The 1960 Hofstra College baseball team had the best record in school history – 16 victories, 3 losses, winning the league championship.
However, the school did not participate in the NCAA regionals that year because of final exams.
Because of final exams. That’s what I said. They were my friends and I felt their pain, then and now.
You know what old Brooklyn Dodger fans (like me) used to say every fall? Wait til next year! For Hofstra, this was Next Year. But the athletic department somehow could not arrange for the players to take their exams and play in the regionals, something schools do regularly in these electronic days.
Stuart Rabinowitz, the current president of Hofstra University, told the audience that if he had been president back then, he would have fired somebody.
On Monday night, the school did right by the baseball team.
Eight old players were present as the team was inducted into the Hofstra Athletic Hall of Fame.
The bureaucratic bungling, 59 years ago, capped off a year of frustration for our great sports teams. The football team went 9-0 but was not invited to a bowl game. The basketball team went 23-1 but was not invited to a tournament.
These players won the Met Conference, a great league of local rivals like Manhattan, NYU, Brooklyn, CCNY, Wagner and St. John’s.
For three years I was the student publicist, traveling with the team on the silver Campus Coach charters, sitting on the bench in civilian clothes, sometimes yapping at the other team or the umps. Our biggest rivals, our major tormentor, St. John’s, acknowledged this lowly scorekeeper with the taunt: “Shut up, Pencil!”
The coach was Jack Smith, who had held the football and basketball programs together during WWII – and was still coaching baseball during our time. The players mimicked his New England accent, his old-timey ways, his expressions like “Son, son, you’re eating yourself out of the league.” But Mr. Smith loved the game.
In 1960 I was hired full-time by Newsday and had other assignments that spring. What I missed! This team did not lack for stars. Five players made the Met Conference all-star team:Lefty Dennis D’Oca had a 9-0 record with an earned-run average of 1.84 – one of the best in the country.
Ed Burfeindt was a smooth center fielder, known for timely hits.
Jerry Rosenthal took a pitch over the eye in 1958 – I saw it, it was horrible -- but he willed himself back into the batter’s box in summer ball and was a graceful shortstop, good enough to later play in the Milwaukee Braves farm system. (I love Jerry’s stories about how he batted for Rico Carty or outhit Lou Brock one week.)
George Dempster was the football captain and the star catcher on this team, providing leadership as well as skill.
Brant Alyea was a starting forward in basketball and a pitcher and slugging outfielder. The scouts were sitting in their camp chairs behind home plate, taking notes – and Brant would play five years in the major leagues under famous managers Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Dick Williams.
Tiny Bill Stetson probably could have made that all-conference starting team, for his stolen bases – 20 in 19 games. Regulars like Jim Sharkey and Dan Gwydir and Arne Moi were often the stars. John Canzanella could pitch and hit. Bill Martin and John Ayres pitched valiantly. Andy Muccillo and Jack Hildebrandt were backups.
Another reserve, Tony Major, who became an actor and maker of documentaries, planned to be at the induction Monday but in late May he passed suddenly, and we miss him badly.
As Hofstra held its annual induction at a golf course on Long Island, the old players were still sad at the way their season was truncated in 1960, but their lives and careers are testimony to the education they earned.
The president back then was a Shakespearean scholar, John Cranford Adams, not known as a sports fan. While my guys were having their great college careers, Dr. Adams also attracted Francis Ford Coppola, Lainie Kazan, Susan Sullivan and Madeline Kahn to the stage -- and the classroom.
A lot of my guys sat out games, or semesters, or even seasons, because of grades or discipline. These people had to be student-athletes in the real sense.
My pals, old basketball and baseball players (and one scorekeeper) who meet for lunch occasionally, still feel close to Hofstra because of the friendship of basketball coach Joe Mihalich and baseball coach John Russo (who put up with our ancient tales of "Butch" and "Smitty.")
We could not miss the high level of the other inductees Monday – several loyal members of the athletic department, as well as three thoughtful and charismatic stars: Trevor Dimmie, a powerful running back before football was dropped, now a teacher and a minister in Westchester; Sue Weber Alber, three-time defensive soccer player of the year in her conference; and Shellane Ogoshi, a tiny and dynamic volleyball setter who sported the leis of her native Hawaii.
The prepared video introductions demonstrated their leadership, their moves. There were no women’s sports at Hofstra in our time; we missed something by not having the company of such proud and accomplished competitors.
The final inductee was Jay Wright, who has won two NCAA titles at Villanova since moving from Hofstra. Wright greeted his school friends, his old Rockville Centre neighbors, brought along a contingent of Villanova folks, and talked lovingly about his days at Hofstra. He draws people together.
My pals have been hurting ever since that bittersweet spring of 1960. On Monday evening they heard the applause of hundreds of supporters.
No NCAA tournament? They won. They won.
While some of us are fretting over the Americans' 13-0 drubbing of Thailand in the Women’s World Cup, let us look for the reasons for the mismatch.
Let us look at FIFA. You remember FIFA, the world soccer body, once seen suffering mass arrests of officials in a lush Swiss hotel, for legal and financial improprieties.
That FIFA. The world soccer federation, that gave us the brokered convention that led to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup for men in Russia (reasonable enough) and the 2022 World Cup coming up in Qatar, that world powerhouse in the hot desert.
That convention was marked by packets of American $100 bills to buy the votes of delegates.
I believe the “A” in FIFA stands for Avarice.
Now FIFA is lusting to expand its men’s World Cup from 48 teams to 64, as soon as it can get away with it. This will somehow make more money for the friendly folks from FIFA, even if it guts the grand institution of qualifying regional tournaments, with quadrennial upsets of established teams.
What? You thought the cupidity and stupidity ended with the canning of goofy old Sepp Blatter? There’s more where he came from. (Now there is talk of starting a permanent super-team league in Europe; these people must hate their own sport.)
What does this catalogue of avarice have to do with the 13-0 goalfest by Alex Morgan and her teammates? Plenty. Expansion produced the one-sided match.
To be fair to FIFA, it did create a women’s World Cup in 1991, with 12 teams in China, and the United States winning. FIFA recognized the talent and desire to play on the part of women, and the WWC challenged nations that treated women as second-rate citizens in sports as well as more important ways. The WWC spurred FIFA to expand to 16 and then to 24 in 2015.
Group play was sometimes ragged, but as nations caught on, there were more competitive teams. The United States – boosted by Title IX legislation plus the appeal of women’s sports – won three of the first seven World Cups, but never lacked for worthy opponents.
Veterans of early World Cups will not forget the vigilance of Linda Medalen, an Oslo cop, who anchored the back line and loved to beat up on the Yanks. Or Ann-Kristen Aarones whose header provided an early lead in the 1995 semifinal, won by Norway. Or the Chinese stalwarts who pushed the U.S. into a shootout in the 1999 finals. Or Birgit Prinz who anchored the German team in 2003 that knocked out the U.S. in the semifinals, or Marta, the gunner who scored twice in Brazil’s 4-0 victory over the U.S. in the 2007 final, or Homare Sawa, the smooth Japanese midfielder who sparked a shootout victory in the 2011 final.
The point is, nations have been shamed or inspired to upgrade women’s soccer, producing great players and dangerous teams – Sweden, Canada, and so on. But let’s be realistic: the women’s sport has produced rivalries and memories and technical skills but not the kind of depth that can fill out a competitive 24-team format.
Soccer doesn't lend itself to showing superfluous mercy. Plus, male World Cup defenders are big enough to fill up the field a bit more, nasty enough to grind down opponents and wily enough to kill the clock, to minimize losses, even to settle a few scores in the closing minutes (a memorable cheap shot by an Italian player against a Spanish opponent in 1994) plus operatic swoons by the divas of the male game (women do not dive, essentially.)
The women stay on their feet, and they keep on playing, which led to that 13-0 mismatch the other day. I read a story in the Times by Hannah Beech, the great correspondent in Bangkok, about the impact of that loss. Life went on, she reported.
As clearly seen in the opener, the U.S. has waves of talent, worthy of Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach and so many other stars of past World Cups. But down the line, they are going to meet opponents with the swagger of Medalen or the talent of Prinz or the poise of Sawa or the opportunism of Marta.
Save your scorn for FIFA as it lusts for a totally unnecessary 64-team World Cup, as soon as the barons of FIFA can slip it in.
Only a few months ago, Tony Major was playing 3-on-3 basketball in an over-75 tournament.
He could get off his feet, could pop jump shots from the corner. Sent videos back north so his friends could see.
He was an athlete and an actor and now a teacher and documentarian at the University of Central Florida, working on a film about Trayvon Martin.
He was looking forward to June 17, when he would rejoin some old baseball teammates from Hofstra, when their 1960 team will be inaugurated into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Instead, Tony passed suddenly on May 27, at 79. We just heard about it, and a lot of us who knew him back in the day are gutted by this news.
Tony made a quickie visit to campus last October, after half a century. He spent part of the day with old jock friends, another part getting a tour of the new communications building from two nice officials and also visiting the playhouse where he had learned to speak Shakespearean. We were all invigorated by his youthful presence.
At lunch, he told us about his life. We knew him as somebody who played three sports, but he felt Hofstra was not ready for a black quarterback and he was not big enough to star in basketball. He was a useful member of the 1960 baseball team that won the grand old Met Conference but could not play in the NCAA tournament because of exams.
A son of Florida, he had commuted every day to Long Island from Harlem where his mother now lived. He told us about how he gravitated to the great drama department, had tried out for roles in the annual Shakespeare Festival.
Laughing at the memory, he described how a black man from the South had learned to shape his speech into the cadence and pronunciations of Shakespearean English. But he did it. And he kept acting, in the city at first. Later, he graduated from New York University Tisch School of The Arts and also taught film production and producing at NYU for two semesters.
His baseball ability and knowledge got him a minor role as the backup catcher in the 1973 movie “Bang the Drum Slowly.” He saw young Robert De Niro playing a dying catcher, crouching behind the batter, extending his hands too far. Tony told us how he had passed along some tips about not getting fingers broken by the bat or a foul tip.
He moved to Hollywood, playing some bit parts, but also learning about television production. One year he worked with the Dolly Parton show – and raved to me about her intelligence and kindness.
And then he moved to Florida, where the university was expanding in Orlando. He began making documentaries, often with an African-American theme. He married late, a woman from Africa, and they had two children, both still in school.
“That’s why I’m still working,” he said, laughing.
He had so much going on, and now he was reconnecting with some old teammates, plus me, a student publicist who sometimes traveled with the baseball team.
Tony had a gentle soul, did not hide the sting of stereotypes. He felt he was used as a pinch-runner in baseball when he could have played more. He recalled road trips to the Mason-Dixon Line, circa 1960, when black players were restricted in the team hotel. And after that, he created a joyous persona, a productive life and career.
Early this year, Tony sent me some photos and videos of the over-75 basketball tournament in Florida. There he was, off his feet, getting a rebound, putting it back in. And there he was guarding Sid Holtzer, a former Hofstra basketball player, also still in good shape.
In one staged photo, Tony was waving his hand in Sid’s face. Sid never liked that, Tony said. Still didn’t. He giggled at his own mischief.
We were looking forward to his next trip north, on the 17th. Instead, there was a funeral on June 8 in Orlando. If there is any lesson to this, it is: reconnect with old friends sooner, and treasure them.
* * *
Note: Sid Holtzer, another athlete and friend from Hofstra, attended the service and thoughtfully sent photos from the program.
(From the University of Central Florida:)
In 1869, a group of civic-minded women opened a home for older people, on the island of Manhattan. The leader was Hannah Newland Chapin, wife of Edwin Chapin, a noted Universalist minister in New York. The motto of the Chapin Home was: “What is your need‚ not your creed.”
In 1910, the home was moved to the glacial spine of Queens, where it remains to this day.
My mother, May Spencer, wrote about the Chapin Home as a reporter, and later Society Editor, of the Long Island Press in Queens. The home was on familiar turf -- right down the block from the beautiful new Jamaica High School, where my mom had been in the first group of students in 1927.
The Chapin Home obviously made an impression on our mom. When we began to suggest that she needed more care than she was getting, alone, in the big old house where she had lived since 1925, she was having none of it.
However, she allowed as how she had found the Chapin Home to be a nice place when she was a young reporter. And when it became necessary, our mom spent most of the last years of her life in the Chapin Home.
For the past month, the Chapin Home has been celebrating its 150th anniversary. How many institutions last that long?
Well, in that same year, with the wounds of the Civil War so visible, when these civic-minded woman built a rest home, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in New York City; the “golden spike" was driven in Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad; the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first fully professional baseball team. (Jesse James robbed his first bank that year, Happy anniversary, Jesse.)
And the Chapin Home is still going strong. I heard about a sesquicentennial party last Friday and accepted an invitation. But first, I consulted my siblings about their memories of Mom in Chapin. We all agreed that Mom’s formidable intelligence and strong will had given the staff a good challenge. One of the caretakers – I believe with a lilting Trinidadian accent – had nicknamed Mom “City Hall.” You know – you can’t tell City Hall anything.
My sister Liz recalled how the staff would make sure Mom was dressed for a ride in her wheelchair down the block to Jamaica High and how Mom would sit in Goose Pond, across the street, and tell about her days at Jamaica.
Liz’s husband, Rich, has fond memories of the weekly Catholic Mass there, and the musical entertainment – and how he would dance with some of the “showgirls” who lived at Chapin.
My sister Jane recalled how “staff members were so welcoming, and helpful,” and how other residents became Mom's friends - and ours. “What a blessing it was for her to spend her final years there,” Jane said.
My brother Chris remembered how the staff “showed loving humanity,” particularly a caretaker named Delva (still at Chapin) who “called me several times in Mom's early days at Chapin, either telling me what was most disturbing Mom or placing me in telephone contact with her.”
And my wife recalled how the staff made it easy for her to sit with my mom in her final weeks, and play opera on the CDs, and how other residents would visit the room, for the music as well as to give support.
With these memories fresh in my notebook, I went back to Chapin last Friday and met Kathy Ferrara, the director of activities‚ volunteers and spiritual care, a friendly face from Mom’s time. I also ran into Janet Unger, the former administrator, now retired, and Jennifer McManamin, now the chief administrator. I felt great energy and purpose from all the staff.
Nearly 17 years later, the main hall, under a bright skylight, seemed like home -- full of residents, many in wheelchairs, or with walkers, the clientele as diverse as Queens itself. After lovely music by a harpist, Chapin honored seven residents as centenarians – 100 years or older – and three others who are 99, including Frances Cottone, who wore her red Marines cap, having served stateside during World War Two.
(Local Fox News, Channel 5, did a nice feature on the centenarians)
After a few short talks, the staff distributed birthday cake, while a pretty singer entertained with American standards – Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, plus Tom Jobim’s “Corcovado,” in Portuguese. I later looked up the singer, Hilary Gardner, and discovered she is very active in jazz circles, in New York, Europe and elsewhere – and has a very interesting web site.
Some residents smiled and applauded the music; others just took it in. A few ladies danced in place, or with a few young male attendants, and Kathy Ferrara, alert and smiling, just as I remembered her, danced with several women. (She even got me up on my feet for a few minutes for my vague approximation of the lindy.)
Visiting my mom for five years demystified aging for me. On my return, I remembered how hard the staff worked, how they kept the Chapin Home clean and positive. I have no illusions about the daily routine back in the residential wing -- the care needed by the ill and the elderly, the hard work, the constant upbeat attitude.
Memories of my mom flooded back: sharing her mid-day meal, looking out her window at Joe Austin Park (named for an epic youth coach in Jamaica, an honor bestowed by one of his star athletes, named Mario Cuomo.) Coming back, years later, I felt very much at home.
(updated Sunday morning)
*- It’s a sad thing to have no team in soccer, but I don’t.
*- Modern man. Just cannot commit.
*- Don't get me wrong: I know the pain of rooting, inasmuch as my only professional club is the eccentric New York Mets. And I learned all about angst from my first team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. (I also root for my alma mater, Hofstra, in basketball.)
*- I’m retired from the paper and am allowed to root, but I have no soccer club, a failing that gets in the way of enjoying the Champions League. I have infatuations -- AC Milan with Baresi and Gullit, et al, Chelsea when Drogba carried them on his strong back, Barcelona for the "Dutch" way they moved the ball, West Ham, after spending a few days in 2003, reporting an admirable attempt to include new Muslim neighbors as fans. But I have no lasting loyalty.
*- I do root for the U.S. and Italy in the Men’s World Cup and for the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup. I love World Cups. I almost always pick a team in any match I watch. But Champions League finals leave me melancholy, adrift. I have no team.
*- True, my mother was born in Liverpool, but always insisted “We were really from Southampton.” My wife once sat next to John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox and Liverpool, at a baseball dinner in Boston, and enjoyed chatting with the rather reserved man. And our grandson has rooted for Liverpool since he was a tyke. But I still don't root.
*- My Arsenal pals told me they could see themselves rooting for Liverpool rather than “that bunch” from Tottenham. It’s a North London thing.
*- There is a theory about cup competition that when English clubs meet, they play each other into a stupor because they know each other so well. However, I saw Chelsea drub Arsenal, 4-1, on Wednesday (in the company of my sickened Arsenal pals) and familiarity certainly did not inhibit Chelsea.
*- I was thinking about that theory on Saturday when Tottenham met Liverpool in the Champions League final. In the very first minute, Tottenham was called for a handball, and Liverpool converted, injecting tension into the match, for all fans, including neutrals like me.
*- I had no problem with the call by the Slovenian referee, no doubt backed up by officials with access to a television. The unfortunate Tottenham player, Moussa Sissoko, was caught with his arm extended, the ball skidding from chest to upper arm. His violation was not as blatant as the handball by Germany’s Torsten Frings that robbed the U.S. of a goal in the 2002 quarterfinal, but the ref got this one right.
*- Both teams had forwards familiar to fans around the world – Mo Salah of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham. I like them both. Some stars (Roberto Baggio of Italy, Mia Hamm of the USA) hated to take penalty kicks. Salah approached his task with something close to a smile on his face, and positive body language – and he drilled a shot into the corner.
*- Thereby, Mo seized the match before it was 2 minutes old. Salah, an Egyptian, whose sunny and mature presence has won over Liverpool fans, continually put pressure on the Tottenham defense, running at them to keep them busy, as Liverpool won, 2-0. In my opinion, he was the Man of the Match (a lovely soccer tradition.)
*- One other observation of the match: English fans defy stereotypes, inasmuch as Liverpool and Tottenham -- at least the ones who could corner tickets and get to Madrid -- seemed quite mixed in origin.
*- I found myself furious with the pre-match “concert” – angry-looking blokes pounding on their instruments and shouting – on the tube, from the stadium, before the match. Does TNT not believe in the tension of a stadium rapidly filling up, with fans chanting and singing, and the field being prepared, as the dozens of commentators are yakking it up? Why a freaking concert? If I wanted to watch that stuff, I would.
*- None of this adds up to much insight about the match. As I typed this Saturday afternoon, I was concerned with whether Jacob DeGrom of the Mets could get back to his high level later in Arizona.
*- DeGrom pitched well for 6 innings as I fell asleep. I woke up Sunday morning and the first thing I did was click on the score and discover the hideous Mets bullpen had blown the game in the 11th inning. I am now in a foul mood, probably much like Tottenham fans, or my Arsenal pals the other day.
*- So, yes, I do know fan anxiety.
My Buckner/Mookie column is back in The New York Times today, nearly 33 years after I wrote it….and rewrote it….in a manic press box on a hectic Sunday morning.
Poor Bill Buckner has passed at 69 and the Times paid him the honor of an obituary by Daniel E. Slotnik and a salute by Tyler Kepner and the NYT also resurrected my column through the glories of digital memory.
Having my column back “in print” is also an honor, bringing back memories of that crazy World Series. It recalls a time before the Web when papers had flotillas of sports columnists who were expected to be at major events and be able to type fast, with instant wisdom, for the next deadline for readers who would wonder what daily columnists like Daley or Lipsyte or Smith or Anderson or Berkow (later Rhoden, Araton, Roberts) thought.
This is, as I like to call it, ancient history.*
It seems like yesterday, that Saturday night in the press box. I had written a column for the early Sunday paper (in fact, the bulk of the print run) based on my meandering through New England on Friday, after the fifth game in Boston. My “early” column was written to make sense, no matter what transpired in the game late Saturday night. I was not predicting, merely musing.
So I wrote about how, with a 3-2 lead, the Boston sports radio was squawking and gargling and screaming including how Bill Buckner’s ankles were shot and manager John McNamara should get Dave Stapleton in for defense – tortured Cassandras who saw the truth about to fall on their heads.
I wrote my early column about Boston’s feeling of doom, even with a lead in the Series. I tied it to lingering Calvinist New England gloom, and the historically unfortunate sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918, but at no point in my column did I refer to any “Curse of the Bambino.”
The Red Sox had a lead on Saturday night and I can still see their players edging up the dugout steps, eager to celebrate, and the scoreboard briefly showed a message of congratulations to the visitors, but then the flower pot of history fell off the upper-story window ledge onto Boston’s head and, the assembled journalists commenced pecking away on our rudimentary computers, rewriting whatever we had written about Boston finally exorcising the ghosts of failures past.-xx
Now there was a new failure. The great Dave Anderson compared the Mookie/Buckner moment to Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run off Ralph Branca – Dave knew those guys.
I wrote the version in the NYT today and then a dozen or so Times reporters began breathing again.
A novice news reporter, in the press box to help out, remarked that he was impressed by how fast we had rewritten our stories. Joe Vecchione, our sports editor who was supervising us in the press box, drily said (sounding like Clint Eastwood in the subsequent movie “The Unforgiven”) “We do it every day, kid.”
And you know what? We did do it every day, kid. It was a different world, including journalistically.
The seventh game was postponed when the miasma of rain settled over New York, but the teams resumed Monday night and the Mets rallied (people forget that) to beat the Sox to win the World Series and the legion of Times reporters wrapped it up. The headline on my column was “Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again.”
Please note: I am not that smart or inventive to pull that concept out of the dank air. Over the decades, people had laid the failures by the Sox upon the sale of Ruth. In October of 1986, this was not new news, was not instant insight.
Eighteen years later, my esteemed colleague Dan Shaughnessy, wrote a book about various Red Sox failures (including Bucky Freaking Dent and Aaron Freaking Boone.) The title was “The Curse of the Bambino,” and the phrase is all Dan’s.
How The Sox have become overlords of the American League is a 21st-Century story of talented ownership, management and players. The club stages magnificent ceremonies to honor the past, even the failures.
Bill Buckner was a gracious and familiar presence at baseball gatherings, as the obituary and Kepner’s column describe. The rising tide of Red Sox success floated Buckner’s rowboat. He deserved more decades, more salutes, as a superb player who had a bad moment.
*- Talk about ancient history. Sports Illustrated was just sold to some other company. It was once a giant that advanced marvelous writing and reporter. I gave up my subscription soon after I retired in 2011 -- didn’t even know it had gone biweekly.
xx- A day or so later, the great Vin Scully -- who had just made the marvelous call of the final play as heard in the video above -- was quoted as saying he had been surprised to hear New York sportswriters cheering in the press box. With all due respect, we were not cheering; we were gasping – oy! – at the Mookie-Buckner turn of events, and how we now had to re-write our earlier gems, which were poised to go out to the waiting world.
(Deconstructing the legend of "The Curse.")
By all accounts, Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson is a superb pediatric neurosurgeon with a grand career of service to his patients and their families.
However, Dr. Carson is something less of a whiz as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration.
Dr. Carson often gives the impression he has inhaled way too many toots of operating-room anesthesia. Why would anybody expose himself to such a public position when he has not bothered to learn or care anything about it, including the mandatory alphabet-soup of government terminology?
The Secretary contributed to a classic video on Tuesday during a House hearing, when Democrat representatives peppered him with caustic yet knowledgeable questions about poverty and wretched housing.
His willing appointment to HUD is a constant reminder of the scorn Trump and his fellow Republicans have for the department and for the needs of the poor. (Then again, this administration has been kidnapping migrant children, tossing them into cages, and covering up, always covering up, even when children die.)
By going from medicine to mendacity, Dr. Carson put himself in a position where he could be questioned by Rep. Katie Porter, in her first term from a formerly Republican district in Orange County, Calif. Rep. Porter, out of Yale and Harvard, is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and shows the same passion for others as well as attention to detail.
(A protégé like Rep. Porter is another reason fervent voters consider themselves members of the Warren Wing.)
Rep. Porter knows how government runs because she has worked in it, before running for office. She often does her best to get through five minutes of questioning of witnesses like Carson. She clearly cares about the poor; Carson seemed to be sleep-walking.
Several news stories on Tuesday said the Secretary was “humiliated” by the questions of Rep. Porter and other Democratic members of the committee, several of them African-American or Latina:.
The subcommittee members had the right to grill him because he is doing the dirty work for a political party and a disdainful slice of the (white) American population.
Trump wanted to show his contempt for the poor; he found his man. Ultimately, Trump drags everybody down. The real question is why Dr. Carson, who once had enough wits to repair damaged children, took such a prominent position. It cannot merely be the free-loading instincts he and many other cabinet members have demonstrated.
What was in this for Dr. Carson, to be exposed in such public fashion?
I've never seen “Game of Thrones.” Never saw “Dallas” or “Empire” or “Sex and the City” or "The Wire," for that matter.
This is not a value judgment. I do understand.
I’ve watched exactly one series since our children were home and we watched “M*A*S*H” and “All in the Family.”
I can relate to people who watch their compelling series because I fell hard for “The Sopranos,” oh, a few years back.
I schemed and plotted so I could be home in front of the tube on Sunday night to feel my blood grow cold and my breath constricted as Tony Soprano killed and lied and cheated -- and I rooted for him to survive.
My entire week was built around Tony and Carmela. I remember once on a drive through the Appalachians, stopping at motels until, on a converted strip mine above Hazard, Ky., I found one place that had “HBO.”
(In my fevered mind, Tony and Carmela moved to Boca Raton, had their identities and fingerprints altered, and are sitting by the pool, safe, grandparents and churchgoers.)
Enjoy your obsession. I have a few of my own – The Mets are the only team I watch (may have to reconsider this season), and I also watch high-end soccer (The Women’s World Cup from France, this summer.)
I have also watched more hours of The Bureau of Wishful Thinking (i.e. MSNBC) than was good for me. Every morning I wake up and find the Times on my doorstep and realize that guy and his cohorts were still here.
Lately, I've been reading more, and listening to classical music. Just to stay sane. And for the past few years we have forced ourselves to stay awake until the cold opening of “Saturday Night Live.”
After decades, I have gone back to “SNL” because….because….it is still there, having just concluded its 44th season last night.
Entire careers on “SNL” came and went while I was on the road or staying up late with friends, but lately I have revived memories of our kids being home and watching Gilda and Steve and Bill and Dan and Chevy (and in some blip of time more recently, the brilliant Tina Fey.)
I understand TV obsessions because lately I have had mine – watching Alec Baldwin or Ben Stiller or Robert DeNiro do guest riffs, impersonating people in the news.
“SNL” is terribly uneven – a lot of spoofs of game shows or social situations I do not claim to understand, and “musicians” who mostly hop around and point their fingers.
But sometimes it catches fire. One of the best shows – maybe ever – was in early March when John Mulaney took over the 90 minutes, with his own monologues and even busting some moves and cool as a white guy at a black music party.
The overdue arrival of black performers and black perspective has sustained me in recent years. I loved Chance the Rapper and cast members doing a soul song called “Come Back, Barack,” with a bittersweet take.
If my wife or I doze off during the show, we wake each other for the “Weekend Update” with Colin Jost and Michael Che because they often serve as straight men, letting talented cast members go wild.
My real obsession is Kate McKinnon, who fearlessly shifts from foul-mouthed, cigarette-puffing harpies to evil garden trolls with sparse hair and menacing grins like Jeff Sessions and Rudy Giuliani.
Other times she is absolutely beautiful. For me, she is advancing into Gilda-and-Tina territory. I fear the day she moves on, as most of them do.
Anyway, enjoy the finale of “Game of Thrones.” I understand.
I was poking around my iPod, listening to downloaded pop songs beginning with “M” – “Manha de Carnival” with Susannah McCorkle, “Manhata” with Caetano Veloso, The Dead’s version of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried’– and up popped “The Man in Black,” by Johnny Cash.
I was immediately nostalgic for the man, and the mood, his all-black outfits, and the coal-black eyes piercing the soul of the audience.
Where are you, man?
This became his signature song, performed for the first time at a concert at Vanderbilt University in 1971 – a time of anti-war and pro-civil rights fervor. He addressed some students in the audience, saying that a conversation, few days earlier, had prompted him to write this song, explaining why he wore only black out in public.
I want to add that I met Johnny Cash a few times – once backstage at the Opry in the old and beloved Ryman Auditorium, just a bunch of people hanging around, a few feet away from the live performance. He was just one of the people backstage – old Ernest Tubb, young Dolly Parton, vibrant Skeeter Davis, people just hanging and chatting.
When he produced a Jesus movie in the mid ‘70s, I interviewed him and June Carter at C.W., Post College where the movie was being showcased. Again, he was the most approachable and democratic star, talking about his faith as a baby Christian, but (a gigantic “but”), not patronizing or dogmatic. They were the nicest couple.
My wife and I saw them again at a rehearsal for the country awards at the new (and sterile) Opryland in the early 80s. He and June were smooching during a break in the rehearsals; Anne Murray, sitting nearby, locked eyes with my wife, and they smiled warmly, as if to say, “Get a room.” Johnny Cash and June Carter were in love.
Not long afterward, catching a red-eye in California, I saw him coming down an empty corridor, a big man in black, his eyes a zillion miles away. I most definitely did not say hello.
Anyway, I think I can say, having been around Johnny Cash a few times, and having listened to his work (his time-growing-short album, “American Songs”), that he had a feel for his country, the poor, the imprisoned, the people trying to get clean, the marginal and the diverse.
I think I can say he hated bullies and pretenders. He came from rural Arkansas and he knew cities and campuses, could talk with students at Vanderbilt, could take their questions and make a song out of them.
I wish he were writing songs today, in the time of The Man in Orange.
* * *
(Just in case you are not into Johnny Cash’s voice, here are his lyrics.)
Man In Black
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.
Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.
Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black
Songwriters: Johnny Cash
Man In Black lyrics © BMG Rights Management
As a rabid fan of only one team – in all sports – I admit I find a perverse pleasure in watching the Mets suffer with Jeff McNeil in the lineup.
This poor franchise has tried hard to marginalize him but in their drunk-stumbling-across-Queens-Boulevard-safely manner, they are stuck with him on the daily batting card.
As of Saturday morning, this late bloomer was batting .363 for the wobbly Mets. They keep stocking infielders and outfielders – Jed Lowrie's fabled arrival seems to be delayed; he’s never hit .300 in his life – while McNeil keeps defying the launch-arc wisdom that the stat wizards in the back room have foisted on managers and players.
The Mets showed a glimmer of hope early in the season when some of the hitters seemed to be listening to the old-school batting coach, Chili Davis, who told them it was really physically possible to flick the bat and make contact with the ball and put it where the fielders ain't (homage to Wee Willie Keeler. Look him up, kids.)
Lately the lads have been locked into their launch-arc stroke but McNeil keeps putting the ball in play in Wee-Willie territory.
The other day, Howie Rose, the Queens boy who has been calling games on the radio for centuries now, was rhapsodizing about McNeil, saying – on the air! – that McNeil is a “throwback” who is more of a credit to the real game than the launch-arc flailers. Good on Howie.
McNeil took a long time to make it through the Mets’ farm system. That happens. But when a guy hits .329 in 63 games in 2018, does he have to be treated like a supersub deep into the new season?
Not only that, but my friend Jerry, who played second base in the minors, tells me that McNeil was quite fine at second base late last season. Then the Mets got Robinson Cano, after his juiced-up years.
Maybe the Mets are still evolving under the strange combination of Brodie Van Wagonen, the reforming agent learning the general manager business, and Mickey Callaway, who comes off in New York as The New Art Howe. (I miss Terry Collins.)
Bear in mind, I am not around the team, don’t know the people or the gossip, but I watch and listen to a lot of Mets games and occasionally look at the web or read the tabloids so I can find the daily news on the Mets. This is essentially a fan’s rant.
Keep slapping the ball where they ain’t, Jeff McNeil.
Mid-day is a great time for reruns, oldies and goodies.
On a cool May Day, I turned on the tube in late morning, highly unusual for me, and there he was, a blast from the past, blustering through touchy moments: Jackie Gleason, The Great One, resorting to a law-school version of his old “Honeymooners” filibuster:
“Homina, Homina, Homina.”
Gleason used to get caught out on his obfuscations – the camera did it lavishly – but there on national and probably worldwide television was the Attorney General of the United States resorting to time-killing phrases, to while away the 5-minute chunks of time.
Sometimes the old blatherer could not escape. Sen. Diane Feinstein asked him about testimony in the Mueller report that Donald J. Trump asked his legal counsel to change his story about being ordered to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“That’s not a crime,” Gleason/Barr said.
The hearing is being covered in the great newspapers that have been coming up with daily news about this seedy administration, and is also echoed on the networks, (Even Fox: see the above video. The Murdochites wrote a headline that said Barr “Embarrasses” Feinstein. Really?)
The Democrat questioners could not fathom why somebody who once had a decent reputation would now cast his fate as a lackey for Trump. Barr gave no clue. There seems to be nothing there, not a twinge of conscience. Was there ever anything more to him?
The Republican questioners – particularly Sen. Lindsey Graham, lost without his big brother John McCain -- seemed more intent on trying former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the heinous e-mail offenses she may have committed, now three and four years ago.
Barr’s cheeks puffed up as Sen. Mazie Hirono said he had lied, and that he did not seem concerned that Trump had urged his counsel to lie.
We all can see that Trump has bad judgment in his choice of lawyers, on his "Where's my Roy Cohn?" crusade, seeking the vile creature who aided Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The best Trump can do are Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, his own personal bums-of-the-month.
Now he has the Attorney General of the United States – theoretically, the lawyer for the people, according to the Constitution -- covering for him. On national television. In mid-day. More vital than reruns, but sad, terribly sad, that Trump has lowered the country to this.
All championships are miracles, somewhere, if you think about it.
Even if a team assembles a lineup full of Galácticos and runs away with a championship, it seems like a miracle for that time, that place, those athletes, those fans.
But here in New York, the Greatest Little Town in the World, we know that our miracles are bigger and better, more stupendous than any other miracles, just because.
Take 1969 – precisely 50 years ago, when the Amazing Mets won everything, which is why there is a year-long (more, in the planning) of celebrations and evocations and memorials, to say nothing of a one-event boom in the publishing industry, just as there was in 1970.
I have just read – and enjoyed -- two of the lunar tide of books cresting this spring.
One is “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History,” by Wayne Coffey.
See what I mean about New York being the center of the universe?
Coffey’s book is delightful because it replays the surprising surge by a franchise known for its goofy, even charming, failures. (Casey Stengel! Marvelous Marv! Bedsheet banners!)
Coffey also catalogues how the Mets firmed up before our unbelieving eyes under the talents and Marine steeliness of manager Gil Hodges and franchise superstar Tom Seaver. Some reporters (me) never believed it until Cleon Jones caught the last out and went to one knee in what only could be construed as prayer.
But….the very best part of Coffey’s book is the work he did nearly half a century after the fans stopped ripping up the Shea lawn for souvenirs. Coffey, it turns out, was a schoolboy playing hooky, in that scrum, on that day of days. Later he became a good and versatile reporter for The New York Daily News. Now he writes books…and works at them.
I loved, absolutely loved, catching up with people I knew half a century ago. Coffey discloses a previous link between Hodges and the mid-season acquisition, Donn Clendenon, who has posthumously become a more vital part of those Mets. Also, Coffey discloses that Clendenon was mentored at Morehouse College by a graduate named Martin Luther King, Jr., and was often a guest in the King home.
By 1969, Clendenon was also a salty vet who hit the Met clubhouse motor-mouthing, heckling everybody, the way the 60s Pirates had done. He told Gil Hodges, Jr., the teen-age son of the manager, to man up and defy his Marine dad. Gilly was wise enough to tell Clendenon: no way.
Coffey pays attention to the bigger picture – Karl Eberhardt, the self-proclaimed Little Old Signmaker in the stands, and Jane Jarvis, the hip jazz musician who played the Shea organ with wit and talent, and two batboys from my high school (the late, lamented Jamaica High) who were mentored by Joe Austin, Mario Cuomo’s legendary amateur coach.
With Shakespearean breadth, Coffey describes the major players and also the Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns of the Amazing Mets. Yes, it was a miracle.
The other book I have read is “Here’s the Catch: a Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More.” If the book sounds like Rocky, earnestly thundering to epic catches and humiliating gaffes, that is because he has been writing it on his own for a while. He describes himself as an average-IQ human and middle-of-the-pack major leaguer but his curiosity and zest have made him much more, over the years.
Rocky, going on 75 and vibrant, tells about departed teammates and soul mates like Tug McGraw and Ed Charles and Tommie Agee – guys with whom he competed and talked and drank and ate ribs and gallivanted.
Having known him since he was a teen-ager in Met camp in 1965, I know Rocky to be an autodidact (one year of being a jock in college) who often demonstrates his eclectic tastes. He follows the music of the Marsalis Family of his adopted home of New Orleans, and he also mentions classical music…and the Globe Theatre of Shakespearean time….and Jackson Pollock…and Monet….and Don DeLillo and so on. He means it. That is Rocky.
Maybe the best part of Swoboda’s book is growing up in a working-class neighborhood of Baltimore – relatives with tempers and guns and wit and opinions, two of them working in the morgue, pulling gory pranks on cops. Then there was the family flasher. Plus, the Chinese cook his earthy grandmother married, who smoked and drank and drove erratically and taught him how to make and eat Chinese food.
Swoboda writes about his lovely redheaded wife, Cecilia, and how Casey and Edna Stengel, childless, fussed over the Swobodas’ first-born, and his active scorn for the Vietnam War and the instant rapport when he visited the troops over there, very close to combat.
He laments behaving like a jackass toward Hodges, who was not just resolute with big hands but also a wily manager. All sports memoirs should be this earnest, this real.
On my incoming table are books by Art Shamsky about 1969, plus Ron Darling’s book, mostly about 1986, which was, of course, another miracle.
They all are, but some are more miraculous than others.
After months of home-repair madness, it was a treat to spend a quiet Easter at home. Then the pinging began on the phone.
I was puttering around, trying to restore order from the detritus of repairs. Marianne made a delicious vegetable-and-chicken soup.
New England: Easter Egg Atelier checks in
WNYC-FM was playing weekly jazz show. Two versions of "April in Paris," first by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, then by Count Basie ("one more -- once") Homage to the stricken Cathedral de Notre-Dame. Mel Torme. Bob Dylan. An American blues singer acing a song. Not American, my wife said. It's Adele. As always, she was right.
While Notre Dame was burning on Monday, several American commentators referred to the book, and subsequent movie, “Is Paris Burning?” – about the German general who allegedly disobeyed Hitler’s orders to level the city during the retreat of 1944.
The cathedral is a geographical center for France, and the beating heart of Paris to all of us who visit and love it -- or even have the privilege of living there for a month here and there.
We took our three children to Paris in April of 1975, almost immediately visiting Notre Dame, where our youngest fell in love with the gargoyles who still broodingly guarded over the city, even as flames raged on Monday. On that family trip, three decades after the War, we talked about World War Two, grateful that this beautiful city, this beautiful cathedral, had survived.
On Monday, les pompiers, the firefighters, controlled the blaze. Paris was burning. Of course, people thought about the book and the movie.
However, when I went to the Web, I realized there is considerable historical debate about whether General Dietrich von Choltitz overtly acted to save Paris or merely dragged his feet, while saving his own life and shoring up one tattered corner of his reputation. Did the general really say no?
"If he saved only Notre Dame, that would be enough reason for the French to be grateful," the general's son, Timo, told a British newspaper in 2004. "But he could have done a lot more.”
The general’s alleged act of refusal and respect for a glorious city – perhaps self-aggrandizement -- comes up sometimes when conscience is the subject. From my American perspective, I immediately linked the survival of Paris, the endurance of the cathedral on the Île de la Cité, with overt acts of terror and torture perpetrated by Donald Trump on the border with Mexico.
Who says no? Who follows the law? Who cares for fellow humans? The legend of a general who participated in the Holocaust, is back in the ozone, revived by the horrible fire.
We want to be grateful to a German general who may have said “No,” but there are so many questions. He said he acted out of military prudence, as a trained general, who surely considered himself above the unskilled, ignorant, raving “leader.”
Germany of the ‘30s never had enough leaders who could say “no.” Does any nation have enough people in positions of power, responsibility, who can muster the inner strength to say no?
This is a very current debate for those Americans who now consider the military – the tradition of service, adherence to law – as one of the last strengths of the nation.
Who will say no? I am reminded of this every time I see videos of one of Trump’s people, Kirstjen Nielsen, sighing patronizingly when questioned by (Democratic) representatives about putting children in cages. Soon afterward she was pushed out by Trump for not doing enough to separate and harm (torture, if you will) les misérables on our borders.
The urge to survive, by Gen. von Choltitz might have helped save Paris in 1944. Is inaction enough when evil orders are given? Who will say no?
* * *
There is a current art exhibit in Washington, D.C., that I am hoping to see -- “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Holland Cotter in The New York Times calls it “protest art” from the American point of view.
But the “second, smaller” part of the show I most want to see is “Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue,” a view of the Vietnam War era through Vietnamese eyes – “far more than a mere add-on,” as Cotter put it.
The Vietnamese people experienced that war – in some ways 180 degrees differently -- but it is safe to say all suffered.
In 1991 I visited “post-war” Vietnam with a small group involved in child care. My wife was doing vital volunteer work by frequently visiting India but she also visited Thailand and the Philippines. I joined her on the trip to Vietnam to deliver goods to a hospital and visit facilities in both “North” and “South” Vietnam.
I was most definitely not there to work or act like a journalist, but I could not help looking and listening to how “The American War” had impacted Vietnamese lives.
Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City: We met a doctor doing complicated surgery. He let us gown up and observe a complicated facial procedure done by a visiting American doctor, the mutual language in the operating room being French.
We got to spend enough time with the doctor to learn he had been on the “wrong” side when the North took over, and was sent to a camp deep in the countryside. I gathered that his family had assets, and he had a great reputation, and he was released from the camp and allowed to resume his profession, refreshing his skills at major hospitals in Asia. He was an asset.
In a relaxed social setting, the conversation got around to how he was able to put the war behind him, to function, to move on. I totally paraphrase his answer; it has been a long time, after all. He said you cannot live in the past, you have to get back to “normal” as smoothly and quickly as possible.
When I (subtly, I hope) asked about the lost years in the camps, he showed no bitterness. He was still a surgeon, putting people back together again. Life went on.
Hanoi Region. We worked our way up north (baguettes and coffee on the beach; ancient ethnic villages; a growing crafts shop outside Da Nang) and we flew to Hanoi. On a chilly day, we took a jitney out to visit a rural orphanage. Our interpreter was a woman around 30 who worked in the sciences and was fluent in English. I happened to sit next to her.
Far into the countryside, I noticed circular ponds scattered on the flat land. I asked the interpreter what the waterholes were for – fishing? rice? source of irrigation?
Actually, she said, with no trace of emotion or agenda, they were holes left over from bombs. She did not mention Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger or the “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong in late December of 1972.
She remembered, she said casually, living at a school, and hearing the bombs, and later discovering children her age had been killed or injured. I did not ask any other questions.
The orphanage was shabby, but the workers were doing the best they could. They let us hold children as we walked around. They had a handle on each child, would not release children for adoption if relatives claimed them. We were bringing some aid, and people were courteous.
A young worker pointed at my ball cap, from the 1990 World Cup, and he said, “Maradona,” and I gave him the cap. And then we flew on.
Now I read about the show at the Smithsonian about the remaining terrible divisions in the United States over the Vietnam War. I hope to see that show, as well as its companion piece about Vietnamese reaction to the American War – “more than an add-on,” indeed.
Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue:
My past articles about John McCain, American hero, and Vietnam:
My article about the excellent crafts shop outside Da Nang:
The Old Man.
I found myself thinking about The Old Man Friday night – how Casey Stengel always talked about The Youth of America, which was on its way, in 1962 and 1963 and 1964 and 1965 before he broke his hip, and time ran out on his gig, creating the New York Mets.
Casey would talk about young players as if they were the raffish hitch-hikers of the time, all gone to look for America, with live arms and fast feet and power and eyesight to “hit the ball over a building.”
For every young hopeful who put on a uniform, Casey indulged in wishful thinking that he would be ready to play for the Amazing (But Horrible) Mets.
“They ain’t failed yet,” Casey would say.
Ed Kranepool (above) was one of the first, a New York kid who signed and played a bit in the Mets’ first season, and turned out quite well. But dozens of the Youth of America never got to the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium. Then, in 1969, Gil Hodges managed Seaver and Koosman and Ryan and all the others who won the improbable World Series, which we will celebrate all season.
Full of memories of that infant season, I watched Chris Hayes on MSNBC Friday evening, hosting a “town hall” of sorts, starring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York. She is smart and idealistic and impertinent and disarmingly candid, allowing as how the voters might “kick me out in two years.”
AOC – as she is now known – talked up the Green New Deal, which combines ecology with medical care with economic parity. (I recently heard her say that, at 29, she had gained health insurance for the first time when she was sworn into Congress in January.)
When prodded on Friday, she could be realistic about picking the right battles first. She also told some lout in the audience who had heckled another speaker that his words were “unacceptable.”
In that moment of truth, she channeled John McCain rather than the seedy bully temporarily soiling the office of the Presidency.
AOC is the Youth of America. So is Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman from Orange County, Cal. They both have distinguished themselves by being prepared in committee hearings, by asking questions. (Porter is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Does it show?)
Reps. Porter and Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress unspoiled, able to put together 5-minute skeins of questions, backed up with research and logic and direction. They have not acquired the bad habits of mossbunkers of both parties, who waste their 5 minutes by talking about themselves.
Check out Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as she probed the great new American truth-teller Michael Cohen about the business practices of his former mentor and protector, Donald Trump.
Check out Rep. Porter as she probes the head of Equifax, like the prosecutor she used to be. The guy undoubtedly makes a ton of money for making tons of money for his shareholders, but about 15 seconds into the questioning he got the look of a lazy-minded fish that has bit into the wrong morsel.
For the past two years, we have watched inarticulate and servile slugs like Rep. Devin Nunes doing Trump’s dirty business. Now smart young women have arrived in Congress. They may strike out a lot. They may not last. But right now they are outplaying the sloppy old veterans.
They ain’t failed yet.
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning architecture expert, writing about ballparks, past and present?
What a way to start the season.
An advance copy of Paul Goldberger's book, “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” to be published by Knopf in May, kept me sane through certain other events in the past week. I learned about ballparks I had never seen, and I learned about ballparks I have loved, or not loved.
Ballparks are quirky, just like ballgames. Each one – at least now that the Cookie-Cutter Era is over – has its own human follies, like the alternating Sun Deck/Moon Deck at the funky (and vastly under-rated, Goldberger tells us) Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
Goldberger, who has graced The New York Times and the New Yorker with his perceptions, says David Remnick, the sports maven who runs The New Yorker, encouraged him to write about the two very different new ballparks in New York in 2009.
This forthcoming book follows the new Yankee Stadium in the “theme park” category and the erratic jumble of references and conceits of the Mets’ ball park, known to me as New Shea.
He manages to give us a primer on urban architecture – how baseball thrived in the 19th Century when new urban dwellers appreciated the rus in urbe of a green spot in a smoky city.
This is not your normal baseball book, not with Goldberger praising urban planners like Andrew Jackson Downing, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted – my wife’s master’s degree paper -- who dedicated Central Park to leisure and beauty rather than sports. (The softball fields sneaked in later.)
Goldberger follows the urban ballparks that grew bigger, moved from wood to stone and steel, some even having a clue about architecture.
My greatest takeaway from this book is praise for the beauty of Ebbets Field, created by an architect, Clarence Randall Van Buskirk, who had to hide the blueprints in his jacket to keep Brooklynites from sussing out the land grab in a hilly section known as Pigtown.
We Dodger fans had a boisterous inferiority complex, and we compensated with weirdos who played musical instruments wretchedly and spoke in a language called Brooklynese.
Turns out, Goldberger said, Ebbets Field featured “arches and pilasters and large, Federal-style double-hung windows with multiple square panes. There were concrete gargoyles and bas-relief medallions of baseballs, showing a degree of wit…”
He adds that “if Van Buskirk’s well-crafted, carefully wrought façade resembled anything, it was a cross between a civic building and a handsome, turn-of-the-century factory building. In this factory, the ornamental detail made it clear that the product was baseball.”
Who knew? We thought it was a lovable dump.
Goldberger also praises the rather majestic and urbane Shibe Park, later Connie Mack Stadium, in North Philadelphia. I must have covered 100 games there, and never noticed. Goldberger loves the funkiness of Cincinnati, with its 4-foot-high hill in left field, and spacious Forbes Field amidst the museums and campuses of the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. He has good things to say about Tiger Stadium (which I never noticed) and praises the two icons, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with all the hexes of the teams and the fans. He speaks of a “golden age” of stadiums.
He is not as complimentary of the next stage – utilitarian, lookalike stadiums designed for the incompatible baseball and American football -- but praises the following stage, epitomized by Baltimore’s Camden Yards, with the factory behind right field.
Goldberger sounds downright dubious about the current trend, the Disneyfied faux urban gestures in downtown St. Louis and the new Braves complex, somewhere out there in the white ‘burbs, beyond the minimal Marta train system. Action. Reaction. Just like life, and history.
I was already killing time 'til the opening of the season, and now Goldberger’s book has raised my appreciation for (some of) the ballparks of North America. I haven’t found reason lately to visit the pretentious Yankeeland in the Bronx but I have made a few forays, admittedly closer to home, to the food courts and open spaces behind center field, with fish sandwiches and sausages—even if you can’t see the center fielder making a catch against the wall. Nothing’s perfect, and certainly not the Mets.
I’m looking forward to ballgames – plus paying more attention to ballparks, thanks to the master architecture critic, Paul Goldberger. Play ball.
Do you have a favorite ballpark, or one you couldn't stand, whether past or present?
* * *
About the book:
Here are two pieces I wrote for the excellent NYC real-estate site:
Two thoughts about Ichiro Suzuki, who just retired:
1. I can only speculate what would happen today if a player with similar skills arrived from Japan to the so-called Major Leagues. He might be turned over to the analytics types in their bat cave, who would "suggest" he could have more “pop” if only he had a better “launch arc.”
The numbers guy might see him produce long balls in batting practice – which he could do, any time – and insist he do the same during games.
The analytics crowd is currently retrofitting the new generation of hitters. I see how the Mets are doing their best to minimize Jeff McNeil, a late bloomer who made 74 hits and batted .329 in his debut last season, making him scramble for a utility job in the outfield.
Of course, Ichiro arrived in Seattle with the statistics of the greatest hit-producer in Japanese history. He also had the martial discipline of Sadaharu Oh, the greatest home-run producer in baseball history, who took time out to swing a Samurai sword to help him with his home-run cut.
Ichiro and Oh could do that because they had the security of a culture that prizes ritual and history.
Ichiro arrived in North America with his climate-control bat case and his pre-game snack of a rice ball. He was going to do things his way, and he had the advantage of a Japanese ownership with the Mariners. Nobody messed with him. He was already a force.
But young American hitters are hearing the “wisdom” of the age that is turning Major League Baseball into a dreary home-run derby, hard to watch, with players trudging impassively back from home plate with the secure knowledge they took their launch-angle cut, on orders from on high.
2. Ichiro was a force of his own, who would not have won a popularity contest in the clubhouse or the press box. He got along well with Ken Griffey, who traveled to Tokyo for Ichiro’s farewell -- superstars bonding via their respect for the game.
However, teammates noticed he never dived for a ball in the outfield and noticed his special care and handling in the clubhouse. He could speak street English in the dugout but maintained a reserve through an interpreter with reporters and other outsiders.
From the book "Life from the Press Box" by long-time Mariners beat reporter Jim Street:
“From the day Ichiro arrived from Japan, to the day I retired, he was exceedingly rude to American reporters, whether giving snide answers to good questions or making fun of ---‘s girth. I had one Japanese reporter tell me, ‘If you think he’s rude to you guys, he treats us even worse.’”
That said, Ichiro was a spectacle, to be observed and respected as one of a kind. His arm, his glove, his calculated speed on the base paths, his batting-practice homers and his gametime singles made him a legend.
Fans around the world got to see him excel at the highest level. And the launch-crowd types never got to mess with his swing. There’s that.
Three stories about Ichiro:
Birch Bayh called me at the Times about a decade ago. I was curious why a former US senator wanted to talk to a sports columnist, and of course I called him back.
Now I can’t remember the reason he called. His obituaries this week praise him as a major force on Title IX, which has enriched sports for women – for everybody – in America, but I don’t recall him presenting himself as the Title IX guy.
Whatever it was about, we schmoozed for a bit. I told him I had covered his re-election in 1970 and I determined that this son of Indiana was now living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
As long as we were chatting, I had a question for him. It went something like: “Senator, could I ask you a question about politics? I’m looking at all this Tea Party business, and it seems that some of the new members of Congress hate government, can’t even stand being in Washington, just want to shut things down.”
He was diplomatic, did not go fire-and-brimstone on me. After all, he was known as a very moderate Democrat; he had to be, to win in Indiana. But he allowed that he had never seen anything like the antipathy between Democrats and the new Republicans, wandering around brandishing mental pitchforks. He recalled with a tinge of sadness that he always had friends across the aisle.
That made me think about legendary friendships between Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, Dick Durbin and John McCain (once again being vilified by Donald Trump.)
On the phone, Birch Bayh sounded reflective, maybe even sad, recalling better political times, and then we said goodbye. But his brief comments fueled my sense that things were not as mean in the 1970s when I had a brief fling as a national correspondent. There were giants in those days, on both sides of the aisle.
I keep a mental list of Republicans I met, or covered, and admired, mostly from Appalachia and the border states I covered:
I covered the retirement announcement of Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, a thoughtful gentleman. (One of his aides back then was a young guy named Mitch McConnell, whom I consider one of the most empty and destructive people I have ever seen in public life.)
I ran around Tennessee one glorious September afternoon in 1972, covering the re-election campaign of Sen. Howard Baker, who was accompanied by his assistant, Fred Thompson. They were good company, rational people, and Baker became a giant during the Watergate proceedings.
When I lived in Louisville, Richard Lugar was a constructive Republican mayor of Indianapolis, just to the north on I-65; later he became a highly positive Senator.
Later, I observed Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during the baseball steroids hearings -- a thorough gentleman who later got sick of the nasty politics and retired.
In that same period, I spent an hour in the office of Sen. John McCain, during a hearing on Olympic reform, and I retain a strong impression of him as an American hero, despite Donald Trump’s blather – with no retort from Trump’s new best friend, Lindsey Graham. How far we have fallen.
* * *
Two farewells to Sen. Birch Bayh:
Two daughters who adored their fathers.
Julia Ruth Stevens died Saturday at 102. She was the adopted daughter of Babe Ruth and, as long as she lived, referred to him as “Daddy,” as Richard Goldstein notes in his masterful obituary.
Dan Jenkins, one of greatest sportswriters, died Thursday at 90. He was eulogized by many admirers in his business, the best coming from, of course, his daughter, Sally Jenkins, sports columnist at the Washington Post.
Sally, terrific writer that she is, described the hectic and eccentric life of a sports columnist who was usually at a golf tournament or football game when the family gathered for Thanksgiving and other holidays.
Her dad was as glib about the indignities of old age as he was about golfers who mis-read the terrain of the course. Sally tells about her dad wheeling himself down the hallway of the hospital heading toward a presumed quadruple heart bypass.
When he emerged, he was told he had needed only a triple.
"I birdied the bypass," he pronounced.
That’s it. I’m not going to try to duplicate the Jenkins family, father or daughter. Read Sally’s tribute to her dad. The Washington Post has a pretty strong paywall, bless its heart, but you might be able to read it there, or the Chicago Tribune. Or pay for it.
Plus, Bruce Weber’s excellent obit in the NYT:
Babe Ruth’s daughter also receives a brilliant tribute in the Monday NYT. She was the daughter of Babe’s wife, Clare Hodgson, and was adopted and treated royally, as a daughter by the gregarious, larger-than-life Babe.
No doubt she witnessed, and heard about, examples of Babe’s excesses, even after he stopped playing. As subtle as a diplomat, she discussed “Daddy” as she saw him – a man who made egg-and-salami sandwiches and took her golfing out in Queens. And when she started dating, he insisted she be home by midnight. Imagine: The Babe. Enforcing a curfew.
They lived on the Upper West Side, in a 14-room apartment; whenever I am in that neighborhood I envision The Babe, with a cap on his head, walking on Riverside Drive or thereabouts, just another West Side burgher.
She was an ambassador not only for “Daddy” but for baseball itself, waving to adoring crowds at the closing of “The House That Ruth Built,” waving to adoring crowds at Fenway Park, where The Babe first pitched shutouts and hit home runs.
When my alma mater, Hofstra University, held an academic conference on The Babe in 1995, she and her son, Tom Stevens, represented the Babe and gave out Babe Ruth bats to a few lucky people, including me.
But that’s enough from me.
Better you should read Richard Goldstein’s obituary of Mrs. Stevens:
It took a lovely post by a friend to remind me that Mardi Gras is about to morph into Ash Wednesday.
Bill Lucey, a writer and editor in Cleveland, puts out a thoughtful website about (a) baseball, (b) journalism, and (c) life itself. His post today is about how he should observe Lent this year. His examination of his faith should be read on its own, not in my paraphrasing:
Lucey's article prompted me to recall Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday from my own perspective, having been raised (and raised well) as a Roman Catholic. I know my two sisters and their families will be observing Lent. (We took two close relatives to our beloved Mama’s in Corona a few years back –during Lent -- and they had to pass up some of the glories of deli and pastry. Oy. That is faith.)
Today’s post by my colleague prompted two memories:
1. As the oldest of five, I was fortunate to walk to church on some weekdays with my Irish-born grandmother, always in black. Sometimes she would take me to a luncheonette on Jamaica Ave., for breakfast after church – but maybe not during Lent. I don’t remember.
(Kids, ask questions of your grandparents…and your parents. Get their views, their histories.)
2. My most vivid memory of Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday is from 1971, when I was a news reporter for the NYT, based in Louisville. I had just covered my first coal-mine disaster, in Hyden, Ky., and was still reporting on it.
On Feb. 23, however, I was in central Tennessee, covering a story on an army base. I had no clue about Mardi Gras until I had to wake up before dawn to drive across to a hearing in Eastern Kentucky.
Barreling due east on the interstate, I messed with the radio dial (much more fun in the pre-digital age) and found a lively station – WWL, New Orleans, 50,000-watts.
This post began as a memory of Lent, a spiritual journey, but somehow it is turning into a tribute to the great clear-channel stations of North America – the ones that would keep you going on cross-country drives. (Grand Ole Opry on Long Island on Saturday nights; one Phillies-Cardinals thriller all the way out to Chicago.)
This time, pre-dawn on Feb. 24, 1971, I listened to the overnight DJ on WWL raving about Mardi Gras, which was slowly winding down on the littered and sodden streets of New Orleans. He talked about the beads, the drinks, the costumes, the food, the pretty women, the people leaning off their elegant balconies in the French Quarter, shouting and personifying the slogan: “Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!”
And there I was, in the dark, on I-40, heading to a hearing about poverty and neglect in Appalachia, taking in reports of the last bursts of sensuality in New Orleans. Mardi Gras turning into Ash Wednesday, mile by mile.
That was Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday, 1971. Now, stirred by Bill Lucey in Cleveland, I have to figure some way to honor Lent. Thanks, man.
The star of Wednesday's hearing was, of course, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Inner Baltimore. I have been calling him "The Prophet" since I observed him during some steroid hearings, oh, back a few years. He was always righteous with smarmy ballplayers and he remains righteous with smarmy politicians trying to smear an already-smarmy enforcer.
In his emotional wrap-up speech, The Prophet addressed our better selves. May people listen to him.
Michael Cohen managed more dignity than most members of the Republican minority, admitting his crimes and often displaying a lawyer's wits we did not know he possessed.
Most of the Republicans, most notably Jim Jordan, were a collection of Paulie Walnuts of "Sopranos" fame -- that is, menacing without even a hint of some attractive or interesting trait.
I did love Rep. Clay Higgins of southern Louisiana, thick and balding, addressing Cohen as "Good Sir" in his lush accent. Higgins was formerly a member of the Military Police and also an officer in Louisiana; he seemed a character made for a series of Cajun noir novels, followed by gritty films. If Clay Higgins did not exist, a writer would lust to invent him.
The real object of the hearing was 12 time zones away, not far enough. Fortunately, most Democrats on the committee, however wordy, wasting chunks of their five minutes with stream of consciousness, gave Cohen a forum for his damning details about Trump. Thank you "Good Sir."
(This is what I wrote earlier about Robert Kraft of the Super Bowl champs, another Trumpite in the News:)
Robert Kraft wanted to see me at halftime of a Patriots playoff game.
It was important enough that he enrolled an NFL official to escort me from the press box to his luxury box, halfway around a stadium bulging with tanked-up fans.
I was taken through a crowded reception, full of hoi-polloi millionaires and power brokers, where I was introduced to Myra Kraft, his wife, philanthropist and social conscience. She would pass in the summer of 2011; people in Boston speak glowingly of her.
I was taken to an inner-inner sanctum, where Kraft wanted me to see the Super Bowl trophy as well as three special guests.
“These are my best friends,” Kraft told me. “I think you know them.”
I knew one of them.
“My Queens home boy,” I said, nodding to a guy who had grown up a very crucial half mile from me, whom I knew from the old United States Football League.
Donald Trump nodded, vaguely. He is not good at normal interpersonal relations, but I already knew that. Small talk, politeness, makes him fidget. So we sort of acknowledged each other. (I knew he was a germaphobe so we did not shake hands.)
Another “best friend” was Alan Dershowitz who, as I recall, shook my hand politely.
The third “best friend” was a network biggie (no, you have not seen his name in sordid headlines lately) who kind of glowered at me and grunted and stayed away.
Kraft ushered me over to the Super Bowl trophy and we had our photo taken. The New York Times was clearly important to him, yet another trophy, yet another accomplishment.
I can’t remember what year it was, whether we knew that Kraft had taken off his Super Bowl ring to show to a former KGB thug named Vladimir Putin, who walked away with it.
I was thinking about Kraft’s inner sanctum this week as he got in a bit of trouble for having his chauffeur take him to a low-scale mall in Florida. Right now he is charged with two felonies for patronizing the sexual favors available from Chinese immigrants/captives in a nail salon.
This follows hearings about the gratuitous plea bargain for a sordid Florida guy named Jeffrey Epstein, who apparently preferred very young women. His name has been linked to Alan Dershowitz, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Epstein’s light treatment was facilitated by R. Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labor.
Quite a crowd.
The current thinking is that Bob Kraft will get off with a fine and community service.
(Sorry. I don’t have time to type any more right now. Got to watch the Cohen hearing and see what else Our Leader has been up to.)
Much has been made – deservedly – about what Don Newcombe accomplished on the field but much less has been written about how he saved lives.
Newcombe, who died this week at 92, put himself out there, as the rugged face of beating back addiction, day by day. He was one of the first public figures to talk about addiction – before Betty Ford, before other prominent people.
Newk was at his most formidable around the Los Angeles Dodgers, his old team. He was the Dodgers’ “director of community relations,” which meant he spoke about race and addiction and good citizenship, offering himself as a prime example, how he had wrecked his career as a pitcher (and pinch-hitter deluxe), by drinking. He gave testimony of how he had gone sober, on his knees, promising his wife he would never drink again.
The amazing thing about this tough guy is that he did it by himself – just stopped. Most alcoholics rely on daily reinforcement, the meetings, the written word, the prayer to a higher power. Newk just stopped. This guy was so tough, he would not take gas or injections at the dentist, to deaden the pain.
He never went to a rehab center, never went to AA meetings for himself, but he did not recommend that path for anybody else. He told other people that rehab worked, and that they should seek it, and sometimes he accompanied them right into the center.
He also stalked players, or at least they thought he did. My friend Bob Welch was having blackouts at 23, destroying a promising pitching career, and his life, during the 1979 season. When I helped him write his book about rehab – “Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Young Man’s Battle With Alcoholism,” Bob told me how he hated Newcombe, was sure Newk was stalking him.
And maybe Newk was. A big man, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with a prominent jaw and nose making him even more formidable, Newk had the run of the ball park. He wore elegant suits and snappy straw fedoras and would wander through the clubhouse, chatting with people. He was hearing how Bob had passed out in public, how the Dodgers had sent somebody to get him into his hotel room.
At the end of the 1979 season, the Dodgers had a program with a major sponsor, and staged an intervention with Bob, and got him to The Meadows in Arizona.
Bob came back and pitched for more than a decade and won the Cy Young Award with Oakland; he was sober when he passed suddenly in 2014.
Newk was also there for Maury Wills when his life was crumbling and for Lou Johnson, the heart of the 1965-6 team, who came to the Dodgers for help. Newk said: “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Newk made public speeches, represented the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and other outfits dealing with addiction.
In between, he spoke about Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, his teammates and would-be mentors in Brooklyn. He told of the night that Robinson got weary of the black hotel in St. Louis with no air conditioning, and said, that’s it, I’m checking in at the Chase, with the white Dodgers, and did just that.
Jackie and Campy died young; Newk carried their flames; he did it his way, as the song goes.
In 1987, just before the 40th anniversary of Robinson’s debut, Al Campanis, the Dodger general manager (who was my friend), made some foolish and meandering statements about how black players lacked the “necessities” to be managers.
This was a chance to say, well, racism is everywhere, you never know about people, but Newk knew Al Campanis, knew how Al had taught Robinson to play second base in the minors in 1946, knew that Al hung out with Latino scouts at the ballpark.
During the uproar, Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo interviewed Newk on WFAN radio. and Newk said Campanis was no racist, he just bumbled a bit, and he labelled the end of Al’s career a “tragedy.” Newk was loyal to the truth as he knew it.
In recent years, whenever I thought of the Los Angeles Dodgers, my last link to Brooklyn was the big man in the elegant suits who had the run of Dodger Stadium. Newk was a staple on old-timers’ day and other days of remembrance but he was as courant as the latest celebrity caught abusing one thing or the other.
We have lost a good one.
* * *
Richard Goldstein’s obituary on Newk:
Newk and Lou Johnson:
Newk and Maury Wills and others:
Newk’s stats: check out the batting average and the home runs. The Dodgers usually have good hitting pitchers – the real baseball, none of this DH foolishness:
Another view of Newk’s work with the Dodgers:
The hissy fit by Amazon reminds me of one of the best things that has happened to my home town -- not getting the 2012 Summer Olympics.
This happened in 2005, when the City Council voted down a stadium that would have been plopped down on the far west side of Manhattan to accommodate the Typhoid Mary of sports events.
Since the Games were given to London, the Hudson Yards area of Manhattan has grown, without having to work around a neighborhood killer of a stadium.
I say that as a sports columnist who was a very early critic of the proposal.
My memory was just jogged by the rising up of people who resented the $3-billion tax benefits to be given Amazon, which wanted to build a “campus” in the Long Island City section of Queens.
Rather than negotiate with critics – show some respect for the locals -- Amazon turned tail and ran. The political aspects have been well reported in the Times and elsewhere. Experts and business people say Amazon really would have meant 25,000 new jobs in the city, but I say they would have been jobs for new people, out-of-towners, with technological skills, eager to pay the gouge prices in new high rises in formerly lumpen Queens.
As David Leonhardt points out, Queens already has jobs:
As a native of Queens (who lives just to the east these days), I love the boom all over my home borough -- the languages and energy and skills and food: Oaxaca restaurant in Corona; Korean restaurants along Northern Blvd.
I’m not sure Queens needs the great favor Amazon was going to bestow. Many people living near the proposed “campus” would have been displaced by the land rush and the rent-grubbing and the price-raising. (See: “Brooklyn, hipsters.”)
To Jeff Bezos, I would say a few things:
1. Thank you for the Prime delivery of a 64-ounce container of kitchen-drain cleaner rather than my having to run to the store during the deep freeze this month.
2. Please, keep reporting on that disturbed person in Washington with your wonderful paper, The Washington Post.
3. When local activists express their concerns, please, learn to negotiate. This is Noo Yawk, for goodness’ sakes. (“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Guess you didn’t.)
4. And while I think of it, please read your own paper’s electronic files about the stupidity of people who take intimate selfies.
This uprising by “progressives” – whatever that means – seems to have come as a shock to Gov. Cuomo and Mayor DiBlasio (who keeps changing his story, as in his 180-degree swerve in the Times on Monday.)
I would give some advice to these illustrious public servants. (The same would apply to former mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani.)
1. Fix the damn subways first. Help working people get to work.
2. Pay attention to the rising seas, because the disturbed President has no clue.
3. Pay attention to those dreaded “progressives.”
These guys are always running for President rather than fixing New York. They need to know that New Yorkers don’t like out-of-towners telling us what the deal is.
Jeff Bezos, say hello to the New York Echo:
New York Echo: Shut the f--k u-u-u-u-p!
*-Homage to the greatest headline any of us will ever see, written by William J. Brink, managing editor of the New York Daily News, when President Ford did not help the city during the 1975 financial crisis:
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.
Now the Mets have Jacob DeGrom's former agent working as a general manager, negotiating DeGrom's contract -- with an imposed deadline of opening day. What could go wrong, in a franchise that let Tom Seaver get away?
But at least many of the Mets were in Florida on Monday, stretching and throwing, scratching and spitting, doing what ball players do. We survive vicariously.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right
---"Here Comes the Sun," lyrics by George Harrison, from "Abbey Road," 1969.
Say, what happened that year?
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: