Comment
0
Tweet
0
Print
RSS Feeds

Losses in sports in 2013: Musial, Weaver, Griffith

Tuesday - 12/31/2013, 7:20pm  ET

FRED LIEF
AP Sports Writer

The soundtracks could not have been more different.

One was the stinging crack of the bat of yet another double in the gap and the folksy harmonica strains of some song from long ago. The other soundtrack was rough and grating -- a snarling, profane, arm-flailing argument that often ended with home plate covered with dirt.

Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, men of disparate times and temperaments, died in 2013. The deaths of the two Hall of Famers, in an odd alignment of baseball's planets, came hours apart on Jan. 19.

Musial -- Stan the Man, "baseball's perfect knight," as a statue inscription reads -- was 92 when he died at home in suburban St. Louis. Weaver, the Baltimore Orioles' longtime manager, was 82 and on a Caribbean cruise.

They underscored a year of losses in sports: Emile Griffith and Ken Norton in boxing; Bill Sharman and Jerry Buss in basketball; Pat Summerall, on the football field and in the booth; Deacon Jones in the NFL; Ken Venturi in golf; and Michael Weiner, on baseball's labor front.

Musial, simply put, was one of the best hitters in baseball history. With his left-handed, corkscrew stance, he played with a proficiency and elegance during a 22-year career -- all with St. Louis -- that lifted the entire sport.

He won seven batting titles and was the MVP three times before retiring in 1963. He led the Cardinals to three World Series crowns in the 1940s. Even the Hall of Fame was overtaken by his body of work, surrendering to the scope of his achievements by saying on his plaque that he "holds many National League records."

"Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of the game," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him."

Musial played off-Broadway in St. Louis, never enjoying the mythic acclaim of Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. But he never seemed to mind, happy to deliver season after season, all the while busting out tunes on his harmonica or delighting in his magic tricks. The word gentleman followed him wherever he went.

"I never heard anybody say a bad word about him," Willie Mays said. "Ever."

Surely that was not the case with Weaver. Opponents, umpires all had a few select words of their own for this 5-foot-6 pugnacious fighter in the dugout. But in Baltimore, where he managed for 17 seasons, a statue of him stands at Camden Yards.

"His passion for the game and the fire with which he managed will always be remembered by baseball fans everywhere," Orioles great Cal Ripken said.

Weaver understood what made players tick and how to coax the most out of a pitching staff. Let others bunt and move runners along; Weaver waited for the three-run homer. Baltimore went to the World Series four times under him, winning in 1970.

But the casual fan saw less of the managerial shrewdness than his nose- to-nose, hat-turned-backward, foot-stomping confrontations with the men in blue. This was someone who was once ejected from both games of a doubleheader. Former umpire Don Denkinger recalls the time Weaver came to home plate before a game and said he was quitting.

"I told him that if he ever ran out of money to call the umpires' association and we'd take up a collection for him," Denkinger said. "We'd do anything just to keep him off the field and away from us."

Like Musial, Griffith brought elegance to his craft. He died at 75 of pugilistic dementia.

Griffith was quick and savvy in the ring, flicking jabs and punishing opponents. One night of punishing work in 1962 would haunt Griffith for the rest of his life.

He battered Benny "The Kid" Paret on national TV to recapture his welterweight title. A comatose Paret died 10 days later. The fight shadowed boxing for many years. Griffith, suddenly cast in the role of villainous killer, was never the same. At times, he was afraid to leave his hotel.

Boxing was hit hard this year, losing two other champions, both heavyweights: Ken Norton, who in 1973 defeated Muhammad Ali and broke his jaw, was 70; Tommy Morrison, 44, who beat George Forman and later tested positive for HIV, but denied until his chaotic end that he had the AIDs virus. Carl "The Truth" Williams, who lost title fights to Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes, died of cancer at 53.

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry that once defined the NBA had a unifying thread in Sharman. He teamed in the backcourt with Bob Cousy in Boston and became one of the game's best foul shooters. He later coached the Lakers of Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West when they won 33 in a row, and as an executive presided over the team's Showtime run.

   1 2  -  Next page  >>