Why They Do ItMay 21st, 2012 The list of comeback stories in the 2012 baseball season is an impressive one. From bigger names like Andy Pettitte and Jamie Moyer to smaller ones like Kip Wells and Scott Elarton. Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero are in on it too, lots of us struggle to walk away. But why do these guys do it? Why does a guy like Andy Pettitte, so successful and such a dedicated family man get back into the game? The travel, the time away from the family, the aches and pains are all there waiting for him. Why go back after being so convicted that the end had come? Is it for the money? Not hardly. Sure there are some guys who managed their financial success poorly and seek the paycheck again but there’s much more to it than that for most. One thing you must understand about professional athletes, especially those that have reached the highest level, is that they are a special breed of people. Yes, they possess a world class talent, but a lot of players do that never reach that level of success. The successful major league athlete has not only the physical skills but the mental ones as well, a dedicated work ethic, an off the charts level of competitiveness and an overall commitment to excellence (thank you Al Davis). You know people who possess some of these skills, the ones you pay to watch on TV or in person possess all of them. Those things don’t just go away when you hang up the glove & spikes. They are imbedded in you. You have to make sure that when you call it a career it’s because something is not there anymore, whether it be the physical ability, the willingness to be on the rigorous schedule or the desire to prepare. Brett Favre thought it was out of him and so did Roger Clemens, but they were wrong. Jason Giambi and Jim Thome still have the game in them and refuse to walk away. Chipper Jones is pretty sure he’s done, Mariano Rivera hopes he’s not.The truth is once you walk away there is nothing in your life that can compare with competing in a major sport. So many athletes struggle with this as do their families. Dad and husband are home all the time now. There is no spring training, there are no road trips. There no fans, there are no teammates, but most of all, there is no competition. Some might be able to find it in business, to some degree. Others try to find it in coaching. It can be close, but it’s not the same. I had a former player who is now coaching a Division 1 college who told me that recruiting is so competitive that he gets his fix in that arena. Some players try other professional sports like golf, some start their own video game company, some play rec basketball. They all need an outlet for their competiveness and seek out ways to satisfy it.Competitiveness is a highly addictive drug. Just like the guy who takes weekend softball too seriously professional athletes are passionate about the sport they play. They love to compete and what they also love is being told they can’t do it anymore.I was once discussing an unorthodox idea I had with a former teammate of mine. I told him my plan and I told him I think I could it. He looked at me and said, “Of course you think you can do it, you’re a professional athlete, you think you can do anything.”I never thought of that before but he was right, I did think that way. When I was 7 years old I wanted to be a NY Yankee, when I was 31 years old I was a NY Yankee. When you reach a goal like that you do believe you could do just about anything and that’s how most athletes think.They love the allure of a comeback. They love being told they’re too old, that they’re past their prime and then reaching the top again. Even though Andy Pettitte is a 5 time World Series Champion the 6th ring would be the sweetest. Tell me him he can’t do it, you’re only fueling his already strong desire to be great again. Most comebacks for older players don’t go that well and critics are justified in doubting the ability of a player’s return to glory in his elder years. But past results don’t stop them from trying. They think they can be the one who beats the odds and why wouldn’t they? They already have. Few players really walk away from the game on their own terms. When making that decision they have to sincerely ask themselves if they’ve had enough? Is it out of me? Am I ready for life without the game, without the competition and without the fanfare? Those are difficult questions to answer truthfully and as we’re seeing more and more athletes aren’t very good at making up their minds. From 2008-2010 3B Eric Chavez played in just 64 major league games. In his prime Chavez averaged about 150 games, 30HR and 100RBI for the Oakland A’s but injuries seemed to be bringing his career to end. Rob Neyer, then working for ESPN.com, reported that Eric Chavez was training hard and trying to make a comeback prior to the 2011 season. He also said he wasn’t sure if he should be inspired or feel sad for the one time slugger. That’s an easy question to answer for me. Be inspired. A once great athlete is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the game he was born to play, one that he excelled at. He was also willing to let people aware that he was trying. If he failed people would know, lots of people would know. There are few jobs in America where both your success and failure is so highly publicized; most people aren’t built to handle that kind of scrutiny. Chavez as you probably know got himself together again, swallowed his pride and after making more than $70 million in his career signed a non-guaranteed minor league contract with the New York Yankees. The list of successful major league players not willing to do that is long. He made that opening day roster in 2011 and was invited back in 2012. He’s a back up now and a great fill-in for the Yankees at mostly third base. He’s not what he was but he’s still a contributing major leaguer.Being at home with the family is nice, personally I love it. But if an athlete were to answer you honestly he’d tell you it doesn’t compare to stepping on the field and competing. At some point you have to come to terms with your career being over, but until then you fight for another day.