Some years ago, I sat in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a cold July day -- every day was a cold day at old Cleveland Municipal -- and I watched the great pitcher
Unfortunately, Carlton's time was the Mesozoic Era. Carlton was -- I believe this to be accurate -- 847 years old when he pitched that day.*
Carlton continued to believe that he could pitch well, despite ample evidence to the contrary. After failing to convince Major League teams, he signed with my Cleveland Indians. The Tribe also signed biblical character
Anyway, that day, Carlton gave up a bunch of runs to the Angels, got yanked in the fifth inning, and walked off to the spirited boos of the 5,000 or so people who were there.
"Why don't you retire, you bum?" someone shouted nearby.
Then one of those great, hardcore Cleveland fans I love -- one of those tough-looking characters who drank from a flask and undoubtedly had one of those improbable Cleveland jobs like lifting vending machines so someone can clean underneath them -- yelled at the heckler, just as loud, "Hey buddy, would YOU retire?"
I often think about that line. This, you probably know, will be an amazing baseball off-season for the old-timers. At last count, there are a dozen potential Hall of Famers who are considering retirement or, anyway, are having others consider retirement for them. There has never been anything quite like it. This offseason is like the line for the early-bird special at the Golden Corral buffet.*
It looks like the legendary
The Los Angeles papers are reporting that second baseman
And, of course,
The two that interest me most are Maddux and Mussina, not only because that sounds like a rock-pop duo, but because they represent the two sides of sports retirement that were so eloquently outlined for me at Cleveland Municipal Stadium so long ago.
On the one hand, you have Mussina, who turns 40 in December. He is coming off his first 20-win season, and the Yankees would like very much to re-sign him, and he still seems to be very seriously thinking about retiring. "I think it'd be pretty cool," he told
Anyway, Mussina clearly seems to have a sense of history and awareness. He has talked about not wanting to limp to the finish line. He does not want to dull what he has accomplished; I think he has already earned his way into the Hall of Fame. He does not want to have the succession of 8-14 seasons, ballooned ERAs, all so he can chase some number like 300 victories, all the way hearing drunks yell, not unconvincingly, "Why don't you retire, you bum?"
You have to respect that sort of thinking. It can be sad watching a once-great player swing late on the fastball and a once great pitcher who cannot put away a hitter with two strikes.
But there's another side. There's Maddux. After the 2002 season, Maddux was 273-152 with a 2.83 ERA. He had won four Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, 13 consecutive Gold Gloves, and he had his claim as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He kept on pitching, of course, and he pitched reasonably well in 2003, a little less so in 2004, even less so in 2005 and by 2006 it was painfully obvious that while he was not embarrassing himself, he was not going to break new ground either.
But he still kept on pitching. Maddux was probably a slightly below average pitcher the last two years. Heck, he was pitching middle relief for the Dodgers at the end of last season. He already had his 300 victories. He already had his place in history. Why do it? But maybe the better question is: Why not? He loved it. He got paid a lot of money to do it. Hey, buddy, would YOU retire?
The reports now are that Maddux will retire, but you sense he's doing it on his own terms, the game is no longer as much fun for him, he's walking away having squeezed the last drop out of his pitching career.
See, in the end, there's no right way to retire. Sure, it can be hard for fans to watch
It reminds me of an interview with Hall of Famer
And Winfield, who finished his career hitting .191 with the Cleveland Indians when he was 43 years old, shook his head.
"No," Winfield said, "the owners do."