If you ever visit Fenway Park – home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912 – for a tour, at some point you’ll hear some waxing lyrical about Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski. Especially his epic 1967 season, one of the greatest any player has ever had.
Games: 161 / At-bats: 579 / Hits: 189 / Doubles: 31 /
Home runs: 44 / RBI: 121 / Average: .326
Yaz played in the big leagues for 23 years – and only ever for the Red Sox. He was 18 times an All Star, and once the American League MVP (for ‘67). He won seven Gold Gloves. And he’s the Red Sox all-time leader in career RBIs, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases, and games played.
At some other point during the tour, you’ll also be shown a single red seat out in the bleachers and a long, long way from home plate. It marks the point at which a Ted Williams’ home run finally came back to earth – the longest home run ever hit at Fenway.
Ted played in the big leagues for 19 years – and only ever for the Red Sox. (He missed some or all of five different seasons to fight in World War II and the Korean War.) He won two American League MVP awards and was a 17-time All Star. His .482 career on-base percentage ranks first in the entire history of baseball, and his 1941 batting average of .406 remains the last time anyone completed a full season batting over .400. If you’re talking the best baseball player ever, he’s on a short-list of no more than seven.
A few decades later, across an ocean in a different sport, Arsenal Football Club regularly brought together in the same team four modern greats of the game – Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, and Robert Pirès. Respectively, and all during their peak years, they represented Arsenal for eight, 11, nine, and six years, before either retiring (in the case of Bergkamp) or moving overseas.
Playing fast, attacking, and attractive football, these four won just about everything in sight – both individually and collectively. In 2003/04, the Arsenal they presided over became the ‘Invincibles,’ the only English team in the modern era to go through an entire season undefeated. They were irresistible: Henry, fast, gifted, charismatic, handsome, and cool; Bergkamp, a once-in-a-generation kind of brilliant; Vieira, the mighty fulcrum about which everything rotated; and Pirès, countless times the spark that set all aglow.
That’s six sportsmen altogether, spanning three different eras in two different sports. Apart from having in common other-wordly talent, they all – through force of personality, persistence, loyalty, and skill – became, for the two great sporting institutions they graced most of all, larger than life. In their own ways and for the fans of two storied teams, they became immortal.
Red Sox fans will always love and cherish Yastrzemski and Williams. Arsenal fans will always love and cherish Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, and Pirès. Because they were so good for so long, and because, one way or another, they never really left. (Henry, Vieira, and Pirès all went on to play for other teams… but the right kind of teams at the right kind of time.)
Robin Van Persie, on the other hand, could have been every bit as loved – but chose Manchester United instead. Them. Eight years an Arsenal player, he threw it all away. For what?