How then to put Hopkins in perspective?
- Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer to ever walk a loop, won his final Masters at the record-setting age of 46. In 2011, Bernard Hopkins won a version of the light heavyweight title at 46 by defeating Chad Dawson, 33 (the same age, coincidentally, as Tiger Woods when he last won a major).
- At 51, Mickey Mantle had been retired for 15 years. Willie Mays, nine.
- Peyton Manning, one of the two or three greatest football players to ever take the field – and an appropriate comp for Hopkins in terms of intelligence, craft, and durability under violent pressure – retired at 39 (ancient for a quarterback).
- Michael Jordan, 53, is only two years older than Bernard Hopkins. Jordan had retired three times by the age of 39.
- "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe probably comes closest to Hopkins in terms of longevity. Howe played at an all-star level into his 40s, and remained productive until his retirement at 51.
The physical toll of professional hockey is often underestimated – and in Howe's time, it could be as brutal and dirty as a drunken rugby match. But there is nothing like boxing. Nothing. By way of comparison, Mike Tyson -- who is a year younger than Hopkins -- has been retired for more than 10 years. That Hopkins in his sixth decade remained a relevant and legitimate player in the most brutal "sport" we have skirts comprehension. It just shouldn't be possible. It isn't possible. Yet we have proof that it WAS possible, it DID happen.
Where does Hopkins rank in boxing history? At his peak (20 years ago!), Hopkins was one of the best handful of middleweights in boxing history; in his dotage, he was slick enough, smart enough and tough enough to defeat bigger, stronger, faster world-class light heavyweights. He probably skirts the all-time top-20, but it's difficult to put his accomplishments in context. His resume is simply unparalleled. It is a singular career for a singular personality.
We never saw his like before, and we will ever see his like again.
Some other odds and ends worth a reader's time:
- ESPN's Sam Miller asks "What's a Closer Worth?" The answer, at least if you're the Yankees and Aroldis Chapman is on your list, is $90 million over 5 years (or about $300,000 per inning, based on Chapman's average regular-season workload). It seems ludicrous, even by large-market standards – but Miller's insightful piece upends how we assign value to the role.
- It's Hall of Fame time, which means you should be reading Jay Jaffe and Joe Posnanski. Jaffe's annual JAWS assessment is required reading, of course; this year, Posnanski offers a comprehensive breakdown of every candidate on the ballot (here's his take Jorge Posada, but do yourself a favor and set some time aside to read them all). Oh, and here's our take.