I haven’t written any enlightening sports news for a while and decided because the ‘old’ San Antonio Spurs take the court for game 6 of the NBA finals … as well as I just watched the absolutely horrendous baseball movie, For the Love of the Game, <which I watch over and over again regardless of its badness>.
Therefore this post is dedicated to the movie and … well … some thoughts on the love of the game and older athletes.
And by ‘the game’ I mean sports in general.
I love sports. Yes. Love. And while I love sports as a game … I also love it as a microcosm of Life. Sports, and it’s athletes, if you pay attention … can be reflective on some really important things in Life.
Plus. I am allowed to be reflective as I am an old guy who loves sports.
This is not going to be one of those painful nostalgic pieces discussing ‘what happened to the good ole days in sports’ but rather this is going to be a nod to the old guys in sports and some appreciation.
Here is the main thought in a nutshell.
Invincibility versus appreciation. Invincibility in the moment versus appreciation of the moment.
Young athletes play the game as if they are invincible … and treat themselves as invincible within the moment.
<and incredibly fun & spectacular to watch>
Older athletes play the game with appreciation … and treat ‘the moment’ with appreciation.
<and incredibly fun & thoughtful to watch>
I imagine I could also write about this same philosophical distinction in the workplace but I will stick with sports because … for some reason … we have a slew of spectacular older athletes who we should appreciate.
David Beckham, Kobe and Ray Lewis are perfect examples of a portion of what I believe is spectacular about the great older athletes.
All three are, or were, spectacular in their respective sport … but I mention them because they were all punks <or punkish> with a swagger of invincibility in youth. There was no doubt they loved the game they played … and respected it even in their youth … and have grown into a wonderful sense of maturity <within an ongoing fire of competitiveness>.
I am not sure I could have ever imagined these three becoming ambassadors for their respective games as I watched their spectacular talent blossom as they began their careers.
They all played with a brilliant invincibility.
They have all matured with appreciation.
And they all certainly have mastered an appreciation of the moment.
Okay. That said.
Some thoughts on invincibility & appreciation and sports.
for the love of the game <the movie>
It is a godawful movie with a spectacular movie hidden within it.
Put me in an edit suite with the original movie and I bet I could walk out with one of the best sports movies of all time <at maybe half the length of the original>.
Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as the aging pitcher and the premise of the last game is also perfect. It’s all the crap in between. Anyone who has played sports, particularly baseball, would love this movie if it had just focused on when a great athlete in their last days sparkles one last time. It is magical. It is why we love sports.
Because it captures present greatness and memories of greatness all at once.
Because it captures the true essence of an older athlete’s appreciation of the moment and the game.
My only advice? Just go to the bathroom a lot <during the crappy moments> and you will love this movie.
which reminds me … 1967 and today
In 1967 Carl Yastremski won baseball’s last triple crown.
I would like to now point out that it now 45 years later. And Miguel Cabrera did it <last season>. Oh. And he is still putting up amazing numbers this season and could very well get close to winning a second.
From 1920 to 1967, there were eleven Triple Crown winners in baseball, and a whole bunch of famous near misses.
In 1949, Ted Williams’ .343 average was just the tiniest bit behind George Kell’s .343 average, those percentage points costing him a third Triple Crown.
In 1948, Stan Musial finished just one home run shy of a Triple Crown.
Some thoughts on how tough it is to do what Cabrera did <and I am not sure has been truly appreciated>:
- The average league-leading batting average since 1968: .348
- The average league-leading home run title since 1968: 44
- The average league-leading RBI total since 1968: 129
So … how many players from 1920 to 1968 put up what you might call an “average Triple Crown season?” Fourteen.
Babe Ruth put up six of them, Jimmie Foxx put up three, Lou Gehrig put up three, Mickey Mantle and Hack Wilson put up one each <source: Joe Posnanski – sports on earth>.
Cabrera is a 30 year old Venezuelan who plays baseball with an appreciation of the game. I tip my hat to him.
the downside of invincibility
Playing with invincibility and being invincible are two separate things <unfortunately for many athletes>.
The sports world is strewn with “what could have beens.” I bring this up because Brian Harper of the Washington Senators. He is a hall of fame lock … if he makes it through his ‘invincible youth.’ There is no more talented player in major league baseball that plays with such recklessness and wild abandon than he.
That said … I have a name for you Pete Reiser.
He could run, hit for average <in his rookie year, he won the National League batting title with a .343 average>, and hit for power. In that rookie season at age 22, he also led the league in runs scored (117), doubles (39), triples (17), slugging percentage (.558), OPS (.968), and had an OPS+ of 169.
He banged out 14 home runs, too.
He was Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols all wrapped into one.
His defense was beyond reproach.
“There will never be a ballplayer as good as Willie Mays, but Reiser was every bit as good, and he might have been better. Pete Reiser might have been the best ballplayer I ever saw. He had more power that Willie. He could throw as good as Willie. Mays was fast, but Reiser was faster. Name whoever you want to, and Pete Reiser was faster. Willie Mays had everything. Pete Reiser had everything but luck.” – Leo Durocher
The play that basically ended Pete’s career came in 1942, when in the 13th inning of a 0-0 pitchers duel* between Whitlow Wyatt of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mort Cooper of the St. Louis Cardinals, Reiser tried to chase down an Enos Slaughter drive to center field. He had it but ran full speed into the concrete wall, and the ball came loose. Reiser picked up the ball, threw it to Pee Wee Reese and they almost got Slaughter at home.
Reiser then collapsed on the field. He had a severe concussion and a fractured skull. How he threw that ball back to Reese is anybody’s guess.
That was the worst wall crash, but it was not the only one. He was carted off the field 11 times in his career, and was once given last rites at the stadium. – Bleacher Report
A player of truly exceptional talent had a career curtailed by injury and a ‘succeed at all costs I am invincible’ playing style.
I could name a bunch of exceptional athletes who, because of their playing style, became ‘vincible’ and never had the opportunity to become the older athlete who played the game with appreciation instead of invincibility.
The second name I have for you? Duncan Edwards.
Duncan Edwards was suggested as the greatest soccer <football> player ever.
But most don’t know him because he died at 21.
“Physically, he was enormous. He was strong and had a fantastic football brain. His ability was complete – right foot, left foot, long passing, short passing. He did everything instinctively.” –Bobby Charlton
An English footballer who played for Manchester United and the England national team. He was one of the Busby Babes, the young United team formed under manager Matt Busby in the mid-1950s, and one of eight players who died as a result of the Munich air disaster on Feb. 21 1958.
Matt Busby described Duncan Edwards as the most ‘complete footballer in Britain – possibly the world’. The greatest tragedy is that his death aged just 21 from injuries sustained in the Munich air crash meant his full potential was never realized <and yet he was considered the best of the best even at that time>. With boundless stamina, an all-encompassing range of passing and a truly ferocious shot, Edwards was a player who could control any game he played in.
<note: there are several fantastic books on the Busby Babes as well as Bobby Charlton’s biography is fantastic>
Invincibility is fickle.
These old guys, these spectacular older athletes, have not only weaved their way through their sports lives safely … physically… but also the random twists in Life itself.
the upside of the appreciation for the moment
I will begin with Kobe Bryant.
Boy … if you want to pick a youngster with swagger & invincibility you couldn’t do better than the 18 year old Kobe version.
But he has become ‘vincible.’
And at the same time he has shown grace and appreciation for the game. I once asked on this site in a post how people will be, and should be, judged. By the indiscretions of their youth or by the discretion of that which is found in maturity.
In the past year we are being faced this question in spades with Ray Lewis and Kobe Bryant.
As an old guy myself … and recognizing that I am quite happy I have had some time to manage my legacy with time & maturity … I recognize that athletes are no different than non athletes in that we all mature. What we do with that maturity is the measure of the person.
Three more oldster names who are nearing the end.
And three who have never been punks or arrogant <in the over the top swagger way>.
Mariano Rivera & Derek Jeter & Roger Federer.
Mariano & Derek and baseball..
One team <the Yankees> and two of the greatest ambassadors the game of baseball has ever had.
Quiet leaders who day in and day out did their thing … and I do not believe we have ever doubted their appreciation for the game … and their own appreciation of the talent they had <without all the braggadocio>.
We should appreciate these two while we have the opportunity.
They have always appreciated “the” moments … the moments that make or break the individual games … but as elder statesman I believe they appreciate it all now. Always class acts … they treated the game with class.
Effortless grace on the tennis court. I have seen bigger stronger faster whateverer athletes in my lifetime … but I am not sure I have ever seen such effortlessly looking spectacularness athleticism anywhere before or since. His time on the courts is getting shorter but one thing I believe we can all be sure of … he will seize the moment and appreciate it when his time comes.
Lastly. The NBA final three oldster athletes for the Spurs.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli & Tony Parker.
An American, a Spaniard and a Frenchman.
All taking the court tonight against this generation’s version of ‘showtime.’ The old men will make it ‘slowtime’ and do what they do so well … they play the game with an appreciation for the moment.
An appreciation physically and mentally.
Tim and Manu know that their bodies physically are not what they once were. That doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive nor does it mean they ‘quit’ or take a break even while playing.
They have simply become smarter about when to expend energy <metal appreciation> and how to expend energy <physical appreciation>.
I just wanted to name a few athletes nearing the end of their careers because the Spurs ‘oldsters’ reminded me we sports fans are living at a special time.
Anyway. In the end.
In a way … sports is cruel to athletes. Just as their minds mature … their bodies disappoint them. If an athlete is lucky they can play into their mid-30’s … then it’s over.
They are then required to begin a second career … and second life. To begin a second life where in the first you were invincible … and appreciative.
The greatest of the great older athletes rise up once in a while just to remind us of what we saw all the time.
And we should appreciate it for what it is … an older athlete appreciating the moment and rising up one more time.
All these athletes make me love the game even more … well … maybe better said … they make me appreciate the game.