The Stayed-One-Year-Too-Long Blues
Not every player can go out like David Ortiz. Not many last seasons are like Mariano Rivera’s. Ted Williams’ 1960 curtain-call rarely happens.
Baseball is unforgiving. When you lose it, you lose it. You’re done-zo. No matter if you’re one of the best players ever, chances are that you’re going to retire on the heels of a season that’s less-than-stellar.
A-Rod’s retirement has caused some…’discussion’…behind the scenes at The Spitter. (Saracen dog, Spartan pig and all that.) But we can all agree that Alex Rodriguez’ 2016 was horrible from any measure.
Mike Schmidt retired in mid-season of 1989 at age 39 when he lost it. His 1988 was poor for him, but he slipped further in 1989 and pulled the plug in late May.
Nolan Ryan’s 1993 season was ruined with injuries, and he had to be pulled in his last start because his right elbow finally just up and quit.
Derek Jeter’s 2014 would have gotten him DFA’d if he wasn’t Derek Jeter.
Bob Gibson pitched until 1975. He probably should have stopped in 1974. His last game was on September 3rd, against the Cubs. He was relegated to the bullpen, and came in during the seventh inning of a tie game. He got an out, issued a walk, allowed an infield hit, then another walk. Manny Trillo topped a grounder back to Gibson and he got a force play out at the plate. With two out, he threw a wild pitch, allowing a run to score, issued an intentional walk, and then Pete LaCock hit a grand slam that closed the book on his career. Sad.
Even Ken Griffey, Jr. had a final season to forget (.184/.250/.204). He also called it quits in the middle of the season.
It’s not just recent players who went out with a thud. Honus Wagner, who may have an argument for the best player of all time, had a -0.1 WAR in 74 games as a weak hitting first baseman in 1917. Babe Ruth’s horrible 1935 derailed the Braves entire season. Walter Johnson’s ERA in 1927 was 5.10. Jimmie Foxx hit .205 in 1942, and then was asked to play in 1945 and was a touch over a replacement player
The saddest goodbye for me was Willie Mays. Traded back to New York, his 1973 season was terrible, only redeemed by a World Series appearance. He was a proud man, and seeing him flail in that season was disappointing for me, especially since I had heard about how great he was in his prime.
I don’t blame players for holding on as long as they can. It’s all they know, and they’re no doubt so competitive and self-confident that they think they can excel even when their skills have eroded. It makes it all more unusual when players like Johnny Bench retire before they totally lose all of their skills (Bench’s 1983 wasn’t bad, really – he had a 1.1 WAR despite playing third base like a catcher.)
So A-Rod lasted a year too long. Most everyone does in this crazy game we love. This game gets in your blood, and you just can’t shake it. Just ask the former major leaguers playing in the NBC championship.