Etched onto baseball immortal Jackie Robinson’s tombstone are these words: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Pete Seeger was 94 years old when he passed away this past January. Long acknowledged as one of the country’s best singer/songwriters, he could have attained great wealth with his talents, but instead chose to be an advocate for the less fortunate and an activist for causes he truly believed in, even when they weren’t popular.

Shirley Temple died at 85 in February. She inspired a nation in the throes of a depression by exuding optimism, spunk and good cheer as a child film star in the 1930s, and later served her country more formally as ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Robin Williams, an utterly unique improvisational comedian and later an actor who turned in numerous moving dramatic performances, ended his own life at age 63 this past August, the victim of a different kind of depression.

Maya Angelou overcame unspeakable misfortune and poverty to make her mark as a poet, singer, author, dancer, and actress, and in doing so inspired countless numbers of her fellow citizens. She was 86 when she died May 28th. 

Other accomplished North Americans who died this year include Mickey Rooney, Marion Barry, James Garner, Joan Rivers, Jean Beliveau, Jane Byrne, Thomas Menino, Fuzzy Thurston, Earl Morrall, Hurricane Carter, Pat Quinn, Lauren Bacall, Jack Ramsay, Red Klotz, Ben Bradlee, Casey Kasem, Ruby Dee, Don Pardo, Jim Jeffords and Howard Baker.

But some less-noted individuals who departed this year were every bit as impactful as their more famous counterparts. Sy Berger was one. Ninety-one years old when he died earlier this month, he revitalized the baseball card industry by radically re-designing the 1952 Topps set into the type of cardboard quadrilaterals that were collected religiously by boys in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s.

I was one of those youths. My collection numbered in the thousands, which may have played a role in a sports-addled adolescence which lasted well into my thirties. But Sy Berger’s handiwork helped me in numerous ”“ though not always quantifiable ”“ ways. The information printed on those 21⁄2-by-31⁄2 inch rectangles made me a more enthusiastic reader. I became quick with math using algebraic formulas to figure out batting averages and earned-run averages. And baseball cards made geography relevant; without my Jim McAndrew card I wouldn’t have known Lost Nation, Iowa existed, let alone been able to locate it on a map.

I never met Sy Berger, but I did share a half-hour or so with Ray Sadecki, whose image appeared on nearly two dozen of Mr. Berger’s products. A left-handed pitcher who won 20 games for the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals of 1964, Sadecki was back in organized baseball in 1993, sixteen years after throwing his final big league pitch, as a coach for the Huntington (WV) Cubs, who played a 78-game Appalachian League schedule. As an aspiring sportscaster attempting to earn his stripes as a play-by-play announcer, I asked him to tape an interview with me for our radio pregame show when the Cubs came to Burlington, North Carolina to play the Cleveland Indians affiliate that was employing me that summer. Sadecki turned out to be cooperative, upbeat, expansive, and articulate; he was happy to reminisce about his largely successful playing days. At one point I boldly asked him if having to personally stow his suitcase under the bus prior to the six-hour rides over back roads required of Appalachian Leaguers was tough to get used to after 18 years of having his luggage loaded onto jumbo jets and delivered to the five-star hotel at his next destination by baggage handlers and bellboys. Smiling, he responded, “Are you kidding me?” Then, with an attitude every bit as upbeat as Shirley Temple’s was, he added, “I can do three months of anything standing on my head!” I loved that philosophy, and to this day try to practice it myself.

The list of former major league baseball players who died in 2014 that appeared on one or more of Sy Berger’s cardboard masterpieces includes Don Zimmer, Bob Welch, Jose Martinez, Bill McCool, Ralph Kiner, Terry Bulling, Bobby Castillo, Alvin Dark, Jerry Lumpe, Tony Gwynn, Bill Henry, Tom Veryzer, Jim Brosnan, Tim Hosley, Allen Ripley, Jim Fregosi, George Shuba, Jerry Coleman, Frank Torre ”“ and Ray Sadecki, who succumbed to blood cancer on November 17th.

If there is indeed an afterlife, let’s root for the folks referenced above to enjoy a good one. And for those few who might for one reason or another have been consigned to a hotter, less hospitable place, let’s hope they can at least spend eternity atop their feet rather than standing on their cranium.

— Andy Young teaches English and literacy skills at a local high school. He has never prepared a column while standing on his head ”“ yet.