Yes, Athletic Ability Has Expiration Date….

Carlos Beltran is Back! Hopefully, he will retire as a Houston Astros in a Blaze of Glory that spreads like an incurable infection of the clubs great talent base.

Carlos Beltran is Back!
Hopefully, he will retire as a Houston Astro in a Blaze of Glory that spreads like an incurable wisdom and positive attitude infection of the club’s younger great talent base.

Yes, athletic ability comes with an individually variable expiration date, but the great ones – the ones with the hearts of champions – often fail to see it. You just have to hope that some to all of the lessons of the elders pass on to the younger players on their last teams during the brief open window of opportunity that exists in that precious nanosecond of contact through those same elders with the baseball gods. In life, we can’t all be great in all things, but we can sure learn from greatness, when we have the humility to recognize those moments we are in its presence.

It is our impression that the great Carlos Beltran realizes how happy most of us in Astros Nation are to see him back in Houston after 13 years – and this time – we welcome him as both a great player – as well as a strong teaching influence upon our Astros’ many talented younger players.

From the very top of them all, some of our greatest former players had a little trouble seeing or accepting that their playing days were done before they actually stopped. We don’t see Carlos Beltran. He’s still quite talented at age 39 just may be one of those guys with 3 to 5 five seasons left in the tank. And let’s hope so. For his sake and the Astros club as well. Our younger guys could learn much from him.

I’ve always been interested too in the guys who played past their primes when it came to playing too long. Three of my favorite tough retirement stories are summarized here. Another is Willie Mays. I simply did not write him up this time:

Babe Ruth (1914-1935) hit .342 over the course of those 22 seasons he banged out that iconic total of 714 career home runs. He probably would have done well to have retired at age 37, following his last great season of 1932, and perhaps immediately after his last as a New York Yankee World Series champion – and maybe right after he hit that so-called homer shot off Charlie Root of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. What an eloquent last statement that time at bat would have imprinted upon his already illustrious trip to Chicago that year. – It simply didn’t happen. Babe still hit .301 and 34 homers in 1933 and .228 with 22 homers in 1934. Good numbers, but not Ruthian figures. The Yankees knew it and found a way to deal Ruth off to the Boston Braves for an illusion in Ruth that his short playing career there would next lead to his appointment there as their manager. Didn’t happen. Never was going to happen. And at age 40, the Babe’s career was almost totally dead. He quit by the start of summer with a final season batting average of .181 with only 6 homers in 28 games. Too bad the Babe could not have retired himself the way his 1948 bio-picture did. The movie version of Babe went out on top – 0n the same afternoon he hit the 3 last hurrah homers off the Pirates in Pittsburgh. What a way to go.

Stan Musial (1941-1944, 1946-1963) never under .300 through his first 17 MLB seasons. Then came 1959 and “The Man’s” BA dropped to .255 and his HR total shrank to 17. His power gun was already gone. He hit only 14 in 1958. After four last seasons (1960-1963) in which Musial hit under .300 for 3 more times, Musial finally hung them up for good. In so doing, he missed being a playing part of the 1964 Cardinals club that rallied past the famous faltering Phillies and went on to take the World Series from the New York Yankees. Had Musial continued one more season, it would have been his first World Series participation since the Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox in 1946. Musial did have one more great batting for average year. In 1962, he hit .330 in 505 plate appearances as he also registered a .924 OPS on the season.

Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) Too bad Mickey Mantle needed the money from those last four seasons he played beyond the 1964 World Series Yankees loss to the Cardinals. Mantle’s batting average nose-dived in those four seasons, pushing him below .300 to a career .298 level. His failure to hit .300 over his entire career was Mantle’s biggest regret about his final MLB stats. What stings the most is that Mantle already had done enough in 14 seasons to qualify for the Hall of Fame. Four last little power seasons (1965-1968), with BA’s of .255, .288, .245, and .237 only served to distract how great Mantle  had been – and how much greater he might have been – had he played his entire Yankee career in a state of healthier mind and body.

So many other examples abound, but they represent more of a book research challenge than does this happy weekend dance column.

All I know for sure is that Ted Williams is my favorite retirement stylist. He quit after finishing the 1960 season with a home run at Fenway. Then he passed on a final weekend road trip to New York for a meaningless series with the Yankees. Ted wanted that last home run to stand up as his final goodbye as a player who would neither acknowledge, nor accept in gratitude, what he long suspected was only the gratuitous applause of him by otherwise critical Red Sox fans. Ted didn’t know it at the time – we don’t think – but the great New England writer John Updike just happened to be at the park that day and ended up writing an iconic column on the whole occasion and its outcome.


 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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2 Responses to “Yes, Athletic Ability Has Expiration Date….”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    If Musial hadn’t retired after 1963, maybe the Cardinals wouldn’t have won in 1964. Maybe they wouldn’t have traded for Lou Brock if they had Musial playing LF.

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