Zack Britton Retires, Provides Insight Into Struggling Yankees

Britton Retires

After spending 12 years in the league, former Yankees reliever Zack Britton has decided to retire. Britton posted a career ERA of 3.13 with 154 saves in 442 games between Baltimore and New York. When asked about his decision, he told The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli what was, perhaps, the catalyst for ending his career.

“My last outing was against the Orioles. I threw a ball to the backstop as my last pitch; I think about that and it sucks,” said Britton, who cited a desire to spend more time with his four children as a reason for his retirement. “It might not have been perfect from a career standpoint or going out on a high note, but you don’t always get to pick. My gut was telling me it was time to see what life was like on the other side.”

Brittany Ghiroli / The Athletic

Despite his final pitch, Britton was a consistent and reliable bullpen option for both the Orioles and the Yankees. In addition to a consecutive All-Star appearance, Britton’s 2016 season would see him finish fourth in Cy Young voting and even receive MVP consideration. It wasn’t an individual achievement that drove Britton, however. He wanted more than accolades and awards to reach the pinnacle of achievement every major leaguer covets—a World Series ring. And what better place to realize that goal than the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue, Bronx, New York?

“Putting on that uniform and walking into the clubhouse, the history of it hits you,” Britton said of playing in pinstripes. “The whole experience of being a Yankee is impressive. You are playing for one of the most recognized sports teams in the world; the way they treat you, and the things you get — I wouldn’t trade that experience for the worldthat was special.”

Brittany Ghiroli / The Athletic

By the end of Britton’s first full season in New York, it was apparent why Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman wanted him in the bullpen. He would finish the 2019 campaign with a 1.91 ERA over 61.1 innings pitched. Britton would put up similar numbers in the following year’s abbreviated pandemic season, finishing with a sub-2 ERA but only tossing 19 innings. Unfortunately, due to persistent injuries, the rest of Zack Britton’s Yankees career would be plagued by uncharacteristic poor performance. He would undergo arthroscopic elbow surgery in the spring of 2021, only to find himself needing season-ending Tommy John surgery later that fall. This would end his Yankee tenure and, ultimately, his career, where he enjoyed a run as one of the most dominant relievers in the league.

A Look Inside

The Yankees finished the 2023 season near the bottom of the American League East with the worst record the franchise has seen in 31 years. What can be done to change these circumstances as the team looks to 2024 and beyond? Britton says the team “has to get its aura back.”

“When I was with the Orioles, you were intimidated to play them. They had so much talent. The way they carried themselves, you didn’t want to go to New York because they were so imposing and I feel like we lost a little of that when I was thereThat was the most eye-opening thing, talking to opposing players and them saying, ‘It’s not the same coming in there; it’s not as intimidating as a place.’ When I was a young player, the pinnacle was to play for the Yankees because they were so good.”

Brittany Ghiroli / The Athletic

While it is overly simplistic to point the finger at one specific thing, it is clear that fundamental change will be required before the Yankees sit atop the division again. With a superstar like Aaron Judge anchoring the lineup and recent Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole as the ace, hope is certainly not lost. And with winter meetings beginning this weekend, the future of the Bombers’ roster could start taking shape much sooner than anticipated. As the inevitable offseason drama continues to unfold, especially with the Ohtani sweepstakes, it will become clear if the Yankees intend to compete in 2024. Or will Hal Steinbrenner and company continue to field a simulacrum of greatness?

Elsa/Getty Images

Not What It Used To Be

In 1912, a former brewer, business owner, and congressman was in the market for a baseball team. He refused an offer to buy the Cubs and tried several times to buy the Giants. By 1915, whether by chance, fate, or circumstance, this son of German immigrants found himself finalizing a deal that made him the new owner of the New York Highlanders—now called the Yankees. Eight years later, Jacob Ruppert would take his Yankees, led by George Herman Ruth, to a ten-acre lumber yard in the Bronx. And on April 18th, 1923, with a crack of the bat, that lumber yard became the “House That Ruth Built.”

It is on this foundation that the last one hundred years of Yankee baseball have been built. To don the pinstripes is to stand on the shoulders of giants—legends of the game who made the Yankees’ name synonymous with excellence. 27 World Series rings, 40 American League pennants, and 61 players, managers, and executives who have all worn Yankee blue reside in Cooperstown. This is the tradition that each new Yankees team must carry forward, and it is in that spirit that the Yankee faithful remain hopeful.

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