After Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, who’s the next Presidental Freedom Medal winner?
With Willie Mays and Yogi Berra (alas, posthumously) receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday afternoon, I can’t help wondering who’s next.
To figure that out, the all-time list of winners is instructive, I think …
1945 – Moe Berg (age 43)
1977 – Joe DiMaggio (62)
1984 – Jackie Robinson (deceased, 12 years)
1991 – Ted Williams (72)
2002 – Hank Aaron (68)
2003 – Roberto Clemente (d-30)
2005 – Frank Robinson (69)
2006 – Buck O’Neil (94)
2011 – Stan Musial (90)
2013 – Ernie Banks (82)
2015 – Willie Mays (84)
2015 – Yogi Berra (d-0)
What can we take from all this?
Well, both of our most famous “pioneers” – Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente – were awarded medals posthumously. Seven of the 12 were African-American, but that’s partly “explained” by the two pioneers and the simple fact that most of the greatest players in the 1960s were black. Moe Berg’s not really germane here, since it seems you couldn’t get the medal for a long time unless you basically killed a guy during a war.
It obviously “helps” to be old or deceased. And it sure does seem like pitchers need not apply. As I mentioned the last time I wrote about this, it’s sorta hard to figure why Bob Feller was never honored, considering his sterling wartime service and his longevity. Maybe somebody was just afraid of what he might say to the President, considering Feller’s notorious outspokenness.
So who’s next? Well, if we ignore the deceased, and especially European-American deceased pitchers like Feller and Warren Spahn, we’re not left with a large group of great candidates.
If you’re just running down the list of tremendous players who are least 70, though, Mickey Mantle and Joe Morgan show up first, followed by Eddie Mathews, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson.
With all due respect, do any of those names carry the same gravitas or cultural impact as the actual honorees?
I don’t know. One man’s gravitas is another’s octogenarian, I suppose.
But just looking at those potential candidates, I think the next honoree will be a pitcher, finally. You could go big with Satchel Paige, or dead with Feller, or alive with Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax. But there does seem to be a serious backlog here. It’s understandable, as there are more superstar hitters than pitchers, more black hitters than pitchers, and hitters are more likely to capture the public’s (i.e. cultural) imagination, or at least they’re more likely to hold it for more than a decade.
But my money’s on Koufax.
Especially if it’s President Sanders doing the honors.