The news from Cincinnati was not good. There were TV images of Tony Perez, the longtime Cincinnati Red star, who had been fired after only 44 games as the Reds' manager. Perez was justifiably upset. He spoke into the camera about how he had never had a chance. The rebuttal was given by the child who had fired him. "Look at this," I said, pointing at my television. "Macaulay Culkin has fired Tony Perez. How can he do that?"
"That's not Macaulay Culkin," I was told. "That's Jim Bowden, the Cincinnati general manager. He's 32 years old."
"If I were him, I'd watch out for Joe Pesci," I said, "because he certainly looks like Macaulay Culkin to me."
Everybody looks like Macaulay Culkin to you these days," I was told.
This is true. I am in the last month of my fifth decade on this planet, soon to be eligible for both the Senior golf tour and membership in the American Association of Retired Persons, and Macaulay Culkin seems to have taken control of American sports. I am not sure if this is the actual case or a symptom of a disease that has arrived as a harbinger of my milestone. Macaulay suddenly is everywhere.
An example. Did you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs? Did you notice the coach of the Los Angeles Kings? Tell me that wasn't Macaulay. The hair was the giveaway. The owners must have made the coach. Barry Melrose, shave the sides of his head and then grow his hair really long in back. Was this hair that any actual coach ever would wear? This kid looked as if he arrived for work on a skateboard, cars plugged by headphones, heavy metal blasting from his Walkman directly into his medulla oblongata. Macaulay. Had to be.
Another example. The manager of the New York Yankees is supposed to be someone named Buck Showalter. What's the image you get from a name like Buck Showalter? Wouldn't the guy be a cross between Casey Stengel and Colonel Sanders, who spits into a puddle of tobacco juice and tells stories about bus rides in the old Three-I League? Not close. The record books give little Buck's age as 37, but come on. I saw him thrown out of a game against the Red Sox last week, and I swear the umpire told him to go to his room.
"Buck Showalter is a young baseball genius," I was told. "He's part of the new wave of young baseball geniuses."
"Buck Showalter is Macaulay Culkin," I said.
I will admit that as I approached my last major milestone—my 40th birthday—I had a similarly unsettling experience. All the players in all sports seemed to have been replaced by Greg, Peter or Bobby Brady of The Brady Bunch or by Gary Coleman of Different Strokes. I looked around the infields of the major leagues and saw double plays that went Greg-to-Peter-to-Bobby. I saw Gary light up the L.A. Lakers for 48 points. I understand now that I was going through a life passage, the realization that virtually no one my age was playing pro sports anymore. At first I was in a state of denial, but after four or five months I was fine. Magic Johnson was Magic Johnson. Wayne Gretzky was Wayne Gretzky. The games now belonged to the young. That was life.
This present business is far more complicated. For as long as I can remember. I have thought of managers and coaches and general managers and owners and commentators as Zen masters of their sports, possessors of a lifetime of knowledge. The idea that I might be not only older than they but also considerably older never entered my mind. I still do not believe it.
"Macaulay Culkin is the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals," I say. "He looks cute in orange."
"That is Dave Shula," I am told. "He is 34 years old."
"Well, Macaulay is the coach of the University of Virginia basketball team...."
"Jeff Jones. He is 32."
"General manager of the San Diego Padres...."
"Randy Smith. Thirty."
Thirty? I don't know. I lave youngish people been in charge of a lot of teams throughout sports history? Is this a new trend? Or have I simply been missing something on my way to growing old? Has anyone seen Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, and Macaulay Culkin in the same room? How about Bob Costas and Macaulay? How about this new coach of the San Jose Sharks, this Kevin Constantine? He's supposed to be 34.1 haven't seen his picture yet, but I'll bet he bears a strong resemblance to You Know Who.
One area at least seems to have settled down. For a short while I thought this trend was spreading into other arenas of life. I was watching White House press conferences, and Macaulay was answering the questions. At least he was wearing glasses for the role. I mentioned my fears and was told that the speaker was actually someone named George Stephanopoulos and that he was 32 years old and a political genius, the same way Buck Showalter is a baseball genius. I was trying to adjust to this concept when Stephanopoulos suddenly disappeared. He was replaced by an older man.
"Where is Stephanopoulos?" I asked.
"He had to go." I was told.
"He looked too much like Macaulay Culkin. No one would believe a word he said."
See? I would be mad, too, if I were Tony Perez. Macaulay never should have tired him.