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Editorial: Out of the Ballpark

Dempster Leaves on His Own Terms

Normally, we are skeptical when a celebrity/politician/entertainer/athlete announces that he is resigning/retiring/withdrawing/walking away in order to spend more time with his family. Perhaps that’s because such announcements are so often followed by sordid disclosure of bribery/philandering/drug abuse and so on and so forth.

But in the case of Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, we are going to extend the benefit of the doubt. In announcing Sunday that he definitely would not pitch in 2014 and probably not thereafter, the 36-year-old Dempster cited neck issues that in recent years “have made it harder and harder to throw a baseball and throw it like I’m accustomed to throw it.” That, and, “I’ve got three amazing children that I want to watch grow up and be around.”

This has a certain amount of credibility. For one thing, in walking away from the game, Dempster is leaving on the table $13.25 million due him under the two-year contract he signed with the Red Sox before last season. At a time when professional sports so often seem synonymous with greed, it is a healthy sign that someone who has made nearly $90 million over a 16-year big league career is willing to say that enough is enough if he is physically unable to perform to his satisfaction and wants to take a more active role in his family’s life. It is easy to think of many examples of athletes who hung on after their time was manifestly up just in order to collect one more big pay day.

Moreover, Dempster has a reputation in the game as a “character guy” whose value to a team is not fully reflected in his statistics. He has been a very decent pitcher over the years and once made the All-Star team. But his career record of 132-133 is just average, and his first campaign with the Red Sox was definitely in keeping with that metric. But when he announced his impending departure at the Red Sox spring training facility, a number of his teammates attended and gave him a round of applause. “Everyone wants to soak in their last moments of being around him. He’s a great guy,” said reliever Andrew Miller.

In this, Dempster can be said to be baseball’s antithesis to Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, whose smug arrogance and selfishness have made him a legend within the game just as surely as his hitting prowess. In fact, one of the most memorable moments of a memorable Red Sox season last year was when Dempster took it upon himself to express the contempt of the entire baseball world after Rodriguez had refused to accept his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and continued to play while his appeal was pending. Dempster expressed this censure in the time-honored baseball way, by drilling Rodriguez in the elbow with a 92-mile-an-hour fastball.

Maybe there’s also a larger lesson to be drawn from Dempster’s departure. The Red Sox have a number of promising young pitchers coming up who are arguably ready to pitch at the Major League level. By stepping away, he’s giving those youngsters a chance sooner rather than later. This is an example that could be usefully followed by people in many jobs who are hanging on when they no longer need to do so financially. With the current employment situation, it’s time to give the kids a chance.