Monday, July 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Fennelly: Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez shared gusto and charisma

Not that we need excuses at this point to deem the Bucs meaningless, but they were Sunday.

A lot of things were meaningless.

There were two earthquakes.

One came early in the morning. One came later in the day.

We lost a king and a boy prince.

We lost Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez.

Two American success stories.

Their obituaries both made the front page of newspapers.

At first glance, it's hard to see any thing in common. One made his golfing legend and lived happy and secure and graceful until his death at 87, a glorious run. The other was gone in a blink, at 24, all that greatness robbed from us.

Arnold Palmer grew up in Pennsylvania, the son of a greenskeeper. Jose Fernandez grew up dirt poor in Cuba. He escaped in 2008, and he ended up here, in Tampa, and began to dream and work toward the very life that ended on those waters off Miami Beach.

But if you think about it, these two did have something in common. At least in a sports kind of way. Arnold Palmer was born 63 years before Jose Fernandez. No matter. They shared something.

Gusto. Charisma. Swagger.

King Arnold swung a golf club. The kid Jose threw a baseball.

They both gripped it and ripped it.

They both went for it.

It's a timeless quality.

Arnold Palmer changed golf and the way we looked at golfers. He made golf a TV sport. Every player who's in the Ryder Cup this week, every golfer anywhere, should hit their knees and thank Arnie. Better yet, they should be going for the green in 2 on the par-5s. Arnie would have.

You look at the old film of Arnold Palmer and it really seemed like he was trying to win tournaments with each swing. Arnie charging, always charging. No wonder he built an army. Walking down a fairway in those tight shirts, a cigarette between his lips. Has there ever been a cooler golfer than Arnold Palmer? He had gusto. He had charisma. He had it all.

He became rich and famous. He built golf courses all over the planet. Clothing lines. My daughter asked me this morning, 'You mean, the guy on the drinks." Yeah, the guy on the drinks. Arnold Palmer, blue collar golfer, became sports royalty, oozing grace and dignity. By the way, the Ryder Cup could use a little of that these days.

We live in a different age — an in-your-face age. But gusto is gusto, charisma is charisma.

And that was Jose Fernandez. He had it. You knew it by all those tracks of tears that followed his death.

He was a kid who went for it, each and every day. He let you know it, too. He'd come too far, been through too much, worked too hard, to ever be anything less than who he was.

I know it sounds like a reach, Arnie and Jose.

Is there really any similarity other than the day they died?

Probably not. But I kept thinking about a commodity that sports always needs.

It needs charismatic stars. It needs gusto. It needs grippers and rippers.

Arnold Palmer stood alone.

I guess we'll never know where Jose Fernandez would have stood.

I'm just glad I was able to see them both go for it.

Isn't that what these games people play are all about?

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