Bruce Kastulo Chen
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 2", Weight 215 lb.
- Debut September 7, 1998
- Final Game May 15, 2015
- Born June 19, 1977 in Ciudad de Panamá, Panamá, Panama
Bruce Chen earned his first big league victory on September 12, 1998. That season, he was named the Pitcher of the Year in the AA Southern League after going 13-7, 3.29 with 164 strikeouts for the Greenville Braves. Signed at age 16, Chen went 1-4 in nine games, with 26 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 1994, with the GCL Braves. In 1997, Chen posted a 12-7 record with 182 strikeouts in 146 innings with the Macon Braves to lead the South Atlantic League in strikeouts.
In spite of his outstanding minor league record, Chen never was able to pitch well in the majors for more than short stretches until his mid-30s. However, his electric stuff and occasional tantalizing outings meant that there was always a team willing to give him another chance. He pitched for nine major league teams and played with one more organization from 1998 to 2008. He seemed to finally put it all together in 2005, when he went 13-10, 3.83, with 133 strikeouts as a member of the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation. This came after a successful 8-game tryout in late 2004 in which he put up a 3.03 ERA following a solid season with the AAA Ottawa Lynx. Everything came crashing down in 2006 however, as his 0-7, 6.93, mark attests.
Chen started one of Panama's two games in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and held Puerto Rico to two runs in four innings, allowing solo homers to Carlos Delgado and Ivan Rodriguez. Chen took the loss against Javier Vazquez.
Finally, Chen found some stability when he joined the Kansas City Royals - his 10th team - in 2009. That first season seemed like more of the same, 1-6, 5.78, but he then put together back-to-back solid seasons in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, he was 12-7, 4.17, pitching 140 1/3 innings, then in 2011, his record was 12-8, 3.77 in 25 starts; both years came when the Royals were well below .500 as he was easily the most dependable pitcher in the starting rotation. Convinced that Chen had finally turned a corner, the Royals offered him a big raise to re-sign him after the 2011 season. Chen earned the catch-phrase "C'mon Chen!" as a Kansas City Royal in 2010 after being heckled from the stands by Will Ferrell and Jason Sudeikis. Sudeikis, a life-long Kansan and die-hard Royals fan, had invited Ferrell and several other comedians to the game and were seated in the on-field dugout suite.
Chen slipped back a bit in 2012, when his record was still a solid 11-14 and he led the American League with 34 starts, but his ERA rose to 5.07. The Royals had their best season in years in 2013, hinting at even better things to come, and Chen pitched quite well, although as a swingman and not as a regular starter. He ended the season 9-4, 3.27 in 34 games including 15 starts. He logged 121 innings and had an ERA+ of 126. The Royals finally made it back to the postseason in 2014 - going all the way to the 7th game of the World Series, but Chen was no longer a key part of the team. He pitched only 13 times, making 7 starts and logging 48 1/3 innings, but the results were poor, with a 2-4 record and a 7.45 ERA. He missed all of May and almost all of June while on the disabled list, but pitched only sparingly and poorly in July and August and was released on September 5th, having to watch from home as the Royals made their final surge to the postseason and almost claimed the big prize. It was a bittersweet end to a six-season stay with Kansas City.
On February 17, 2015, he signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians, coupled with an invitation to spring training. He made his debut with the team on May 9th after spending the first five weeks of the season in the minors. It was his 11th major league team, but his debut was not one to remember fondly, as he gave up 6 runs in 4 innings against the Minnesota Twins to be charged with a 7-4 loss. After another unsuccessful start on May 15th, in which he gave up 3 runs to the Texas Rangers in 2 1/3 innings but was not involved in the decision, he was designated for assignment on May 16th, sporting a 12.79 ERA. He announced two days later that he was retiring from baseball at 37. Among his accomplishments was being the penultimate former member of the Montreal Expos to play in the majors; when he retired, only Bartolo Colon was still playing in the majors among all those who had played for Montreal over the years.
Chen is the only major league player born in Panama who is of Asian ancestry. He expressed interest in playing for the Chinese national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (after Panama failed to qualify) and was put on their provisional roster, but the documentation he submitted was insufficient to prove his eligibility to play for China and he withdrew in mid-February. Still, he decided to put his name forward again for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, even though he had been retired for well over a year at that point. The bureaucratic issue that had prevented him from lining up with the Chinese squad four years earlier had now been solved, and he explained that he wanted to do this to honor his grandparents, who had emigrated from China to Panama.
- Jon Paul Morosi: "Chen honoring heritage in World Baseball Classic: 39-year-old southpaw excited to pitch for China", mlb.com, February 5, 2017.