Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts on Adrian Cardenas and Quitting Baseball

I remember when Adrian Cardenas was considered one of the very best prospects in baseball.  In 2006, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America.  He was drafted by the Phillies in the supplemental first round, #37 overall.  Many analysts believed the Phillies, who took Kyle Drabek in the first round, had one of the best drafts of the year.  Cardenas was a second baseman.  He hit between .290 and .310 at almost every minor league stop with single digit HR's and double digit steals.  He was traded to Oakland in 2008 as part of the package for Joe Blanton.  With Oakland, he was shuttled between AAA and AA multiple times for no apparent reason and finally released.  He hooked on the with the Cubs and finally made the majors in 2012.  He hit just .182 in limited action.  His main claim to fame being that he broke up a no-hitter by AJ Burnett.  After the 2012 season, Cardenas was outrighted off the Cubs 40 man roster and he announced his retirement from baseball because he no longer enjoyed playing the game.

In an article published today in the New Yorker magazine, Cardenas tells his story and gives his explanation of why he quit the game.  After reading it through a couple of times, I am not sure I still understand why he quit or if he is maybe still not being completely honest with himself.  He talked of long sleepless nights on buses in the minor leagues, but goes on to say those are some of his best memories.  He talks of being driven to succeed in the game to the point that he could not really enjoy the fun aspects of the game.  He talks about relationships and how the game separates you from the people you love, yet, he reveals nothing of his own experience in this regard.

Cardenas signed out of high school, but started college 3 years before he quit the game.  He says he gradually came to the realization that he enjoyed school and the subjects he was studying more than he loved being a ballplayer and at some point came to the realization that he had to choose one or the other.

It seems that a big part of his dissatisfaction stemmed from his inability to reconcile that playing a game that should be fun was a job and a business.  He stated "I quit because baseball was sacred to me until I started getting paid for it."  In his mind, the players who succeed are the ones who are able to separate their playing the game from the business side, live in the moment and enjoy the thrill of what they do on the field.

After reading his essay, you can't help but wonder if the teams who employed him saw his ambivalence more clearly than he did.  Perhaps that is why he was shuttled around in the minors for so long.  Maybe he simply was not as good as the scouts thought he would be and finally, deep down, realized that he was not going to be a star in the game and found other reasons to justify quitting the game.

I also wonder how many other players have similar feelings about the game but never get to a point where they are willing to admit that they need to quit.  I have long believed that the baseball life, especially in the minors, takes a fearful toll on relationships and must, at least at times, be an extremely lonely life.  When I see a player struggling in their game, plateau in their development, or even regress, I always suspect there must be more to the story than swing or delivery mechanics.  Does the player have nagging injuries that go unacknowledged?  Are they struggling in a relationship?   Have they become depressed?  Are they self medicating their depression?

I think Adrian Cardenas starts to get at these issues in his New Yorker essay, but barely scratches the surface.  I want to know more about the things he experienced personally and things he observed that led him to this career decision.

The article can be found by googling Adrian Cardenas New Yorker.  There is also a link at the bottom of his Wikipedia page.  The full link is:


  1. Odd, that as I was reading your post, Gary Brown came to mind!

    Richard in Winnipeg

    1. I don't know anything about Gary Brown's situation, but his well documented struggles have to make you wonder if maybe there is more going on than just his batting stance and swing mechanics.

  2. Teams do well to invest a little money and other resources to support these young men, boys really, physically (e.g. nutritional and training info, etc.) and emotionally.

    No every kid is going to arrive mentally tough and act like seasoned professionals or all tough and all knowing (what, you don't know this stuff?).

    There are Brandon Belts of the world who will cry and need time to mature (I'm sorry, but how do you do this?) and toughen up.

  3. Dr. B,
    Baseball tends to glorify winning and success since it is a public form of entertainment. The human elements of performance are under-represented in the media.

    I would consider the following as important human elements in any minor league ballplayer's career:

    1) A minor league ballplayer likely makes a meager salary in exchange for the potential dream of someday making it big. And the odds of the dream coming true are statistically long.
    2) A minor league ballplayer likely will need to sacrifice a major part of the best years of their life from the standpoint of personal relationships, family life, and dedication to improvement.
    3) A ballplayer is likely under public scrutiny for performance elements that are quite difficult to attain, and partially out of their control.
    There is likely an element of being on the right team, getting the right BABIP to go your way, that talent or drive does not account for. We all know that baseball does reward some luck.
    4) A ballplayer may suffer injuries out of their control which may hinder their performance, for which a major part of their recognition and salary is based upon.

    In the end, the vast majority don't make it to the big leagues. It's great that you are recognizing this under-represented group of people in your posts because they do sacrifice greatly for the game. In Cardenas' case he likely didn't want to publicize everything and I'm fine with that.

    1. Not to mention, in this age, even certain guys in the lowest levels of the minors can do a Google search and find out what the world thinks of them. I'm sure some guys use that to their advantage, while there's probably a large group that lets negative comments affect their play. It's got to be a tough lifestyle.