Another year is about to come to a close; and as each year passes by, all of us have established more of a baseline to look back on our lives and see how the journey has come. Whether one is looking at things locally or nationally, things never remain the same. The recent stretch of snowstorms made many of the older folks flashback to the way things use to be once upon a time. It also pleased outdoor winter enthusiasts, who received plenty of the white stuff to make play time more desirable.
I have paid more attention to Sports Illustrated as the years have gone by. Not only does the magazine present a special way of taking an in-depth look at the sports’ world in general, but it presents comparisons of generations gone by, which allows us to see from where we may have come in a number of ways.
One feature of the year-end issue made me look at the direction my interest has taken in each of the major sports, as well as others too. My thoughts went beyond that, to the depth of change locally. The magazine listed the sports figures who had passed away in 2017, but my thoughts went to how those who were part of the sports I had followed, had become part of my fabric.
The saddest thing is I am not sure we do justice to those who came before this century nationally or locally. I have always been as guilty as anyone of focusing on the present myself for the most part. In this space, I often speak about how things use to be, however, I am not sure I pay enough attention, to the individuals who did what, way back then.
The first athlete Sports Illustrated said farewell to was former quarterback, Y.A. Title. I am proud to say that I remember both his days with the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49’ers, despite the fact he died at the age of 90. You owe it to yourself to Google your way to the photo of him on his knees with blood running down his face, which brings one back to a different age of football. Even the equipment looked barbaric. However, there were many less known bad injuries back then than we see in the game today. Athletes have become bigger, faster, stronger, and this has brought even more injuries to the sport. The magazine also pointed out the grid loss of coaches Ara Parseghian and Frank Broyles, about the same age, who to me came from a much more stable age of leadership. Or was it, that the ills of the game were just not exposed back then?
Then again, one of the basketball notables who passed was Connie Hawkins, who either was exposed prematurely or is an example of how the good old days were really not so good. Hawkins was suspended from his sport for a number of years because he was implicated in a college basketball point shaving scandal. Supposedly, his team didn’t actually have to lose the game. They just needed not to win by much. His absence from the sport for a number of years was really sad if he didn’t actually take part. He was a high level special talent, similar possibly to Dr. J and M.J. before they came along. He missed a half dozen seasons at the beginning of his career.
Obviously Roy Halladay was the biggest baseball name that passed, but the likes of Don Baylor, Lee May, Bobby Doerr, Jimmy Piersall, and Darren Daulton were all significant for one reason or another. I think of Halladay’s life cut short and think of how lucky we are to live each and every day. Baylor makes me think of how important the qualities of talent and leadership combined are to sports in general. Just imagine, Baylor was such a team player, he was almost as happy to get hit by a pitch as to get a hit.
I met Piersall in the old Super Duper store in Bellows Falls. Ballplayers worked in the off-season back then, and his job was as a promotions area manager for Cains mayonnaise. Piersall signed autographs if you bought the product. I was able to get many autographs because several relatives bought the product. I stayed outside the store and kept going in when each of them came.
Piersall was a very respectable baseball player, who became the face of mental illness for many, at a time when the world was not so tolerant of such a condition. People were mocked and called crazy, and Piersall battled his demons successfully at a time when those of his nature were severely misunderstood. I sit here today wishing I could have spent time talking with this very courageous man.
2017 is almost gone, and the sports’ world is just one way of looking back and seeing how the world at-large intersects. Here’s hoping you and yours have a healthy, happy prosperous 2018.