There exists an old baseball story — apocryphal or not it doesn’t matter — in which a curious young fan once asked Hall of Famer Ty Cobb if he could hit against modern-day pitching.
Cobb, whose lifetime .366 average is still the best ever, is rumored to have said, yes, he could — probably around .300.
“Why only .300?” the young fan asked.
“You gotta remember, kid,” Cobb said, “I’m 73 years old.”
Great story, right?
Well, I was thinking about ol’ Ty Cobb the other night as I listened to Jazz greats John Stockton and Karl Malone prior to their induction to the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.
See, an intrepid reporter asked The Mailman if he could still play 10 or 15 minutes a night in the NBA.
Never shy about such things, Malone downplayed it just enough to appear humble. But it seemed pretty clear he felt he could still play a little. After all, he’s still in incredible shape and as strong as ever.
“I respect what the young guys do now,” he said. “If my life depended on it — which it don’t — I could give you a strong … I could play a little bit. I could hold my own.”
Remember, he’s 49 years old.
Still, there’s no doubt in my mind he could still give a few minutes a night if he felt so inclined. It might not be pretty but he’d get the job done.
And then there’s Stockton. Believe it or not, he’s 50.
Asked if he could still play, Stockton, like Malone, remained true-to-form and immediately went into “aw shucks” mode.
“I’m pretty sure I couldn’t guard the speedy guys out front,” he said. “But I’m also sure that Karl could. He has the strength and the size and the talent. There’s no question in my mind that he could still get ’er done.”
Like his Hall of Fame partner, Stockton remains in incredible shape. Never the type to boast, he suddenly seemed quite proud when asked if he’s still close to his playing weight.
“Oh, I’m the same weight,” he said. “My goal is not to change that.”
The difference between Stockton and Malone is, there’s a part of The Mailman that still wants to test himself against today’s players. With Stockton, you get the impression he’s as competitive as ever but he’ll never ask, “What if?”
But make no mistake, he could still hold his own on the court, getting by on guts and guile.
Shoot, I’d dare say both Stockton and Malone have forgotten more about how to get by in the NBA than 95 percent of today’s players will ever know.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it.
Current Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, 49, played with Stockton and Malone. His eyes light up when talks about those days together.
Before Wednesday’s practice, Corbin — who also remains in phenomenal shape — was asked if Stockton and Malone could still team up.
“Have you seen that body,” he asked, referring to Malone. “I’d take him in a heartbeat.”
And Stockton, too?
“I would take him in a heartbeat also,” he said.
Thankfully, neither Stockton nor Malone is going to suit up for the Jazz any time soon.
While I’d like to think either could fight through the challenge, I’m glad neither thinks he needs to.
It’s better to appreciate them for who they are now and how well they’ve taken care of themselves. And, of course, it’s better to remember them the way they were, in their heyday.