We are all young when we start in this business of writing about professional sports; younger than the players.
I remember being petrified and intimidated, trying to ask questions of grizzled vet Carl Yastrzemski when I was 21 years old in 1975.
Dave Cowens — only four years older than me — was already an NBA MVP by the time I got to his locker in 1976. He told me my inquiry was a “high school question.’’ He was right. I was nervous, nerdy, and not ready.
Now I go into those same rooms and most of the players are younger than my own children.
I turned 66 last month. This means I am three times older than Rafael Devers. Not a little bit older. Not twice as old. Three times as old. For every day Rafael Devers has been on this earth, I have been here three days.
Some wise sports scribe once said, “You know it’s time to go when you are older than the oldest player.’’ In this spirit, the great Leigh Montville openly rooted for Tommy John to keep pitching in the late 1980s because Tommy John was two months older than Montville.
It seemed funny. And true.
But now I am three times older than Rafael Devers and I’m still here. (Don’t get your hopes up, this is not a retirement announcement.)
Tom Brady turned 42 last week. Ancient, right?
Not to me. On the day that Tom Brady was born (Aug. 3, 1977) in San Mateo, Calif., I was in nearby Oakland, covering an 8-6 Orioles win over the A’s in front of 5,103 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It was the first time I’d ever been in California. I had dinner with Earl Weaver in Sausalito the night before the quarterback was born. Maybe Galynn Brady was in labor with her fourth baby (first boy) while Earl and I were dining on that fateful Tuesday night in the Bay area.
I thought about all this recently when I heard an ancient recording of Neil Young singing, “Old Man.’’ It’s a live performance and young Neil (the 73-year-old Young was 24 when he wrote the tune) introduced the song talking about an “old man” who works on his ranch, saying “he’s 70 or something.’’
I did the same thing in 1999 writing about 63-year-old Einar Gustafson, who was the original “Jimmy” of Jimmy Fund lore. Describing Gustafson walking about the Jimmy Fund clinic with 80-year-old Ted Williams, I wrote about the “two old guys.’’ And now I am three years older than Gustafson, who never made it to 66.
The Crimes of the Ancient Sportswriter are many. My references are too damn old. I keep quoting “Animal House” which came out in 1978. Describing Chris Sale’s Yankee Stadium mound implosion last week I referenced “Ninja Turtle shoelaces” which is what Roger Clemens wore when he had his five-star nutty in Oakland way back in 1990. Did anybody get that? When the bogus David Ortiz shooting investigation turned up 14 suspects and a case of mistaken identity, I invoked Claude Rains who said, “Round up the usual suspects” (”Casablanca”) in 1942. Claude Rains has been dead for 52 years. Even Matty in the Morning mocked me on that one and he’s older than me.
I am old enough to remember typing game stories on an Olivetti Lettera and delivering the copy to Western Union in downtown Seattle. I also dictated stories, as in “get me re-write!’’ I flew on team charters with the players. I worked with Clif Keane, who attended the first Bruins game at the Boston Garden in 1928. I worked with Jack Barry, who covered the original Boston Celtics and coined the word “turnover” to describe the act of giving the ball to the other team.
When you get older, your audience grows older. Some of my loyal readers still write letters to the Globe. None of them read “Barstool” or play “Fortnite.’’
If a kid fresh out of college asks for advice, I remind myself how old I am to that kid. Back in 1975, fresh out of Holy Cross, would I have cared about anything anyone from the class of 1928 had to say?
I use old guy words like “swell” and “breezeway.” I have some clothes that are older than Nora Princiotti who has already covered three Super Bowls for the Globe. I keep phone numbers in a black book and have a weekly planner in which I register all appointments. I call people when I know they’d rather get a text. I never hit “reply all” on group e-mails, and don’t answer direct tweets because the last time I tried my message went to 85,000 followers. I keep quarters in my car to pay parking meters, even though I am told there’s an app for that. I write checks. I carry cash. I hand out cigars when babies are born. I have an alarm clock/CD player on my desk. I don’t even know what gluten free means.
I was the last guy in the world with AOL. It was embarrassing in crowded press rooms when my laptop would blurt, “You’ve got mail!” Peers said it was like working with Austin Powers.
I still think a good starting pitcher should throw a complete game now and then. I long for the days of baseball games that are over in 2 hours 15 minutes. I believe in RBIs and wins for starters. I am allergic to analytics. I think the majority of batted balls that are scored hits should be errors. I remember 4-3 defenses in football and two-line offsides in hockey. I loathe NBA offenses which feature all 3-point shots.
I miss Tiger Stadium, organ music, and the Montreal and Los Angeles Forums. I insist on having ballgame tickets in my hand — not on my phone. I laugh when I hear “true freshman,” “exit velocity,” “player efficiency rating,’’ and “WAR.’’ I remember when basketball players were tall, not “long,” and when a split-fingered fastball was a forkball. I remember when the Big Ten actually had 10 teams and when being in a bowl game meant you were a winning team.
I am the old guy in the press box, reminding myself that you see something new at every game and we all should be in the business of learning new things every day.
Knowledge is good.