ATLANTA -- Instead of attempting to resume his career with the Braves, Tyler Flowers has decided to retire from a playing career that gave him much more than he ever envisioned.
“Honestly, it was beyond my dreams to play in the big leagues for 10 years,” Flowers said. “I always just wanted to make it to the first arbitration just to say I made it long enough in this game to get paid, which is more than a majority of people in this game can say. I never imagined to make it this far.”
Flowers informed MLB.com that he had opted to retire on Thursday. The veteran catcher had recently signed a Minor League deal with the Braves and had hopes of joining Atlanta’s active roster within the next few weeks. But the 35-year-old veteran injured his back again this past weekend and quickly realized it was time to call it quits.
Over the past few seasons, Flowers dealt with the discomfort caused by two degenerative discs in his back. He laughed when he said, he now has three.
“I have another disc now that’s even worse than the other two,” Flowers said. “Basically, it was going to take months of rehab and training to hopefully compensate for that issue that I have in my spine now from catching. For me, it just wasn't worthwhile.”
Flowers hit .237 with 86 home runs and a .710 OPS over 802 games at the Major League level. The suburban Atlanta native played for the White Sox from 2009-15 and then spent the final five seasons of his career with the hometown Braves. He will always be remembered as one of the most successful pioneers in the art of pitch framing.
“If anybody knows my name, [pitch framing] is kind of what they associate it with,” Flowers said. “Not that many people know my name across the country. If they do, they’re really into pitch framing and skilled strikes.”
Fortunately for the Braves, they will continue to benefit from the presence of Flowers, who will continue to aid the team’s analytical department with pregame preparations. He was handling this job until the club became short-handed when veteran catcher Travis d’Arnaud had to undergo thumb surgery a few weeks ago.
Before d’Arnaud had been injured, Flowers had already started assuming his playing days were done. He never entertained playing anywhere other than Atlanta this past winter and really only agreed to try to play once the team was put in a bind.
Shortly after becoming the White Sox primary catcher in 2013, Flowers began studying other catchers, trying to get a feel for how to best get strikes called on borderline pitches. His diligent study proved fruitful as he ranked fourth among MLB catchers (min. 3,500 innings) with a 94.3 Defensive WAR from 2015-19.
It didn’t matter that he possessed one of the game’s weakest arms or produced a couple league-leading passed balls totals along the way. He was highly regarded within the industry because of his ability to help his pitchers.
Since Statcast began collecting the data in 2015, Flowers ranks second among all MLB catchers with 58 Runs Extra Strikes.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Braves catching coach Sal Fasano said. “You look across the league now and see how many catchers are on one knee. That’s a tribute to Tyler and his ability to steal strikes. He was one of those transforming players.”
It would have been hard to predict Flowers’ intellect would ultimately set him apart in this game. He was a bruising linebacker and fullback who had a chance to play both football and baseball at the University of Georgia. His baseball years with Blessed Trinity High School were spent as a shortstop, third baseman and closer. He estimates he caught just two games before going to Chipola Junior College to spend two years learning how to be a catcher.
“Al Goetz was who signed me,” Flowers said. “He said every time he’d come watch me play, he saw my face more than my [butt]. So, he had a hard time signing me as a catcher.”
Though Flowers might have chased a few too many balls to the backstop during those college years, the Braves took him in the 33rd round of the 2005 MLB Draft. A few years later, the lifetime Atlanta fan enjoyed his first big league camp and took advantage of the chance to make Chipper Jones feel old.
“I told him, 'Dude, you were at my elementary school your first big league season,” Flowers said. “This is the best part of it. He literally sat next to me for lunch that day when I was in the fourth grade. He literally sat next to me at Bells Ferry Elementary. Just imagine his surprise when I showed up in camp and told him that story.”
While Jones’ response might not have been suitable for print, that memory is one forever cherished by Flowers, who is currently building a house just a few doors down from the one inhabited by the Hall of Fame third baseman.
Flowers never had a chance to play with Jones. He was sent to the White Sox as part of the trade that brought Javier Vázquez to the Braves for the 2009 season.
Though Flowers debuted for the White Sox in 2009, he didn’t gain a regular role at the big league level until the second half of the 2011 season. His offensive struggles continued until he hit a career-high 15 homers for Chicago in 2014. He played one more year in the Windy City and then requested to be non-tendered because he knew then-White Sox manager Robin Ventura would give Alex Avila the majority of playing time the next year.
The non-tender opened the door for Flowers to return to the Braves, who quickly jumped at the opportunity to make him a significant part of their rebuild. He aided many of the club’s young pitchers and ultimately helped Atlanta win three straight National League East titles from 2018-20.
“Having been traded away, I didn’t have it on my radar at all,” Flowers said. “Then, Atlanta was the first team to call and I was blown away by that.”
Flowers’ return was enhanced by a conversation he shared with Bobby Cox during Spring Training in 2016. Upon being traded to the White Sox, the young catcher had written thank you notes to Cox and a few other members of the Braves organization who had positively impacted him.
When given the chance to reunite, Cox let Flowers know how much he appreciated the letter.
“He came up to me and said something about how he was blown away that a young kid would take the time to write something like that to reflect on that moment and thank people,” Flowers said. “I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Bobby Cox actually read my letter.”
Though his playing days are done, Flowers will remain a part of Cox’s beloved organization and continue living the dream of being an integral part of his hometown organization.
“I wasn’t the best player on the field, for sure,” Flowers said. “But apparently I did it in a good enough fashion where the desire is still there to have me involved in whatever capacity I'd like. That's a very satisfying feeling.”