That “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality obviously doesn’t apply to just players.
I was very young and pretty naïve when I learned just how tenuous a grip professional athletes have on their chosen line of work, and now I know it applies to coaches as well.
At the time, which was very much pre-ESPN (think Flintstones), I had heard about what happened to up-and-coming Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro during the 1967 American League pennant race when he took a fastball from Cleveland pitcher Jack Hamilton to his left eye. Being a kid, I figure “Hit by a pitch? He’ll be OK” because I always was after a beaning. Turns out, Conigliaro was never the same player again during the remainder of his abbreviated career. Why? Google his Sports Illustrated cover and you'll see.
But it was on Nov. 10, 1968 that it really hit home. I was watching the Chicago Bears play the San Francisco 49ers when, on a sweep to the left side, Gale Sayers was hit by the Niners’ Kermit Alexander and blew out his right knee. I spouted hate for Alexander for years, falsely knowing in my heart that he’d deliberately hurt our beloved star.
That is, until I realized that it was a clean hit and just the nature of the game.
Since then, I’ve seen so many athletes suffer potential career-ending injuries and now, because of medical advances, most can come back to what they’d been.
However, there’s no medical procedure that can save a manager or coach when the team fails to live up to its potential, his fault or not, kind of a "what have you done for me lately?" attitude that really sucks.
Such is the case with Joel Quenneville.
I was dismayed when I learned Tuesday that the Blackhawks had relieved Q of his duties as head coach. He had brought out of that organ-i-zation the a stretch of dominance that I had prayed for and never received from the Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita-Tony Esposito era ‘Hawks, and while three Stanley Cups in six seasons were plenty by we fans’ meager standards, it was apparently not enough for the front office.
Why would you want to move on from a man and a system that had taken your team to the highest level just two seasons ago?
Then it hit me. The window is closing on the Blackhawks, just as it is elsewhere in Chicago, and that makes me understand a little clearer the rumblings I’ve been hearing about the Cubs and Joe Maddon.
I slap my forehead for not seeing it happening at United Center as I had seen it happening at Wrigley Field.
We all heard too often in 2016 that Maddon should be the Cubs manager for life after guiding the team to the World Series title that year. I get it, it was the elation of the moment that brought out such feeling, as the end of the 108-year drought made giddy fools of us all.
Now, I am among many who have since come to learn about many of Maddon’s flaws, mistakes and missteps during that run and in the seasons since and I know he is not the messiah some thought he was then and/or still think he is. I have real reservations about him going forward.
Maybe to snap them out of the doldrums that plagued them in 2018 and get the back on top, the Cubs really don’t need to throw $400 million at Bryce Harper. Maybe they just need a change, to perhaps a younger, clearer voice that will espouse a new approach or a new purpose. I don’t know.
What I do know is that it was probably that same feeling about Q that Blackhawks management was feeling this week, that will likely cost Maddon his job within the next year. Rightly so or not, I am sad for both, really, but as I said, it’s the nature of the game. Nothing is forever, no matter how badly we want it to last.