There are not enough lines this year for this column. Humbling.
Bob Feller’s recent death left a gaping hole in the Baseball Hall of Fame gatherings. Earnest, opinionated, strong and decent, this pitcher never lost his love of the game. He served his country in World War II and he was a foxhole kind of guy.
Ron Santo loved the Chicago Cubs like no other. A former third baseman on the North Side turned broadcaster, he lived and died with every pitch. “Hey, Gary, you know this could be the year.”
Pat Burns was the only NHL coach to win Coach of the Year three times. The former Montreal policeman had seen real life; this was a game he intended to enjoy. Play hard and then go home to the things that matter — that was his life.
Bob Sheppard was the voice of the Yankees. The PA announcer known as “the voice of God,” he was a gentle, smiling, humble, educated man of letters. The letters never sounded so good.
The “Wizard of Westwood,” John Wooden left a legacy of decency hard to imagine. On one of his late birthdays, every living player from his UCLA teams came to celebrate with him. No more need be said.
Ernie Harwell melodiously rocked the night away in the Detroit broadcast both for generations of fans. His wife was his life, and the Tigers and baseball were his passion.
Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts never went to a Phillies game without the crowd coming to its collective feet in wild applause. Soft-spoken and smiling, he was almost embarrassed at the love that came to him from the fans.
He served baseball long after his pitching days, working toward the welfare of those who had not earned the big bucks in the game. He once told me, “Everyone thinks anyone who played baseball earned millions. I can tell you that’s not true. A lot of players out there need help.” He never forgot.
Bobby Thompson hit the shot heard round the world in 1951, winning the pennant for the New York Giants over the Dodgers. The reverberations have never left the hearts of Giant fans, even the ones in San Francisco.
Dave Niehaus broadcast Seattle games for more than three decades. His deep and authoritative voice was as much a part of the Mariners as any player.
When elected to the Hall of Fame last year, he could not get over the call that came from the HOF to inform him. “I just cried,” he said. “It is such an honor.” Fans are saying the same thing about having had the chance to hear him.
Don Meredith remembered sports are not to be taken seriously. His regaling of NFL audiences with song and quips kept the game human and showed us his humanity.
The party may be over for Don, but the memories of his work are not.
Santa is close at hand and I bet that twinkle in his eye came from seeing Sparky Anderson sitting in his MLB manager’s office smoking the corncob pipe and telling stories.
Come to think of it, maybe Santa is Sparky.
They have all moved on. We are better for their time here. They were gifts that went well beyond Christmas.