San Francisco Giants: Vogelsong’s Odd Journey Takes Him Back to Pittsburgh


After five years in a San Francisco Giants’ uniform, Ryan Vogelsong is heading back to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The journey of a professional baseball player can be one of the most winding, yet utterly fascinating voyages in sports. Between the major leagues, all the different levels of the minor leagues, and all the various professional organizations around the globe, the life of a player can take them just about anywhere.

There are players like Octavio Dotel, who pitched for a record 13 big league teams in his 15-year career. There’s players like Mike Hessman, who was a career minor leaguer that hit 433 home runs, a minor league record, but could never stick at the highest level. And then, there’s players like Ryan Vogelsong. Since being drafted in the fifth round in 1998 by the San Francisco Giants as a 20-year-old, Vogelsong has been just about everywhere.

Vogelsong’s 18-year professional career, spanning 504 games, has taken him through four MLB organizations, 13 different American cities, and has spanned three continents. He’s pitched in North America, South America in the Venezuelan Winter League, and Asia, pitching for Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hanshin Tigers in 2007 and 2008 and the Orix Buffaloes in 2009.

Players with those kind of air miles don’t usually have the type of Major League résumés that Vogelsong possesses. The now 38-year-old right-hander was an All-Star in 2011, his first year back in the Major Leagues after four years away.  That year, he was named the Giants’ Willie Mac Award winner, and should have been the season’s National League Comeback Player of the Year, as well. He was a key figure in two World Series championship runs, helping bring the Commissioner’s Trophy to San Francisco in 2012 and 2014. Vogelsong made seven starts between those two postseasons, and the team didn’t lose any of them.

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During his second stint with the Giants, which spanned five seasons, Vogelsong became something of a folk hero. From humble beginnings as a guy on a minor league deal just looking to make his way back to the Show, Vogelsong not only earned his roster spot, but he worked his way into the hearts of Giants’ fans. His game day demeanor, filled with flared nostrils and intense stares, his grit and grind style on the mound, and “Rally Enchiladas” (coined during the 2012 postseason run) all became the stuff of legend.

Vogelsong took his “never say die” attitude with him everywhere. When he was toiling away in the minor leagues, he stuck with it. When he was pitching in Japan, and not exactly doing so with great effectiveness, he kept at it. When he was back in the big leagues, struggling through a start in which he didn’t have his best stuff, he would grind his way through, using his bulldog mentality to give his guys a chance to win.

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It’s rare for a player to come full circle once in his career, but Vogelsong is attempting to complete the even rarer feat of doing so twice. He’s already returned to the team with which his professional career began, but his one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates brings him back to the only other Major League team for which he has pitched. A trade on July 30th, 2001 put Vogelsong in a Pirates’ uniform for the first time, and he would spend the next five-plus season with the organization.

After Vogelsong’s last appearance with the Pirates on June 22nd, 2006, he would spend the next 1,760 days trying to get back to the highest level. His next big league appearance shouldn’t come with such a long wait, and he can only hope it will be as successful as his second go-around with the Giants.

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A baseball journey can take a player to so many different places, many of them quite forgettable. Vogelsong’s time in San Francisco won’t be soon forgotten. Like he said in his farewell speech after the 2015 season finale, he will always, always be a Giant.