Many legends of the games pass on
Some died in old age while others were victims of violence.
He went to work where a statue of him stood outside the stadium, his place of business for more than a half century. He would not live to see the statue hauled away.
The other never had a statue erected in his honor, although some said there should be one, bronze or otherwise, at the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He would live to see himself spurned by the Hall five times.
Joe Paterno and Marvin Miller, a couple of New Yorkers, were bookends to the year’s losses in sports — the football coach dying at 85 in January, the union leader at 95 a few days shy of December.
The year’s obituaries in sports also came with a tragic soundtrack of gunfire: Junior Seau, Hector Camacho, Jovan Belcher. More quietly, baseball now moves on without Gary Carter and basketball without Jack Twyman and Rick Majerus. Big names in boxing like Angelo Dundee and Carmen Basilio also were lost.
Paterno’s death came less than three months after it was disclosed he had lung cancer. That news fell on a State College, Pa., community already shocked by the child sex-abuse revelations regarding longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Miller sent a bulldozer through the landscape of Major League Baseball, and by the time he was done the terrain of all professional sports would never look the same.
Miller ran the union from 1966 to 1981. He clashed with owners and commissioners who were wary of him every step of the way. When he started, the minimum salary was $6,000; this past season, the minimum was $480,000. When he took over, baseball was still a decade away from its first million-dollar player; today, the average salary is $3.2 million.
The very owners who fought Miller watched the value of their franchises soar to fabulous sums.
“Anyone who’s ever played modern professional sports owes a debt of gratitude to Marvin Miller,” Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano said. “He gave us ownership of the game we play.”
Gun violence cut across sports this year.
Seau, the one-time fierce linebacker of his hometown San Diego Chargers, shot himself in the chest at 43, leaving no note and so many in football shaken. Camacho, 50, the loud, boastful fighter and a champion several times, was shot in the face while in a car in Puerto Rico.Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs shot his girlfriend to death. The 25-year-old linebacker then drove to the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot, thanked his coach and general manager who were there and put a bullet in his head.
Camacho’s death was one of so many in boxing. The lineup could fill a wing of its Hall of Fame:
Dundee, the peerless trainer who was in the corner for Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard and always drew the best out of his fighters, was 90. Former heavyweight champ Michael Dokes, with a long string of victories and a long rap sheet, was 54. Teofilo Stevenson, the three-time Olympic champion from Cuba with a thunderbolt for a right hand, was 60. Emanuel Steward, who ran the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit and trained Thomas Hearns and Lennox Lewis, was 68. And boxing historian Bert Sugar, the raconteur with the fedora and cigar, was 75.
Baseball became a little less joyful without Carter, “The Kid” gone at 57 from a brain tumor. A Hall of Fame catcher mostly with the Mets and Expos, Carter was a commander behind the plate who never lost sight of what a pleasure it was to play the game.
Lee MacPhail, the longtime executive who ruled in the George Brett Pine Tar case, died at 95, the oldest-living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bill “Moose” Skowron, the sturdy first baseman for the great Yankee teams of the 1950s and ’60s, was 81. Also leaving the game were two men who saw a lot of balls and strikes — umpires Marty Springstead and Harry Wendelstedt.
Basketball is poorer for Twyman’s death at 78. He was a critical piece of the Cincinnati Royals, and in 1960 averaged more than 31 points. Majerus, 64, kept turning out winners in 25 years of working the sidelines with plenty of laughs along the way.
The NFL is now without two compelling figures straight out of central casting.
Ben Davidson, 72, was a menacing 6-foot-8 defensive end with a handlebar mustache, epitomizing everything nasty of those Oakland Raiders of yore. He later became a TV pitchman and actor.
Alex Karras, 77, was a defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions, and one mean hombre. Karras showed a comic touch in the “Monday Night Football” booth and in movies, notably “Blazing Saddles.”
Art Modell, one of the NFL’s most important owners, died at 87. He moved his Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore, a decision that shadowed him the rest of his life.
Darrell Royal, 88, was all folksy in giving football the wishbone offense while winning two national championships at Texas.
The clatter of pins silenced for a moment with Don Carter’s death at 85. With his hunched shoulders and cocked elbow, Carter was known as “Mr. Bowling,” and with the game spreading across the country in the 1960s he was the sport’s first superstar.