The 2014 season John McDonald spent as a valuable late-inning defensive replacement for the Angels turned out to be his last. The popular 40-year-old infielder announced his retirement on Wednesday after a 16-year major league career in which he played for eight teams.
“I think it was time,” McDonald said by phone from his home in Scituate, Mass. “As the off-season went on, unlike last year, when I had such a desire to play, I didn’t necessarily have that same drive. I’ve been thinking about it an awful lot, about what’s next, but I can’t go on to what’s next until I stop playing.”
McDonald, who grew up in East Lyme, Conn., and played at Providence (R.I.) College, spent his entire career as a backup, playing an average of 69 games a season and finishing with a .233 batting average, 28 home runs and 210 runs batted in.
But he was considered one of the best defensive middle infielders in the game, thanks to his superb footwork, positioning and instincts, quick hands, slick glove and quick release. According to Fangraphs, he had 51 defensive runs saved in 4,082 innings at shortstop and 15 runs saved in 1,376 innings at second base.
In fact, long-time baseball writer and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons tweeted on Wednesday that he once asked Hall-of-Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar who the best shortstop he ever played with was.
“John McDonald,” Alomar said, without a blink. Alomar, of course, was a long-time teammate of Omar Vizquel, who is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in recent baseball history.
Don’t expect any cobwebs to gather on McDonald’s golden glove.
“It will go with me everywhere,” McDonald said with a laugh. “I’ll probably be taking grounders with some kid in a gym trying to get ready for his high school season in a few weeks.”
McDonald, who is married with a 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, said he hopes to return to the game “sooner rather than later,” but he’s not sure if he prefers to work in a front-office or on-field coaching capacity.
He has spoken to Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto about a possible position.
“I want to stay in the game, but I want to figure out a way to spend more time with my wife and kids, especially in the summer,” McDonald said. “I haven’t had a free summer since I started playing American Legion ball when I was 15. I remember those years with my family when I was young. I want to be able to give my kids those same experiences.”
McDonald, who spent the bulk of his career in Cleveland and Toronto, playing seven years in each city, usually replaced third baseman David Freese in the late innings of games in which the Angels held a narrow lead this past season.
In what turned out to be the final at-bat of his career, he laced a run-scoring double to left field in the ninth inning of a 4-1 loss to Seattle in the regular-season finale in Safeco Field on Sept. 28.
“I just wanted to put a good swing on a ball one more time,” McDonald said after the game, fighting back tears. “It’s a good feeling to get one more hit. It might have more meaning later.”
McDonald, who got the game ball from that hit, has been a favorite of teammates, coaches, team officials, clubhouse employees and media members in every clubhouse he has been in. The Angels celebrated his 40th birthday after a Sept. 24 with a cake.
What will McDonald, who took pleasure in hard work and mentoring younger players, miss most about the game?
“Batting practice, taking ground balls,” he said. “Taking that big grounder in a game that you know you’re going to catch because someone hit me the same one three hours before in batting practice. I’ll miss conversations with umpires, players, fans, clubhouse guys, trainers, security people, reporters. I think I’ll be trying to find a field somewhere just to talk baseball.”