SUNDAY READ: The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘Happy Birthday, Jeffy-boy…I’m a little short of cash, so here’s your present.’

April 24, 2011
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     Older is still better.

     Older as in old, oldies, old timer, old reliable, and/or old school.   Any or all.


Willie, age 19, as a minor-leaguer, on May 1st, 1951



     I have always known it, have always thought it, have always taken a perverse nostalgic comfort in it, but I needed a reminder the other day during a weak moment when I was feeling a little too old to feel good, and thank God I got it in time for this week’s column cuz frankly I was on the verge of comin’ up empty.

     Help arrived in its usual ironic, left-handed way, when a few days ago I was watching a late-night rerun of that most oft-rerun of shows, “Friends”, which, ironically and relevantly, I often watch when I want to feel younger.   Which is perfectly reasonable.   My right knee aches all the time, I pee fifteen times a day, my gut gets bigger no matter how many crunches I do, my kid who was a drooling toddler seemingly just the other day is in high school, and I suddenly find that I tend to disapprove of….well, everything.     Ironically, all the “Friends” guys and gals are old too—these days—but on screen they are still young, and as I stared sleepily and blankly at the over-a-decade-old rerun, and immersed myself in the wacky hijinks and youthful screw-ups and wonderfully madcap goings-on, the show was doing its usual trick and the illusion of feeling younger was beginning to wash over me….

     But it didn’t work.   Not this time.  This time was different.   Because right in the middle of the damn show, right at the bottom of the screen, there began to appear, like a tickertape from hell, news headlines.   That’s right, news headlines!   Right across the bottom of the screen.   During a situation comedy.   One after another, lots of them.   At first I almost didn’t grasp what was going on, because I was tired and I’d never suffered such a trance-jarring thing watching TV before (“Here’s what’s making news right NOW on!” it said; I swear), and, after all, I was watching a situation comedy!   I wasn’t watching CNN, people.   I wasn’t looking to be brought up to date or mentally stimulated or to become informed.   I wasn’t in the mood to be informed of anything.   I just wanted to be entertained, merely to be dipped for half an hour into the mind-numbing Fountain Of Youth of mindless sit-com TV, period.

     So being electronically ambushed and hit over the head with the news was bad enough.   But there was one particular headline we late-night Channel Five viewers were force fed which really turned my stomach.   It was more than enough to curdle the heaping bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal I’d just consumed.   Here I am, trying to watch the “Friends” gang leap around and get themselves in and out of one wacky mess after another, when at the bottom of the screen appear the words, and I swear to Almighty God I am not making this up, “torture chamber discovered in rape suspect’s home”.   Yep.   The mother of all mood killers.   As I immediately switched off the TV I got to wondering: What fiery intellect, what brilliant programming executive at KTLA Channel Five thought it would be a good idea to smear “torture chamber discovered in rape suspect’s home” across the screen of a situation comedy???   I waited for wisdom but it never came….

     ….Except as it pertains to this column.   Because having just been reminded for the umpteenth time that almost no current theater of endeavor or sliver of Human Existence is better now than it was 30 or 40 years ago, I immediately sought to attach this timeless axiom to my weekly philosophical sporting ramblings.   But what sport to ramble on about? I asked myself.   Which sport to use as a tool to chisel and mine knowledge from the vast cavern of Human Ignorance?   That’s easy.   When in doubt, pick baseball.   The greatest game, that most American of games, my favorite game.   As the great and godlike Babe Ruth himself once put it, “The only real game in the world, I think, baseball….”

     My baseball hero has a birthday coming up in a few days.   Willie Mays.   Number 24 on his back, number one in my heart.   The “Say-Hey Kid”.   But the Say-Hey Kid is no kid anymore; Willie will be eighty years old on May 6th.   Eighty.   I know.   Hard to say, hard to believe.  Where did the time go?   Where did the last four decades go?

     Willie Mays has been famous for longer than I’ve been alive.   He entered the American consciousness way back in the early 50s, as the peerless center fielder for the New York Giants.   I started following his exploits at the tail end of his prime, when I first learned all about baseball, from my big brother Jeff, as a kid in the mid-60s.   By then Mays was starting to fade a bit.   But he was still Mays.   Mays, most skilled of all outfielders, able to discern the length and trajectory of any line drive at the crack of the bat, and then track it down and pull it from the sky like an eagle intercepting a helpless luckless sparrow; Mays, most maddening of all baserunners, able to drive an opposing pitcher to drink and distraction by simply taking his lead off of first, merely the threat that he might steal a base enough to reduce even the most mature moundsman to a sniveling child; Mays, most feared of all batsmen, piling up more than 400, 500, yes even more than 600 home runs, back when 600 home runs actually meant something.   Mays, the greatest of them all.   And I loved him.   Loved him more than John Glenn, molasses cookies, and the Lone Ranger combined….

     Brother Jeff did not love Willie Mays.  

    A die-hard Henry Aaron fan, Jeff never missed an opportunity to run Willie into the ground.   As kids, we fought and argued about the relative merits of those two icons constantly.   Aaron better than Mays; Aaron better than Mays,” he would double-declare whenever he got the chance.   Since Jeff was my baseball mentor, and his opinion meant everything to me, his constant denunciations of Mays’ abilities cut me to the quick.   I didn’t know whether he was serious or not, whether he was just playing the irritating big brother or rather, egad, maybe he knew something I didn’t.   Maybe Willie did suck!   I remember one time in 1964, growing up in Iowa, we were watching a Giants/Braves game on our black-and-white TV and Aaron threw Mays out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double, whereupon Jeff got right in my face and rubbed it in and was grinning maniacally like the Devil himself and he wouldn’t stop and finally I broke down and cried like a little girl.

     And then, ten years later, on April 8th, 1974 to be exact, when by this time we were no longer kids, Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Ruth’s once-thought-to-be-unapproachable all time home run record.   It was one of the greatest days of my life.   But certainly not because Aaron broke Ruth’s record.   Heck no.   It still bothers me that Aaron broke the greatest record in sports, an honor which I had always assumed the baseball gods had reserved for my hero, Mr. Mays.

     What happened was I got a call late that night from Jeff.   Naturally I thought he was going to gloat a bit, he certainly had the right, but I could not have been more wrong.   No, brother Jeff had a confession to make, and his timing could not have been better.   For on the very day of his hero Hank Aaron’s greatest triumph, Jeff picked that very same day to admit to me—finally—that he thought Willie Mays to be the better player.   By just a nostril hair perhaps, but better.   I was stunned.   Back then Jeff was baseball to me.   His opinions on sports were always meticulously researched, always pathologically arrived at, and mattered.   And now he was placing his own hero below mine?   Any wonder why it remains one of the best days I have ever had?

     And thinking about all that, perhaps even as I was typing some of the words you are reading right now, it hit me.   Jeff has a birthday coming up too.   On May 2nd Jeff Eastland of Stafford County, Virginia, Jeffrey Robert Eastland, the ‘blarney-spewing court jester of Boston Celtics drivel’ and ‘prime minister of Atlanta Braves propaganda’, turns 60.   Sixty.   As in six-oh.   OMG!   I’m going to have a 60-year-old brother!   Kill me now!

     And more to the point, Jeff the blarney-spewer will turn 60 and the amazin’ Willie Mays will turn 80 within four days of each other.   Furthermore, when Willie played his first major league game for the Giants on May 25th, 1951, little baby Jeff (who my parents had nicknamed “Zeppelin Head”) was all of 23 days old.   If such sublime mathematical symmetry isn’t meant to mean something more, I don’t know what is.   It’s obvious to me, anyway.   It is not that everyone is getting old and that it has been a long time since Willie Mays was baseball’s best player and that it sure is weird having a 60-year-old brother, though we are and it has been and it sure is.   No.   It’s that baseball was simply better back then.   Sports in general was better back then.   TV was better back then.   Movies were better back then.   Music was a lot better back then.   Practically everything was better back then.   I’ve always known it, have always taken a perverse nostalgic comfort in it.   It’s something to hang your hat on.         

     So happy birthday Willie.   I hope I never get the chance to meet you.   I hear you’re pretty cranky and have a bit of an attitude nowadays, and I don’t want to meet you and find out its true and tarnish the halo I so long ago placed above your head.   So I’ll just say “say-hey” and “happy birthday” to you from right here, if you don’t mind.

     And a very happy 60th to you, bro’.   Womb to tomb, birth to earth, sperm to worm.   Have a good day out there in the land of cotton.   You’re a good guy, and I miss you.  

     And as usual, you were right.   Mays was better.

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image005

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and a loyal fan of Willie Mays, the 60s, and Jeff Eastland… though perhaps not in that order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or….






One Response to “SUNDAY READ: The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘Happy Birthday, Jeffy-boy…I’m a little short of cash, so here’s your present.’”

  1. Happy Birthday to Jeff!!!

    See you soon.


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