Giants closer to retire after another setback

Updated: February 20, 2005, 4:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Robb Nen tried as hard as anyone to extend his career as one of baseball's best closers, working countless hours to rehabilitate his troublesome shoulder after three operations.

Robb Nen
Nen

Following yet another setback, the former Giants pitcher has decided to retire.

"I'm 99 percent sure," Nen told the San Francisco Chronicle by phone Saturday. "If I get a wild hair about coming back, and six or eight months from now I pick up a ball and feel good again, I might think about it.

"But that's probably not going to happen."

Nen told the Chronicle he decided to retire about two weeks ago.

"He tried and got close again, and fell back down," San Francisco trainer Stan Conte said Sunday, a day after speaking to Nen about the decision. "It's been so frustrating. I'm surprised he lasted this long."

Colorado Rockies special front-office assistant Marcel Lachemann, who coached Nen when the closer was with the Florida Marlins, told MLB.com on Friday that Nen had stopped working out.

Nen, who had 43 saves and a 2.20 ERA in 2002 to help the Giants reach the World Series, hasn't pitched in more than two years. He played through the pain during the playoffs that season, knowing he needed surgery and that he was risking further damage.

"I don't have any regrets about anything I did at any time," Nen told the Chronicle about pitching through pain in 2002 campaign. "I may regret some pitches, how I pitched to somebody, but as for pitching, I'd have done things the same way now.

"For me, I played this game to win and go to the World Series."

The Giants fell six outs short of a championship.

"What he did to stay on the field in 2002, he jeopardized his career," lefty reliever Jason Christiansen said Sunday. "He put the team above himself. Everybody who was here in 2002 has so much respect for what he did. If it hadn't been for him, we wouldn't have gone to the World Series."

The 35-year-old Nen, a tenacious right-hander who spent his final five seasons with the Giants, had been hopeful of giving it another shot this season -- even if he had to earn a non-roster invite to spring training with another club. The Rockies were one of the teams monitoring his progress to see if he was healthy.

Still, Nen hasn't ruled out a return down the road if his arm were to somehow recover, though that seems unlikely. Nen has 314 career saves in 10 major league seasons and is one of 18 pitchers to reach the 300 mark.

"He was one of the best players, people and teammates I've ever seen," Giants assistant general manager Ned Colletti said. "He really died on the sword for the club and his teammates. As much as we missed him closing games, we really missed his presence and who he is."

Nen's rotator cuff is torn -- perhaps as much as 75 percent -- but surgery to completely repair it has a very low success rate. And Nen doesn't want to go through another operation.

As much as his Giants fans hoped he'd make one final hurrah on the mound, Nen only wanted to come back if he could contribute at least a few times a week in relief.

"Three or four times we got close -- 90 percent," said Conte, who has developed a close friendship with Nen during all their hours in the training room. "To be so up, then be so down, it's the ultimate manic depressive."

Nen had been optimistic about a comeback last April, when his arm felt so good the Giants were prepared to activate him. But he had another setback and stopped throwing for the summer.

He starting throwing off a mound again in December and pitched for a month before he felt pain again in the shoulder, which led to his decision to retire. "For me, this [Nen's retirement] is incredibly disappointing because it's my job, our job, to get the players back on the field, and we couldn't get the right combination," Conte told the Chronicle.

"He's such a great human being and, I can't say this about many people in baseball, a very good friend. You want to use your skills to get the guy back because he deserves it more than anybody else, and you couldn't do it.

"I would have given anything to see him back on the mound one more time."

Nen, who is back home in Orange County, Calif., was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1987 in the 32nd round.

"This is my 24th year and I've seen a lot of players come and go," Colletti said. "A handful I'd hold to the level that I hold Robb Nen. If there's a way to come back, he'll come back. I refuse to think the door is slammed shut and triple padlocked, because I know what's in his heart."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.