Four years ago, Gil Meche took a mildly successful six year career for the Seattle Mariners and turned it into a five year, $55 million contract with the Kansas City Royals. Some people wondered what the team was thinking. Others thought they made the steal of the off-season. Meche just settled in and pitched.
Over the course of the four years with the Royals, Meche would start three opening days and settle in to his role as the leader of this pitching group, despite being overshadowed at times by his rotation mate Zack Grienke.
It was immediately apparent as to why the Roylas brought Meche in. He would lead the American League in games started for the first two years in Royals blue. It was a testament to his work ethic and determination. Over the first three years with the team, Meche would compile a 29-34 record, a 4.12 earned run average, seven strikeouts per nine innings and an impressive 555 innings pitched.
The end of 2009 would show the wear and tear on an arm of a pitcher that had been so reliable. He would hit the disabled list and never quite fully recover. In the process, when he did return to the field in 2010, it was a in a limited role as a reliever for the club. Doing everything he could to contribute and live up to his end of the contract, Meche attempted to pitch through the pain and struggled, to say the least.
On January 18, 2011, Meche did something few ballplayers would ever consider. He announced, with one year and $12 million left on his contract, that he was retiring from baseball. It had come down to surgery in order to continue to play and he did not feel that his life was at a point for that to be a plausible option. The official press release stated:
After a lot of thinking and prioritizing of issues in my life I have decided to retire from baseball. 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. I can’t thank the Kansas City Royals and their fans enough for my four seasons there and if I have any regret, it’s that we weren’t able to accomplish on the field what the goal was when I signed there.
Not many professional athletes would walk away from the game and competition they love, holding their head high, and leaving money “on the table”. Meche has shown a competitive spirit, a passion for the game, and a respect for the integrity of the game that is unparalleled.
Friend of I-70 Baseball and Royals podcaster Nick Scott has asked via Twitter that a movement be started to see Gil Meche throw out the first pitch for Opening Day in 2011.
Meche is a respectable player in the midst of a greedy person’s game. The money that is now available to the Royals could go a long way in solidifying other positions on the field. His number 55 will not be retired, he won’t be considered for even the Royals Hall Of Fame, but he has shown that he is one of the few ball players that deserves the title of “role model”.
Cover photo courtesy of Minda Haas.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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