Taillon’s Time in Pittsburgh Was Marred by Misfortune

By Joe Smeltzer

Every notable Pirate that’s went somewhere else over the past several years has a different story.

Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte left having reached their full potential.

Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell left showing flashes of greatness, and nothing else.

Pitchers Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow left a system that failed them, and now… look at them. Austin Meadows never had a chance to do much of anything, and now look at him.

All of these guys either had success, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, or just weren’t good enough.

Jameson Taillon is the outlier.

Taillon isn’t tragic the same way former Steeler Ryan Shazier, a thoroughbred linebacker whose career ended at 25 due to a neck injury that nearly paralyzed him, or Michel Briere, who would have been the Penguins first superstar, but instead died at 21 from a car accident three weeks before his wedding.

The ballad of Jameson Taillon, God-willing, won’t be as sad as Shazier’s or Briere’s story, but I consider his time in Pittsburgh—which ended this past Sunday with a trade to the Yankees— to be a sad, missed opportunity. Sadder still, because it was hardly Taillon’s fault that he never lived up to his potential, and because, while I’ve never met the man, it seems that Taillon is an exceptional human being. A guy you want to see good things happen to.

Taillon had some good things happen to him in Pittsburgh. He also had a sports hernia, a line drive off the skull and not one Tommy John Surgery, but two. Oh, and a cancer diagnosis on top of all of that.

Taillon’s misfortune started the day he was drafted. As you might remember, in the 2010 draft, Bryce Harper was a lock to go to the Nationals at No 1. The Pirates had the next pick, and they were either going to draft Taillon or a shortstop raised in Miami named Manny Machado. Ten years later, Machado is on a path to Cooperstown— not to mention, making $30 million a year.  

Taillon had the potential to be great with the Pirates, but for some reason, bad things kept happening to him.

It started in 2014. Taillon, progressing through the minors, was thought to be just months from joining the big team. The big team had just come off its first playoff appearance in 21 years and was ready for a sequel. Although the Pirates continued to win in ’14, Taillon didn’t get to be a part of it thanks to his first Tommy John Surgery.

The next year, Pittsburgh won its most games since Teddy Roosevelt was president, and again, Taillon missed out, this time because of a sports hernia.

So when the Bucs headed to Bradenton in March of 2016, Taillon was 24 years old and hadn’t thrown a major league pitch.

With no new injuries, he debuted in June, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in just his second start, and finished the year with a solid 3.38 ERA. Taillon had finally made it to the majors, and the future looked bueno.

Except, well, there were a few problems.

For one, the Pirates weren’t good anymore. Pittsburgh won just 78 games in 2016, and started its downward spiral that’s continued into the next decade. For Taillon, the bad luck was just beginning.

The next May, No. 50 was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He handled it like a champ, returned to the mound in five weeks, and inspired us with his spirit and humility.

The next year was his best to date. Taillon won 14 games in 2018 and posted a 3.20 ERA, both career bests.

And that was as good as it got.

Taillon’s 2019 was all of seven starts. In May, he went on the DL. In August, we found out he needed a second Tommy John Surgery. He wouldn’t throw a pitch in 2020, and that’s where the Pittsburgh chapter ends.

What will happen in the rest of the book? I’m rooting for the newest Yankee, and I hope everybody else is. Taillon’s been through Hell and back and it hasn’t stopped him, and good things are supposed to happen to people like that.

On the cynical side, however, I think about luck and how some people only have one kind of it. Taillon’s luck has been mostly bad, and part of me dreads the possibility that more bad things will happen. Here’s hoping the next decade of Jameson Taillon’s baseball career gets his name off the Wheel of Misfortune.  That’s what he deserves.

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