It looks like Keith Foulke is going to get closer to his home in Arizona after all: The former Red Sox reliever is retiring.
“Over the last few weeks, while preparing for the 2007 season, my body has not responded as it has in years past,” Foulke said in a statement released today. “I feel strongly I will not be able to perform at the level where I need to be to help the Indians this season. They are a class organization and I wish them the best of luck in 2007.”
The Indians, whose slide from 93 wins in 2005 to 78 wins and a fourth-place finish last season was tied to a dreadful bullpen, signed Foulke to a one-year, $5 million contract in January.
The club would have had to honor that deal if Foulke had reported to camp and then retired.
“He didn’t want to disappoint the organization or his teammates,” general manager Mark Shapiro said, praising Foulke’s integrity.
Foulke had battled elbow, back and knee injuries the past two seasons. Last year he was replaced as Boston’s closer by rookie Jonathan Papelbon. The 34-year-old recently had elbow soreness and informed the Indians of his decision Thursday when the club’s pitchers and catchers reported to Winter Haven, Fla.
Foulke was one of five relievers signed this winter by Shapiro, whose goal was to add experience and back-end depth to a Cleveland bullpen which posted a major league-low 24 saves last season.
“While we are disappointed that Keith will not be pitching for the Indians this year, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he went about this decision,” Shapiro said. “Keith clearly demonstrated a great deal of integrity and character in this matter, and we wish him success in his future endeavors.”
According to the ESPN’s Buster Olney, Indians club sources told him that Foulke had felt pain in his elbow in recent days.
When the Indians signed Foulke in January, it appeared he was healthy enough to play this season. “His physical was a pleasant surprise,” Shapiro said at the time.
Foulke made $7.5 million with the Red Sox last season, but the team did not pick up his club option. Foulke then rejected a $5.25 million player option to stay in Boston.
“I know a lot of guys who say it isn’t about the money, but Keith just backs that up,” Foulke’s agent Dan Horwits said last November. “He wants to pitch closer to home and hopefully he will have that chance.”
Foulke had 32 saves in the 2004 World Series championship season, but his performance suffered in the last two season as he was bothered by a knee and elbow injuries. He went 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA for the Sox last year, with no saves in 44 games. He missed two months with elbow tendinitis.
Foulke spoke to the Globe’s Amalie Benjamin about the possibility of retirement last September. “I might retire. I don’t know. It’s a big option,” said Foulke. “If I can’t have fun playing this game, if I don’t have the motivation to prepare, you know, as far as strength and training and all that. I’m not going to be a middle bullpen, 5 ERA guy. Either I can come back and be a dominant pitcher, or I’ll take it to the house.”
“I got a lot of work to do,” Foulke said as he prepared to enter this past offseason. “There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s been a nasty little cycle with my knees for a couple of years, then my elbow started bothering me. Then I changed some stuff there, then my back started bothering me. It’s been a bad circle. I can’t go on like that. I don’t want to be on the DL. I want to be out there, and I want to pitch in 85 ballgames a year, 100 innings. If I can get myself in shape to do that, then I’ll come back. If I’m sitting around my house drinking beer, I’ll take it to the house. I’ll stay there.”
Foulke lost some stature in the eyes of fans because of several flare-ups in Boston over the past two seasons. ”They’re not going to make it any harder than it is for me to go home and look in the mirror,” Foulke said about the booing that rained down from the Fenway stands in June 2005. “Like I’ve told you guys plenty of times, I’m more embarrassed to walk into this locker room and look at the faces of my teammates than I am to walk out and see Johnny from Burger King booing me. I’m worried about these guys, not everybody else.”
(Material from The Associated Press was used in this update – 4:34 p.m.)