Ryan Lavarnway, a Team Israel veteran and World Series champ, retires from MLB


(JTA) — Veteran catcher Ryan Lavarnway announced his retirement from baseball Wednesday, ending a journeyman career that featured 10 seasons in the MLB and multiple appearances with Team Israel.

“I have played on eight big league teams and worn the uniform of 18 other clubs, mostly in the minors, concluding with a stint on Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic this month,” Lavarnway, 35, wrote in an essay announcing the decision in The Athletic. “An outsider might say there were more downs than ups, but I wouldn’t give back a single day.”

Lavarnway was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2008 after an impressive baseball career at Yale University. The California native was a member of the 2013 World Series championship team in Boston, and would go on to play in the big leagues for Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Miami and Cleveland.

Lavarnway’s last MLB appearance came in September 2021 with the Cleveland Guardians. He ended his career with 165 career games, just over one full season. He hit nine career home runs.

But Lavarnway is perhaps best known for his time as a player and leader on Team Israel.

Lavarnway joined Israel for the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier and would play for the team in the 2017 tournament, where he was named Pool A most valuable player. He also played for the team at the 2020 Summer Olympics and the 2023 WBC. He obtained Israeli citizenship in 2019 ahead of the Olympics.

Lavarnway has been vocal about how much it means to him to play for Israel.

“Playing for this team is super meaningful to me,” Lavarnway told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after Israel’s exhibition game against the Miami Marlins prior to the WBC. “It’s been really life changing. And I hope that this next generation of players that are new to this team takes the baton, and it means as much to them as it’s meant to us.”

To the team’s general manager Peter Kurz, Lavarnway is “part of Team Israel for life.”

“All that I can say is that Ryan was the ultimate professional, going about his work in a joyful and experienced manner,” Kurz told JTA. “He was and is dedicated to Team Israel and was our ultimate warrior. But he was also warm and funny and emotional, and those are wonderful traits.”

Kurz also said he would gladly welcome Lavarnway back to the team as a coach.

In his Athletic piece, Lavarnway reflected on his rollercoaster of a career — during which he was demoted, traded or released 26 times.

“You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest, or fastest to accomplish your dreams,” Lavarnway wrote. “You don’t have to see the whole path on your way to success either. You can be better than you ever imagined, you just need to believe it’s possible and figure out the first step to start moving in that direction.”