Retire Already! 25 Athletes Who Hung On Way Too Long
Throwing in the towel is never easy.
As elite athletes' ages go up, their skill set slowly begins to deteriorate.
Athletes are often hung over from the feeling they had when they dominated their respective game. Because of this, elite athletes often continue to compete past their expiration dates.
And sometimes this turns their legacies into sour milk.
While there will always be the Sandy Koufaxes and John Elways of the world who go out on top, not everybody can assume the same fate.
Ending a good thing is never easy, but it is often the best choice.
Here are 25 athletes who just wouldn't let a good thing come to an end. Enjoy!
Roger Clemens: It's tough to put Clemens on this list because of how dominant he was towards the end of his career. But that last stint with the Yankees was nothing short of pathetic. He was 45. Just give it up, Rocket.
Roy Jones Jr.: Roy Jones Jr. was once the most dominant boxer on the planet. Throughout the '90s it was tough to find him worthy competitors. He was named "Fighter of the Decade" for the '90s.
However, Jones is still fighting to this day and it's truly tough to watch him get demolished in the ring that he once owned. His most recent embarrassment came when Danny Green TKOed him in the first round.
25. Julio Franco
Julio Franco was a three-time All-Star and at one point one of the most feared contact hitters in the game.
However, Franco's abilities were proving to be just about shot by his 38th birthday.
But nobody told Franco.
He played until he was 48 years young, and had the Braves not demoted him at the end of his career, god knows how long he would have stayed around.
Franco never had more than 500 at bats in a season after his 38th birthday, which is why the fact that he went on to play 10 more seasons is so puzzling.
24a. Alonzo Mourning
For a little while back in the '90s, Alonzo Mourning was every bit as good as Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaq.
However, that success didn't carry past his 30th birthday or the decade in which he was so dominant in.
Mourning started to become more of a role player back in 2001, but he kept playing and playing and playing.
Mourning played up until 2007 when it was safe to say that he could not possibly be of benefit to any team.
24b. Patrick Ewing
As a Knicks fan, it pains me to do this, but I'm afraid I have no choice.
Ewing's knees completely gave out on him after the '96-97 season, and although he was still making very nice contributions to the Knicks after that, he should have just retired.
Ewing played three more injury-plagued seasons after that and it was tough to watch our franchise player barely able to get down the court.
After making the NBA Finals in 1999 with Ewing no longer the dominant force on the team, the Knicks decided to cut ties with Ewing and send him to Seattle.
He played two more seasons after that and just watching him on TV made you want to chop off your legs and give them to Ewing, who was clearly suffering.
23. Omar Vizquel
Omar Vizquel may very well have been a better defensive player than Ozzie Smith.
In fact, as soon as Vizquel retires, there is a bust waiting for him in Cooperstown. He should probably do that already.
Vizquel has gone from being one of the greatest defensive players in MLB history who is a .290 hitter to a .230 hitting, 43-year old, platoon player who teams keep on their bench out of respect.
It's time to go, Omar, you had a great career but when a player as great as you is demoted to bench duty, it's a sign that you're running low on fuel.
22. Sugar Ray Leonard
Leonard retired and un-retired four times. That's the same as Michael Jordan and Brett Favre COMBINED.
Anything else you need to know?
21. Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders was one of the most electrifying athletes who ever lived.
Throwing the ball anywhere near this guy was a risk for quarterbacks. He could shut down a receiver and then quickly humiliate him with his banter and touchdown celebrations.
He was as close to a defensive Chad OchoJohnson as you could possibly get.
However, when he decided to exit the game back in 2000 at the age of 33, some people argued that he should have played longer because he still had it.
However, when he returned to the gridiron in a Baltimore Ravens jersey four years later, nobody made such an argument.
At the age of 37, "Prime Time" was not even close to what he once was, and the only thing he proved was that he would have to start his five-year wait for the Hall of Fame all over again.
20. Arnold Palmer & Jack Nicklaus
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. What can you say about these two?
They pushed each other to new lengths, hold arguably the greatest rivalry in sports history, and very well might be the two greatest golfers of all time. (Sorry, Tiger)
Palmer and Nicklaus' most dominant work came in the 1960s and '70s, but they stuck around long after that.
Palmer competed in his last PGA Tour event as recently as 2005, while 1998 was the year we last saw Jack Nicklaus compete.
Both guys stuck around way longer than they should have, and watching the two most dominant golfers of all time get owned at their own game was not fun.
19. Jerry Quarry
Jerry Quarry is very different than most athletes on this list because his constant comebacks and refusal to retire were because he needed the money.
He had been married three times and had made several bad business decisions, which made him desperate for money. And he felt boxing was his best opportunity to get it back.
Quarry continued to fight despite his advanced age and growing health problems, and quite frankly, it was ugly.
This continued fighting had serious health affects on Quarry, and within a few years he couldn't even dress himself, and he had to be cared for by family members.
Quarry passed away on Jan. 3, 1999 and it was one of the saddest days in sports history.
18. Dikembe Mutombo
There was nothing more joyful in the history of professional sports than watching Dikembe Mutombo swat a shot back and wag his finger straight into the victim's face.
Dikembe is the greatest shot-blocker in NBA history, and he was always able to put up solid offensive numbers while being elite on the glass.
However, the 7' 2" center was running on empty at the start of the 2002 season, and he continued his fast decline to becoming nothing more than a big boy who can take up space and wag his finger.
Mutombo played six more mediocre seasons split between New York and Houston before retiring, and quite frankly we all would have much rather seen him retire than try to replicate what was one of the most fun to watch careers in NBA history.
17. Chuck Liddell
Chuck Liddell is a UFC legend and the UFC wouldn't be anywhere close to where it is today without him.
However, as Liddell approached the end of his career, people were begging him to quit. Nobody wanted to see Chuck get hurt in the Octagon.
UFC President Dana White desperately tried to convince him not to fight, but Chuck was in denial.
UFC 97 was supposed to be the last event Liddell ever fought in, but he continued to trot out there in the hope that he could find his former self.
It was truly sad to watch, and I hope Liddell never returns to the Octagon.
When Pele retired after the 1972 season, that should have been it. The greatest soccer player of all time was starting to lose his touch a bit and should have just hung up his jersey for good.
However, Pele made his return to professional soccer three years later for the New York Cosmos in an effort to bring soccer popularity in the United States.
While he did slightly increase soccer's popularity here, he certainly didn't bring it into the football/baseball/basketball stratosphere.
15. Shaquille O'Neal
Don't let the photograph to the left fool you, the man pictured was once in fact more than just an athlete pointing out a cheeseburger in the crowd for the worst franchise to ever grace the hardwood.
That man was once in fact arguably the most dominant center in NBA history.
His name is Shaquille "Superman/Diesel/The Big Aristotle/Shaq/Daddy" O'Neal.
Maybe you've heard of him.
Yea, well the man who was once the most liked and dominant player in the NBA has since ceased to tarnish his legacy and age in dog years.
Over the last couple of seasons, Shaq has continued to feud with anything that breathes, but suddenly it's not okay anymore.
Why? Because now he sucks.
The longer Shaq stays around, the more and more he will tarnish what was one of the greatest legacies in NBA history.
14. Junior Seau
When you're forced to resort to Google because you're not sure whether or not a 12-time Pro Bowl, six-time All-Pro NFL Linebacker has hung up the cleats yet, there's a problem.
Junior Seau was once the most dominant Linebacker in all of football.
However, 2002 was the last time he ever came close to living up to the title.
After he had pretty much nothing left to give, Seau moved south to Miami for three mediocre seasons before retiring.
However, wouldn't you know it, Bill Belichick talked Seau out of retirement so he could rot to nothing in New England.
Well, now at the age of 40 he remains on the Patriots roster, where he has officially sunk below nothing.
Please retire, Junior, watching you hurts.
13. George Foreman
I know Foreman had some success towards the end of his career, but there's no doubt that he stayed around way longer than he should have.
Foreman un-retired twice in his career. The first un-retirement made a whole lot more sense than the second.
Foreman's second un-retirement came after a 10-year hibernation from boxing, to become a born-again Christian.
When he returned at the age of 38, it shocked the boxing world.
Seven years later, Foreman found the fountain of youth when at the age of 45 he became the oldest Heavyweight champion in boxing history.
The last three years of Foreman's career were a roller coaster.
Even though Foreman had success at an advanced age, he had no business being in the ring.
12. Chris Chelios
Dear Chris Chelios,
You used to be great. But now you're 48 and you suck.
If you could retire already, that would be great.
Thanks in advance,
11. Johnny Unitas
Some would argue that Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback ever to grace the gridiron.
That argument would be much more easily made if our last memories of him weren't failure.
Unitas' skills were all but shot by 1968, but he continued to play in hopes of finding himself.
From 1968 to 1973 (Unitas' last five seasons in the league), his Touchdown to Interception ratio was 38-64.
I repeat: 38-64!
We could have done without those last painful years, Johnny.
10. Steve Carlton
Steve Carlton is one of the greatest pitchers ever to take the rubber.
He could strike out anybody he wanted to, whenever he wanted to. He was a hitter's worst nightmare.
Well, that was until he turned 40.
Carlton hit the 40-year-old wall head on, and it knocked him out.
In three MLB seasons after turning 40, Carlton went 16-37 and his strikeout-to-walk ratios dipped to new career lows.
It was truly tough to watch.
9. Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield began his professional career in 1984.
He quickly rose to the apex of the boxing world.
By 1990 he was a Heavyweight Champion. Maybe he should have just quit while he was ahead.
Since then Holyfield has lost an ear and a whole lot of respect. Neither of which will ever come back.
To this day, the once-dominant Holyfield is still fighting and doesn't seem to have any intention of stopping.
It's been 26 years, Evander, you had a good run. Just give it up!
8. Gordie Howe
Let me throw out a little equation for you here.
Let x= age in which an NHL player should retire
Let y= age in which Gordie Howe retired
7. Emmitt Smith
"Move over, Sweetness, make a place for Emmitt."
That call made sense until about 2001, when it should have been replaced with, "Move over, retirement home, make a place for Emmitt."
Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher and one of the greatest running backs of all time, but there's no doubt he should have retired after the 2001 season.
Everybody could see his skill set deteriorating, but he just didn't want to give up on what was one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
Emmitt was released by Dallas after the 2002 season, which should have been an indication to him that it was time to go, but he instead signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
After two more pathetic seasons, Smith finally retired, and it was about time.
6. Willie Mays
You can talk about how great Babe Ruth was until you're blue in the face, but there was never a baseball player as great as Willie Mays.
He was as close to perfect as a baseball player could be.
He was above-average at all five tools of baseball.
With that being said, Willie Mays' slow decline from the apex of baseball may have been the most upsetting to watch.
Willie was one of those guys that you would pay to see play in his prime, and watching him slowly but steadily age was horror.
Towards the end of his career, his batting average began to dip closer and closer to the Mendoza line, his power output was nowhere near his usual standards, and stolen bases for Mays happened about as often as Mario Mendoza hits. (you might want to Google him)
Although Mays earned the right to stay around as long as he wanted, 1971 would have been a more appropriate time for his exit from the game.
5. Rickey Henderson
Yes, you're seeing that correctly. Rickey Henderson did in fact play for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League.
Towards the end of his career, Henderson had a lot of trouble finding suitors, and he was so desperate to stay involved in the game he loved that he joined the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League in hopes of finding an MLB team willing to offer him a contract.
Henderson split time between the Independent Leagues and Minor Leagues towards the end of his career with brief stints in the Major Leagues.
Of course, because he was Rickey Henderson he still thought he was the greatest athlete on the planet, and it almost made you smile.
Even though it was clear that Rickey stayed around WAY too long, it was touching to see one of the greatest baseball players of all time willing to go back down to the Minors in his 40s for a chance to play the game he loved.
4. Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice is the unquestioned greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
However, when he left the 49ers to sign with the Oakland Raiders, it was clear he was on his last leg.
Seeing Rice without 49er Cardinal Red on was tough to fathom.
While he did have decent success with the Raiders, it was clear he didn't belong.
Rice officially began his decline in 2003, and it was steep. In 2004 he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he donned his usual No. 80 despite the fact that Seattle had already retired the number.
After a pathetic season in Seattle, Rice attended training camp with the Denver Broncos the following season.
Once it became clear that Rice would be cut from the team, he retired before the Broncos could do so.
It's always tough to see a player as great as Rice fall from grace, but he fell hard.
3. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is widely accepted as the greatest boxer who ever lived.
Not only was Ali the greatest of all time in the ring, but his trash talking is said to be the best ever.
However, after an exhibition match with Mixed Martial Artist Antonio Inoki in 1976, he was never the same.
After that exhibition Ali won three more decisions before being advised to retire.
Ali, of course, refused to retire.
After a rare loss, Ali challenged Leon Spinks for a shot at the WBA Heavyweight title. Ali won this match and then retired.
However, Ali's retirement wouldn't last long.
He returned in 1980, where he lost two straight decisions, and then retired for good.
Ali finished his career with a 56-5 record, but three of his five losses came in his final four fights.
It's safe to say that history would remember Muhammad Ali much better than it already does (if that's possible) had he retired when he was advised to do so.
2. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is a special case on this list.
He's not on here because he kept playing and playing until he had absolutely nothing left to give (because to this day he's still probably better than most of the players in the NBA), but he makes this list because he was so damn indecisive towards the end of his career.
Jordan's first retirement was just silly because he left at the peak of his game, but his second retirement should have been his last.
Did Jordan still have plenty more to give after the 1997-98 season? Absolutely.
But when he retired for the second time at that season's conclusion, after winning the NBA Finals on what would have been the last shot of his NBA career, there was no more perfect time to go.
Even if Jordan had decided to come back to the Bulls within the next year after retiring for the second time, it would have been fine. But Jordan waited four years to return.
And when he did return, it was as a Washington Wizard.
Jordan had success for Washington, but it just didn't look right. It was clear that Jordan just didn't belong anymore. Especially outside of Chicago.
1. Brett Favre
Much like Michael Jordan, Brett Favre is on this list for his own special reason.
If you've watched any ESPN in the last two years, you know exactly what reason I'm talking about.
In the space of 730 days, Brett Favre has gone from a lovable redneck hailing from Green Bay to an annoying, hated, indecisive, traitor redneck in Minnesota.
And that's no easy task.
The gray-haired quarterback has already tarnished his legacy enough, and needs to hang up the cleats.