During the final weekend of the regular season in last September, Dodgers first baseman David Freese knew he was playing in the final games of his major league career. He had decided the 2019 season would be his last before reporting to spring training in February. He was sure. He was at peace.
He thought he would retire after last season, after the Dodgers lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, but was convinced to stick around another year after loving his two months in Los Angeles. So he signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract to help the Dodgers end their championship drought.
The Dodgers fell short again, losing in Game 5 of the National League Division Series to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. It marked a disappointing end to their season. It also marked the end of Freese’s accomplished career.
Freese, 36, made it official Saturday, announcing his retirement on Twitter, after playing for four teams across 11 seasons. He will go down as one of the most clutch performers in recent baseball history, a distinction he cemented with his first postseason appearance in 2011 when he was named both NLCS and World Series MVP for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals. He was also named an All-Star in 2012.
pic.twitter.com/czVJztm9iY— David Freese (@david23freese) October 12, 2019
He finishes his career with a .277 batting average and 113 home runs during the regular season. He consistently elevated his performance in the postseason, hitting .299 with 10 home runs and a .919 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 69 career playoff games. He batted .315 with 11 home runs in 162 at-bats this season for the Dodgers. He was four for eight in the NLDS.
Freese spent parts of five seasons with the Cardinals to begin his big league career. He became a legend in St. Louis for his heroics in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers when he cracked a game-tying two-run triple over right fielder Nelson Cruz’s head with the Cardinals down to their last strike. Two innings later, he clubbed a walk-off home run to force a Game 7. The Cardinals went on to take Game 7 and win the World Series. Freese batted .397 with five home runs and a 1.258 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 18 playoff games that October.
He reached the playoffs five more times; twice with the Cardinals, once with the Angels, and twice with the Dodgers to finish his career.
He concluded his career in fitting fashion, with another productive postseason. In Game 3 on the NLDS, he became the fourth player in postseason history to collect three hits off the bench. He went three for three with a double in the Dodgers victory before adding another hit in Game 4.
The Dodgers acquired Freese from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a last-minute acquisition before the Sept. 1 waiver trade deadline in 2018 to serve as first baseman against left-handed pitching. He spent just two months with the team, but left an impression on a club that needed to force a 163rd game to win the National League West.
While he performed on the field — he batted .385 in 19 regular-season games and .364 in 14 playoff games — Freese was beloved in the clubhouse He came a quiet leader, offering advice and pointers. Teammates respected him knowing not only his on-field success, but the depression and alcohol abuse he had battled off the field.
“There’s something about his voice,” Dodgers utility player Enrique Hernandez said. “He doesn’t talk much, but when he does talk you want to listen and he’s got a lot of good input. . . . It’s nice to have one of those voices that’s been around for a while.”
Freese was set on retiring a year ago. He was about to become a free agent and figured the market wouldn’t be kind to a corner infielder in his mid-30s. But he changed his mind after seeing teammates vouch for his return to team officials.
He spoke with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the two quickly agreed on a new contract. Freese signed a deal by the end of the week.
“I’m a lot like all these guys in here,” Freese said in late September. “I’m a lot like all these guys in this organization. From a personality standpoint I just fit in with these guys. It still feels surreal that I’m here even a year later. I’m just really grateful.”
Freese, 36, was dead-set on retiring even after excelling in his platoon role this season. His body was just too worn down. It was time. So he spent the summer trying to appreciate his final days on the field and with his teammates, savoring the moments.
“It’s kind of been a feeling all year,” Freese said. “You go to stadiums, you understand that you might not be putting a uniform on in this park or that park ever again.
“You know, being in the NL Central for so many years, those parks have a different feeling than other parks. It’s been crazy, man. I think things have slowed down a little bit, understanding where I’m at personally with all this.”