In Memoriam: The Unsung Heroes of 2016

Flipping through the pages of the December 26th issue of Sports Illustrated, I realized that the music and film industries were not the only industries that endured a number of deaths in 2016. The world of sports lost many notable and lesser known figures this year. Muhammed Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Craig Sager, Kimbo Slice, and Pat Summitt were part of the fabric of our lives, coming into our living rooms where fans gathered around the TV to watch games and the distraction they provide. We know well the impact that many of them had in the world. The other lesser known figures achieved greatness just outside the epicenter of the limelight. Here are three such athletes or contributors to the world of sports that you should honor as we take a final look back on the year 2016.

Monte Irvin, a former Negro League player, and San Francisco Giant, was a mentor to a fellow San Francisco teammate, Willie Mays. He played in the National League in the 1950s. In 1951, he scored 121 RBIs. Most players at that time were doing well to earn a bit below 100 RBIs. Today, Irvin would be in good company with Mike Trout, who earned 100 RBIs and David Ortiz, who had 127 during what was a career season. Impressive.

Rick MacLeish, at only 23 years old, was the first Philadelphia Flyer to score 50 goals in one season (1972-1973). He scored the only goal in the historic Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals. He was one of the most pivotal players on the Flyer’s roster in the 1970s, carrying the team even when they were down. MacLeish, known for his ease on the ice, helped the Flyers become one of the top-tier teams in the NHL. This franchise would continue to have great success in the 1990s thanks to players like MacLeish who started the trend during his years with the team.

Joe Garagiola is the very definition of what it means to be devoted to sports. Before his three decades covering MLB games, he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, and New York in a career that spanned 9 years. He slashed a career .257/.354/.385. After retiring from the field, he moved into the St. Louis press box calling games for KMOX from 1955 to 1962. Garagiola worked in broadcasting until 2013 when he retired. He served NBC, made appearances on the Tonight Show, and even hosted his own show called The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola. NBC was great to Joe and he to them. Garagiola is a perfect example of the adage, “Do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

2016 was a tough year for loss and unfortunately it is just the beginning. Sadly, the Baby Boomer generation will shuffle off this mortal coil at the same rate in which they were born. While unsettling for those that remain alive, we can relive or learn from the many considerable accomplishments of these athletes, incorporating the lessons of perseverance, excellence, and dogged devotion into our own lives.   

About the author

Kara Jackman

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Kara Jackman is an Archivist at Boston University by day and a freelance writer by night. Her work has appeared in a number of regional, Massachusetts newspapers, non-profit newsletters, and Yawkey Way Report. A diehard Boston Red Sox fan since childhood, she contributes to Sports of Boston. Her interests are many and varied thanks to her four years at the College of the Holy Cross. At, she blogs about music, fitness and self-improvement. Kara resides in a suburb just outside the city of Boston.