There are a lot of remarkable things about Felix Hernandez. From the biting mid-90s fastball to the Royal Curve to the blazing change to the on-mound demeanor, Felix possesses a number of qualities on which one could remark. But one of the most remarkable things about Felix Hernandez is that he's a survivor. He's an arm who came up through the Mariners system and got around the woodchipper that claimed the careers of Ryan Anderson, Jeff Heaverlo, Rett Johnson, Travis Blackley, and so many others. The Mariners killed. Felix lived.
Gil Meche was a survivor, too. Sure, he retired today due to continuing problems with his shoulder. And sure, his career almost ended early on the operating table when he had his labrum worked on at the age of 22. Gil Meche came close. But Gil Meche survived, and ends his career having thrown 1432.1 innings in the Major Leagues. That's good enough for 751st all-time, tied with a man named Kaiser Wilhelm.
The story with Meche, of course, is that he was always billed as a guy with electric stuff who could never build on his promise. In both 1998 and 1999, he found himself ranked one of Baseball America's top 100 prospects, and he absolutely dominated with A-ball Wisconsin before turning 20. When he graduated to an inconsistent career with the Mariners, he became a source of frustration, as people wanted him to be so much more than he was.
That perception stuck with him when he went to Kansas City. After signing a five-year, $55m contract with the Royals, expectations were high, and Gil's first start saw him spin 7.1 one-run innings against the Red Sox on Opening Day. But Gil didn't blossom into a classic ace, and while he was pretty good at first, he still always felt like something of an underachiever, and he wound up giving the Royals just two and a half solid seasons on a five-season investment.
And now he's retired at the age of 32. It's clear that Meche's career didn't go the way so many people wanted it to. To a lot of people, Gil should've been a #1, and what held him back was that he was a mental midget who didn't know how to make himself better. There's nothing a sports fan hates more than a guy they feel has wasted so much of his potential.
But it's important to remember a couple things. Gil Meche made a dozen big league starts before his 21st birthday. He was up, and he was up young - much younger, probably, than he should've been. He made all of 16 starts above A-ball before getting thrust to the Majors. The Mariners didn't give him much of a chance to develop among his peers.
And then there was the labrum surgery. Labrum surgery is a big deal now. It was a huge deal in 2001. Labrum surgery was considered something of a death knell, but Gil was able to fight back, and wound up spending the entire 2003 season in the Mariners rotation. Gil Meche underwent one of the worst possible procedures for a pitcher at the age of 22, and between 2003-2009 was still able to make 204 big league starts while pulling home a big-money contract.
From one perspective, Gil Meche underachieved. Here was a guy who came up with a good fastball and three other pitches, and ended with a career ERA+ of 99. Most anyone you ask will tell you that Gil Meche should've been better than that.
But make no mistake: Gil Meche beat the odds. While he could've been better, the same goes for everybody else as well, and it's really rather impressive that he was able to do what he did for as long as he did before his shoulder gave up. Sometimes it's worth forgetting about potential and just focusing on what a guy is able to give. Despite the challenges, Gil Meche gave a lot.