In 1996, the Seattle Mariners drafted pitcher Gil Meche as their number one choice in the amateur draft. Injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential. His best year in major league baseball was 2003 when he won fifteen games and was voted the Come-back Player of the year. In 2006, as a free-agent, he accepted a five-year, $55 million contract from the Kansa City Royals. Injuries again caused him to miss many games. Rather than face additional surgery to repair his chronically damaged right shoulder, in January 2011 he announced his retirement.
Ordinarily, the stories of professional athletes are of little interest, particularly if those athletes behave badly while earning obscene amounts of money for contributing little to society as a whole. (Or maybe that is why they DO have interest.) But the Gil Meche story is different. Contractually, he was owed $12 million for the 2011 season, whether he played or not. He could have decided to remain on the roster and collected his fat pay-checks and not have pitched a single ball for his team. This is what other athletes have done and continue to do. Mo Vaughan, for example, earned $15 million in 2004 from the New York Mets even though an arthritic knee effectively ended his career the year before. He appeared in no games but walked (hobbled?) away with a fortune.
Meche, in contrast, was grateful to his team; an organization that had rewarded him with $40 million over the four years he pitched for them. He was not going to leave baseball a poor man. He did mention that being a divorced father of three his children could use his attention. But the real reason he turned down the money was voiced by Dayton Moore, the Kansas City Royals general manager. According to Moore, officially retiring and not lingering for the money was, for Meche, a matter of principle. Apparently, Meche was concerned with “doing the right thing.” And for him that meant not taking money when you can’t perform the job.
It is both sobering and refreshing that there are still people around who believe that they should earn their way to success; people who live by the principle that pay is based on effort. From a philosophical perspective, Meche is adducing a moral principle that exceeds the claims of duty proposed by David Hume. Meche prefers the position of one of Hume’s predecessors, Ralph Cudworth (a professor of Hebrew who was instrumental in advocating the re-entry of Jews to England under Cromwell). According to Cudworth, reason discovers what natural justice demands. And once discovered, rational beings are duty bound to follow what natural justice demands. Meche concluded that taking money for a service not rendered would be unfair and unjust. Hence, he should not take the money.
Had Meche been able to play, I would be a fan.