There are certain things that come with age. Prominent among ballplayers is a defensive capability often expressed in words rather than in play when the issue of age arises.
Suggesting to Ron Cey or Gary Matthews that time is perhaps biting at their ankles is best done from a distance, phrased gently.
If the issue is put as a question, you may get this reply from Cey: "You always have to prove yourself in this game. From year to year, you have to prove yourself."
Well, Cey, 38, and Matthews, 36, proved themselves with their bats Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Between them, they double-handedly wrecked the Dodgers by going 4 for 7, with 4 runs batted in by Matthews and 2 runs scored by each.
In an organization that would like to promote its minor league players, however, both are afraid that such performances are met simply with such a statement as, "Well, the old-timers did it again tonight."
The Dodgers' Len Matuszek, a former teammate of Matthews at Philadelphia, sensed it after talking with Matthews before the game.
"It's not easy for him," Matuszek said. "But with the direction the team is going, when players reach his age, they (the Cubs) have to make a decision."
This season, that has been one of indecision. Matthews has played in 66 games but has 185 at-bats, considerably fewer than the 320 that leadoff batter Shawon Dunston has.
Matthews has started 51 games in left field but has been removed for defensive reasons and because of batting drop-offs. This year, his average is only .221, but lately he has been on the upswing, getting 10 hits in his last 27 at-bats, including 4 homers and 2 doubles.
Friday night he was 3 for 4. In the fourth, with Cey on second after a walk and a passed ball, Matthews singled to center to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, he hit a two-run homer to left that again brought in Cey, who was on with a double.
For the Dodgers, the old-timers' game is Sunday, but Cey and Matthews gave early notice that neither deserved to be playing in it, yet.
"I know Gary too well to think he's going to lay down and pack it in," Matuszek said. "He's too much of a competitor for that. There's nothing he likes better than to be in the spotlight, but when he's playing against the Dodgers or New York, he rises to the occasion.
"I've always respected the way he goes out and plays the game. He plays with enthusiasm. Some say he's a hot dog, but he plays to win."
A career .284 batter, Matthews dropped to .235 last season. Twice, he was placed on the disabled list, and he played in only 97 games. His 298 times at bat were the lowest of his 13-year career.
In early May of 1985, Matthews injured a knee and missed seven games. A common athletic injury turned to a potential career-ending injury three weeks later when he required arthroscopic surgery. He later strained his right quadriceps muscle but now says he is healthy.
Cey, meanwhile, is also battling the talk that he is too old.
"I think I've played well the last two months," he said. "I've hit about .330 (actually, .336 since mid-May). If you're 18 and a rookie, you're inexperienced. If you're 38, they say maybe you've stayed around a little too long."
Cey, who has raised his average to .281 this season, thinks there have been overall difficulties with the Cubs this year.
"There's been a lot of transition and people playing in different positions, and a lot of different lineups," he said. "There really hasn't been any continuity."
Cey and Matthews, however, are in the final years of their guaranteed contracts. They aren't waiting for tomorrow.