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Why would a 25-year-old quit baseball after his MLB debut?

Oct 30, 2013, 1:20 PM EDT

adrian cardenas cubs Getty Images

Adrian Cardenas was a Phillies first-round pick in 2006 and established himself as a solid second base prospect, getting traded to the A’s for Joe Blanton in mid-2008.

He hit .292 at Triple-A and got a cup of coffee with the Cubs last season, appearing in 45 games as a 24-year-old, but decided not to play this season and is now retired.

And he wrote a really interesting essay for The New Yorker about why he called it quits so young, including this excerpt:

I quit because baseball was sacred to me until I started getting paid for it. The more that “baseball” became synonymous with “business,” the less it meant to me, and I saw less of myself in the game every time I got a check from the Philadelphia Phillies Organization, the Oakland Athletic Company, or the Chicago Cubs, L.L.C. To put it simply, other players were much better than I was at separating the game of baseball from the job of baseball. They could enjoy the thrill of a win—as it should be enjoyed—without thinking of what it meant to the owners’ bottom lines. These players, at once the objects of my envy and my admiration, are the resilient ones, still in the game. I am no longer one of them.

You should definitely read the whole thing, because it’s a fascinating glimpse into something most of us could never understand and Cardenas might have a future as a writer.

  1. esracerx46 - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    I hope Cardenas does something as a writer. He obviously loves the sport, and his story was well put together. Kudos to you Adrian.

  2. pinkfloydprism - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    While noble on his part… I think I could be able to separate the business side for those ridiculous salaries any day. Most likely set for life for playing a game? Walking away from that is like throwing away a winning lottery ticket because you did not like the color of the paper it was printed on.

    • ptfu - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      His priorities are different from yours.

      • pinkfloydprism - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:25 PM

        I would not assume anything, which you obviously are.

    • bmoss1019 - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:16 PM

      The average A-Ball player makes $850 a month. Doesn’t sound so great. For every guy that makes it to the show, there’s 500 that never do.

    • Bryz - Oct 30, 2013 at 6:41 PM

      “Walking away from that is like throwing away a winning lottery ticket because you did not like the color of the paper it was printed on.”

      That’s a terrible analogy, it would have worked better if Cardenas was saying he was quitting baseball because he didn’t like the color of his uniform.

      To me, it sounds like Cardenas quit because baseball used to be fun until it became a job. Then you’re playing for someone else instead of for yourself.

      I think it’s pretty clear that you don’t understand his thought process.

      • pinkfloydprism - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:47 AM

        It also should be clear that I do not care what you think.

  3. jm91rs - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    It’s always admirable when someone quits a high paying job because they just don’t love it and it’s more important to them to like life than to become rich. It’s obviously hard to understand how someone wouldn’t like playing baseball for a living, but it’s admirable that he’s making his own decisions rather than following the money.

  4. dw3dw - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    The A’s had a prospect, Grant Desme, who walked away from baseball to become a priest. At the time he was ranked by BA #8 overall in the A’s system. Some guys just have to do what they feel is right and leave potential earnings on the the table.

  5. blingslade - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Yeah, he’ll be back in baseball next year.

  6. apkyletexas - Oct 30, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    His retirement wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that, after 6 years in the minors playing for 7 different teams all over the country, he finally got a shot at the majors and had the following line: .183/.269/.283.

    Would it?

    Maybe he doesn’t want to ride the bus between Iowa and Indianapolis anymore.

    • paperlions - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Yeah, because, you know….67 PAs is enough to reach a solid conclusion. That is like suggesting that a golfer that works hard to get his PGA card could make a career decisions after failing to make the cut of his first event.

      • clydeserra - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:41 PM

        he had no position. He is not a good fielder. He never slugged higher that his batting average and his OBA kept tumbling. I was surprised when I found out he actually got a call up.

        Talented piano player. Good in interviews.

      • paperlions - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        First, he always slugged higher than his batting average, because it is almost impossible not to. He also generally slugged over .400, which isn’t horrible for a 2B.

        Second, his “tumbling” OBP was .374 and .381 his last 2 years in AAA, which is both pretty good and not tumbling at all.

        Right now he is 2 years younger than Matt Carpenter, who 2 years ago would have been described as a non-prospect with a position, power, or speed….and who put up very similar stat lines in the minors.

      • clydeserra - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Slugging 400 at AAA is not anything to get excited about.

        you got me on the OBA. I was factually wrong.

        But, my point, that he was no great shakes, stands, as he was a year older with the 381, repeating a level and there is no functional difference between 374 and 381

      • clydeserra - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        also he is not a secondbaseperson. he cannot play defense. anywhere.

        Matt Capenter is a college draftee, Cardenas was a high school kid. its not really apples to apples, but Carpenter should more power in 2011 (AAA) when he was 24(? i didn’t do the math) than Adrian ever did anywhere. it is not a good comp.

  7. kruegere - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Well, that was a long-winded piece of self-justification.

    Now, I’d like to hear the truth.

    • slickdemetrius - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      Because while MLB may pay more, the porn industry is a hell of a lot more fun.

      • gloccamorra - Oct 30, 2013 at 11:26 PM

        I don’t know about that. I watched the adult film awards (the Dickies) on the Playboy Channel years ago, and a dumpy, rumpled producer got up for an award in front of the producers and actors in tuxes and evening gowns and said, “What a crowd! Half the people in this room are under indictment, and the other half have herpes.”

  8. rickdobrydney - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    He definitely has a future as a writer — I would expect a book at some point detailing his minor league experiences……

  9. anjichpa - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    He’s not the first talented former player that I believe has struggled with this line of thinking. I know a former college star- and high-round draft pick- that seemed to hate baseball by the time I knew him. By all accounts, he loved the game when he was younger.

    This guy, and Cardenas, seem to suffer from the overjustification effect- an extension of self-perception theory where your intrinsic joy diminishes as you attribute your motivation to an extrinsic reward (money).

    You can find a longer read at the You Are Not So Smart blog:

    Or straight to the source of probably the most well-known study of it:

  10. jarathen - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:39 PM

    It reminds me of Bill Watterson’s commencement speech, which, if you haven’t read it, is thrilling. So do that. Cardenas realized that this life wasn’t his own personal standard for success, so he changed direction. Good for him. Too much of life is about being another fish swimming upstream.

  11. lyon810 - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    This guy is a beast in my MVP Baseball 08 PC game

  12. happytwinsfan - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    it’s easy enough to decide that money isn’t everything when you’re given a million bucks at age 18, but a little more difficult to accept when attempting a little “creative writing” of my own at this place they insist on calling “work”.

    • pastabelly - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      You have to wonder if he’d feel the same if he actually had success at the major league level and had not been a bust. It’s a lot easier to leave the game after taking a $1 million bonus and becoming a first round bust than it is if he became a Bryce Harper. I suppose that $1 million check from the Philadelphia Phillies Organization didn’t bother him enough to spend the next several years riding buses in the minor leagues. Just about every first round draft pick comes up and they have nothing but people kissing their rear ends and telling them how great they are. Well, this guy was probably worshiped in high school and that praise sort of died out once it was determined that he was a bust.

  13. pixteca - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I’ve always thought (and felt) that when you get onto the field for a competitive game you just forget everything outside of that game. Just like you let go of family problems, pregnant wives, or even friends and good stuff and JUST PLAY the game. You don’t enjoy it anymore like only little kids do, but you do enjoy it and I bet everyone gets nervous and excited and worry about everything about that game but you do enjoy it because it is special because that’s baseball. I don’t understand how he could be thinking about deals and payments the moment he stepped on that grass in order to not enjoy it enymore. (I don’t know if I explain myself, since english is not my native language) There may be something else and I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I’m sure I’m missing a lot. I’ll read it later since this is a very interesting view of a baseball career and it’s end. Good luck to Adrian and I hope he enjoys the game more now that he’s not in it as a pro.

    • clydeserra - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      I am sure you can’t imagine thinking about business while playing, but we are all different.

      I could be wrong, but I think I read that English is not Mr. Cardenas’s native language either.

      and some FYI stuff

  14. inhabitedman - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    If he thinks that getting paid ruins the experience of doing something he loves, then writing is definitely the career for him.

  15. kcroyal - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    He could have donated all that evil money to charity and kept playing the game he loved. Just a thought.

  16. supersportguy - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    I’m sure it had nothing to do with hitting .183 with zero home runs.

  17. billybawl - Oct 30, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    There are lots of people who make tons of money doing something they don’t enjoy — doctors, lawyers, etc. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes a very talented and generously compensated athlete doesn’t enjoy 162 games a year, plus spring training, plus off-season workouts, plus endless travel and hotel rooms. Sounds like he has plenty of options, so good for him to move on with his life while he’s young.

  18. felser - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    4A player who may have had a few more cups of coffee in the Bigs. Yes, he could probably milk out some more money from baseball, but good for him if he doesn’t want to or need to. As noted, no defensive value, no power. Appeared to be a bench player at best, more likely organizational depth.

  19. nothanksimdriving123 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    I wonder if some folks are seeing more nobility in his story than is there. What he seems to be saying is he found he enjoys other things more than baseball, and that it somehow hadn’t occurred to him that if someone was going to pay him for doing something, then that made it a business. OK.

  20. Caught Looking - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    I respect and won’t question his decision. But don’t many of us like/love what we do and have to separate the fact that while were also passionate about the work we do, we separate it from the fact that the CEO is making 300x or that the owners/shareholders are reaping the bulk of the financial impact?

  21. rockytony - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    It sure sounds to me like this was a glorified way to cover up the player’s “fear of failure.” It is a tough sport to play and when this kid looked around and saw all those good players, this incited him to think about a graceful way out,, it took its toll, resulting in this embellished reason for a way out. Oh and by the way he hit .183 and fielded .944 in an abbreviated stint with the Cubs in 2012, his only stint in the Major Leagues and similarly in a seven year minor league career, he hit a composite .183 as well. Cop out? You bet.

  22. jollyjoker2 - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    Sounds like an IDIOT who has never grown up. You work 40-50 years of your life and some douche like this who has talent can work 5 – 10 and RETIRE. Its a shame when people don’t use their talent. Sacred? gimme a break you loser.

  23. tfbuckfutter - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    I wouldn’t want to play for the Cubs either.

  24. bluemarlin528 - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    He probably signed up for Obama care and figured he didn’t need to work anymore.

    • deepstblu - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Making it to a major league roster gets you healthcare for life, so he’s covered.

  25. shanabartels - Oct 30, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Why are so many commenters offended that this guy didn’t feel like playing baseball was right for him anymore? We can’t impose our own standards of decision making on him. It’s his life.

    Does it bother you so much that this blog’s own Craig Calcaterra didn’t want to be a corporate lawyer anymore and became a baseball writer instead? Do you guys berate Craig for transitioning his career to something that undoubtedly pays a lot less, but presumably allows him to spend more time with his kids? No, because it’s his life, and last time I checked, this is America and we can’t dictate how other people prioritize things in their lives.

    Jeez, guys. Let this kid make his own choices.

    • metalhead65 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:33 AM

      he was free to make a choice and he did but to try and make it like sound like it was some kind of noble sacrifice when it wasn’t is going over the top. so he did not realize it was a business when he got his million dollar bonus check? sounds to me like he realized he had gone as far as he was going and decided he did not want to do it anymore. easy choice to make when you are paid all that money to start with. glad he is happy now but it is not like we are talking about a harper or trout here who suddenly decide they do not want to play the game anymore.

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