Albert Pujols, Chris Paul latest to prove old guys rule

There was a marvelous moment tucked away Friday night at Nationals Park in Washington. The Dodgers were trailing the Nats, 3-1, in the top of the seventh inning, but the defending champs had a man on third, one out, and 23-year-old Gavin Lux due up. But Lux was called back to the dugout.

Albert Pujols pinch-hit for him. Pujols was nearly 18 years old on the day Lux was born. He is 41 now. He is the oldest player in MLB. He walked to the plate with his old-man’s gait. He worked the count to 2-2. And then he swung, and hit a dribbler to third. The ball ate up Starlin Castro at third. Pujols had an infield hit and drove in a run.

If it felt like it took forever for the play to develop … well it did. There was an iso camera on Pujols as he “ran” to first. It was laborious. It was glorious. It famously took Mickey Mantle all of 3.1 seconds to make it from home to first in his prime. It took 41-year-old Albert Pujols 4.85 seconds to cover the same ground.

The Dodgers, inspired, scored eight more times that inning, won the game 10-5.

And it was just the latest example of how the sports year 2021 has become an Ode to the Olde. Every few weeks, it seems, someone is defying Father Time and showing the kids that there’s still life yet in the old bear/tiger/lion.

Tom Brady started all of this, of course. Brady is one of the few pro athletes left that Albert Pujols could use a courtesy title with; Mr. Brady is a month shy of 44, and he was 43 in February when he won his seventh Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter that he looks 33, or that he doesn’t always play like he’s 23. With a title at stake, he outplayed his heir apparent as GOAT — Patrick Mahomes, 18 years his junior — and got the girl in the end, too (though he already had her).

Tom Brady
Tom Brady
Getty Images

Phil Mickelson is 51. Way back when he was 50, in May, he won the PGA Championship, becoming the oldest man to ever win a major. Now, there are only a few 50-year-olds who look like Lefty — truth is, if 30-year-old Lefty and 40-year-old Lefty looked more like 50-year-old Lefty, his trophy case might be even more crowded than it is — but no matter.

He beat Brooks Koepka by two shots. Mickelson won his first PGA Tour event, the Telecom Open in Tucson, Ariz., as an amateur on Jan. 13, 1991. Koepka turned 256 days old that afternoon.

Old guys rule.

Roger Federer, at 39, is still grinding away at Centre Court, Wimbledon, and while he might not be the marvel he was at 29, or at 19, as he seeks Grand Slam No. 21, it sure is more fun watching him now. It is why we can dream that Serena Williams can make one more run at a 24th Slam at the Open this September, weeks before she turns 40.

Because Old Gals rule, too: just ask Syosset’s own Sue Bird, a WNBA All-Star at 40, who will try to win a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in a few weeks.

Chris Paul is the latest to grab the torch. He’s only 36, but in NBA years there’s no telling how old that is, especially for a point guard, especially for as many miles as he’s put on his tires. But when he qualified for his first NBA Finals last week there wasn’t a soul anywhere who seemed to object — well, other than maybe Patrick Beverley.

It doesn’t matter that the Suns have skipped here on pixie dust, drawing a banged-up Lakers team, a banged-up Nuggets team and a banged-up Clippers team on their way to the Finals … where they’ll face either the banged-up Hawks or the banged-up Bucks. Paul will be the favorite.

And it’s funny — LeBron James is actually four months older than Paul and won a year ago. But LeBron belongs in his own physical category. Even when he’s old, it’ll be hard to imagine him as old.

It’s why the Islanders losing was so sad, because 38-year-old Andy Greene was still hammering folks, and with his playoff beard you might swear the first guy he ever drove into the boards was Boom Boom Geoffrion. Because even in hockey les vieux règnent.

Old guys rule.

Vac’s Whacks

I can’t be the only one who finds it delicious that one of the all-time basketball coach-killers, Jason Kidd, is now going to try to work with Luka Doncic in Dallas, who has already gotten a head start on his own collection of pelts. This will be fun to watch.


If we didn’t already know baseball was a cruel game, watching what it’s done to Clint Frazier the past few years has been an unwanted and unrelenting reminder.


I really wanted to like “Lansky,” the new movie. Oh, well. What I’ll say is this: Harvey Keitel is great, and is now probably the best Lansky, leapfrogging Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Kingsley (will need a ruling on if Lee Strasberg is eligible for this category).


July 4 will always have one powerful memory for me: a long day and longer night in 1985 at Breezy Point, then a trip home to Long Island accompanied, amazingly, by the 15th through 19th innings of Mets 6, Braves 3 on the radio. Ron Darling pitched the 19th for the win and told Jay Horwitz recently: “When we got back to the hotel, there was tomorrow’s paper at my door. That’s never a good sign.”

Whack Back at Vac

Richard Siegelman: Now that Jacob deGrom has “allowed” his ERA to rise a troubling 0.41 (from 0.54 to 0.69 to 0.95), I must insist he limit any future rise to a maximum of 0.16 — so as to be sure to break Bob Gibson’s record 1.12.

Vac: To see deGrom after he turns in a human inning, as he did the other night in Atlanta, is to be reminded just how incredible this path (and Gibson’s in ’68) is to maintain.


Mike Tate: Why is it when an NBA coach wages a successful challenge, the team does not get the benefit of receiving another challenge? It seems to me the team that wages a successful challenge is penalized for correctly pointing out an error made by game officials.

Vac: Of all the various problems with replay, this may be the smallest — and yet the most egregious. The coach should absolutely get another challenge after that.


@bg23on28: Dad took me to the Coliseum the week after the opening for Nets-Colonels. Lower level had not been finished. Saw Moses Malone’s first pro game with the Utah Stars. Last time there was to see Bruce. The place had a good run.

@MikeVacc: I’ve now been there for the last Nets game (ABA & NBA preseason), last Islanders games (2015 and 2021) and last Billy Joel concert (2015). I am officially ready to say goodbye for good.


Michael Bruno: If I am Hal Steinbrenner, it’s time to start over. No need to panic. But I would let Brian Cashman go now and start the GM search. The GM should determine the coach and roster for next season. While Cashman has done a good job over the years, the team is slow, very inconsistent and just boring.

Vac: Proof that it’s OK to believe it’s time for a new GM without going out of your way to disparage what has been a very successful tenure. Civility lives!

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