January 18, 2011
No matter who you are or how much you think of your integrity and principles, it has to be hard for anyone to walk away from a guaranteed $12 million for a year of work.
Yet that's exactly what Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche(notes) is doing as he's decided to retire from baseball with one year and $12 million remaining on the five-year, $55 million contract that shocked the baseball world after the 2006 season.
Rather than try to junkball his way out of the bullpen through the final year, Meche thinks it's a fairer choice for everyone if he takes the right arm that former manager Trey Hillman treated with reckless abandon and calls it a career with an 84-83 record and a ERA+ of 99 (for the uninitiated, 100 is league average).
All at the relatively young age of 32, too.
Here's part of Meche's statement that was released on Tuesday morning:
"As a competitor my entire life this is the hardest decision that I've ever faced, but it's not fair to me, my family or the Kansas City Royals that I attempt to pitch anymore. I came into this game as a starting pitcher and unfortunately my health, more accurately, my shoulder, has deteriorated to the point where surgery would be the only option and at this stage of my life I would prefer to call it a career rather than to attempt to pitch in relief for the final year of my contract."
Considering that Meche has already banked more than $50 million in his career, there's no doubt that the cynics are yawning and saying "big deal."
But how often do we complain about an athlete picking up a paycheck when he's not earning it?
And how easy would it have been for Meche to trot himself out to spring training, go on the disabled list a short while later and spend one more year cashing pay stubs bigger than what some Americans make in a lifetime?
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After the way he was treated by Hillman and the Royals — his 128-pitch start with his already-fragile arm last May will go down in infamy — no one could have blamed him.
Indeed, no one outside of Joe Posnanski Land would have noticed if Meche struggled his way through this final year and got paid handsomely for it. But it's clear that the same pride that allowed Meche to perform and pitch near his contract's value in 2007 (an All-Star season) and 2008 is apparently the same pride that has him saying "I'm not worth it" as he leaves $12 million behind on his way out the door.
For that, he should be commended.