Jan 20, 2022 - Sports

Suicide raises questions about MLB mental health

Rays' bullpen catcher Jean Ramirez in a black and white headshot.
Photo: Tampa Bay Rays/Twitter

In the aftermath of Rays bullpen catcher Jean Ramirez's death by suicide, people are wondering if the Rays — and MLB as a whole — may have a mental health problem.

What's happening: The 28-year-old's body was found last Monday near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, and ruled a suicide a few days later.

  • In a statement released through the Rays, Ramirez's family said they want to honor his life by helping other families.
  • "The loss of our son has been the most excruciating experience we have lived. Unfortunately, we sometimes don't see the signs. Struggling in silence is not OK."

Flashback: Rays relief pitchers Ryan Sherriff and Ryan Thompson both took breaks last season for their mental health, citing difficulties stemming from pandemic shutdowns.

  • Sherriff told Sports Illustrated: "As soon as I toed the rubber, I felt nothing. No emotions. No adrenaline. Nothing. I thought, Wow, what am I doing here if I don't feel a damn thing? We're winning 2–0. It's the seventh inning. That's when I knew: 'I need to leave.' "
  • Thompson told the Tampa Bay Times that just days after pitching in the World Series, he had a breakdown thinking about the sacrifices of his career. "I had all these revelations. … I had basically given up everything I could give up for this baseball dream."

Zoom out: It's not just the Rays. Several other MLB players also took leaves of absence last year for similar reasons.

  • Within days of Sherriff's break, Angels pitcher Ty Buttrey retired from baseball and both Phillies outfielder Adam Hasely and reliever Chris Devenski took breaks from their teams.

Context: The problem seems to be starting in the minor leagues, where players have historically faced poverty-level pay and poor housing while fighting for their chance to make the majors, leading to a "mental health crisis," per ESPN.

  • White Sox prospect Jake Burger recently spoke to The Athletic about how he wants to change the game for mental health in baseball by opening up about years of anxiety and depression.

What to watch: Beyond the announcement of Ramirez's death, not much is being said about mental health in the sport by MLB or major sports media outlets that cover it .

  • Representatives for the Rays and the MLB player's union didn't immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
  • In the midst of all of this, MLB is still in labor negotiations after locking out players in December. It's looking like spring training could be postponed.
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