Friday, July 16, 2010

Life and Death

Over the past few days, we've lost two people who have influence over my favorite hobby: Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner. Bob Sheppard was the Yankees (and New York Giants, among others) public address announcer, and he has been known over time as "The Voice of God." As in, if there ever was a living embodiment of what the Lord Almighty sounded like, it was Mr. Sheppard. I've never had the pleasure of meeting him, or even knowing somebody who met him, but his voice has created an indelible impression on the "right" way to be at a stadium. He didn't try to call attention to himself or to drum up artificial excitement by the fans; instead, he allowed the game to flow and to breathe on its own, to create its own natural excitement. That always meant a lot to me, although it took more than 30 years to really understand that. He didn't need to shout or to scream into the microphone. Now, I appreciate that and will miss him whenever - if ever - I'm lucky enough to go to The Stadium again.

George Steinbrenner, on the other hand, was a real human being. Over the course of his life, he did some amazingly generous things and some amazingly cruel things. He made brilliant moves and he made idiotic moves. He made great long-term plans and sabotaged long-term plans; he made great short-term plans, then turned around and reneged. If there ever was an example of a perfectly flawed human being, it was him.

Ultimately, I think - or like to think - that he falls on the good-guy side of the ledger. Yes, he had amazing public spats and was legendary for firing his employees and treating them shabbily. But, he was equally legendary at hiring them back moments later for more money. He took care of people and players that needed help, and he gave many, many second and third chances to people that might not have deserved them. When tragedy struck, Mr. Steinbrenner was one of the first people there, and his generousity towards charity will not soon be forgotten. Perfect example: Major League Baseball, representing all 30 teams and all the players, donated $500,000 to help relief efforts for the Haiti earthquake. The Yankees, two weeks earlier than that, donated a cool million dollars. This was not a strange occurrence; when you look at donations made by Major League Baseball, the Yankees were there first and with more money. Particularly after the 2001 terrorist attacks...

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with a mentor of mine, soon after Joe DiMaggio passed away. Joe D. was a hero of mine, even though I never saw him play or met him. There's a certain class of people, to me, who represent something more than their humanity offers. They represent something wonderful, something compelling, something passionate, something for which to strive. I've said, frequently, that the long baseball season is like life: everyone is going to win 60 and lose 60. Everyone. It's what you do with the 42 games in the middle that makes the difference between a champion and last place. Everyone is going to go into a slump; everyone's going to have a hot streak. Some months, the best players in the world are below average. Some months, the worst players in the game play like world-beaters. And, over time, everyone shows their true colors and their true ability levels, and everybody reverts to the mean.

The people like Joe DiMaggio, like Derek Jeter, like George Steinbrenner, all represent people that, for a time, rose to the occasion and won. They played like champions. I know that they're human beings and have good days and bad days. They have days when they are awful people and days when they behave like saints. That's not really the point, is it?

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