A Fond Farewell
Many students are aware that the school year is in its final hour. While many underclassmen are getting ready to burn the midnight candle as they get ready for final exams and papers for the first time, other students are preparing to do it for the last time. While those same underclassmen will be returning to beaches and part time jobs, the students, or seniors, closing on commencement will look towards graduate school or turning their degrees into a full-time job.
Knowing that many of my own friends will be those seniors not returning to campus next fall got me to thinking about farewells in other aspects of life, namely in the sporting world. Players retire from their careers in the sporting world every year. Some go out as future hall-of-famers, while others might win world championships. Though not every player can end their career with one of these things being true, it is easy to think of a number of athletes whose careers have ended in grand fashion. The following list is a countdown of the top-10 farewells—or retirements—the sporting world has seen.
No. 10: Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls—1999
When Jordan rained the game-winning jumper against the Utah Jazz it seemed that the picture captured immediately afterwards, of him jumping four feet in the air, was destined to hang as a poster in every adolescent’s room for years to come. The way this game and career ended seemed fitting, as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time made one of the greatest shots of all-time to secure his legacy and the Bulls sixth championship. If this had truly been Jordan’s final farewell (it was only No. 2 of 3) this feat might be sitting atop this list.
No. 9: Steffi Graf, Pro Tennis Association—1999
Arguably the best woman to ever pick up a racket, Graf was still an elite player when she called it quits. Graf took home 22 singles grand slam titles while on the tennis tour, including one in her last season when she claimed the French Open title. Her career came to an end that year after falling in the finals to Lindsay Davenport. Despite losing, Graf went out with no regrets saying, "I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis. I feel I have nothing left to accomplish."
No. 8: Sandy Koufax, L.A. Dodgers—1966
After putting together the best season of his career in 1965 and winning the World Series MVP en route to the Dodgers winning baseball’s crown, Koufax put together perhaps the best individual season his hall-of-fame career would experience. For the second year in a row, and third time in his career, Koufax was clearly baseball’s best pitcher, as he won the pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts). He tied a career high with 41 games started, and established new career marks with 27 wins and a paltry 1.73 ERA. His career ended at 30 because of injury complications, but he helped the Dodgers capture three World Series crowns before retiring as one of baseball’s best.
No. 7: Billy Chapel, Detroit Tigers—1999
Okay, so this is a fictional character from the movie "For Love of the Game" (and yes I’m about to reveal the ending, so if you don’t want to know skip ahead to No. 6). Chapel is mired on a horrible Tigers team, climbing the mound as an old man. Chapel makes the decision to pitch against the Yankees even though his arm is sore, because "it matters to the Red Sox." Chapel starts out strong, mowing Yankee hitter after Yankee hitter down. Before he takes the mound for the last inning, he makes the decision that he will retire after this and be done with baseball forever. He ends up finishing his perfect game effort, and making the Tigers matter even though they’ve been a below average team all season long. The ending feels real, and it is the perfect ending to what the movie depicts as a hall-of-fame career.
No, 6: Michael Strahan, New York Giants—2008
Strahan’s career came to an end after being on the right side of one the biggest upsets sports has ever seen. The seven-time pro bowler, who accrued 141.5 sacks and 894 tackles during his career, achieved perhaps his greatest football glory when the Giants were able to outlast the undefeated New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Given that his whole career was with the Giants, Hollywood would be hard-pressed to come up with a better ending.
No. 5: Cal Ripken Jr., Baltimore Orioles—2001
Ripken’s entire 2001 season was basically one big farewell. Every park he went to, he was awarded presents and received standing ovations. Fans awarded a great career by electing him to be the starting third basemen in the All-Star game that summer. Alex Rodriguez made one of the classiest gestures baseball has ever seen by letting Ripken play shortstop to start (the position Ripken’s career began at). Ripken later crushed a Chan Ho Park offering deep to left field for a home run and earned the All-Star game MVP as a result.
No. 4: Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox—1960
Williams put together one of the greatest careers MLB has ever seen. He spent his career assaulting pitches thrown at him in his quest to have people walk by him on the street and say, "there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." On Sept. 29, 1960, Williams cemented that legacy a little bit more. The career .344 hitter, who had belted 520 homers to date, sent one flying into the seats in right field at Fenway Park in what would prove to be his final at-bat. It is almost like any other finish for him just wouldn’t have been fitting
No. 3: Ray Bourque, Colorado Avalanche—2001
The face of the Bruins franchise for the majority of his career, Bourque was dealt to Colorado late in 2000 with the hope that he would be able to win a Stanley Cup Championship, which he so deserved before he retired from hockey. A year-and-a-half after being dealt to the Avalanche, Bourque helped them capture the 2001 Cup. After his All-star season there, Colorado honored him by allowing him to be the first player to carry the cup after they won it. He was the first player ever since the tradition began to hoist the cup before the winning team’s captain.
No. 2: John Elway, Denver Broncos—1998
John Elway was a clear cut hall-of-famer during his career. He went to nine Pro Bowls, and his name is entrenched throughout the NFL’s record books. He helped the Broncos to the 1997 Lombardi Trophy, but was overshadowed by Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis’ performance there. Not to be outdone, Elway took his team back to football’s grandest stage the next season. He threw for 336 yards and hooked up with Ed McCaffery for a touchdown. He also added a rushing TD later and finished his career with a Super Bowl MVP as the Broncos captured their second championship in as many seasons.
No. 1: Lou Gehrig, New York Yanees—1939
In addition to being one of the best players to ever put on a baseball jersey for the Yankees or anyone else, Gehrig’s early retirement from baseball is something every sports fan is familiar with. Decades later, his farewell speech has been played time and again to the point where young fans can recite it with no problems. "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," echoes through the hallowed Yankee Stadium, and every fan still feels like they’re sitting in the seats watching it unfold. Gehrig retired from baseball barely after his 36th birthday, but never really left the Yankees or baseball, as his legacy is one that people will forever remember.