Earlier this week, David Ortiz played his last home spring training game. Ortiz, who in November announced his plans to retire after this season, was driven off the field in a golf cart at JetBlue Park, the Red Sox’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, to applause from Red Sox faithful. Ortiz has stated that he is not expecting any sort of farewell tour. He made an early retirement decision solely so that Red Sox fans could make plans to see him play one last time in 2016. However, Ortiz’s elaborate exit from Fort Myers seems to foreshadow a farewell tour after all. Over the last few years, farewell tours have become more of an annual pattern in the MLB. It all started when Chipper Jones announced his plans to retire after the 2012 season. The next two years saw farewell tours for Yankees legends Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. David Ortiz will likely be next, whether he plans for it or not.
Historically, farewell tours have not been the norm in baseball. Players from Mickey Mantle to Pedro Martinez had ungraceful and unnoticed falls from glory—Mantle played his last game in front of fewer than 6,000 fans, and Martinez retired after being the losing pitcher in game 6 of the 2009 World Series for the Phillies. Both players announced their retirements after their last games. This has been true in other sports, as well. Michael Jordan, for example, finished his career with a mediocre, unexciting Washington Wizards team on which he was the only attraction for fans. In the past several years, however, it has become more popular to announce retirement plans before a player’s final season. In 2012, Chipper Jones was the first player to be given gifts before his last games at each road ballpark and the tradition continued with Rivera and Jeter in the following two years.
The farewell tours of the two Yankees legends, however, were the ones that sparked some backlash. For Rivera and Jeter, their final seasons were seemingly over-the-top in celebration. Some critics thought that the praise that was heaped upon Rivera and Jeter was untimely—they believe that the Hall of Fame is where praise is given to great players, not on the field itself. Other critics point to the commercialism of these final seasons—towards the ends of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, ticket prices skyrocketed at Yankees games. For Jeter’s final games at Yankee Stadium, for example, ticket prices shot up over 200%. In addition, television programming and advertisements, like the 2014 Gatorade Jeter tribute commercial and the“RE2PECT” Jordan ad campaign, contribute to the sense that farewell tours are largely profit-making mechanisms.
Many, however, recognize the value of farewell tours. Players like Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter were some of baseball’s most influential figures over the past several decades. When they announced their respective retirements, many felt like these players deserved to be honored. Even critics will admit this much; they just take issue with the amount of praise and honor that was lavished upon these players. It has long been a practice for a retiring player to be honored by their own team—for example, when Lou Gehrig gave his famous speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939, and when Carl Yastrzemski and Cal Ripken, in 1983 and 2001, respectively, ran around the tracks of their home stadiums high-fiving their fans.
Is it too much when opposing teams honor retiring players? Is this really necessary? It is a matter of opinion, but I believe that players’ retirements should normally be celebrated by their own team. There are exceptions, however, in the case of players who are not simply great, but also leave unparalleled impacts upon the game, such as Rivera and Jeter. Rivera is the only Yankee I have ever seen applauded at Fenway Park. Jackie Robinson is perhaps the most honored retired player in all of baseball, because he helped elevate the game as a whole to be more just. I do not believe anyone holds the opinion that only the Dodgers should honor Robinson. As for Ortiz, however, a farewell tour is not necessary, and I hope there will not be one. He will be honored by the Red Sox, but that should be all.