I’ve been watching with mild disgust these past few weeks as the latest iteration of the Brett Favre saga has unfolded. The future Hall of Fame quarterback recently came out of retirement, for the second time in as many seasons to play for the Minnesota Vikings (he previously did this with the New York Jets.) Twice now, Favre has finished a season, retired, said he’s 99% retired and then come back on the eve of the next season. He’ll probably qualify for Medicare before he finally retires for good.
Favre is certainly not the first athlete to do this. In baseball, the practice of retiring and then coming back is practically an art form. Here are a few ballplayers who’ve had a hard time walking away:
Roger Clemens: The undisputed king of the un-retirement game. Football has Favre. Basketball has Michael Jordan, and to a lesser extent, Magic Johnson. In baseball, there is Clemens. At last count, he has retired three times, and only reason the 354-game-winner has stayed put this time is because of the ongoing rumors about his steroid use. Somewhere, he and Barry Bonds are probably holed up in a bunker together, waiting for this thing to blow over.
Rickey Henderson: Henderson made more stops than the circus in his Hall of Fame career. At the end, at age 44, he played independent league ball with the Newark Bears in hopes of making it back to the big leagues. It worked. He’d probably still be playing today if someone would give him a job.
Arky Vaughan: A lesser known name than Clemens or Henderson, Vaughan was a star in his own right during his prime in the 1930s and ’40s. An All-Star shortstop, Vaughan walked away from baseball at 31, in the midst of a Hall of Fame career, due to a dispute with his manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo Durocher. Vaughan spent time on his ranch in California and did not play ball for a total of three years, before returning for the 1947 season. He played two final seasons as a reserve and then retired for good.
Jim Palmer: The Baltimore Orioles pitching great retired following the 1984 season and then attempted a comeback in the spring of 1990. He didn’t make it out of spring training.
Jim Bouton: It was easy for Bouton to retire from baseball just past his 30th birthday, following the success of his bestselling 1970 book, Ball Four. However, he got the itch to play again a few years later and spent a couple seasons in the minors before returning with the Atlanta Braves in the fall of 1978. He wrote about the experience in a postscript to Ball Four.
Bo Jackson: Give Bo credit for trying, though this was a sad sight to see. A two-sport star with the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders, Jackson was never the same after blowing out his hip in a Raiders playoff game. He played baseball again, but not as the star he was before.