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Older Is Bitter

It has been years now since the morning I woke up older than every player in the major leagues. What to do. What else? I poured myself a quadruple Scotch, drank it in my bathrobe and got on the hook to the parish priest. "Spare a minute today, Father? I'd like to drop by for the last rites."

Ask any American male of a certain age who has owned a pair of spikes and a good outfielder's glove since the age of nine. He'll tell you. This is serious business. Once all the big-league players--even the wily, silver-haired knuckleballers who've always looked like somebody's grandfather--once all the players are suddenly and irretrievably younger than you are, a sea change rumbles through the blood. A darkness creeps over the mind. Now that none of your contemporaries is out there on the green grass of home running around in his pajamas, how long can it be until the clerk at Tower Records intercepts you at the front door, cradles your elbow in his palm and gently steers you toward the Lawrence Welk bins? How long till you take up pinochle? Or start complaining to the waitress at the Brewery Bar that the green chile's too hot? Or bellowing that you don't remember ordering green chile?

How long will it take until you find yourself sitting on a lawn chair in your underwear, absently thumbing through a year-old Reader's Digest, trying to sort out the difference between Mickey Mantle and Mickey Rivers? Puts you in mind of the Yiddish proverb: "Send a lazy man for the Angel of Death."

Well, lemme make one thing perfectly clear. Most of the athletes I liked to watch as a kid may not be capable of saying their own names these days, but I'll not go to seed in that manner. Not me. Never going to age another minute from this minute forward. Why, only last month, those pests from the American Association of Retired Persons sent around their membership application. Second one this year. The nerve of them. I can see what happens if you give in to these people. Before you know it, you're taking square-dance lessons in Tampa. Hey, I won't even join up with the Veterans of the Peloponnesian War--although they keep asking, too. So my note to AARP was suitably curt, in rolling red letters: "Not interested. Too busy romancing Sandra Bullock. Kindly remove me from your mailing list."

But first, I had to go fumbling through the desk in my study to find one of my 23 pairs of reading glasses. Without them, I'd have had no better chance of deciphering the inch-high type employed in AARP's invitation than making out those measly headlines in the sports section.

Another thing. Martina Hingis can go to hell. Any kid who's fifteen years old, or whatever she is, and can hit a tennis ball as hard and straight as that simply doesn't belong on the court. In my day, women wore gauzy white gowns and veiled picture hats out there. They waved their racquets around as if catching butterflies. Tell me, now. What's wrong with that? As for this Tiger Woods, why doesn't he just go back to algebra class, where he belongs? I'm pulling for Sam Snead to win the Masters this year, and if he doesn't do it, a lot of us will be throwing our niblicks into the drink. Walter Hagen's the second choice, of course, but I understand his short game has fallen down a little.

Now. The guy I'm really ticked off at is Rod Carew. In fact, I haven't been this mad since the White Sox fixed the Series. The other night, just after sneaking a second thimbleful of sherry, I turned on the television, and there was Carew. In street clothes, of all things. One of the finest pure hitters in the game. The man who employs a different batting stance for almost every pitcher, then alters it according to the balls-and-strikes count. An authentic artist. Consider him: .328 career average; hit .388 and drove in a hundred runs just a couple of seasons back, which prompted that old goat Calvin Griffith to give him a $100,000 raise. What's that? Well, okay, it was in 1977. Anyway, there he was. On television. In a beautifully cut suit.

As near as I could make out (this damn thing needs a new battery again), Carew was taking part in an anniversary seminar about Jackie Robinson. Jesse Jackson was on with him. Pee Wee Reese called up on the phone. That Ted Koppel guy was the moderator, and they were all saying a lot of nice things about Jackie. But what I couldn't get over, aside from the acreage of Rod Carew's jowls, was his hair. I mean it. It wasn't that he was streaked here and there with silver, like a god aging gracefully in the bosom of wisdom. He was stone-cold gray. I'm telling you: The man looked like Norman Bates's mother. Greatest hitter in baseball. Sitting there watching the tube, it took me an age to admit that Rod Carew and I still have the same birthday. Same day. Same year. Of course, he's older. I called the hospital down in Panama one time to check their records. Carew was born at two o'clock in the morning; I didn't come around until noon. So there. Wanna know what year? Not on your life. I wouldn't give that up to Lieutenant Kojak if he stuck a gun in my eye.  

Anyway, somebody on the TV program claimed that Rod Carew hasn't played baseball since 1985. Clearly, this man had his facts mixed up. Why, just recently I saw the Carew steal second base. I'm sure of it. The throw was high to Davey Johnson, and Rod slid in easily under the tag. Meanwhile, only this morning a friend told me that Gordie Howe has plans to play a shift in Syracuse. If somebody hits him from behind, he says, he'll lay the lumber to him. Hey, what's new? Gordie never takes any crap on the ice. Why start now?

By the way--TV? Forget it. It's a passing fancy. Like automatic transmissions, cabernet sauvignon and that Robert De Niro. Give me a Philco radio and a nice afternoon paper anytime. Whatever else people need, President Eisenhower is sure to take care of it.

One last story, okay? Recently, they let me out of here on a Friday night to have dinner with old friends. These are guys I've played baseball with for many years, and now that another season was about to dawn, it seemed an ideal time to get together and discuss the future. Maybe work up a new batting order, then run some wind sprints out on the sidewalk.

What a shock. In the gloom of a Cherry Creek boute, Conway, our first baseman, whom I hadn't seen in a while, now looked like the final scene from The Picture of Dorian Gray. Not a speck of collagen remained in that ruined sack of skin; not a hair sprouted from his desolate head. Given his condition, I fully expected him to keel over before presentation of the check.

Meanwhile, poor old Blake, our catcher/second baseman, looked as lean and trim as ever. But when, with that vacant gaze of his, he began loudly reciting the names of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, over and over, to no one in particular, patrons at neighboring tables grew alarmed. Never long out of restraint devices, wretched Blake.

As for Johnson, our center-fielder and clean-up hitter, his entire baseball career was gathered round the midriff now. At age 55, or 85--who can tell?--the man has blossomed into a Budweiser truck, and once more he began muttering the old nonsense about the glories of winter in his native North Dakota. Had the white coats descended in that moment and put the old fellow out of his misery, no one would have objected.

I strained to recall Ogden Nash:
Senescence begins
And middle age ends
The day your descendents
Outnumber your friends.

It was all too much. Before the pretty young thing could bring us another round of prune juice, I bolted the place. Just like that, Nurse Marilyn hauled me up the stairs and loaded me into the Ambo-Cab. I'd had it with geezers. Besides, a cup of hot chicken broth and a game of Scrabble awaited me back in the day room. Along with some heady contemplation of the baseball season ahead. I sure hope Rod Carew hits .315 again this year. He's in his prime, and I'm counting on him.

Was that an ice skate the handsome prince slipped onto Cinderella's foot?
Not at this dance. It was a $75 Nike sneaker.
The presence of the University of Minnesota in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament probably has hoops fans in warmer climes scratching their heads. Especially in Big 10 towns like Ann Arbor and Bloomington. Since the glacier started to melt, Minnesota has been a hockey school, and their win over storied UCLA Saturday is probably the most welcome news up Lake Wobegon way since Mr. Zamboni developed his icemaker. The Golden Gophers will have their hands full Saturday against defending champ Kentucky, but isn't it nice every time the new kids on the block rise up to knock off the old guard? Especially when they have a coach named Clem.

In a perfect world, Minnesota would beat Kentucky and face fellow underdog Arizona in the final. But that could be too much to hope for.  

Let's set our sights a little lower, shall we? Let's hope the NCAA can sign up Frances McDormand, the pregnant police chief from Fargo, to sing the national anthem.

You betcha, hon. Go Gophers.


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