To start reading the newspapersagain? Is wha...


September 11, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IS IT SAFE to start reading the newspapersagain? Is wha Mike Littwin, the sports columnist, called "Jimbomania" over?

sure hope so. Jimmy Connors' performance in the U.S. Open tennis tournament has got to be one of the most over-played, over-rated, over-reported, over-worshiped news story in decades.

Why it was helps explain who the next president is going to be.

All last week Jimmy Connors was all over the front pages, the editorial pages, the sports pages and, of course, television. And what was his magnificent accomplishment? He got to the semi-finals.

Why was this so big a deal? Because Connors just turned 39 years old. Yet the last time something like this happened, when a man who then was almost 40 years old got to the finals, sports writers and other journalists more or less yawned.

The tennis player was Ken Rosewall and the year was 1974. The Sun never put Rosewall on the front page during the U.S. Open. On the day he won the match Connors lost last week -- the semi-finals -- Rosewall didn't even get his name in the sports page headline on the story about the two semi-finals matches.

When Jimmy Connors won the match that put him into the 1991 quarter-finals, The Sun had a quarter-page color picture on Page and a story, then another story on the front page of the sports section.

When he won that match, to gain the semi-finals, there was another big picture on Page 1 and another picture and a story on the first sports page. When he lost the semi-finals match, there was a story and a column. There had been an earlier Connors column by another sports columnist.

Why is Jimmy Connors such a big story? It's a matter of demographics. There are a lot more 39-year-olds today than there were when Ken Rosewall was finishing his career.

Rosewall was born in 1934. There were only 2.4 million live births in the United States that year. (Rosewall is an Australian, but I'm writing about the fans, not him.) Jimmy Connors was one of 3.9 million Americans born in 1952.

Rosewall's Depression generation -- roughly 1930-1941 -- totaled only 30 million Americans. Connors' Baby Boom generation -- roughly 1946-1960 -- totaled 55 million. There are more 39-year-olds today than ever before, and there will be next year and each year thereafter until 1999.

Just as the selfish concerns of this generation affect journalismthey will start affecting politics. Thirty-nine is about the year Americans start voting regularly. So after George Bush, expect a Baby Boomer in the White House.

There aren't many nationally prominent ones yet. Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas was born in '46, as was Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee. I can't think of any others, except, of course, the odds-on favorite to be the next president: Dan Quayle ('47).

Saturday: The first Baby Boomer on the Supreme Court.

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