If you were offered $12 million, would you turn it down? What if you already had more than you needed? What if you thought you hadn’t done anything to deserve it?
This is the story of Gil Meche, a 32-year-old now former pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. Meche had a multi-million dollar guaranteed contract but decided to retire early instead. He said, “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 [he needs surgery on the shoulder of his pitching arm]. Honestly I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”
Meche doesn’t view his action as heroic (most heroes don’t) but as “just me getting back to a point in my life where I’m comfortable. Making that amount of money from a team that’s already given me over $40 million for my life and for my kids, it just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
What if Meche’s behavior caught on? People would have to assess when enough is enough. How important is a bigger house, a second house, a boat? His resignation gets to the heart of what is important in life. It helps sort needs from wants; it makes clear the relative place of ambition and relations.
It also raises the matter of justice. How do you decide what is fair pay for the job done? Society is beginning to look at corporate CEO compensation and the money earned by investment bankers and hedge fund managers and asking, is it fair? Tens of millions a year when their secretaries don’t approach six figure salaries? Millions in bonuses when the business goes bust and bailed out by taxpayers?
Meche also makes me think about honest self-assessments. He knew that he couldn’t give the Royals what they had contracted for now that his shoulder was bad. The law was on his side but his conscience was on the other. Perhaps those who no longer are making a solid contribution to their organization should follow Meche’s lead and step down (assuming they have the financial wherewithal).
Is Meche a hero? I agree with him that he shouldn’t be so considered. What he did is what any self-respecting person ought to. But his behavior was unusual and the right thing to do. In that way, he got me to think about the ethical dimension of parts of my life and that’s also good.