Knowing When to Call it a Career Doesn’t Always Come with a Singing Fat Lady For Guidance

History is full of stories of athletes riding off into the sunset at the top of their game and as Champions.

Football has given us the image of Ray Lewis, Michael Strahan and John Elway hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions before calling it a career and head into life after football.

In baseball Tony LaRussa managed the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title in his final game as a full-time manager.

In opera it was always known that the end of the performance was coming when the “fat lady” would come out and sing. This of course led to the expression, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” Unfortunately sports careers do not always come with the benefit of a singing fat lady.

For every moment of ending on a great note there are many more of players who just don’t know when to call it a career and continue to play well past their primes.

Some of these instances are motivated by a fear of what to do in post playing days while others are driven by the urge to continue to make the kind of money that pro ballplayers make.

Two recent stories regarding players hanging on too long recently grabbed the attention of us at Triple B. So, let us study the cases of Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez.

Once upon a time Roy Oswalt was a dominating pitcher. Recent events have shown that time is likely passed. Photo R. Anderson
Once upon a time Roy Oswalt was a dominating pitcher. Recent events have shown that time has likely passed.
Photo R. Anderson

Roy Oswalt was once among the most dominating pitchers in baseball, and paired with Roger Clemens, he helped lead the Houston Astros to the 2005 World Series. The years since that first World Series appearance in Astros’ franchise history have not been kind to either the Astros or Oswalt.

Oswalt was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and managed a couple of successful years before spending part of last year with the Texas Rangers.

Oswalt’s time with the Rangers could be called traumatic at best with the “Wizard of Os” getting demoted to the bullpen at one point based on his record of 4-3 with a 5.80 ERA in 17 games.

That brings us to this year. With starting pitching at some a premium and with teams competing to find the best arms available there are often risks taken by teams on former star pitchers to see if there is anything left in the tank.

This year the Colorado Rockies were the team willing to pay for Oswalt’s services. Much like the start of his Rangers tenure last year Oswalt spent a few games in the Minor Leagues after signing his contract. He dazzled in the Minors and was given a chance to get promoted to the Rockies and joined the starting rotation.

It has been déjà vu all over again though as the results have just not been there at the Major League level. Oswalt is 0-4 with a 7.64 ERA in four starts with the Rockies since signing a $2.3 million, one-year contract on May 2.

The news got even worse yesterday when it was announced that the Rockies placed him on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring.

Time will tell if Oswalt will bounce back from this injury and return to form as a quality starting pitcher or if this latest injury is the fat lady quietly singing him into retirement.

It is not like he has not been one before as he was a three-time All-Star with the Astros and the 2005 NL championship series MVP. Oswalt was also a 20-game winner in 2004 and 2005.

But at age 35 it is very clear that his best days are behind him. Baseball is a young man’s game and there are plenty of young arms gunning for Oswalt’s roster spot if he can’t get the job done for the Rockies.

The road back to Major League Baseball has run through the Round Rock Express for both Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirezz as each have hoped a stop at the Rangers' Triple-A affliate will lead them back to greatness. Photo R. Anderson
The road back to Major League Baseball has run through the Round Rock Express for both Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez as each have hoped a stop at the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate will lead them back to greatness.
Photo R. Anderson

The other player vying for a comeback is Manny Ramirez, 41-year-old slugger attempting a comeback with the Texas Rangers after a two-year absence from the Majors.

The Rangers signed Ramirez to a Minor League deal July 3 and he is currently on their Triple-A Round Rock Express roster.

Ramirez hasn’t played in the Majors since 2011 with Tampa Bay. After going 1-for-17 for the Rays, Ramirez announced his retirement in lieu of serving a 100-game suspension for failing a drug test.

The suspension was reduced to 50 games last season and Manny spent some time in the Oakland A’s Minor League system.

After leaving Oakland’s Sacramento affiliate, Ramirez tried his hand with the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League hitting .352 (64-for-182) with eight homers and 43 RBIs in 49 games.

Ranked No. 14 all-time with 555 career homers the Rangers are betting that there is a little left in Manny’s tank and he can be a productive hitter for them down the stretch.

While it is probably easier for older hitters to keep playing, and the designated hitter position has been filled by sluggers still going strong in their 40’s before there are certainly no guarantees that past success will lead to future success.

So Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez will try to go to the well as long as there is still water in it. But at some point the well will run dry and people will be left with more memories of them as broken down players as opposed to players who went out on top.

The very drive and determination that makes the elite athletes excel can also be the Achilles heel that doesn’t let them walk away when everyone except for them can clearly see that the time to heed the growing volume of the music has come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to feed my tank some dinner.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson