At the tender age of 36, Michael Cuddyer is finally hanging up the cleats despite having another year on his contract with the New York Mets. Popping the champagne with Bartolo Colon was no doubt the moment of a lifetime, but Cuddyer’s body was clearly finished with the emotional game of baseball (and physically – over the last four years Cuddyer was on the disabled list six times).
We say goodbye to a solid journeyman of sorts, who played a sometimes-flashy 15 seasons in the majors. After hitting .259 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 379 at-bats for the Mets in 2015, I guessed he’d be gone via trade or benched in some way, especially with gifted upstart Michael Conforto entrenched in left field and the Grandy man in right. But I hadn’t considered him blowing his own whistle. I guess a broken shoulder, a strained oblique, a torn-up knee and a bulging disc in the neck will do it.
A two-time All Star, Cuddyer was set to earn $12.5 million from the Mets next season (he was on a two-year, $21 million deal). It seemed like he enjoyed his time in New York despite the subpar performance, as he also got to play with childhood buddy David Wright. However, let’s not forget Cuddyer did go a disappointing 1-for-11 in the postseason.
On a positive, yet quiet note, the Mets are off the books for the $12.5 million they would’ve owed their aging outfielder – now planning to “double down” on their 2015 plan.
But let’s turn back the clock a bit to revisit Michael Cuddyer’s humble beginnings..
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Cuddyer naturally slaughtered high school pitching like every other professional hitter. He was named Virginia’s Player of the Year and Gatorade National baseball Player of the Year in 1997. Cuddyer soon became a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) by the Minnesota Twins in the 1997 amateur draft.
An apparent magician as well (for the kids at least, and it’s all about the kids), Cuddyer simply loved the game of baseball and making others smile.
To quote Cuddyer himself (in his retirement article posted on The Players’ Tribune)..
“Baseball is a game of beautiful contradictions. It can be entertainingly fast and painfully slow. You sacrifice your personal and family life for the grind and the glory. Baseball is my life’s passion, but at the same time I knew in some distant part of my heart that it wouldn’t and couldn’t last forever. Ever since I was a kid, my mantra has been, “Play hard, dream big.” But I’ve always believed in loyalty to the game itself: the day that I can’t give it 100 percent is the day I have to walk away. Now that the day has come, it’s harder than I thought it would be.”
Annually a top prospect while in the Minnesota minors, Cuddyer eventually got the call up and went on to hit .272 with 141 homeruns and 580 RBIs in 11 seasons (1,139 games) with the Twins. He then went to the Colorado Rockies in 2011, a hitter’s paradise to say the least. Cuddyer responded by hitting .307 with 46 homers and 173 RBIs in three seasons. His final season run in New York, however, was less than notable – not for a lack of effort and smiles.
A solid career overall, Cuddyer does have one secret that most aren’t aware of. He says that because of a childhood illness, he’s deaf in his left ear. Certainly not a horrific impairment, but definitely a good explanation for why he avoided left field prior to his New York arrival. For the Mets, though, he’d clearly do anything.
Cuddyer can look back on a career line of .277 with 197 homers and 794 RBIs in 1,536 career regular-season games. He can also look back on a sports meme that highlights his cemented legacy as an MLB streetcar named Cuddyer. So long Cuddyer, we’ll sure miss the way you played the game.