The news that Jeremy Affeldt would retire after this season didn’t come as much of a surprise. He mentioned the possibility a week ago, and Dave Flemming told Gary Radnich and Larry Krueger on Tuesday that there was a good chance Affeldt’s career was coming to a close.
It’s a story that’s bittersweet but mostly happy, and it’s one we’re also seeing with Tim Hudson. How often do players get to choose when they retire? Affeldt’s numbers during this injury-marred season are pretty rough, but most players don’t get to make an announcement. They just vanish. My wife and I took our daughter to yesterday’s game, and watching Hudson, Affeldt and Ryan Vogelsong pitch one last time was something I’ll always remember, even if the game was forgettable.
Hudson will get Hall of Fame consideration, and Vogelsong made it sound like he’ll probably pitch for another team next season. But I’d like to focus on the guy who replaced Kirk Reuter as everyone’s favorite goofy Giants lefty for a moment.
The Giants’ punching bag
A new annual tradition was created in Affeldt’s honor, as he was roasted by his teammates, manager and even the team’s announcers during each Fan Fest. That’s part of what made him so special. It wasn’t just that he was an easy target, with the injuries caused by frozen burger patties and his children, but he absorbed the jokes better than most humans ever could, let alone professional athletes. He might be the most self-deprecating baseball player since Bob Uecker, although Duane Kuiper comes close.
The Giants’ heart
How Affeldt never won a Roberto Clemente Award is a mystery, since it’s hard to recall another player so strongly aligned with charity organizations such as Not For Sale and Generation Alive. He was also the one player who came out in support of Bruce and Kim Bochy during the San Francisco Homeless Prenatal Project event at Amici’s. It was clear when Bruce said “thanks, Jeremy” that Affeldt’s gesture meant an awful lot.
He out front about his faith, but as he does when he discusses human trafficking, he speaks about being a Christian in a way that’s disarming instead of self-righteous. As someone who grew up with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother — which led me to come fairly close to avoiding religion altogether while growing up — the idea of having to write while “Fellowship Day” was taking place after a Giants game made me cringe.
Yet, there I was a couple years ago, sitting in the press box on a Sunday afternoon while trying to finish up a game recap, and I couldn’t help myself — I stopped writing after Affeldt grabbed the microphone and listened to his entire monologue. He talked for a good 15 minutes, about the imperfections in his life and how his faith has helped him throughout his baseball career, but mostly about the imperfections. It was the opposite of the saccharin “I’ve got to thank God for putting me in this position” stuff we hear from athletes after wins. It was honest and entertaining, which Affeldt can’t help but be at all times.
The Giants’ Mariano Rivera
Affeldt would surely tell you this, too: He wouldn’t have quite the same platform (or the GMC commercial, which provided some comic relief this season) if not for his postseason success. He gave the Giants two scoreless innings in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS after Jonathan Sanchez lost his cool in Philadelphia. He walked the only batter he faced in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, then pitched 23.1 consecutive scoreless postseason innings, a streak he’ll take with him into retirement. A rare lefty reliever who performed equally well against hitters from both sides of the plate, Affeldt pitched longer than one inning in nine of his 26 postseason appearances for the Giants. He went two innings on four occasions, including 2 1/3 innings in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, when Bochy planned before the game to use Affeldt to bail out Hudson if needed.
Without Affeldt, the Giants probably don’t win their first title in San Francisco. And they definitely don’t win the two after that. As the second of nine players to win all three rings leaves (the first was Pablo Sandoval), we realize what those championships mean. Affeldt may go back home to Spokane and return to the Bay Area occasionally to see his former teammates or do a postgame show on CSN Bay Area with Tim Flannery, but as long as baseball exists, Affeldt’s postseason achievements will live forever. Same goes for the charity dollars and attention that contributed to saving the lives of children, along with all the jokes at his expense (and the ones he made in response).
Not many athletes have such a complete career, which is amazing considering how poorly he performed from 2004-06. He pitched in 413 regular season games as a Giant, made $35 million, and took part in three parades. It’s hard to believe he’ll no longer be there when pitchers and catchers reconvene in Scottsdale next February, but he’ll never truly be gone.