by Clark Groome
The most important thing to me about sports is the nature of the people who make it happen. Over the last few weeks several distinguished sportsmen have made news.
The first two are retiring Flyers Danny Briere and Simon Gagne. Both played significant roles during their time with the Flyers, and both ended their careers elsewhere. Both also acknowledged that their best years were here in Philly.
Seventeen-year veteran Briere announced his retirement in August at a press conference at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. He was retiring now, he said, because he wanted to spend time with his three sons, all of whom are in high school.
What was so impressive was the reaction his retirement got from the press. Briere, who was particularly effective in the post-season, was a fan favorite. What people outside of the local press corps didn’t know was that he was also one of the most respected and admired athletes in town. Inquirer Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi captured that sentiment when he tweeted: “Former Flyer Danny Briere retires. Classiest guy I ever covered. In any sport.”
Just about a month later, Simon Gagne, another classy Flyer, announced his retirement. Even though his departure from the Flyers was somewhat contentious when he believed he was going to be offered a new contract and wasn’t, he said that he would always consider himself a Flyer and would let bygones be bygones.
A Flyers first-round draft pick in 1998, Gagne, 35, is ninth on the team in goals (264) and 10th in points (535) and games played (691).
Vin Scully announced that he would continue to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games for one more season. He’s been doing that since 1950 when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and he was 22 years old. Now he’s 86 and still at it 66 seasons later.
Scully doesn’t travel as much as he used to. He only does games played in the Pacific Time Zone. He still works alone, and does all nine innings on TV with the first three simulcast on radio.
He is widely regarded as the greatest baseball announcer of all time and has been the recipient of many honors, including the Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, a Life Achievement Emmy Award for sportscasting (he also broadcast football and golf nationally) and induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. He was named the most memorable personality in Dodger history by the LA fans.
His first broadcast, April 15, 1950, was a game between the Dodgers and the Phillies, played at Shibe Park. So we can at least pretend we had something to do with launching this great man’s unparalleled career.
And finally on a sad note, Moses Malone, the great Philadelphia 76er, died from heart failure Sept. 13. He was only 60.
My great Moses memory has nothing to do with basketball.
The week after Sept. 11, 2001, I wanted to find out what it felt like to be in the midst of the people as the healing process began. To that end I went to the Phillies/Braves game on Tuesday. That game – like the one the night before – began with a moving ceremony. Flags were everywhere.
Before the pre-game festivities I’d spent about 15 minutes wondering around the concourse. The fans were quiet, subdued even, more like they were entering a theater or a church than a stadium.
On my way back to the Veterans Stadium press box – which was on the fourth level – three people got on the elevator at the same time and all asked for “four.” A woman in the group said, “Four, four, four, that’s just what Moses Malone said” about the number of games it would take the 76ers to win the NBA championship in 1983.
I replied, “Moses didn’t say ‘four, four, four’ he said ‘fo’, fo’, fo’.’” Everyone in the elevator cracked up. After a bit, another member of the group said that this was the first time he had heard that in more than a week.
The “that” was laughter. Did it ever feel good.
So for me, Moses Malone was the beginning of the healing process after those horrible events of the week before.
Sports fans, regardless of your favorite sport or hometown affiliation, can be very grateful to have been blessed with the presence of sportsmen like Briere, Gagne, Scully and Malone in their lives. I know I am.