Athletes have a choice. They can extend their career as long as possible, or they can end their career on top. Shaun Powell memorialized the top 10 swan songs of professional sports for Sports On Earth. He spoke with Bill Littlefield about his choices.
Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history. He has over 650 saves in 19 seasons and a career ERA of just over 2. At 43, his final season has been nearly as good as the previous couple of decades.
Rivera’s season isn’t quite over yet, but Powell believes that he’s had one of, if not, the best final campaigns in sports.
“It’s really kind of amazing,” Powers said. “He still throws a very hard mean cutter. I think it’s just as effective now as it was the last three, four, five years–not necessarily in his heyday of the early 2000s, but still very effective. And also understand that the Yankees spent most of the last month in the hunt for a wildcard chase, and it just shows how he has been able to deal with pressure with a team that doesn’t really have a large margin of error.”
Rivera has been able to maintain his performance for nearly 20 years. But Powell says a surprising number of athletes decide to retire when they can still win are quite young.
Bjorn Borg retired from tennis at the age of 26. He was ranked 2nd in the world at the time. To this day no one knows the reason why he left the game.
“Was he having personal problems? Was there something else going on his life that we weren’t aware of?” Powell wondered. “We do know that he has regretted it to an extent because he has financial issues. Then he tried to rush a comeback.”
When Lorena Ochoa of the LPGA retired at the age of 28, her reasons were more obvious.
“She was tired of the travel and wanted to go back home to Mexico to start a family,” explained Powell.
But, Powell says, retiring young and at the top of one’s game isn’t always a good idea.
“A lot of athletes who do retire young, I think they tend to regret a little bit because they could make a little bit more money. But if they have something else to do to keep them active and occupied in retirement then I think they have no regrets.”