D-Train at end of line; Dontrelle Willis announces retirement


The D-Train has pulled into the station for the final time.

On Friday, left-hander Dontrelle Willis informed the Milwaukee Brewers that he is abandoning his most recent comeback attempt and will retire at age 33.

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“He just said the physical part of it, coming in and trying to get out there on the field, has worn on him,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told MLB.com. “He may slide in [Saturday] morning to say bye to the guys, but he’s been thinking about this for a few days and struggling with what he wants to do. He still wants to compete, but he knows physically that he’s having a tough time getting out there.”

Willis was invited to spring training on a minor-league contract after showing enough at a January throwing session to intrigue the Brewers. But he never made it to the mound in Cactus League play; he was scratched from his scheduled debut this spring because of stiffness in his neck and never made it out to the mound.

Willis burst onto the scene in 2003 as a rookie with the then-Florida Marlins, when he earned National League Rookie of the Year honors after going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 27 starts and helping the Marlins to the National League wild card and the franchise’s second World Series title.

In 2005, Willis led the NL with 22 wins and finished runner-up for the Cy Young Award after going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.134 WHIP in 34 starts and 236.1 innings. Willis also led the league with seven complete games and five shutouts and, at age 23, appeared to have a bright future.

Here’s a video that captures the craze that was Dontrelle Willis in 2003:

He had two more decent seasons in Florida, but in December 2007 was part of a blockbuster trade that sent him and third baseman Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers for a package of six young players—headlined by outfielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Andrew Miller.

Willis’ career would never be the same.

In parts of three seasons in Detroit, Willis struggled—and that’s putting it mildly. His control disappeared and never really returned. He made 22 starts and two relief appearances in 2008-10 for the Tigers and was 2-8 with a 6.86 ERA and 1.931 WHIP, walking 92 batters in 101 innings.

Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in June 2010 for right-hander Billy Buckner, a change of scenery did not mean a change in performance for the D-Train.

He made six appearances, five of them starts, for the D-Backs and had a 6.85 ERA and 2.284 WHIP in 22.1 innings—walking 27—and was released after a little more than a month.

Willis signed a minor-league deal with the San Francisco Giants in July 2010 and made five relief appearances at Triple-A Fresno after three warmup outings in the Arizona Rookie League, allowing three runs on two hits and four walks with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings.

A free agent that fall, Willis signed with the Cincinnati Reds and seemed to have things back on track at Triple-A Louisville, going 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in 75.1 innings over 13 starts.

He earned a promotion to the Reds and went 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA and 1.520 WHIP in 13 starts and 75.2 innings.

It would be the last time he would pitch in the major leagues.

Over the next three seasons, Willis bounced from the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Giants organizations, along with two stints in the independent Atlantic League, but was never able to put himself back together.

Willis had retired in 2012, but attempted comebacks each of the last two years, attempts that were cut short because of injuries to his shoulder and elbow.

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  • Willis said this shot with Milwaukee was his last stand as a baseball player.

    “I’m not scared of the next life,” Willis said last month. “I’m not scared if this doesn’t work out.”

    Willis was an All-Star in 2003 and 2005 and led the National League in Wins Above Replacement in 2005.

    A native of Oakland, Calif., Willis was an eighth-round pick in the 2000 amateur draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif.

    He was part of a March 2002 trade that sent right-handers Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement to the Cubs from the Marlins and made his big-league debut in May 2003.

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