Sheesh, time really does fly. It doesn't feel like it's been six years since the Padres signed Jody Gerut to a minor league deal. The signing fell through the cracks at the time, as Gerut had been out of baseball for two seasons, but ended up paying off.
Gerut had a strong showing in spring training and made the Opening Day roster, but was sent down to Portland after four games. He raked AAA pitching for a month and earned the roster spot that opened up when Jim Edmonds was released. Gerut took over Edmonds' role as the primary center fielder and provided value on both sides of the ball. In 356 plate-appearances over 100 games, Gerut set new highs with a .296/ .351/ .494 slash line, good for an impressive 133 OPS+. He showed some pop as well; his 14 homers were his most since he hit 22 as a rookie with the Indians in 2003.
That pop was on display for all to see early in 2009. The Padres were the visiting team as a national television audience gathered to see the first game played at Citi Field, and Gerut christened the Mets' new home with a leadoff home run. That would prove to be the highlight of his season. He hit poorly in 37 games before being traded to Milwaukee for the junior Tony Gwynn. The change of scenery didn't turn his season around, but he did earn a spot with the Brewers again in 2010. He struggled yet again, hitting below the Mendoza line over 32 games, although he did hit for the cycle in one of them.
After being released by the Brewers in August, 2010, Gerut returned to the Padres' organization. He hit well in 14 games back in Portland, but didn't earn a spot on the 40-man roster to get a September call-up. He signed a minor league deal with the Mariners for 2011, but retired a week into spring training because he realized he lost his passion for the game.
"Physically, I'm fine," he said. "But mentally my reasons for wanting to be in uniform have become so thin and narrow that I refuse to disrespect the game that has provided so generously for my family by playing it in a half-hearted way.
"It was very clear that my capacity as a player was done, empty, finished."
The well-spoken veteran said in the end, he just couldn't justify going through the motions in a game that has meant so much to him and his family. He said the idea of playing just for a paycheck "is a notion so distasteful to me it makes me physically sick to my stomach."
While refreshing in contrast to numerous other athletes, it was unsurprising to anyone familiar with the cerebral Gerut. He was the guy in the clubhouse reading The Economist while, one assumes, Brian Giles was two lockers down trying to figure out the punchline in that day's Marmaduke. After retiring, he put all those book-learnin' smarts to good use by becoming a player agent. His goal, as you might expect, is selfless. He considers himself fortunate to have held onto the money he made during his playing career, and is determined to ensure that today's players do the same.