When I took a bad step off a curb over the summer and ended a-sprawl in the street, I mentioned that I had lingering shoulder injury. I finally got around to seeing a doctor and was told that I have a rotator cuff strain (apparently these just take a really long time to heal and I have to take some anti-inflammatories and do some physical therapy to help that happen). The obvious joke would be: “There goes my curveball.” Except that it was my left (non-throwing) shoulder and I never had a curveball anyway. What this post pre-supposes is: but what if I did?

Well not exactly. I actually just wanted to use the tools on Baseball Reference and Football Reference to see how many professional sportsfellows continue to play who are older than me. If one relatively minor accident could hinder my athletic potential for months, I wonder how anyone my age could perform high-level competitive physical activity day after day. This list is a fairly easy delineation at this point: basically it’s a list of active 40-somethings.

Baseball first:

Baseball players older than me

Eight results at first glance. But Joe Nathan is out: he hasn’t played this season due to injuries and announced that he was retiring over the summer. Oscar Robles and Walter Silva are not active MLB players either, though they do continue to play professionally in Mexico (hence their inclusion in the results). Really we’re down to just five active MLB players. Four of them are pitchers. Bartolo and RA Dickey aren’t going to blow anyone away but they continue to be reliable innings-eaters, which counts for something. We might even see Bartolo in the playoffs if the Twins can escape the wild card game. Jason Grilli’s ERA is well over 6. Koji’s had the best year of any of them, he continues to be effective in a bullpen role for the Cubs. Ichiro is the only non-pitcher, and an unquestioned Hall of Famer, but hasn’t been all that good for years.

How much longer will they be around?

I think I can count on a few more years of knowing there are baseball players older than me. I’d guess Koji or RA Dickey will be the last one standing. Koji is still effective and Dickey, notably, is a knuckleballer, so he avoids the usual arm wear and tear. A starter with an average ERA who doesn’t get hurt will continue to have a job, however unglamorous. Bartolo, maybe about the same. Grilli is probably done though. Ichiro is the mystery. He seems to not mind just kinda hanging on. One suspects he’d play anywhere, maybe he’ll end up back in Japan for a while. What if he ends up just being a baseball vagrant like Rickey Henderson, playing for Independent League teams forever, just because they’ll keep him around.

Football

Players older than me from football reference

Tom Brady misses the cut–he’s 40 but didn’t get there until this summer. So all we have is four: three kickers and a punter. Adam Viniatieri is the oldest in either league. He might make it into is late forties.

How much longer will they be around?

Honestly no way to predict anything here. There’s no real age limit on these skillsets, but eventually you’re bound to have a bad month or get a nagging injury and that’s the end. As a forty-something myself, I would not want a job where much younger, larger, faster, stronger humans are battling, sprawling, brawling, diving, or jumping anywhere near me. That might dawn on any of these guys at any time as well.

Now: we wait.

1. Read research and sports analytics-driven blogs

2. Read sports magazine-style sites with notable writer rosters

3. Watch games on TV with the sound muted

4. Watch games on TV with the sound on

5. Watch games in person

6. Read certain exceptional writers on mainstream sports sites

7. Watch in-depth programs on cable sports channels

8. Read local newspaper (local team information only)

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15. Get all of your sports information from NPR

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28. Read content filler on mainstream sport sites

29. Watch general news shows on cable sports channels

30. Read local newspaper (for non-local team information)

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50. Watch cable sports shows where two or more panelists bicker inanely

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57. Visit a local watering hole, wait to overhear conversations between old guys drinking rounds of bland light beer and occasionally glancing at ESPN on the bar TV

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83. Read celebrity gossip sites about sports

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168. Visit sites dedicated to posting grainy Youtube videos of minor speaking errors made by television announcers

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756. Be raised by progressive parents, never get exposed to sports media. Read lots of books. Play outside. As an adult, try to guess who might win the games based on written descriptions of the team logos.

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857. Eat the local newspaper.

858. Listen to sports talk radio.

I caught 30 seconds of SportsCenter. One talking head asked the other, “Is it time for patience or panic for Albert Pujols?” As you may know, Pujols is one of the greatest players ever. He changed teams this offseason. Naturally, he’s pressing to do well in his new digs, and as a result he’s in a pretty bad slump. So anyway, this is typical SportsCenter discussion-question phrasing, but I love how utterly stupid it is.

“Yeah, Steve. I think it’s definitely panic time for Albert. Baseball may be a game of hot and cold, but even though he’s one of the greatest hitters ever, as he’s proven over years and years, he’s been cold for almost a whole month now. I say, start pounding that panic button like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, assume there isn’t. It’s definitely time for him to just completely lose his mind.

“Maybe he should try batting left-handed. He could bat from his knees, or sitting down. Or he could jump out of the batter’s box just as the pitcher throws. Maybe it would screw up the timing. I did that once in Little League and it worked. He might want to bribe the umpire–he does make a lot of money these days. He could also try not wearing his shirt when he bats. He’ll feel like he’s getting down to work.

“Another thought I had–I have a few ideas here–is that he could go up to the plate and just start crying. Maybe the pitcher would go easy on him. I think this one has some merit. I assume he’s pretty much crying night and day at this point, drinking heavily, calling ex-girlfriends, asking them if they think he might try a wider stance.

“He might actually want to to just pack it all in, actually. Quit, get divorced, move to Hungary. Or just like, go out into the desert, dig a hole, and live there for a few years. Nothing like some good desert hole time to clear your head or pick up a slow bat.”

“Thanks a lot, Nomar. Next I want to ask you if the Tigers’ recent losing streak should be the reason everyone in the organization begins their path down the long, dark road to suicide.”

I watch the NCAA selection show most years. Somehow it’s fun to see the bracket and matchups revealed, even though it’s always precisely the same:

  1. Talking heads bicker over which teams should be #1 seeds.
  2. Talking heads bicker over which marginal, impossible-to-quantify teams are most deserving of those last few inclusions. They neglect to consider that these teams usually end up as 12-seeds and lose their first game 66% of the time.
  3. Tournament field revealed. Cut to shots of players whooping and hollering as their long season is rewarded with a chance to be on TV. (I actually love this.)
  4. Talking heads resume bickering about what a crime it is that such-and-such marginal team was not given one of those 12-seeds. They neglect to consider that the number of marginal teams they feel must be included substantially exceeds the number of available spots. They also neglect to consider that most of the teams they are defending finished like 5th in their conference, so there’s no evidence that they can do well in a national tournament.
  5. Talking heads badger the selection committee chair, whose long answers essentially amount to: “Listen guys, someone has to be left out unless we just start the tournament in November and include all 345 Division I basketball teams. Or would you just rip us for not including Division II?”

If I had time and access to a good copyright lawyer I would love to have a video montage of Seth Davis ranting about which teams were snubbed year after year.

CBS then bails for 60 Minutes but ESPN keeps things rolling with more outraged heads. The new set of heads also tries to pick the whole field, something they have never done any better than any random person in your office pool. They also pick favorites almost all the time and forget all about those poor 12 seeds they all argued about in the first place.

Sports!

Yesterday I was browsing through the different Super Bowl logos on wikipedia (having learned that they are standardizing the logo starting this year, rather than having a new design every time). While interesting, what was even more fascinating was the history of Super Bowl halftime performers. I never really realized that it took until the early 1990s to figure out that they could leverage the ridiculous Super Bowl audience and bring in some major entertainers.  Up until that time they usually just had a college marching band, or an old-school musician doing some Vegas-style show, or Up With People (four times!).

Check out Pete Fountain at Super Bowl XXIV*:

So gloriously quaint.

*Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco’s ridiculous beatdown of the Broncos, 55-10. Not enough Pete Fountain in the world to salvage that.

There is a current NFL player with my name.  An enjoyable consequence is that sometimes he’ll make a big play and announcers scream my name excitedly!  Here is a collection of such highlights:

*From just yesterday! Josh Wilson returns an interception for a game-winning touchdown in overtime

*Al Michaels says it really enthusiastically.

*Back when he was with the Seahawks, picking on the lowly Rams.  Great finish for Josh Wilson.

*Holy smokes, Josh Wilson, 89 yards!  (And does not drop dead.)

*Dick Stockton calls it, then spends some time rifling through his notes figuring out who Josh Wilson is.

Baseball

Favorite team growing up: Houston Astros

What?! Why? (a) They had some pitchers that I liked and (b) Tequila Sunrise uniforms

Still like them? No. Why would I?  The only place I’ve been in Houston is the airport.  Plus, yucky NL.

Favorite team now: Detroit Tigers

Why would you do this to yourself? I adopted them while I was in grad school (one year of which was the year they won five of their last six to avoid tying the record for most losses in a season).

Are they good now? Definitively mediocre.  They have some good players but lots of bad ones and albatross contracts they should never have made.  They should be a playoff contender but aren’t terribly scary.

Football

Favorite team growing up: Denver Broncos (uh, obviously)

What?! Why? Grew up in Montana, where Broncos were “local.”  They were my parents’ team, so easy to adopt.

Still like them? Yes! But now I live far away and never get to see them.

Why would you do this to yourself? I’ve been through my whole life with them.  Super Bowl losses and wins.  I can’t just quit them, even if I wanted to.

Are they good now? Oh, goodness, no.  This will be their worst year since 1968.  They have a dearth of elite players, coaching is in transition, and not much immediate hope.  Uh, go team.

College football/basketball

Favorite team growing up: Didn’t care about college sports.

Favorite team now: Montana Grizzlies

Why would you do this to yourself? Went to school there, and they are suitably small and unknown that I can like them and be all snobby and elitist about it.

Are they good now? The football team is a classic big fish in a small pond, being in the ridiculously named Football Championship Subdivision.  They routinely win the conference and compete for the national title at that level.  The basketball team is usually very competitive in their conference and occasionally show up in the NCAAs, but that’s about all one can hope for.

Pro basketball

Ha-ha, no, of course not.

Whenever I admit to enjoying watching sports or having seen a particular game, a usual question, especially from those who do not usually watch sports, is, “Who are you rooting for?”  It’s a fine question, and displays some interest in the part of the asker regarding my feelings.  Sometimes it gives them a reason to consider the game themselves, as in, if I am rooting for Team X, they can choose to be my ally and join me in Team X support, or elect to be my enemy and side with Team Y.  But the fact is, I normally don’t have an answer.  I can make up some reasoning that sounds like I’ve established a nuanced position.  But generally I just want to know who will win, or I want to learn about how the teams play each other, or I just want to stare at something with an immediately graspable storyline (namely: Team X attempts to beat Team Y, while Team Y tries to do the same to X).

Following sports is usually done for one of two reasons, I think.  Either you care about one team above all others (the Team-Rooters, who say, “Go Team!”) and care strictly about them and everything relevant to them and little else, or, you just kind of pay attention to everything that’s happening from a more objective standpoint (the Sports-Rooters, who say, “Go Sports!”) and hope for good matchups and interesting games.  I’m pretty much the latter.  I want to know who wins.  Games are a laboratory experiment where a team with one set of components is pitted against another team with different components in a particular environment.  A season consists of a whole bunch of different experiments (with wildly inconsistent results, mind you, so here’s where the science analogy veers off an embankment) that eventually lead to a general conclusion about which is best.

Nevertheless, I do have favorite teams.  It’s just that I frequently watch games that do not feature these teams.  Either because my team isn’t playing at the moment, or, much more often, I can’t watch their game where I live.  I suppose I could find a way to rank all 32 NFL teams from favorite to least favorite and base my rooting interest on that, but it’s hard to have a readily-available defined position on all teams (or at least one that wouldn’t be based on something fun but ridiculous, like color scheme (Lions) or which helmet logo I like best (I dunno, maybe the Raiders? Dolphins?)).  Anyway I tried to maintain such a rank of all the teams when I was a kid, using these pushpin helmets on a bulletin board in my room to order teams based solely on my subjective opinion on them from day to day.  The list shifted a lot, particularly when one team was playing well or not, or how recently they had dealt a team I favored an important loss.  So I probably wouldn’t bother ranking them today unless we get near the end of December and I’m still trying to post every day and am running desperately low on ideas (watch this space December 30!).

The other important thing about not necessarily rooting for one team or another is that my favorite teams, like the fan base for every team but one in every league, are not currently the champions.  They might be really good, but more often, they are average or worse.  Most fans of teams watch through years of ho-hum, so-so performances.  Occasionally there are bad runs.  Occasionally there are good runs.  Those are what you long for.  And while they’re not the best and don’t have a national reputation and aren’t featured on a lot of games, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to watch.   Maybe you still do, even if they are the local team, but who wants to watch those losers?  So you can either just do something else with your life (well, I’m not about to do that, and anyway, I’m not one of the Team-Rooters), or make up a tortured analogy about how watching sports has some higher objective (which I do, as a Sports-Rooter).

I’m at one of those lulls at the moment, where all of my professed favorite teams* are average or worse (hint: usually worse), so my Sports-Rooting tendencies are in phase.  Go Sports!

*Coming tomorrow. Wow! Yay!