Friday, June 22, 2007

Old Baseball Players Don't Die, They Just Fade Away

One of the hardest thing to do in sports isn't hitting a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, or racing in the Indianapolis 500, or making the game-winning basket with 1.5 seconds left on the clock.

It's knowing when it's time to go.

There's a short list of athletes who knew when it was time: Jerome Bettis, Rocky Marciano, Jim Brown, and John Elway.

Then there's the other list, the long list of athletes with diminished skills who didn't know when to go.

Hey look, there's Eric Lindos, Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Willie Mays, Patrick Ewing, Emmitt Smith, David Cone, Wayne Gretzky, Rickey Henderson, Martina Navratilova--uhh, let's stop here. As I said earlier, it's a long list.

When it comes to reading the handwriting on the wall, athletes remain stubbornly illiterate. I never understood why until I saw an interview with the blues guitarist Johnny Winter on television one day.

Winter was promoting a new CD and he looked tired and bored as he answered questions he probably heard hundreds of times before. But then, by accident, the reporter asked him the right question: "So, Mr.Winter-how do you feel about what you do for a living?" It was as if she flipped a light switch on inside him. A bright happy smile lit up his face and he replied, "Well, it's a job--but it's a good job."

As long he stays healthy and people keep buying his CDs and going to his shows Winter can do his job as long as he wants. John Lee Hooker was in his 80s when he died, the morning after his last concert. That's much longer than the guys wearing jockstraps, that's for sure. Michelle Kwan retired at what, 25?

When you're an athlete, the window where you can do your job productively is temporary. I realize that nobody wants to leave the best job they're ever going to have. But if you're not careful and stay around too long, Father Time will slam that window shut on your fingers. Hard.

Quit the job before the job quits you.

Roger Clemens 2057