Wisdom from Aisle 15A: Bill Russel and Tony Gwynn Still on the Wheaties Box

Paul McGuillicuddyAnalyst IFebruary 17, 2008

I have come to enjoy Sunday mornings.

Guess I always have enjoyed the tranquility offered by the first day of the week.

As a youth Sunday morning meant that one time of the week I would not be pressed into service around the house for some menial task.

During my college years I have vivid memories of a nearby church that played its outdoor chimes. The soft, melodic tune provided a soothing background.

Nothing has changed in my adult years.

While it may seem contradictory at first, the better half and I have made Sunday morning our time to go grocery shopping. It’s not that crazy. Just as everything else on Sunday morning our local Fortune 500 grocers is quiet – there isn’t that usual hustle and bustle of carts careening through the aisles at breakneck speed in order to be first in line at the checkout.

I like my grocery shopping routine and mindless – list in hand ambling past the shelves of packaged products.

It was that way last fall when I made my way along the cereal aisle. As part of my routine I make a point to check and see who dons the front of the Wheaties box – that orange beacon of dried cereal with the white letters outlined in blue.

Over the years athletes such Big Papi, Tim Duncan, and MJ, to name a few, have graced the Wheaties cereal box. Usually these athletes have recently achieved an accomplishment to earn such an honor: winning a championship, earning an MVP award, etc.

Last fall I was caught off guard to see who made the Wheaties box: Bill Russell and Tony Gwynn each had their own spot. I expected to find some designation of the boxes as part of retro-series, but there was none.

Without any coffee in my system I was reduced to a Sunday-morning stupor – staring blankly at the boxes. For all I know the better half stopped at the cart and dropped in some soup and continued on to the yogurt, and I didn’t even notice her presence.

Tony Gwynn and Bill Russell? This is 2007…right?

If I were Ray Kinsella I’d a been looking around for a license plate to rub off the registration sticker.

Sure Gwynn completed his pilgrimage to Cooperstown last summer. But what about Russell?

Not too long before MLB announced its MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Rookies-of-the-Year. They were not on the Wheaties box.

Tony Gwynn and Bill Russell?

The decision to put the two hall-of-famers on the box was certainly not based on sex appeal – Tony Gwynn and his portly stature on one and Bill Russell with his thong-length shorts (in comparison to the modern-day-bust-a-sag shorts) – the kind that always get a church laugh from the younger generation – on the other.

It could be suggested that Russell and Gwynn represent the antithesis of each other. Russell with his above-average statistics always finished behind Wilt Chamberlain in individual accomplishments but possessed ‘it’ to win championships. Gwynn, on the other hand, won the batting title eight times en route to a career .338 but never earned a World Series ring.
Why Gwynn and Russell at the same time and why now?

One thing these two competitors have in common was to play their entire career for one professional organization. Russell played thirteen years on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. Gwynn played twenty seasons with the San Diego Padres. While this aspect can be diminished as a measure of greatness, it implies a relationship of give and take between athlete and organization.
The organization recognizing the talent of the player provides a salary ample enough to keep the individual happy. Meanwhile the player earns his keep by performing. Both sides work together. Both sides ready to make concessions if needed. Neither side wears out its welcome.

Sometimes the modern player moves on for more cash. Sometimes the athlete moves on because of behind the scenes friction. When a player continues moving, one has to wonder who is causing the problem in the locker room.
Gwynn and Russell endeared themselves to their teammates and organizations.

It is all too common for the modern player to trade commas in the salary for a good working condition. This temptation had to be more prominent for Gwynn who came of age after free agency as opposed to Russell whose career ended prior to 1970.
How many times have fans scratched their heads and wondered: how much do these guys need to play a game? I don’t ever recall Gwynn holding out for more money.

Moving between teams might not have been as frequent during Russell’s career, but it did happen. Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - to name a few – all moved on to greener grass.

Gwynn and Russell displayed a respect their individual games. Sure, close examination would probably uncover some transgression committed by these two hall-of-famers (they are after all human beings), but it is difficult to find any examples where Gwynn and Russell brought shame to their sports.

With so many corporate sponsors hedging their investment dollars on current stars for fear of what is to be uncovered, Gwynn and Russell represent professionalism. Two stand up guys who enjoyed their games.

Josh Beckett has since replaced Gwynn and Russell on the shelves in aisle 15A—nothing wrong with that. Here’s hoping the BGP can learn from the wisdom provided by Tony Gwynn and Bill Russell.