We live in mean-spirited times. I confess that I sometimes traffic in sarcasm and semi-hateful commentary myself about certain things/people. With that said, I am hopeful that this article will be received in the spirit in which it is truly intended, which is to say, grateful, positive, and genuinely reflective.
Brian Dozier announces his retirement. I can think of perhaps nobody who more clearly illustrates the rapid decline and fragile nature of being a professional athlete. Having never had any real talent at anything myself, I’ve never really had to fear a rapid decline, for me it’s just been a slow ascension into mediocrity followed by a slow descent into something even less than that. Such a life, while not leading to million-dollar contracts, also doesn’t lend itself to the fear of knowing that my “talent” might just disappear, seemingly as quickly as it appeared.
I liked Brian Dozier, and it wasn’t many years ago that his impending free agency created a debate among Twins fans. He was seeking a long-term contract well into eight figures a year. For a time, we could hardly debate that after Joe Mauer (and when Mauer was injured even during the Mauer era), Dozier was the best player on the team. Solid defense. Hitting for average, and for a couple of years, hitting for major power. What wasn’t to like?
So, Falvey and Levine faced a real decision. Would the team get better if it devoted a larger percentage of its self-imposed salary cap toward Brian Dozier? He was popular with the fans, and by all accounts, he was (and I presume remains) a quality individual, and a positive influence with his teammates and in the community. But the decision was made, the Twins weren’t going to pay him what he was “worth.” There was some level of disgust as the Twins did what has historically been part of the “Twins way”….develop a talent until he commands a large salary and then either trade him or let him go. The examples are endless (Viola, Santana, Hunter, etc….). Nobody ever claimed they weren’t great players or that getting rid of them would make the Twins better, it was just part of what we fans became accustomed to seeing.
But back to Dozier. What happened? When he left the Twins he, seemingly overnight, went from being a major star to just another player. As a National a couple of years back, the team with whom he won the World Series, he was largely a bench player.
Falvey and Levine looked like geniuses with how they handled Dozier and the decision they made not to sign him to a long-term deal that we’d still be paying today, turns out to have been absolutely the right thing for the team. Maybe they really are that good at the GM stuff. I certainly count myself among those who like them, and believe they make far more good moves than bad. But letting Dozier go, and seeing what happened, seems nothing short of remarkable.
It’s not as if we should feel sorry for Dozier or his family. He was a great player, he made millions of dollars, he was on a World Series winner, he (again I don’t really know him) seems like an all-around good guy. He will have fantastic memories, and he’s been a hero to thousands of kids and will be immortalized by his baseball cards even after he’s gone. But….what the heck happened? How does someone fall off the table so quickly? Surely, age catches up to everyone eventually, but this seemed to be something more than age.
This was something less than Steve Sax or Chuck Knoblauch suddenly losing the ability to throw the ball to first base. That was inexplicable, obviously psychological in some sense, and as such, it was kind of sad to see. But while the quick decline of Dozier’s career was something less than that, it seems like it was something more than the natural decline of aging. Maybe not being the “man” after he left was devastating to his confidence? Maybe the other teams he joined, just weren’t good “fits.” Maybe I should stop trying to analyze what I’m clearly not qualified to analyze. But whatever it was, it was quick.
I’m not suggesting I’ll never complain again about a given player’s salary, or about the “hardships” endured by professional athletes who are likely comforted by millions of dollars and lots of adulation. Still, the falls can be hard and sudden, and when it happens to someone, like Brian Dozier, whom we all seemed to truly like, it should all give us pause and if we didn’t already understand the fragility of major athletic talent, things like this should make us aware. I already tended to side with unions over management. I already feel as though I understood, at least conceptually, the notion of short and fragile careers and how quickly it can all go away, but Dozier should really bring that home to all of us.
In sum, here’s to you, Brian. I liked you. Most Twins fans liked you. We all wished you well, even after you left, and I, for one, am sorry it didn’t seem to work out all that well for you after you left. Since I didn’t know you personally, I will merely raise a glass to you, thank you for your time with the Twins, for the major role you played in the successes of the teams you were on, and then as quickly as I raise my glass, I’ll put it back on the table. It would seem professional careers can be almost as fleeting.
I still think I’d trade places, I’d still like the millions of dollars and the major talent, if only for a short time, but man….today, when you announced your retirement, I felt a slight sense of relief that nobody, anywhere, would ever have to wonder what happened to me when I retired, as most wouldn’t notice, and the drop-off in my already stunningly mediocre work would be unrecognizable to most. Having talent at the highest level must come with a level of pressure that most of us mere mortals, doing what we do day-to-day, can never really understand. At least for now, I’ll just thank you, as well as Falvey and Levine, and go back to trying to figure it all out. Be well, Brian Dozier, I wish you nothing but the best.