No Longer a Rat

I like to think I retired from my job at the top of my game. Why did I leave? Because I realized I was burning out, and staying would subtract more than it added to the rest of my life. Plus leaving was possible; The Fabulous Wife and I consulted an independent financial analyst with nothing to sell us but a well-researched answer to the question of whether we could support ourselves without my working, and the answer was yes (with qualifications, of course). I hearkened back to an early-life example, the Hall of Fame Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax, who retired from Major League Baseball at age 32 after pitching in the 1966 World Series, and to a more recent example, Jon Stewart, who left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show at age 53 after revolutionizing political satire, and left at my peak.

So I completely understand why Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants’ star catcher — and on-field mastermind of their World Series wins in 2010, 2012, and 2014 — decided to call it quits after he had an outstanding year and the Giants posted their best regular-season record in their 138-year history.

Catching is baseball’s most arduous position. Posey caught 9,291.2 innings during his twelve years with the Giants, not including minor league, pre-season, and post-season play. Along the way he suffered a shattered ankle, a chronic hip injury that required surgery and lengthy rehabilitation, and probably more concussions than the two he’s acknowledged. He’s 34, late in any catcher’s career. He’s got four young kids. According to Baseball Reference, he’s earned $168,301,112 from the Giants, so he’s set financially. Why risk further injury and compromise the next fifty or sixty years of his life? What more does he have to prove?

There are down sides to early retirement. You lose the identity or sense of purpose work can give you. You lose the camaraderie that usually comes with a workplace. If your job required special skill or knowledge, you lose that, too — faster than you imagined, leaving you to wonder whether you’re competent at anything anymore. And sometimes you just feel like a spare part.

But the up side is AMAZING, especially if you’re relatively healthy. You’re freer than you’ve ever been. There’s time to do all the things you hoped to do someday, pleasures great and small (though mostly small). And as cynical as we’ve become about early retirees claiming their motive is to spend more time with their families (as Posey has), there actually is a ton of joy in devoting more attention to family, friends, neighbors, and companion animals, more than enough to make up for the loss of the workplace community.

I suspect this is one of the reasons so many jobs are going unfilled these days: we’re becoming more cognizant of the demands late-stage capitalism makes on us. Most jobs take up too much of our time, pay poorly, and render us miserable. Even dream jobs like Buster Posey’s fail to fulfill us in essential ways; as an interviewee for The Hamlet Syndrome put it, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still just a rat.” It’s almost certainly too much to hope this is the start of a wonderful revolution, one in which working people’s passive resistance forces a more equal relationship between capital and labor and results in a healthier work-life balance for all. But I am hoping for it nonetheless.

Buster Posey and his wife Kristen at San Francisco’s World Series parade, 2012.