I don’t point very often to sports pieces, but Frank Deford’s latest SI column touches on one of my favorite debates: Who’s better, Roger Federer or Tiger Woods? It got me thinking about the spread of excellence in some sports, with the overall level of play in tennis, golf, football, etc. markedly higher than decades ago, and yet there still emerging an outlier, like Tiger, Roger, etc.
The greatest writers and composers and painters are all long dead — they don’t make ’em like they used to — but inasmuch as the cliché tells us that records are made to be broken, then it follows for many that the record-breakers are bound to be better than all the erstwhile record holders of the past, ergo, the greatest in sports must always be right before our eyes.
Only right now the empirical evidence suggests that maybe that sophistry really is so, that the New England Patriots are the best team ever put on God’s green grass, and Tom Brady is better than even Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana, and Roger Federer and Tiger Woods have surely come down from Mount Olympus to toy with the poor mortals who would dare take them on.
…Sometimes, I guess, they don’t make ’em like they used to because, in fact, they make ’em even better.
I’m interested in the idea that some disciplines continue to produce change and individual greatness, while others don’t. Why not? Is the same true about investing (and please don’t point yet again to Warren Buffett)? Or is it just in the eye of beholder, with composers and writers today better than those of the past, but just needed to be looked at differently?
More here on Roger Federer’s latest magical stuff, this time coming in a match late yesterday (U.S. time) during the Australian Open’s quarterfinals.