Percival says goodbye as Halo

Percival says goodbye as Halo

Free agency and player movement has changed the face of Major League Baseball.

Players who are drafted, signed and developed by a team and go on to success with that organization at the Major League level often find themselves in different uniforms at the end of their careers.

The emotions and decisions of contract negotiations can get in the way of what had been a good relationship between a player and his original team.

Players ultimately retire and the ending just doesn't seem to feel right, as related to the summary and highlights of a career.

That's why it was nice to see the announcement that Troy Percival will throw out the honorary first pitch at Angel Stadium in Anaheim tonight prior to the Angels' home opener with the Rangers.

The team's all-time save leader will be making the toss after officially retiring as a member of the Angels.

The Angels wanted things to come full circle for Percival in his career, and thus said they would sign him to a Minor League contract so that he could close out his career as a member of their organization.

"Troy always said he wanted to throw his last pitch as an Angel," said Tim Mead, the team's vice president of communications. "He was the face of the organization and a big part of the team for many years."

It may just seem like too much ceremony for Percival to sign a Minor League contract and then retire.

The fact is, the steps taken by the Angels to have Percival retire as a member of their organization have proven to be important to the player as well as the team.

"I enjoyed my time with the Angels and had hoped to spend my full career as an Angel," said Percival, who left as a free agent after the 2004 season. "I'm very proud to be a part of this organization.

"Even though I hoped to stay with the team after the 2004 season, I knew Frankie [Rodriguez] was ready to fill the closer's role and I accepted the team's decision and moved on," Percival recalled.

Percival signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, but injuries cut short his career after the 2005 season.

The move by the Angels and Percival to work out an arrangement where his career would officially end on a fitting note had its start in Major League Baseball in January of this year when relief pitcher Jeff Nelson announced his retirement as a member of the New York Yankees.

Nelson hadn't pitched for the Yankees since the 2000 season, but in four of his five seasons with New York, beginning in 1996, he was a member of a World Series championship team.

Even though Nelson wasn't originally signed by the Yankees, his time with the team was the highlight of his 15-year career.

When Nelson decided to retire prior to this season, he talked to his agent Jay Franklin and they discussed how best to handle the announcement.

Nelson said he couldn't imagine a better way to bow out than as a member of the Yankees.

"Jay called [New York general manager] Brian Cashman and asked if there was any way I could retire as a Yankee, and they agreed the best way was to announce the signing of a Minor League deal and then make the announcement that I had retired."

On the afternoon of Jan. 13, the Yankees sent out a press release stating that Nelson would be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and less than a half-hour later, followed up with another release saying he had retired.

"Being able to be a part of four world championship teams with the Yankees while playing in Yankee Stadium will always hold a special place in my heart," said Nelson.

"I give a lot of credit to the Yankees and Brian Cashman for making this happen," says Franklin. "They showed a lot of class in helping Jeff end his career the way he wanted to as a member of the Yankees."

Nelson says he wanted to remain with the Yankees after the 2000 season, but the Seattle Mariners offered a contract that far surpassed the deal presented by New York.

"It wasn't even close, and thus I took the Mariners' offer," says Nelson.

Football has had some history of working out arrangements to have players retire as members of the organization where they gained their fame. Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers and Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills bowed out with their long-standing teams, but the retirements of Nelson and Percival are new to baseball.

It could very well be that the relief pitchers have started something here.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book, "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue,"was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.