Old age is inevitable. It beats the alternative but does require some adjustments. You wake up one day with an ache here and a pain there. You look in a mirror and discover wrinkles that weren’t there last week. There’s less hair and it’s turning gray. Sooner or later, Father Time is going to win this battle.
The evolution of this condition is more dramatic with athletes. They’ve excelled at their craft at what seems forever and then, one day, their reflexes are a tad slower. They may not notice but those who are watching do. That brings us to four icons of New York sports – goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, quarterback Eli Manning, forward Carmelo Anthony and third baseman David Wright.
At one time or another, each of them functioned as the face of their franchise, Lundqvist the best goalie in the NHL, Manning a two-time Super Bowl MVP, Anthony a 10-time NBA All-Star and Wright, captain of the New York Mets. That time is past and the clues are everywhere.
Lundqvist is in the midst of his second long injury layoff in the last three years. He is 35 now and even though he reached a milestone with his 400th career victory, it has been an up and down season for the Swedish goaltender. He’s been lifted from games several times and struggled through a terrible stretch during which he surrendered 24 goals in five games.
He has been a constant in the Ranger nets for more than a decade and reached 400 victories faster than any goalie in NHL history. Before this season is over, he almost certainly will pass Glenn Hall for ninth place on the all-time list of winningest goalies. That said, he is at a dangerous age for the most demanding job on the ice. Antti Raanta backs him up but hardly seems like a long term solution. Youngsters Magnus Hellberg and Mackenzie Skapski might be.
Manning holds Giant records for career passing yards, touchdown passes and completed passes and has been an ironman at quarterback with 199 consecutive starts, a rather remarkable statistic. But he turned 36 at the end of the 2016 season and even though he still has three years remaining on his contract, the Giants know he can’t go on forever.
That’s why the team signed Jets washout Geno Smith this month as an insurance policy in case Manning breaks down. Smith comes to the Giants with a shaky resume of 28 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions in 33 games with the Jets and is coming off a torn ACL. Also on the roster is journeyman Josh Johnson who is 31 and has not thrown an NFL regular season pass since 2011. That’s why the Smith signing makes sense.
Anthony will be 33 when the next NBA season starts and he has logged a lot of miles in a 14-year career with Denver and the Knicks during which he has scored more than 24,000 points. He was an afterthought All-Star this season, ignoring the constant trade rumors as the Knicks tried frantically but unsuccessfully to unload him. He carries an albatross of a $126 million contract which contains a no-trade clause, complicating his team’s effort to rid itself of a player who is clearly on the back nine holes of his career.
David Wright was determined to come back from two seasons in which spinal stenosis and surgery for a herniated disc in his neck limited him to 75 games. But in spring training he was shut down again by a shoulder impingement, which all but guaranteed that he would miss opening day. At 34, the future is questionable for his return.
Saying farewell is always difficult for a player who has been a star. In the early years of the 20th century, Bob Meusel was a surly slugger for the New York Yankees. An unpleasant sort, Meusel rubbed people the wrong way. Then, in the twilight of his career, he became more mellow, almost friendly.
Frank Graham Jr., a sage sportswriter of the time, noted the change in Meusel and observed dryly, “He learned to say hello when it was time to say goodbye.’’