“When I was your age” is a required phrase for all people who are old enough to have children or grandchildren. We have to say something along those lines at least once a week in order to maintain our adult license. It seems like we remember the “good old days” in brighter terms than how we probably felt at the time in some cases. However, a recent confluence of various events got me wondering if they really were as good as they seemed in some cases or if we are merely romanticizing the past.
The first thing was a biography I viewed on PBS about Jackie Robinson, the first man to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The great Ken Burns was in charge of this project, the same man who brought us glorious depictions of the Civil War and his famous Baseball documentary. As I watched the story of Robinson, there was plenty of footage when he played baseball in the 1940s and 50s.
Many things were different from today’s game. The players didn’t wear batting helmets, the umpires were attired differently, and the fields were not as immaculately manicured. Robinson was a great player, but I wondered how players of his era would measure up to those of the modern time.
Players back then didn’t make millions of dollars just for being average. Many of them worked other jobs in the offseason instead of spending time honing their skills as today’s players do. I’m sure the diets were not formulated around ideal conditions and prepared by personal chefs. Babe Ruth was a notoriously horrible eater, drinker, and smoker, yet he’s one of the best power hitters of all time.
The simplest answer might be the best. Great players from any era would be great players today. Think if Jackie Robinson would have had the same opportunities to play the game and get better at his craft as players today do. What if he could have played on traveling teams and been exposed to the best players in the world from a young age? A player like Hank Aaron may have hit over 1000 home runs had that been the case!
I also saw a montage video online when Kobe Bryant was preparing to retire from the National Basketball Association. Most people my age consider Michael Jordan to be the greatest basketball player ever. There’s never been any doubt to those of us who grew up watching him that nobody would ever match his ability. When Kobe came into the league, he was often proclaimed to be the next Jordan. Many of us have stubbornly fought that, clinging to Jordan’s greatness.
This video would start each clip with Jordan making a move or taking a shot at different points in his career. The video would morph into Bryant making the exact same move or shot. It was very nearly seamless! I still like to think Jordan was better back in my day because he made those around him better players, something I don’t know if you can attribute to Bryant.
Music is possibly the biggest area in which we older folk think ours was the best. Growing up with music in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I naturally feel strongly that music from Queen, Aerosmith, and Guns ‘n’ Roses ranks among the best ever. I hold the Beatles and Elvis Presley in high regard as having started the path needed for those bands, but I love my era of music the best.
When Prince died recently, debate began again about his place in musical history. While few people would argue that he wasn’t musically gifted, does he rank among the greats? Immediately after someone dies, we always think highly of them, perhaps more so than when they were alive. It might be best to wait a few years to really judge Prince’s place in history. Still, there are plenty of people in the past month who have probably said, “When I was young, Prince was the best music there was, much better than this trash on the radio today!”
We can argue about television shows for a long time. Whether you grew up with I Love Lucy or MASH or Cheers or The Simpsons, you will have your own opinions. Some will say there is more good television on today than at any point in history. That might be due to the sheer number of stations! When there were only three stations, the networks were almost guaranteed to produce quality programming; they had no choice! Only the best shows made it. Now we have a glut of stations, so there is much that doesn’t last long due to low quality. Is TV really better today? That’s a tough argument to win.
It’s fun to compare eras of things like sports, music, and television. There doesn’t have to be a winner as long as we have access to the time period for which we have a special place in our hearts. The great thing about the phrase, “When I was your age,” is that we know it will continue to be uttered for many generations to come!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is truculent, which means eager to fight, as in, “The young boy was truculent when anybody dared to say that someone other than Adrian Peterson would be remembered as the greatest running back of all time.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!