Baldelli retires, but far from done with baseball
Former outfielder, popular in Tampa Bay area, to work in scouting
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli knew he needed to retire after the first game of the Rays' American League Division Series against the Rangers in October.
His body told him he could no longer play, prompting Tampa Bay to make a roster move that activated Willy Aybar and took Baldelli off the playoff roster. Baldelli conveyed his thoughts to Andrew Friedman, and the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations requested he take some time to consider what appeared to be a snap decision. The extra time did not change what Baldelli felt, and on Wednesday afternoon at a news conference at Tropicana Field, the 29-year-old outfielder announced his retirement.
"I pretty much made the decision that day that I wasn't going to play anymore," Baldelli said. "I don't think it was the responsible thing for me or my team to ever go back out there again.
"I'm satisfied with every effort I made to come back every time something came up. I have no regret about anything that happened. And overall, I can look back and smile on the whole situation and be pretty proud of everything that I and my teammates accomplished."
In addition to retiring, the popular Rays outfielder announced that he is embarking on a new career. He has accepted the position of special assistant to baseball operations with the club, a position in which he will be involved in scouting and player development.
"From the day he signed here in 2000, Rocco has earned the respect and admiration of both his peers and our fans," Friedman said. "Though his playing career has ended, he will continue to make a tremendous impact on the Rays' organization. His feel and passion for the game are outstanding, and we're thrilled to have him in this role."
Baldelli seemed appreciative of his new position.
"This isn't a normal opportunity. I realize this isn't like something every former player gets to do," Baldelli said. "This is pretty special, and for that, I'm really thankful."
Baldelli's career was cut short by injuries and a rare medical condition. From 2003-04, he hit .285 with 27 home runs, 152 RBIs and 44 stolen bases. In those years, he played in 292 of the team's 323 games, giving all indications that he would be a star for years to come. Unfortunately for Baldelli and Tampa Bay, that path would change.
From 2005-10, he managed to play in just 227 of a possible 972 games, hitting .268 with 33 home runs, 110 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
In 519 Major League games, Baldelli batted .278, with 60 home runs and 262 RBIs. He hit a career-high 16 home runs in 2004 and again in '06. His .444 slugging percentage is tied with Carl Crawford for seventh highest in club history, and Baldelli's .280 average is eighth. His 35 assists are fourth all-time among Rays outfielders.
Baldelli missed all of 2005 with knee and elbow injuries, but he returned a year later to hit .302, with 16 home runs and 57 RBI in 92 games. In '08, he was diagnosed as having mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue. Baldelli played in only 28 games that season, but he was active for the postseason and hit a game-tying home run at Philadelphia in Game 5 of the World Series.
"Playing during those six weeks when we were going into the playoffs, we were in the playoffs and going to the World Series, that's the greatest month or six weeks of my life," Baldelli said. "I mean, it doesn't get any better than that for me.
"All the work you put in as a player and everything you work for outside in the heat as a young guy in instructional league, to years and years of honing your craft, it all comes together in moments like that. That's the goal. That's what we're all here for. We're here to win baseball games and go to the World Series."
A first-round pick of the Rays in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Baldelli finished third in the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Award balloting after batting .289 with 89 runs and 27 steals, all current Tampa Bay rookie records. He also led the AL with 14 outfield assists, only the 13th rookie to do so. Baldelli appeared in 156 games that season and 136 in '04, when he hit .280 with 16 home runs, but injuries limited him to only 227 games the rest of his career.
The Woonsocket, R.I., native joined Boston as a free agent in 2009, but he signed a Minor League contract with the Rays in July. In his first game back after joining the Major League club, hit a pinch-hit home run on Sept. 5 at Baltimore.
"I'm happy with the decision and I'm happy with where I am in my life right now," Baldelli said. "Do I wish I could keep playing? Yeah, like I've said before, I don't think any athlete wants to be done out on the field as much as some guys say they do. I don't think that they mean it most of the time.
"It's sad, because I loved being out there and I love performing. I was proud of what I could do as an athlete. The things I could do, I enjoyed being out there playing for the fans and my family. And to not be able to do that is sad. I've definitely had some emotional days. ... I've had some tough days, but I've had some good days, too."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.