Jarrod Parker, a once promising ace-in-the-making for the Oakland Athletics, officially announced his retirement from baseball Tuesday, at the age of just 29.
It was an unfortunate announcement for the young, once highly-touted pitcher.
Parker was drafted ninth overall out of high school in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He missed out on what would have been his first professional season that year, waiting to sign with the team until August, after vacillating between moving forward on his path to the majors or going to Georgia Tech.
He chose the majors over college. Despite missing out on playing in the summer of 2007, Parker was so highly regarded and so talented that he jumped straight into Single-A ball in 2008, impressing everyone as a 19-year-old by striking out 177 batters in just 117 innings of work.
He moved swiftly through the Diamondbacks’ farm system beginning the 2009 season at the Diamondbacks’ High-A affiliate and was promoted to Double-A by mid-April. Yet, during a start on July 30 of that year Parker injured his elbow for the first time.
The injury was a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the kind that requires Tommy John surgery, and he missed out on the remainder of the 2009 season as well as all of 2010.
Many pitchers comeback from their first Tommy John surgery pitching as good or better than they had before. Parker came back stong, making his big league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers in September 2011, pitching five-plus innings of shutout baseball.
The Oakland Athletics saw an opportunity in Parker and took a chance on the youngster trading for him, reliever Ryan Cook and outfield prospect Collin Cowgill while, sending starter Trevor Cahill and reliever Craig Breslow to the Diamondbacks prior to the 2012 season.
Parker began the 2012 season with the A’s Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, but was called up before the end of April and pitched two incredible seasons for the Athletics in 2012 and 2013.
He went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA en route to a fifth-place finish in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. That year he started both Game 1 and Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.
The A’s lost in five games and Parker lost both of his starts, despite allowing just a total of six runs over 12.2 innings. To Parker’s credit, he was facing off with one of baseball’s best offenses and pitcher, Justin Verlander, who was coming off of a 2011 season in which he won both the AL MVP and Cy Young Award.
In 2013, he posted a 12-8 record and 3.97 ERA over 32 starts, setting a franchise record by making 19 consecutive starts without a loss.
This time, however, Sonny Gray took on Verlander in Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS. Both games were close and both were losses for Oakland. Yet in 2013, Parker got his lone postseason victory defeating the Tigers 6-3 in Game 3.
Despite the A’s postseason woes in 2012 and 2013, Parker was an instrumental part in getting the team to that point. His arsenal included a low-90’s fastball, a slider that also registered in the low 90’s on the radar gun, a changeup that average around 10 MPH slower than his fastball and a rarely-seen, but still effective, mid-70’s curveball.
It appeared that the A’s had two aces on their hands now with Gray and Parker, but it was announced in March of 2014 that Parker was to undergo his second Tommy John surgery at the mere age of 25.
Determined to make a comeback after his second Tommy John procedure, Parker was back on the mound just 13 months post-op. However, during rehab start in May of 2015, Parker suffered a medial epicondyle fracture in his right elbow that rendered him out for yet another season.
The surgery to repair Parker’s fracture in 2015 was not of the Tommy John variety, but it was a third season-ending surgery on the same elbow, making another comeback attempt that much more difficult.
He made one last comeback attempt in March of 2016, but that was quickly over after he suffered his second fracture of the medial epicondyle bone, and was forced to undergo a fourth right elbow surgery.
Finally, the ever-determined Parker made the announcement that everyone had been expecting since his second and third surgeries. He’s now finishing up the official process and paperwork for retirement.
Not surprisingly, Parker has the same astonishingly, positive and determined attitude he always did when he was attempting to comeback to pitch competitively.
As Susan Slusser at the San Francisco Chronicle reports he’s now taking a different and likely, even more important, life path.
“He would like a career in the health industry after seeing it up close for so many years — ” writes Slusser, “perhaps becoming a rehab coordinator or opening a performance institute for top-level athletes. Parker is educating himself about the field and looking into certification options with the goal of using his difficult experiences to help others.”
“I’d like to pass along that knowledge and information. I know the mental battles — and I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
This story is even more tragic when you hear what other players and the A’s brass have to say about Parker.
“When people ask me the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, I always tell them Jarrod Parker. His ability was pretty special. It’s so unfortunate baseball didn’t get to see him pitch longer, because he was amazing to watch.”
Retired infielder and seven-time All-Star Michael Young faced Parker while with the Texas Rangers in 2012, actually breaking up a no-hitter Parker had taken through seven full innings with a single to lead off the eighth, sent this tweet out upon hearing of Parker’s retirement,
All the best to him. Faced him when he first came up in Oakland. Easily one of the best young kids in the game. Big bag of filth on the bump. https://t.co/OxSTVB827g
— Michael Young (@MikeyY626) February 13, 2018
A’s vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane described losing Parker’s talent so suddenly after his contributions in 2012-13 as a “huge blow,” his subsequent injuries as “horrific” and the end of his baseball career “just heartbreaking. Really, a career interrupted.”
Now Parker is finally ready to move on. His first season truly being away from the game in 2017 was a rough one for the 29-year-old. With his second season away from baseball now beginning Parker told Slusser,
“It’s easier. I’m keeping in touch with a few guys and I’m able to be a fan again.”
Now he can and intends to help others recovering from major injuries, some will play again while others, like Parker, won’t. Parker has the knowledge to understand what it is like to comeback and what a player goes through in mourning the loss of their career. He knows the struggles of recovery and rehabilitation.
While it seems that this announcement probably should have come prior to his last comeback attempts, Parker doesn’t seem to have regrets and will be a great help to others. Even without baseball his future is very bright.