My heroes have always been younger…

Mike Piazza, arguably the best catcher in the history of the game, has to scramble to find a taker for $2 mil. Frank Thomas, a staple of the Windy City for more than a decade, signs for $550,000 plus incentives. It’s hard to be sorry for these guys, but, my, how the mighty have fallen.

Tom Verducci, baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, writes about “The Class of ’68,”ballplayers born that year, which includes, besides Piazza and Thomas, such luminaries as Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Jeff Kent and Gary Sheffield, among others.

Verducci writes:

“We kept hearing then that ballplayers were bigger, stronger and better conditioned than ever before. Given the advances in nutritional and training information and the finances to enjoy an easier, more luxurious lifestyle, players would extend their prime late into their 30s.”

That may be true; most players in the first hundred years of the game had to
work off-season jobs to make ends meet. Then again, doe such high salaries make a young player hungry? Will A-Rod want to keep playing after the end of his $252,000,000 contract runs out? Does pride in craftsmanship really matter that much those days?

“That Class of ’68 is worth remembering now because of what has happened to them this winter: a market flush with cash all but ignored them, the signal that they have not aged as well as had been thought. All, by varying degree, have been breaking down physically and offer no signs they can come close to being elite players again.”

Hate to say it, but one of the players who has not broken down is … Barry Bonds. Other than his recent injuries, he’s been an inspiration for those willing to put in the time at the gym.

I don’t know about the rest of you middle-aged fans (ouch!), but I always root for the older guys. (You go, Julio Franco!). Somewhere in my dementia I figure that as long as there’s at least coot one older than me, I still have a chance.

Veteran columnists as Maury Allen, Jerry Izenberg, Harvey Araton, and Filip Bondy have said in interviews that as they get older, it’s harder to have a rapport with those younger players, in some cases young enough to be their grandkids.


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