Signs pointing to Rogers' retirement
Dombrowski, Knapp believe veteran left-hander will call it quits
DETROIT -- Just three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to most Spring Training camps, Kenny Rogers remains a free agent not only without a team, but without a clear intention whether he plans to play again. The way at least two Tigers officials are talking, Rogers might have called it career.
The 44-year-old left-hander has kept largely quiet this offseason, leaving e-mails and calls from reporters unanswered. Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he doesn't know Rogers' plans despite receiving a voicemail from Rogers recently to thank him for his time in Detroit and then trying to call him back. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked with Rogers last month, but isn't disclosing the nature of the conversation at Rogers' request.
Still, when asked about Rogers' status by a fan during a question-and-answer session at TigerFest on Saturday, Dombrowski hinted that Rogers is probably staying home.
"At this time, I don't think he's on the verge of signing with any club," Dombrowski said. "I think he's in a position where he's content where he is right now. But it's more up to him on what he decides to do with his life, and I don't know if he's made that decision 100 percent."
New Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp, a former teammate of Rogers in the Minor Leagues, sounded more definitive about it.
"He's retired," Knapp told Booth Newspapers on Saturday. "His wife says that he's retired. Kenny and I go way back."
Knapp elaborated on his remarks by telephone on Sunday. He said he called Rogers in November, soon after joining the Tigers, and that Rogers told him he was pretty certain he was retiring.
"I don't know if it's time," Knapp said Sunday. "I think he's still got some fight in him. It's just a matter of whether he wants to or not."
If he does not, Rogers will close out a 26-year professional career that took him from the strawberry fields of Plant City, Fla., as a skinny teenager to the World Series as a scoreless wonder.
Rogers spent 20 years in the Major Leagues, compiling a 219-156 record and a 4.27 ERA over three different stints with the Rangers and stops with the Yankees, Athletics, Mets, Tigers and Twins. Amazingly, nearly half of those wins came after age 35, as the former hard-throwing southpaw established himself as a savvy finesse pitcher with impeccable command.
In the process, he became a redemption tale.
Rogers came under scrutiny in 2005 following an incident in which he knocked a television camera off a cameraman's shoulder and kicked it on the ground. Rogers received a 20-game suspension for the incident, which was eventually appealed down to 13 games, as well as an assault charge that was later reduced following an anger management class.
Rogers made the American League All-Star team that year and was booed heartily when he entered the game, held that year at Detroit's Comerica Park. Five months later, the free agent made it his home park by signing with the Tigers, and played a major role in bringing a World Series berth.
Rogers, then 41, won 17 games in 2006 and became the veteran presence in a young Tigers rotation that blossomed to lead Detroit to the AL Wild Card and its first postseason berth since 1987. Topping that, however, he went on a historic postseason stretch by tossing 23 scoreless innings over three starts, including eight innings against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series. He was the first pitcher over age 40 to start in a Fall Classic, a feat Curt Schilling would match a year later.
National attention came back to Rogers in that game when television cameras caught what looked like a smudge on his pitching hand during the early innings. Rogers wiped it off and went on to pitch his outing, then explained that it was a mixture of dirt and rosin.
Injuries, inconsistency and age hampered his two seasons since. He missed the first two-plus months of the 2007 season following surgery to repair a blocked artery in his pitching shoulder, then spent the final three-plus months of the season trying to catch up for lost time.
Rogers pitched a full season last year, but his performance left questions whether age had caught up with him. The 43-year-old went 9-13 with a 5.70 ERA, allowing 212 hits over 173 2/3 innings with 71 walks and 82 strikeouts. He had a 3-7 record and 7.93 ERA after the All-Star break, and made just two starts in September after his struggles and the return of Dontrelle Willis and Freddy Garcia left him out of the rotation.
Rogers ended the season uncertain about his future, and planned to take some time with his family to figure it out before coming to a decision. He did say, though, that any return would only be with Detroit. The Tigers have since moved on, adding Edwin Jackson to their rotation. Dombrowski said Saturday that they have no plans to add another starter, leaving their fifth spot open to competition among Zach Miner, Nate Robertson and Willis.
Even so, the Tigers would like to have him around. Knapp said he invited Rogers to Spring Training in a non-playing role, even if it just involved hitting fungoes.
"But if you go," Knapp said he told Rogers, "you have to promise not to take them."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.