Retirement is no fun. In fact, anyone that tells you that retirement isn't hard probably isn't telling you the whole truth; the hard part of retirement isn't that you're no longer doing what you're accustomed to, but what you're doing now. For some. Whether you're working in a factory or as a CEO, entering that next stage of your life - the one that most likely lacks where you've spent so long - can be difficult for many.
Plenty of professional athletes have found ways to remain productive and happy in retirement, with many going into broadcasting, management, or trying new aspects of life that their careers prevented them from experiencing. Given the travel demands they've had to put up with for years, there are even some athletes who treat retirement as exactly that: a way to relax and spend some time with their family.
For others, though, retirement hasn't been too easy as many athletes struggle to come to terms with the facts that, in a way, their lives are over and it's a new day. Players will suffer from depression, get hooked on to drugs, or make bad financial investments that doom them and their loved ones.
For all of the current and aspiring athletes who wonder what will happen when their time comes, let's look at some former baseball players who thrived in retirement and some who we should try to avoid imitating.
20 Fell Apart: Dwight Gooden
Unfortunately for Dwight 'Doc' Gooden, many of the drug and legal issues that plagued him during his playing career - and led to him having a much shorter-than-expected prime - have stuck with him through retirement. From DUI arrests in 2002 and 2005 to showing up for a meeting with his probation officer while high on cocaine, Gooden has been unable to rid himself of the demons that have haunted him for over 30 years.
Things have gotten so bad for Gooden that, in an exclusive interview with the New York Daily News last year, former teammate Darryl Strawberry told John Harper the following:
“He’s a complete junkie-addict. I’ve been trying behind the scenes to talk to him and get him to go for help, but he won’t listen. He thinks he can manipulate and BS his way through everything. His son called me to beg me to help his dad before he dies. The condition Doc is in, it’s bad, it’s horrible. It’s like cocaine poison. I feel like I’ve got to get it out there because nobody else is doing anything to help him, and it might be the only way to stop him.”
Those are some harsh words by Strawberry, but anybody who knows someone that has struggled with addiction - or has experienced it themselves - is aware that harsh is sometimes the best strategy. As for Strawberry's post MLB career...
19 Thrived: Darryl Strawberry
Calling Strawberry's post-baseball career squeaky clean compared to Gooden's would be false, as the eight-time All-Star was arrested in 2000 (drug abuse that resulted in him serving time in a drug treatment facility), 2002 (violating rules at said treatment facility), and 2005 (filing a false police report). After that first arrest, Strawberry even told the judge that he'd lost the will to live and had taken a leave from chemotherapy.
Over the past decade, however, Strawberry has thrived both in and outside of the baseball community. A common sighting at Mets events and New York Yankees' Old-Timer's Day, Strawberry married his third wife, Tracy, in 2006 and watched his son, D.J., play in the NBA for the Phoenix Suns. Along with Tracy, Strawberry - now a minister - runs the aptly-named Strawberry Ministries that attempts to help people who have fallen off the path come back on with the help of Jesus. It's been a long time since Strawberry had an official plate appearance, but what's he doing with his life right now is a major home run.
18 Fell Apart: Wally Backman
Another member of those rowdy 1980s New York Mets, Backman remains a fan favorite - especially among those of the talk radio crowd in the northeast, as long-time listeners of Mike Francesa will attest to. Recent years have seen the Sports Pope flooded with calls from his 'Mongo Nation' listeners as they attempt to urge the Mets to hire Backman as a replacement manager for Terry Collins.
Unfortunately for Backman's loyal fans, the gritty ex-Met would never manage a game higher than the Triple-A level. For some, that'd be considered thriving, but Backman was held back by legal and honesty issues - the same issues that cost him the Arizona Diamondbacks job just days after being hired in 2004. As manager of the Las Vegas 51's for the Mets, Backman found himself in constant feuds with management and failed to obey direct orders regarding the development of big league prospects; when asked to hit Brandon Nimmo leadoff, for example, the Mets argued that he went against their wishes.
Luckily for Backman, he hasn't hit the lows that some of the others on this list have, but his hopes of thriving as a major league manager continue to be nothing more than dreams.
17 Thrived: Barry Bonds
On one hand, Barry Bonds - potentially the greatest hitter in baseball history - is still waiting for an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the other hand, a man who was heavily blackballed by the sport he loved and grew up in for years due to allegations surrounding him using performance-enhancing drugs has succeeded on the path to restoring his image.
First, it was simple things like smiling and taking pictures with fans, but Bonds then got a chance in 2014 to serve as a spring training instructor for the Giants. Not even two years later, Bonds was hired by Don Mattingly's Miami Marlins to serve as a hitting coach for an offense that featured Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Dee Gordon. Miami wouldn't make the playoffs with Bonds and the all-time home run king was let go after the year, but did Bonds throw a fit or take to social media upon his dismissal? Bonds did take to his personal blog, but the message he left was...heartfelt.
"I look forward to what the future holds for me - but I do know that baseball is and always will be in my blood."
16 Fell Apart: Mickey Mantle
When he played through the 1950s and 60s, 'The Mick' was among baseball's best hitters and one of the final true superstars that the game had. Post-retirement, though, the downfall for Mantle began when former teammate Jim Bouton wrote his tell-all book Ball Four; the book described Mantle's exploits of womanizing and spying on unsuspecting, showering females from hotel windows.
Also hurting Mantle's post-baseball legacy were poor investments and a brief ban from Major League Baseball for doing community events at the Claridge Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. While Mantle and Willie Mays would be reinstated by commissioner Peter Ueberroth in 1985, nothing could stop the alcoholism that destroyed Mantle's body from the inside.
Despite quitting alcohol in the 1990s and becoming a born-again Christian with the help of former teammate Bobby Richardson, years of alcohol abuse led to 'The Mick' passing in 1995 at the age of 63. As Mantle would say on his death bed...
"Please don't do drugs and alcohol. God only gave us one body. ... I didn't know how Lou Gehrig could here [sic] at home plate knowing he was going to die and say he was the luckiest man on the face of Earth [sic]. Now I think I know."
15 Thrived: Jim Bouton
While Mantle battled personal issues and certainly saw the god-like image of him fade after Bouton's revelations in Ball Four, the pitcher who saw himself openly blackballed from the game thrived in his post-baseball career. Did you know that Bouston, a 1963 All-Star, actually played a role in the creation of Big League Chew? Part of what made Bouton come up with the idea that it could be like chewing tobacco...but in gum form and for kids who played baseball. We live in a much, much different time, folks.
Bouton also had ventures into acting - starring as Jim Barton in a loose adaption of Ball Four - and politics, appearing as a delegate alongside George McGovern for the 1972 Democratic National Convention. What likely made Bouton the happiest, however, was a return to Yankee Stadium for the 1998 edition of Old Timer's Day where the fans welcomed him home with a standing ovation.
14 Fell Apart: Curt Schilling
Another pitcher whose on-field performances have been forgotten about because of what he says off the field, the difference between Schilling and Bouton really comes down to one thing: it's not what they said, but how they say it. Although, part of what's contributed to Schilling's post-baseball career falling apart is what he's said.
Whether or not one agrees with Schilling's views on transgenders, Muslims, politics, or whatever else is on the three-time World Champion's mind on a given day, it's hard to argue with a straight face that he's handled things maturely. There's also the bankruptcy incident with 38 Studios, his gaming company, that saw him layoff his staff by way of mass email in 2012.
If there's one thing Schilling has done right, however, it's his defense of his daughter, Gabby, from internet trolls. Say what you want about Schilling's political views or if ESPN was right or not to fire him, but the guy deserves some props for being a good father.
13 Thrived: John Rocker
Yet another pitcher who is best known for his mouth more than his pitching, it's been a long time since Jeff Pearlman's Sports Illustrated story about the former Braves closer and his 'interesting views' on New York City. Rocker hasn't been quiet since throwing his final pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003, appearing on season 29 of Survivor with girlfriend Julie McGee in 2014.
Rocker didn't win, nor did he have a chance when other contestants began to realize who Rocker was, but at least he wasn't one of the first ones voted off. In 2011, Rocker published Scars and Strikes, an autobiography that Amazon describes as, "a coming of age story about a young kid who was 'bitten' with the dream to become a Major Leaguer."
For a while, Rocker was also writing for conservative website World Net Daily, though he hasn't published anything in almost two years. Rocker's final article title before leaving? "Leftist lunatics: You needn't stay in America." Well, we know that Rocker still has his honesty in check...
12 Fell Apart: Jack Clark
For a long time, it looked like former Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but that didn't happen. That's good and all, but the inconsistency and attitude issues that came with the end of Clark's career - seriously, who would feud with Tony Gwynn?! - were an unfortunate foreshadowing of what was to come.
First, Clark was driven into bankruptcy at the end of his career due to a love for luxury cars and having to pay car notes for 17 different cars. While Clark would land on his feet and get back into baseball, serving as a hitting coach for the Dodgers from 2001-03, a brief attempt at managing the Springfield Sliders of the Prospect League later in the decade was met with controversy when he was reported as skipping games in 2009.
Then, there was Clark's time as a St. Louis radio host in 2013 where he began things by accusing Albert Pujols of steroid use. The less said about that, the better...
11 Thrived: Pete Rose
Still banned from the Hall of Fame, Pete Rose at least has done one thing right: he's continued to restore an image that, at least with the majority of baseball fans, wasn't destroyed the way Major League Baseball wanted it to. Now working as an analyst for FOX alongside names like Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez, Rose has spent his forced retirement making ventures into everything from writing (his 2004 autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, was when he finally admitted to gambling) to...the WWE?
Yes, as part of a running gag in the late 90s, Rose served as a guest host announcer and as a wrestler seeking revenge against Kane for Tombstoning him. If you've ever wanted to see Rose dress up as the San Diego Chicken and try to wrestle, that desire (what else goes through your mind?) actually happened in 2000. Rose also was a guest host of Monday Night Raw in 2010 and was inducted into the Reds' Hall of Fame last year.
10 Fell Apart: Mel Hall
Mel Hall was a few years before my time as a Yankee fan, but I can't stand the former power-hitting outfielder. An arrogant, rude bully who tormented Bernie Williams by calling him 'Zero', all you need to know about Mel Hall's post-baseball career is this: the monster is going to die in prison.
As a result of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old in 2007 (the second girl was 14 when the trial happened, but 12 when she was raped), Hall was sentenced to 45 years in prison and will be eligible for parole after 22 years. Back in 2014, SB Nation revealed that Hall sexually assaulting underage females was seemingly normal for him, with more and more victims coming out.
As for the outfield prospect he bullied, however...
9 Thrived: Bernie Williams
The forgotten member of the 'Core Four', Williams unofficially retired from the Majors after the 2006 season (Williams played in the 2009 World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico, however) and devoted all of his time to philanthropy and his music career. Baseball fans were no stranger to Williams' music, as the five-time All-Star released his debut album, The Journey Within, in June 2003.
Not having to worry about the grind of a 162 game season anymore, Williams focused full-time on music and released his second album, Moving Forward, in 2009. On that album, Williams collaborated with Bruce Springsteen for a remix of 'Glory Days' and sampled Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard for a remix of 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'
When the Yankees opened the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, Williams was invited to play 'Take Me out to the Ballgame' from center field. Where else would he be playing it from?
8 Fell Apart: Chuck Knoblauch
Although Chuck Knoblauch was falling apart at the end of his career - as Keith Olbermann's mother will attest to - it was the beginning of his post-baseball life that saw the four-time world champion really start to break. While Knoblauch's admission of using HGH (in a time where nearly every other player named in the Mitchell Report was flat out denying it) isn't too much of a problem, being involved in a domestic violence incident with your wife is.
Not even five years later, Knoblauch was charged with assault of a family member yet again, forcing the Minnesota Twins to cancel his induction into their Hall of Fame. In 2015, Knoblauch stirred controversy again, mocking Fox Sports' Tom Verducci when the latter was still doing color commentary (Verducci is now more of a sideline reporter, with John Smoltz serving as the full-time color commentator to Joe Buck).
@MLBONFOX What is Verducci talking about? Has he ever been between the white lines in a big league game? Um. NO. SHUT UP— Chuck Knoblauch (@chuckknoblauch) July 4, 2015
Aaron Gleeman, then of NBC Sports and a vocal Twins fan, then suggested Knoblauch was struggling with retirement and posted a picture of the Gold Glover's mug shot. Knoblauch's response?
Wonderful. This is who the Twins were going to induct into their Hall of Fame?
7 Thrived: Brad Wilkerson
It wasn't until I actually met up with Brad Wilkerson at a high school baseball game to find out what he's doing with his post-baseball career. As it turns out, the former Expos and Nationals fan favorite is the current head coach of The King's Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida; Wilkerson has held that job since the 2015 season, which came a year after he managed the middle school team to a league championship.
Instead of taking the hardened, 'I know this game better than you do' approach that many retired players-turned-coaches seem to take, Wilkerson is drawing praise for his blunt, but still kind, honesty as coach of the Lions. Take this quote Wilkerson gave after a recent blowout win over fellow private school Jupiter Christian, where he described how his starting pitcher - who remained in the lineup as a DH after being relieved on the mound - was able to bounce back at the plate.
"We expect a lot of every player on this team, and we try to preach that we understand that there’s going to be mistakes; this is the hardest game to play in the world.”
Wilkerson was also named Volunteer Coach of the Year in 2014 by USA Baseball. Someone's enjoying the newest aspect of their baseball life, I see...
6 Fell Apart: Lenny Dykstra
The story of everything that has happened to Lenny Dykstra after playing his final game in 1996 is so long that we can't even provide a TL;DR version. Here's pretty much everything you need to know.
- Dykstra ran a car wash in California, but sold it in 2007 and was sued in 2005 after telling his former business partner to bet on games during the Phillies' 1993 season.
- Trying to do his best Hugh Honey and Vic Vinegar impression, the former Phillies star attempted to flip Wayne Gretzky's $15 million mansion after buying it for $17 million. Three guesses on how that went and the first two don't count.
- Dykstra was put on house arrest in 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for filing false financial reports.
At least now, Dykstra seems to be turning things around between serving as a brand ambassador for Rebound Finance and releasing an autobiography, House of Nails in 2016. Let's hope that when lists like these pop up five, ten years later, Dykstra will be remembered as a man who rebounded when things got tough rather than letting his problems drag him down for good.
5 Thrived: Frank Thomas
When 'The Big Hurt' played his final season with the Blue Jays and Athletics in 2008, his career died with a whimper - there was that incident in April with the Blue Jays where he expressed outrage to the media about a benching by John Gibbons and was promptly cut - but his post-baseball life has been anything but quiet. Like many of his ex-teammates, Thomas entered the broadcasting world (though Big Hurt had experience, serving as a guest analyst for TBS during the 2007 playoffs) with CSN Chicago and WGN to cover the White Sox.
Speaking of the White Sox, Thomas has remained close to his former team in retirement and was honored for a legendary career in 2010 (getting his signature number 35 retired) and 2011 (having a bronze statue of him placed outside the then-U.S. Cellular Field). Now, Thomas is a commentator and analyst for FOX Sports and also owns a pub, Big Hurt's Brewhouse, in Berwyn, Illinois.
4 Fell Apart: Jim Leyritz
What is it with former Yankees from the 1990s seeing their lives falling apart? Though Leyritz didn't struggle with alcoholism or drugs to the degree Gooden, Strawberry, or Mantle did, the two-time All-Star found himself in deep trouble in December 2007 on suspicion of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. When news came out that the woman he hit, Freida Veitch, was ejected from her car and died because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt, there was some hope that Leyritz would still realize that drinking and driving was a no-no.
Things got messy, however, when reports came out that Leyritz had a suspended New York license and was still struggling with alcohol abuse. Not even two years after his car accident, Leyritz was involved in a domestic abuse incident and arrested for battery against his ex-wife (who would drop the charges).
Things have been back on the up for Leyritz, who has fixed his life after being acquitted of manslaughter in 2010; with his own radio show, a memoir he published in 2011 titled Catching Heat: The Jim Leyritz Story, and now works with a church in California. Thankfully, Leyritz seems to have learned from his mistakes and is becoming a role model for those who are seeing their own lives fall apart.
3 Thrived: David Eckstein
The 2006 World Series MVP and a two-time All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals, Eckstein is actually one of the few thriving ex-players on this list that has stayed away from baseball since retiring in 2010. Though Eckstein did throw out the first pitch prior to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, he's been spending the past few years in a different world: the world of fashion.
Along with his wife Ashley, an actress best known as voicing Ahsoka Tano (orally pronounced Ass-oh-ka Tah-no, for those who stopped watching Star Wars when Anakin Skywalker talked about sand being coarse and rough), Eckstein has helped pitch sci-fi gear and apparel to the female demographic. In late 2014, Albert Chen profiled the Ecksteins for Sports Illustrated, but one thing from that article stood out most to me about the gritty shortstop's new life.
"At his first convention he called a light saber from Star Wars a life saver."
Small he may be, but Yoda, Eckstein is not.
2 Fell Apart: Chad Curtis
Despite 101 career home runs and two World Series rings, former Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis is known best for two things in his baseball life: a walk-off home run in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series against the Atlanta Braves and telling NBC sideline reporter Jim Gray he refused to do a postgame interview after said home run because of Gray's aggressive reporting with Pete Rose earlier in the series (Gray had tried to force Rose to admit he gambled during the MasterCard All-Century Team in Game 2).
Those two things, however, have been forgotten because Curtis is in prison for 'inappropriately touching' female high school students. When working as a high school football coach in Lakewood, Michigan, Curtis was ordered to go on trial for five counts of criminal sexual conduct. In August 2013, Curtis was found guilty and sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison two months later.
I take it back, actually, because there's three things Curtis may be remembered for in his baseball career. Following a 1999 brawl with the Seattle Mariners, Curtis reprimanded a younger teammate of his to the media for not fighting and instead talking with a player on the other team. That player?
1 Thrived: Derek Jeter
It only makes sense to end with the longtime New York Yankees captain, who has already been retired for three years at the start of this season. Doesn't that whole season full of farewells, gifts, and what we said was a thankful lack of Alex Rodriguez (as a result of his suspension) seem like it was only yesterday?
In retirement, Jeter has been everywhere from Michigan football games to opening restaurants in Florida. Mainly, Jeter's post-career success has come in the form of The Players' Tribune, which essentially serves as a blog for sports figures - normally players, though some coaches and media figures have gotten in on the action - to express their thoughts and feelings without having to worry about a filter or having their words twisted and turned into fake news. Despite some early skepticism about the idea, The Players' Tribune has turned into one of the most popular and interesting sports websites over the past two and a half years.
Also, Jeter is finally married! Captain Clutch married model Hannah Davis in 2016 and, last month, the two announced that a baby Jeter is coming into the world soon. The Yankees have already found their next shortstop...
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