Tag: obituaries

RIP, Hank Aaron

 

Hank Aaron in the batting cage spring training 1960

Baseball great Hank Aaron passed away today, January 22, 2021, at age 86. No cause of death has been provided.

Henry Louis Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama to Herbert and Estella Aaron. He was one of eight children which included a younger brother, Tommie, who would also play in the major leagues. The family was quite poor and so the young Henry had to work at odd jobs including picking cotton to help ends meet. He loved sports and learned baseball in sandlot games in which bottle caps or rocks usually substituted for balls and sticks or broom handles substituted for bats. He hit cross-handed from the start and he would keep hitting cross-handed until he began his professional career. Perhaps this is how he developed such quick and strong wrists which was much remarked upon from the beginning of his career. He did play baseball and football in high school, but like the young Willie Mays, he also began playing semi-pro baseball around the age of 14 thus adding another small sum to the family income.

RIP: Al Kaline

 

Al KalineBaseball great Al Kaline passed away today April 6, 2020 at his Bloomfield Hills home at age 85. No cause of death has been given although it is known that he suffered a heart attack several months ago. Kaline, who was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, was an early “bonus baby” signing with the Detroit Tigers at age 18 for enough money ($35,000) that the rules of the time required that he stay with the major league club. He would stay with the Tigers from that first day forward in 1953 for the next twenty-two years until his retirement following the 1974 season thus being one of the few major league players never to spend even a day in the minors.

Kaline came into his own as a player in 1955 as the 20-year old led the league in hits (200), total bases (321) and in the process became the youngest batting champion (.340) in history. The following season he would drive in a personal best 128 runs and he would continue to play at an all-star level for the better part of the next two decades. Kaline took as much pride in his defense as he did with his hitting and the right fielder would garner 10 gold gloves to go along with 15 All-Star Game selections. He would not win an MVP but he would finish second in the voting twice and be considered one of the ten most valuable players in the league nine times. For his career, he would join the 3,000 hit club with 3,007 hits but would just miss several other round numbers with 399 home runs, 498 doubles, and a career .297 batting average. The newer advanced metrics also attest Kaline’s greatness – his 92.8 WAR ranks 29th all-time among position players, while his 443 Win Shares is 28th all-time among position players. The highlight of his playing career probably came in 1968 as his Tigers beat the St Louis Cardinals for the World Series Championship as he did his part hitting .379 with 8 RBI. Kaline played his entire career with a deformed left foot due to a childhood bout with osteomyelitis which caused him problems off and on during his playing career. Here is a link to his statistics.

Kaline’s playing career was capped with his selection to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1980. After his playing career, “Mr. Tiger” joined the Tigers as an executive and he would remain employed by them until his death. Kaline, who had been a clubhouse leader during his playing career was universally liked and respected throughout the baseball world. He is survived by Madge, his wife of 66 years, and their two grown children.

Kenny Rogers Breaks Even

 

Kenny Rogers has died. He had been in ill-health for a couple of years and was 81 when he died. It was not unexpected. He had received his three-score and ten, with more than a little change back.

Still, it is sad. He was one of my favorites when I was young, and the master of the storytelling ballad. My title for this borrows from one of his most famous ballads, “The Gambler.”

In Memoriam 2019

 

Last year I ceased writing an end-of-year memoriam for passing celebrities and sports figures in favor of remembering those much less famous, but far more necessary. Here is my tribute to this year’s heroes…

A Pair of Jacks

 

In a fractured media landscape it is odd to think of anyone as a “broadcaster” these days. Most of those with the microphone in their hand narrowly tailor their messages to a specific audience, a base that can provide a rating point, anything to create a “base” and turn a dollar.

It dates back to the 18th century, originally an agricultural term meaning to cast the seeds broadly upon the ground. By the 1920’s it became associated with radio, a man with a microphone tossing information and entertainment to the masses. In the last two days we’ve lost a pair of Jacks, two gentlemen who carried that label well.

RIP, Frank Robinson

 

Baseball great Frank Robinson passed away on Thursday at the age of 83.

Robinson was a star athlete at McClymonds High School in Oakland, California. And he was not the only star athlete at the school. One of his teammates on the basketball team was Bill Russell, while on the baseball diamond at McClymonds and at the local American Legion Post his teammates included Vada Pinson (a lifelong friend who would also be his teammate with Cincinnati) and Curt Flood. At McClymonds, he was coached by a local legend, George Powles, who was seen as a mentor by many young men.

After High School, he signed a contract to play professional baseball in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He made quick work of the minor leagues, joining the big club at age 20 in 1956. He hit the ground running, tying a record for most home runs hit by a rookie (38, since broken) en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award. He would continue as a star player for the Reds for the next decade, impressing with both his results and his hard-nosed style of play (no player slid into second base harder to break up a double play and he crowded the plate daring pitchers to throw inside resulting in his leading the league in hit by pitches seven times). He would win the NL Most Valuable Player award in 1961 as he led the Reds to the pennant with a .323, 37 HR, 124 RBI line (Cincinnati would lose the World Series to the Yankees). He probably had an even better season in 1962 (.342, 39 HR, 136 RBI and leading the league in slugging percentage for the third consecutive season).

RIP John Young

 

John Young, one of NASA’s most remarkable astronauts, died Friday, January 5.

Young was the only man to fly on four different spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, Lunar Module, and Shuttle) and the first NASA astronaut to fly in space six times. He flew on the first Gemini mission, landed on the Moon, commanded the first Shuttle mission, and the first Shuttle Spacelab mission.

I remember him from my early days in the Shuttle program. Hard to believe he is gone. But he got his three-score years and ten with an extra 17 on top of that. Certainly a life well-lived.

R. I. P. – Y. A. Tittle

 

Former pro football quarterback Y. A. Tittle passed away away October 8, 2017 at the age of 90.

After a fine college career at Louisiana State University, Tittle proceeded into professional football, starting out with the Baltimore Colts in the All American Football Conference (AAFC) in 1948. When the Colts, who had joined the NFL in 1950, folded at the end of that season, he found himself with the San Francisco 49ers and he would play for the 49ers for a decade before ending his Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants at the end of the 1964 season.

A Page One Death

 

CelebWith the death of Prince, Friday’s London Telegraph echoes our own James Lileks in asking about the plethora of celebrity deaths in 2016. Are people really dying off at a faster rate? Or has the bar for celebrity status been so lowered that more people are written about, Tweeted about and generally gossiped about than ever before?

I favor the latter theory above everything else. With the rise of the Internet and social media, we have given birth to new classifications of “stars.” Forbes now runs a list of the richest YouTube Stars. People whose passing may not have even merited much more than filler on the agate type pages 20 years ago now get links on Drudge Report and hundreds of comments on TMZ.

GestDavid Gest, whose primary claim to fame seems to be that he was Liza Minnelli’s abused fourth husband generated 600 comments on TMZ when he passed on April 12.

René Girard, R.I.P.

 

imageUntil his death in yesterday’s early hours, René Girard lived across the street from us, and becoming his friend — we used to get together for lunch or coffee — represented one of the signal joys of my life. Born in Avignon on Christmas Day 1923, René studied medieval history in Chartres while modern history, in the form of the German occupation, took place all around him. (Visiting Paris once during those years, he was once stopped by a gendarme, who asked him to produce his papers. When René displayed his passport, the policeman recognized it as a forgery at once. René thought the policeman would arrest him. Instead, he gestured to the other end of the street, where German soldiers stood peering at them, returned the passport, and told René to go back the way he came. ” Instead of putting me in jail,” René explained, “that man saved my life.”)

Traveling to the United States to pursue an academic career — René taught at Indiana University (where he met his wife, Martha, who survives him) and at half a dozen other institutions before settling at Stanford — René began to study myths, anthropology, and theology. In the course of a long career, he produced some thirty erudite, profound volumes. Much of his thought is complex; I’ve found myself pausing to consider a single paragraph or passage for minutes at a time. Yet, perhaps his best-known insight — certainly the one that has meant the most to me — is quite simple and turns one of the most famous works of comparative religion ever published, Frazer’s The Golden Bough, upside down.

In his massive study, Frazer noticed a recurring pattern, common to myths and religions throughout the ancient world: the pattern of the scapegoat; that is, the sacrifice of a sacred leader or king. In the Oedipus myth, for example, order returns to Thebes only after Oedipus has gouged out his own eyes and is driven into exile. Seeing the same pattern in the gospels — Jesus is crucified on a cross bearing the placard “king of the Jews” — Frazer concluded that Christianity represented merely one more ancient myth above which modern man could rise, abandoning “magic,” as Frazer often called religion, for science.

What We Owe

 

24wheeler-web-superJumboIf you haven’t already, take a few minutes to read The New York Times’ obituary for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the Delta Force operator killed on Thursday during a raid on an ISIS prison. Seriously, go read it. Just be warned that it may break your heart a little. To say that Wheeler appears to have been an exemplar of American values and masculinity is to rather miss the mark.

There is probably no more manipulative question than to ask whether a war is worth the life of a given soldier. It’s a stupid way to judge things. It asks you to judge a macro event by a micro standard in a way that grossly stacks the deck in favor of the latter. It’s also usually dishonest in that it denies our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen their agency. Surely, MSG Wheeler, a veteran of nearly 20 years, thought his fighting was worth the risk, and there are pesh merga forces and ISF prisoners alive — as well as ISIS fighters dead — in no small part because of his actions. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that the Army is a huge part of what made Wheeler such a great guy.

But it is, regardless, infuriating to see heroism like this spent on a conflict so ill-defined and mismanaged as the current one against the Islamic State. The president seems bored by — and deeply resentful of — the matter and his greatest desire seems for it to go away. For its part, Congress cannot be bothered to explicitly vote their support for the mission … or even define it. And lest the rest of us get too self-satisfied, these are our representatives and our president, all of whom were democratically elected and could be unelected if we wanted. As it is, America seems content to throw some bombs, waste some money, and provide some occasional air support and transportation. It’s very nearly the worst sort of compromise: We accomplish little, feel bad about it, and get to look weak in the process.

RIP, Yogi Berra

 

66653Yogi Berra — one of the greatest catchers in Major League Baseball history, and one of its wittiest sages — has died at 90, exactly 69 years to the day after his major league debut with the Yankees. Since then, he became a 15-time All Star, three-time American League MVP, and led teams from both leagues to the World Series as a manager. In all, he either played or managed 21 World Series, thirteen times for the winning team.

Berra was a beloved figure for the sayings he offered which came to be known as Yogi-isms, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” probably being the most famous.  He once gave directions to his house as “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”

One of the iconic images of his career is him hugging Don Larsen after Larsen threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Not as widely known, is that Berra called the perfect game; Larsen didn’t shake him off once.