By Louis Addeo-Weiss
Saturday, October 12th, saw veteran David Freese call it a career after 11 seasons in the big leagues.
As part of his retirement statement, Freese was quoted as saying “Padres, Cardinals, Angels, Pirates and Dodgers. You took a 23-year-old kid out of college and pushed him to 36. Can’t thank you enough for that. Needed it. Will never stop thinking about the days I got to be around such wonderful people playing this game. As I move forward with the next phase of my life, I am forever grateful to all of you and the game of baseball.”
To preface this, the day won’t come where Freese is enshrined in Cooperstown – Freese owns just 17.4 Wins Above Replacement, respectively – but the memories he’s been primarily responsible will forever be apart of baseball history and folklore.
While he may no longer be an active player, Freese will forever be ingrained in the hearts of St. Louis sports fans, as it was his play during the 2011 postseason that propelled the Cardinals to a World Series championship over the Texas Rangers.
It was Freese’s home run to end Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, that saw Joe Buck utter the same words his father Jack did 20 years ago following Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run, “we will see you tomorrow night,” in a series where Freese would capture MVP honors after hitting .348 and driving in seven runs.
Fast forward eight years and Freese, still playing as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he served as a platoon bat off the bench, getting most of his playing time against left-handed pitching, and 2019 serves as one of the most productive years of his career.
Though it was only 233 plate appearances over parts of two seasons with LA (acquired 08/31/18), Freese posted a .328/.421/.607 slash-line with a robust 169 OPS+, a mark, according to SB Nation author Eric Stephen, is third amongst all Dodgers with at least 200 plate appearances, trailing only Dan Brouthers (172) and Manny Ramirez (171).
Jeremy Frank, who goes by the Twitter handle “MLBRandomStats”, points out that Freese is one of only five players to post an OPS of 1.000 or greater with at least 150 plate appearances – the other names on this list include Shoeless Joe Jackson (1920), Ted Williams (1960), Barry Bonds (2007), and David Ortiz (2016).
For Freese though, in a career that has seen him be an All-Star, a Championship Series, and World Series MVP, none of that is important to a man whose struggles off the diamond are what mean the most to him, as the title of this piece should suggest.
A 2017 piece by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale outlined Freese’s struggles with depression, a condition that affects some 18 million Americans each year, according to Hope for Depression.
“I was depressed. I was always depressed,’’ Freese tells USA TODAY Sports. “I never tried to do anything to myself, but I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t care what would happen to me. It was almost to a point that if this is my time, so be it?”
And for many, including myself, who believed that Freese’s continued contributions at the big league level could have continued on the basis of a multi-year deal, it is important we take off our fan hats and jerseys, and remember that, like us, Freese is an individual who feels and experiences emotion.
World Series wins are something all baseball fans aspire for their teams to achieve, and for Cardinal fans, Freese delivered when it mattered most, with hit after hit further propelling a Cardinals team, who managed to get to the big dance despite playing all season without Adam Wainwright, who was lost in Spring Training to Tommy John Surgery.
For Dodger fans, despite the fact that they failed to win it all during his brief tenure, Freese couldn’t have done more to help his team’s cause – the veteran slashed .400/.441/.733 across 34 plate appearances, as well as hitting 2 home runs, one of which came in the 2018 World Series.
Part of me is torn, because given Freese’s personality, one which I can relate to considering my struggles with depression in the past, I understand and greatly respect a player going out on his own terms, despite the prevailing thought that the first/third basemen still had enough fuel in the tank to make an impact at the big league level.