Cruz 'really grateful' to retire as a Mariner

March 29th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- played in the Majors for 19 seasons, and his four-year stint in Seattle wasn’t even the longest with any of the eight clubs he played for. Yet, he felt more at home with the Mariners than anyone else.

The feeling was mutual, and the club recognized as much on Thursday when signing the 43-year-old to a one-day contract. “Boomstick” announced his retirement in November, but Thursday’s gesture ensured that he will go off into the proverbial sunset with the Mariners, even amidst the typical overcast weather at this time of year.

“I’m just really grateful to retire as a Mariner,” Cruz said.

Cruz was in town to throw the ceremonial first pitch, but the announcement for his one-day contract was a surprise, and it drew a huge roar from the ticketed 45,337 on hand.

The ceremony began with Cruz spiking the baseball on the mound, on purpose, before hurling it to Mariners Hall of Famer and former teammate Félix Hernández. Then, adorned in a white Mariners jersey by president of business operations Catie Griggs, Cruz signed the formal contract at home plate.

“I always identified myself with the Mariners, even though I played more years with the Rangers,” Cruz said. “I guess everything about Seattle. Even when I used to come as a visitor, that was my favorite place to come. When I was playing here, I felt like it was the place where I felt comfortable playing the game.”

Cruz left after the 2018 season, just ahead of the Mariners’ rebuild, yet he still has strong ties to the organization -- notably with chairman and managing general partner John Stanton and manager Scott Servais, who visited Cruz this offseason in Florida.

Cruz also played with who -- if not for his one-year stint in San Francisco last year -- would have been Seattle’s longest-tenured player. And Cruz recruited to play in last year’s World Baseball Classic, when he was the general manager for Team Dominican Republic.

“Mitch, he always looks pretty mature,” Cruz said. “He knows what he's doing. He was the player that always was the same, it didn't matter if he was going good or bad -- clutch situation or first at-bat, he was always dying to give you solid at-bats. I think you know just being yourself, that's how you can, I guess, even lead by example.

“Julio has become a leader at such a young age,” Cruz continued. “He understands that he has to be the face, that he has to be the guy who gets it on, day in and day out. And he takes that responsibility with a lot of joy. Seeing him now, he still looks like a baby, but he also seems like a grown man, like as strong as you can have.”

Cruz turned 43 last July, and was the Majors’ second-oldest player, a few months behind starting pitcher Rich Hill. And he was also the game’s oldest position player since Ichiro Suzuki famously played his final two games with the Mariners in Tokyo to start the 2019 season, at age 45.

A large part of Cruz’s longevity was due to his late bloom to the Majors, with the Brewers at age 24 in 2005, but also his rigorous commitment to on-field excellence and off-field conditioning. He didn’t truly come into his prime until his 30s, when he swatted 340 of his career 464 homers -- the eighth-most in history for any player during that decade of their life. That included 163 with Seattle, which ranks sixth-most in franchise history, and they were the most in the Majors during that stretch, from 2015-18.

"For this city, I would've died for the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Cruz said. “We didn't have that chance. Many years we were really close and the excitement from the fans and all that, it was incredible."

During Cruz’s four seasons with the Mariners, he averaged 41 homers and 104 RBIs per year, good for three All-Star selections and two Silver Slugger Awards. A case could be made that he’s unquestionably the second-best in team history at the designated hitter position, behind Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.