14 July 2010

Ends of Eras

What stunning timing.

On the very morning of the annual All-Star Game for baseball's best and brightest, a life came to an end--a bare two days after that of another baseball giant--and both of them affiliated with the same team. The universe has an odd sense of existence, I swear...

Those of you who read this blog are probably reasonably aware that I am not a fan of the New York Yankees. Rather, it is in my blood to consider them The Ultimate Opponent: in my home they are referred to as Those People (much as Robert E. Lee used to call the Federal troops, and for much the same reason: he knew they were human beings, people he was once part of, deserving of the love of God as much as anyone else--but just "not us"... a non-nasty way to refer to persons with a different mission from oneself, if you will!) when they are not being referred to by other far less compassionate names. *wry smile* No doubt my team suffers the same name-calling in homes across the land as well, for few things polarize baseball fans like the Auncient and Especiall Rivalrie Betwixt the Red Sox and the Yankees....

But right now is not the time for partisanship. Death has hit the Bronx in a hard way, so now is the time for compassion and caring.

On July 11, Bob Sheppard--The Voice of Yankee Stadium--passed away at the age of 99. Had he made it to October 20, he would have attained the great old age of 100. His life is a remarkable one for many reasons: his service to his country, his love of his family, his work as a broadcaster and what he considered his most important work: that of Professor of Speech at his alma mater, St. John's University, NYC. But to those of us who love baseball, a team's "voice"--the person who announces the games in their home park, knows the players, the stats, the game--is a special and sacred vocation. When we lose one, especially a classic, courtly one like Bob Sheppard, we lose something much, much more than can be easily described.

Bad enough; a hit to the heart, of that there is no doubt. But then two days later on July 13, early in the morning of All-Star Game Day, death visited the Yankees once more. This time it took "The Boss," George Steinbrenner, who has been the owner of the team since 1973. It was a quick death: a massive heart attack, occurring at his summer home in Tampa, FL just as the day was dawning.

Many will eulogize him in the weeks to come. A man who was both loved and despised is being spoken of in hushed tones, granted (as we all are at such times) graces he may or may not have possessed in life. His positive traits are magnified into super-virtues; his faults kicked under the rug, and realistically speaking, there's nothing wrong with that. He lived a long, controversial, powerful life, and made an undeniable mark on his generation. Like the passing of Tom Yawkey of the Red Sox in July of 1976, Steinbrenner's passing marks one of those occasions where one can truly say we will never see his like again.

Time enough later to tell his story, turn the spade of history through the garden of his life. Right now and for some time to come, I would like to suggest that we simply do this: Say a prayer for the souls of Sheppard and Steinbrenner, pray for God's peace and presence for their families, friends, team and fans as they deal with a monumental double loss, and find it in our hearts to have charity in all things.

At the time of death, we are all equal. All else is details.

Requiescat in pace, Mr. Sheppard, Mr. Steinbrenner. For even at the grave we make our song:

"Good evening... ladies and gentlemen... and welcome... to Yankee Stadium!"

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