On January 18, 2011, Gil Meche of the Kansas City Royals retired. At the time, he was in the last year of a $55 million contract and for a lot of his contract, he was injured and therefore spending most of his time on the disabled list instead of helping his team to win games. Unlike football, contracts in baseball for the most part are guaranteed money. For the 2011 season, Gil was to earn slightly over $12M, this was whether he was able to play or on the disabled list. In something that never happens however, when he retired, Meche told the Kansas City Royals to keep that money. He had every right to retire and collect his money, but instead he said “I didn’t want to go try it again for another season and be the guy making $12 million and doing absolutely nothing to help this team,” he said. Part of the reason for retiring is that he has been dealing with a shoulder injury and back problems the last couple of seasons and it would require surgery to fix. Even if he were to get the surgery, he still might end up spending time on the disabled list.
When I first heard about this, I was in all honesty shocked. Not because the Royals were going to be losing a great pitcher (because while I find the Royals to be a super annoying PITA for the White Sox, Meche wouldn’t be someone I’d consider a great pitcher) but because he GAVE THE MONEY BACK! Essentially, it was like saying, I can’t live with myself just collecting money and not actually earning it! There has only been one other story I have heard of where a player thought he didn’t deserve the money so instead of pocketing it, he gave it to charity and that was Lyman Bostock, who tragically died way too young. For those unfamiliar, Bostock signed a big free agent contract to play for the California Angels and during his the first month or so of the new contract season, he wasn’t producing to his or the team’s liking. Because of this, he felt he didn’t deserve his salary so instead of keeping it for his poor performance, he donated those early paychecks to charity. I think when Bostock did this, it was probably far more of a big deal because players didn’t make nearly what they make now. Not to mention, there is always the thought of earning all that money can take care of your family, your children’s families and generations to come from being a professional athlete making millions of dollars.
Meche could have done the same thing. He could have taken the money and said this for my children, grandchildren and generations to come. Instead, he said didn’t want to be that guy and gave it back. If he had decided to just collect his checks while doing nothing to help his team, fans everywhere would just cite him as another case of a greedy player doing nothing and collecting millions. However, he didn’t do this. I am sure that this will endure Meche to KC fans and hopefully he will get a little love for baseball, or better sports fans everywhere. Personally, I was most struck with his saying I didn’t want to be that guy because I’ve become cynical with so many things in life where I see people just taking all that they can without giving back. And I know that tons of athletes give back for what the opportunity they’ve been given to play a game for a living, but it almost never comes in the form of giving up salary. That just isn’t the American way. Really not to go off in some crazy political rant, I always wonder will society ever get to a point where people aren’t striving to earn more money or get more things in that pursuit of happiness. Seeing someone give back money that he was legitimately entitled to makes me think there is hope that the pursuit of more for the sake of more might actually become a bit normal.
Congratulations Gil on a short career and for showing that perhaps money isn’t everything. You can read his comments about retirement here. As a White Sox fan, I won’t be sad to see you not around on the mound though. As a sports fan, you do make me wish there were more people in the world who would do what you have done.