Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 11:49 a.m.
One common experience of advancing age is that one finds himself talking about all sorts of things that others don’t understand. It is intensified because they weren’t yet born when these things happened. Mysteriously, it doesn’t seem as if anyone pays attention to history anymore.
This is just the latest in my continuing series about how the ever-expanding wealth of information paradoxically seems to make the world progressively dumber.
Someone says that LeBron James is “arguably” the greatest basketball player who ever lives. It turns into a LeBron vs. Michael Jordan argument.
“How about Bill Russell? Or Wilt Chamberlain? Or Oscar Robertson?” I ask.
“Well, we never saw them play.” They might as well add “Pops” to the end.
It’s no excuse. The first sports book I ever read was about Mel Ott. He had a rivalry with Chuck Klein, another slugger. They’re both in the Hall of Fame. I know very few people who have heard of them. I never saw them play, but I know that Ott, a left-handed batter, raised his right foot before he swung, just like the famous Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh.
If I told this story, oh, practically anywhere, the reply might be, “Oh?” (I couldn’t resist.)
Part of it, of course, is my fault. I haven’t come to grips with the simple mathematics of being in my 50s. I saw Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, John Unitas, Dick Butkus, Bobby Orr, Rod Laver, Arnold Palmer and Jerry West play. I saw A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart and David Pearson race. I saw Willie Shoemaker ride and Secretariat gallop, though not at the same time. I saw Muhammad Ali box.
I only saw newsreels of “The Galloping Ghost” (Red Grange). I remember Jim Brown and Gale Sayers.
The years got away from me. Unitas is as relevant to the kids of today as Grange was to me. The elapsed time is about the same.
But I knew about Grange. I read about “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” which was played during my first year on earth. I knew a home run by Bobby Thomson was “The Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” even though I was born seven years too late. I knew Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games and Cy Young won 511.
Two weeks ago, I watched a ballgame with someone who had never heard of Howard Cosell.
I wonder sometimes if all knowledge about sports today is derived from video games. A kid’s favorite player is as likely to come from “Madden ’13” as the Super Bowl.
What prompted this topic was the fact that a remake of “Brian’s Song” showed up on TV. I had never seen the remake, though the original, a TV movie starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, was a national sensation when I was 13. The remake, starring Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer, isn’t bad, but it’s the same as most remakes. “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” starring Gary Cooper, was remade as “Mr. Deeds” with Adam Sandler.
That’s about the same as comparing a sonnet to a limerick. Or a sonata to a ditty.
I know, of course, that I’m not objective. Part of my view is that I have greater perspective, but part of it is also that I’m turning into a grumpy old man, ready to pounce on any topic with one of those wearisome clichés like “back in my day!” and dreading the first time he actually hears “keep off my grass!” come out of his mouth.
I still want to be cool, but it’s getting harder and harder to pull off.