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Who says Mantle, Mays could not keep up with Manny?

Well, here we go again. Boy, this gets old! We’ve all heard this bologna—at least I have—since our pants didn’t shrink and stairs weren’t so steep and music wasn’t so loud.

You know: Shaquille O’Neal would have Wilt Chamberlain for lunch. Johnny Unitas couldn’t hold a candle to Tom Brady. If Jerry West were with the 2007-08 Los Angeles Lakers, he’d be washing the uniforms, not wearing one. If Jim Brown were in the NFL today, he wouldn’t rush for 1,300 feet, let alone 1,300 yards.

The argument is that modern-day players in any sport are vastly superior to players from another generation. The only exception, in the minds of those who don’t have grandkids or at least kids in high school, is boxing. No one could deny that Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali could win today’s heavyweight championship without working up a sweat.

First, Shaq vs. The Dipper. I think it was Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe who once said, “If Shaquille O’Neal is a rowboat, then Wilt Chamberlain was a battleship.” ’Nuff said.

As for West, the only way any player, then or now, could keep him from scoring was to make the rim so small the ball couldn’t pass through it. I might be repeating myself, but it’s true: West couldn’t go to his left, but no one could stop him from going to his right.

As for Unitas being totally outclassed by Brady … well, in those days, defensive backs could get away with everything short of decapitating wide receivers. Getting open wasn’t nearly as easy and passes had to be perfectly timed and thrown. Also, the referees didn’t protect quarterbacks the way they do now. If the pass protection broke down, the QB’s blood flowed. That was life in pro football once upon a time.

Jim Brown? Not only was he as elusive as a fish, but he could run over you or through you. This day and age, a 300-pound-plus defensive lineman would have better luck trying to catch a hummingbird.

By now you have probably noticed I have not mentioned any baseball players yet, past or present. That’s because I saved the best—maybe worst is a better word—for last.

When Manny Ramirez hit his 501st home run and Alex Rodriguez reached 525 (and he’s only 32 years old), these two were automatically pushed into the Two of the Greatest category. And justifiably so. BUT!

I heard a lot of comments on sports talk shows the past few days that players such as Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays should step aside, or even move down a notch or two, and make room for A-Rod and Manny. You see, according to the modern “experts,” there is much more talent in the major leagues now than then.

Sorry, but that’s the sports equivalent of saying we’re all getting a better deal paying $4-plus for a gallon of gasoline because it’s much higher quality now than it was when it was 50 cents a gallon.

The wet-paper-bag argument is that pitching in 2008 is much better than it was in 1958. I will concede that the best pitchers now might be as good as the best pitchers back then, but on any given team there are far fewer of them. There weren’t any “splitters” in those days, but there were a lot of “spitters.”

Some years ago I was chatting with Bobby Brown, the Yankees third baseman during the 1950s who later became a physician, and he said, “When you played a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians (in 1954) you were looking at 0-for-16.”

The Indians won 111 games that year with a pitching rotation of Bob Lemon (23-7), Early Wynn (23-11), Mike Garcia (19-8) and Bob Feller (13-3). In this so-called modern era, teams are happy if they have two starters in that class. There are 30 teams in the major leagues now. In the ’50s, there were 16. In other words, if you weren’t good, really good, you’d be selling used cars somewhere.

And these guys were long before “set-up” pitchers and “closers.” They pitched far more complete games than any pitchers today.

Look, a curveball that looks like it rolled off a table is a curveball that looks like it rolled off a table. Doesn’t matter who threw it or when. Same goes for a 95-mph fastball. Does anyone who knows anything about the Grand Old Game really believe that, in his prime, Sandy Koufax couldn’t cut it in 2008 with the same stuff?

Yeah, Ramirez and Rodriguez will go down in baseball history as two of the best players of all time, but anyone who thinks they’re even half a cut above Henry Aaron, Mantle and Mays, as well as others too numerous to mention, strikes out swinging.

Rick Woodson’s column appears each Friday in the Rochester Business Journal print edition. Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280.

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