Premium baseball players don’t hang up their spikes anymore. Indeed, there are enough bored, unemployed (perhaps indicted) All-Stars waiting by the phone to make a formidable team in their own right.
Author JASON GAY Illustration BARRY BLITT
THE 2009 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ALL-STAR
game takes place on July 14 in St. Louis, but you know what? Who cares. I’m building my own personal baseball team, people, and we’re going to be the best in the world—even without young bucks like Evan Longoria, Chase Utley and Zack Greinke. Zack Greinke? Get real. Teams are ignoring the fastest-growing talent pool in sports: angry old guys who don’t know how to quit.
My first recruiting stop is the wisteria-scented private paradise of Beverly Hills, California, home to graying screen legends, Hollywood brats, and a thick-headed, mercurial 44-year-old with 762 career home runs named Barry Lamar Bonds. Now, before you grimace like I’ve just unwrapped a tuna burrito, consider this: Barry’s ready to work. Yes, he’s had some problems of the public relations nature, and his teammates tend to give him a wide berth in the dugout. Yes, he’s still facing that pesky perjury trial. And yes, he’s demanding his own personal locker room, a Gulfstream and a masseuse for his masseuse.
But the guy still looks as though he could hit 35 home runs batting ninth. Best of all, his agent says he’ll play for the major league minimum, which is $400,000—approximately the price of watching two games behind the dugout at Yankee Stadium.
Get on the bus, Barry. Oops—don’t bonk that head!
Our next stop is Texas, home to steers, snakeskin boots, Jerry Jones, and a John Wayne type from Houston whom we want to start on the mound: Roger Clemens. He, too, has had some legal trouble, but he’s the winningest pitcher of his generation, he’s continued playing into his midforties, and before all the fuss, people were paying him $18 million to throw for half a season. He’s also got a long history of unretiring. There, look at Rocket playing catch in the backyard—he just knocked that little boy’s hand off. Sign him up. And get the kid to a hospital.
Next it’s on to the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean baseball mecca. We’re here to pick up an irreverent prankster who will help off set Barry’s and Rocket’s bad attitudes: slugger Sammy Sosa. Slammin’ Sammy hit 609 home runs, was one of the most joyous players in sports, remains a hero in his home country and (you got it) never really retired. While you’re down there, say hello to Pedro Martinez, who’s no doubt done mourning the death of Nelson, his little-person sidekick. Pedro never really hung up his spikes either.
That’s the thing: Nobody retires anymore. Maybe it’s fallout from the ongoing performance enhancing drug– scandals, maybe it’s better training methods, maybe it’s that potential retirees don’t want to take out the garbage or drive the kids to soccer practice, but athletic greats no longer know how to depart gracefully. Used to be, when you turned 35 your stats began to erode, and you started looking at gold Rolexes and Cayman Island time shares. Forty? You were playing slow-pitch softball with a gut the size of a sea turtle.
Now, it seems we can barely pry guys’ fingers from the bat. Either it’s because a player thinks he’s worth more than teams are willing to pay (Pedro), is too much of a legal or PR liability (Clemens) or is a health liability (Curt Schilling). Sometimes it’s a little of each, in addition to being a jerk (Bonds).
Last winter, the list of baseball’s available, unpursued, unwanted free agents read like a who’s who of the sport: Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, Pedro, Schilling, Pudge Rodriguez. Kent’s family pleaded with him to bow out rather than end up like a Christmas toy on December 26, but you get the feeling he really wants to stay in the sport, and judging from the volume of his sobbing at his retirement presser, the Kent household isn’t a fun place to be this summer. Same for Schilling, who gave serious thought to becoming a Tampa Bay Ray before finally announcing (by way of a post on his blog) he was quitting the game as a Red Sox.
Meanwhile, teams seem less eager than ever to rescue these aging heroes and let them twist in the wind instead.
I say, let’s not let legal, marketing or psychological concerns hold us back. Let’s go get these guys and make dreams come true. Let’s build a team for the ages. We’ll call ourselves the Neglected Geezers (I considered Team Cocoon, the Retrostars, and the Mets-A-Mucils). We’ll barnstorm the country giving the Major League squads a run for their money. America will love us. In these tough times, a lot of older, highly accomplished workers have lost their jobs: a built-in fan base.
So let’s grab Frank, Jeff, Barry, Rocket, Pedro and Curt (and a pair of parrots, so the loquacious Schilling always has someone to talk to). We’ll need a couple of utility guys—how about Trot Nixon and Jim Edmonds? Then let’s head back to Texas and get another guy: Rafael Palmeiro. I know, I wasn’t such a big fan of his either. But he never technically retired, and the dude’s got a bubble gum machine filled with Viagra left over from his old endorsement days. That will make him the most popular guy on a team loaded with randy fortysomethings.
Now we’re going to have to set a few team-specific rules: Geezer day games start at 10:30 a.m. and Geezer night games start at 4 p.m. We’re only playing six innings, because chances are Barry’s back will be killing him.
No doubleheaders (are you crazy?).
No games scheduled during major golf tournaments, Nflshowdowns or Murder, She Wrote. The clubhouse TV will be tuned to Larry King Live, at full volume. As for locker room music, that’s easy: all REO Speedwagon, all the time. Preseason optometrist visits are compulsory, and there will be plenty of fiber in that locker-room buffet.
As for the look of the Neglected Geezers, I’m thinking the uniform will be what the kids call “relaxed fit.” Maybe some pleats in the pants, a little extra wiggle for the waist. Anyone who still can’t fit gets a pair of Spanx.
We’re figuring these fellas will be easy to manage. Yes, there are some famous head cases on this team—we’ve basically assembled a squad of guys who all want to bat fourth. We’ll just tell them all they’re batting fourth. Shhh. Maybe they won’t notice.
Off the field, there shouldn’t be many distractions. Most of these guys have kids, wives, lawyers and alimony payments. There’s no need to set a curfew—everyone’s asleep by 10 p.m. anyway. Unless Murder, She Wrote is on.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go try out another old guy down in Mississippi. It’s been years since he’s played baseball, but apparently he was a heck of an athlete and wouldn’t mind suiting up one last time.
Brett Favre, meet the Neglected Geezers.
JASON GAY writes for Details and Rolling Stone. He batted 1.000 his senior year in high school. That’s right, he went 1 for 1.
The most gentlemanly exits in baseball
Granted, the Iron Horse was felled by ALS, but the humility in his heartbreaking goodbye speech—which ended, “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you”—has been emulated by retirees the world over.
In his last season pitching for the Dodgers, Koufax finished with a dazzling 27-9 record and a 1.73 ERA (record-setting numbers for a modern-day southpaw). Though only 30, Koufax hung up his spikes before arthritis diminished his performance.
Cal Ripken Jr.
The Ironman’s skills faded in his 20th year as an Oriole, but rather than tar his legacy with years of mediocrity, Ripken announced his impending retirement midseason and spent his last months on the field bowing to standing ovations all around the country.
Moose is the first pitcher since Koufax to retire after a 20-victory season. He never won a World Series or Cy Young, and is a maybe for the Hall of Fame. He could probably have pitched another solid season but decided, “Someone else should be doing it.”
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