Of cabbages and kings . . . and diamonds
''The time has come,'' the Walrus said, ''To talk of many things: Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - Of cabbages - and kings - And why the sea is boiling hot - And whether pigs have wings.''
Unlike the Walrus in Lewis Carroll's ''The Walrus and the Carpenter,'' Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench probably won't talk about these particular things, but by Monday they will be talking more and more about subjects other than baseball: After illustrious careers, they will play their last games as professional baseball players on Sunday.
Both were preeminent athletes in their prime. Bench probably was the major leagues' best catcher during the 1970's. Yaz, as he's generally known, has been a model of baseball achievement for 23 years; during one of them, 1967, he performed at the fantasy level of almost every little boy, repeatedly making crucial plays at bat and in the field.
Neither made his sports mark through raw talent. Both heightened their initial skills to a dominant level by enormous amounts of practice and determination. These are qualities needed for success in any business, qualities young boys would do well to emulate.
Despite their successes neither quite achieved the splendiferous career statistics of that handful of the game's greatest modern performers, men like Ted Williams with a .344 batting average and 521 home runs, Stan Musial at .331 with 475 home runs, Hank Aaron at .305 and a record 755 home runs. Yet the year-long celebration of impending Yaz-Bench retirements, as their clubs traveled from city to city, far exceeded the celebrations of the ending of other stars' careers.
Something more than sports achievement explains it all. Perhaps it is that these two represent in career as well as attitude a throw-back to the old days of baseball, at a time when the Americans seem particularly intrigued by the glories of a simpler era. Like most players of yesteryear, Yaz and Bench have spent their entire careers with one team, instead of chasing higher salaries from club to club, as some of today's top players do. Fans appreciate loyalty coupled with performance.
But ultimately there is a time for every athlete to think of other things. Both Bench and Yaz wanted to move on to a world beyond playing baseball while they still could contribute when playing the game. They still can, as both have proven at various times this season. But it is a good time for them to move forward now; the reasons for their baseball success have left something for little boys - and some big ones, too - to think about.