MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Time marches on: Ozzie replaces Seaver

Hall of Fame shortstop joins shrine's board of directors

Time marches on: Ozzie replaces Seaver

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- "Replacement player" or its more benign cousin "replacement" regularly has been a baseball pejorative. Mantle dealt with the label when he succeeded Joe D in center field. Doug DeCinces bore the burden when he took Brooks' place at third. Didi Gregorius has filled an enormous void in the Bronx in taking over for Derek Jeter.

And let us not forget Bubba Wagnon, an uppercase Replacement Player who batted leadoff for the Replace-Mets in the strained and unsavory spring of '95.

Replacements all. Understudy is the more polite term.

It happens routinely in sports; see Tino enter the same door Donnie Baseball used to exit the Yankees. And Yaz took the place of Theodore Ballgame in front of the Monster and later joined Thumper here in this village of baseball afterlife.

So it was Saturday that the Baseball Hall of Fame announced another replacement. Ozzie Smith, who made folks in all markets forget his Cardinals predecessors at shortstop -- Marty Marion, Dal Maxvill and Garry Templeton -- has been added to the Hall's board of directors. His election to the 16-person body headed by chairman Jane Forbes Clark caused little stir, and the skimpy ripples it prompted will fade quickly. He'll revert to being the Wizard of Oz.

But another shoe has fallen almost without sound. Ozzie has replaced Tom Seaver on the board. Again, the ripples are all but insignificant. But the one-position change is another subtle indication that time is passing. Not at Aroldis speed, perhaps, but Seaver is 72 and Ozzie won't hit 62 until December.

It is a reminder that those who played when Jimmy Carter inhabited the Oval Office are running out of road. Damn.

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I'm not so sure that I appreciate evolution when it lowers the profile of the folks I admire. Bob Gibson turns 81 in November. He couldn't make it to Induction Weekend because "one of my ankles is bigger than both." So he stayed put in Omaha to watch soaps and practice the piano.

He found something on YouTube in January that provided rudimentary piano lessons. Now his long fingers can play a half-dozen tunes. Not everyone waits until an 80th birthday has passed to try his hand at the 88s. And given Gibson's "do it" demeanor, he'll conquer two dozen more before 81 arrives. He may play for his HOF colleagues next summer. (Who knew that he used to play the guitar and sing on Saturday nights at his restaurant in Omaha?)

And Seaver is, of course, an accomplished winemaker who has replaced his passion for pitching and impressionist art with a demanding activity. The lingering and debilitating effects of his Lyme disease limit his drinking of a fine cabernet but they can't keep him away from his Calistoga vines.

Good for both of them. And some of us type after retirement age passes.

Not everyone runs to the golf course when Social Security checks start.

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Another replacement story: Carmen Berra was the den mother for the wives of Hall of Famers. Yogi's wife died in 2014. She hasn't been replaced.

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One more replacement story: It is at the moment premature and a tad morbid. But Willie Mays, as great a player as he was, won't live forever. So when the unofficial "greatest living player" passes, then what? Who replaces him?

No one had that designation -- official or otherwise -- until Aug. 22, 1969, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its election of Joe DiMaggio. Mays has been widely identified with such words since DiMaggio died in March 1999. Willie remains a tad miffed that a second election wasn't staged.

Remarkable -- isn't it -- that in casual and completely unscientific polling of scores of baseball folk done here this weekend with Mays excluded, Henry Aaron is scarcely mentioned. Mention of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodiguez always is followed with a disclaimer. Mike Schmidt, a two-way Hall of Fame slugger is completely overlooked. Johnny Bench somehow gets only scant support. Derek Jeter a tad more. And the only pitchers mentioned have been Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Seaver.

The winner, with more of the 117 votes than any two others is Ken Griffey Jr.

No argument here -- at least until Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Ichiro and Kris Bryant finish their careers. And by then, there'll be more replacements.

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.