This week in the world of sports, the phrase, “all bad things come is threes,” was taken to a new level.
Much like the film industry, which lost Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper and Rue McClanahan in a nine-day span, the sport’s world experienced the retirement of a baseball icon, a perfect game sabotaged and the death of a college basketball coaching legend.
Griffey, the first pick in the 1987 amateur draft, played 23 big-league seasons, hit 630 home runs (fifth all time), made 13 All-Star appearances (including 11 straight from 1990-2000), won the 1992 American League MVP (with five top-five finishes in voting) and 10 Gold Gloves (all from 1990-’99).
Simply put, Griffey was unlike many players we will ever see.
In the 1990’s, The Kid, played the game hard, fast and at such an extremely high level it earned him a spot on baseball’s All-Century team, which included Hall-of-Fame outfielders Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Pete Rose and Stan Musial.
In the 1996 and 1997 seasons, Griffey hit 56 home runs and became one of the first players to push Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record of 61.
Unfortunately for Griffey, things took a turn for the worst when he decided to leave Seattle for Cincinnati in 2000.
Griffey had some respectable years as a Red but his iconic status, which reached its peak in the late-90’s, faded when Barry Bonds demolished Maris’ and Mark McGwire’s records.
Injury troubles helped Junior fade into the background. Without much media attention, which is given to most stars that approach milestones, Griffey slipped past they 500-and 600-home run benchmarks.
After a tough start to the 2010 season, which featured a .184 batting average after only 98 at bats and an overblown story of Griffey napping in the clubhouse, The Kid called it quits saying he no longer wanted to be a distraction to Mariners, the team which help make him great and took him back, last season, even after his glory days were long gone.
However, on the same night Junior would call it quits and baseball fans, especially Seattle supporters, thought they would finally cheer for him like they once did, umpire Jim Joyce, in Barry Band-like fashion, stole the spotlight.
In the bottom of the ninth, two outs and a perfect game on-the-line, Detroit Tiger’s hurler, Armando Galarraga, got Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Jason Donald to hit a soft grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera fielded, threw to Galarraga, who was covering first, and celebrated the perfecto… prematurely.
To the naked eye watching the television, the play looked too-close-too-call. Observers could only be saddened as first-base umpire, Joyce, called Donald safe.
However, after further review it was easy to conclude that Joyce was wrong, very wrong.
Donald was out by a full stride and baseball history was made, not in a positive light, but in a negative once.
New York Times writer Paul Clemens described it best on writing on Friday, “Galarraga went from becoming only the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game (and the third in four weeks, a convergence of perfection that can be expected to recur with Halley’s Comet-like regularity) to one of countless in Major League history to throw a one-hit shutout.”
Pitching only four seasons in the big leagues, Galarraga, 28, has compiled a 21-18 overall record and a 4.50 ERA.
No way will Galarraga become a Hall-of-Famer, Cy Young winner or MVP nominee.
Sadly, Galarraga one glory moment will not go into history as one of the greatest perfect games of all time (Galarraga was on pace to finish his perfect game with less than five strikeouts and 90 pitches.)
Instead, Galarraga will be known as the pitcher that was robbed of a perfect game and, for years to come, Joyce will be the answer to many trivia questions.
Saturday morning, the trifecta was completed when college basketball’s greatest coach, John Wooden, died of natural causes in California.
Wooden, 99, led the Bruins to 10 National Championships including sevens straight from 1967-’73.
Wooden, also knows as the Wizard of Westwood, is also the only person be elected into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame as player and coach.
However, Wooden’s legend grew more after his coaching days as he wrote numerous books on basketball, coaching and life.
“(Wooden is) about a perfect sports personality as anyone I’ve met in my years of broadcasting,” praised NBC broadcaster Dick Enberg in an interview about the Wizard.
Enberg says Wooden is sport’s Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill. Many would agree.
Even through his 90’s, Wooden was still writing books and conducting radio interviews trying to inspire players, coaches and people to do the best they can with what they have.
Wooden is the Yogi Berra of inspiring sports quotations.
“Sports don’t build character, they reveal it,” and “Be quick but don’t hurry,” are some of my favorites.
Don’t be surprised in 15 years professors build curriculum around his philosophies.
When asked in a 2008 interview what the secret of life is, Wooden replied, “Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don’t let the peaks get too high and valley’s too low.”
Today, the sports world has reached a valley. Tomorrow, the sport’s world and its fans will begin working towards a peak.