Just How Old Is Old?

It was May 3rd, 1951.  Casey Stengel’s Yankees had the biggest ninth inning in American League history by scoring eleven runs that afternoon to beat the St. Louis Browns 17 to 3.  Although the season is best remembered for the dramatic shot heard ‘round the world and Russ Hodges’ proclamation: “the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant,” I am quick to counter with “The Yankees won the series, the Yankees won the series!”  It was also the day I was born.



Each year since I can remember, I have celebrated my birthday with a trip to the “Big Ballpark,” as the ol’ Redhead Red Barber used to call it.  Now, I find myself belonging to those disgruntled advancing age baby-boomers who remain unconvinced that the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium needs to fall to the ax of modernity.  Is the Gettysburg battlefield soon to be turned into a mall?

Change is sometimes welcome, as in our body politic.  But, a new Yankee Stadium, despite its retro look, is hard to fathom.  What should I do this year? Maybe it requires acceptance of the passage of time, something we all struggle with…I, perhaps, more than others.  Let me explain.    As a member of the community of poll-takers, a somewhat idiosyncratic bunch, I have chosen to turn to the group I always rely upon for guidance:  public opinion.

Now, this is not new for me.  In fact, for the last 23 years, I have included as part of The Marist Poll, the organization I have directed since 1978, a seemingly innocent question:  Do Americans consider (my age) to be young, middle-aged, or old?  How else should a pollster come to terms with getting older?

Admittedly, the public response to this question has changed significantly since I first asked people in 1986 to characterize the life status of someone who was then a mere 35 years old.  But, this year the numbers are still not too gloomy.   72% of Americans currently view a 58 year-old as middle aged, 18% think he or she is  young, and only 10% think someone my age is old.  You can get cross-tabs by age for the asking.  Middle-aged?  I can buy that.  Public opinion suggests I still have a lot of good fan years ahead of me.

But, what guidance could two other May 3rd’ers offer to resolve my dilemma?  Folk legend Pete Seeger who turns 90 on May 3rd didn’t have baseball in mind when he turned the passage from Ecclesiastes into song.  Nonetheless, to everything… there is a season.   And, what if the Yankees bring home World Series banner #27 this year?  Would the birthday boy Machiavelli, who would have turned 540 on May 3rd, convince me that the ends justify the means?   I get the message.  My birthday baseball tradition continues.  Off I go, ticket in hand, to check out the pin-stripes’ new digs.

Table: How Old is 58?

Marist Poll Methodology