Bruce Maxwell had a chance to return to MLB.
The former A's catcher -- who became a national symbol for the sport by being the first player to kneel during the national anthem -- was told Oakland wanted to bring him in this spring when the team's depth at the position appeared minimal.
But Maxwell turned down the offer, as he still feels the pain of seeing the reaction to his protest from around the baseball world. He felt the offer was a courtesy to his agent, former A's star and NBC Sports California analyst Dave Stewart.
"I didn't feel there was a real want for me," Maxwell says. "I told Dave, 'I don't want a job because you're my agent.' I didn't want to be a charity case. I think Dave thinks I made a mistake, and I respect that, but here's the real: I still had a lot of pent-up feelings about being there, and as I told Dave, I didn't want to mess up his reputation if I walked in there and couldn't make it work. I just kept asking myself if I wanted to be subjected to all that again, walking in there, with everyone wondering what my face meant and if they were going to judge me because I wasn't as cheerful as they wanted me to be, or they were just waiting to call me a failure if I didn't play well. I didn't need it. They did a favor for Dave."
Stewart told ESPN he didn't agree with Maxwell, saying that the choice was all Maxwell's when it came to his return to MLB.
"Bruce couldn't get past his ego. That's why he's not in the major leagues," Stewart says. "I told him, 'You have to humble yourself sometime.' He wasn't willing to do that. I had to go back to the A's and tell them we weren't going to be able to work something out."
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A's executive vice president Billy Beane reflected on the opportunity, emphasizing that he's always had a soft spot for Maxwell.
"I certainly have a personal and professional relationship with Stew, and we have an affinity for Bruce because we drafted him," Beane says. "But this has always been who we are. We liked him as a player, and we've always been able to adjust to unique personalities. Would we do Stew a favor? Yes, he had a credit bank with us, but that's not why we did it. Bruce worked hard to be a major league-level player. He is a major league player, and Stew's right: We don't just hand out major league jobs."
The A's selected Maxwell in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, going No. 62 overall. He began his protest near the end of 2017 and played one more season in Oakland before entering free agency in 2018. He's played the past two baseball seasons with Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican Baseball League. Maxwell slashed .240/.314/.347 with five home runs over 412 career MLB plate appearances with the A's.
Even in spite of the consequences, Maxwell sounds content with his choices.
"The last three years of my life have been hell. I lost my money, my job, my wife, and I've finally gotten to a place where I could figure myself out," he says. "When I came down here, all eyes were on me, without backlash. Honestly, I've never been happier. I busted my ass to become myself. I like myself now, and this opportunity here, nobody gave it to me. I earned it. I finally feel like I belong somewhere, and I cannot put that aside right now. My happiness makes me money, 'cause when I'm happy, nobody can touch me. People love me unconditionally down here, unlike in the States."