Most people in the United States behave as if death is optional. Few of us under the age of 70 ever ponder what it means to "leave the building," and even fewer seem prepared to go when it's time. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than 10 percent of people nationwide preplan their funerals, forcing loved ones to scramble and organize postmortem services in the dark. Even fewer folks have drawn up a "disposition statement," a legal document that explains exactly how their bodies should be handled after their "last dance." In death, as in life, it seems we Americans pride ourselves on taking things as they come.
This approach, however, has its consequences—so we learned this month, with the tragic story of the late baseball legend, Ted Williams. Williams, the last big leaguer to hit .400, died July 5 of complications from a series of strokes. He did not have any sort of funeral or disposition arrangements planned in advance; as a result, his son and daughter have spent the month feuding publicly over how to handle their dad's remains. The daughter, ever respectful of her father's passions in life, wants the Splendid Splinter cremated and wants to scatter his ashes over his favorite fishing hole. The son, a total creep, wants Teddy Baseball frozen in some sort of cryogenic pod, reportedly so he can sell Dad's DNA to the highest bidder sometime down the road.
What actually happens with Williams' corpse is inconsequential—it's the family's business and should stay that way. His legacy, however . . . now that's the business of baseball fans far and wide. Williams is the only thing the Red Sox ever have to cheer about and is undeniably the best hitter in the history of the game. What's more, by interrupting his hall-of-fame career to fight in World War II, he embodied a heroism and patriotism we just don't see in the professional athletes of today. He was a role model for all of us, both on and off the field. As we look back on this man's brilliant life, we should be reflecting on the greatness of his accomplishments, not about whether to burn him or freeze him.
Then again, maybe Williams' son is on to something with this call for capitalistic cryogenics. If the Red Sox could sell Williams' DNA and use the money on a bullpen, perhaps they could have someone to seal games for Pedro and Derek Lowe. Here in Seattle, the same formula could work even bigger wonders. Venerated broadcaster Dave Niehaus mercifully should be announcing his final grand salami any day now. If Howard Lincoln could convince the Niehaus family to deep-freeze the guy and sell his voice box on eBay, the Mariners could use the cash to buy superstars the way the Yankees do and finally bring a championship to Safeco Field. I can see it now—the legacy of Niehaus fly, fly, flying away to a legacy of world champs in teal and white.