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Markakis elects not to play in 2020

@mlbbowman
July 6, 2020

ATLANTA -- Nick Markakis' passion and genuine love for baseball have grown stronger over the course of his long Major League career. But after getting a taste of the game’s altered landscape and sharing a conversation with the recently ill Freddie Freeman, Markakis has elected not to play this year.

ATLANTA -- Nick Markakis' passion and genuine love for baseball have grown stronger over the course of his long Major League career.

But after getting a taste of the game’s altered landscape and sharing a conversation with the recently ill Freddie Freeman, Markakis has elected not to play this year. The Braves outfielder explained his decision on Monday morning.

“Hopefully, this isn’t the end of my road,” said Markakis, a 14-year veteran. “We’ll see how this season plays out going into next year. I’ll base my decision off what happens after this year. I hope everybody stays healthy. I hope this virus gets kicked soon. I hope everybody can get back to normal. I hope baseball gets back to normal because we play a kid’s game. This game is supposed to be fun.

“When we have fans in the stands and there’s a competitive edge, this is the best game. This is America’s game right here. You just hate to see it in this state of mind. I get it. But when you’re used to something for so long and they take it from you, it kind of puts things in perspective. I’m definitely going to miss it this year.”

Markakis understands that MLB had no choice but to implement strict health and safety protocols to fight against the spread of COVID-19. But the 36-year-old outfielder is also at the stage of his career where he doesn’t need to subject himself to greater risks when the rewards will likely not feel as gratifying.

Since debuting for the Orioles in 2006, Markakis has gotten used to a lifestyle that won’t exist this year. Social distancing practices will significantly alter the clubhouse culture and the lack of fans in the stands will temper some of the game’s natural excitement.

Then, of course, there’s the reality that the travel and other realities of the season could increase the odds that a player will contract the coronavirus. This is something Markakis thought of over the weekend, when he talked to Freeman, who tested positive on Friday.

“Just hearing the way he sounded on the phone kind of opened my eyes,” Markakis said. “Freddie didn’t sound good.”

Freeman battled a fever for nearly three days, but he has felt much better over the past two days. Once he receives clearance to return, he will join a club that no longer includes Markakis and Félix Hernández, who announced late Saturday night he had elected not to play this year.

Players who have a condition that makes them high risk can opt out for the season and still draw their full prorated salary. Markakis and Hernández will not be paid because their decision to not play was not influenced by a previous health issue.

Hernández has made more than $200 million in his career and was set to make less than $400,000 this year. Having collected more than $100 million in his career, Markakis was in a position where he could pass on the approximate $1.5 million he could have made this year.

“I’m at the point of my career where I’m not chasing the money or any of that,” Markakis said. “I want to win and have fun. This game is about having fun. To have to go out there and play in an environment without fans, it’s not baseball to me.”

With Markakis out of the picture, the Braves will need to assess how to account for one less left-handed hitter on their roster. The veteran outfielder was a candidate to draw some starts in left field or possibly be utilized as a designated hitter. If nothing else, he’d have given manager Brian Snitker a quality left-handed pinch-hit option.

“I think when you lose a guy of that stature and what he brings and the player he is, it doesn’t help you, that’s for sure,” Snitker said. “Someone else is going to get an opportunity.”

Markakis, who has 2,355 career hits, slashed .285/.356/.420 with 25 doubles, nine homers and 62 RBIs in 116 games in 2019, his fifth season in Atlanta.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.