Jon Lester, a three-time World Series champion and 200-game winner, is retiring it a day after a 16-year career.
Lester, 38, told ESPN that his body is no longer capable of handling the rigours of a major league season. During his career, he made 30 or more starts 12 times, including 28 in his final season with the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals.
He has five All-Star selections and a 2.51 postseason ERA in his resume.
Lester explained, “It’s kind of run its course.” “It’s getting harder for me physically. The little things that come up throughout the year turned into bigger things that hinder your performance.
“I’d like to think I’m a halfway decent self-evaluator. I don’t want someone else telling me I can’t do this anymore. I want to be able to hand my jersey over and say, ‘Thank you, it’s been fun.’ That’s probably the biggest deciding factor.”
Lester leaves a postseason record of success. With the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, he earned two World Series rings, and with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, he broke a 108-year title drought. With appearances in the playoffs in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018, he became a regular in October. For Lester, those memories will be the most vivid.
“I remember the nervous feeling I had before Game 4 of the World Series in 2007,” he remarked. “I remember standing on the mound in Game 5 against St. Louis in 2013, in a tie series, and an [paper] airplane got thrown from the upper deck that lands right behind the mound. I still remember looking at that.
“And then the turmoil of Game 7 in 2016 [when the Cubs won in extra innings].”
Lester dominated with a wicked cutter and imposing demeanour on the mound in his heyday, which included his famous look: glove lying just under his chin as he looked in for signs from the catcher.
Mark Teixeira, who, along with Evan Longoria, shares the distinction of striking out more times than anybody else (22) against Lester, remarked, “The cutter is what neutralized me.” “He would go outside and see me diving over the plate, then he would come in with the cutter,” he explained.
Only nine modern left-handed pitchers have 200 wins, a.600 winning percentage, and a lifetime ERA under 4.00. Six of the other eight have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, with the exception of CC Sabathia, who is not yet eligible.
Lester was renowned as the teammate that brought the clubhouse together off the field.
“If you’re building a baseball player, as far as how they treat other people, what their goals are, how you want them to compete and act on and off the field, he’s the model,” said Cubs manager David Ross, who was Lester’s personal catcher during his first two years in Chicago.
In 2015, Lester signed a free-agent contract with the Cubs worth $155 million. It wasn’t an easy decision to sign with a team in last place.
Though Lester struggled in his early weeks in Chicago, with a 6.23 ERA in April 2015, he called signing with the Cubs “the single biggest decision we’ve ever made in my pro career.”
“Coming in, you’re expected to be the guy to bring the World Series,” he remarked. “I felt that early on in 2015. I was trying to win the World Series in the first month of the season. Rossy [David Ross] pulled me aside and basically told me to be myself. ‘You don’t need to do anything more than what you’ve done. Just relax and pitch.'”
Lester’s ERA decreased to 1.76 the following month, and his career in Chicago took off. Lester was rated the best free-agent signing in Chicago history by an online poll of Cubs fans, not least because he acted as a recruiting tool for other stars to join the team.
Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in his second season with Chicago and was voted co-MVP of the National League Championship Series. On his way to a third World Series championship, he pitched three times in the World Series versus Cleveland, including a relief appearance in Game 7.
It was the beginning of an amazing postseason run. Lester had a 1.93 ERA in 10 postseason outings from 2016 to 2018.
“He worked harder than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Ross added. “When it was time to work, he was going to work. When it was time to play, he was going to make sure everyone had a good time. That’s probably the biggest complimet I could give him.”
Lester joined the Red Sox in 2002 and debuted in the major leagues in June 2006.
Back trouble forced Lester to the hospital late in the season, where he was diagnosed with anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma. After undergoing chemotherapy, he was able to rejoin the team in mid-2007.
“I was in Triple-A on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket after cancer,” Lester explained. “My parents were there and they were leaving that day or the next day to go home, and I told them they have to change their flight and I said, ‘I’m starting the next night in Cleveland.”
“That’s one of the top moments of my career. Seeing their faces was pretty cool. Once I got back to baseball, I tried not to take anything for granted and really appreciated being around the guys.”
Lester’s charity, NVRQT (short for “Never Quit”), was founded as a result of the experience and helps raise funds for paediatric cancer research. In his retirement, he plans to continue working with the foundation.
Lester’s time in Boston had a lasting impact on him.
“It makes you grow up really fast, and it’s an awesome, awesome place to me,” Lester said. “It made me more accountable than if I was somewhere else.”
Lester clinched the 2007 World Series with a 523-inning shutout against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4. Lester was 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in the 2013 World Series versus St. Louis.
Lester was dealt to Oakland in 2014 and started a wild-card playoff game that the A’s lost before signing with the Cubs the following offseason.
Lester joined with the Nationals after the 2020 season in Chicago. He went 4-1 with the Cardinals after being traded at the trade deadline, winning his 200th and last game in late September.
Lester remarked, “Playing with Waino [Adam Wainwright] and Yadi [Yadier Molina] was awesome,” Lester said. “It was a cool experience to play for that organization. You learn to understand why they’re so successful every year.”
The Cardinals earned a wild-card slot, giving Lester one last shot at the postseason. Lester understood it was time to go by the conclusion of the season, especially after a COVID-19 quarantine in 2020.
“The part that helped me be OK with this was quarantine,” Lester said. “I was home, at a time of the year I wasn’t normally home. That opened my eyes. … When the work outweighs the joy, then it’s kind of time to reevaluate where you’re at.”
Lester said he’d explore doing some television work and wouldn’t rule out coming to Cubs spring training to assist young pitchers, but full-time coaching isn’t in the cards for him. He admitted that he will miss many elements of the game, but that he knows he kept one promise he made to himself.
“I never wanted fans to leave a game and ask, ‘Was the effort there?'” Lester said. “I think I always gave it.”