CINCINNATI — And then there was one.
Bronson Arroyo is the last of the self-described “Idiots” from the 2004 world champion Red Sox still playing in the major leagues.
“I’m happy about it,” says Arroyo, 40. “I’m not happy that the other guys aren’t playing, but I’ve been saying for a while I’m going to be the last man standing.”
The youthful-looking Cincinnati Reds righthander may indeed be one of a kind. He plays his guitar naked in the shower, still uses a flip phone, and never wears his World Series ring.
For 14 big league seasons, Arroyo was a pitching iron man: He never missed a start because of injury. For a solid decade (2004-13), he averaged more than 200 innings per season.
But he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 while he was with the Diamondbacks, and a rotator cuff problem in 2016 while he was with the Nationals. He didn’t throw a pitch in the majors in 2015 or 2016. Many said his career was over.
“At my age, after 3,500 professional innings, nobody believes you can come back from that,” said Arroyo.
He needed stem-cell treatments before finally making it back this year. He signed with the Reds as a free agent in February.
“When I got hurt, I thought, ‘I’ve got to climb this mountain to be the last man standing or David [Ortiz] is going to beat me,’ ’’ he said.
In April, after getting his first win in 1,038 days, Arroyo handed out “Night of the Living Dead” T-shirts. They featured the righthander with his trademark leg kick looming over tombstones of other Red Sox teammates he has outlasted.
WHAT, HIM WORRY?
Built long and skinny, Arroyo seems an unlikely candidate for longevity.
“Curt Schilling told me with my body I wouldn’t be able to throw 230 innings,’’ he said. “I really enjoyed going out there day after day after day and watching guys break before me.”
Arroyo keeps in touch with many of his teammates from his 2003-05 Boston stint, including Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar, Kevin Youkilis, and Johnny Damon.
He has a career record of 148-135 in 16 seasons with Pittsburgh, Boston, Cincinnati, and Arizona. But this season he is 3-4 with a 6.75 ERA. He says his stuff is “poo-poo.”
“It’s all between the ears now,” he says. “Everything from here on in is icing on the cake.”
As the senior member of one of the youngest teams in the majors, he is beloved in the Reds clubhouse.
“He doesn’t seem to age,” says the aptly named Rookie Davis, a first-year pitcher. “He’s teaching me a lot, pointing out mistakes while not showing me up, teaching me things both on and off the field. The other day he was saying he might keep pitching till he starts collecting his pension.”
Veteran pitcher Scott Feldman has the locker right next to Arroyo’s.
“He’s a ton of fun,” says Feldman. “I secretly believe he’s 24.”
Arroyo said he takes care of his body, barely drinks, never smokes, and gets lots of sleep.
“I sleep anywhere, any time, any place, because I never have a lot of stress on my head,’’ he says. “I’ve always found a way to purge all the b.s. of the world and let it run off my back.”
Pitching in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark is not the same as pitching in Fenway.
“I enjoyed playing in that fiery atmosphere under the microscope where every night felt like a playoff game,” he says. “And I loved it. Absolutely.
“But the advantage of being removed from that is that you play in a little quieter place where you don’t feel your whole life is being affected so much by your performances on the field.
“You’re pitching against the Yankees and you get your butt kicked and knocked out in the third inning. Maybe you don’t go out to dinner that night. Maybe I don’t want to go out in public and have people looking at me the way they do there. Well, in this town it doesn’t matter.”
LONG ROAD BACK
Arroyo was traded by the Red Sox to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Pena in March 2006. In eight-plus years with the Reds, he has gone 108-98 with a 4.24 ERA, and he made the All-Star team in 2006.
“I am probably going to be in their Hall of Fame,” he says.
After signing with the Diamondbacks as a free agent in 2014, he believes he tore his ulnar collateral ligament beating the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg in a 3-1 complete-game victory on May 13 of that year. He still made six more starts, throwing with decreased velocity and increased pain.
“My arm afterwards wouldn’t straighten out,’’ he says. “I pitched on Toradol and Vicodin and I’d eat a dose pack [anti-inflammatories] every other day.”
But he’d still take the ball, a veteran up for any challenge.
“I was warming up in Dodger Stadium, and it was against [Josh] Beckett, and my arm was hurting so bad I could barely reach the plate,’’ he says. “I came out of there after the first inning and [manager] Kirk Gibson said to me, ‘I’ve got to get you out of there. You’re throwing 75-79 m.p.h.’
“I said, ‘I know. Leave me in there. I’m going to [expletive] beat ’em.”
He did, lasting five innings, but then he went on the disabled list. He did not pitch in 2014 or 2015 and was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Braves, then to the Dodgers before becoming a free agent.
He unsuccessfully tried a comeback with the Nationals last year but pitched only nine minor league innings before being shut down. He got the stem-cell treatment in 2016, received an invitation to Reds spring training, and made the starting rotation.
“I feel like I can throw 200 innings,” he says. “To go out there, completely handicapped, got the worst [expletive] in the game and try to win 15 games and throw 200 innings at age 40, 41, 42. Dude, there ain’t nothing better, bro.”
He’d love to pitch at Fenway again in another uniform. He did return to the park last summer with his guitar and performed “Black” with Pearl Jam. When lead singer Eddie Vedder urged the crowd to light up the park for Arroyo, thousands of cellphones were pointed toward center field.
“From the stage, it was fantastic,” he says. “You could see the triangle of the infield untouched and you could see the mound glowing in the moonlight with a tarp over it. It was such a fantastic moment.”
This triggers the time machine, and Arroyo starts reminiscing about days past.
Sweeping past the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS after being down, three games to none, was a big thrill.
“My favorite moment of all was seeing A-Rod and Jeter watching us from the top of the [dugout] pad,” he says, “because the year before they got us, and I did the exact same thing and had to listen to ‘New York, New York.’ ”
His 2004 championship ring is in a safety deposit box.
“It’s so large, it’s not really my style,” he says. “I’m like the anti-bling-bling guy.”
Arroyo did bring it to a gig he played at Mohegan Sun: buy his CD, take a picture with the ring.
“It was amazing,” he says. “People would put that thing on and they’d be shaking.”
Arroyo has made $95 million playing baseball. So why did he go through hell to get back?
“I’ll tell you why I do it, man,’’ he said. “It’s for guys like Jason Varitek to turn on the TV and go, ‘You got to be [expletive] kidding me — that guy is still out there pitching?’ That’s it.
“Curt Schilling to turn it on and go, ‘It’s 2021 and that [expletive] is still out there. Are you crazy?’
“For Derek Lowe to turn on the TV and go, ‘I retired when I was 38 and he’s [expletive] 42 and he’s still going?’
“That’s the only reason, man. That’s it.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.