KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Royals pitcher Gil Meche retired on Tuesday at age 32, walking away from a $12 million salary rather than face shoulder surgery that could have ended his season before it ever started.
Meche signed a $55 million, five-year deal with Kansas City as a free agent before the 2007 season. But the right-hander had shoulder problems last year while going 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA.
There was a chance Meche could undergo surgery and come back in the bullpen. There was no guarantee, however, that he would be able to pitch at all in 2011.
"I didn't want to go try it again for another season and be the guy making $12 million doing absolutely nothing to help their team," Meche said. "Yeah, a lot of people might think I'm crazy for not trying to play and making this amount of money. I don't think I'm ever going to regret it."
Meche's decision drew a predictable reaction from some of his friends.
"I told a lot of people, the first comment when they heard this come from my mouth was, '$12 million,'" he said. "My first reaction is I'm not a guy who's going to sit here and play baseball for the money. I know you hear a lot of athletes say, 'It's not for the money, it's not for the money.' Actually, it wasn't.
"And hopefully this does show a lot of guys do feel the same as I do. Yeah, I've made a lot of money in my career and I know I'm financially good. My kids are good. That's comforting for me. I'm not a guy who's going to go and blow money. The money wasn't ever, ever a factor in my decision."
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he's never heard of another player making a similar move.
"I think it really reaffirms and validates why we signed Gil Meche," Moore said. "The integrity and the class, and the respect that he's displaying. We appreciate it very much. He's walking away from the final year of his contract. That's very unique."
Meche was the Royals' opening-day starter in 2007, '08 and '09. His best season was 2008 when he was 14-11 with a 3.98 ERA, but the Royals still finished 75-87.
He retires with a 84-83 record in 10 seasons with Seattle and Kansas City. With the Royals, he was 29-39 with a 4.27 ERA in 111 games, including 100 starts.
Meche went 6-10 with a 5.09 ERA in 2009 while limited by back and shoulder problems. He pitched in 20 games last season, including nine starts.
"After a lot of thinking and prioritizing of issues in my life I have decided to retire from baseball," he said. "I want that team to win, and hopefully this helps them."
Shut out of the postseason since 1985 with an overmatched low-payroll team, Royals fans hoped Meche's signing would encourage owner David Glass to begin increasing payroll. To some extent, he did, signing free agent outfielder Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million deal before the 2008 season. Guillen, after spotty success in Kansas City, was traded last August to the San Francisco Giants.
Many have tried to trace Meche's decline to June 16, 2009, when then-manager Trey Hillman let him throw a career-high 132 pitches in a complete-game shutout of Arizona.
Soon after, Meche began experiencing back and shoulder problems, and Hillman was criticized for overworking him. But Meche said Tuesday that game had "absolutely nothing" to do with his shoulder problems.
"I would have loved to go out and make this amount of money but I wanted to be healthy at the same time," he said.