Former Cleveland Guardians pitcher Corey Kluber announced his retirement from professional baseball on Instagram Friday morning. His post, coupled with an official statement and a touching video in the classic Klubot monotone voiceover, showed him with each team he played for, but centered around his award-winning nine seasons with Cleveland.
From his major-league debut in 2011 through his final age-33 year in 2019, Kluber cemented himself atop the Indians rotation and began what is now known as the “Cleveland pitching factory.”
Kluber, like much of the old guard of the 2010s, was a throwaway piece in a blockbuster deal, bringing him into the fold as an unsung minor-league pitcher from the San Diego Padres. Cleveland sent Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals and Ryan Ludwick to the Padres in that deal. Kluber, though he’d recently been named Texas League Pitcher of the Week with the San Antonio Missions, wasn’t on the Padres’ top 30 prospects list. He even finished his lone season in Triple-A Columbus two years later with a 5.56 ERA.
But the quiet righty kept working, and during a bullpen in May of 2012, Columbus pitching coach Ruben Niebla reportedly told Kluber to throw a two-seam fastball. The rest is history. Kluber was called up to replace Brett Myers at the beginning of the 2013 season, threw eight shutout innings against the Washington Nationals on June 16 and won co-Player of the Week for the American League. He became the first pitcher to strike out 14 batters in consecutive starts since Randy Johnson in 2004. He led the team to their first playoff appearance since 2013.
Then the magic really kicked in. In 34 starts during his 2014 campaign, Kluber went 18-9 with an ERA of just 2.44. He allowed just 51 walks through 235.2 innings pitched and struck out a career-high 269 batters on his way to winning the AL Cy Young. He kept his head down, winning over fans with his deadpan, emotionless approach on the mound as he sliced through lineups day in and day out. After that season, he signed a five-year, team-friendly extension, saying “I wanted to be in Cleveland” after inking the deal. That year, he tied Bob Feller’s 77-year-old franchise record for strikeouts in a game when he cut down 18 St. Louis batters.
The World Series season in 2016 goes one of two ways with Kluber and the fans. He became a workhorse, earning his first All-Star selection of his career while finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He won his first two starts against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, then got the win in games 1 and 4 of the World Series. Through six postseason starts, he compiled a 1.83 ERA, but in game 7, the wheels fell off. The workhorse ran out of power.
So what did he do? Kluber returned in 2017 for the second Cy Young season of his career. He led or was tied for the league lead with 18 wins, a 2.25 ERA, five complete games, three shutouts, a stunning 202 ERA+ and a microscopic 0.869 WHIP. After another incredible 2018 season that saw Kluber win 20 games through a league-leading 215 innings pitched with his third-consecutive All-Star appearance, Father Time finally caught up to the Cleveland legend. He played in just seven games in 2019 during his age 33 season, battling through injuries that derailed his career.
So, knowing they weren’t really going to pay him his $17.5 million qualifying offer, Cleveland dealt him to Texas, acquiring Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr. In the process. Kluber pitched just one inning for the Rangers. The following season, Kluber returned with the New York Yankees after signing a one-year, $11 million deal. On May 2, 2021, he earned his 100th career win. Later that month against the Detroit Tigers in a 2-0 win, Kluber pitched the 12th no-hitter in Yankees history, and first of his career.
From there, he spent the 2022 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, giving up the famous Oscar Gonzalez game-winning home run in the 15-inning wild-card game against his old team. He spent 2023 with the Boston Red Sox, though he pitched in just 15 games and continued to battle injuries (still, Cleveland really should have pursued that reunion).
To the two-time Cy Young, the man who helped lift Cleveland out of the doldrums and into the national limelight, to the stoic hero on the mound that fans could almost pencil in a win with, to the man that chose Cleveland, embraced it and led the charge to the World Series, to the once unsung pitcher middling through the minors turned World Series starter, no-hitter thrower, and man of few words, congratulations on capping off an incredible career.