The Twins announced Tuesday that former closer Joe Nathan plans to officially announce his retirement this Friday, September 1st. By “officially,” I mean that Nathan is coming to Target Field to hold a press conference about it. The team will also be holding a pre-game ceremony in honor of their all-time saves leader.
I’m not sure if this also includes one of those one-day-contract-to-”officially”-retire-as-a-Twin-type things, but it wouldn’t make a difference to me. Nathan will always be a Twin.
Nathan is not only the best Twins reliever of all time, he retires as one of the all-time best relievers in all of baseball. Nathan’s 377 career saves ranks eighth all-time in MLB—and he only had one before he turned 29 years old. He was a six time All-Star and he finished among the top five vote get-ers for the Cy Young award twice. As a reliever. That’s... not common.
In fact, as Aaron Gleenman pointed out, Joe Nathan has the highest career regular-season save percentage among pitchers with at least 250 saves of all time. Higher than even Mariano Rivera, though Nathan did not pitch nearly as long, nor as much as Mo, and, uh, wasn’t quite as great in the post-season.
Even though Nathan’s retirement is not at all a surprise—he is 42 years old, and has been struggling to make a comeback for a couple years—I got unexpectedly emotional while writing this. Nathan was just such a huge part of the Twins’ success in the ‘00s. I started thinking about watching him pitch and what an honor it was to watch him pitch. When he would run out to the mound for the ninth, “Stand Up and Shout” blaring over the Metrodome speakers, as we all, you know, stood up and shouted—or screamed, rather. I imagine it was pretty intimidating in a place as loud as the dome.
Then Nathan would take the mound, turn to the batter, blow his lips out like a horse, and get ‘em all out.
These old memories reminded me of one of my favorite Joe Nathan stories. Apparently, after the last game in the Metrodome, Nathan went to the mound and quietly took a handful of dirt and saved it. During spring training the following season Nathan ended up tearing his UCL and had to get Tommy John Surgery. At 35 years old, that’s pretty rough, but Nathan was determined to make a comeback—and he did. Though he obviously missed all of 2010, Nathan came out and made his first save at Target Field April 8th, 2011. Before that game, however, Nathan did something very important to him—he took the bag of dirt he had dutifully saved for over a year and a half and spread it on the mound at Target Field.
“Just (wanted) to bring over a little piece of the Dome,” he told the Pioneer Press. “I had some success over there, so I just wanted to bring some of that magic, some of that luck from that place, and bring it over here.”
Congratulations, Joe, on a great career.