room for Hanson in the rotation.
And here we bow our heads and speak words that defy belief: Tommy Hanson died Monday night at age 29.
Third in the voting for National League rookie of the year in 2009. Should have made the All-Star team in 2011. Traded to the Angels for Jordan Walden in November 2012. Cut by the Angels, the Rangers and the White Sox. Spent last season in the Giants’ minor-league chain. Hanson’s career was a tale of great promise gone sour, but that doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that he’s gone at 29.
I can’t claim to have known him well, but I knew him a little. We spoke in spring training before he was promoted to the big club, and it was clear not much fazed him. (He grew up in California, and it was all I could do to keep from typing the hackneyed phrase “California cool.”)
The first time I saw him throw, the hitch in his delivery reminded me — oddly enough — of quarterback Philip Rivers. The first time I saw Rivers play for N.C. State, I thought, “Does he throw that way all the time?” Same with Hanson, although the odd motion seemed to work. He was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA as a rookie and 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA in the first half of 2011. He was essentially as good as advertised.
And then he wasn’t. He got hurt and lost the oomph on his fastball. The Braves decided they’d seen enough and traded him for a reliever. He would win four more big-league games after leaving here. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2014 and 2015. I’d think of him occasionally and wonder how he was doing. And now he’s dead.
I wish I had something really profound to offer, but I don’t. I’m not feeling anything any different from anyone who saw him pitch or had a conversation with him. I liked him, and I’m sorry he’s gone. This is awful news.