In 1991 an assistant coach watching Jim Palmer throw a baseball said, “You’ll never get into the Hall of Fame with those mechanics.” Palmer replied, “I’m already in the Hall of Fame”. The coach apparently did not recognize Palmer who was at that time attempting a comeback. When the season got underway Palmer took to the mound and quickly learned that a 75 mile an hour fastball was not good enough. He then did what he should have left alone in the first place, he retired.
Knowing when to quit is a challenge. The field of washed up quarterbacks is crowded. Michael Jordan should have never attempted to become a baseball player. Boxers who try a comeback often get the hell beat out of them. I sometimes lament the late Andy Rooney for hanging on long after he ceased to be entertaining. It is normal; someone who has had a storied career often reads his clippings and announces to himself that he can still do it. Rarely does it work. When the time comes to quit, it’s time to quit.
So, who did not right? Certainly not Joan Rivers, or Newt Gingrich for that matter. The best example I can think of is Johnny Carson. His health problems aside, Carson knew that his clock had run out, so he quit. Had he hung around we would be looking at pictures of a dying, emaciated man soliciting sympathy and sadness. We have none of those pictures. Instead, when we see a story on Carson we see video of the entertainer at his best. Carson is long dead, but his memory elicits that impish smile that America loved for so long. My favorite Carson one-liner…”Never marry a girl who has had a fungus named after her.” Even in death, Johnny Carson makes us laugh.
I knew Jim Palmer when we lived in Baltimore. At that time professional baseball players did not earn obscene salaries and lived pretty much in neighborhoods where normal people lived. He was a nice guy who shopped for groceries at the neighborhood Giant, often with his two girls in tow. But I wish he had never attempted the comeback. He didn’t need to come back, he had already been where few men have gone. There was nothing more to gain other than what he had already. Is there a lesson here?
When Channel 12 told me it was over, I had a hard time. We were at the top in the news ratings, no one else was even close. Was it really time for me to go?? I guessed it must be, that’s what 12 said. But then I talked to 6 and 8 and they disagreed. It was 8 that disagreed the most. WRIC-TV invited me to come on down and anchor once again. Excitement filled my aging veins. Perhaps Gene is not dead after all. This week I will find out. I will begin co-anchoring the 5:30 news with Amy Lacey. I will try to do what I did at 12 for 33 years. It may work, it may not. If it doesn’t, I will go away happy…knowing that I gave it all I had, even if it wasn’t enough. At least I’ll know.
I will leave it up to Nielsen will measure my fastball.