I thought of Tony Kubek and his teammates the other day, going back 56 years to 1960.
Tony Kubek is now 80 years old, and will be 81 in October. He was a professional baseball player, a shortstop with the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s. He played nine seasons in the Major Leagues, and was Rookie of the Year in 1957.
I started following baseball as a kid. The Yankees were my favorite team, and Mickey Mantle was my favorite player. The Yankees were in their zenith during those years, appearing in the World Series from 1949 until 1964 every year but two, 1954 and 1959. They won several, they lost several, but they were always there. My wife said that as a girl she used to think that the National League played their season to see who would face the Yankees in the World Series.
Tony Kubek was tall (6 feet, three inches), athletic, and handsome. Today, no one but a true baseball aficionado or someone who lived in the 60s would remember him.
It’s hard to believe the Yankees could have lost the 1960 Series. They outhit the Pittsburgh Pirates .338 to .256 for the seven games, and hit 10 home runs to four for the Pirates. The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27, and the three games they won were by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. But the Pirates won four games, including the decisive seventh.
The crazy hop that felled Tony Kubek was a turning point in the series. I was 10 years old, and while I didn’t see the seventh game–not many games were televised back then1 –I have read numerous accounts.
In the middle of the 8th inning, the Yankees were up 7-4, and it looked like they were headed toward yet another world championship. The Pirates got a runner on first, and the next batter, Bill Virdon, hit a sharp ground ball to Kubek, a perfect double play ball. However, the ball hit a pebble or a pothole, and veered sharply off course, striking Kubek in the throat. Both runners were safe. Tony Kubek’s throat filled with blood, and he begin to have trouble breathing. He had to come out of the game. By the time the inning was over, the Pirates had scored five runs to take a 9-7 lead going into the 9th.
The Yankees scored two in the top of the 9th to tie the game, which set the stage for the most dramatic home run in World Series History. Bill Mazeroski hit a ball over the left field wall to win the game in the bottom of the 9th, 10-9, and the Pirates were World Series champions.
Kubek went on to play through the 1965 season, and then went into broadcasting. He became the best known color commentator of the time, and continued to do baseball until the 1990s when NBC lost broadcast rights to the game of the week. He broadcast Yankee games for a few years and then retired.
Now Kubek is 80, in the twilight of his life. Psalm 90 speaks of a human being’s lifespan being “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.” Life ends. If we say the youth phase is until age 20, then the young adult from 20-40, then middle age is up until 60, then after that, old age comes on. Very few people will reach 100 or more. Though overall life expectancy is increasing, everyone eventually dies. Even if there is strength, there will be “pain and trouble,” and at some point, we’ll “disappear,” and we will “fly away.”
I am almost 66–my birthday is this month–so I have entered that “final phase.” I want to be involved, productive, fruitful, for as long as I can. I realize I am no longer the teenager growing up in North Carolina, or the college student at Free Will Baptist Bible College (Welch College). Nor am I that missionary, active and serving in Panama, as I was for nearly 30 years. I have reached that final period of life, but I still enjoy living.
So what would I advise you and me?
First of all, regardless of your age, determine to finish well. Finishing with Christ and for Him is so important. No matter what your age, serve the Lord faithfully, and finish well. Many do not, and bring disgrace on the name of Christ and on themselves. By God’s grace, we can finish strong. With Paul, let us strive to say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:6-8).
Be prepared for surprises. Life sometimes has cruel, unexpected surprises. When I played church softball in 1972, we never imagined that Terry Milner’s broken leg, sliding into home, would lead to a blood clot that would take his life in just a couple of days. Our daughter-in-law Bethany’s leaving the world at the age of 32, the victim of an aggressive, invasive breast cancer in 2015 still seems like a bad dream. Not everyone will have a predictable 80-year life span. Some will be called out way before what seems like their “right” time. That is in God’s hand.
Remain active in doing what you can until the very end. While you will likely be unable to do at 60 what you could do at thirty, you can always find something to do for Jesus. I am making adjustments because of health concerns and my overall age, but I can still serve the Lord.
Come to Christ, no matter how old you are. If you are reading this and aren’t a Christ follower, please come to Christ. Mickey Mantle lived his life without the Savior, a womanizer and an alcoholic. In his 60s, he developed liver cancer and eventually had a transplant. Another teammate of his and Tony Kubek’s, Bobby Richardson, the second baseman and Kubek’s double play partner, had witnessed to him down through the years. While in the hospital, Mantle called Richardson, concerned about his soul. Bobby prayed with Mantle, then went to see him in the hospital. As he entered the room, Mickey greeted him with a big smile and said, “Bobby, I prayed to receive Christ,” and quoted John 3:16. After talking with him for a few minutes, Bobby was convinced Mickey had trusted Christ. He would preach Mickey’s funeral a few days later, giving a clear presentation of the plan of salvation. Mantle was 63, and died in 1995.
Remembering the 1960 World Series, Tony Kubek’s decisive role in the outcome, and thinking back almost 56 years, is a vivid reminder of these valuable life lessons: knowing there will be some unexpected and unpleasant surprises, determining to finish life well by the grace of God, and being ready to meet the Savior at any time.
“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
- Upon further reflection, the games were televised, but were always played in the daytime. (They didn’t start night games until the 70s.) And they started the games in the afternoon around 1:00 or 1:30 when I was in school, so if I did see one it was the last few innings or on a weekend. I didn’t see any of game 7. ↩