As the summer draws to a close, it seems an ideal time to salute a few great men in the autumns of their baseball careers. These paintings by artist Brent Benger pay tribute not only to Nolan Ryan, Sparky Anderson, George Brett, Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith (page 2) but also to the classic baseball paintings of Norman Rockwell. These heroes, like Rockwell's characters, are immensely popular and quintessentially American, and they have stood the test of time. Consider this: When Rockwell died in 1978, Ryan had pitched four of his seven no-hitters, Anderson had managed the Cincinnati Reds to four first-place finishes, Brett and Winfield were five-year veterans, and Smith, a San Diego Padre rookie, had already brought his acrobatic excitement to the shortstop position. These five men are front and center still, and that is as inspiring as it is amazing, because each of them seems to embrace the game with the same joy he showed in the first days of his career. Baseball is fortunate to have so many certain Hall of Famers—these luminaries, as well as Robin Yount, Tommy Lasorda, Dennis Eckersley, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken Jr.—on the field at once. And for that, baseball fans can thank their lucky stars.
The alltime strikeout leader, Ryan caps a 27-year career as he makes this season his last. "Someday I'd like to get both my fastball and my curveball working at the same time," he said in 1968. He got his wish.
George Anderson has pleaded his case countless times with the likes of Ken Kaiser, but managers rarely win arguments with umpires. Still, in his 24 years of managing the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers, Sparky—fifth among all managers in victories, with 2,056 at week's end—never lost his perspective on the game. "So long as I'm here," he once said, "I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. I need baseball. It don't need me." That is arguable.
Always one of the first Kansas City Royals to arrive at the park and one of the last to leave, the 40-year-old Brett still plays the game with the enthusiasm of a batboy. This season his average—.258—isn't what it once was, but he has hit 13 home runs, and as his manager, Hal McRae, says, "He's a guy who can still hurt you." Only seven major leaguers have played more games than Brett without changing teams. It's doubtful, though, that any other player has had more fun.
Goodness knows how many baseballs this Goliath named David has signed since he brake in with the San Diego Padres in 1973. But Winfield has hit 450 halls for home runs, and any day now he will become the 19th player with 3,000 hits. "Two days after I signed," he once recalled, "I was in a San Diego uniform in centerfield. It was strange because I'd always been an American League fan, growing up in St. Paul and following the Twins." At 41, Winfield has at last touched home, where he was hitting .281 at week's end, with 18 homers and 63 RBIs.