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In 2016, Dexter Fowler became the first — and still only — player to hit a leadoff home run in Game 7 of the World Series.
As he rounded first base, Fowler memorably spun 180 degrees to face the jubilant visiting dugout in Cleveland. Five hours later, Fowler stood with his teammates on a rain-soaked field. The Chicago Cubs were champions for the first time in 108 years. Heavy, happy tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I’m not even a crier,” Fowler recalled in a recent interview with MLB.com. “You’re just so happy. You’re like, ‘What just happened?’
“Everybody was talking about the Cubs, the Cubs, if the Cubs do it. … To this day, people come up and [say], ‘Thank you.’ I wake up every day, and I’m like, ‘How did God choose me to win the World Series?’ Not only a World Series, but the World Series. That was the biggest World Series you could ever win. And we did it. The emotions just take over. It was overwhelming.
“You chase that feeling again. Toward the end of my career, I was chasing that feeling again. It wasn’t about money. It was about the love of the game and chasing championships. I already had one. I wanted another one.”
Fowler, 36, isn’t chasing a second World Series ring anymore — at least, not as a player. He announced Tuesday morning via Instagram that he’s decided to retire from a career that included a 2016 All-Star Game selection, a 2008 Olympic bronze medal and five postseason appearances over 14 years in the Major Leagues.
While Fowler is remembered widely for a World Series home run, the triple remains his trademark play; he finished with 82, the most of any Major Leaguer since his debut with the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 2, 2008.
Fowler’s final Major League game was a painful one: While playing with the Angels, he was carted off the field after suffering a torn left ACL on April 9, 2021. Following season-ending surgery and rehabilitation of the knee, Fowler played briefly for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in 2022. That brought some closure. In recent weeks, Fowler provided a short list of teams to his agent, Casey Close, in the event that one expressed serious interest. When that didn’t happen, Fowler’s decision was clear.
Fowler is excited to spend more time with his wife, Darya Aliya Fowler, and daughters Naya and Ivy. He’s proud to be a “dance dad.” And he’s content with all he achieved as a player — for good reason.
Seven years ago, he starred in one of the great sports stories in American history.
“That whole year, the buzz in Chicago, the buzz even around the nation … every game was a home game,” Fowler recalled. “There was Cubs fans everywhere. Honestly, we were like the Beatles. We had security walking us everywhere. It was outrageous. Police escorts.
“Trying to recreate that … You talk to your old teammates, even guys who are still playing, there’s never going to be anything like ’16. Even the guys like [John] Lackey and [Jon] Lester and Rossy [David Ross], they won in Boston. And they were like, ‘Boston was special, but this is crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Fowler played center field for all 10 innings of Game 7, which meant he had a great view of the Rajai Davis home run that he’d rather forget. And thanks to a pair of iconic Nikes, he’ll always remember what he thought as the ball sailed over the wall in left.
“It’s funny,” Fowler said. “I’m a huge sneaker head, so I tell my Jordan rep, ‘If we win the World Series, I want to wear the Jordan 11s.’ This is the mecca. Nobody wears the 11s but MJ — or if you win championships, you wear the 11s. He goes, ‘If you win the World Series, you can wear the 11s anytime you want.’
“We’re winning. I’m thinking, ‘We’re about to win this World Series. We’ll get this ring. And then I’m wearing the 11s. Let’s go!’”
“The 11s!” Fowler exclaimed, laughing as he recalled his immediate reaction. “I can’t wear my 11s! I can’t wear my Jordans. It was more than that, but that stuck in my head. I’m like, ‘I can’t believe it! Rajai snatched them! We have to get them back.’”
But years later, Fowler still playfully averts his gaze and shields his eyes when the two see each another.
“You were a nightmare,” Fowler tells Davis.
“But y’all won!” Davis will reply.
“Yeah, but you scared me,” Fowler responds. “That broke my heart. I wake up in the middle of the night, say, ‘Rajai!’ and go back to sleep.”
World Series Game 7 would be Fowler’s final game as a Cub. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the rival St. Louis Cardinals a little more than one month later.
“They were super transparent with me [about] their budget,” Fowler said of the Cubs. “I had a great talk with Theo [Epstein]. The Ricketts were great. The organization was first class. They called me and told me how thankful they were to have me, but basically I’d outpriced myself — which is not a bad thing.
“It’s part of a chapter in your book. You turn the page and try to start something else. I got the chance to be a Redbird and play for the Cardinals for four years, then the Angels. It was sad leaving, but you turn the page and move on — exactly like I’m doing with my career.”
The influence of Fowler’s mother, Trudy, was essential in Fowler reaching his first Major League game, let alone his 1,460th.
Fowler starred in baseball and basketball at Milton (Ga.) High School; he received basketball recruiting letters from Duke and North Carolina before ultimately committing to play baseball at the University of Miami. Those plans changed when the Rockies signed him as a 14th-round pick in the 2004 MLB Draft.
First stop: Casper, Wyo., of the Pioneer League.
Fowler remembers a long trip from Casper to the season opener in Idaho Falls. It was the middle of the summer — and cold. Miami sounded like paradise. At one rest stop along the journey, he called Trudy and wondered aloud if he’d made a mistake.
“She’s like, ‘Dex, just pray on it, you haven’t even played a game yet,’” he remembered. “You appreciate the grind when you’re out of it. When you’re in it, it’s like, ‘I’ve got to get through this, because I know the grass is greener on the other side.’”
Fowler plans to stay involved in baseball through broadcasting and his role as a committee member with the Players Alliance, which is dedicated to community engagement and expanding diversity in the sport.
He’s also interested in leadership roles with MLB clubs.
“I want to be a part-owner,” Fowler said. “I want to have my hands on a team. I feel like I could build a great team, a great product, and put them out on the field. I’ve been in the so-called trenches. I’ve seen personalities. I know what works and I know what doesn’t work in clubhouses. I can look at guys and know if they can play the game or not.”
And Darya is already on record with a prediction about her husband.
“She thinks my post-career is going to be bigger than my career,” he said. “I hope she’s correct.”