Between The Last Dance airing each Sunday, and the old baseball and basketball games airing each week, coronavirus has certainly been a time for reliving times gone by. It makes sense: the present is the odd combination of scary and boring, and the future is unknown and frankly, terrifying, given the present situation. But the victories of the past are comforting, set in stone, and one of the only things that can bring us a modicum of joy. For once, we can’t blame anyone who wants to dwell in the past. I’ve always watched David Ortiz home runs to brighten up a bad day, and now it’s considered legitimate self-care.
The latest blast from the past is the news that Manny Ramirez is going to attempt a comeback in Taiwan’s baseball league. At 48 years, he’d be one of the oldest professional ballplayers in history. By comparison, his former teammate David Ortiz was 40 years old in his retirement season.
Age, as they say, is just a number. But it’s certainly a number that matters a whole lot in professional sports. Ballplayers are typically considered to be in decline the second they turn 30, which is why a 40-year-old like Papi or Albert Pujols is a rarity, Minnie Miñoso even more so. Tom Brady is the ultimate athlete anomaly; his NFL career is longer than the lives of some of the players now on the field with him, and he’s still playing. He said this winter that he plans on retiring ‘sometime this decade,’ giving him plenty of time to pass George Blanda, the oldest player in NFL history, who retired after 26 seasons at the age of 48.
But around the world, there are and have always been athletes defying the odds. That’s kind of the point of sports, isn’t it? Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, making the impossible seem possible. The oldest man in Poland, Stanisław Kowalski, is still an active runner at the age of 110. In 2014, in his youth, Kowalski became the oldest person ever to win a 100-meter race, at 104 years old. And speaking of 104-year-old runners, Ida Keeling holds multiple world and USA records for her age group; in 2016, she became the first 100-year-old woman in history to complete a 100-meter run. 17-time PBA winning professional bowler Carmen Salvino is still bowling at the age of 86. Peyton Pollock competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics for archery at the age of 63, the oldest American woman to compete in the Olympics; she won three medals. Pierluigi Marzorati played EuroLeague basketball from 1969-1991, and returned to the game in 2006 at the age of 54. And getting back to baseball, Satchel Paige made his Negro League debut in 1926, then made his MLB debut in 1948 at the age of 42, and returned from the minors to pitch a few shutout innings in 1965 at the age of 59. He famously stated, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
If Manny wants to make a comeback, all the power to him. He was the first Red Sox autograph I ever got (shoutout to my mom for being brave enough to approach him in the airport), a lot of Red Sox Nation 90s-early 00s kids’ first hero, and one of the best righty hitters ever. He was a goofball, a mess, a hero, often all in the same game. That’s what made him Manny. And if he thinks he’s got something left in the tank, I’m willing to bet there’s at least one more home run in his bat just waiting to be hit, and it’s going to sound so good.
Now, more than ever, we need people to root for and things to believe in. We need stories that uplift us, underdog stories, we need wins. Maybe, hopefully, Manny can be one. So, as we used to say, let’s Let Manny Be Manny.
References: Oldest.Org, Wikipedia