This article is about basketball, not baseball, but it’s still amazing and fascinating and heartbreaking and important. It’s from Jackie MacMullan at ESPN and it’s about how a great many NBA big men have either died young or have battled serious health problems.
Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and many other big men have passed away far too soon. Larry Bird, who has a serious heart ailment, talks about how he’s simply accepted the fact that there are not a lot of men his height or taller walking around at age 75 and has adopted a certain sort of fatalism accordingly. Bill Walton and Bob Lanier talk about the sort of denial professional athletes can have about their health and fitness after their playing careers are over. It also talks about research on the health risks of super tall people and how, evolutionarily speaking, they’re kind of screwed in important ways. It’s super powerful stuff.
I link it here, in part, because it’s simply a great article. But I also link it because so many of the things talked about apply to all athletes, baseball players included. No, there aren’t a ton of ballplayers who are 6’9″ like Larry Bird — Jon Rauch, pictured above, was the tallest-ever ballplayer at 6’11” — but there are a great many of them who are at the extremes, physically, in one way or another.
I also link it because, as sports fans, I feel like we are just starting to appreciate the physical toll placed on the men and women who entertain us. CTE and football players has gotten a lot of attention of late, but these modern-day gladiators undergo all manner of punishment for us. We should always appreciate that, even if they are paid well and even if they wouldn’t trade what they do for anything.