The recent decade of baseball has showcased the youth of the game, with 2019 topping the list of young players stealing the show. Players such as Cody Bellinger, Ronald Acuna, Pete Alonso, Walker Buhler are all well-known stars, complementing the classic names we’ve heard for years and years.
As the renaissance of young and fun ball players continues, the 2019 baseball world bids farewell to a number of retiring players, and a front-office icon who fundamentally changed the way the game is played and analyzed.
Today we take a look at the 2019 retirements, and the impact each person had on the game of baseball.
CC Sabathia entered the league with the Cleveland Indians nearly 20 years ago, and he’s had an amazing career in several different acts. He finished runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2001, being appropriately bested by Ichiro. He made six All Star games, and garnered MVP votes five times.
Despite the awards and honors though, Sabathia had a lasting impact for three teams, including one where he only threw 130 innings.
CC’s first act with the Indians was a coming-out party for a team that was the end of a pretty magical run. Between 1995 and 2001, CC’s rookie season, Cleveland made the playoffs six of seven years. They won two American League pennants, but could not break-through to end a decades-long World Series drought.
In his eight-plus years in Cleveland, CC threw over 1500 innings, and totaled 27.5 bWAR. Though the team won the AL Central in 2001, they lost a winner-take-all game five, and were shut out of the playoffs until Sabathia’s last full season in Cleveland in 2007.
In 2007, Cleveland lost the ALCS to the Red Sox despite coming out of the gate with a 3-1 series lead. The series loss was in part because Cleveland’s ace threw two clunkers, allowing 12 runs in 10 ⅓ innings.
Cleveland sent CC to Milwaukee in the middle of the 2008 season (his contract year) where he pretty much single-handedly pitched the Brewers into the playoffs. Despite clawing their way into the postseason, the Brewers were bounced in the NLDS by the Phillies. In his one start, CC again bombed; he gave up five earned runs in just 3 ⅔ innings en route to a game two loss.
Following the 2008 season, he signed a mega-deal with the Yankees, which set the stage for a final act of a really fun career. Sabathia spent more time with the Yankees than any other club, and in 11 seasons, posted a 30.1 bWAR. He went from being the ace of the staff to a strong supporting rotational member. Despite the injury-riddled 2019, CC remained a staunch competitor.
The legacy of CC Sabathia will be his penchant to compete and reinvent himself. His repertoire changed significantly overtime, as the overpowering stuff declined, CC had to adjust his approach, which he did successfully.
The Hall of Fame case will flesh itself out over time, but CC’s legacy is a lasting one in both Cleveland and New York.
The legend of David Freese was built in the 2011 postseason. Overall, Freese had a perfectly serviceable 11 year career, where he posted 17.2 Wins. The postseason run however, will remain his legacy, particularly in St. Louis.
In 2011, Freese made $411,000. He was a part-time player who played in fewer than 100 games and logged only 363 plate appearances. In the regular season he generated a very respectable .297/.350/.441 slash line with 10 home runs, but he was hardly a key component to the Cardinals regular season success.
Once the calendar turned to October, however, he became a different player.
In a must-win game four against the Phillies, Freese drove in four runs to force a game five (whcih the Cardinals also won). In the NLCS against the Brewers he seemed to get a hit every other time he came to the plate...which he did, with a .545 batting average in the series! His three home runs in the NLCS plated nine runs, and he won MVP honors.
In the World Series that year, the Rangers took a 3-2 series lead. In game six, down 7-5, Freese came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two out and two men on base. The Rangers were one pitch away, one strike away, from a World Series championship until Freese hit a two-run double to tie the game. In the 11th inning he hit the game-winning walk off home run, and legendary status was solidified.
The next day, in game seven, Freese led the Cardinals to victory by hitting a two-run double in the bottom of the first inning, his record-setting 21st RBI of the postseason. Not surprisingly, he won the World Series MVP as well.
While David Freese won’t sniff the Hall of Fame, that magical 2011 postseason run will forever be his legacy.
A Georgia native, McCann’s career began in Atlanta, and appropriately ended in Atlanta. Over the course of a 15 year career, McCann played for the Braves, Yankees, and Astros, accumulating 31.8 Wins per Baseball-Reference.
With a reputation as a confrontational, unwritten rules guardian of the game, McCann regularly represented his teams well. He earned eight All Star appearances, including six consecutive honors from 2006 to 2011.
At his peak, McCann could be relied upon for 20-something home runs every year, and was known as one of the top framing catchers in the game. His career value by FanGraphs WAR, which includes framing metrics, is in the range of a Yadier Molina and Russell Martin. While most people think Yadi will make it into the Hall, the case is less clear for Martin. Where McCann settles-in when he’s on the ballot will be an interesting test-case for the strong framing catcher with offensive firepower.
The tragedy of Troy Tulowitzki is the career that could have been. Despite a myriad of injuries, Tulo still managed to hit 225 home runs and maintain a career batting average of .290. He played an excellent shortstop the majority of his career, but simply could not stay healthy enough to compile historically great numbers.
In 13 seasons he suited up, he only played 150 games twice. He’ll be remembered as an All Star shortstop for the Rockies throughout the 2010s, but after his tenure in Colorado ended, he struggled mightily to stay healthy, and stay relevant.
Bill James is such a legendary name, that not a ton of people know he’s been employed by the Red Sox in their front office in one way or another since 2003. James changed the way fans viewed the game, and consequently, changed the way front offices evaluate players, and the way players often evaluate themselves.
As the godfather of modern baseball sabermetrics and analytics, James ushered in an entirely new wave of baseball thinking. Whether it’s the early 2000s Athletics, or the current state of baseball blogging, writing, and analytics, James’ fingerprints are all over the game.
After a long run as an analyst and consultant, he has decided to retire. If there is room for an unconventional baseball executive in the Hall of Fame, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as influential at James.
Although he hasn’t officially retired, it’s pretty obvious that Felix Hernandez has pitched his last game in a Seattle Mariners uniform. Rumors abound about whether ‘The King’ has played his last game. While Felix has not announced anything officially, the Mariners six-time All Star and former Cy Young Award winner (2010) left a lasting impression in Seattle baseball.
Felix is fourth on the Mariners all-time bWAR leaderboard, behind only Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro. Despite his success in Seattle, he was always plagued by middling teams, and over the course of his 15 year career, never had the opportunity to pitch in a playoff game.
Hernandez struggled mightily his last few years in Seattle, and there’s a good chance he hangs-up his cleats. Either way, he’ll remain a Mariners icon.