The end of the innocence

Many sports fans are sequential critics these days. It’s a very unattractive result of our instant-gratification, social media-driven society.

We build our heroes up at a rapid-fire rate, then tear them down the second they fall short of our inane expectations. We want entertainers to be gladiators in the line of duty, and politically-correct robots away from the action. And when they’re past their prime, we collectively wash our hands of them without hesitation, waiting for the next big thing to come along and attempt to quench our thirst for the impossible: perfection.

Very rarely, idyllic sports figures do indeed surface. They cater to the masses, expose the vulnerability in all of us, and – most importantly – silence our petulant, cynical side.

In other words, actual living legends.

Unrealistic? Given the confluence of lofty standards and short-attention span time allowance in 2016, absolutely. And yet, we ironically said goodbye to not one, but two such figures last weekend.

Arnold Palmer and Vin Scully. The King and The Master. The Icon and The Voice.

As Palmer’s celebrated life came to an end at the age of 87 in Pittsburgh, Scully was putting the finishing touches on a 66-year broadcasting career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. By Sunday evening, after spending nearly seven full decades in our country’s most cherished lexicon, both were gone.

And our sports world, already jaded by exposure to the long line of incapable successors, would officially never be the same.

Palmer and Scully were reverent connections to the past. Products of a simpler time for true professionals. Relatively unassuming, yet always content driven. Or, as Scully’s aptly-adopted moniker read from the works of Laurence Olivier: they both had ”the humility to prepare, and the confidence to pull it off.”

They were royalty to us, so we were loyal to them. Exceptionally talented and inherently gregarious. Children loved them because their fathers did. Grandchildren and even great-grandchildren followed suit. Generations of wide-eyed followers joined Arnie’s Army and Scully’s listener club.

Golf won’t be the same without Palmer. Broadcasting won’t be the same without Scully. Normally, those statements are matters opinion. But here, they reverberate like incontrovertible truths.

It’s both fitting and sad that we say goodbye to Arnie and Vin simultaneously. Of course, Palmer crafted a timeline of moments, accomplishments and relationships that will never leave us. And Scully’s words are gracefully transitioning into our memory banks at a suitably-deliberate pace.

They shared their gifts with us for over 60 years. We were lucky in that regard. This day was bound to come, though it doesn’t make their departures any easier to accept.

So now, we look at sports with a lot less meaning and a lot more skepticism. Palmer and Scully were our rare go-to guys when we couldn’t agree on anything, or had simply seen enough of everything. The time and place for potential replacements no longer exists.

A moment of silence here is apropos – not just to recognize what we’ve lost, but because Palmer and Scully always gave us the chance to slow down, shut up, and quietly appreciate. Someday very soon, we’ll wish we had those opportunities back.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net