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Going, going, gone! A brief history of baseball farewell tours

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Farewell tours, yay or nay? What say you? (3:11)

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick believes that some players deserve a farewell tour, but not all. (3:11)

When Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones shared the news that the 2012 season would be his last in a major league uniform, it was primarily a question of convenience. He was 39 years old, the bat speed was lagging and he dreaded the prospect of a summerlong interrogation about his plans.

So on a nondescript March day in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, he wrapped his present and future in a bow and set the rest of his life in motion.

Little did Jones know that he was destined to receive an outpouring of affection, and a haul that would pave the way for the mother of all man caves.

Mementos from Jones' six-month farewell tour are on display throughout his home in Texas, the contents of which are currently being transported to a new place in Atlanta. He plays pool on a table the Braves gave him and proudly displays the cool surfboard he received from the San Diego Padres. And what rec room is complete without a No. 10 from the Fenway Green Monster or a handful of third-base bags from around the majors?

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz will experience a similar swirl of emotions this summer as he travels the country in the final go-around of a 20-year career. On Nov. 18, in conjunction with his 40th birthday, Ortiz announced on the Players Tribune website that the 2016 season would be his last. In an accompanying video, he explained his rationale for the decision.

"Life is based on different chapters, and I think I'm ready to experience the next one in my life," Ortiz said.

The 2016 season will also be the last for Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, widely regarded as the greatest baseball voice of them all. Scully plans to confine his travel to San Diego, Anaheim and San Francisco this season, so goodbye ceremonies will be limited to California. But a chorus of voices is already lobbying for Scully to call the All-Star Game in July, and the atmosphere will be more emotionally charged than usual when the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants in a season-ending series at AT&T Park.

Long and poignant goodbyes for sports icons are in vogue these days -- part courtesy, part catharsis. Kobe Bryant, branded a diva and a villain by many who crossed his path during his NBA career, went out as a beloved elder statesman in April. Millions of fans cheered him on and monitored his progress via Twitter when he scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz in his final game.

Great players who spend their entire careers in one place or are identified prominently with a single franchise are the best candidates for a grand farewell. Just imagine what might have awaited Albert Pujols in a few years if he had stayed in St. Louis rather than moved on to Anaheim. The case for an epic going-away party is also stronger if a player's career is unsullied by PED busts, off-field shenanigans or other assorted blemishes.

Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jones checked all the requisite boxes. But nothing could prepare them for the reception in previously hostile environs.

"When I walked onto Citi Field for the last time, there were still boos," Jones said. "There were people who didn't want to stand up and acknowledge it was my last time. That's why they're called fanatics. They're fanatical for their team, and anything else just won't do. And there's nothing wrong with that.

"You've been trying to stick a dagger in the hearts of those fans your whole career, so it means something when they recognize what a respected foe you were. That's all we want as professional athletes -- the respect from peers and people throughout the game who know the game. To receive that gratification from your fan base and other fan bases as well, it allows you to walk away from the game with your head held high."

The Sarah Bernhardt factor

The farewell tour has its roots in the theater. Sarah Bernhardt, the great French actress, enjoyed numerous incarnations as the Brett Favre of the Belle Epoque period in Western Europe. Promoters would announce her "farewell tour," rake in the receipts and she would return the following year to do it all again.

The American tradition of paying homage to beloved sportsmen flourished in the late 1800s, when baseball and cricket players faced economic hardship after their skills had eroded and they approached the twilight of their careers. In 1894, the Boston Beaneaters held a benefit for Charlie Bennett, a popular catcher who lost both legs in a train accident. In 1911, after Cleveland Indians pitcher Addie Joss died of tubercular meningitis, American League players held a benefit game and raised $12,914 to help out his widow.

Some of the most iconic baseball goodbyes came and went in a flash. Lou Gehrig's 1939 farewell speech came two months after he received a terminal diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic. Babe Ruth was dying of throat cancer and 12 years removed from his final big league plate appearance when he said goodbye to Yankees fans in 1947. According to John Thorn, MLB's official historian, a lot of prominent pre-1950s ballplayers simply drifted off to the Pacific Coast League or other minor league outposts to earn a paycheck when their major league careers were through.

Before the advent of wall-to-wall national media coverage and $20 million contracts, all-time greats weren't required to map out their career plans years in advance. After Ted Williams homered off Baltimore's Jack Fisher before 10,454 fans at Fenway Park in Boston's final home game of 1960, he sat out the series finale in New York and slipped into retirement. Willie Mays unceremoniously packed it in at age 42 after the 1973 World Series, and Nolan Ryan limped through his final year in Texas with torn knee cartilage and a strained muscle in his hip.

"Ryan, who wanted to go out in style, had to wonder if he was going to go out in traction," wrote the Los Angeles Times.

Rivera was baseball's quintessential goodwill ambassador, making time in each city to meet with grounds crew members, ticket sellers, fans and other people behind the scenes. The only whiff of ill will came during New York's final trip to Fenway Park, when the Red Sox aired a video from the 2004 American League Championship Series that they described as more a "roast" than a "toast." Rivera took the ribbing in stride, but some New York media members and assorted Yankees officials thought the video was awkward and ill-conceived.

Jeter's final season came against a backdrop of corporate reverence, marked by memorable TV spots from Nike and Gatorade. In true Captain Clutch fashion, he enhanced his "brand" and went out in style with a walk-off single to beat Baltimore in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat.

Still, there were some rough patches along the way. Jeter was coming off a serious ankle injury suffered during the 2012 postseason, and it became clear in spring training that he had only so much left in the tank. Yankees manager Joe Girardi walked a fine line throughout the 2014 season, trying to appease worshipful fans, treat Jeter with respect and put the best product on the field. Some fans booed him on the road when Jeter wasn't in the lineup.

"I think sometimes fans get upset, but you have to take care of the player and do what's best for the player," Girardi said. "The other thing you worry about is that it doesn't wear guys down, with some of the demands on their time. So you try to guard against that.

"Mo's [farewell tour] was easier because he wasn't an everyday player, and you didn't worry about him doing something at 5 or 5:30 as opposed to an everyday player. So that wasn't too hard to manage. The most important thing is to enjoy it. Some guys have done it more than once, but you're only supposed to do it once."

Of mazes and horses

Chipper Jones' main concern was how his seasonlong celebration might be perceived in his own clubhouse. Would teammates resent the endless dog-and-pony show? Before each new series on the road, an Atlanta media relations rep would tell players to clear the field so the obligatory ceremony could begin. Jones kept a vigil for eye rolls or sighs of exasperation from teammates. To his relief, his fellow Braves never complained.

Jones' discomfort over being the center of attention was nothing compared to the sheepishness that Atlanta manager Bobby Cox felt throughout his 2010 farewell tour. Cox shifted his feet nervously and seemed ill at ease on numerous stops along the way.

"Bobby is a lifer," Jones said. "All he wanted to do was show up at noon, put his spikes on, sit in the dugout, smoke a stogie and wait for game time. That opportunity to match wits with the other manager was what he lived for. He's as old-school as it comes, and this farewell tour was not his idea in any way, shape or form. On a couple of occasions, you could tell it made him feel a little uncomfortable."

Some players drift off quietly because that's their nature. Trevor Hoffman disdained a long goodbye in San Diego, he said, because it "wasn't my style." Torii Hunter retired last winter rather than return to Minnesota for a final fling. And Todd Helton, the Colorado Rockies' career leader in a slew of offensive categories, hemmed and hawed throughout the 2013 season before announcing his retirement in mid-September. During the final two weeks, Helton homered in front of 48,775 fans in his Coors Field finale and watched Scully honor him with a video.

"The Vin Scully tribute was amazing," Helton said. "It was far too much. To have somebody like him talk about me for two minutes, that meant the world.

"I got emotional at home knowing I would never walk onto the field again and have to prepare for a game. That part was really hard, knowing I would never see all the people at the stadium that you become friends with over 17 years. They're the people that make it work."

The Rockies won major points for imagination when they gave Helton a champion cutting horse named "A Tru Bustamove" during his farewell ceremony. Helton still has a custom-made saddle to commemorate the occasion. But in a sad postscript to the story, the horse, nicknamed "Busta," suffered an infection in its leg and died in April.

"It was a great gift, it really was," Helton said. "That horse was so good that even an idiot like me could ride it. We did everything we could to try to save it."

In recent years, teams and adoring fans have gone to greater lengths to outdo each other with parting gifts. During Jones' final run, a Georgia family carved his facial likeness in a corn maze in tribute. But as a rule, departing superstars generally cherish personal interactions more than the litany of oil paintings and rocking chairs they receive.

The same applies to outgoing commissioners. In 2014, Bud Selig celebrated his 22nd and final season as MLB's top dog with what he described as a "Thank You Tour." Selig roamed the stands to converse with fans and personally conveyed his gratitude to employees and officials from all 30 major league teams.

"I decided to do it because there were a lot of people I wanted to see and hadn't been able to," Selig said. "I have to tell you, there were some nights when I finished that I was emotionally worn out. I can't tell you how glad I was that I did it."

In some respects, the farewell tour is a commentary on the desire of fans to make time stand still in a fast-moving world. Critics view the long goodbyes as self-indulgent and stale, but they provide a rare opportunity for people on both sides of the dynamic to reflect upon the past.

"With a veteran performer on the stage or the playing field, you create this illusion of friendship," said Thorn, MLB's historian. "Fans think they know you. You're a presence in their life, like a distant Uncle Harry.

"And in an age of mass media -- when you see these athletes on television, or hear them on the radio, and they're ubiquitous on the Web or commercials or post-game interviews -- they may have more of a presence in your life than Uncle Harry. There's this bond of fake intimacy. Both parties know it's fake, but it feels real."

With every wave from the field and standing ovation in the stands, the bond is strengthened for posterity. For fleeting moments, amid the ceremonies and the swag, iconic players and fans are tethered by memories and time.