Smurf Turf

et the (retirement) party begin!
Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 4:54pm

Retirement: every working woman or working man’s dream. Sleep in. Kick back. Toss away the calendar and never look at your watch again. Time for the grandchildren and time to enjoy those AARP discounts at Burger King. It’s the prime slice of life, those golden years between punching the clock and when you’ve lost your marbles and are led away to the rest home of your children’s choice.

The average American retires at the ripe age of 67. But what’s the retirement age of an athlete? Whenever they want, if they’re really good; whenever the coach and GM want if their skills are faltering and the word “cut” takes on a new and sinister meaning. But lately, we’ve seen a few unusual retirements. It’s time to pull out a few of your favorite fizzy drinks and join in the retirement party review.

Leading off is disgruntled Chicago pitcher Carlos Zambrano (age 30) who called it a career after he gave up eight earned runs in 4+ innings of “work,” and got himself tossed out of the game, too. Zambrano, who has always had the calming presence in the clubhouse of say, the audience at a Justin Bieber concert, stormed off the field, immediately cleaned out his locker and left. He announced his retirement via Twitter as he bolted the stadium. Of course, a few days later, he announced he was only kidding and wanted to come back and play some more ball. Maybe he was starting to feel the pinch of not collecting his annual salary of roughly $18.8 million a year. Hint from the Smurf: Never quit a job that pays $18.8 million a year. Never.

Meanwhile, former all-star baseballer Manny Ramirez (age 39) took a more subtle approach to his retirement. In 2009, Manny served a 50-game suspension for a positive test for “performance enhancing drugs,” or in layperson’s lingo, steroids. In 2011, our buddy Manny made the bonehead mistake of taking drugs again. Instead of serving the 100-game suspension imposed by Major League Baseball for his second steroid offense, Manny announced his retirement and flew to Spain with his Pops to begin his new life. Of course, just because he isn’t a big-league ballplayer anymore doesn’t mean he isn’t hitting anymore. A couple of weeks ago, he was arrested for battery, the kind that comes when you’re punching your wife, which he allegedly did. Class act, that Manny. Drugs and a wife-beater, rolled into one lovable package. Maybe he should join ex-NBA star Shawn Kemp, another early retiree, as the only professional athletes to get their numbers retired in a drug rehab home.

Not all of the retirements are caused by bad behavior or declining skills. Yao Ming (age 31) hung up his huge sneakers after two losing seasons at the doctor’s office. The 7’6” Yao was an NBA star for his first five seasons, but his last four were filled with pine time while he nursed a host of minor and major injuries. Yao, by all accounts one of the good guys in the league, averaged 19 points a game and nine rebounds during his career, and helped spread the name and fame of the NBA to the Far East. So for Mr. Ming, the wish is simple: Good luck in retirement and we hope you heal completely.

The pro football lockout dominated headlines this summer, but when the league came back to play, it did so without quarterback Brett Farve, who retired and then changed his mind more often than a teenaged girl looks at herself in the mirror on Prom Night. Where the teenager’s behavior could be considered cute, Favre’s was not. It got old. Like Brett himself. A couple of teams are already looking for quarterbacks this season as injuries take their toll. Let’s hope none of them have Brett on speed dial and we’ll be spared the 4,987th Heartwarming Brett Favre Comeback Story.

Channing Crowder was an okay, maybe okay-plus linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. He retired at the age of 27, after getting cut by the Fins, but certainly he could have hooked it up with another team. Along with his football skills, NFL beat writers will miss Crowder’s running motor of a mouth. The man was a quote factory. His retirement announcement: “I’m going to keep on playing in Miami, but not put on a football helmet.” He also once famously challenged New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and his father to a fight because the younger Ryan didn’t know who Crowder was. And then there was this classic, when ol’ Channing tried to describe the officials after his quarterback got repeatedly whacked during a game and no flags were dropped: “Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank. Who is that blind girl? Helen Keller, then. I don’t know who Anne Frank is. I’m mad right now. I’m not as swift as I usually am.”

Indeed, Mr. Crowder, and we hope your swiftness returns during your retirement golden years.

Then we have the interesting retirements of Mike Vrabel (36) a star linebacker in the NFL and Shaquille O’Neal (39), the mountain of a man who played forever in the NBA. Both of them left for new jobs. Vrabel was about ready to embark on his fifteenth season in the NFL, but former college teammate and roommate Luke Fickell took over the zoo also known as the Ohio State football team and offered his old buddy a job as an assistant coach. Vrabel thought that holding a clipboard and shouting instructions was a better gig than getting blasted by 330 pound linemen, so he quickly said “yes.” Speaking of 330 pounds, O’Neal was out of work for about a month, after he decided that his NBA mojo was gone. Shaq mulled offers for several media outlets but ended up signing on as an NBA analyst along with Charles Barkley. Yes, Chuck and Shaq will be teeing it up this fall, assuming there is an NBA season. That should be interesting: Two huge men, two huge egos, two people who also happen to be very funny and insightful. (Remember, Barkley perfectly called the NBA championship series: Dallas in six.) Forget the game. Just tune in to listen to the post-game, when Chuck and Shaq undoubtedly will be more entertaining than the National Blah Association.

So if you’re a professional athlete, you know your retirement day is coming fast, most likely before you’re much into your thirties. The time to plan is now. The party is on. You never know when the knee will give out, the coach goes with a younger and sleeker model, or your drug test catches up with you. As for the rest of us, I guess we’ll just keep plugging away, waiting for when the AARP application shows up in the mail.

Hey, at least we’re swift enough to know who Anne Frank is. That counts for something.

Filed under: sports