With the MLB trade deadline upon us and the Biogenesis PED scandal that could reportedly result in Alex Rodriguez getting a lifetime suspension, I realize there are far more pertinent issues in baseball to get worked up about right now.
However, there's a movement that appears to be developing throughout MLB, one that needs to be addressed before it gets out of control. Professional sports teams often copy one another, and baseball clubs are no exception. But this can be stopped. It doesn't have to become a trend. It doesn't have to risk deteriorating into ridiculousness or parody.
I'm talking about baseball teams signing former players to one-day contracts so they can retire as a member of that particular club.
On July 28, the New York Yankees signed Hideki Matsui to a one-day deal so he could retire wearing the legendary pinstripes. The Yankees held a ceremony for Matsui before that day's game. The first 18,000 fans in attendance got a Matsui bobblehead. A tribute video played on the scoreboard and Matsui was presented with a framed No. 55 jersey. He also got to throw out the first pitch and received a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.
It was a nice moment and a fitting tribute to someone who played seven seasons with the Yankees and won a World Series MVP in 2009. I'm certainly not suggesting that Matsui didn't deserve the honor. I'm sure fans enjoyed the opportunity to say thank you and celebrate his career in New York. And frankly, the Yankees and any other baseball team can hold a pregame ceremony for whomever and whatever they choose.
So what exactly is my problem with this? What issue do I have?
My primary concern is that I don't want to see this become a trend, like it has in the NFL. Sports Illustrated posted a 21-page slideshow devoted to the "Sign-and-Retire Club," players who signed a one-day deal with a former team so they could retire in that particular uniform.
A player signing a one-day contract with his former team doesn't mean anything. It's a formality. It's completely trivial. Perhaps worst of all, it's an attempt at revisionist history, to put a false ending on an individual story.
It's gotten to the point where SportsPickle put up a joke post to make fun of the practice, writing that Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher signed a one-day deal with the Green Bay Packers so he could "go out a winner." (NESN even fell for the joke.)
The "Sign-and-Retire Club" includes players such as Emmitt Smith, Art Monk, Brian Dawkins, and LaDainian Tomlinson, each of whom is associated with a specific team. Yet those athletes ended their careers elsewhere because their respective teams didn't want them anymore, either because of diminishing performance, escalating salaries or both. In some cases, those partings were less than amicable.
Let's look at Jerry Rice as an example. Rice played 16 years with the San Francisco 49ers. After the team waived Rice (a rather ignominous end to his Niners career) because they couldn't fit him under their salary cap, the wide receiver signed with the Oakland Raiders. He played four seasons with the Raiders before eventually ending his career with the Seattle Seahawks.
Rice signed a one-day contract with San Francisco in 2006 so he could retire with the 49ers. The contract was for the value of $1,985,806.49, represending the year in which Rice was drafted, his jersey number, the year in which the deal was signed and, of course, the team with whom he's most associated. Yet the deal was strictly ceremonial. Rice wasn't actually paid nearly $2 million for retiring with the 49ers.
But is there anyone who doesn't think of Rice as a 49er? Perhaps those fans who only watched him play from 2001-03 or just began watching the NFL when Rice was a member of the Raiders. When people talk about Rice's career, his time in Oakland and cup of coffee with Seattle will be mere footnotes to the story.
A different sort of example, one which speaks to the problem I have, is Derrick Mason. The wide receiver played 15 seasons in the NFL. He played eight of those years with the Tennessee Titans, six of them with the Baltimore Ravens. His football career ended in 2011, bouncing from the New York Jets to the Houston Texas. Yet when it came time to officially retire, Mason signed a one-day contract with Baltimore so he could retire as a Raven.
OK, that's what Mason wanted. He should be able to retire with the team that meant the most to him, with whom he felt he had the most meaningful years of his career. Obviously, that is his right. It's one last opportunity to define who he was as a professional football player.
But does this really tell the story of Mason's NFL career? He played most of it with another team. Most NFL fans may even remember him as a Titan, rather than a Raven.
Would such a thing happen in baseball? It already has, thanks to Brad Lidge and the Philadelphia Phillies. One day after Matsui's ceremony in New York, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported that Lidge would sign a one-day contract with Philadelphia so he could retire in a Phillies uniform. He'll throw out the first pitch and participate in a pregame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday.
Lidge had the best season of his career with the Phillies in 2008, racking up 41 saves in 41 opportunities and helping Philadelphia to a World Series championship. It's understandable why he might have strong, happy memories of his time in Philly, and perhaps he wants to be remembered most with whom he had his greatest success.
Yet Lidge played four of his 11 major league seasons with the Phillies. He pitched six years for the Astros. His final season was with the Washington Nationals in 2012, during which he appeared in 11 games before being designated for assignment.
Was Lidge's career defined by his time with the Phillies? Perhaps. He had 100 saves in Philadelphia compared to 123 in Houston, despite pitching two more seasons and 164 more games for the Astros. Lidge was unquestionably the closer during his time with the Phillies, as opposed to bouncing in and out of the job with Houston.
But let's end this here, shall we? It's likely that other MLB teams will follow the example of the Yankees and Phillies and play "sign and retire" with some of their former players. It's a gesture of goodwill between clubs, players and fans. It's an opportunity to hold a pregame ceremony that can be promoted and used to draw more fans. However, I propose that this be used judiciously.
Let's not see the Detroit Tigers sign Gary Sheffield to a one-day contract so that he can retire in the Old English D, despite only playing two of his 22 major league seasons in Detroit. That's probably not going to happen, and this is obviously a hypothetical. But you see where this could go if some standards aren't applied, right? Now is the time to take a stand.