[ Finally reduced to hunt-and-pecking blog posts from an Arlington, VA. Starbucks as the result of a still-ongoing power outage at the Marshall home-office, I apologize for an uncharacteristically quiet day.]
All Kansas City pitcher Gil Meche needed to do to collect $12 million in 2011 was to show up, do his best to pitch—which his ailing right arm would no longer permit him to do—and cash the checks. But despite having an iron-clad contract (the last in a long-term deal he signed as a free agent), Meche decided to retire, thus ending the contract and forfeiting the money.
“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”
Nobody on the cash-strapped team that Meche saved $12 million, including executives and ownership, would have thought less of Meche if he had done what every almost every other professional athlete has done when his mega-million contract lasted a year or so more than his ability to earn it. Teams sign free agents to long-term contracts accepting the likelihood that the money paid for the last, often declining or injury-reduced years are a necessary price to be paid to sign the player at all. Meche had a five year guaranteed contract, pitched well for two, and struggled to regain his health, spending more time in rehabilitation than on the mound, the last two. The Royals were resigned to watching 2011 be more of the same, and paying for it. It was Gil Meche (whose name is reminiscent of the fictional pitching ace Gil Gamesh, a central figure in Phillip Roth’s epic baseball satire, “The Great American Novel”) who couldn’t stand the idea of being paid so much for doing so little.
For putting personal integrity and fairness above the almighty dollar, as rare an act in 21st Century America as juggling eels, Gil Meche is an Ethics Hero.