Are Early Retirement Announcements, Farewell Tours Destined to Be an MLB Trend?

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 26, 2014

Feb 19, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) talks with the media during a press conference saying that after this year he will retire at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Derek Jeter's announcement of his impending retirement after 2014 came through the Facebook pipeline, it signaled that the baseball world was in for a grand farewell tour.

Actually, make that another grand farewell tour.

The last three seasons have brought three of a kind. Chipper Jones did the early announcement and farewell tour thing in 2012, and then Mariano Rivera did it in 2013. Now here's Jeter preparing to do it in 2014. 

For now, it's all good. It was nice to spend a year appreciating Jones and Rivera. It will be nice to spend a year appreciating Jeter too. Players who are A) great and B) likable should be appreciated, darn it.

However, there's also that grim thought in the back of one's mind. Peter Richmond summed it up in a Sports on Earth piece on Jeter's upcoming farewell tour when he wrote that "the whole thing evokes this creepy feeling that the phenomenon might become a ritual: The annual Diet Pepsi/Doritos Farewell Tour."

In other words: Are farewell tours destined to become redundant and, therefore, lame?

It seems like a legit question now. But after gazing into the future, I can say this: Fear not. Rather than the beginning of a tradition that would quickly grow stale, what's been happening looks more like a fluke.

Sep 26, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera (42) tips his cap as his teammate and the fans cheer after he was taken out in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE ST
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

One thing Jeter has in common with Jones and Rivera: He's old. Ancient by baseball standards, in fact. Jeter is headed for his age-40 season. Jones was in his own age-40 season in 2012. Last season was Rivera's age-43 season.

So there's that, and if you go back and read the key quotes from Jones' retirement presser, Rivera's retirement presser and Jeter's retirement presser, you'll notice some key themes. One was a desire for more family time (after Jeter starts one, of course). Another was simply being tired of the grind. Another still was a desire for some finality (heavily implied in Jeter's case) so that neither they nor anyone else would be preoccupied with retirement questions in the coming season. 

About what you'd expect from ancient-by-baseball-standards players. And because of that, really any ancient player could conceivably go the Jones/Rivera/Jeter route and announce ahead of time that the upcoming season will be his last.

But will every early retirement announcement automatically equal a farewell tour?

Maybe to the extent that any older player who announces his retirement ahead of time will be in line for ovations and well-wishings at every stop in his last season. Farewell tours involving gifts, ceremonies and general pomp and circumstance, however, might be reserved for truly ideal candidates.

And if we're going off of what Jones, Rivera and Jeter have in common, the ideal farewell tour candidate is a guy who's...

A) A player history will remember.

Jones is right up there with Mickey Mantle among the greatest switch-hitters in history with 468 home runs and a 141 OPS+.
Jones is right up there with Mickey Mantle among the greatest switch-hitters in history with 468 home runs and a 141 OPS+.John Bazemore/Associated Press

Jones was a World Series champion, an MVP, a batting champion and an All-Star many times over. Rivera was also an All-Star many times over, as well as a five-time World Series champion and baseball's all-time saves king. Jeter has five rings and plenty of All-Star appearances of his own, and is one of the game's all-time great shortstops.

In addition to being accomplished, each of these guys was/is...

B) Nationally celebrated.

Shoot, even Mets fans couldn't loathe Jones. That Rivera was a national baseball treasure went (and still goes) without saying. Ditto Jeter. Jones endeared himself to a national audience simply by being downright likable. Rivera did it by being remarkably classy. That's how Jeter has done it too.

And yes, that none of the three was ever tied to performance-enhancing drugs in an era when many other stars were only helped. So did the fact that each was/is a...

C) Single-franchise lifer. 

You know how fans have a soft spot for loyal athletes, and there's no better way for an athlete to be loyal than by committing his whole career to one team. Jones did it with the Braves, and he said in his press conference that he didn't want to risk leaving the franchise like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz did. Rivera wanted to retire a Yankee. Jeter clearly does too.

Elsewhere, maybe we can add an additional prerequisite that an ideal farewell tour candidate be capable of going out on a high note, so as to justify the big fuss being made over him in his final season. But if we consider that a bonus, then we're left with just the three big ones.

That's a short list. And because it's a short list, maybe it looks simple enough at first glance.

Think about it some more, however, and you might find yourself saying, "Oh...Wait..."

Yeah. Exactly.

Plenty of players have great careers, but relatively few are going to go into the books as important figures in baseball history. That's a right reserved for the true greats, and there are only so many of those lying around.

Also, it's not so easy for a player to become nationally celebrated. Baseball allegiances are mainly local, not national. And if a player doesn't play for one of the big teams, it's that much harder for him to become beloved nationally.

I wonder, for example, if Todd Helton would have gotten the pomp and circumstance treatment at every stop if he'd officially announced his impending retirement ahead of 2013. I wonder if the same is true of Paul Konerko this year. Helton was (and still is) a huge star on the Colorado radar and Konerko's a huge star on the Chicago radar, but neither so much the national radar.

Lastly, the vast majority of players are going to spend at least a small portion of their careers serving as hired guns at some point. That's largely thanks to free agency. I won't say that free agency is bad—because it's not—but 40 years of it has all but killed the idea of the single-franchise lifer.

So if you take a look around for ideal farewell tour candidates in the coming seasons, you're going to find yourself...Well, not finding much.

Sep 26, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) second baseman Chase Utley (26) and first baseman Ryan Howard (6) stand by and watch during a pitching change during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe the top candidate for a farewell tour in 2015 is David Ortiz. He hasn't spent his whole career with in Boston, sure, but by then he'll have committed well over a decade of his career to the Red Sox. He might be the greatest designated hitter in history when all is said and done, which takes care of the historical importance prerequisite.

Then again, Big Papi won't be doing a farewell tour with the Red Sox in 2015 unless they give him the one-year contract extension he seeks. Beyond that, maybe a farewell tour wouldn't play up to expectations away from Fenway Park thanks to Ortiz's ties to PEDs

Outside of Ortiz, there's the Philadelphia Phillies trio of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. They're great players who have spent their careers with one of MLB's bigger franchises, and each is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning. 

However, these three might not be great enough in the grand scheme of things, and each choosing ahead of time to retire as a Phillie might not be so simple.

Before Rollins can go on a farewell tour in 2015, his option has to vest first. If that doesn't happen, he'll be in an awkward spot with the Phillies. Maybe they'll bring him back for old times' sake, or maybe they'll move on and force him to either retire or head elsewhere for a Willie Mays-ish career conclusion.

So instead, maybe it will be Utley who decides to go on a farewell tour in 2015. But that would mean waving a shot at $45 million worth of vesting options from 2016-2018. Would you do that?

Howard choosing to announce his impending retirement ahead of 2016 may not happen either. The Phillies hold a $23 million option for Howard in 2017 that comes with a $10 million buyout. Would he willingly deny himself a chance at either payout?

Yeah...Still doesn't look right.
Yeah...Still doesn't look right.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Beyond Ortiz and the Phillies trio, few other names stand out. Ichiro Suzuki would have been an ideal farewell tour candidate if he'd stayed in Seattle, but now he seems destined for a quiet exit from MLB. Torii Hunter is a possible candidate, but a farewell tour in 2015 or 2016 would go down with the fourth or fifth team of his career. It's been a long time since he was synonymous with the Minnesota Twins.

"Ah!" you might be sitting there saying, "But what about all the players who have signed long-term extensions recently? Maybe there aren't that many farewell tour candidates out there now, but could there be later when all these long-term extensions get to their respective ends?"

This is indeed an interesting subplot, as the idea of the single-franchise lifer may be on the verge of a comeback with so many teams locking up their homegrown stars for the long haul.

However, there's only one long-term extension out there that's a lifetime contract. That's the one the Cincinnati Reds gave Joey Votto, as it lasts through his age-40 season in 2024. That's a long way off, and between now and then we could see the other long-term extendees move on to lives as hired guns.

For example, the following players are locked up only through somewhere between their age-35 and age-37 seasons: David Wright, Joe Mauer, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Cole Hamels and Brandon Phillips.

Maybe some of them will get to the end of their deals and decide, "Yup, I've had enough. Let me announcement my impending retirement and then we can get on with the farewell tour." Others, however, may want to keep playing. Maybe their best opportunities to keep playing will come elsewhere.

Here's guessing that Major League Baseball wouldn't mind having a grand farewell tour or two every year. Anything that might attract a crowd is a good thing, after all. 

But it's hard to see it happening. The circumstances have to be just right, and right now it's not easy to spot potential instances when the circumstances are going to be just right.

Instead of a start of a trend, maybe the Jones, Rivera and Jeter situations are something else: Right time, right place, right players.


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