Nick Markakis played with only two teams during a solid 15-year career before retiring Friday. … [+]
Close but no cigar.
That phrase describes so many aspects of the 15 years Nick Markakis spent in the major leagues.
Before his retirement Friday at age 37, he had played in the most games (1,966) without ever reaching the World Series.
Before he was elected a starting outfielder for the National League in the 2018 All-Star Game, he had played the most games (1,928) of anyone chosen to be an All-Star for the first time.
On a slow-but-steady march to 3,000 career hits, he chose instead to opt out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns but then decided to come back. A starter when he left but a reserve when he returned, he then watched from the bench as his team came within a few innings of its first pennant since 1999 and the first at any time for Markakis.
That would be his last hurrah. With his contract expired, Markakis entered the murky waters of free agency last fall but found no takers.
Raised in Atlanta, he had hoped to remain with the Braves, his team for the last six seasons. But he could see the handwriting on the wall.
After losing a reported $100 million in the pandemic, the Braves chose not to tender a contract to Adam Duvall, an outfielder with more power than Markakis, and to promote a 22-year-old rookie defensive whiz named Cristian Pache to patrol center field.
That meant Ronald Acuña, Jr., 23, would play right field and Marcell Ozuna, 30, would play left after spending the virus-shortened 2020 campaign as a designated hitter. All Ozuna did was lead the National League in home runs (18), runs batted in (56), and total bases (145) – while playing all 60 games.
Nick Markakis spent his final six seasons with his hometown team, the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by … [+]
Those were figures Markakis couldn’t match even in his younger years. He retired with a .288 batting average, .357 on-base percentage, .392 slugging percentage, and .704 OPS (on-base plus slugging). He had 189 home runs but had not hit more than 15, when he was with his first team, the Baltimore Orioles.
With 2,388 hits – 514 of them doubles – Markakis had an outside shot at the 3,000 Hit Club. His average for 162 games was 180 hits per year, according to Baseball-Reference.com. To get there, he would have needed three things: a chance to play every day, continued good health, and no work stoppages – no pandemic-shortened season, opt-outs, or labor disputes (a strong possibility after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and owners expires on Dec. 1, 2021).
At his peak, with the Orioles, Markakis made $15 million a year. Last year, his $4 million contract was pro-rated to $1,481,481 and eventually terminated when the Braves bought him out rather than exercise their club option. That had also happened in Baltimore.
“I’m gonna be a stay-at-home dad,” he told long-time Braves beat writer Dave O’Brien of The Athletic. “I just think it’s my time. My No. 1 decision and my main focus on this is obviously my kids and my family. I’ve been fortunate enough to do this for a very long time and not many people get to do what I’ve gone through. I’m thankful for every second and every minute.”
Markakis and his wife Christina have three young boys, aged 7-12, and live in the suburban Atlanta town of Alpharetta.
Born in Glen Cove, NY but raised and schooled in Georgia, Markakis was highly-respected both in his own clubhouse and in the opinion of opponents. Quiet, stoic, and completely devoid of controversy, he was widely considered the ultimate professional.
Nick Markakis won three Gold Gloves during his career. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
He won three Gold Gloves for his play in right field but spent more time in left as his once-strong arm lost a little in recent years. Only seven previous players have spent more time in right field than Markakis, who still holds the major-league mark for most consecutive errorless games by an outfielder (398). He also ranks sixth in putouts by a right-fielder.
During the confusion of the pandemic last year, Markakis decided to opt out – one of about 20 players who did so – after Braves slugger Freddie Freeman came down with a case of Covid-19 during the second spring training.
When Freeman made a quick recovery, embarking on a season that ended with a Most Valuable Player award, Markakis rejoined the club, helping it win its third straight National League East division title.
In his final flurry, the NL Championship Series, he hit .250 against the Los Angeles Dodgers with four hits – including a double and triple – in 16 at-bats. In his career, he played in seven playoff series but was never with a team that won a pennant.
I’m a former Associated Press sportswriter whose journalism career began in 1969 after graduating from Syracuse University with B.A. degrees in newspaper journalism and