Hanging Up The Spikes.
Every season, many Major League Baseball players say goodbye to the game they love; some by choice and others forced by powers beyond their control. Most of them are far from the players they once were and that’s fine by me. I’m ok with players hanging on as long as they (naturally) can, even longer than they “should” in some cases. To me, this often reflects the fact that they love Baseball and still want to play. Hell, if I had it my way, there would be a professional senior league that old ball players could “graduate” to once they retired from the big leagues. I just look at the game in a humanistic and romantic frame of mind. I am aware I’m in the minority in this day and age when it comes to this.
Just to put it out there, I get a little sad and a confused when I see guys retire from the game after watching and admiring their careers. Whether it be a “AAAA” player who could not find success in the big leagues, a career utility infielder who will disappear without fanfare, or an aging superstar who has wrapped up a spectacular career; I always ask myself how can they COMPLETELY stop playing the game of Baseball?
I play Baseball and intend to until I physically can not do so anymore. There’s something deep inside of me which keeps me playing this game, even with the injuries that often plague me. It’s a fire that just won’t go out. I suppose it’s much different for someone who has played professionally for many years and therefore has had a much different experience than myself. For these guys, I just assume the fire inside to play should still be flickering though? I look at people like Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee and say to myself “That’s how I wanna be.” The guy is 66 years old and still plays competitive Baseball long after his major league career ended. Whether it be men’s senior leagues, independent minor league teams, pick-up clubs, etc., he plays for the love of the game. After being cut by the Expos in 1982, Lee was interviewed and asked if he cares if he’s out of Baseball for good. He answered with “Oh, I’ll never be out of Baseball for good, that’s my life.” It’s an admirable quote that I often think about as it resonates with me.
With all that said, I know not everyone feels the same about the game of Baseball as Bill Lee and myself. For many, when it comes to time to say goodbye to the game, it really is goodbye and that is what this post is about. A number of players that I admire have recently decided to hang up the spikes and I know I will not see them play again. This post is a “digital” tip of the cap to these men and what they accomplished during their careers. I know not everyone who left the game in 2013 is listed on here, but these are the players that I personally admire for what they did on the field and have actually officially announced their retirement. Much like my “30 Teams, 30 Posts” project, I’ll leave a photo I like, along with feelings or a memory that’s triggered by it. Enjoy.
I’m just going to start with the biggest and most obvious name and that would be Mariano Rivera. What can I say that has not already been said about the best closer of all time? I may be VERY critical of the role of the modern “closer” but I still have to admit that he is a legend and an easy first ballot Hall of Famer. Growing up as a fan of the Padres, I was always more of a Trevor Hoffman fan for obvious reasons. There always seemed to be a lot of comparison and debate between these two closers and only members of the 600 Save club: East vs West, large market vs small market, cutter vs change-up, AC/DC vs Metallica, etc. I always (and still do) follow Hoffman more for obvious reasons, but I could never remotely dislike or disregard Mo. He was the greatest and anyone who says otherwise is taking crazy pills. I finally got to see him pitch in person this last summer and while he did blow a save in the game, I felt honored to finally seem him pitch in person.
If you were somehow in the 1% of Baseball fans who managed to miss Mo’s last appearance, do yourself a favor and click HERE. It gets good right around the 3:20 mark. If you don’t get a little misty eyed, I question your love for the game.
Towards the end of this season, Mark Kotsay decided that it would be his last year in the big leagues. This guy is by far my favorite player on this list and was always one of my favorite players in Baseball. I followed him closely throughout his career due to his connection to both the Padres and A’s always got excited when I saw him in the lineup or take the field. With that said, it was obviously a little saddening to hear of his retirement, but then again he did play 17 years in the big leagues. That in itself is quite admirable for someone who was never a “superstar,” let alone ever an All-Star. I’m going to miss that left-handed swing of his but I have feeling he’s still going to be involved in the game as the general consensus regarding Kotsay is that he would be a great coach or manager in the future.
My fondest Kotsay moment would have to be as a member of the 2006 A’s when he hit an inside the park homerun and helped win Game 2 of the ALDS. Since I can’t find the video of this, HERE is a link of the Padres honoring Kotsay before his final game in San Diego.
Todd Helton is another player who announced late in the season that 2014 would be last in the big leagues. As someone who follows the NL West closely, I’m quite familiar with Helton and what he accomplished during his 17 seasons as the first basemen of the Rockies. He beat up on Padres pitchers for years and even though it was infuriating at times, I could not help but take a step back at times, throw away my fandom and admire what a great player he was. Helton may have played some of his greatest seasons at Coors Field prior to the humidor and benefited from the elevation (which are reflected in his home/road splits), but he had some legit great all around seasons. In my eyes, Helton is a Hall of Famer. Not to mention he played his entire career with one team, which is always admirable and Hall of Fame voters seem to like.
The last weekend of the season, the legendary Vin Scully paid tribute to Helton via THIS video. I believe it sums up how most Baseball people feel about Helton and his impact on the game.
Chris Carpenter has officially hung up his spikes due to nerve issues in his throwing shoulder, which have essentially robbed him of his last 2 seasons. When Carpenter was healthy, he was an absolute beast on the mound who often ran with his emotions. This meant yelling at himself and opposing players, staring down batters and playing harder than most. Some may call it competitive and others may call it irrational. I know the yelling and staring down of opposing players rubbed many the wrong way, but I was always kinda conflicted in regards to this. I loved how fierce of a competitor he was, but some of the dramatics that came along with this were unneeded. In any case, I’d rather have someone like Carpenter than have someone who was lacking in the competitive juices department.
Recently, I read somewhere that it was suggested if Carpenter could have possibly had a Hall of Fame caliber career if it were not for the 6 surgeries that undoubtedly cost him a lot of time during his peak years. This is debatable, but what can’t be debated is that Carpenter had a great career. A Cy Young award, three All-Star games and a great post-season career which lead to 2 World Series rings all stand out on his resume.
I gotta admit that my favorite Carpenter moment actually happened last year during his late season comeback from thoracic outlet syndrome. He came back early from his injury late in the season and eventually defeated the Nationals in Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS. While I may have been rooting for the Nats to win, Carpenter coming back from his injury to beat them was something you just had to tip your cap to and enjoy. To watch highlights of this game, click HERE.
Andy Pettitte is a player that I always enjoyed watching. He was a class act and I watched him pitch some amazing games over the years, especially in the post-season. In a nutshell, I feel similar about Pettitte as I do about Rivera, Posada and Jeter. All four of them were part of an amazing group of players and I found it hard to dislike anything about any of them. I guess the only knock against Pettitte would be his connection to PED’s but to be honest, this does not judge how I view him and his entire career; which may or may not land him in the Hall of Fame.
One of, if not my favorite thing about Pettitte was his unbelievable pick-off move to first base. Against the Mariners in the 1995 ALDS, Pettitte picked off not one, but two base-runners at first base. Not to mention, this was his first post-season start of his career and it makes it even more impressive. His mechanics were incredibly deceiving and I feel that most left-handed pitchers could learn a thing or two from him. Watch these post-season pick-offs HERE and be stoked…unless you’re a fan of the Mariners.