July 12, 2013

The Art of Quitting

Admit it: you’ve reached for a second helping when you already had enough to eat. You’ve had one too many drinks at a family barbecue. You’ve pushed a joke a bit too far and hurt a friend’s feelings. We’ve all made mistakes like these, because knowing when to quit isn’t easy.
The same goes for professional athletes. In fact, the difficulty is amplified. Imagine getting paid millions of dollars play a game you love. Now imagine giving that up. Factor in a top-tier athlete’s sense of confidence and it’s easy to see why so many players stick around for too long and wear out their welcome.
In 2009 I went to a Syracuse Chiefs game because one of my favorite all-time players was in town. John Smoltz was making a minor-league start for Pawtucket in order to tune up for his major league comeback with the Red Sox. It was amazing to see him play (I’d never seen Smoltz pitch in person), but surreal to see him take the mound in little old Alliance Bank Stadium. Sure, other big names have come and gone through Syracuse and countless other minor league towns like it, and rehab assignments are typical procedures these days, but a certain sad feeling enveloped the outing. John wasn’t on top of his game. He gave up four runs in six innings of an abbreviated game and got pegged for the loss. Combined with the Red Sox and the Cardinals, Smoltz’s numbers in the majors after leaving the Braves were 3 wins, 8 losses, and a 6.35 ERA.
Smoltz is forever a legendary part of Braves history, and I’m not trying to take that away from him. But wouldn’t it have been great for his career to end in Atlanta, even if that meant retiring with a hundred good innings or so left in his arm?
Tim Hudson is halfway through his fifteenth year as a major-league starter, and he’s having by far his worst year since 2006, when he posted a 13-12 record and a 4.86 ERA. He’s never gone an entire season with a losing record, yet this year that seems entirely possible. Rumors abound about a possible trade, and Tim seems on-edge. Those disgruntled post-game comments about not being given the chance to win the game could just be the result of a frustrated competitor. But maybe it’s something else. Maybe Tim realizes that he’s no longer an ace and that the organization places a higher value on every other arm in the rotation. That’s not an easy truth to face. Of course he wants every opportunity to show what he’s worth.
With Beachy’s return looming, someone is going to get pushed out of the rotation, and it just might be Huddy. His contract is up at the end of this year, and there’s a good possibility that the Braves won’t offer him a new deal. If that happens, I think Hudson should call it quits. I’m sure the idea has at least crossed his mind. After all, what’s the point of playing until you’re all washed up? Most people would kill to retire from their job at 37. Of course, it’s not easy to pack it in when that voice in the back of your head is always there to ask, “What if I’ve still got it?”



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