Pete Rose said something last week that really resonated; and, surprisingly enough, it really didn’t have much to do with baseball. Instead, it was a commentary on life and death and how we deal with the parts in between.
Towards the end of last year, Sparky Anderson, the hall of fame manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, died at the age of 76. In honor of Sparky, on June 26 of this year, the Detroit Tigers retired his number “11” and posted it on the brick wall of the outfield. Pete Rose had played for Sparky while with the Reds and, upon being asked about the Tigers retiring Sparky’s number, Rose basically asked why it took so long.
In February of this year, legendary Dodger Duke Snider died and, on August 9, the Dodgers held an evening at the park in his honor and gave out Duke Snider bobbleheads to all of the fans. The Snider family was in attendance and threw out the first pitch, and throughout the night videos played of Duke’s career and accomplishments. My whole family attended the game, celebrated Duke’s life, and added bobbleheads to our mantles (not Mickeys, though, because he was a Yankee).
It wasn’t until later that I heard Pete Rose’s comments and it hit me about what was wrong with the Duke Snider bobblehead night and tribute… it was a tribute. Tributes, by the way, are held after someone has died. Why did the Dodgers wait until after Duke Snider was dead to honor him with a bobblehead and his “night”?
Before we go any further, let me just say that I have been going to Dodger games since 1982. I have not been to every game and it is very possible that the Dodgers had held nights in Duke’s honor prior to his death. But this night, this specific night in August 2011, was solely in response to his death.
There is nothing worse than being a day late and a dollar short. Why put off doing today what you may not be able to do tomorrow? If you want to celebrate someone, why wait until they are dead to do it?
This is not about baseball. This goes for music, television, movies, you and me and the guy down the street. Don’t believe me? Any posthumous award, to me, is a waste. Voting someone into the hall of fame after they have died? Giving out a Pulitzer Prize or creating a postage stamp? Sure, it is nice for the family and ensures some form of remembrance and preservation for “history,” but the beneficiary of the honor is dead and cannot enjoy it. The “lifetime achievement” honor in entertainment; by its very nature, the person being honored has had a lifetime of contribution to the art… how unfortunate it is that sometimes the honoree is not alive to be celebrated.
(Of course, none of this applies to the tragic premature death. Heath Ledger winning the Academy Award after he had died does not factor in here. But had he lived, would he have even been nominated?)
We are all guilty of it. We go about our daily life and do our very best to keep in touch, maintain relationships, and stay present in someone’s life. But as life goes on, time gets away from us; the day to day grind and our nuclear family becomes of immediate and constant focus and it is invariably a death that brings us back to our loved ones just on the periphery. And it forces us to focus on what our relationship with that person actually meant. The good times and the bad times and the bonds we had developed but allowed to fray over time.
Look, I know it is impossible to be everything to everyone everyday; to call everyone everyday, write an email or send a card to everyone everyday, to celebrate a birthday or share a happy occasion with everyone everyday. I know it. We all have felt it, that sting of regret when we hear of a death of someone who used to be close to us; someone with whom we simply seemed to have lost touch, but who never ever became less important to us. It has nothing to do with someone being important or not, they just become less present. It isn’t a bad thing; it can be a regrettable thing, but it isn’t bad. It is life.
We can live life to the fullest, accumulate friends and family members and memories, but the more of all of those we amass, the more likely it is that we will have that regret, that sense of “what if.” It’s that sense that we somehow failed to honor and celebrate that guy.
But it isn’t really the celebration is it? It isn’t the fact that the Dodgers didn’t do a bobblehead night before Duke had died or the Tigers hadn’t retired Sparky’s number before he died or Major League Baseball didn’t retire Jackie Robinson’s number before he died. It is the feeling that while they were alive they were not appropriately appreciated for their contribution. So in effect, it’s on us. We don’t regret that they weren’t alive to enjoy the celebration; we question whether we did enough to show our appreciation, our love, our enjoyment of them.
So it falls to us. Are we going to show our love and our appreciation? Or are we going to wait until a death to remind us that we didn’t do enough?
Let’s do what we can, shall we? Let’s tell them we love them, go out of our way to thank them, demonstrate our appreciation. We don’t need to throw a party or retire a number or enshrine them in a hall of fame. We simply need to thank them and show them how much they mean to us.