For a few years it seemed as if we were moving towards an era of pomp-filled retirement ceremonies for major league players. When guys like David Ortiz, Mariano River, and Derek Jeter say good-bye to their playing careers, they were met with presents at nearly every stadium they went to, and massive applause even from rival fans. It was as if everyone wanted to be a part of the final bow.
This season, we’ve seen a different kind of trend, one in which long-time players are quiet about their plans to retire up until the very end of the line, when they take a moment, doff their caps one last time, and take the long walk down the tunnel back to the clubhouse.
For Tigers fans, we experienced this with Victor Martinez. Martinez has been a staple part of the Tigers roster for seven seasons, and previously spent eight years in Cleveland and two in Boston. In 16 major league seasons he was a five-time All-Star, and a two-time Silver Slugger winner. When Martinez was good, he was very, very good.
He also knew when it was time to call it a day. His 39 years were starting to wear on him, and he knew there wouldn’t be any more lucrative four-year deals on the horizon. He had a cattle ranch waiting for him in Florida, and four young children who had never spent a normal summer with their father. The time had come. “I’m ready,” he said back in April when he first stared alluding to retirement. “I’ve got no regrets.. I know I left everything in this game.”
Martinez went out on his own terms, with the blessing of manager Ron Gardenhire, who seemed more than willing to take queues from the veteran designated hitter. Victor decided his last day would be the Saturday home game, ending his era of baseball at Comerica Park, in front of an appreciative — if sparse — crowd.
Fittingly, when the Tigers headed to Minneapolis the next week to end the season on the road, Martinez was acknowledged with a gift from the Twins, given by Joe Mauer.
Mauer, a life-long Twin, has been in the game fifteen years. A six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, AL MVP in 2009, five-time Sliver Slugger, and holder of three batting titles, it seems that Mauer has a strong case for the Hall of Fame in his future.
On Sunday, September 30th, though no retirement announcements had been made, the entire crowd gathered at Target Field took to their feet to greet him with a standing ovation. The 35-year-old Mauer, usually not one for emotional displays, tipped his helmet to the crowd while the Twins’ announcers questioned, “How you gonna bat with tears in your eyes.”
With Mauer’s contract at an end, and his openness about not wanting to play anywhere but Minnesota, the unspoken truth of the moment was that this was likely the last game of professional baseball Mauer would ever play. In the ninth inning he even came out one last time in his catcher’s garb to finish his Twins career as he started it: behind the dish. I defy you to watch this moment and not get a little misty-eyed.
Where Victor had hinted at the end of his career in the spring, Mauer had said little about the potential for retirement. In fact, to this point, he has yet to officially confirm that he is done. But it’s hard to see a moment like that above and not believe he has taken his final bow.
No pomp. No ceremony. Just one last good-bye to a loving hometown crowd.
There have been other players whose future seems uncertain. After an emotional send-off from the San Francisco Giants on the weekend, many speculated that Hunter Pence might be done, but he has since publicly stated he has no intention of permanently benching his goofy swing just yet.
On the other hand, like Mauer, another future Hall of Famer could be done. Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers, did not make any official statements about his career future, but all signs seem to be pointing to him being at the end of the line. After a whopping 21 years in the majors, the bulk spent with the Rangers, but also stints with the Dodgers, Mariners, and Red Sox, Beltre has had a monster of a career. A four-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove, two-time Platinum Glove, and four-time Silver Slugger winner, he is also beloved for his onfield antics, hatred of having his head touched, and willingness to get ejected over the location of the on deck circle.
Adrian Beltre has been a gift to baseball, beyond just his powerful bat and defensive prowess. He has been infinitely gif-able, and one of the most recognizable players to grace a diamond for the last two decades.
If this really is the end of the line for Beltre, he did it with no ceremony at all. Just a big hug to Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, and this one last gif-worthy moment where he coaxed Ryon Healy into a tag-out.
Adrian Beltre taken out of what likely will be his final MLB game. But not before he had this moment with Ryon Healy on force out in fourth inning. Beltre never stopped having fun on the field, which is what I'll always remember most. pic.twitter.com/QEjfaK2r53— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) September 30, 2018
The 2018 season will be memorable for a lot of reasons: one of the strangest postseason races of all time, the start of the Tigers rebuild, the Opener, and many more. But for the big name players who said good-bye this year, it was a quiet curtain call to wrap up the season.
Martinez, Mauer, and Beltre were at times some of the best of the best, and as they make room for the next generation, it seems like the ideal time to take stock of all the wonderful gifts they provided to fans of this great game.