Paths to Greatness
There are several paths to greatness in sports.
Ted Williams spent 19 years in the major leagues with a career batting average of .344 which is the sixth best of all time. He also hit for power collecting 521 home runs in his career. Williams was a natural hitter and he is regarded by many as the greatest hitter of all time. After his playing career was over, Williams managed the Washington Senators for 637 games from 1969–1972, and his team lost more games than it won during his tenure. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his athletic performance.
Tommy Lasorda joined the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1949, Lasorda toiled in the minors for years before making his big-league debut in 1954. He spent parts of two seasons with the Dodgers, and following another stint with the Kansas City Athletics in 1956, he returned to the minors for good. As a pitcher, he compiled a major league career record of 0-4 with 6.48 ERA. He went on to manage the Dodgers for 20 years and won two World Series championships in (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants, and eight division titles. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his managerial performance.
I wasn’t very good at skilled sports – baseball, basketball or football. I never tried hockey, but I still can’t ice skate, so I probably wouldn’t have been good at that. Golf is not my thing either. Or bowling. Or fishing. Or hunting. My best sport growing up was stickball which didn’t have much value outside of the streets of the Bronx. I picked up distance running and group fitness in my mid-30’s and found my niche in these sports.
There is a National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, NY that honors those who have contributed to the sport of distance running. Many of those who are inducted have achieved great success as runners, but some members are enshrined for their ability to bring fame and recognition to the sport of running. I, however, don’t qualify on either criterion. If there was a Hall of Fame for Group Fitness, I don’t think that I would qualify for it either. Lifetime’s Katie Haggerty and Kris Wayne certainly would.
So, on all counts, sports performance is not my path to greatness. I am just starting out in my personal training career, so I don’t know yet whether this will be my path to greatness or not.
There is a third path to greatness for athletes that might punch my ticket to the Hall of Fame someday, and that is the media. Curt Gowdy was neither a player nor a manager, yet he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his performance in broadcasting. Broadcasting is a type of media. Writing is a type of media too. Many athletes move into the broadcast booth when their playing days are over and excel in this medium.
I read an interesting article in the StarTribune newspaper about football great Randy Moss. ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman keeps a list of current players he thinks will be great on TV. The enigmatic self-proclaimed Super Freak never came close to making that list. “This is one of the most shocking career paths I’ve ever seen in this business,” Markman said. “He had the personality, but I never imagined that he would want to do this. I thought he’d just go hunt and fish.” The 6-4, 215-pound Moss, with his pterodactyl wingspan, sits at the center of the pregame cram session, seeming larger — and sometimes louder — than life. “He is the energy of our show,” Markman said. “It’s infectious, I think.” “He’s not afraid to just let loose, be silly on the air, and also speak his mind,” said Suzy Kolber, the host of “Monday Night Countdown.” “He’s incredibly smart. He’s also sharp enough to know what not to say on the air.”
I am not a broadcaster, but maybe my path to greatness will be writing.
Some people have two paths to greatness in sports. Randy Moss apparently does. So does Michael Strahan and swimming great Donna de Varona. Some even have three paths to greatness by excelling in sports performance, management and broadcasting. Football’s Mike Ditka and basketball’s Nancy Lieberman do.
And there are other paths to greatness beyond sports performance. Eric Liddell, “The Flying Dutchman” from “Chariots of Fire” went from winning an Olympic gold medal to the mission field in China. Fran Tarkenton made the transition from a successful quarterback to a successful businessman. Alan Page became a judge. Then there are athletes such as football’s Jack Kemp and baseball’s Jim Bunning who also made their mark in politics, but I won’t go there.
Tommy Lasorda reflecting on his career stated, “I started in the lowest league in baseball, and I worked my way all the way up to Triple A and then to the big leagues. I never reached the level that I thought I would reach as a player. But that’s the way it goes. So then I started from the bottom as a manager, and I worked my way up to managing the Dodgers for 20 years.”
You never know what your path to greatness will be when you’re starting out. Even at 65.