Popular infielder McDonald calls it a career

Listed at 5-foot-9, defensive-minded player enjoyed 16 years in bigs with eight teams

Popular infielder McDonald calls it a career

ANAHEIM -- John McDonald, who willed his way through a 16-year career with eight different teams as a backup infielder, has decided to retire from the game at age 40. News of his decision spread Wednesday, when four teams -- the Indians, Blue Jays, D-backs and Angels -- offered up congratulations through their individual Twitter accounts.

McDonald was that popular.

He was only 5-foot-9, never had much power, didn't possess great arm strength and couldn't even run that fast, but he established himself as an ideal backup infielder thanks to lightning-quick hands, a slick glove, unmatched work ethic and innate smarts. He was a favorite in every clubhouse, popular among beat reporters all over the country and was cheered at almost every ballpark he returned to as a visitor.

McDonald played in 1,100 games from 1999-2014, spending seven years each with the Indians and Blue Jays. He backed up Omar Vizquel in Cleveland, played on four teams in 2013 -- Pirates, Indians, Phillies, Red Sox -- and also made stops with the D-backs, Tigers and, lastly, Angels.

The Connecticut product won a job with the Angels in Spring Training -- after agreeing to his first Minor League contract -- and spent the entire regular season on their active roster, primarily serving as a late-game defensive replacement for third baseman David Freese.

McDonald always felt the game would be the one to retire him.

"I never really thought it was up to me to retire," McDonald said as the 2014 season was winding down. "I always thought the 30 teams would retire me when they decide I'm no longer worthy of one of those spots."

McDonald averaged only 41 starts per season, but continually found work thanks to his sharp defensive skills and winning personality. He produced a .233/.273/.323 slash line with 28 homers in 2,651 career plate appearances, but he had 15 Defensive Runs Saved in 1,376 innings at second base, and 51 Defensive Runs Saved in 4,082 innings at shortstop.

Upon turning 40 on Sept. 24, McDonald talked about how surprised he was that he even played past 30.

"At some point I wanted five years service time, and then seven and a half would've been great, 10 would've been great," he said. "And then, as I kept on playing, I was like, 'Man, I'm only a couple years away from 40. It'd be nice to still be playing the game at 40.' Sitting here now, it's a nice little sense of accomplishment."

Along the way, McDonald feels he proved something.

"There's a lot of reasons that go into why you keep someone like me around," he said, "which I think bodes well for the next guy who's in my shoes."

McDonald is married with two children, Jacqueline and Anthony, whom he'll now spend a lot more time with -- unless another team scoops him up as a coach. He sensed the end was near on Sept. 28, during the regular-season finale at Safeco Field.

McDonald entered in the fifth inning and laced an RBI double in the ninth, ensuring that the Angels would go an entire season without getting shut out on the road.

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McDonald kept the ball and fought back tears after the game.

"It's a good feeling to get one more hit," McDonald said, just before learning that he wouldn't crack the Angels' postseason roster. "It might have more meaning later."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.