Oh, my goodness, it was 20 years ago.
Today, the NYT reprinted an article I wrote 20 years ago today, on the Mets-Cubs league game in Tokyo.
It was a pleasant surprise to be back in the paper and be reminded of a great trip and how much I love visiting Japan.
This, at a time when there is much sadness at postponing the Tokyo Olympics to next year.
Gomen'nasai (I am sorry)
The article jumped out of the Monday sports section – about Benny Agbayani’s grand-slam, pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning that defeated the Cubs.
It was the end of a grand assignment – two Mets exhibitions around Tokyo, plus two official games, showing me how much the Japanese fans know about baseball, and America.
It kicked off so many memories:
---Japanese fans booing good-heartedly when activist Mets manager Bobby Valentine (with his love and knowledge of Japan) had Sammy Sosa walked intentionally with first base open.
“Japanese fans never boo the manager for this,” a Japanese reporter told me. “But they know it is normal in American baseball.” How cool – like young couples on Friday date night, going to TGIFriday’s glittering outlets all over Tokyo, for ribs and fries.
---Standing outside the Tokyo Dome that week, watching fans congregate and spotting a woman wearing a Mets uniform with Swoboda 4 on the back. Haruko told me, in quite good English, that she was a Mets fan – had seen a Nolan Ryan no-hitter in the States (for the Angels) and in fact had stayed with Ron and Cecilia Swoboda in New Orleans.
---The great Ernie Banks, retired by then, sidling up to me around the batting cage and repeating his iconic phrase: “Let’s play two.”
---How I spotted Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese national to play in the American majors – I covered that game, too, in 1964 – and re-introduced him to the Mets’ roving pitching coach, Alvin Jackson, who was his opponent in that epic debut. They laughed and shook hands and chatted, so comfortable with each other, as old players are. Alvin passed last year; I was so honored to have shared that moment with him.
My other memories of that trip are less baseball-centric:
---Zonked on jet lag, taking my wife on the Tokyo subway, telling her how easy it would be, and emerging in sunny Ueno Park for a nice stress-free walk (and subsequent first meal in a neighborhood)
---Being driven from bustling Tokyo to a famous shrine by our former Long Island neighbors, Fumio and Akie, the nicest couple. Originally from Osaka, Fumio did not know every inch of Tokyo – does anybody? – but he relied on a novelty GPS built into his dashboard, and he negotiated all the tight little turns and ramps to get us on a freeway to a leafy shrine.
--- Salarymen – and women – stopping to offer us directions when we appeared baffled by the odd numbering systems.
--- After the baseball work, visiting historic Kyoto, where a woman addressed my wife in French; she had lived in France and loved to use that language. My wife, who speaks some French, sat on a bench and they chatted for an hour, about La Belle France.
---And finally, since it was 20 years ago this week, having people in Kyoto apologize to us because the cherry blossoms were late.
In this grim spring, I think of all the places we cannot go, but when I think of baseball…and Japan….and friends….and spring...and having been privileged to go places and write stories, the day seems better.
Jacob DeGrom was supposed to throw the first pitch to the champion Washington Nationals, a few miles west of me, on a sunny, cool day.
Instead, I was going to write something about the absence of baseball.
Then I read about a valued colleague who passed the other day, from the virus, and that delivered another reality check.
We have enough reminders that life is not normal – and when will it be again?
I go out in our town just enough to run a few errands.
The other day we ordered takeout from one of our favorite places in our town. It was gut-wrenching to join a small line indoors, six feet of separation, picking up packages.
It was mid-day. The place should have been packed with moms and their squeaky little kids, with rambunctious teen-agers from the high school, with working people on a break. Instead, chairs were upturned on tables and
a few workers were packing up pizza and regular meals for the customers.
A lady in the drive-in window at the bank smiled at me from behind the glass.
From my car, I nodded at the crossing guard near the post office.
The Town Dock was blocked off. Normally, dozens of people would be parking at mid-day, to sniff the salty bay and maybe take a walk.
I don’t need to discuss the ominous details about the virus in the NYT. Did you see those amazing charts – online and in “the paper?”
We get the paper delivered every morning in blue bags, straight from my friends at the plant in Queens. They cannot work from home. Be safe, all of you.
Our family sounds okay – six other adults working at their homes, three younger ones doing schoolwork online, two others also safe, last we heard.
My wife was on this early, urging me not to ride the subway, see old friends for lunch. We are getting by. Blessed. But there is the anxiety – expressed by doctors and nurses who go on TV, talking of shortages, displaying what soldiers in combat call The Thousand-Yard Stare.
They are on the front line, sent in without the right equipment, in a nation nominally in charge of a business failure who was already a dangerous fool when people voted for him.
Now the combat is raging. Leaders like Andrew Cuomo try to pull things together, shaming “the government” into getting a clue.
Friend of mine is self-quarantined in his apartment. His doctor thinks he might have the virus, but cannot help him get a test.
“Opening Day,” I texted. “Robin Roberts vs. Don Newcombe.” That is our generation. The Brooklyn Dodgers were our team.
Sometimes, for a few minutes, baseball will get you through. My man Mike From Northern Queens sent me a link about picking the best catchers in the history of every major-league franchise. Yogi and Campy. And some, from newer franchises out west, I hardly recognized the names of the choices.
That is the beauty of baseball – the history, the meaningful statistics at all positions, never mind the new analytics. The arguments. Carter or Piazza?
Opening Day. Baseball fans believe there is nothing like it. So much tradition. My colleague Bill Lucey in Cleveland sent me a piece he wrote a few years ago about the history of presidents at Opening Day.
I remember in the early 80s, when the Mets’ opening day was snowed out, and I squawked, how nature could do this to us?
Sports don’t cut it right now. I don’t care if the Olympics were postponed, or even the European soccer tournament.
I wish I could concentrate on the Mets, fret about whether the Mets will finally give a steady position to Jeff McNeil, let him swing at the first pitch and get something going.
I wish I could worry about the starting rotation, now that Noah Syndergaard is getting Tommy John surgery today. (Apparently this is considered essential surgery.)
Yankee fans, other fans, bless their hearts, may have their own preoccupations.
However baseball is not essential at the moment. What is essential is convincing our “leader” that instead of sending people back to work with a nasty virus on the loose – to save “his” economy – we need to stay in place, including baseball players and baseball fans and people who work at the ballpark.
No Game Today.
“Call a person over in Venezuela,” blustered the man with the orange goo slathered on his face.
“Ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well."
The Dear Leader was responding to questions about why the American government was not mobilizing businesses to make the masks and respirators needed for endangered health-care people to care for endangered patients.
He’s all for Congress supplementing his friends in big business in this crisis. He just doesn’t want to tell them what to do with the money.
This in a country that mobilized auto plants to produce airplanes during World War Two, as David Leonhardt recalled in the NYT on Monday.
This in a country where hospitals are begging people to donate masks and other medical goods they are “storing” in their homes, in order to save the actual sick, until The Orange Guy thinks of something.
Ordinary citizens are sewing masks in their homes, patriots in the old style, because the federal government cannot get a handle on this.
I immediately thought of an entitled woman I met in Cuba, making soap in her own kitchen. I said “soap,” not “soup.”
I met the woman when I covered the Pan-American Games in Havana in 1991. A friend in New York had told me about her, a talented woman who had gone to school in the States, had a medical background, whose husband, a high-ranking officer, had fought and died for his country.
She was eager to be my guide to the complicated world of Cuba, when I was not directly covering sports issues during the Games. She was loyal to the country and she knew how things worked, and did not work.
She had a car, one of those classic 50s cars, in good shape, and took me around Havana as well as the Bay of Pigs, where her husband had served.
For a sense of how people lived, she took me to her building, in a genteel if fading neighborhood. The lights were out on the stairway. The apartment was roomy, if dated. They had raised their family there, and now some members were doctors, working in the state hospital.
She pointed at the stove, at a pot of soap slivers in water, waiting for her children and their spouses to bring home more soap remainders from the hospital, so she would boil them down, sanitize them, turn them into something approximating soap bars.
“I’ve become my own grandmother,” she said.
I think of her remark and those soap scraps now that Americans are begging the federal government to supply the goods to keep them alive. I think of our portly poseur, who has fooled some Americans into thinking he has business sense, any sense at all.
He wants American money in the hands of Mnuchin and other gunnysack cabinet members rather than in the hands of the people who do the work.
He’s not going to induce American enterprises into making make goods needed by endangered people. Medical people are begging for equipment, but this is not his department.
He has his principles. He rolls over and plays nice for Putin and Kim but he talks big about Venezuela. His instincts are toward one-man rule.
On Monday it seemed he had disappeared Dr. Anthony Fauci, an authority on the virus who lately has been verbalizing some of his concerns.
Fauci was missing from the press conference Monday, like some Politburo big shot who had been airbrushed out of a group photo.
Maybe Fauci would return on Tuesday. To be continued.
In the meantime, thank goodness we are not a third-world country like Cuba, like Venezuela.
* * *
Trump’s Venezuela babble:
David Leonhardt’s riff on mobilization before World War Two:
* * *
QUESTION: A friend asked me yesterday if he could be put on my email list for my occasional rant. I said there is no such mailing list; I put my precious little ramblings out there on the Web like a message in a bottle, tossed out to sea, and hope people find it. Only rarely do I send something directly to a friend.
Could I get a show of hands from anybody who would like to be on a totally-anonymous and confidential list for these occasional pieces? Thanks.
My email is: email@example.com
NB: Comments here are welcome. Nay, beseeched. GV.
Watching Dr. Anthony Fauci politely try to clear up some of the most egregious errors by Donald Trump, I am fascinated by his political poise.
Dr. Fauci was at his best Friday, calmly labelling Trump’s claims that a malaria vaccine might help stop the Coronavirus as "anecdotal." Trump had a “hunch.” Fauci had experience and facts. And character. And discretion.
I’ve been impressed by Dr. Fauci since he escaped Trump’s dungeon for inconvenient experts. You know, the Deep State. People who know things, like Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 -- six presidents, two Democrats and four Republicans.
Apparently, in this Dark Age, circumstances dictated that one qualified person should be up front with all the Pences and Pompeos.
So there he was, this tiny man (the web does not seem to divulge his actual height) who keeps a straight face while Trump is making stuff up during a grave crisis. And when Dr. Fauci speaks, he does so in a mixture of scientific knowledge and a gravelly accent that says, “Noo Yawk."
* * *
NB: Maureen Dowd spoke to Dr. Fauci. Great quotes. She also uses the word "gravelly," only proving that great minds think...or hear....alike .
* * *
I did not know anything about Dr. Fauci, but felt I knew him from my home town. He reminded me of the humble comedian, Jimmy Durante, a presence in my childhood, always ending his TV show with the mysterious salute:“ Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
The good doctor also sounds just like Lou Carnesecca, the beloved ex-coach of St. John’s basketball, still very much alive at 95. Looie, bless his heart, would usually begin his post-game summary by saying: “Two t’ings,” which he would then enumerate. And he always raved about New York pizza and bagels, claiming they were superior because of the elixir in the city pipes.
Turns out, I was on the right track, comparing Dr. Fauci with Looie. My brother-in-law Rich recalled Tony Fauci as a star athlete at Regis High School in Manhattan, one of the best Roman Catholic high schools in the city.
Anthony Fauci was the captain and starting point guard for Regis. before concentrating on his studies at Holy Cross and med school and has had a long and honorable career. Surely, running the offense against larger players prepared him for the gross lack of expertise and leadership in this ailing country.
I watch him while Trump is bloviating. He looks straight ahead, no eye-rolling, no twitching, no raising his hand to make a point. Some people might see him as going along with the program, just another Trump toadie, but I see him as Tony Fauci, point guard, trying to find space amidst the blockheads, and taking the charge for the good of the nation.
* * *
(Another alum of Regis is Colin Jost, the pleasant, deceptively sly co-host of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” Jost recently published a sweet little article in the New Yorker, about commuting from Staten Island – bus, ferry, subway, 90 minutes each way, for four years, and the interesting species he encountered, two-legged and four-legged. It’s part of a book he has coming out.)
* * *
Links about Dr. Anthony Fauci:
Very nice column by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman:
My family has a little text-message chain going on – perfect for this time of troubles: Two elders and six certified adults.
On Sunday, we started playing can-you-top-this for comfort food, with accompanying photos.
Upstate: Quarantine with saag chicken.
Long Island: Sausage in wrap. Bit of birthday cake from the freezer.
Deepest Pennsylvania: "We see your saag paneer and we raise you by homemade chicken and minestrone soup."
That got us through Sunday. The Monday NYT in the driveway brought a column by Margaret Renkl, who has become one of my top-ten favorite bylines in the paper – from Alabama, now living in Nashville. She writes so well about ecology, and life. Her column was about making corn bread on a cast-iron skillet, to ward off the blues.
The words reminded me how much I loved roaming the region a few decades ago. I remembered a modest luncheonette in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which featured – in the early 70’s! – a fresh vegetable plate, okra, white beans, tomatoes, whatever was in the kitchen, plus buttery, crumbly corn bread.
I’ll bet Margaret Renkl’s corn bread is even better.
Then there was the email from my man Mike From Whitestone, supplier of daily wisdom via the Web, designed to get us through.
I had never thought of it that way.
Mike also sent this one:
To close, may I suggest this chorus from the Grateful Dead. Make it your mantra for the day, for this time of the troubles -- with fresh cornbread on the side.
Check out this poor schlub being interviewed by Rep. Katie Porter of California.
More important, check out the faces behind him – presumably colleagues or family.
They are wincing as Dr. Robert R. Redfield is exposed as yet another Trumpite bumbler in the time of Covid-19.
Rep. Porter, in her first term, has become the scourge of corporate and government “leaders” who try to out-wait her few minutes of questioning.
Originally from Iowa, Rep. Porter went to Yale University and Harvard Law School, where her mentor was Elizabeth Warren.
On Thursday, she was doing what she does best, in a hearing into the lack of preparation for the rampaging virus – specifically the lack of tests and who will bear the cost when any tests are finally available after a scandalous delay.
Rep. Porter said she had violated her own rule of not alerting the hapless witnesses. She sent her line of questioning to Dr. Redfield’s office a week ahead of time so he could be prepared. But he appears to know nothing, nothing -- staff work in the time of Trump.
Dr. Redfield is a 68-year-old relic, a virologist who previously “served” in government during the early days of AIDS.
In his unprepared and ignorant fashion, Donald Trump tried to do away with government medical and research agencies but was forced to find a few people who could pretend to expertise, while Trump’s family and friends filled their gunnysacks with loose cash.
In 2018, Dr. Redfield was brought in as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Not even having the bluster of a bank president, Dr. Redfield was confronted by the terror of the House. Rep. Porter had her facts and figures on hand – how much a test would cost. But most people seeking emergency treatment could not afford this perhaps life-saving process.
Would the government cover the cost of a test, Rep. Porter asked.
Dr. Redfield took the punches, waited for the bell to ring.
But Rep. Porter kept telling him: not good enough. She wanted to know if the government would take care of its people. She told him she has researched his powers. You can do this, according to law, she said.
Rep. Porter does this better than I can describe it, better than any lawmaker I have ever seen. Most legislators talk about themselves. She talks about law, about reality.
Watch the video. It’s a Perry Mason moment – the stunning reversal in real time—that almost never happens in trials or hearings.
In the end, battered and beaten, Dr. Redfield succumbs, seems to promise government coverage.
I do not know if his foggy submission has any legality.
Trump might well fire him any hour now, say it was all a mistake.
Once again, Katie Porter has exposed the stupidity and callousness of this regime.
* * *
On Thursday, a federal judge characterized the public statements of Attorney General William P. Barr as “distorted” and “misleading” in his early descriptions of Robert S. Mueller III's report last year.
I missed the name of the judge at first, but later the name drifted from the television in the next room.
“Oh, my God, that’s Reggie Walton!” I blurted, a bit informal toward a prominent judge.
I learned about Federal Justice Reggie B. Walton a decade ago when I was writing a biography of Stan Musial, the great baseball player from Donora, Pa. I was blessed to have two mentor-guides to that hard-times steel town: Bimbo Cecconi, one of Pitt's great athletes, and Dr. Charles Stacey, the former school superintendent and a town historian who was proud of both Musial and Walton.
“You ought to talk to Reggie Walton,” Dr. Stacey said. Later, on his own, he called his star pupil and suggested he give me a ring. That is the Donora connection – the pride of people who survived the mills and the streets and the hard times.
There was a history to Judge Walton. His parents worked hard -- the job market was always tougher for African-Americans -- and had high hopes for their son. Reggie was a competitor, who goaded his football teammates not to quit against much bigger teams, but he also ran with a tough crowd. In his senior year of high school, he thought he was going to a fist fight between two gangs from opposite sides of the Monongahela River.
Somebody pulled a sharp object and a boy from the other side was stabbed. Reggie Walton helped him get medical help, and then he decided to make himself scarce from gang activity. People in town pointed him toward West Virginia State University, a historically black college, to play football, and maybe to study.
The football was all right, but the studying was better. Reggie Walton is now a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., who has been in the news a few times since being appointed by President George W. Bush.
In 2005 the judge broke up a street brawl near the courthouse, and in 2007 he presided over the trial of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, for outing a C.I.A. agent. The jury convicted Libby and the judge sentenced him to 30 months, but President Bush set him free, and President Trump later pardoned Libby. The judge was reportedly not amused, either time.
I finally got to meet Judge Walton in 2011 as he prepared for the perjury trial of Roger Clemens in the steroids frolics. Maybe because of his former school superintendent, Judge Walton agreed to meet me, on the grounds that we not discuss Clemens, at all.
I thought maybe I could slip in a question or two, but after five minutes in his office, I knew better than to try to make a fancy journalistic feint through Judge Walton's defense.
Nobody pulls the okey-doke on Judge Walton. I was in the courtroom in the first hour of the Clemens trial, when the prosecution alluded to a witness who had been ruled off limits. The highly-paid defense lawyer stuck up his hand and made an objection and the judge called a timeout, saying he needed a few minutes to think it over. After consulting his colleagues in back chambers, the judge declared a mistrial.
This year Judge Walton was assigned a case questioning whether the attorney general had accurately portrayed the Mueller report long before the public could see it. The judge alluded to “inconsistencies” from the attorney general.
In football terms, the liaison between the president and the attorney general has produced a dirty game for the past three years -- lots of grappling in the mud, kneeing and gouging in the pile.
All I know is, when the oblong football skitters loose in a legal scrimmage, I want it to roll near Reggie Walton, from Donora, Pa.
The article I wrote in 2011 before the brief Clemens trial:
Judge Walton's official website:
We sat in front of the tube Sunday night and made that exclamation, watching a politician kiss his husband and then deliver a gracious and hopeful speech.
The love in the room was tangible, following months of campaigning by Mayor Pete in far corners of the United States, where he was treated with respect and affection by wide swaths of the population.
In the narrow sense, this was not a triumph, since Buttigieg had just been ignored/rejected by voters in South Carolina, who had other agendas, quite understandable. But Buttigieg knew he had taken his youth and hope and skill to the American public and received votes, delegates, and promise of a future.
So, yes, this scene was not something we had thought we would see in a national election, any time soon.
In a way, it reminded me of the hope of turning, dare I admit it, 21 in the election year of 1960, and seeing a candidate I thought represented youth and idealism, John F. Kennedy, beating Richard M. Nixon.
For anybody believing in equal opportunity, there was pride in that religious barricade coming down, but much more it was the hope of another generation coming along, that would sort things out, or so we hoped.
More to the point, Buttigieg’s speech, clearly without prompters or notes, celebrating values like honesty and equality and facts, reminded us of a speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, by a senator, of color.
My wife caught it live, and told me about it, and said Barack Obama would be president, and soon, because he could express the hope and ideals of the nation.
Four years later, we saw an appealing family, husband and wife and two little girls, walk onto a stage in Grant Park, Chicago, to acknowledge being elected president.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
I can only speak for myself, but the magical sight reflected to my upbringing, the highly “progressive” political values of my family – the adoration for Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, the records by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson in our house, and the discussion group of working class people in Queens, intentionally maintained at 50-50, black and white, that sometimes met in my family’s living room.
How often do you see family ideals expressed on worldwide television from a jammed lakeside park in Chicago? For all the birther crap being spread about the Obamas, this was a family victory.
Now it is a gay couple, Pete and Chasten, married, kissing in front of the world, celebrating the reality that Mayor Pete had been accepted – chosen in primaries and caucuses – particularly by older folks, in a time when younger people are much more comfortable with gender diversity.
And then Mayor Pete gave a speech that reminded us of Barack Obama in 2004.
Nobody knows what will play out in the coming days and months.
I won’t even go into the glaring and dangerous failures of the current president.
I only know that Mayor Pete kissed his husband, and gave a great speech, and that made us feel better, if only for the moment.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
"Lord of the Flies."
Circular firing squads. Mass suicides. That’s what the Democrats have going for them, self-destructive fools that they are.
They are trying to beat The Worst Person in the World and none of them can summon enough dignity and knowledge to help their causes.
(There is even published talk of seeking a compromise candidate if Bernie Sanders cannot get enough delegates by the convention. Sounds like more anarchy ....except.... except.... for months I have been sad that Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio did not run for president. It's bizarre that at this point there is still strong sentiment for "another" candidate and even the fantasy that Michelle Obama would agree to run for vice president. I wouldn't wish it on her. But that only speaks to the desperate need to upgrade the leadership of this country.)
I never realized how degraded the primary system is until CNN held a so-called Town Hall from Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night.
We caught Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, all with an hour of their own, to answer thoughtful questions from screened members of the audience – clearly an elite group.
Without yapping and trying to draw blood from a fellow candidate, all four displayed their strengths, often going for 3-4 minutes on one question.
Their answers were such a contrast to the inarticulate, uninformed blather from Trump when he tries to assure us that the Coronavirus will be fine with Mike Pence (Mr. Science) in charge.
Bloomberg was highly informed and adult, talking about being a mayor of a world city.
Biden was touchingly knowledgeable about the reasons for brain cancer affecting the military, including his beloved son Beau. At the end of his hour, he motioned the questioner to come to the front and he would supply references.
Klobuchar still talked about all the bills she had helped send “to Mitch McConnell’s desk,” still appearing self-centered but also emulating past senators who ran (and won) presidential contests.
And Warren, while still overly kinetic and anecdotal, reminded us of the lawyer/senator who has effectively reigned in the bandit banks and insurance companies.
The format was a welcome relief from the Trumpian reality shows, the Simon types sneering at contestants, Jerry Springer dragging human misery onto the stage and goading people to attack each other.
Maybe America is not terminally afflicted with show-biz hysteria.
Instead of turning public figures into survivors, it is time to do away with these hideous mass “debates” that turn into pie fights.
And while they are at it, let's do away with the caucuses, all that inscrutable and inarticulate milling around -- not democracy in action but rather a theater of the absurd.
This is important. America has a president who is a lethal mix of malicious and stupid and greedy.
Earth cannot afford more of this.
If there is still time, let's restore a touch of gravitas to the process.
No more mass “debates.”
It's Black History Month in the U.S. -- time to acknowledge people who have succeeded despite the shackles of slavery and segregation -- America's original sin, still hanging over us.
By sad coincidence, two of America's great strivers passed within days of each other, and have been honored in lavish and literate obituaries by two star writers in The New York Times.
Katherine Johnson and B. Smith both had singular success in demanding fields, breaking barriers and stereotypes.
Mrs. Johnson escaped segregated schools to qualify as a mathematician for NASA, and later made the pre-computer calculations that helped take American astronauts into space.
(My Appalachian buddy, Randolph Fiery, points out in a Comment below just how difficult it was for Mrs. Johnson's parents to seek a high level of education for their precocious daughter, involving a long trek over the mountains of West Virginia.)
Katherine Johnson and her black female colleagues were later depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures.” She died at 101 on Monday in Virginia and was honored in an obituary by Margalit Fox.
“NASA was a very professional organization,” the obituary quoted Mrs. Johnson telling The Observer of Fayetteville, N.C., in 2010. “They didn’t have time to be concerned about what color I was.”
B. Smith began as a model, wrote and was a television host and designed household goods, but was best known for the restaurant bearing her name in the Theater District of Manhattan. She died at 70 on Saturday on Long Island.
The obituary by William Grimes told how Barbara Smith from Pennsylvania was a dynamo in childhood: “I inherited a paper route, I sold magazines, had lemonade stands, I was a candy striper and into fund-raising,” she told The Times in 2011. “I’ve always enjoyed being busy.”
She had her self-image, and she was not shy about describing it:
“B. Smith’s brand is about is bringing people together," she said, speaking of herself in the third person, as basketball superstars do on occasion. "I think that if Martha Stewart and Oprah had a daughter, it would be B. Smith,” she told National Public Radio in 2007.
The success and resolve of Katherine Johnson and B. Smith, as they ignored stereotypes, would be inspiring anytime. In Black History Month, the accounts of their accomplished lives lit up my day.
* * *
(The obits are too long to reproduce here, so I am enclosing the links to the NYT website. People who do not subscribe can pull up a certain amount of free links per month. Other obits of these two achievers will surely be on the web -- GV.)
The other day I referred to the current debates as a "horror show."
Then came Wednesday night's Democratic slap-down from Las Vegas, with all the candidates greeting Mike Bloomberg with all the ear-ringing civility of the old Jerry Springer show, or maybe a Trump stalk-a-thon from 2016.
It's all a reality show now. What would happen if, say, Adlai Stevenson and Robert Taft, prominent candidates of the left and right from the 1950's, wandered into that raucous scrum?
Hard to maintain dignity in this melee. Rip Van Bloomberg blinked and shrugged and pursed his lips at the political Billingsgate being heaved at him. Rotten fish and unkind verbiage. Didn't they know who he is?
I'm typing this in mid-morning on Thursday. It wouldn't surprise me if Mayor Mike said "screw this" before noon and fired up his private carbon-burner for a weekend in his mansion in London. (Beats the hell out of Mar-a-Lago.) What does he need this for?
I'll leave the ratings and snide points to the paid observers in the media.
I only want to add that Joe Biden maintained his avuncular posture while people around him were tossing verbal chamber pots around the stage.
Maybe that means Uncle Joe is irrelevant? Or he is going to wait for Senator Amy and Mayor Pete to be led away for mutual assault? It's a battle of attrition out there while Trump pardons body-double criminals who remind him of, well, himself.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden stayed on his feet, hair and syntax in place.
(Here's what I wrote about him the other day, before Mayor Mike wandered onto the stage, stunningly unprepared:)
* * *
On Monday I strolled past an active television screen and saw a poised gent making sense (at least, to me) and I paused to take a look.
Omigosh, it was Joe Biden, the candidate that the national hangin' jury has consigned to oblivion.
Time to take Grandpa to the Dog Track.
Biden sounded and looked healthy, focused, experienced and decent -- not the distracted old-timer out in public beyond his bedtime in this circus of primaries, outdoors in small, snowbound states.
He spoke rationally about the danger of the disturbed man currently defiling the post of President,. He spoke in some detail about the right way to run his country.
"Wait a minute," I said out loud. He sounded like somebody who could pick a cabinet much better than the current collection of self-serving ghouls. He sounded as if he had some job experience, could absorb facts, as opposed to the illiterate and sadistic buffoon we currently have.
Joe Biden was being interviewed by Nicolle Wallace, the reforming Republican who has become one of the very best hosts on MSNBC. She asked good questions, did not interrupt or blather like some people I could mention.
So he's old. So are most of the other leading candidates. I'm three-plus years older than Biden, blessed to be in good shape, but I can easily imagine a president wanting to sneak off for a nap. Then again, look at the bloated, addled oaf we have now.
(Old president? Get a younger running mate. Stacey Abrams, age 46, jobbed out of the Senate by Georgia's establishment, would be a perfect running mate.)
So Biden stutters a bit -- a lifelong condition he has mostly overcome, which sounds worse in the circus carnival of primaries. Listening to him the other day, I could see him making sense with leaders of other countries, members of both parties, corporate executives, union officials, as well as citizens of all political leanings. I could see him delegating chores to responsible assistants.
The former Veep has been there, done that.
(I know, I know, the "borrowed" speech, Anita Hill, the vote on Iraq, his unqualified son taking a cushy "job" in Ukraine, complaints that Biden is a bit too old-school hands-on.)
For 14-plus minutes, Joe Biden looked and sounded presidential -- perhaps more than anybody else in this mad roller-coaster of a campaign.
For that moment, I was once again ready to reconsider the potential candidates to save this country.
Would somebody please tell Barr he cannot get it back, whatever he gave away in order to serve Trump?
It doesn’t work that way. Trump uses his lackeys and then he tosses them out. Later, some locate a glimmer or pretense of conscience, like Cohen in jail or Kelly out in the world, but by then the damage is done.
I’m not sure I really believe the fuss Barr is making about Trump’s interference in the Justice Department over the Roger Stone sentence. It could very well be a smokescreen to divert the thinking/caring half of the country. This current flap could be buying time for McConnell and the White Citizens Council to do more damage.
It’s too late for Barr, and maybe even too late for those of us who knew Trump as a wrongo, going back to his feckless-playboy days in New York, and tried to warn people. It’s too late for Barr because he has already wasted a year we could not afford.
It's too late for Barr in his slavish role as "My Roy Cohn," the nether force who advised the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Barr maligned Robert Mueller – his friend! – before Mueller’s report was public, thereby rendering it ineffective. Barr left his stink on a good public servant.
Maybe people informed Barr that he was looking horrible, that Trump was using him. Some of Barr’s old friends were going on TV and sighing that this is not the person they used to know. This is what happens in the monster movies when the core is removed.
* * *
Also, would somebody please tell Sen. Susan Collins that her social-worker cause isn’t working out. This wishy-washy senator from Maine said her vote to end the impeachment could very well teach a lesson to Trump. There is no such thing as a bad boy, Collins seemed to be saying.
Even if Collins and her pals in the Senate had voted to pretend to hear witnesses, the process might still be going on, and Trump would not be exacting revenge on the citizens who did their duty in sworn testimony.
Collins will figure out soon that heroes like Vindman and Yovanovich get to keep their reputations while she and Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski get to ride the Senate subway to ignominy.
How’s that reclamation project working, Sen. Collins? Maybe she will explain it to voters in Maine this fall -- if Trump allows elections to go forward.
* * *
Things could happen fast as I type this on a cold Valentine’s Day. Trump could fire Barr. Or, Barr could quit. Or, it could all be a smokescreen to validate Barr’s next round of enablement.
After watching these people in action, I trust nobody.
* * *
Pozzo and Lucky: Please see:
"My Roy Cohn":
So many scandals. Trump and his lap-dog Barr soiling the Justice Department. Senators declining to hear testimony from impeachment witnesses. The government cutting back aid in order to build a wall, while ignoring the infrastructure and climate concerns.
Plus, Major League Baseball going easy on clubs that probably stole pennants, while MLB juiced baseballs last year, and now is plotting to gut the hallowed minor-league system, and threatening to tart up the playoff system with a reality-show gimmick. Has everything gone haywire at once?
So why am I exorcised about Pete Rose? I had mostly forgotten him, skulking around Las Vegas, where the action is. Then I picked up the NYT this morning and found an op-ed article by two professors, with great credentials, I am sure, saying Rose has done his time and needs to be made eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I found myself sputtering.
In Rose’s time, there were cardboard placards posted on clubhouse walls, warning players that gambling on baseball was expressly forbidden, upon penalty of expulsion. The signs back then were in English and Spanish, now maybe in Japanese, also. But Pete was above all that.
Let me start by saying I was a boy reporter at the Charlie Hustle game in Tampa in March of 1963, when a chesty rookie with the Cincinnati Reds ran from home to first base upon receiving a base on balls. The fat-cat Yankees had won three straight pennants and would win two more, and Mantle-Maris-Berra-Howard-Ford guffawed at the expenditure of so much energy in a spring exhibition, and they bestowed that nickname on him.
Apprised of his new nickname, Rose informed reporters, early and often, that he was a different kind of guy. This was how he was taught to play by his dad, a Cincinnati sandlot legend. He was crude, he was self-centered, he was mentored by Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, and he was talented.
He was fun to be around. He loved to talk about the game, bantering with writers, trading baseball knowledge and strategy. He seemed to be a personification of the old game, the dirty, dusty, nasty, spikes-high game. The Big Red Machine accumulated smoother stars like Bench and Morgan and Perez, but Pete was the home-town boy.
He was a bundle of energy. A teammate, Bernie Carbo, was quoted as saying the funniest thing he ever saw in baseball was Pete Rose’s greenies kicking in during a rain delay in the clubhouse.
We knew Pete had a major gambling jones. On our annual spring sojourn to the dog track or jail-alai fronton near Tampa, we would see Pete, clearly a regular, moving fast, flashing $100 bills. When the Mets visited Cincinnati, he had tips on the daily action at River Downs racetrack.
Fast forward to the revelations that Pete, while managing the Reds, was betting on baseball games – but only on the Reds, to win, or so his story went. By that time, people knew more about gambling addiction – how ultimately there is no limit.
If Rose bet on the Reds one day (when his ace was pitching) but did not bet on them the next day (when a lesser pitcher was starting, or perhaps a star was limited by an injury, which only a manager or a trainer would know), his decision was a tipoff to bookies and others with access to Rose’s bets.
Baseball investigated, got the goods on Pete, and confronted him. He could have admitted reality – but we can surely think of other damaged individuals out there in the world, who cannot process details, who are lacking any trace of conscience, of morality, who think they are above the law.
In a time when people with alcohol and drug addictions were getting treatment, Rose stonewalled investigators, infuriating Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, who banished Rose from baseball. I was there that day. Giamatti was quivering with anger. A few days later, on a vacation Giamatti died of a heart attack. The legacy of that case is: Pete Killed Bart.
Also, baseball had more evidence on Rose’s transgressions than on any one of the stars who used steroids in another epidemic a decade and two later. Baseball has not banned steroid suspects but has left the Hall of Fame question up to the writers who vote.
NYT writers are not allowed to vote for any award, in any field, and in retirement I honor that rule. I feel sentimental about the swaggering home-boy who lit up my first decade in covering baseball. But he broke a rule and has never faced it.
Keeping Pete Rose ineligible sets a standard for the Hall, and now it is up to the voters to make their individual decisions about subsequent stars who were ingesting steroids that allowed them to muscle a ball over a fence.
I don’t think baseball has handled the steroid era well, and I’m not quite sure what more it can do about the bang-the-garbage-can-lid era. Declare the championships “vacated” as college basketball has done in one scandal or another? The personal disgrace to talented players and fired managers are not small steps.
I relish the memories of Pete Rose playing ball and talking baseball in the clubhouse, but I don’t see any reason to reinstate him for membership in the Hall of Fame. Now, more than ever, we need some minimal bottom-line standards of what is acceptable and what is not.
* * *
The case for reinstating Pete Rose:
Eight years ago (!) I wrote about a presidential candidate named Mitt Romney.
He was, I said, more than just the slick Money Guy he appeared to be.
This was based on my interviews with him when he stepped in and saved the scandal-ridden host committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
I also had a long breakfast with him in Sydney during the 2000 Summer Games. (I offered to pass the coffee pot to the devout Mormon, before remembering. Somebody joked that the wired Mitt Romney did not need any caffeine.)
The one thing that stuck with me during his ineffective campaign later in 2012 was that Romney often referred to his wife. Ann Davies Romney was a presence, an equal in the relationship. She gave him feedback, advice, and he acknowledged it with the occasional “Ann tells me” or “Ann says.” (I surely can relate because of my strong and capable wife.)
I did not see any overt signs of his Mormon faith – but he had made his mission (to France, nice going, man) and was clearly living in the Mormon tradition. That is to say, he had a strong core, whatever I might think of his “politics.”
So I was not totally stunned when Romney last Tuesday and delivered a speech in the Senate on why he would vote for President Trump to be judged guilty (on one of two counts) in his impeachment trial. He cited his faith, pausing to collect himself, fighting off the emotions, discussing why he was doing what he felt was right.
Romney’s near tears were catching. Several of his colleagues – Democratic colleagues – were openly weeping at the sight of this Mormon Republican laying down the lines of right and wrong.
At least there was one Republican, to stand in opposition to the Susan Collinses and Lamar Alexanders of the world, consisting of gooey polenta at the crucial moment, plus the White Citizens Council that gathers mutely behind Mitch McConnell. Mitt Romney stood alone, but not alone.
Having been around him, I could feel the presence of “Ann says” as Romney made his brave stand.
In that, Mitt Romney is very much in the path of the two previous Presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom acknowledge the presence of co-equal spouses, which may be why the Obamas and the Bushes seem so friendly at infrequent meetings. They recognize each other.
That’s all I’m saying, not trying to discuss the current occupants of the White House, or earlier couples.
It’s something to think about this time around. Just for example, candidate Pete Buttigieg often refers to his husband, Chasten, clearly a regular presence in his life. That is not a political endorsement, just an observation.
In an important moment in his life, Mitt Romney had something inside that led him to recognize a criminal, a bully, an empty and dangerous despot. Not perfect – nobody is – Romney set an example for other Americans. I am sure his wife is proud of him.
My glimpse of Mitt Romney, Feb. 2012:
Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis; one reason I admire her so much is that my mom fought it back for over 40 years. This is a glimpse of Ann Romney’s fight:
(The following ode to Iowa was written before all hell broke loose in the ramshackle "system" that was supposed to collate the Democratic caucus results Monday night. Even before the network failed to produce while the world was watching, visiting savants like Chris Matthews were questioning -- in front of the earnest citizens -- why Iowa got to hold the highly visible first "primary" scrimmage every four years. With these reasonable questions being raised, Iowa may lose its prominent spot. Shame. There ought to be a place for well-meaning Americana -- but maybe not with an ignorant and vicious wannabe dictator getting a free pass from his party enablers. Poor Iowa, caught up in the tumult. My original praise for Iowa and skepticism about a caucus:)
They are highly motivated, conscientious American citizens.
But what in the world are they doing?
Why don’t they just vote?
Then I remember, Iowa is different, or so they say.
I’ve been there three times and liked all three visits. (More in a bit.)
While trying to make sense of this caucus thing Monday evening, I remembered one of my favorite musicals – “The Music Man,” by Meredith Willson, that’s with two L’s, and don’t you forget it.
A con man (Robert Preston) gets off the train in River City, Iowa (Willson was from Mason City) and tries to chat up the townspeople, only to receive a bunch of double talk, some of it polite.
The result: “Iowa Stubborn.”
That charming character trait emerged Monday in snow-covered Iowa (or “I-oh-way,” as some of the denizens insist.)
“The caucus is like cricket,” I told my wife. (We once saw the great West Indies team play a tuneup in a Welsh country town.)
“Cricket is easier,” she said, meaning – bat, ball, tea.
This caucus thing determines who wins the delegates, who has the momentum, or maybe not.
It’s a portrait of Iowa. The Grant Wood painting, American Gothic.
I am affectionate about Iowa – after first noting that its populace does not at all resemble that of my home town of New York.
My first trip to Iowa was in 1973 when Charlotte Curtis, the great Family/Style editor of the Times (herself a Midwesterner), sent me out to Iowa to write about a boy, 18 or 19, who had just been elected mayor of a little town. (I cannot find the story in the electronic files.) It was such a nice visit, at this cold time of year, as I recall.
My second trip to Iowa was early in 1979 when Iowa was selected as one of the sites for the first American visit by Pope John Paul II, because of the huge farm preserve, judged a perfect site for the man from Cracow. After scouting out Des Moines, I had dinner with a couple who had met when he was posted to her town in the Altiplano of a South American country. We went to a Chinese restaurant, where they chatted with the staff in Spanish – a big Chinese contingent, emigrated via Latin America.
My third trip to Iowa was on a perfect autumn day in 1979 as the square-jawed Pope strode the plains, waving to a bunch of Lutherans. He was young and strong, looking like a former linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. I edged closer to get a look – and got blind-sided by an American Secret Service guy.
When the Pope had moved on, I stood on the great plain and congratulated the nun who had facilitated the press visit. She was so happy that the day had turned out so beautifully that I could think of only one thing to do – I hugged the nun. That’s what I think about whenever I remember that day.
Oh, one other Iowa impression: Our daughter Laura decided to spend her junior year abroad and chose Iowa City. Every few weeks the phone would ring and a plaintive voice would say: "It's dark out here."
Now, every four years, the great journalists from my cable-network-of-choice wander all over that state and I thrill to every coffee klatsch and every barber shop. The journalists can explain “quid-pro-quo” and “impeachment” perfectly, but they cannot explain what those folks are doing on the first Monday in February.
(The aforementioned Laura watched caucus news from Iowa Monday night and texted us: "Nicolle and Rachel far better than Troy and Buck." Poor girl is having Super Bowl flashbacks.)
Maybe Meredith Willson could have explained the caucus, but he was more interested in the busy intersection of chicanery and romance, and bless his heart for that.
I did the healthy thing and did not watch a moment on Sunday night. While I read a book, the next generation kept me posted -- good reviews for the ladies, terrible reviews for the TV babblers. Some of our family were early Mahomes fans; I'm happy for them. Ditto for my friend Bill Wakefield, ex-Met, who chose his home town over his adopted Bay Area. I have that righteous (probably smug) feeling I have on Jan. 1 after going to sleep before midnight..
Now I have a three-word mantra for other true believers:
Pitchers And Catchers!!!
* * *
After covering 10 or 11 Super Bowls (*), I still did not truly understand the broad appeal of the event -- until Friday evening.
While watching the Republican majority in the Senate dump on the impeachment trial, I became aware of the magnetic pull of the Big Game on everybody – not just the deaf, dumb and blind Senate majority but even the broadcasters on cable news, who referred to the Super Bowl in just about every other sentence.
People made jokes about home-region teams -- nicknames, rivalries, ancient games -- as if that mattered more than a real hearing, a real trial.
I got the impression that even news TV people with connections had the promise of a ticket and a flight to South Florida, as long as the Senate did not take its job seriously and keep working into Saturday. Plus, four Democrat senators could now rush out to Iowa to peddle their wares before the caucus on Monday.
Take it from me, up close the Super Bowl is just another football game – but with more logistical annoyances, more noise, more stupid stuff at halftime, more clichés, and in the end just a bunch of running and passing and tackling and blocking and kicking and commercial timeouts.
It really isn’t much of a consolation that the Senate cannot officially toss the impeachment into the Dumpster until Wednesday.
Does this mean Trump won’t swagger around South Florida on Sunday….and strut into the State of the Union speech on Tuesday….and make pointed remarks about how the Democrats couldn’t prove a thing. He’s been getting away with stuff all his life. But at least his latest escape won’t be official until Wednesday.
The big game this weekend is that Americans can ignore the reality that Trump forced Ukraine to survive without promised weapons for many crucial days last summer while Trump pursued a personal and political goal and jeopardized Ukrainian people and befouled the honorable career of a diplomat assigned to Ukraine
Thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate – who will be pursued by emerging facts in days and weeks to come -- the menace and the lies get to take a few days off now.
Democracy and justice have been kneed in the groin, have “had their bell rung,” as the football broadcasters used to bray, have been tripped and elbowed, have been clotheslined by a neck-high tackle.
The big game will be run by tighter rules than the Trump Frolics, but that makes sense.
After all, what’s more important - an impeachment trial or a Super Bowl?
* * *
(*) -- I originally thought I covered nearly two dozen Super Bowls, but it just seemed that way. When I checked, it was only 10. Maybe 11. Some of them numbed my mind but I do have memories: Preservation Hall jazz in 1970; having to trek over snowy fields because VP Bush's arrival halted all traffic around the Silverdome in 1982; John Riggins' superb traction on a slick Rose Bowl field in 1983; enjoying the Bears, my favorite childhood team, winning in NOLA in 1986; and watching southern drivers try to negotiate icy interstates before Atlanta game in 2000. Who says there is no fun at the Super Bowl?
Remember that ticked-off world traveler – carrying his squash racquet, of course -- doing a double-take at the airport commercial?
“So easy a caveman can do it?”
That got his attention.
The terms blur in modern usage, but either way, the passenger takes exception to his ancestors being used in a derogatory fashion.
And he has a point.
A lot of contemporary “humans” carry vestiges of Neanderthal genes, from quickie hookups back in the day. The more I read about Neanderthals, the more I think this is something to brag about. Some people have the random 1 percent – meaning they are descendants of a race that ran in family packs, began to use some of the world’s natural goods, was able to improvise. (Friend of ours has a smidgen of Neanderthal, DNA -- and that lady is a lawyer.)
The latest discovery of Neanderthal accomplishment was by scientists who found sharpened shells in ancient ponds in Italy, meaning Neanderthals were able to dive in water over their heads, and fashion shells into cutting tools and spears for hunting.
The research was written up in the Times in this week’s Tuesday Science Section, although the essence had already been posted on the Web:
I have been fascinated by Neanderthals since I read the article by Carl Zimmer in the NYT Magazine in February of 2018, describing the talents and range of Neanderthals before they ran out of space and time, losing out to vastly superior homo sapiens.
As a journalist, I was hooked by Zimmer’s lead:
"It’s long been an insult to be called a Neanderthal. But the more these elusive, vanished people have been studied, the more respect they’ve gained among scientists."
That NYT article prompted me to read “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past,” by David Reich. (Pantheon.) Here I learned about the species called Denisovans.
A Google search revealed a trove of contemporary forensic constructions of Neanderthals, many of them looking like faces you could see around the world.
As for the irate dude with the squash racquet, he has made a recent comeback in other Geico commercials, still feeling slighted by modern society, where superior homo sapiens can learn and remember and reason. (Wonder what he thinks, watching the impeachment “trial.”)
* * *
(The music on the commercial: "Remind Me," by the very modern Norwegian duo, Royksopp.)
I fell in love with Annabella Sciorra back when we had HBO, which meant whenever the Mets’ bullpen was blowing a lead I could channel-surf movies.
One night I happened upon an essentially corny tale about two people who have divorced but remain involved in each other’s lives. That’s all you need to know. Somehow or other, she and her new beau are at a charity fund-raiser and are called up to sing, while her ex sits with his new lady friend.
The former wife is Annabella Sciorra, previously unknown to me, and heartbreakingly adorable. She shakes her gorgeous ringlets and modestly hits the right notes for the popular “I Say a Little Prayer,” recorded by Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, both great.
Somehow, two women materialize from behind a curtain, in nurses’ outfits, singing backup, like two-thirds of the Supremes. In a front row, the ex-husband, Matt Dillon, is sitting with his new lady, Mary-Louise Parker, and Dillon suddenly realizes he has made a terrible mistake in divorcing this girl, and he glowers (apparently his only facial expression in any movie) and his lady friend glances sideways and susses the situation: Poor glowering Matt is in love. By that time, so are many other persons of the XY chromosome persuasion, including me.
I don’t know how that movie turned out because I invariably tuned back to see how the Mets blew another game, but Annabella Sciorra is now permanently in my memory.
Let us fast-forward to this Thursday when Ms. Sciorra testified in court that Harvey Weinstein raped her back in 1993 or '94 and terrorized her for months or years afterward. She is a witness in the trial of this monster, who is accused of raping and haunting dozens of other women.
Her agony is on the public record, she and friends talking about how her career suffered, her personality changed, after the alleged assaults by Weinstein. She was never the same, some friends have said.
This makes me feel guilty for following her in her time with “The Sopranos,” when she was the femme-fatale luxury-car saleswoman who takes up with Tony Soprano, who beats her up, just before her tragic end. Given what we know now, how awful to play that role.
The best role Annabella Sciorra plays now is that of witness. This is what that man did. Her testimony will perhaps make every man question something he said, or did, without ever getting anywhere near Weinstein levels.
Reading what she went through brings out the vigilante impulse, but there’s enough of that floating around. Brava to Ms. Sciorra for going public, after decades of terror.
No quick justice for Harvey Weinstein, now a lumbering old man, allegedly with back troubles. May he push his walker into jail, for a very long sentence surrounded by inmates who, in the pecking order of prisons, don’t like his kind.
From this Annabella Sciorra fan, my toast to Harvey Weinstein: “Cent’Anni.” One hundred years. In the slammer.
* * *
Sciorra talks about Weinstein, interview by Ronan Farrow:
I've been trying to figure out who left Derek Jeter off the Hall of Fame vote. My inclination is that it is somebody looking for attention, or it could be a reporter who once tried to get a quote from Jeter and received a shrug or a scowl. It happens.
My e-friend Bill Lucey in Cleveland put the vote in perspective: there have been worse shenanigans in previous Hall of Fame elections.
* * *
So, what’s the big deal, that one fearless sportswriter didn’t cast a vote for Derek Jeter, “Captain Courageous,” to the Hall of Fame.
We're not living in Putin's Russia
• In 1953, Joe DiMaggio was passed over on his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, coming in eighth with 117 votes out of a possible 264. Interestingly, It wouldn’t be until 1955 (his third try) when Joltin Joe’ was finally elected to the Hall of Fame with 223 out of a possible 251 votes.
• Mr. Chicago, Ernie Banks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 with only 83.81 percent of the vote (321 votes on 383 ballots).
• Jackie Robinson entered the Hall with only 77.5 percent of the vote in 1962 (124 of 160), just 2.5 percent over the required 75 percent for induction. In that same class, Cleveland Indians flame thrower, Bob Feller, “Rapid Robert,” received 150 out of 160 votes, 93.75 percent.
• Willie Mays was snubbed by 23 voters in 1979 (94.68 percent); and a whopping 52 members didn’t think Sandy Koufax was worthy of the Hall, giving the Dodger southpaw 86.87 percent of the vote in 1972.
• “The Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams received only 282 of 302 votes in 1966, giving him 93.4 percent of the vote.
• 11 writers, if you can imagine that, left Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat’’ off their HOF ballots, giving him 95.13 percent of the vote.
• Hank Aaron, who belted 755 home runs in his celebrated career, earned 97.8 percent of the vote with nine members of the Baseball Writers Association opting not to vote for him on the 1982 Hall of Fame ballot.
• Ty Cobb collected 222 of a possible 226 votes, a 98.2 percentage.
Knowing these greats were far from unanimous, I think we can live with one sports writer, one brave soul, deciding not to vote for the former Yankee Captain.
Source: Baseball Reference
* * *
(Lucey works as a researcher-editor and his passion is writing, often about baseball but also finding fascinating subjects in his home town of Cleveland the way I like to think I do about my home town of NYNY. Check out his web site for a baseball-centric view of the world:)
* * *
I am proud the NYT included two excepts of paeans I wrote about Jeter in their well-deserved coverage of his election in Wednesday's paper. The Times dissected Jeter's alert flip to retire Jeremy Giambi at home plate, which was the source of one of my favorite columns. For those of you who can access the NYT website, here is the link to "Slide, Jeremy, Slide."
The other day we saw a gripping American play, about dishonesty.
It made me think about:
--- The current baseball scandal?
--- The former representative going away for insider stock selling?
--- All of the above?
The play is “All My Sons,” written by Arthur Miller in 1947 about a Middle American factory that shipped flawed parts for planes during World War Two, with disastrous consequences – first for the pilots, then for the people who ran the factory.
We saw the play on the screen at the Kew Gardens Cinema in my home borough of Queens, part of the National Theatre Live series, at movie houses all over the world.
We caught the play while the baseball scandal continues to unravel, at the cost of dishonored championships, ruined careers and realistic suspicions about other aspects of Major League Baseball – supersonic balls in orbit last season, plus Commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to blow up the historic network of minor-league baseball.
Baseball’s grubby face was on my mind as we went to see the important American play from the landmark Old Vic in London. The two leads were Americans: Sally Field, as a midwestern Mother Courage trying to keep the lid on her cover story, warning her husband to “be smart,” and Bill Pullman, with his large, open, American male physicality, reminding me of the aging Ted Williams.
The rest of the cast is British -- terrific actors sometimes a tad off in American inflection or body language. The back-yard setting is a bit too folksy, post-war middle class, for a family with a factory that prospered during the war.
But you get into it, way into it.
The older son disappeared in aerial action during the war. The younger son is trying to live in the vacuum of loss. And the family that used to live next door has been broken by the jailing of the other partner for malfeasance with the faulty parts.
As we sat in the movie house in Queens, we thought about Boeing, with its two new planes that crashed recently, killing hundreds of people, followed by superb reporting in The New York Times about wretched management and disgruntled workers who knew the planes were flawed. But the planes had to be delivered so shareholders could have a a new vacation home, a new luxury car, a new wife. How American. How courant.
Money is at the core of the play. The father takes over the stage (all arms and shoulders, like Ted Williams giving batting tips) as he tells his son (returned from combat) that he has held the factory together so he can pass it on to the son, who is known to neighbors as idealistic.
There will be money.
That very day, in upstate New York, former Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to 26 months for passing along inside information that a stock he had championed was about to fall apart. Collins, in tears, said he broke the law for his son, so there would be money, for the family.
My wife and I sat in our favorite movie house, watching Arthur Miller’s post-war statement take very human form. My eyes teared up as I watched these very real people – the older couple trying to “be smart,” the son trying to make it all right by marrying the girl who used to live next door.
When we left the movie house, in the funky old section of Kew Gardens, it was 2020, not 1947. Impeachment was in the air. People were still sending flawed airplanes into the air, all in the name of family. The American dream.
Arthur Miller would feel right at home.
* * *
National Theatre Live website:
Guardian review of "All My Sons."
Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 26 months:
Tyler Kepner's latest great piece on the Houston Asterisks:
Recent article on suspicions by Boeing workers, by Natalie Kitroeff:
I’d like to wax moralistic about the baseball scandal that got a manager and a general manager of a championship team fired on Monday.
I feel cheated because I fell in love with that Houston team three-four years ago, so much talent, so much charisma with Altuve and Springer and seemingly admirable guys like Hinch and Cora and Beltrán.
Now, as a Mets fan, I want to know how this scandal affects their new manager, Carlos Beltrán, but according to the commissioner, you can’t really bust a dugout full of players. (Plus, players have a union.)
So it seems Beltrán will be the manager. Just hide the garbage-pail cans.
So many scandals, so much cheating.
I'll admit, I used to think it was funny when ball players I knew were caught with sandpaper or thumb tacks in their pockets to doctor the ball, or a catcher had a sharp edge on his belt buckle so that the two-out, two-strike pitch would swerve downward, game over.
Then, a generation ago, everybody had new muscles all over them, and players were whacking 50 or 60 or 70 home runs a year. Looks to me like burly, wired pitchers were cheating, too.
Then again, out in the Real World, public figures are lying every time they move their lips, and have reputations for not paying their bills and cheating on their wives, while preachers tell their flocks to vote for them.
Just saying. No names mentioned.
After I absorbed the breaking news of suspensions and subsequent firing of Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, I flipped to the news section of the Times and read a piece by the great Michael Kimmelman. He is one of the jewels of the paper, who has morphed from art critic to covering the social implications of architecture over the world.
As described by Kimmelman, that new playground for the 1 per cent, known as Hudson Yards – Heaven forbid New York should try to house its working class – is trying to slip a two-out, two-strike pitch past the city by building a huge garage on the west side of the playpen for the rich. (Never mind that the city is already choking on cars, and trucks and limos, plus amateurs swerving around on rented bikes.)
The new garage would loom right where a much-needed rail tunnel to the American mainland should be rounding into shape – except that big-mouth Chris Christie blew up the project when he was governor of New Jersey. His one-finger salute to society is surely the first thing on Christie’s lifetime resumé.
Now, like some pitchers I used to know, the builder of Hudson Yards was going to slip one by the public. This little surprise would loom over the High Line, the quirky elevated walkway with the great views that has enhanced the city and even encouraged people to get out and walk. The friendly folks at Hudson Yards were going to pour the concrete and block out the view and explain it all later, as builders do all over New York.
Fortunately, Kimmelman and the NYT got word of this Down near the bottom, he included a quote from a state senator about the builder of Hudson Yards:
“The last thing New Yorkers need is a wall, and from all people, Steve Ross.”
That, Kimmelman dutifully noted, was a reference to Ross’s recent fund-raising efforts for, oh but you guessed it, President Trump.
It is not clear whether our public servants can undo the mischief, the trick pitch, from the Vaseline on the back of Steve Ross’ neck.
Meantime, the Astros will find another manager and general manager, and there will be a baseball season.
No matter who is ingesting what, or stealing what signals, the new season will somehow seem more wholesome than just about anything else going down these days.
Now that our Dear Leader is back on his meds, the United States is in the hands of Mitch McConnell.
This was the conclusion in the past day as we realized the world was not in smoldering ruins, not yet, from an impulsive drive-by shooting ordered by the Dear Leader.
The twitchy fingers of Twitter America have produced a theory that somebody had fed him doggie downers or whatever it took to leave Donald Trump slurring as he mechanically tried to read what his handlers had written for him. Not a pretty sight, but better than more rabid postures he takes.
Meantime, the nation is back in the hands of the same friendly feller who kidnapped the Supreme Court candidacy of Judge Merrick B. Garland and committed other acts of contempt toward democracy.
I don’t need to go through the scenarios of the impeachment frolics. We’ve got time to talk about it while Nancy Pelosi – the smartest person in the room – is making the Dear Leader twist.
But I, who lived in Kentucky as a Times reporter for a few years and returned often, have my own take on Mitch. I have told this story before. Short version: I covered a statewide election in Kentucky and the winning candidate – I have no memory which one or which party – celebrated that night at headquarters by proclaiming:
“They’ve had their turn at the trough; now it’s our turn.”
Ever since then, I retain the image of one porker or another making the most of his chance – no concern for others.
Millions of Americans would not have health care, however imperfect, if John McCain had not pointed his thumb downward on that historic midnight. Mitch would be fine with disregarding the needs of the poor in the cities and hollers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
He also shows his contempt for others by championing the dying industry of coal mining, which I covered years ago. He doesn’t care how badly King Coal pollutes the land and the air – or that it is is only a sliver of Kentucky’s economy. His turn at the trough.
McConnell’s posture is even more negative considering that he broke into politics as an aide to Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Republican – I guess you’d say an old-style Republican. Cooper was worldly and collegial. I covered his announcement that he would not run again in 1972. Maybe I met McConnell that day; I do remember the gravitas of John Sherman Cooper.
I think of Cooper and others these days during the scrimmage for the House-to-Senate impeachment.
I remember when Democrats like Sam Ervin and Republicans like Howard Baker were able to work together in the Watergate scandal that doomed Richard M. Nixon.
It seems clear to me – from the impulsive assassination ordered by Trump to the lies from Trump’s toadies, angering even a Republican stalwart like Mike Lee of Utah – that the United States needs Trump dismissed.
Mitch McConnell is trying to block it. I don’t know what McConnell gains from a defective president like Trump. But it’s still Mitch’s turn at the trough, and that may be all that matters to him.
* * *
Here is Gail Collins today, on McConnell. (I have delayed my pleasure in reading Collins until after I file my little screed, which was already in the works.)
“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
That’s when I started to really like David Stern.
It was 1980, and I was just back after a decade in the Real World, now trying to write something scrutable about the finances of pro basketball. I had been referred to David Stern, then the lawyer/financial adviser with the National Basketball Association.
After a decade in the Appalachians rather than Madison Square Garden, I remembered the N.B.A. as a haimish mom-and-pop outfit. Now, apparently, the players were making money, which meant the owners were making even more.
Stern started giving me a primer on cable television, and why NBA championships were going to be seen in prime time, by millions and millions. I must have given him my usual blank look whenever finances are discussed. (My wife knows that look well.)
Stern gave that big but lethal smile and said he would try to make it simple for me.
That first meeting set the tone for a long and respectful, if rather sporadic, relationship. Stern, who died on New Year’s Day at 77, is the best sports commissioner I ever covered – making the most impact and lasting 30 years in the job. In addition to his killer-shark business instincts, he also displayed human responses
Most sports executives treat reporters like the fools and outsiders we are, but Stern patronized me in a rather respectful way, to let me know I was worthy of a rudimentary education.
He was a business maven with the golden touch, who seemed to invent players named Bird and Magic and Michael. Amazing. He also retained at least a feel of the old funky N.B.A. The first league social function I attended – the dinner at an All-Star Game, can’t remember when or where – had its share of business types and current stars but also members of a diverse family: old office fixtures who had worked for the N.B.A. going back to the Maurice Podoloff era, plus several current female basketball players, and a lot of black faces.
Two things showed me the human side of David Stern:
---Micheal Ray Richardson had to be banned for life after testing positive once too often. I’ve seen sports leaders grow vindictive, take it personally, when their hired hands let them down, but Stern, talking to a knot of reporters, shook his head at the banishment of the charismatic but hapless star.
“This is tragedy,” he said. And I liked him even more.
---One time I wrote a column praising another sports official for taking a stand against prejudice, and on a Sunday morning I got a call at home from Stern praising the column, privately, between us.
I was not lulled into misjudging him. I was not totally surprised when Rod Thorn, a star player and long-time insider, hardly a bomb-thrower, disclosed that Stern was acerbic, demanding, around the office.
Neither did I think Stern was running a charity. When labor issues arose, he would tell reporters that he was open to any deal that would help both sides. Showing that frightening smile, he would say: “I’m easy. Easy Dave.” Oh, yeah.
The league was changing. The N.B.A. opened offices overseas, hired women – women—with language skills and contacts to do-good causes. My friends in the international press, based in New York, started to get credentials for Knicks games because the league had plans beyond the borders. One night, a couple of Italian journalists gave a KOBE 7 soccer jersey of AC Milan to the Lakers’ star, who grew up in Milan. The N.B.A. was not in Sheboygan anymore. (It used to be; you could look it up.)
Last example: A couple of decades ago, the New York Times tried to expand its horizons, with a special sports magazine. To attract influential advertisers, the Times held a little dog-and-pony show somewhere in Madison Square Garden, as I recall.
A handful of us were to give little talks to the heavy hitters. I gave a rather introverted and whiny talk about how dedicated we journalists were, as if we were humanitarian priests and nuns feeding the poor in El Salvador or something.
At the reception afterward, Easy Dave sidled over to me, and with nobody else in earshot he said, “You really don’t get it, do you? These people want to hear about the stars you meet, the games you cover, the places you go. They don’t want to hear shop talk. They want stories. Excitement. Glamor.”
As soon as I saw those teeth flashing, I knew he was right. I never had another sports executive criticize me more directly, more privately, more accurately. (Honorable mention: George Young of the football Giants and Fay Vincent of baseball.)
I could see why David Stern built the NBA into a world force. I tried to learn something from him. And now I will miss Easy Dave.
Back in the day, when sports columnists were a daily presence, my job description included having an opinion on the national college football championship.
Often, this entailed being in warm places on New Year’s Day, which is the best thing I can say about covering the loopy methods of judging teams with differing schedules playing in different bowl games. Bowl games got me to Pasadena or Miami. What can I say?
Now that I am retired, I pay no attention to any form of football. Instead, I am free to follow another highly imperfect ratings system, closer to my heart and ear – the annual vote for the best classical music, as conducted by the invaluable station emanating from my home town (and live on the Web) WQXR-FM, 105.9 on the dial.
The station has been conducting this poll since the mid-‘80s, asking listeners to rank their favorites. The results are played in the annual countdown in the last week of the year, generally reflecting the programming of the station – the old favorites, often presented one movement at a time.
During the countdown, the station also conducts a running blog (results not updated as quickly as listeners would like) including commentary from the faithful in distant states and foreign lands. Many of respondents are passionate about wanting" More variety! More medieval music! More Reich and Glass! More music by African-American composers! More music by women!
Plus, there is the rampant suspicion that some Gilbert & Sullivan supporters pack the ballot box, just like voters in some towns and states I could name.
And some listeners question whether Gilbert & Sullivan is actually classical music. I pass on that one.
My feeling is, the annual countdown reflects the tastes of people who support WQXR and live classical music in New York. More power to them.
Still: every year I make a small list of music I play at home, and I hope some of it will slip into the countdown. As my friend Vic Ziegel, who introduced me to the strange charm of the racetrack, used to say about the track announcer: “At least give my horse a call.”
In the past few couple of years, I have been trending toward chamber music at home because it is self-contained, providing a welcome alternative to the toxic earworms on the air waves.
--In an ugly time, I have become infatuated with Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” for its beauty and pace and dignity.
--I often choose “Butterworth/Parry/Bridge,” its three composers taking me back me to lazy summer days, visiting a friend in the Brecon Beacons of Wales.
-- I was rooting hard for something by Florence Price, the composer whose work is often championed by the wonderful Terrance McKnight on his evening gig, not just in Black History Month, either.
--Because we are blessed to have two good friends comprising half of the New Zealand String Quartet, we have their works by Bartok, among others.
-- But the work I was really hoping for was Sir William Walton’s Violin Concerto, performed by Kyung-Wha Chung. I still remember the first time I heard it: I was a news reporter in the late ‘70s, driving to meet some nuns in jeans and sweatshirts who did the Lord’s work in the South Bronx. But when this stunning piece appeared on my car radio, I sat and listened for the full half hour.
Alas, this beautiful piece is not easily found on vinyl or CD – and is not in the WQXR top 120, either. Not even, in racetrack parlance, a call.
The 2019 list does include many things I love, including a few pieces by Erik Satie, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and – No. 4 in the poll -- Dvorak’s “From the New World.” The older I get, the more I appreciate Dvorak, for his music and also for his love for two worlds, Bohemia and America.
I missed it live, but there on the list at No. 68 was a very modern already-classic, "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace," by Karl Jenkins, first performed in 2000, which I heard for the first time in the past year.
However, the piece that really knocked me out was No. 109, Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 8 in E-Flat, Symphony of a Thousand,” by the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, with wonderful soloists and choruses. It made me stop what I was doing and just listen.
At the end, Beethoven placed six in the top 10. I have no quarrel with the selections because the voters care about “their” music. It’s up to us to seek out the music we love, and play it, and pay for it, early and often.
Happy New Year.
* * *
The current results:
Plus, check out the blog with informed and passionate comments by listeners: .
And for comparison, the two most recent results.
Say what you will about the I-Man, this alternately cruel and shy character who passed Friday at 79, he kept me alive many years ago.
I had paid him no attention until he popped up on the new sports talk station, WFAN -- 660 on the AM dial – in the late 80’s. Most of the station was devoted to hard-core sports babble but his four hours in the morning – “the revenue-producing portion of the day,” I think he called it – was a snarling, sneering refutation of sports, plus music critiques and skits.
One of the best things I have ever heard on the radio was a skit in which Princess Diana visits America to get away from that strange bunch she had married into. (I forget the name of the woman who portrayed Diana.) Somehow or other, Diana is invited to Imus’ home in Connecticut, for a hot-dog roast with real people, that is to say, the I-Man. She is so enthralled by his informality that she pleads for asylum, asking in a plaintive voice, “Please, may I stay here?” Oh, if only she had.
Imus grew on me, with his frequent praise for his favorite musician, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. He also acted as a one-man media critic of the noble knights of the keyboard back when newspapers and sports sections and columnists played to the snarky taste of the New York region.
He was vicious toward his station mates, calling Mike Francesa and Chris Russo “Fatso and Fruit Loops.” He derided his literary agent and consigliere, Esther Newberg, referring to her as, of course, “Lobsters.” He regularly berated the plugged-in sports columnist of the Daily News, Mike Lupica, and sometimes when he had nothing else to do, he picked on me.
(Let it be noted that Lupica and I are clients of the sainted Ms. Newberg.)
One time Imus relayed a new item about an elderly gent who was left, in a wheelchair, I believe, by his guardian at some rural dog track. This became the Imus standard for irrelevancy, for being past it. He often would ridicule my masterpieces and state the obvious: “Dog-track time for Vecsey.”
One time my sister Janet rang up the station to blast the I-Man and he put her on the air, and was oh, so civil to her. That was the I-Man, a human mood swing. I met him a few times, hanging out in a baseball press box, making no fuss. In person, the radio tough guy would softly say hello and kind of look sideways at me.
How did Imus save my life? My wife was on a trip somewhere and I thought it made sense for me to drive our car from south Florida to Long Island – straight through, overnight (with a couple of 15-minute naps at rest stops.)
I got near Baltimore, the sun rising, and to keep awake I punched the dial seeking Imus going on the air at 6 AM.
But I was sleepy. Very sleepy. I could feel the car starting to edge onto the rough border of the inside lane. I righted the steering wheel and willed myself to stay awake. But I was sleepy.
Just then, Imus began a tirade against a failing columnist who had just written another piece of foolscap. In his basso voice of denunciation and doom, Imus pronounced: “Dog-track time for Vecsey.”
That got my adrenaline surging – who doesn’t like attention? – and I gripped the wheel and listened to Imus for the next four hours until the revenue-producing part of the day was over, and I got home, alive.
* * *
I’d like to say that my debt to the I-Man made me a listener for life, but that’s not true. He and his radio sidekicks increased their racial crap and their creepy comments about women until one day he made ugly comments about the mostly-black players on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, competing in the Final Four. That was it. I turned Imus off, and never listened to him again.
In a way, Imus was a predictor of where we are today. However, unlike some public figures I could name, he appeared to be generous, to have a heart. According to the obituaries, the I-Man hosted young people at his Imus Ranch and raised funds for Iraq veterans, and his wife Deirdre has her own charity at a New Jersey hospital. It seems he affected thousands of lives – plus one sleepy driver, edging off the Interstate on a warm sunrise.
* * *
Here’s a treat: the NYT’s star, Robert McFadden, on the I-Man:
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: