Saturday came, and Mike Cubbage went.
Fifty years in professional baseball was sufficient for Cubbage, 70, a former big-leaguer and Charlottesville native who still resides in that area. His contract as a special assistant to Mike Rizzo, the Washington Nationals general manager and president of baseball operations, expired Oct. 31.
Cubbage retired Saturday.
“I’m done,” Cubbage, a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, said Friday night. “I’ve been thinking about it for several years. The clock doesn’t stop for anybody.”
Cubbage’s association with pro baseball began on June 8, 1971, when the Washington Senators chose him in the second round of the secondary phase of the free-agent draft. Cubbage was 20, having played baseball and football (quarterback) at the University of Virginia.
He spent 13 years as a professional player, eight in the big leagues, as a left-handed-hitting infielder. Cubbage played for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and New York Mets, and then managed seven seasons in the minor leagues, including stretches in Norfolk and Lynchburg.
He was a coach for 14 years in the big leagues for the Mets, Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, and managed the Mets for seven games late in 1991 after Bud Harrelson was dismissed. Cubbage scouted before joining the Nats in 2014. He never worked outside of baseball, unless you count a Saturday morning radio show Cubbage hosted for a while.
Cubbage said he is currently shopping for a golf cart, a strong clue about the direction his retirement may be headed.
There will be no more early morning flights, rental cars and hotels. He won’t spend days producing reports on minor-league and big-league players he studied the nights before.
This year was supposed to be like most of the previous six Cubbage spent with Washington. He was assigned to evaluate three organizations top to bottom, from the big-league clubs through their low minor-league affiliates. The pandemic dissolved that plan. There was no minor-league competition. Cubbage scouted three MLB teams off TV during an abbreviated season.
It wasn’t as much fun for him. Cubbage enjoyed meeting people, and reconnecting with them, at ballparks in big-league cities and minor-league towns across the country.
“You make friends everywhere you go,” said Cubbage.
He’s not a big fan of financially driven reductions taking place throughout baseball. Lower-level minor-league franchises are being eliminated and scouting departments streamlined. Organizations increasingly rely on data, such as spin rate of breaking balls and exit velocity of batted balls, more than eyewitness research and accounts.
“I think they’re a little short-sighted when they start cutting development, and when teams start cutting scouting,” said Cubbage. “Those are important parts of the whole picture. You need those things to have good major-league teams. I really feel bad for the minor leagues.”
Cubbage would talk to coaches, or any informed source who could provide a review of a players’ attitude and overall approach. He spent dozens of nights through many seasons at The Diamond, watching games played by the Richmond Braves and then the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Cubbage sat in a seat behind home plate with his radar gun, stopwatch and clipboard.
“I didn’t mind getting minor-league dirt on my shoes,” he said.
Cubbage got to know plenty of fans in Richmond and said he will be back at The Diamond and happy to see them when games resume there. This time around, he’ll be with his grandchildren. He’s looking forward to that. Cubbage is also the subject of a book he’s helping the author write.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to call me to manage like Tony La Russa,” Cubbage said of the 76-year-old recently named Chicago White Sox manager.
The last “normal” season in which Cubbage worked was 2019. The Nationals won the World Series.
“I think maybe wearing the ring on my finger from last year made my decision a little easier,” he said.