Season over, Howie faces 'toughest decision'

15-year veteran planned 2020 to be his final year; now, he's unsure

September 25th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- has a heavy decision to ponder when he enters free agency this winter: return for a 16th Major League season or retire?

“I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t really come up with anything,” Kendrick, 37, said on Friday. “I love baseball, I love the game. That’s one of the toughest decisions you’re ever going to make. Being around these guys and playing here in D.C., it’s really been a dream come true.”

Kendrick’s 2020 season was cut short because of injuries. A left hamstring strain landed him on the IL on Sept. 9 (retroactive to Sept. 6), and he was limited to just 25 games. By the time Kendrick made his last appearance on Sept. 6, he estimates he was able to run at only 40 to 50 percent.

“It just took a lot longer than I thought it was going to,” Kendrick said of his recovery. “I was hoping to make a return to the season this year, but it just didn’t seem to progress the way it did previously. I had injured it probably a month and a half ago, and I was just kind of playing with it.”

Kendrick slashed .275/.320/.385 with a .705 OPS this year. He tallied 25 hits, 14 RBIs and 11 runs scored in 100 plate appearances. He stepped into the new universal designated hitter role for 19 games, and manned first base in the other six. Kendrick showed he still can contribute; the question is more about his health. His 1,621 career games have taken a toll on his body over the years.

“I talked to David Ortiz the year he retired,” Kendrick recounted. “I was like, ‘Man, you’re hitting .350 or whatever. You’re going to retire?’ He said, ‘Man, you don’t see the stuff I have to do every day to get ready.’ A lot of guys before me -- Derek Jeter, Torii Hunter, all those guys -- they would always say, ‘Once you get into your 30s, man, you’ve got to really start doing a lot more maintenance.’ I used to just laugh at those guys because there I was, 22.”

Had this been a traditional 162-game season, Kendrick’s mindset in the final days of September would have been different. He went into 2020 prepared for it to be his swan song; the coronavirus pandemic changed those plans. After being in the league since 2006 and winning his first World Series last year, he didn’t want to bid farewell under these circumstances.

“This year was going to be my last year before COVID, to be honest with you, if you guys really want to know. I was thinking about retiring after this year, but because of COVID, it kind of raised the question of like, ‘Man, do you want to go out like this? Do you want 2020 to be any worse?’" Kendrick laughed. "... It is a strange year. To think that you would end on a year like this, it is a tough one.

“Like I said, I haven’t made any decision about what I was going to do yet. But I want to get healthy first and talk with my family and then decide, because right now, being hurt, I wasn’t too happy about finishing this way. We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to say yes and I don’t want to say no because right now I don’t really have an answer."

Kendrick plans to return home, recover with the therapist he’s worked with for years and assess the outlook of his health for another season. Whether he is playing the role of veteran leader or family man next year, he will be happy with his next step.

“When you see guys that came up right around the time you did that are retiring or already gone, and you look at the free-agent list and there’s only one guy that has more time than you, you know you’ve been around a long time,” Kendrick said. “But that also says a lot about the way you went about the game and the work you put in.

“If this did end up being my last year, I could tell you, I really don’t have any regrets.”