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Farewell
MARK BECHTEL
December 31, 2007
An array of influential and record-setting sports figures passed away. Among them: a four-time Olympic gold medal winner, a sure-handed Hall of Fame shortstop and a bus-jumping motorcycle daredevil
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December 31, 2007

Farewell

An array of influential and record-setting sports figures passed away. Among them: a four-time Olympic gold medal winner, a sure-handed Hall of Fame shortstop and a bus-jumping motorcycle daredevil

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HANK BAUER | 84

ON A TEAM full of flashy stars, the hard-nosed outfielder gave the Yankees pluck. A war hero who won two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts in the Pacific, Bauer was ready to quit baseball in 1946 because of leg wounds suffered on Okinawa. But he gave the game one more try and went on to make three All-Star teams and win seven World Series with New York. His 17-game Fall Classic hitting streak remains a record.

BILL HARTACK | 74

ONE OF ONLY two jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby five times, Hartack accomplished it on just 12 mounts. (It took Eddie Arcaro 21.) More than one acquaintance described Hartack as reclusive, but he connected easily with thoroughbreds and, despite his bouncing style, always seemed to find a way to get the most out of a horse. Hartack also won the Preakness three times and took the Belmont in 1960.

BILL WALSH | 75

THE SOFT-SPOKEN Walsh stood out in a league in which screamers roamed the sidelines. He got results, though, inheriting the moribund 49ers in 1979 and turning them into champs in two seasons; Super Bowl wins in '85 and '89 would follow. A former tight end and defensive end, Walsh wrote a master's thesis as a grad assistant at San Jose State titled "Defensing the Pro-Set Formation." But as a head coach—first at Stanford and then at San Francisco—he was known for his offensive schemes, specifically his short-passing game, dubbed the West Coast Offense. The system revolutionized the sport, but like any system, it required good players, and few were better at finding them than Walsh. He snagged Joe Montana in the third round of the '79 draft, used eight predraft trades to restock his aging team in '86 and acquired Steve Young a year later for a second-round choice, extending the Niners' dynasty. "People use the word genius, and we usually scoff at that," said fellow Hall of Fame coach John Madden. "In his case, I don't think you can scoff at it."

AL OERTER | 71

HE WAS a high school runner in West Islip, N.Y., when he threw his first discus; one had landed at his feet during practice. Oerter heaved it back so far that his coach immediately insisted he take up the event. His initial throw at the 1956 Melbourne Games was just as remarkable: He sent the discus flying 184'11"—4'4" farther than the Olympic record and 5'1" beyond what any of his competitors would throw. The 19-year-old was so nervous that he nearly fainted on the medal stand, but Oerter would have more opportunities to get comfortable at the top of the podium. He won gold at the next three Games, setting an Olympic record each time. On all three occasions he entered as an underdog, primarily because he'd suffered serious injuries. The worst came in '64, when he slipped and fell on a wet concrete discus circle six days before his event was to begin in Tokyo. Oerter tore cartilage in his rib cage and suffered internal bleeding, but he insisted on competing. "These are the Olympics," he said. "You die before you quit."

LEW BURDETTE | 80

ACRAFTY RIGHTHANDER with a sinkerball that some thought a little too moist—Red Smith suggested his record should include wins, losses and relative humidity—Burdette stymied big league hitters for 18 years. He won 203 games and beat the Yankees three times in the 1957 World Series, ending the Braves' 43-year title drought. In '59 he hurled 13 shutout innings to beat the Pirates' Harvey Haddix, who had been perfect through 12.

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