A number of baseball’s biggest stars — or, well, people who very recently qualified as such — are leaving the game after this season, if not sooner. On Wednesday, ailing Rangers first baseman/designated hitter Prince Fielder announced he was no longer physically able to play, days after Alex Rodriguez told us that he was set to play his final game for the Yankees and would then serve the organization in an advisory role. A-Rod’s press conference came a day after two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum was designated for a minor league assignment by the Angels, a move that doesn’t exactly feel temporary, in the midst of a season-long send-off for Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who Wednesday night fouled a ball off his shin that threatened to end his career right then and there. (Initial X-rays came back negative.)
We’ve had a lot of goodbyes to say recently, is the point, and if your heart is starting to ache a little bit, you’re not alone. But some of this season’s farewells have hurt more than others, even if they didn’t concern players on your MLB team of choice. We can’t choose how we die, and we certainly can’t choose how our baseball stars ride off into the sunset. But is there a best way to go out? A worst way? When you kneel on home plate and plead with the baseball gods for mercy, what should you ask for?
Let’s review some of this year’s methods of departure.
The Farewell Tour: David Ortiz
It sounds great on paper: a carefully staged goodbye; fawning tributes at every ballpark you visit; a whole summer to be serenaded by Red Sox fans and teammates; a season so strong — he’s currently batting .307 with 25 home runs — that many Boston fans have begged him to stick around for another year. But Ortiz is done with it. He’s complained that the saccharine so-long has slowed him down, and he regrets the whole thing. “It’s very difficult for me,” he said of his farewell tour in June. “If I had even imagined that it would be so difficult, I wouldn’t have announced anything.”
You know how people never enjoy their own weddings, and when you ask them how they’re doing, they look at you — eyes wild and cheeks twitching from exhaustion and warm glasses of champagne in their hands — and hiss: I can’t wait until this is over? Sure, love is great, but couldn’t we have just eloped? Pity Papi, drowned in a sea of well-wishers.
The Awkward Breakup: Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod’s popularity has never matched his talent; even when he was regularly knocking balls into outer space, he did little to stir the hearts of fans across the country. It’s reasonable to expect that his retirement announcement, then, didn’t result in too many spilled tears. But his exit from the big leagues is sad, if only for what might’ve been. Rodriguez should have been mourned. He should have been loved. But he wasn’t, and his retirement has felt almost like a relief — to his manager, to his teammates, and to fans — which might be the very saddest way to go, a room full of people not even waiting until he was out of earshot to say oh, thank god.
The Devastating Injury: Prince Fielder
Regardless of how many times the six-time All-Star knocked your team around in the years since his 2005 debut, his tearful press conference — during which he wore a neck brace and sat beside his two young sons — was hard to watch. Fielder revealed last month that he had herniated disks in his neck, two years after spinal fusion surgery cost him most of the 2014 season and ended his streak of consecutive games played at 547. Sure, the 32-year-old had a long and successful career, and he’ll have the more than $100 million remaining on his contract to keep him company. But this was an especially wrenching way to go: His neck — his stupid neck — could be the thing that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame, freezing his lifetime home run total at 319, the exact same mark his father, Cecil, achieved.
The Inexorable Creep of Mortality: Tim Lincecum
Timmy never had that one big injury, never flailed his ligaments, somehow, quite past the breaking point. What happened to him is what will happen to all of us, what is happening to you right this second if you’re any older than an Olympic gymnast: He aged, and then things started to come undone. He went looking for his best stuff, and it just wasn’t there anymore. After a lonely spring, the Angels signed Lincecum in May and decided to make him a starter again, but he couldn’t recapture his old magic. The team was patient. The fans were patient. He was patient. Everyone wanted it, but it wasn’t there: He posted a 9.16 ERA in 38.1 innings. And now he’s gone down to the minors, from which he could still return — but it’s hard not to think this could be the end.
The Rage Quit: Adam LaRoche
Was LaRoche a star of the caliber of the others on this list? No. Was his exit fantastic? Yes.
Never Retire: Ichiro Suzuki
The best way to go out: Don’t.