We are all victims of age
Age is the great equalizer. This puts us all in the same boat. Whatever advantage in quick footing or brute strength we may have possessed in the days of the salad, the aging process eventually catches up with everyone.
Professional athletes are different from the rest of us. They are gifted with superior speed, strength, reflexes, and hand/eye coordination. These things set them apart from the vast majority of us. However, over time, these differences become less and less noticeable. It’s not that we who are being left behind increase our abilities to outrun and outperform everyone else; it is that with time and age, those who have been blessed with these gifts lose them; they eventually fade.
Age is the great equalizer. This puts us all in the same boat. Whatever advantage in quick footing or brute strength we may have possessed in the days of the salad, the aging process eventually catches up with everyone. It makes no difference if we could move on a 98 mph fastball in the day or not, we all become the same. We are all getting old and there is nothing we can do about it.
Athletic ability is only for young people, and it doesn’t last forever.
The Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Bench, widely regarded as the greatest receiver of all time, has been given athletic ability aplenty. Baseball came naturally to him. Before he was of voting age, he was a National League All-Star and won the first of 10 consecutive Golden Glove awards. Yet over the years he found he had to work harder and harder to keep his skills at the same level as when he first broke into the big leagues and it all came to him. so naturally. He loved the game more than ever, but it had become work and not just fun to play. He is 74 now, and just like all of us, he faces mortality.
Wilt Chamberlain seemed as close to Superman as he could get during his playing days. His combination of skill and size made him virtually unstoppable. One year, he averaged over 50 points per game. But that didn’t help when his heart gave out, causing his death in 1999.
John Havlicek was like the ever-ready rabbit; woe to whoever had to keep it during an NBA game. Havlicek would knock him into the ground. He never stopped running for an entire game and never seemed to tire out. He was perpetual motion personified. Still, I noticed one year during the annual fishing derby he hosted on behalf of the Genesis Foundation that he seemed to have slowed down compared to previous years. The following year, his movements became even slower. It turned out that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and his condition gradually worsened until he committed suicide in 2019, shortly after his 79th birthday.
Ted Williams, a dedicated fisherman in his after-game days, woke up before dawn every day to cook himself a hearty breakfast before heading out on the water in search of the elusive Florida Keys bonefish or salmon fighting along the banks of the Miramichi River in Brunswick, Canada. He spent his evenings tying flies, which required great manual dexterity and great attention to detail. In the afternoon, we find him as a regular on the tennis court. Then he would start again the next day. He drank only moderately. He lived the same way until the mid-1970s when the beatings started hitting him. At first they affected his vision so that he had to get the news from television instead of reading books, newspapers and periodicals but, in the end, he was a total invalid who just needed help to feed onself. He died in 2002 at the age of 83.
The sight of the incomparable Bill Russell, who needed a walker, plus the help of Bobby Orr and Tedy Bruschi just to make his way from the dugout to the pitching mound before throwing the first ball of the 2016 Red Sox season was a stark reminder that even the greatest of us are not immune to the inevitability of age.
The thing is, the gifts that make some people great athletes only last a few years. In the final analysis, they are just as vulnerable to the vagaries of old age and failing health as the rest of us. Some, like Bobby Doerr, last a long time. He was forced into retirement in 1951 by chronic back pain. After several years of rest, however, his back returned to normal and he lived until his death in November 2017 at the age of 99. He lived longer than any other Hall of Famer in history. We don’t know when our time will come, but it’s coming, and there’s nothing any of us — not even the biggest of stars — can do about it.
There are two things besides talent that athletes need to achieve greatness: one is good health and the other is the will to be great. We’ve all seen “can’t miss” prospects who never delivered on their promise, sometimes through no fault of their own: a pitcher with a sore arm; a running back who breaks a leg. There are other examples that have no one to blame but themselves – guys who think they can do it just because of their talent. It takes dedication, even for the very gifted. The local bars are populated by guys who thought they could hit it big without working. It rarely, if ever, works for them. The competition is too tough. Somewhere there is someone who could have been as good as Tom Brady but didn’t have the guts to make it happen. His friends probably say, “You should have seen him when he was younger. There was nothing he couldn’t do.” But it’s always said with a nostalgic tone, because there was something he could have done. He could have applied himself with the same devotion as a Johnny Bench, a John Havlicek or even a Ted Williams, who once said that his only ambition in life was to have people say, “There’s Ted Williams. greatest hitter that ever lived.”
– Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the “poet laureate” of the Boston Red Sox and the recently established sports columnist for The Pilot.
Recent articles in the Culture & Events section
The call to Server.Execute failed while loading the page.