08/02/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
Paunchy, balding, slow of foot and creaky of arm, more than 50 heroes of seasons long past came to Washington's RFK Stadium last week for the first Cracker Jack Old-Timers Baseball Classic. Most of the almost 30,000 fans turned out early for batting practice, but a thunderstorm worthy of the Precipitation Hall of Fame cleared the soggy field long before game time. Undismayed, Ernie Banks, 51, the power-hitting ex-Cubbie, held court in one of the flooded dugouts. "Why is baseball the most unique game ever invented?" he asked. "Because it ameliorates the classic polarization between the selfmotivated individual and the collective ideology."
In the five-inning exhibition that followed, won by the American League 7-2, there was ample evidence of another kind of polarization—that between desire and dwindling ability. Still, there were moments to cherish: a staggering shoestring catch in the outfield by Henry Aaron, 48, two double plays started by nonpareil third baseman Brooks Robinson, 46, and a stunning home run by 75-year-old Luke Appling, whose last round-tripper was struck in the Truman Administration. Another Classic may be scheduled next year, and for most of the players that will be soon enough. Groaned pitcher Warren Spahn, 61: "I'm going to be a stiff s.o.b. tomorrow."