Mariners Insider Blog

Junior and his fans: victims of reality TV

Saying you saw Willie Mays play makes you a dinosaur in the age of 24-hour sports televison and blogging.

But, back when the earth was cooling, Mays was as much myth as man - in part because if you didn't see him play live, you rarely saw him at all.

There weren't nightly highlights on cable. There wasn't even cable.

So when an aging Mays made it to the post-season in 1973 with the New York Mets, it was a rare chance to see him on TV.

And it was a disaster.

Mays was 42, and a part time player with New York, and in that post-season what America saw was a 42-year-old man impersonating a legend.

He dove for balls that fell far in front of him, was fooled by pitches - and pitchers - he'd have crushed even a few years earlier.

It was like a Shakespearian tragedy, watching Willie struggle, and that off-season he retired.

All that came to mind last weekend, watching Ken Griffey Jr. strike out to end the final game of the White Sox-Rays American League Division Series in which he batted .200.

Like Mays, Junior needs no one to defend his career. He's a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and a happy memory for those who watched him grow up on Seattle teams.

But watching your favorites play like mortals is disheartening, although it may say as much about us as it does about them.

We see greatness and we expect it to remain unchanged. We age, but our heroes are not supposed to.

When they do, perhaps it is too clear a reminder of time moving on, too painful to have memories dashed by reality TV.

For anyone who saw Mays or Junior play in their prime, it was the chance to watch the best in the game.

To watch Willie in '73, or Ken in '08, was a reminder that no one can maintain that level of athletic achievement and grace forever.

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