HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

October 2, 2006

Athletes need to learn a lesson from Radke

By Jesse Menden

To retire or not to retire, that is the question.

It is an issue that plagues so many aging athletes, and a story that many media types flock to. There are really three ways to handle it for an athlete.

One way is to think it over for several months and keep your organization and fans in limbo. Most often the decision is to come back and play. Do I really need to say the name of the quarterback that did this and plays for a Vikings’ rival?

A second way is to retire, return to play a couple of months or a year later, and then retire again. The list here is too long to mention names. But one that does have some comedic value is Jeff George. This former Vikings quarterback was signed by the Raiders during this preseason, only to be cut after one practice. He had been retired for about two years and was rumored to be playing in a shuffleboard league in a retirement community in Florida when the Raiders called him.

The final way is to just hang it up. Locally, the most notable athlete that will do that is Brad Radke, who had said he will retire at the end of the playoffs.

Why can’t more athletes retire like Radke? He has left no room for interpretation, he is leaving. Only time will tell, but it seems sincere.

Even while he was doing well during the middle of the season and his shoulder was attached to his body by more than just a thread, he shut the door on any talks of him pitching next year.

Just imagine the speculation during the playoffs if Radke had said he might not retire if he had a good finish to the season, or if he said he would think about it during the offseason. It would cause distractions galore.

Fans can only respect his successful career more because of the way he is walking away. He could keep going and struggle through a season or two with the Twins or another team, but he’s had enough; he’s moving on.

The latest athlete to be mulling over his options and causing distractions is NASCAR’s Mark Martin. He announced last year that the 2005 season was to be his farewell tour. Fans showered him with thanks at every track that he was supposedly visiting for the last time. But his success and his owner Jack Roush’s inability to find an adequate replacement gave Martin little choice but to come back.

So naturally, this season would be Martin’s last in a Cup car. But hold on. Even though Martin already had plans to defect to the Craftsman Truck Series and a more limited schedule for 2007, he said last week he now may want to run some Nextel Cup races next season, after not wanting to run a single race this year.

What’s more, he has not ruled out the prospect of going back to a full schedule in the Cup series in 2008. So the 47-year-old Martin may go full circle, from wanting to retire completely after last season, to running a full schedule in ‘08.

Martin’s indecision would be fine, but he is in the middle of the Chase for the Cup, NASCAR’s version of playoffs. All of the questions and distractions cannot help the No. 6 team’s push for the championship, which would be Martin’s first.

It seems that the Chase is almost secondary for Martin at this point, while he tries to find a sponsor for next season, despite the fact that he is well within striking distance of the top this year.

If Martin could decide what he wants to do, like Radke has, it would be the sole focus for him and his team. But with so much uncertainty, how can the No. 6 car get a complete team effort? Wave the red flag on his chances, it will be tough.

Even though Martin wants more weekends off (who doesn’t?), his continued success may change his mind again. And Roush still has not found a 2007 driver for the No. 6 car. Martin has claimed he is done racing for Roush, but who knows what he will decide in the coming weeks, much less a season from now. Stay tuned.

Radke’s way of retiring is more than refreshing. Quite frankly, I’m tired of reading about athletes and their last game or season, only to have them reappear the following year.

And what about those fans who go to the games to see an athlete for the last time? I remember going to the Target Center to see the ‘Mailman’ Karl Malone for what was to be his last trip to Minnesota. Surprise, he signed with the Lakers the next season and the mail was delivered for another season, albeit catalogues and bills.

Those scenarios where a player you thought was going to retire went to another team, like Malone did when he went to the Lakers, can be sad. I feel sorry for those fans.

Just think about all those wasted standing ovations given by crowds that were told it would be somebody’s last game.

I propose that leagues have athletes sign a letter of intent to retire so fans don’t have to ride the roller coaster of retirement emotion.

Radke has been a stand-up guy for his entire career with the Twins. He has said he is done at the end of the season and is going out the way an athlete should. Thanks, Brad.