MILWAUKEE -- This time, he’s sure. Jordan Zimmermann is retiring from Major League Baseball.
Zimmermann, the pride of Auburndale, Wis., and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who made a pair of All-Star teams with the Nationals, twice garnered National League Cy Young Award votes and once led the NL in wins before struggling to shoulder the expectations of a $110 million contract with Detroit, made the announcement through tears on Tuesday morning via the Brewers, the team he cheered on as a boy.
He’d signed a Minor League deal with his home-state team in February to attempt a comeback, but pitched only twice for the Brewers in relief before hanging up his spikes for good.
Zimmermann’s announcement came 12 days shy of his 35th birthday.
“After 15 years of playing ball, my mind was still in it but my body wasn't,” Zimmermann said on an emotional Zoom session with reporters from all three of his big league stops. “I felt like it was the right time to call it a career, and I'm happy to start the next chapter of my life.”
He’d been contemplating retirement for a while. Zimmermann stuck with the Brewers’ alternate site squad to begin the season, making the 90-minute commute from his home to Appleton, Wis., on days he pitched once that site opened in the second week of April. By the end of the month, he was weary of the trek, instructed his agent to inform the Brewers he was retiring, and drove up north to a riverfront property to fish and ponder his next step.
Turns out, the next step was the big leagues. Right out of a movie script, the Brewers purchased Zimmermann’s contract the next day and called him up to the big leagues, so Zimmermann put retirement on hold.
“It was pretty cool that they called this offseason to give me a chance and it was pretty crazy how [the callup] happened,” Zimmermann said. “I was basically retired for a couple hours when they gave me a call and say they needed some help so I came down, gave them a few innings and tried to bridge the gap because they had a lot of injured list guys. I knew I wouldn't be there long, but I want to be able to help them out and have those other guys get healthy. At this point, there's a lot of them getting healthier and ready to come back. So, that was kind of what I wanted to do to, help this team out and I was happy I was able to do that.”
Zimmermann pitched twice for the Brewers, becoming the 11th Wisconsin-born player to appear for the Crew when he allowed five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings of a blowout loss to the Dodgers at American Family Field on May 2. His only other appearance was on Friday at Miami, when he pitched two scoreless innings of a 6-1 loss. Zimmermann’s average four-seam fastball this year was 89.7 mph, down from a peak of 94.7 mph in 2014, when he made a second straight NL All-Star team and was on his way to a 2.66 ERA in 199 2/3 innings.
Speaking frankly, Zimmermann said he struggled with the rigors of the bullpen after so many years on a regular schedule, and suggested that an IL stint was inevitable had he continued on.
All told, Zimmermann was 95-91 with a 4.07 ERA in 279 games (275 starts) spanning more than 1,600 innings and parts of 13 Major League seasons. That includes a 70-50 record with a 3.32 ERA in 178 starts for the Nationals -- including a no-hitter in 2014, their first since the franchise moved from Montreal -- and a 25-41 record with a 5.63 ERA in 97 starts plus two relief appearances for the Tigers. He then finished his career with the Brewers.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to congratulate Jordan on a long and distinguished career,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said in the team’s statement. “We are thrilled that Jordan was ultimately able to wear the uniform of his hometown team, and we wish he and his family all the best in retirement.”
Zimmermann's career 20.3 bWAR is 11th-highest in history for a pitcher born in Wisconsin.
The final two questions of Tuesday’s media session tugged at Zimmermann’s emotions. The first was about the fans in Washington. The second was about his struggles in Detroit, prompting Zimmermann to break down before finally saying, “I wish I could have given more. The body just wasn’t holding up.”
“You go back and look at the career he’s had and it’s unbelievable,” Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff said. “His story and everything, finishing here in Milwaukee, is pretty cool. He just knew it was the right time and decided to officially do it this time. I wished him well; he had a heck of a career.”
Zimmermann was asked what’s next.
“Pick my feet up for a few days and then I’ll go from there, I guess,” he said. “Honestly, I haven’t really thought anything on that. As soon as I’m done with this, I’m going up north to my lake house and am going to spend a few days up there. I haven’t really thought about it at all.”