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All is not lost

I haven't written hardly anything about the passing of Willie Mays, except for a single tweet.

Like everyone else, I marvel at his career, as best as I can for someone who saw none of it. He was on the wrong side of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, too, so the best I can do is some version of "wow, look at those stats."

But there were plenty of other people willing to pay tribute on social media. One of the off-shoot discussions that comes from such a significant player dying is "who is now the greatest living ballplayer?" Unlike many fans, I am not interested in talking about that. It's impossible to come to a conclusion. So maybe start another topic when we're sitting on the bar stool. Like who has the best pizza.

The other topic was Mays being the last star of the '50s to leave the earth, the passing of an era. I don't know if I'm totally in agreement with that thinking. There are still plenty of big names who touched the 1950s still around. Maybe they didn't reach their height in that decade, but I felt like a lot of people were dismissing some big names in that conversation.
And now, at the risk of this post being completely out of date a year from now, here are some big names who are over 80 and still ticking.

Luis Aparicio is 90. He was in the 1956 Topps set and he's still here now. I feel like Aparicio doesn't get a lot of play -- certainly very little respect in the hobby outside of his rookie card.

Rocky Colavito is also 90. He's not on the same dais as Willie, Mickey and the Duke but he had some really good years and was a star in the Midwest where stars are often ignored.

Sandy Koufax is 88. His name was the one that I saw mentioned as the last-remaining '50s notable still living. Koufax was still an uncertainty in the '50s so I'm not sure I buy that.

Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal are both 86 and played on the same teams for several years. Cepeda's big league career began in 1958 and Marichal in 1960. (EDIT: Orlando Cepeda died June 28, 2024, seven days after this post published).

Billy Williams is also 86. Another Hall of Famer, you guys.

Tony Oliva keeps the Hall of Fame train running at age 85. Some of the players we're getting to now appeared in the first sets I collected. They seemed like old men to me then and here I am middle-aged and they're still going. Inspiration.

Carl Yastrzemski is 84. The former Triple Crown winner was mentioned as a possible winner of the Greatest Living Ballplayer honor. Again, you won't get any argument from me. I don't really care. I bet Yaz doesn't either.

Pete Rose is 83. We're done featuring players who stepped in a major league batters box in the 1960s, although Jim Kaat, at 85, is still around and he pitched in 1959.

Joe Torre is also 83. He's been a visible baseball name my entire rooting life -- 50 years. Things will no longer seem right when Torre moves on.

There are plenty of other notable names of guys over age 80: Luis Tiant, Tony Perez, Mickey Lolich, Fergie Jenkins and others. In the broadcast booth Bob Uecker and Bill White are both 90 and Tony Kubek is 88!

And how about this?

Former Pirates Elroy Face is 96, Vern Law is 94 and Bob Skinner is 92! They were all teammates on the 1960 World Series championship team. You can add Bill Mazeroski, at age 87, too. (A couple other Pirates from that team passed at advanced ages, such as Bill Virdon (90) and Bob Friend (88)).

So, there are still notable MLB players from the grand old days to be celebrated while on this earth and while I couldn't tell you which one of these is the greatest of them all, I do know they were all great for an extended period and it's very cool that I have their cards.


Old Cards said…
Great tribute. As a kid of the 60's I had the privilege of seeing many of these guys play in their prime with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese as announcers. The prevailing argument back then was, of course, who is best - Mantle or Mays? As a Yankee hater, for me it was Mays. In retrospect, I'm not so sure. I like your logic that it's impossible to come to a conclusion, so just collect their cards and enjoy!
Grant said…
I saw Bob Costas weigh in a bit on this topic, and I do find it interesting and I enjoy discussing it. My pick would be Rickey Henderson.
Michael D said…
Great post! I think we need to celebrate all of them.
Jamie Meyers said…
Agree that trying to pick a "best of" is pretty close to impossible, though when over the past year or two anyway, Mays might have been a more obvious answer to that question. It feels to me like there isn't really anyone who stands out that much from the crowd. Yaz would be a contender in my book. Reggie Jackson comes to mind as well. Not the best human on earth but Pete Rose might be in that conversation. Ken Griffey Jr or Derek Jeter maybe. On the pitching side, Koufax or Ryan? Or Pedro Martinez? Just so hard to say. I know you don't care but it is kind of fun to speculate.
BaseSetCalling said…
I heard, no, I read a great descriptor of the reductiveness of sports conversations, which does seem more…I’ll go with “cold” these days: “GOAT Culture.” Where every conversation inevitably cycles to sorting out GOAT-ness. Even “Hall of Fame” isn’t sufficient for the inevitable Internet one-upper that always appears in so many online conversations - “Hall of Fame, ok, but that player isn’t ‘Inner Circle,’ so….” before escalating to GOAT level discussion.

I made sure to tune out the discussion about Mays and the new ‘greatest living,’ completely. I’d rather discuss the Manager’s experiment with moving that one player up to 2nd in the batting order today.
Jon said…
I saw this being discussed on a couple of sites the other day, and like you, I found it to be rather uninteresting. Also, I agree wholeheartedly with the comment above mine.
Billy Kingsley said…
I find oldest living to be much more interesting, and less biased, than best living.
Fuji said…
Great post. I didn't realize that Yaz and Rose were in their 80's. I guess I still remember them for their playing days in the 80's... when I was around ten years old.