The King and I Revisited: Arnold Palmer at the Musials and a Requiem for Royalty

Ten months ago, I had the honor of spending a Saturday evening with Arnold Palmer at the 2015 Musial Awards. He accepted the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.

The character of the man was bigger than the total of his trophies and accolades. Arnold Palmer passed away Sunday at the age of 87.

Palmer and Stan Musial were great friends. I don’t know how the rough the sand traps are up there, but at least Stan has himself a ringer now.

Below is the blog post I wrote after last year’s Musials. Rest in Peace, Mr. Palmer. Your race has been well-run and your work well-done.

The King & I

I had drawn this straw before. In past Musial Awards, my role often involved making sure a celebrity presenter or honoree got from Point A to Point B without issue.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Aeneas Williams, Lou Brock and Joe Torre have all been assigned to me at one point or another. I’m not security nor a bodyguard. Referring to me as either is disrespectful to licensed security personnel like my friend Dave Gilbert at Peabody, or the men and women who literally put themselves in harms way for heads of state and other VIPs.

The most I can say is that nothing will happen to you on my watch.

This year was different, though. This year Arnold Palmer, golf immortal and 2015 Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, presented a new challenge. I would be responsible for every move he made in the Peabody Opera House last Saturday night.

We had meetings, plans and warnings about what to do and what not to do regarding the 86-year-old luminary. I was worried about how he might react to me – a big guy he doesn’t know telling him where to go and how to get there.

My anxiety disappeared about five minutes into the evening when Palmer leaned over to me and asked, “You’re on my team tonight, right? Because if there’s a fight or something, I want you in front.” I told him if anybody wanted to fight him, they’d have to fight me first. We laughed and things settled in from there.

The Musial Awards are full of emotion. Seriously, we really should get a tissue sponsor at some point. But the most emotional moment of this year’s Musials didn’t occur on-stage. It happened in the Green Room before the show started.

Honorees and presenters got a chance to meet Mr. Palmer and take a few pictures. When that was over, he asked for a few minutes to address the group.

In front of Stan Musial’s daughter and grandchildren, Ozzie Smith, Mike Matheny, Brett Hull, Lori Chalupny, Ernie Johnson, Dave Peacock, Scott Schnuck and every other Musials honoree, he talked about Stan.

Mr. Palmer talked about Stan, not as the greatest Cardinal of them all or even as the namesake of the event. Arnold Palmer talked about how much he loved Stan and about how much he misses his friend. He said, “If you try to live your life as Stan lived his, then you can really say you’ve done something. Stan was my friend…and I miss him.”

Although I helped Mr. Palmer get to and fro on Saturday, he helped reinforce something I know to be true: It’s not about the trophies or championships. It’s not about the parades or paychecks. It’s about people and how you treat them.

Be good to others and they’ll treasure that forever.

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