This past weekend, two baseball legends passed away on the same day. Longtime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and 92 year old St. Louis icon Stan Musial were mourned over this past weekend by many for good reason. Weaver was ahead of his time, pushing a team with great pitching and waiting for the three-run homerun. Weaver would have fit in perfectly in the late 90’s baseball picture. He was just as colorful in interviews and would fit like a glove in today’s soundbite era of sports coverage. Musial has to be listed as one of the greatest players EVER, and the numbers back that up. Musial didn’t get the press of a Ted Williams or a Joe DiMaggio, but he was every bit the player they were and in some ways put up those great numbers for a longer period of time. Both are huge losses for the game, and it will be felt within the baseball community. Both were also before my time, as I only remember Weaver faintly for the end of his managing career. But it did get me thinking; how will I react when the players that I idolized as a kid start passing away? What affect will that have on me?
George Brett is my all-time favorite player. As a Kansas City Royals fan since I was a kid, Brett was the definition of greatness for those 1980’s Royals team and was THE fan favorite. We all knew how special he was and loved not only his great hitting and fielding, but his hustle and determination out on the field. I have heard many a story over the years about how George wasn’t always the nicest person in the world, but he is still my favorite. He is what I love about the game. To think that someday I will have to mourn him makes me think that a piece of my childhood will die with it. Maybe it will, but then I remember that I will always have the memories. I always think about how Buck O’Neil loved telling stories about the old Negro League players, and I can see the same happening with my generation and the great Royals’ teams we saw. Brett is looked at the same way Musial is in St. Louis; he is a part of the fabric of the community. Brett is an all-time great that won’t soon be forgotten, but it will be a sad day for not only us Kansas City fans, but baseball as well.
One great thing about being a long time baseball fan is the history you have seen over the years and the players you watched that were just as great of role models as ballplayers. Cal Ripken Jr. is one of those players and one who will go down as not only a great player but one who you would want your kids to emulate. All Ripken did was go out there every game, day after day, injured or healthy, on a hot streak or in a long slump, and played the game as hard as he could. I still fondly remember him breaking the consecutive games streak, and can recall the goosebumps I had while watching him walk around the stadium shaking hands. Moments like that are the ones I love to pass on to my son and I can only hope that someday he can experience the same thing.
Now, not all the players I loved growing up were Hall of Famers. Andy Van Slyke was not one of the greats, but a good ballplayer during his time. The thing that I always loved about watching Van Slyke was his hustle. Didn’t matter what part of the game it was, Andy was diving all over the field, getting his jersey dirty and doing everything he could to help his team win. Van Slyke played on some great Pittsburgh Pirates teams, and though he was never the focal point of the team(hello, Barry Bonds!), he was a vital cog in their playoff teams. Van Slyke will never be in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but I’ll always remember him fondly and can remember why he was an easy one to cheer for.
It’s never an easy thing to watch your idols pass on, especially those that you have looked up to since you were a kid. But one day it will happen, and there won’t be anymore returns to the field they once graced. No more reunions, no more old-timer’s days, no more celebrations of their great career accomplishments. One day, it will come time to celebrate a life, not a career. In some ways, that is a greater celebration than what these great ballplayers did on the field. You can only hope when that time comes that they will be remembered for everything great they did, and the stories will never stop. Over the last few days, Earl Weaver and Stan Musial stories have been told ad nauseum. That is the true barometer of just how entrenched into the game you were. When the stories stop, that is when you should worry. I’ll have no problem telling stories of the heroes of my youth. I’ll be able to honor them the best way possible; by keeping those memories alive.