The end of Eric Byrnes’ tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks couldn’t have been more different than its beginning.
Signed prior to the 2006 season, Byrnes’ hustle and all-around skills helped endear him to Valley fans, with his .267 average, 26 home runs, 79 RBI and 25 stolen bases helping to establish him as a valuable everyday player.
Then, in 2007, he hit .286 with 21 home runs 83 RBI and 50 stolen bases, finishing 11th in the NL MVP voting and helping to lead the D-backs to not only an NL West title, but a spot in the NL Championship Series.
That season earned Byrnes a three-year, $30 million contract extension from the team, which he signed on August 7, 2007.
On January 20, 2010, the team released him.
He went from fan favorite to pariah about as quickly as he went from journeyman to face of the franchise.
“The one thing that I can say when I walk away from the Arizona Diamondbacks situation and my time there, is that I gave that organization, I gave that team everything I had,” Byrnes said as a guest of Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday.
Now an analyst for MLB Network and a radio host for KNBR in San Francisco, the veteran of 11 MLB seasons — four of which were in Arizona — said his biggest mistake, the one that led to his downfall in the Valley, was rushing back from an injury suffered in Spring Training 2008.
“Looking back, I should have never went out and played in 2008,” he said. “I had a twinge in my hamstring, I tried to play through it, I kept trying to push it. I eventually tore it off the bone.
“And it was my bravado of thinking, ‘Oh hey, I’ve got this new contract and I’m the leader of the team now, I’ve got to play through injury.’ The stupidest thing I could have ever done because I end up tearing the hamstring completely off the bone, end up costing me a year and a half.”
The hamstring issue limited Byrnes to 52 ineffective games that season, with him hitting .209 with six home runs, 23 RBI and four stolen bases.
Byrnes returned to the field in 2009 hoping to get his career back on track, but he hit just .216 with five home runs, 24 RBI and seven stolen bases before being hit in the hand with a pitch on June 26, causing him to be out until September 5.
“Then, obviously, things didn’t end great,” he said. “I was finally healthy and I got released. For me, that hurt.”
Byrnes added that it wasn’t the fact that he got released that bothered him, as it wasn’t the first time that happened to him during his career.
“But when I got released, the thing for me is I was back, I was healthy, I was playing decent baseball, and the Diamondbacks had still owed me money, and that for me was a little bit of a slap to the face,” he said. “Because, again, the performance, of course, wasn’t there, but if you look at my last September that I had playing with the Diamondbacks and the fact that I was finally healthy, and I went to Reno with a smile on my face to get back healthy and get back in the lineup.
“Well all of a sudden I’m back there and I had a decent September, so the way I looked at it was, ‘Hey look, I finally nursed myself back to decent health to be able to play, and even if you don’t want to start me I figure I would be a good bench player.'”
In fact, Byrnes said he received multiple offers to be just that, but even though he hit .267 with three home runs and seven RBI in 45 at-bats through September and October, the Diamondbacks had no interest in keeping him around in any capacity.
“What they wanted to do was just get rid of me as if I was a bad person and potentially a bad teammate,” he said. “I never liked the way that came across. That was the only thing that hurt me because I prided myself on being a good person, on being a good teammate. And again, still, at that point, sure, was I going to be the superstar, have the superstar sort of caliber year that I had in 2007? Probably not, especially because I hadn’t played baseball in just about two years at that point.
“The only thing that bothered me to a sense was guys that you release that are making big money like that are guys that either do absolutely nothing to help your team — actually hurt your team — or somebody who is a bad person.”
Byrnes thought he fit into neither category, and believed he still had something to offer the team when he was let go. He went on to play for the Seattle Mariners in 2010, where he hit .094 with two doubles, six walks and nine strikeouts in 15 games before being released.
Time has passed, though, and Byrnes calls it water under the bridge. It was all business, he said, and while he doesn’t know who made the decision or exactly why it was made, he understands many of the people who would have been involved are no longer with the Diamondbacks.