By Ross Kelly
It's always tough for an athlete to walk away. After doing something for nearly your entire life, at the first sign of slippage you're usually in denial. You blame a poor season on injuries, teammates, coaches, or "circumstances". Fans and peers see the slippage but the athlete himself does not. As the famous saying goes, "The athlete is always the last to know."
There are a couple of all-time greats still going at it who have reached this point. As we all know, Father Time is still undefeated but these athletes don't realize that yet. Thus, here is my list of current athletes who needed to retire...yesterday:
10. Charles Tillman - Tillman is still a very effective cornerback and has performed well when he's played. But he hasn't played much over the last two seasons as both seasons have ended early due to multiple tears to his triceps. He signed with the Panthers in the offseason but I can't help but think this season will end for Tillman the same as the previous two did. In 2014 Tillman was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable efforts and Peanut seems like someone who would be so much more valuable off the field than on it at this point.
9. Ichiro - We all know why Ichiro is still playing. He wants to reach 3000 hits in MLB and he wants to catch Pete Rose's all-time hits record (counting both MLB and Japan). That would be fine and dandy if he was hitting .300, stealing 50 bases, or playing Gold Glove defense. But he isn't even doing one of those and is doing more harm than good for the Miami Marlins. Ichiro's WAR this season sits at -0.8 which ranks 89th out of 94 qualified outfielders.
8. Reggie Wayne - After 14 seasons with the Colts, Wayne was not re-signed this offseason and is currently a free agent. But Wayne recently said he wants to play in 2015 and several teams are interested. He would be nothing more than a veteran/locker room presence as his play has fallen off in recent years. Never a burner, Wayne posted the lowest yards per reception of his career in 2014 with a 12.2 avg which is pretty good...for a tight end. Wayne should just follow the route of Marvin Harrison, retire as a Colt, and (hopefully) get a phone call from Canton in five years.
7. Ronaldinho - Remember him? The last multi-winner of the FIFA Player of the Year Award before the Messi/Ronaldo era took started? Well he's still playing but not in any of the major European leagues (or even MLS). Ronaldinho is playing in his native Brazil as he just announced he signed with Fluminense through the end of 2016. His last season in a top league was five years ago but he's still chugging along and collecting checks off his name rather than his game. Apparently the Brazil National Team saw it before everyone else when they skipped over him at the 2010 World Cup despite him being one of the most popular athletes in the world. Now it's time for Ronaldinho to realize it as well.
The Undertaker - Just kidding, never retire 'Taker.
6. Kurt Angle - Angle would have made this list even before his recent scary situation where he lost feeling in his extremities. Angle's nearly 20 year career in the ring has clearly taken its toll and he should have hung up the boots five years ago. Apart from inside the ring, he's had a number of issues outside the ring as well including substance abuse problems and numerous DUIs. I've heard good things about WWE's Rehab initiative and since it's open to all current and former WWE talent, hopefully Angle takes them up on their offer.
5. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, David Villa and every other international MLS Designated Player (except Andrea Pirlo). All of these players' primes were five years ago (except Pirlo). I don't get how the MLS thinks that marketing a bunch of foreign players in their mid-30's is a great way to promote your league. The focus should be on the young, homegrown talent as they're the ones who will carry American soccer. I loved watching these Designated Players in the 2006 World Cup, but their time has passed. The MLS will always be seen as a second-tier league as long as it keeps accepting players who could no longer cut it in the big leagues. Some of these players are making literally 100 times as much as their teammates and none of them are actually worth it (except Pirlo).
4. CC Sabathia - When it's gone, it's gone and Sabathia appeared to lose it two years ago. Since the start of the 2013 season Sabathia has gone 21-25 with a 5.04 ERA. This season his ERA sits at 5.47 and it appears all those 200+ inning seasons (and especially that Brewers stint) have finally caught up to him. Sabathia's last few years look eerily similar to the end of Roy Halladay's career. After the worst two years of Halladay's career, he knew it was over. Will Sabathia see it as well?
3. Manny Pacquaio - It's clear that over the past few years, Pacquiao's priorities have shifted and even though he's still a boxer at heart, it's not the only thing on his mind. There's the "basketball" career, the singing career, and the political career and all of those have taken some of Pacquiao's focus away from the ring. That may work if you play tennis or golf, but when you're in a combat sport, you can't have any less than 100% focus. Pacman is 3-3 in his last six fights and he's delusional if he things he won the Mayweather fight. He's still a draw, but so was Mike Tyson at the end of his career despite also being a laughingstock. Hailed for his punching power as a welterweight, it's been six years since Pacquaio has won via knockout. If he sticks around then it's clear he's just chasing more big paydays.
2. Kobe Bryant - Whenever a player reaches the end of his career and his skills have clearly declined, there are still a couple of reasons for them to keep playing. They could be like Tim Duncan and still be an effective player. They could be like Kevin Garnett and serve as a mentor to younger players. Or, they could be like Paul Pierce and shift to a reduced role. Kobe Bryant is 0 for 3 in those categories and it's (past) time for him to retire. I can understand him giving it another shot after the torn Achilles, but when he broke his leg in 2013, he should have gotten the message. He's doing more harm than good for the Lakers, both on the court, and off it. Even teammates didn't like playing with Bryant. He is essentially holding the Lakers hostage for the length of his contract and with the Lakers not even close to competing for a championship; Bryant is essentially pulling a Steve Nash without explicitly saying so.
1. Ken Shamrock - In case you missed it, last month 51-year-old Ken Shamrock stepped back into the octagon to take on YouTube "legend" Kimbo Slice. In a match that could have taken place seven years ago (but should have never taken place period), Slice defeated Shamrock by TKO in the first round. Once billed as "The World's Most Dangerous Man", Shamrock is now a grandfather whose prime was nearly 20 years ago. It's a sad sight to see him still grappling with fighters who grew up idolizing him. Hopefully his last comeback was the last comeback as even the most ardent of Shamrock fans would admit it's past time for him to retire.
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