Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to say goodbye to some sports figures who hardly knew they were sick. Reggie Jackson. Steve Garvey. Bobby Orr. The latest edition of Who's Who in America is out, and they have been laid to rest.
Every two years Who's Who is revised, and new notables are added to the collection of important and influential people. But to accommodate the newly anointed, the publisher, Marquis, has to clear out the dead-beats. The folks at Who's Who are the ones in charge of telling you that, no, not only do you not get the nice table in the corner, you're not on the comp list, either.
This year's list of the missing is especially tragic. Mary Decker Slaney and Tom Seaver have been yanked. Bart Starr and Lester Hayes are now card-carrying nobodies. Walter Payton's warranty just ran out. He has gone from a Who's Who to a Who Cares?
A coldhearted bunch, those guys at Who's Who. They only have so much room. Old names get Dustbusted to make room for new ones. Ron Guidry is out, and Darryl Strawberry is in. Vince Dooley is out, and Jerry Rice is in. Bill Walton is kaput, and Akeem Olajuwon has taken his place.
They have dropped Dennis Johnson, even though his hightops still have sneakaroma. Rick Pitino is eraser particles. Joe Paterno could have sworn he was standing right here just a minute ago.
Sure, the people at Who's Who' offices in Wilmette, Ill., are polite about it, but they are firm, just like those folks who turned down your loan application. "If they're still competing, we look at All-Star teams, bowl games, Cy Young winners, Most Valuable Player awards, things like that," says John Daniels, the volume's product manager. "If they're not competing anymore, they have to have some kind of sustaining value."
I called golfer Hubert Green in Las Vegas to tell him he no longer had any kind of sustaining value.
"Really?" said Green. "That's it, then. Looks like I'm going to need an appointment with my psychiatrist, my attorney and my banker all at once."
This whole thing says more about sports than it does about the evictees. The great pianist can tickle the keys to great acclaim into his 80s, but the great athlete's light burns out at about 35. Every superstar is a potential bartender to be named later, a Sam Malone reduced to phoning in bids to the local charity auctions on his own memorabilia. While the barristers and barons in Who's Who change only a bit from edition to edition, the athlete is lucky to make it from one to the next without winding up in delete mode.
So say goodbye to the nicest suite in the house, Jim Rice. Au revoir to the free first-class upgrades, Ozzie Smith. "They just no longer merit listing," says Daniels.