Make way for the veterans

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It seems all over the sporting world right now, “veteran” or even “old” is the new cool. There are so many interesting stories about athletes who should be past their prime that I could go the rest this column without mentioning Brett Favre, who, as of 4:17 p.m. Tuesday, is still retired.

In baseball, Mariano Rivera saved his 500th Yankee game — which doesn’t include countless more games in Octobers going back to the mid-90’s — on Sunday. Five hundred saves puts Rivera second all-time in MLB history, but nowhere close to the all-time leader. The way it looks now, he won’t be catching first place unless he’s willing to go on for at least a few more years.

Trevor Hoffman, the long-time Padre who is now with Milwaukee at 41 years old, has 572 saves. Before Rivera and Hoffman came along, 300 saves was the milestone for closers. San Diego and Milwaukee explain most of why Hoffman’s never gotten the attention for his great career, but he’ll be right around 600 by the end of the season, and he says retirement is not on his mind.

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Boston, sitting in first place in the AL East, is taking veteran leadership one step further with 42-year-old John Smoltz and 42-year-old Tim Wakefield.

Knuckleballers, like Wakefield, are known to pitch well past 40, and with Wakefield’s steady contributions to Boston’s two World Series teams, it’s no surprise he can keep lobbing the ball over the plate.

On the other hand, Smoltz made his way up from rehabbing a shoulder injury to get into the act of what could be a third championship season for the Red Sox. Boston’s relying on the two 42-year-olds to the tune of not missing Diasuke Matsuzaka (whom the Red Sox paid $52 million a little more than a year ago).

In the NBA, there’s Shaq, who will be 38 next season, getting a new lease on his career by teaming up with LeBron. We’ll see how that works out.

On the PGA Tour this past weekend, Kenny Perry, 48, won the Travelers Championship lapping the field by three shots with a 22-under total. Perry’s won 11 PGA tournaments since age 40. He was a bogey-bogey finish away from winning the Masters two months ago. His score last week was a tournament record, and the victory put him in first place in the PGA’s season standings.

Even at Wimbledon, sure the Williams sisters aren’t anything close to old, but by women’s tennis standards, they are. Venus and Serena are two of the final four in England, and the only American tennis players worth watching for the time being.

In NASCAR, Mark Martin, at 50, would make the 12-driver Chase for the Cup field if the NASCAR playoffs started today.

For a little perspective, Martin drove his first full Sprint/Winston Cup Series in 1982. In 30 races, Martin’s average finish was 19th and he totaled $115,600 for the season. This year, Martin’s through 17 races, with an average finish of 17th. That adds up to a $2.44-million purse, which will probably top $4 million by season’s end.

And last, but never least, there’s Lance Armstrong returning from “retirement”. At age 37, and after four years away from competition, Armstrong will be back in the Tour de France and going for his eighth title in the Tour starting Saturday.