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Most Famous Sports Retirements of All Time

On this day 85 years ago, baseball legend Babe Ruth retired from the game he loved. Ruth set some of the first major-league records for home runs, and tormented Boston Red Sox fans with the “Curse of the Bambino” for years. 

But Ruth wasn’t the first, nor the last, to impact the sports world with an announcement of retirement. Some athletes have surprised fans with different reasons for retiring besides being “too old for the game.” Some go out on a high note. And some come crawling right back. Who made the right decisions? You be the judge. 

Derek Jeter

In February 2014 the beloved New York Yankees’ shortstop announced on Facebook that he would retire after the 2014 season. Thus began a year-long tribute across the nation to the iconic Yankee. Stadiums across the country rolled out the red carpet for Jeter’s last games in their towns, and fans paid hundreds, even thousands of dollars to see him step up to the plate one more time. Gatorade, his longtime sponsor, also created a tribute video with Jeter, sure to bring a tear to the eyes of even the most die-hard Red Sox fans. 

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Mario Lemieux

Lemieux is pretty much the ideal Pittsburgh Penguin. He saved the franchise not once, but twice—once as a player and once as an owner. Spanning a career from 1984 to 2005 (and also coming out of retirement in 2000), Lemieux led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in the early 1990s. The cancer survivor also created an ownership group in 1999 to buy the bankrupt franchise and keep the Pens in Pittsburgh.

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Michael Jordan

Since LeBron James came on the NBA scene, some have questioned whether Michael Jordan is still the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan was another player who came out of retirement not once, but twice. Regardless of debate (and that short-lived baseball career) Jordan still has six NBA championships, five NBA regular season MVP trophies, and is now a team owner.

John Elway

Former NFL quarterback John Elway ended his career in the most perfect way possible—winning a Super Bowl. Elway is also unique because he spent his 15-year career with one team, the Denver Broncos. The Broncos retired this Pro Football Hall of Famer’s number seven, confirming his historic importance to the franchise.

Magic Johnson

Earvin “Magic” Johnson shocked the sports world, and the general public when he announced his retirement in 1991. Johnson attributed his early retirement to acquiring HIV, which was still a murky disease in the early 1990s. Johnson has since gone on to lead a healthy life, becoming an HIV and AIDS advocate to find a cure to the disease, as well as a successful businessman. 

Brett Favre

Green Bay Packers fans are known for their fervent fandom, and quarterback Brett Favre was their king. At a weepy press conference in March 2008, Favre confirmed his retirement, saying he would only stay on if he could lead the Packers to the Super Bowl, and he didn’t feel that he could. Only a few months later in July, Favre reinstated with the NFL. The Packers had already named Aaron Rodgers the successor, so Favre decided to split from the Pack, heading to the New York Jets, and forever tarnish his Green Bay legacy.

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Lou Gehrig

The New York Yankees’ most famous first basemen played a then-record of 2,330 consecutive games from 1923 to 1939. Gehrig seemed unstoppable, but on July 4, 1939 he gave the most famous farewell speech in baseball history. The announcement came just days after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 


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