Money Talks. Would You Talk Back?

Gil Meche of the Kansas City Royals walked away from $12 million. Jean Chatzky wonders: would you do the same?

It’s been two weeks and I still find myself thinking about Gil Meche, the Kansas City Royals player who retired – leaving a guaranteed $12 million on the table – because he wasn’t able to fulfill his role as a starting pitcher.  He was injured. It happens all the time in baseball. In fact, a Babson College paper published last August shows it happens more than all the time. On average, since 2002, 400 baseball players are on the disabled list for all or part of each season. That number is rising. And half the players on the DL are pitchers.

Time after time, they continue to take the money owed them. As Meche told the New York Times, that just didn’t sit right. “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it.  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.”

Granted, he had already pocketed more than $40 million from that contract.   Unless he had been spending at an amazing rate (and after reading about him, he really doesn’t seem the type) he still has more than enough money to live extremely well for the rest of his life. Still, the fact that in the blogosphere he was called everything from an idiot to a hero made me realize most people wouldn’t do the same. Would you? Would I?

Frankly, I’m not sure. From time to time, my husband and I play some version of the lottery game. That’s where you ask – and try to answer – the question: What would you do if someone handed you so much money that you could do anything you want? Not $1 million. More like $10 million. Or  $50 million. Would you continue to work? Would you move? Start a foundation? Split it with your siblings? Make millionaires of your friends?

My answers tend toward the, well, the boring. I think I would continue to work in part because I really like what I do, and in part because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d pay off my mortgage in full (and those of my siblings). I’d fly first class, even when I’m not going on business. And I’d give some away – but I don’t know how much. Mostly, I’d sock it away for tomorrow, or next year, or whenever I found that burning desire to do something else. And I think I’d like the feeling of having that big mound of financial security.

Gil Meche had already played the lottery game and won. He expressed a desire to go back to the Louisiana town where he was raised and put down some roots. All he ever wanted to do was play baseball. He did it. He was done. In his mind, clearly, quitting wasn’t just the rational thing to do. It was the ethical thing to do. The only thing to do.

In a commencement speech at Georgetown University, Vanguard’s John Bogle once told the business school grads: It is said on Wall Street, correctly, that “money has no conscience.” But don’t allow that truism to let you ignore your own conscience, nor to alter your own conduct and character. Gil Meche probably wasn’t listening. But he clearly got the message.

Editor’s Note: Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC’s “Today” show, a contributing editor at More magazine, and the author of “Money 911.” She recently launched the JeanChatzky Score Builder in partnership with www.smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter at @jeanchatzky.

7 comments so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    This is the kind of man I’d like to see in Washington. He has his priorities in order and he will be a living example to those around him. I admire him for taking the high road.
     
    It is past time that we taught out young that money isn’t everything but merely a tool. It can be a useful one that allows us a sustainable lifestyle however; it won’t buy friends, peace of mind or health. I admire Gil Meche for choosing peace of mind. I hope that others follow his example.

  2. avatar spinneo says:

    I had a 12 year career on Wall St., and then when I was pregnant with my second child, I walked away from a very high paying job.  Half my co-workers thought I was crazy, and the other half were awe struck at the nerve.
    My new boss listened to my reasoning and said: “How about you don’t leave, but you just take it kind of easy?  Nobody will complain.”
    But I’d know.  And it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.  I’m the kind of girl who studies to get an A.
    Sometimes I allow myself to wonder what I’d do with the money I would have made working an extra year or two.  But then I pick my kids up from school, and I forget to keep wondering.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    When workers become disabled, they apply for disability. Most don’t have contracts that continue to pay whether they become disabled or not.  Most would prefer to have the salary they had per a contract rather than the meager amount of disability. 

    The $12 million wasn’t from the taxpayers. It was from corporate entities that took the risk per the contract. The risk often underwritten by an insurance company. He was foolish to have not taken advantage of the contract provisions guaranteeing him income.  If he was that bothered by it, he should have taken the $12 million and donated it to charity. The owners of the Kansas City Royals most likely just went out and bought new Bentleys with the money he gave up. If it had been covered by an insurance company, it is doubtful the insurance company passed on the savings to the consumers so to speak.  The executives of the insurance company probably also went out and bought new Bentleys. 

    Altruism is altruistic when it benefits others.  The others who benefitted by this really didn’t need additional benefit. 

    • avatar Linda Myers says:

      In the 1980′s when a select group of players were given 1 million dollars for life (40 Million) KC was somewhat shocked. This year they gave Butler 30 million to stay and nobody thought anything about it. Most of the young players who received the life contract moved on and the older ones retired not too long after the fact. I imagine Saberhagen is still glad he took the option, Quisinberry and Hawser have died since and Brett and White still work for the organization in addition to the life contract. Meche played the cards with his conscience for his own reasons, though I doubt his money worries will come anytime soon. Brett with his money still holds my jerk status, nice guy off the field – no.

  4. avatar Donna H says:

    I once did that…sort of.  I once held a job where I filled in on a half-dozen postitions when people took vacation,union officers  had to attend grievance hearings, etc.  My schedule was made out a month in advance but could be changed up to 10 days in advance without input from me ( 48 hours notice if I agreed to the change).
    The pay cut wasn’t huge, but I got to stay in the same position, & while I still worked a rotating shift, I could have figured it out, in advance, for my whole career.
    Taking the pay cut was worth it.

  5. avatar Donna H says:

    It should say “while I still worked a rotating shift, I could have figured out my schedule, in advance, for my whole career.”

  6. avatar JaneAmos says:

    Gil Meche made 50 mil playing for baseball already, including a sit out in the 2001-2001 season. If he were to continue his contract, he would end up with a losing season. Another 10-12 million ontopof 50 ain’t that much to turn your back on. He would have to end up recovering and rehabbing in the minors. Jean, maybe your source on this is your husband. You need to do your own reporting. Quit trying to be the cool-sports-gal your husnand/boyfriend wants you to be. You already spelled the Phillies outfielder’s name wrong in your Twitter during the playoffs. Give it UP. Stick to what you know. Fancy shoes and mall-shopping. Thanks to your newly found dual income.(Congrats!) (BTW love the lifelong Asics plug in WH mag. I thought, according to this website, you were a Saucony runner? Do you switch allegiances everytime you need a new pair of shoes? Penning a letter and a link to Michele P. right away! Good luck with that! )
    It’s coming, Chatzky. The inquiry into your fast-and-loose journalism. You can’t escape it.