Former Red Sox reliver Jonathan Papelbon never officially retired
Jonathan Papelbon is eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year and he has an interesting case for being considered as one of the greatest closers of his generation. Not only is he the all-time saves leader in Boston Red Sox history, his 368 career saves place him in the top-10 in MLB history. There’s just one problem with his candidacy. Papelbon isn’t technically retired.
During an appearance on WEEI’s Live BP podcast, Rob Bradford tried to nudge Papelbon into make an official statement about his retirement. The former Red Sox closer refused to take the bait.
"“Never. I’m never going to retire. It’s never going to happen,” said Papelbon. “I don’t care if I’m on my death bed like Ted Williams thinking he can hit at 90. I’m just never retiring. That’s just the fact and how it’s going.”"
Papelbon’s 219 saves in a Red Sox uniform are the most in franchise history and he also ranks at the top among Red Sox relievers with 14.0 WAR. His 2.33 ERA ranks second among relievers with a minimum of 80 innings pitched in Boston, trailing only Koji Uehara (2.19 ERA).
He was lights out on the postseason stage, particularly when he was locking down the ninth inning for the 2007 World Series champions. Papelbon didn’t allow a run over 10 2/3 innings while recording a win and four saves for the Red Sox.
The right-hander racked up 123 more saves over three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, including a league-leading 64 in his first year with the team. He tacked on 26 more saves over his finals two seasons with the Washington Nationals.
It’s not a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume, especially since relievers typically struggle to gain support from voters (unless your name is Mariano Rivera). However, his production is worthy enough to at least get the five percent necessary to remain on the ballot for next year.
The biggest question is whether or not Papelbon should even be on the ballot when he refuses to acknowledge that he’s retired. According to the BBWAA election requirements, a player proclaiming themselves retired isn’t technically part of the criteria.
Eligible Candidates — Candidates to be eligible must meet the following requirements:
"A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3 (A).Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball."
Papelbon hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2016, which makes him eligible for the ballot based on the above criteria. Unless he gets enshrined in Cooperstown, which essentially would cement his legacy, being on the ballot doesn’t prohibit Papelbon from making a comeback.
The only thing more wild than Papelbon refusing to accept his retirement is his perplexing reason for doing so.
"“To hell with retiring, no no no no, not happening, dude,” said Papelbon. “Who knows, they may come up with some pill in the future and then all of a sudden I feel like I’m 25 again, so no retirement, dude.”"
Wait, so during a period where the Hall of Fame debate is centered around the stain of performance-enhancing drugs, Pap is clinging to hope that a pill will one day be invented to turn back the clock and make his arm feel like he’s in his prime again?
Papelbon’s hopes for a (legal) substance that revitalizes his career might be a pipedream but his overall point remains valid. We can’t always predict what the future brings. Never say never.
If Papelbon does have any desire for making a comeback, should the Red Sox let his career come full circle with a return to Boston? Hey, there are crazier ideas for filling the ninth inning role. Like putting Matt Barnes back in the closer seat, for example.
Papelbon currently has only about 0.6 percent of votes, according to Hall of Fame Tracker Ryan Thibodaux. It might take a miracle for Papelbon to get back on a major league mound but getting into the Hall of Fame this year appears to be even more of a long shot.