Our Red Sox heroes haven’t always left gracefully. In fact, one negative trend during the tenure of the current owners has been the disgruntled departures of many of the players and front office staff. For every Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, there has been a Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez or Terry Francona. So this past weekend’s retirement announcement by Ryan Dempster came as a breath of fresh air.
Dempster laid out his reasons, saying he wasn’t physically or psychologically ready to compete in 2014. I can’t ever remember a player under contract going this route. The fact that he’s leaving significant millions on the table makes him even more unusual. He could have played poorly this season, collected his millions and left. Instead he goes out on top as a World Series champion.
His grace and professionalism in ending his career stands out in stark contrast with the player he was linked to during the season. Dempster’s most memorable 2013 moment came when he plunked Alex Rodriguez in one of A-Rod’s first games back from injury. The contrast between the two was clear that night, and remains clear now. Ryan Dempster left his career behind on Saturday respected by fans, teammates and front office alike. He struck out the last batter he faced as a professional to finish Game One of the World Series.
A-Rod slinks away an outcast from fans, writers, teammates and his own union. Facing a season long suspension, it’s possible he’ll never play again. Ryan Dempster retired and gave up his salary, while A-Rod will still receive his millions but never the acclaim that he’s so desperately sought.
I’m playing armchair psychologist here, but I always felt there was some subtext to Dempster throwing at A-Rod in that game. Dempster was the ultimate steady professional, taking the ball every fifth day and trying to wring every ounce out of his talent.
Compare that to A-Rod, a player with immense physical gifts, who decided somewhere along the way those gifts weren’t enough. I would imagine Dempster would have been elated to have A-Rod’s natural ability. It must have stuck in his craw to see this player who should have exemplified everything great about the sport try to cheat and take shortcuts for added glory and money.
Ryan Dempster soaked in the moment of winning a World Series Championship in his final season. When one of the beat writers went back onto the field at Fenway at 2am after the game, he found Dempster throwing batting practice to friends and family. This solid professional didn’t want the moment to end… but was smart enough to recognize when it was time to go.