By Nick Nunn
I don’t often listen to the radio during my five-minute drive to work in the morning because my 1991 Buick Park Avenue only picks up a couple of stations, and, frankly, I’ve grown tired of listening to the same songs day after day for the same short window.
On a personal note, it may partially be my fault that the antenna in the car is busted; when my cousins and I were younger, we would walk by the car and flip the antenna, no matter how many times our grandmother told us not to.
Oh, well. What’s done is done.
At any rate, it just so happened that I was able to pick up Atlanta’s sports radio station this morning, and a short preview for an upcoming program asked rhetorically if, in baseball, “the 40s are the new 30s” and listed a number of thriving baseball players who have now reached their 40s without falling apart at the seams.
Longevity in any sport – with the possible exception of golf – is always an occasion for surprise and celebration. Let’s face it, human bodies peak, and then there is a sure deterioration, which has little (cough, cough… no) chance of reversal due to any natural or unnatural means on this earth.
The fact that some athletes, who run their bodies like racecar drivers run their automobiles, are able to maintain their body’s performance after decades of misuse is astounding.
If more and more athletes are able to create longer careers, during which they are viable and thriving members of the teams of which they are part, then something must be changing in order to allow this to be possible.
Just off of the top of my head, there are several causes that the effect of longevity could be attributed to. First, the development of medicine in general and sports medicine in particular could have a lot to do with giving athletes’ bodies the chance to thrive longer than their predecessors.
Steroids, either through direct use or indirect absorption by simply eating the food that we are faced with on a daily basis, could also create “benefits” to the body that earlier athletes did not have.
Managerial tactics designed to prolong the life of an athlete for economic reasons – why burn up a pitcher in a few years by using them too often, when you’ll just have to buy and train a new one sooner? – could also help to lengthen the careers of these young men.
The list goes on: new equipment, better transportation, the sheer desire to keep making money later into life, etc. But we shouldn’t forget that longevity has occurred often during the history of sports.
Mariano Rivera, pitcher for the New York Yankees, is 43 this year, and in his 19th season in the MLB.
But Satchel Paige – if you don’t know of Mr. Paige, I would recommend very strongly that you look him up – premiered in the MLB two days after his 42nd birthday in 1948, pitching for the Cleveland Indians as only the seventh African-American player to break the MLB color barrier.
Paige finished in 1959 with a 10-10 record (yes, he was 53 at the time), and he made major and minor league appearances until 1966, when his age was probably triple that of most of his teammates.
A couple of Paige’s oft-repeated quotations elucidate how he felt about his age.
“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
And my personal favorite:
“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”