From Babe Ruth to Tiger Woods
I was rummaging through some old family photos over the weekend and came across some pictures of one of my favorite uncles. His name was Alec. A decent athlete in his day, he was a wrestler and football player. His “day” was the late 20′s and early 30′s. He had serious consideration for playing college football for Duke. A knee injury ended that dream.
Born in 1912, Alec Alexander saw an awful lot in the sports world. He saw great athletes come and go. He saw significant changes in how we watch sports. He saw records broken and barriers shattered.
He wasn’t the only person to have seen these changes of course. But I stopped to consider for a moment how much he had truly seen — or at least the events that unfolded during his lifetime. He lived to be 88 years old – Hell, I’ll sign up for a solid 88.
The first baseball game he went to was in Philadelphia to see the A’s play the Yankees. That was the 1928 season. Playing for the A’s near at the end of his career was none other than Ty Cobb. Of course, there was a guy named Ruth playing on the other side. Gehrig too. To consider the future Hall of Famers he saw on the field that day, boggles the mind. The A’s and Yanks were loaded with them.
In those same years Red Grange and Jack Dempsey were nearing the end.
Years would pass. Along came Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. Bronco Nagurski, Joltin’ Joe, and Teddy Ballgame.
And Jackie Robinson.
These were heroes that existed in theatre news reels, static-filled radio broadcasts and grainy newspaper photos. They also existed in living color if you were fortunate enough to have a ticket to Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden or Shibe Park or…wherever the game or fight or match was being held.
Alec saw these stars. He followed their exploits along with the rest of his generation. He was a 20th century man, and it was moving fast, and he was running along side of it, like chasing a train out of the station to wave to a friend.
Then came television. Mickey, Willie, and the Duke. The Friday night fights. The pro wrestling. All this too existed in black and white, but it was the greatest leap forward. It allowed fans to see the game, no matter where they lived, in real time.
Alec saw TV’s first golf hero Arnold Palmer. Then came Jack.
He picked up the paper one day in March of 1962 to read about a guy named Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a basketball game.
Others came along. Ali. Rose. Lombardi. and Simpson.
Alec was a golfer. A pretty good golfer. He’d followed Hogan and Snead and Player. Trying to pick up pointers along the way to better his six handicap. Getting on the course was pretty important to him. Even as his knees and hips gave him trouble, he’d still try to tee it up at least twice a week. By the time the mid 1990′s rolled around, the affects of Alzheimer’s Disease began to take their toll. At first, he played through it, claiming he was just getting old and forgetful. But eventually he would have to sit on the sidelines and only watch.
And watch he did. He saw a kid. He didn’t look like the typical golfer. But Alec wasn’t speaking of the kid’s ethnic background. He was speaking of his character, his approach, and his talent. Through an advancing Alzheimer’s haze, he could see this was something special — that he would once again see a once in a lifetime player — a Ruth, a Grange, an Ali.
In 1997 Alec saw Tiger Woods beat Tom Kite by twelve strokes to win the Masters. “This kid has got something special,” he told me that day. “You’re seeing the greatest. He’ll be better than Jack.”
Everytime Woods racks up another major (he’s got 14 now), I think of Uncle Alec and what he said that day. I think of what he saw in 88 years.
And I wonder if anyone will ever live through a time like that again.