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Complete Meche

January 19, 2011
by

Gil Meche was owed $12 million by the Kansas City Royals for pitching this year.

Not for pitching well, not even for pitching at all if he wasn’t healthy enough to do it. But just by showing up to work this season he would have made 12 million smackers.

But Gil Meche, a journeyman, but not old (just 32), starting pitcher with a lackluster 4.49 ERA over 11 Major League seasons, was mediocre as a baseball player. I don’t mean that in a harsh way, but he was almost perfectly average over his career, sporting an ERA+ of 99 (ERA+ is 100*[lgERA/ERA] Adjusted to the player’s ballpark(s)).

I certainly recognize that making it in the Majors for a decade is a great distinction in and of itself, and I don’t mean to diminish Meche’s career, but I think he will be best remembered for retiring before this season and forfeiting the millions of simoleons he had coming to him.

I don’t know if doing this makes Gil Meche stupid, a man of integrity, morally superior to the great great majority of us who would not have done the same thing in his position, or if it doesn’t mean anything at all. What I do know is that it is fascinating when someone does something that is just that counter-intuitive to the Conventional Wisdom (money-grubbing athletes in money-grubbing society taking all that they can, blah, blah, blah).

In conclusion (cue 1988 Democratic Convention applause at end of Clinton keynote), Joe Posnanski’s description is interesting:

I’ve seen a few pieces on the Internet lauding his integrity for walking away from that money … but frankly I’m stunned at the rather passive way in which most of the people are lauding him. THE MAN WALKED AWAY FROM $12.4 MILLION DOLLARS. If that has ever happened before in the history of professional sports, I have never heard about it. If that has ever happened in the history of the world outside of the movie Arthur, I am forgetting the story. Gil Meche had earned that $12.4 million — earned it by signing with the Royals on that day before the 2007 season, earned it by pitching his heart out, earned it by working with Zack Greinke and others, earned it by giving up his baseball future.

But he doesn’t feel that way. He feels like he can’t pitch anymore, and so the right thing to do is retire. Sure, he could have had surgery and collected the money. Sure, he could have tried to pitch in relief and collected the money. What percentage of people would do that? I’d say 99.999999999%. Hey, that money was his — it was legally his for signing the contract, it was rightfully his for fulfilling his end of the contract, it was medically his for giving up his right shoulder for the Royals, it was ethically his because nobody could doubt that he went above and beyond for the Kansas City Royals.

But he doesn’t feel like he can help the Royals by pitching in 2011. And so he is walking away. It would be wrong to call an extremely rich pitcher “heroic” for leaving behind money that he doesn’t feel like he deserves — that’s just not the right word. I wrote a piece for the back page of SI this week about John Green, father of Christina Green, and that’s where words like “heroic” should go. But there should be a word for what Gil Meche did. Astonishing is one.

“There’s no settlement,” Meche said on a conference call. “The team’s done enough for me.”

He said those words without irony. Four years ago, when the Royals were looking for someone to help change the culture of baseball’s worst team, they signed Gil Meche. For various reasons, it didn’t turn out exactly the way the Royals or Meche wanted. That happens. But it’s clear: The Royals signed the right man.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2011 11:31 am

    Is it more laudable to walk away from a $12 million contract after you’ve already made $50 or $75 million — or whatever Meche has made — or to walk away from a relatively small sum of money knowing you’ll need to go get a day job to support yourself. I’m not knocking Meche, although athletes retiring with unexpired guaranteed contracts happens more than you think — Rasheed Wallace walked away from over $13 million when he retired from the Celtics last June, for example. I am more impressed, though, by a guy who walks away from a modest salary knowing he now has to pound the pavement to feed his family, like Bunny from The Wire, who I believe is working at Jiffy Lube when season six commences.

    • January 19, 2011 11:52 am

      But Bunny knew he would getting residuals, or a percentage of dvd sales.

      • Fat Al permalink*
        January 19, 2011 2:04 pm

        Hey, I’m on episode 3 of season 3, let’s not get too detailed here.

  2. January 19, 2011 11:35 am

    I know that it is, but I don’t understand why this sort of thing is surprising, or more common. Meche earned a major league salary for 10 years, and for the last four that salary was north of 11 million dollars. How much different would his life be if over his career he earned 60 million instead of 50? Both numbers are well into “fuck you money” territory. So why suffer?

  3. January 19, 2011 12:00 pm

    That’s what I’m sayin’!

  4. January 19, 2011 2:48 pm

    This is a little off-topic, but I’m still impressed that the Left Banke walked away from Renee. (And yes, I know that technically Renee walked away from the Left Banke, but they told her to do so.)

    • Fat Al permalink*
      January 19, 2011 3:26 pm

      You’re not to blame.

  5. January 19, 2011 2:50 pm

    Hey Al, I don’t want to give too much away, but a Journey song figures prominently in the last episode of Sopranos. Oh, and Theo Huxtable does in fact graduate from college.

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