No Profession For Old Men

by Conor Friedersdorf

In a longer meditation on professional athletes and their inevitable decline, Joe Posnanski remembers how it ended for baseball's greatest:

There were no poetic words written for Babe Ruth's final game at the stadium he built. Nobody mused about Gods and letters. The game was Sept. 23, 1934. It was well known before the game even started that this would certainly be his last home game as a regular, and probably his last home game as a Yankee. About 2,000 people showed up to see it. Ruth walked for the 104th time that season -- one thing the man could still do was draw a walk -- and then he came out of the game for what the papers called a "charley horse." Ruth did finish off the season on the road, playing three games in Philadelphia and Washington, and he went to Boston the next year to play 28 sad games as a gimmick for the Braves. This proved, in the reverse of those immortal words by John Updike, that Babe Ruth did not know how to do the hardest thing: Quit.

Do you know who else waited too long to quit? Gary Payton. It was painful to watch him that year he and Karl Malone teamed up on the Lakers. Of course, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was just the opposite: he stuck around an impossibly long time, until he looked like a grandfather hobbling up the court and shooting his sky hook. Every franchise in the NBA gave him gifts on his farewell tour. And his team made it to the NBA finals.

He is the tallest player in the basketball hall of fame.