It’s been a tough year for fans of athletic legends.
Some of the greatest off all time — including Hank Aaron — have been ushered to another realm to rub shoulders with the One Great Scorer.
More than their sterling accomplishments and explosive impact, He will be more concerned with how they played the game of the life.
No doubt many, if not most, will grade-out well.
Following are my impressions about a few of those sports icons that have passed away in 2021.
Baylor was an All-World forward in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Many years ago, while I worked for a newspaper in Northern California, I met an old coach that had had an encounter with Baylor.
This coach was serving as a college assistant basketball coach and drew the assignment of scouting Baylor for an upcoming game. In his report, the coach told the head coach that he didn’t see a flaw in Baylor”s game. He suggested they try to rough him up physically and see if they could get in his heard.
That turned out to be a major mistake.
“The harder we hit him, the more he loved it,” the coach told me with a chuckle.
Eaton played for the Utah Jazz during the team’s steady rise to prominence. Even though he had retired by the time the Jazz played twice in the NBA finals in the late 1990’s, Eaton still is considered one of the best — and most loved — Jazz players of all time.
On one occasion, I traveled to Sacramento to cover a Jazz game. Afterward, I went in the Jazz lockerroom to interview a power forward/center that had grown up in the town where I worked. Eaton sat nearby and didn’t say much. He was a rather imposing sight. I believe I asked him a question about the player.
I think all of us that are old enough to remember the early 1970’s recall the growing excitement as Aaron neared Babe Ruth’s career homer record of 714.
I’m not sure, but I believe the interest in the quest provided a big impetus to Monday Night Baseball on TV.
Aaron seemed to have the momentum of destiny on his side. I don’t believe I was watching live when he connected with his 714th and 715 dingers, but saw the replays shortly after.
It was a special moment for all of us that felt hooked in to baseball history.
During a Marine Corps stint of kitchen duty in Yuma, Ariz., I listened on the radio to the 1983 World Series games. I lie back on my bunk and let the play-by-play wash over me while my mind painted the mental pictures.
Altobelli managed the Baltimore Orioles to an incredible championship, beating the favored Phillies in five games.
Even though Altobelli never came close to that level again as a manager — he was let go during the 1985 season in favor of the return of Earl Weaver, Baltimore’s previous manager — he continued to coach in baseball.
I’ve always look to what Altobelli achieved in 1983 as one of those sweet dispensations of destiny in sports.
Spinks seemed like just another stepping stone during Muhammad Ali’s latter career.
But, in one of the seismic shockers in heavyweight boxing history, Spinks beat Ali in a 1978 fight and briefly reigned as the world champ.
Spinks reminded me again of the magic of sports in terms of the human equation, which is able to rise above all the metrics and find the willpower, the determination and persistence to win.
Lasorda kind of became everybody’s sometimes-boisterous, sometimes-lovable uncle during his many years as the Los Angeles Dodgers manager.
He helped restore the franchise to its glory and uncovered some great talents during the process.
I think was a combination of class, impishness, love of life, intensity and desire that elevated the image of baseball.