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As One of the Greats Bows Out, Another Is Just Hitting His Stride

A few weeks ago, talking baseball with a friend of my approximate age, I told him: “This Eric Davis is going to be the baseball player of our generation. He’s going to be our Willie Mays.”

“Who’s Eric Davis?” my friend asked.

I bring this up because Davis, the center fielder of the Cincinnati Reds, hit two home runs Friday and three more Sunday and already has 12 home runs this season and is batting .411 and is the best thing to come along since Roy Hobbs.

I also bring this up because to this day I can remember talking basketball with a friend, long ago, and him saying: “This Julius Erving is going to be the best basketball player you ever saw.”

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“Who’s Julius Erving?” I asked.

Julius Erving, at that time, was a guy with a whole lot of hair who used to go around palming a red, white and blue basketball as though it were no larger than a grapefruit.

He played college basketball for the University of Massachusetts and professional basketball for the Virginia Squires, which was the equivalent of playing college football for Southern Delaware Wesleyan and professional football for San Antonio.

Well, Julius Erving did turn out to be just about the best basketball player I ever saw.

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I am not even certain I saw him in his prime, at his best. But what I did see had to be believed. Doctor, my eyes! The guy was a marvel.

He also was marvelous. I met him. I spoke with him. I liked him.

And I will miss him. As you will miss him. Julius Erving played basketball for the last time Sunday, unless he gets into a pickup game at the YMCA or comes back for old-timers day at an All-Star game.

Good night, sweet prince. Sit back with the rest of us now and watch sports on television.

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And while you’re at it, flip on a baseball game once in a while and try to catch this Eric Davis. He’s the baseball you. He’s the best player you’ve never seen.

Bobby Grich, like Julius Erving, has retired. Friday night was Bobby Grich Night at Anaheim Stadium.

There is no truth to the rumor that when Grich approached home plate to collect his loot, third-base coach Moose Stubing stopped him halfway.

Also in the park this night was David Lee Henderson, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. The last time Henderson was in this park, he knocked two balls over the wall--one with his glove, one with his bat.

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The first one was a home run by Grich that almost gave California the game. The second one was his own ninth-inning homer that tied the game. The Red Sox went on to beat the Angels in the American League playoffs, and they went on to almost win the World Series.

The date was Oct. 12, 1986--or, as it is remembered in the greater metropolitan Anaheim area, Black Sunday.

When Henderson returned to the scene of the crime the other night, somebody asked him if he was thinking about last October’s game.

“When you’re off the field, you can think of stuff like that,” Henderson said. “But not right now. Right now, I’m working.”

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However, there was one reason he was glad to be back at the Big A.

“I heard that Bobby Grich was going to be honored,” Henderson said. “And he was a good friend of mine. We were opponents, but we were also friends. So, I wanted to be here to party with him.”

Henderson didn’t start in the Red Sox outfield that night, but did enter the game as a late defensive replacement. There were a lot of jokes, certainly in the press box and possibly in the grandstands and dugouts, that maybe David Lee would knock another ball over the wall.

He didn’t. But he did hit one out of the park Sunday.

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Sunday always was his day.

Don Baylor also hit a homer in that wacky Game 5. He used to do his home run hitting for the Angels; that day he came back to haunt them.

One thing he remembers about the deadly blow was that it came after cops and security guards set up camp in and around the visiting dugout, in anticipation of celebration. After all, the Angels were about to go to the World Series for the first time.

Something else Baylor remembers is feeling sorry for the losers.

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“Naturally, I wanted my team to win. But before that game got started, I looked over and noticed Jimmie Reese, who had been hoping to go to a World Series for so long. And later I looked up and thought of Gene Autry, who also had been wanting to be in a World Series for so long. And I found myself wishing it could happen for them.”

Reese, 81, has been in professional baseball for seven decades. Autry, 79, has owned the Angels ever since they were invited into the league.

Pardon me if I root for the Angels this season.

Big deal, Sid Bream is batting .333 with 5 home runs. Big deal, Greg Brock is batting .316 with 4. Big deal, Candy Maldonado is batting .312. Big deal, Sid Fernandez is 4-1 with an earned-run average of 2.18.

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Big deal, Tim Raines went 4 for 5 with a grand slam in his first game.

The really big news is: Steve Garvey has been benched.

The Dodgers still have the shrewdest baseball minds in the business.


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