Scot Shields, the only player left from the Angels' 2002 World Series championship cast, is coming to the end of the road. While it is not official, it appears inevitable that the premier setup man of his era will not be back in 2011 when the Angels gather in Tempe, Ariz., to map out plans for a return to power.
The organization has a slew of young power arms who appear destined to absorb the innings that once belonged to the unassuming right-hander from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who now calls Northville, Mich., home with wife, Jaimie, and their two daughters.
"I'm just enjoying the last week, sitting around here hanging out with the guys," Shields said as the Angels alighted in Texas for a season-ending four-game series with the American League West champion Rangers. "I've had a lot of great memories in my career, and I've made a lot of great friends in the clubhouse."
Asked to assess his career, he gave it some thought.
"I like to stay out of the limelight," he said. "I feel I had some success here -- and a lot of fun doing it."
The past two seasons have been nothing like the previous eight. A left knee ailment led to season-ending surgery in 2009, and he has not recaptured dominant form in his return this season, fighting command issues.
A dreamer who became a realist, Shields is about to become a free agent, his four-year, $18 million deal expiring. He understands he's not in the demand he was when he was as durable and dependable a reliever as you could find for the seventh and eighth innings.
Shields by the numbers
Shields, never been known as a guy who throws money around, has set up his family nicely. If he pitches again, it will be for reasons having to do with competitive instincts, camaraderie and the desire to pursue an elusive championship.
"Scot just turned 35," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's still throwing 90, 91 [mph]. He has life in his arm. If you look at his stuff, it's not bad. He's just not as dynamic as he was four, five years ago. He's had a remarkable run.
"Scotty is very dedicated to his family. He's got to make a decision. Does he want to keep pressing on? Is it diminishing returns, being away from home? If he wants to keep chasing a dream of competing in the Major Leagues, he still has the stuff he needs to pursue that. It becomes a personal decision."
Troy Percival, one of Shields' esteemed teammates when Scot broke in with the 2001 Angels, walked away and came back after giving his body time to heal. It's not out of the question that Shields might do that -- sit out a year, recharge, come back and show he still can put away big league hitters for a contender.
"Percy came back throwing pain-free," Scioscia said. "This game can wear you down. There's so much pain sometimes that it hits you, and it's tough to work through it. Take some time off, it can refresh you. We've seen it happen."
His unaffected blue-collar style made the setup role -- essential yet so often underestimated -- a perfect fit.
A 38th-round Draft pick out of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., in 1997, he used that lively arm and unrelenting nature to frustrate the game's best hitters from 2002-08.
Sports Illustrated named Shields its setup man of the decade, an honor he accepted with characteristic humor and humility.
"He's old-school," staff ace Jered Weaver said. "When he was healthy, he was the best in that role. And he was happy doing it. He didn't care about the glamour of closing. He just wanted to win. He's one of the best guys you could be around -- never too serious with that sarcastic sense of humor of his. Great teammate, just a regular guy."
A regular guy who always took the ball when Scioscia dialed his number, dousing fires with wicked sinkers and dancing breaking balls.
"He took on an incredible workload, always with high expectations," Scioscia said. "He expected to come into a game and hold a lead. He could have been a closer in a lot of different scenarios, but he was an unbelievable team guy. He knew Percy had the experience and Frankie [Rodriguez] had electric stuff. And he understood the eighth inning was as important as the ninth.
"I don't think there's anybody who's been more durable over the course of their career. Scot could have challenged Mike Marshall's record [of 106 appearances in a season] if we let him. Scot would have taken the ball every day if we'd let him."
Shields led the Majors with 425 relief innings from 2004-08. He refuses to second-guess himself for pushing the envelope, finding it ironic that it was a knee -- not the arm everyone worried about -- that finally betrayed him.
"Being bow-legged didn't help," he said, grinning. "For having a violent delivery, I've gotten a lot out of my body for as long as I've pitched.
"No regrets. Not a single one."
With a chance to pursue free agency, Shields likely would have drawn interest as a closer, commanding a higher price tag. But he was happy where he was and felt he was well compensated.
"I was on a winning team with guys I enjoyed competing with," Shields said. "I was setting up for a guy who I believed was the best closer in the game -- Frankie. We worked well together, and I was happy with that."
No regrets. A World Series ring as an impressionable rookie, a vault full of wonderful memories -- not a bad way to walk away from the only professional home a regular guy with uncommon talent has known.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less