Dontrelle Willis announced his retirement from baseball yesterday. The southpaw had been pitching with the Norfolk Tides, the Triple A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He is only 30.
Willis was drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago Cubs in 2000. Prior to the 2002 season, he was dealt to the Florida Marlins along with Julian Tavarez for pitchers Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement. Willis was an immediate sensation in 2003 winning 14 games and NL Rookie of the Year honors. Willis would also earn a World Series ring with the ’03 Marlins. His high leg kick and gregarious personality earned him the nickname “D-Train”.
After a so-so campaign in 2004, Willis had the best season of his career in 2005 leading the NL in wins (22), complete games (7) and shutouts (5). He would finish runner up in NL Cy Young balloting to Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Willis would never again approach those numbers. By 2007, he gave up an NL leading 118 earned runs during a season in which he went 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA. However, this didn’t prevent the Detroit Tigers from acquiring Willis along with Miguel Cabrera in blockbuster trade prior to the 2008 season. While Cabrera lived up to his superstar billing, Willis struggled with his control and by June was demoted to their Single-A affiliate in Lakeland. Although he would return in September, he still struggled with his control. In 2009, Willis had to be put on the DL due to an anxiety disorder.
The Tigers would trade Willis to the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitcher Billy Buckner during the 2010 season. However, Willis would be released by the D’Backs a month later. He did sign a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants but did not make the big club. After the Marlins traded Willis to the Tigers, he won only four more big league games. The last of which came in 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds in which he went 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA.
Willis did sign a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies last December but was released during spring training. Days later he signed with the Orioles but did not want to pitch in relief which resulted in him briefly walking off the team.
I told my sister about Willis’ walkout during the course of San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s struggles earlier this season. She responded that baseball could be a very sad sport. I hope Willis can find the kind of peace and contentment that alluded him the past few years on the baseball diamond. The D-Train may have made his last stop but Dontrelle Willis will have to find a way to move on in life.
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