Major League Baseball’s opening day is set for Thursday. All 30 big league teams will play, but for the first time in a decade Mississippian Brian Dozier will not.
Dozier, a Fulton native and former Southern Miss standout, has retired at age 33 with two World Series appearances, one World Series ring, an All-Star game appearance, a Gold Glove award, six 20-home run seasons, 192 career home runs, over $30 million in career earnings and one 42-home run season, which stands as one American League record.
All that, and retired at 33. So what do you do?
“Well, I smile a lot knowing I’m not going to have to try to hit a 100 mile an hour fastball tomorrow,” Dozier said, chuckling. “The truth is I’ve got plenty to do, including being a daddy.”
One need not look far to find the two prime reasons why Dozier won’t be in somebody’s clubhouse Thursday. They are 19-month old daughter, Reese, and three-month old son, Rip. Last summer when the pandemic shut down baseball, Dozier found himself at home in the Hub City with his toddler daughter and his then-pregnant wife, Renee. He loved it. Indeed, he didn’t want to go back.
“I am a guy who relies a lot on my faith,” Dozier said. “I kind of fell out of love with playing the game. There were numerous prayers and talks with my wife involved in my decision. Bottom line is I just didn’t feel called to do that any more.”
The birth of son Rip didn’t change that at all. He was just five seasons removed from hitting 42 home runs in a season, the most ever for an American League second baseman, and four seasons removed from winning a Gold Glove as the American League’s top fielding second baseman. And he was done.
The nearness of Opening Day hasn’t changed that.
“I am more sure now than ever that I made the right decision,” Dozier said.
Here’s the deal: What made Dozier the player he was — and he was a special one — was his passion for the game. He worked hard. He played the game hard. But that passion was gone.
Dozier still has plenty to occupy his time. He is a one-man taxi service for day care. He plays a lot of golf — he is also a long ball hitter in that sport — and has multiple business interests. Dozier majored in business and marketing at Southern Miss where he also was a star student. He has put that degree to work with business and real estate investments. On the day we talked, he was en route to the Florida panhandle to close a deal on a storage facility.
“I’ve been investing and doing different business deals all along,” he said. “That won’t change.”
None of that surprises Scott Berry, the Southern Miss coach who recruited him from Fulton to Hattiesburg when Berry was an assistant to Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Corky Palmer.
“If there’s anything Doze can’t do, I don’t think I’ve seen it,” Berry said. “He’s blessed with so many different abilities. He can play piano and guitar. He taught himself. You can toss him a Rubik’s Cube and he’ll toss it back to you — all solved — in less than 30 seconds.”
Berry recalls scouting Dozier when he was a teen playing in a summer league tournament in Oklahoma.
“I watched him play several games over a weekend out there,” Berry said. “He was a shortstop then, of course, and he made every play — I mean, every play. He was like a wizard with that glove. I called Cork back in Hattiesburg and told him, ‘We got to have this guy.’”
Southern Miss had a returning starter at shortstop, but Dozier beat him out, hit .368 as a freshman and made every play at shortstop. He was a four-year starter and a .355 career hitter, who helped the Golden Eagles to their only College World Series appearance in 2009.
Earl Wynn, the same guy who scouted Rafael Palmeiro for the Baltimore Orioles, scouted Dozier for the Minnesota Twins. Berry remembers one Wynn visit to Hattiesburg.
“Earl asked me point-blank if I thought Doze was a Big League player,” Berry said. “I was as honest as I could be with him. I told him I didn’t know for sure because, you know, Brian was not a power hitter for us and the game was headed so much in that direction. I told Earl I knew he had a Big League glove. That much I knew. And I also told him this. I told him, ‘I guarantee you this much. If you sign him, he will make every player he comes in contact with in your organization a better player. At the very least, he will become a great coach or manager for your organization because he has incredible people skills. He will make everyone around him better.’”
Turns out, Berry was right. And other than the American League record for home runs by a second baseman, Dozier’s Major League legacy might be that of the ultimate teammate. Here’s an example: When Dozier was coming up through the Twins farm system, many of his teammates were from the Dominican Republic and other Spanish-speaking countries.
Says Dozier, “It was so difficult to become good friends with them. I could tell so many of them were really good, friendly people but we could not communicate. So I studied it on bus rides and plane rides.”
He bought the Rosetta Stone program. He was a quick study.
“Rosetta Stone taught me to speak proper Spanish, but it didn’t teach me baseball Spanish,” he said. “Clubhouse talk is different.”
So Dozier and his Twins teammate Eduardo Escobar, a Venezuelan, taught each other the nuances of their languages, baseball-wise. Besides becoming good teammates, they became close friends. Indeed, Dozier says he counts many of the Spanish-speaking teammates he played with during his career with the Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals among his closest friends.
Scott Berry was not surprised.
“That’s Brian Dozier in a nutshell,” Berry said. “He saw a problem, and he took it upon himself to fix it. That’s why I think he’d be a great coach or manager if he ever decided to pursue it.”
Dozier doesn’t discount the possibility in the future.
“But right now, I am doing what I feel like I am called to do,” he said.