Friday, February 24, 2023

Andy Young: Three of a Kind

By Andy Young

John Jaso began life on America’s west coast during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

From left are Joe Rafferty, John Jaso, and Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Leonard Pitts Jr. was also born in California, but during Dwight Eisenhower’s stint as America’s commander-in-chief.

Joe Rafferty has lived his entire life in the northeast, though like Pitts he was born when America’s flag had just 48 stars on it.

So, what does a trio consisting of an ex-professional baseball player, a former syndicated columnist, and a recently retired high school football coach have in common? Just this: each excelled in his field, but took the initiative to leave it by choice, rather than wait to have someone else decide for him when it was time to move on.

At the conclusion of the 2017 major league baseball season, Jaso’s two-year, $8 million dollar contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates was expiring. And while he wasn’t headed for the Hall of Fame, Jaso more than likely could have signed another seven-figure deal with a team looking for a veteran left-handed batter with some power.

But after 15 years as a pro, Jaso decided enough was enough. He bought a boat because, as he told a reporter, “I just want to sail away.” And that is exactly what he’s done since then. Some wondered how he could spurn the opportunity to collect more huge paychecks, but a New York Times story published last week reported Jaso’s response to that question as, “But I’d already made millions of dollars. Why do we always have to have more, more, more?”

Two months ago, Pitts stepped away from writing opinion pieces for the Miami Herald, where he had been employed for the past three-plus decades. Author of four novels and a memoir, the prolific Pitts was arguably America’s most thoughtful and articulate syndicated opinion columnist. Full disclosure: I generally agreed with Mr. Pitts’ written sentiments, but on those occasions when he expressed an opinion that differed from mine, my first instinct was to reexamine my own views on the issue(s) in question, given the logic, eloquence and genuine passion with which he presented his ideas.

Closer to home is a legendary football coach who resigned his position at Kennebunk High School earlier this month. Like Jaso and Pitts, Joe Rafferty’s unquestionable skills were still in demand, but after 44 seasons, 217 victories, and one Maine state title, the universally beloved and respected mentor stepped down, and did so characteristically, which is to say quietly and without fanfare.

Rafferty and Pitts are both in their 60s, yet it seems unlikely that a small town high school football coach who’s spent his life in New England would share any similarities with a syndicated columnist who’s always lived in urban settings.

And what would either of them have in common with a dreadlocked millennial who retired at age 34, having likely made more money in less than a decade of playing major league baseball than the two accomplished, just-retired baby boomers did in their combined lifetimes?

Just this: John Jaso didn’t retire from baseball; he retired to explore the world on his sailboat. Leonard Pitts didn’t retire from writing weekly columns; he retired to his children, his grandchildren, and writing more novels. And Joe Rafferty’s retirement wasn’t from coaching football, but to his family, his State Senate seat, and his dedication to making life better for those around him.

They may appear different on the outside, but Pitts, Jaso, and Rafferty each took the initiative to retire to something rewarding rather than from something they’d grown tired of, and that common trait is one everyone contemplating ending their working days would do well to emulate. <

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