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Alex Gordon’s retirement is best for everybody, but it’s no less bittersweet

A true legend

Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals prepares to bat in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 25, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals prepares to bat in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 25, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Alex Gordon was never the same after the 2015 World Series. It was a remarkable cap to a remarkable five-year run where he was one of the 10 best position players in all of baseball. But, even independent of his massive, franchise-record contract, Gordon never produced at the same level. His defense was still excellent, his arm a potent deterrent to would-be aggressive baserunners. But his overall production tanked when his offense did the same.

Why did Gordon fade so quickly? There are many potential reasons. Age is one, an unavoidable factor that affects every player differently; Gordon entered his age-32 season in 2016. The increasing prevalence of defensive shifts are another; suddenly, sharply pulled ground balls that were hits in 2011 turned into routine, quiet outs. Injuries added up, too; Gordon tore his hip in 2009, tore his groin in 2015, and broke a part of his wrist in 2016.

But, ultimately, the why doesn’t really matter: Gordon was a shell of himself from 2016 on through his last game. If we are being honest with ourselves, Gordon’s failure to produce like the Royals needed him to is part of why we aren’t talking about a third or fourth postseason appearance by the Second Golden Age Royals.

Earlier this season, I had grown increasingly frustrated with Gordon. Not only was he flailing at the plate, but he was blocking younger Royals who showed promise and who were worth trying out. Gordon’s 391 innings in left field and 184 plate appearances could have been spent figuring out more about the outfield careers of Hunter Dozier, Ryan McBroom, Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips, and Nick Heath.

And so I was mentally prepared, even excited, to think about the outfield combinations the Royals could try out next year without Gordon anchoring left field every day. And it does seem interesting—Edward Olivares, Franchy Cordero, Kyle Isbel, and Khalil Lee have much more potential than Gordon did at the end of his career.

But what I was not prepared for was the emotional reaction to hearing about Gordon’s retirement. See, even though Gordon’s retirement is best for everybody involved, it doesn’t make it any less stunning or sad.

Gordon is part of a dying breed, that of the one-team star. Since 2007, the year Gordon broke into the league, Gordon is one of only seven players to play 1500 or more games with one team, and only two—Ryan Braun and Joey Votto—have played more games for one team than Gordon.

Does that matter in the end? To play so long for one place? Statisticians would say no. Certainly, statisticians would say that Gordon’s four-year free agent deal from 2016 was an abject disaster (as would non-statisticians, for that matter). There is no objective value from playing so long for one team beyond the product that is left on the field.

However, objective value isn’t the only thing that matters in life. It might not even be something that truly matters. Gordon’s legacy is not only that of wins and of championships and of happy fans. You can see that in the teammates across the league who honored Gordon over his last weekend. And you can see that in your own lives as Royals fans. Remember who you watched the playoff run with. Remember those you met because of your fandom. Remember the simple joy of turning on baseball when the world around you crumbles outside your control.

Gordon’s retirement is best for everybody—him, his family, the Royals organization, and through the young players that will hopefully bring the next great Royals playoff run, the fans. But it was a career well played, and no matter how much it may make sense for it to come to a close, there’s a part of us that will always long for it to continue.