As of this moment, the worst seasonal record in the history of the major leagues still belongs to the 1962 Mets – 40 victories, 120 losses, for a nice round percentage of .250.
However, it looks as if the Oakland A’s – 11-45- .196 as of Tuesday morning -- might break that record.
A lot of people who love the Mets are rooting for Oakland to somehow avoid a new low, and leave that honor to Casey Stengel’s 1962 Amazin’ Mets.
Is that twisted? Not from my point of view. The 1962 season remains memorable – the first season for an expansion franchise created to replace the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, who had bolted to California in 1958.
The Mets were often terrible, but they were also a lot of fun, with Stengel diverting attention from all those losses. Now, 61 years later, many Mets’ fans – and also some vintage Mets players -- are saying they could easily live with that distinction.
“Keep the record!!!” texted Bill Wakefield, who had a decent year as a reliever in 1964.
“I want that to be forever,” says Howie Rose, the Queens kid living out the dream by broadcasting Mets games on the radio. He will be honored by the Mets Wednesday evening and will throw out the first pitch – as fans display their Howie Rose bobblehead dolls.
Rose goes back to 1962 when he was 8 years old and his father took him to the Polo Grounds to see the new team.
“Being a narcissistic kid, I thought it was all for me,” Rose told me over the phone on Monday.
The Mets beat the Cardinals and Gil Hodges hit what turned out to be his last home run. Rod Kanehl – the scrappy minor-leaguer who came to be a folk hero of the early Mets – hit the first grand-slam homer in Met history! Complete game by Roger Craig! Felix Mantilla 4-for-4! My man Joe Christopher playing center field!
“It was a year-long celebration,” Rose said, noting that the Mets somehow won a World Series only seven years later. Amazing.
“You had to be there,” Rose said.
Craig Anderson was there at the start – a Lehigh College graduate, obtained from the Cardinal organization, one of the many “university men” that Casey and Edna Stengel relished.
Anderson was the winning pitcher in both ends of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Braves, raising the Mets’ record to 12-19. Maybe they were not so terrible, some people said. They promptly lost 17 straight, and finished the season at .250.
Anderson was up and down with the Mets the next two years, and ended his major-league career with 19 consecutive losses – which was the record going into the 1992 season when another Met, Anthony Young, kept losing.
“When Anthony Young approached my 19 straight losses,” Anderson texted Monday, “I wrote him and said I hoped he did not break my record, to no avail. He had good stuff and bad luck. I did the best I could but lost some starts when relievers failed me. So that’s baseball…”
Anthony wound up losing 27 straight decisions with the Mets and Cubs, and died in 2017.
Craig Anderson, 84, watches the Oakland Athletics stumble, as the A’s ownership allows the franchise to dwindle, to make it easier to get out of town, to Las Vegas. (And why not, given MLB’s dangerous new flirtation with sports gambling?)
Some people would welcome another team breaking the Mets’ 1962 record. Keith Hernandez, who helped win World Series for St. Louis and the Mets, said on a TV broadcast last week that the Mets and their fans should be glad to get rid of the streak.
But Craig Anderson is not so sure.
He took heart from the old-timers’ day in Queens last summer, a lavish reunion including a few original Mets. Anderson added: “Don't forget a truly professional man, Gil Hodges, on and off the field!”
“After the recognition that my teammates and I received last August, I truly feel about playing on the first Mets team was a special moment in my career,” Anderson continued, saying his team was “a small part of baseball history and Mets fans made us feel special too.
“So let our record stand. Mets fans proved to me that former players, win or lose, are still special” -- Craig Anderson, 1962 Original Met, and Proud of It.”
Jim Brown Made the Earth Shake
Here on the Manhasset-Port Washington tectonic plate (if there is such a thing), some people still feel the rumbling from Jim Brown, local guy, who died Friday at 87.
They remember the earth trembling when Brown crashed into opponents in most of his five sports. (Correct: five sports.) They also remember the impact of his loyalty, when he chose to come home to Long Island.
Brown was many things to many people (including a felon serving a few months for misbehavior toward women.) Bad side and all, Brown was surely an epic figure out of ancient legends – from Beowolf to Babe the Blue Ox to John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man.
Some people remember, first-hand. I called my pal and neighbor, Paul Nuzzolese, who played three sports at Schreiber High in Port Washington. Paul’s family used to run a visible ice-and-wood business with trucks rumbling all over the metropolitan area.
Paul played guard in football, was on the basketball team, and was a lefty pitcher on the Port baseball team. The plan for Jim Brown was to throw off-speed, not give the big guy something he could hit.
And if you could induce Brown to chop a grounder, it was wise to avoid a collision.
Were baseball opponents intimidated by the sight of Jim Brown on the basepath?
Paul called me back Sunday morning after he recalled pitching at home against Manhasset, and being taken out when the game was tied after a regulation seven innings. That gave him a good view of Brown's 360-foot perambulation of the bases:
"Brown hit a squibbler down the first-line," Nuzzolese said. "You know how hard it is to field a squibbler."
Harder with fully-grown Jim Brown hustling down the basepath. (No names mentioned of the Port fielders.)
The ball got past the first baseman, into right field, and Brown took off for second, and continued toward third. The Port third baseman waited for the throw, but was wary of Brown barrelling down on him, and needless to say Brown wound up scoring on the aforementioned squibbler.
Port lost the game, but the fielders retained their knees, and their wits.
Still, like Jim Thorpe and Michael Jordan, Brown was not a great hitter.
“It was his fourth sport,” Paul said respectfully on Friday when he heard his old opponent was gone.
In order, Brown played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, was a high jumper in track and field, and somebody will have to explain to me how he managed to play baseball and lacrosse in the spring.
There are tales of Brown playing in a baseball game, and when Manhasset was not in the field, he would leap a fence to and take a turn at the high jump, and then return and take his turn at bat.
How did Brown come to Manhasset, at the base of Manhasset Bay, a few minutes from Port Washington?
Born on Feb. 17, 1936, in coastal St. Simons, Ga., Brown came north with his mother, who cleaned houses in adjacent Great Neck. But Manhasset introduced the young man to civic leaders and coaches who promised him he would be comfortable in their school, and he wound up registered at Manhasset. He soon made himself felt – particularly on the football field.
Paul Nuzzolese, 86, was a guard, bulked up over 200 pounds, who saw and felt Jim Brown up close. He recalls a fellow lineman -- “Big Joe, six-foot-three, built like Hercules, had a collision with Brown in the open field – never was the same.”
My friend was talking on the phone from Florida; I could hear the shudder in his voice. (I have to proudly add: My pal Nuzzolese is now a member of the Wagner College athletic hall of fame.)
As good as he was in football, Jim Brown was said to be the best lacrosse player who ever lived. It was impossible to dislodge the ball from the webbing at the end of his lacrosse stick, tight in his powerful hands.
The legend is that Lefty James, the football coach at Cornell, wandered over to watch a Syracuse-Cornell lacrosse game one spring and blurted, “My God, they let him carry a stick?”
(I think my late pal Dick Schaap, who played a bit of lacrosse, may have told me that story.)
The money was in the National Football League, and Brown was the best, or very close to it.
His path took him to the movies and some notoriety in his so-called private life and also a major role in Black activism of the ‘60s and well into this century.
All of that is covered in the great coverage in Saturday’s New York Times and surely everywhere else.
And then there were the homecomings.
In 1984, Brown had mellowed enough to accept the induction into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, but obdurate as he was, he would only show up if the ceremony was held in his adopted hometown of Manhasset. He honored Ken Molloy, civic leader, and Ed Walsh, football coach, and others who treated him with respect, more than just a five-star athlete.
I made the short drive to cover Brown’s induction. In the informal moments, I introduced Brown to my son, then 14 years old.
“Nice to meet you, David,” Brown said, in that deep voice, shaking hands vigorously.
I distinctly remember a crunching sound, although David does not quite remember it being quite that bad.
Brown came home other times. One of his Manhasset teammates, Mike Pascucci, had done well in business, and had become a booster of one of the great institutions on Long Island, or anywhere – then named Abilities, Inc., now named the Viscardi Center, after the founder, Dr. Henry Viscardi – in nearby Albertson, L.I., where people are helped to work, to play, to live.
(FYI: Edwin Martin, a frequent contributor to this site, was a long-time leader of the Viscardi Center and is a pioneer of services for the disabled; his wife Peggy has been an activist for easing young people into jobs.)
Clearly, the Viscardi Center attracts good people. Once a year or so, Pascucci would invite his old teammate to visit the center.
“They had a celebrity night,” Paul Nuzzolese recalled Friday, “They’d get athletes like Jack Nicklaus, Gale Sayers, Mike Schmidt, signing autographs. I saw Jim Brown get down on his knees and talk to those kids, and he would say how proud he was to be there.”
Jim Brown never lost his dedication to causes. I ran into him in the ‘90s, at some gathering in the city, I cannot remember the cause – health care and support for broken old football players, or racial causes. Whatever. Jim Brown was wearing a fez over his rugged skull, displaying a familiar hard look below the fez.
Omigosh. I felt we were back in the late 60’s maybe in People’s Park in Berkeley, maybe outside Madison Square Garden or some other place that needed an attitude adjustment.
The old days were back: Harry Edwards. Bill Russell. Roberto Clemente or Curt Flood giving writers a seminar in the clubhouse. Richie Havens. Nina Simone. Protest songs. The hallowed John Lewis.
I saw a puzzled look on the face of a Black journalist, half my age, and I kind of giggled.
Jim Brown’s scowl made me feel young again.
And on the Manhasset-Port Washington peninsula, the earth still shudders from the powerful athlete who once played here.
I can hardly wait to read the shop talk from Mark Landler, who does such a masterful job as the NYT’s correspondent based in London.
Just the mention of coronations always makes me think of the great memoir of Russell Baker, who covered the 1953 ceremony for Queen Elizabeth, for the Baltimore Sun. (see below)
Now, a great coronation output by Landler – my teammate during the Times’ coverage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany – on deadline, of the coronation of King Charles III on Saturday. (Landler was joined by a story on Queen Camilla by Megan Specia and a fashion Vanessa Friedman who has trained me to read her fashion essays.)
Landler wrote a breaking news story with the lush details any Times reader would want – including, who was that lady in the blue-teal gown, carrying the sword? Why, it was Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons – her very presence in the ancient ceremony another sign of inclusivity in not-your-grandparents’ England.
Whether “we” should care about royals and coronations is another story.
I checked, and my two rellies – Sam from the States and Jen from Australia – were not in their London base but rather in southwest France – and they were most decidedly NOT WATCHING.
But I was, and so was the lady next to me, both of us with genes and family names and ancestry that go back to….well, in her case, William the Conqueror. (Me Mum was born in England but was decidedly a Churchill fan, not a royals fan.)
Anyway, we gave the royals' production firm good marks for the visible Sikhs and Muslims and Buddhists plus the mention of Ephraim Mirvis, the UK grand rabbi, who was quartered near Westminster Abbey overnight to observe the Sabbath.
(One favorite moment was the modern alleluia hymn sung and danced by the Ascension Gospel Choir, gracing the ceremony with their voices and their joy.)
All of that was lavishly presented on the tube (anchored by Alex Witt, the weekend pro on MSNBC, with the indispensable Katty Kay back home in London, sending vital posts from a favorable spot on the parade route.) And soon the NYT will surely tell how its staff produced a masterpiece (color photos!)
Speaking of shop talk: The landmark for coronation tales has less to do with young Elizabeth than with young Russell Baker, who had been posted in London by the Baltimore Sun, which in 1953 was a major, major American daily, always looking for young talent.
Many decades later, as part of his memoirs, ("Growing Up" and "Good Times") Baker wrote about covering the 1953 coronation -- delightful details of how he scouted out a proper outfit for the ceremony, and how he packed a brown-bag lunch with two sandwiches and a few chunks of cheese and a tiny bottle of brandy to fortify himself during the long day. And how his wife, Mimi, was invited to a friend’s house where there was a TV set.
Ever since Baker’s coronation tale was published, I consider it one of the inspiring great glimpses of a young journalist, being challenged by a great paper, and obviously succeeding, and how, decades later, Baker could recall the details of that assignment-of-a-lifetime.
Brown-Bagging It to Buckingham
By Russell Baker
Jan. 1, 1989
MY INTENTION WAS TO become a great novelist, not a foreign correspondent, so naturally I never expected to end up in Westminster Abbey covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The chain of events that put me there began in 1947. The Baltimore Sun needed a police reporter that year. The managing editor mentioned it to an editorial writer who lectured at Johns Hopkins, and the editorial writer mentioned it to a professor, who mentioned it to me and gave me a phone number to call at The Sun. I was to ask for a Mr. Dorsey.
Newspaper work didn't really interest me, but some great novelists had started as newspaper men. Newspaper people could never be much better than hacks. Still, they did write, didn't they? What's more, they got paid every week. I began to feel reality taking residence in my soul.
''What's your experience?'' Mr. Dorsey, The Sun's managing editor, was asking when I came to his office a few days later.
''I've worked on the Johns Hopkins News-Letter.''
''You realize you can never get rich in the newspaper business,'' Mr. Dorsey said.
''Rich?'' I tried to smile the smile of a man calmly resigned to a life of penury. ''I never expect to make a lot of money.''
Mr. Dorsey sent me away with a handshake and a loud snort. A week later, the phone rang while I was eating supper.
''This is Dorsey. If you still want to work for me, you can start Sunday at $30 a week.''
I was flabbergasted. Thirty dollars a week. That was Depression pay. This was 1947. A pair of shoes cost $9. I'd been in New York a few weeks earlier, and the prices there were incredible. A theater ticket had cost me $1.50, the hotel was $4.50 a night, a sirloin steak restaurant dinner, $3.25. Thirty dollars a week was an insult to a college man.
''I'll take it,'' I replied.
A MISFIT AT POLICE REPORTING, after a year on the job I was falling behind at The Sun. New people were being hired, assigned to police coverage for a month or two, then moved inside. ''Moved inside.'' On The
Sun, those words meant having your own desk, being sent on fascinating general assignments, and never having to humor a policeman again.
Luckily for me, The Sun's famously miserable pay had sent morale so low by 1949 that there was constant personnel turnover. Everybody seemed to be looking for a job with better pay, and many were finding them. This left the paper perpetually short of experienced reporters. As a result, to get ahead you didn't have to be very good, you simply had to hang around. Being unmarried and living at home, I could get by on my Sun salary, which averaged $50 a week in 1949, so I could afford to hang around.
By the end of the year, I was making a gaudy $70 a week. This was enough to get married on, if you were young and foolish enough to believe in happy endings, which was precisely how young Mimi and I were.
Then there came a miracle.
The telephone woke me around 10:30 in the morning. I normally didn't get to bed until 4, so it was still dawn on my personal clock, and I growled a sour hello.
THE MARTINIS CAME, THEN THE food and the beer, and when we started to eat, Buck Dorsey said, ''How old are you?''
I said I was 27.
''How would you like to go to London?'' he asked.
The question was so preposterous that at first I did not absorb its implication. Well, I said, a little hesitant, we had just had a new baby, and I wasn't sure it was a good time to go off and leave Mimi alone.
''Could I think about it a little while?'' I asked.
Buck Dorsey was looking at me very strangely, and as the full weight of his great announcement broke over me, I understood why: He wanted me to go to London.
''I mean, how long would you want me to be away?'' I said.
''Probably two years,'' he said. ''That's the usual assignment for men we put in the London bureau. Of course, once you get there and find a place to live, you'd move your family over with you.''
Then Buck Dorsey was talking about the coming coronation of young Queen Elizabeth, which would be the great story during my time in London, but I was now too excited to pay close attention. I was going to escape the drudgery of the local newsroom, after all.
I ROSE AT 4:30 ON CORONATION morning and started dressing in white tie and tails. Heavy rain was beating against the window and it had been raining all night, drenching a million people camped in the streets. What should have been a rosy June morning looked like the start of a wet, black nightmare.
I was going to have to walk out into that downpour in fancy dress because I had been too stupid to apply for a permit to take a car to Westminster Abbey. If I had filled out the forms, authoritative windshield stickers would have been issued, and I could have ridden in splendor.
But I had laughed at the idea. An absurd fuss, a preposterous waste of car-rental money. Living within a short walk of the Abbey, I could easily stroll up there on a lovely June morning. It wasn't just chintziness that impelled me to walk. The American in me was tickled by the idea of walking to a coronation instead of being chauffeured by a lackey. Thomas Jefferson had walked to the Capitol for his first Inauguration. Let the English see how Americans did these things.
Watching the rain outside made me curse my foolishness. That short walk to the Abbey seemed short only because I had never walked it in pouring rain. Actually, it was at least a mile. And in top hat, white tie, tails
Instructions had been firm about dress. People not entitled to wear ermine, coronet, full dress uniform, court dress, levee dress coats with white knee breeches, kilt, robes of rank or office or tribal dress must wear white tie and tails, with medals.
I didn't have medals. Since I didn't have a dressy suit either, I rented the full rig from Moss Bros., famous among the haberdashery-wise throughout the Empire and always pronounced ''Moss Bross.'' Knowing there would be a coronation run on Moss Brothers, I went early and got a fairly decent fit. Because I'd never worn tails before, I got up a little earlier than necessary against the possibility I might have a breakdown getting into the thing.
Mimi fixed a big breakfast. It was going to be a long day. I had to be in position inside the Abbey by 7:30 and wouldn't get out until 4 in the afternoon. The rain let up while we were eating. Mimi got the camera and, while Kathy and Allen watched, took snapshots of Daddy wearing his coronation suit to show their grandchildren.
Whatever gods may be, they were with me that day. The rain faded to a weak drizzle, then stopped altogether just when it was time to start for the Abbey. No, I would gamble and leave the raincoat home. Walking to the Abbey in top hat, white tie and tails could be a great gesture only if it were done right. Wrapping up in a dirty raincoat would make it comical.
Mimi was going to the house of Gerry Fay, London editor of The Manchester Guardian, to watch the day's events on television. There weren't a lot of television sets in London yet, but Gerry's house had one, and his wife, Alice, had invited several disadvantaged families like mine to come see the show. Because it was a big day for me, as well as for the Queen, I kissed Mimi and the children goodbye, said, ''Wish me luck,'' stepped out into Lower Belgrave Street and headed toward Victoria Station.
Not a soul in sight from Eaton Square all the way to Victoria. I strolled briskly along through the heavy, wet air, getting used to the feel of the high silk hat on my head, happy to discover that it was not going to tip and fall off. In my hip pocket I had a half-pint flask of brandy to keep me awake during the long day. In my hand, I carried a brown paper bag containing two sandwiches and three or four chunks of yellow cheese. In my pockets, I had a sheaf of official cards issued by the Earl Marshal, conveying the Queen's command for policemen to pass me safely through all the barricades and instructing me which church entrance to use, how to conduct myself while eating during the ceremony (discreetly), and where to find toilet facilities in the Abbey.
Rounding Victoria Station, I heard the hum of a great, damp concentration of humanity. Packed from curb to building line on both sides, all along the five-mile route of the coronation procession, people had spent the rain-soaked night on the sidewalks. How many there were I didn't try to guess. The papers said millions, overstating it a bit, as newspapers usually do when writing of crowds. Still, there were plenty.
I had walked among them the night before. They were bedded down in sleeping bags and soggy quilts, under raincoats and makeshift oilskin tents. Many had brought camp stools, portable stoves, knapsacks, picnic baskets, knitting bags, radios. They brewed tea on the sidewalk, they read, they slept, they sang, they sat stoically in the rain with only a felt hat against the downpour, they dozed with heads pillowed against tree trunks and lampposts.
During the war, London's ability to ''take it,'' no matter how much punishment the Luftwaffe gave them, became such a cliche that it later turned into a small joke. On this cold, bitter, rainy night, with those good-natured hordes cheerfully camped on rainswept concrete, I had a glimpse of that peculiar British fortitude, dogged and indomitable in the face of adversity, which made them so formidable to Hitler.
At the morning's soggy dawn, in my top hat and tails and graced, I hoped, with some of the elegance Fred Astaire brought to the uniform, I presented my credentials to the police guarding the barricades on the route to the Abbey. Miracle of miracles! The police recognized them, passed me through, waved me into the broad empty avenue called Victoria. The avenue ran straight to Westminster Abbey. I prayed I could make it before the skies opened again and stepped out as rapidly as I could without losing dignity before the damp mob staring at me.
And, yes, now applauding me. A smattering of applause came off the sidewalks as I strode along. They had been waiting so long for something wonderful to appear. Now here was the first sign that wonders would indeed pass before their eyes this day. I fancied myself a vision for them, a suave, graceful gentleman in top hat, white tie and tails, signaling the start of a momentous event.
At that moment, I was the event. The applause grew as I stepped along. Having always prided myself on shyness, modesty and distaste for theatrics, I was surprised to find myself not only enjoying my big moment, but also, here and there, where the applause seemed especially enthusiastic, tipping my silk hat to the audience.
It wasn't until I got within a block or two of the Abbey that I understood what was happening. There I noticed a man in the crowd talking to a companion and pointing to my hand holding the brown bag with my lunch. At this, his companion laughed, then applauded vigorously: What delighted the crowd was the spectacle of a toff brown-bagging his lunch to the coronation.
By this time, I was certain to reach the Abbey before the downpour resumed. That certainty and the pleasure of strutting a great stage exhilarated me. Triumphantly, I raised my lunch over my head and waved it at the crowd, and was washed with a thunder of cheering and applause that the great Astaire himself might have envied. A moment later, I passed into the Abbey for a long day's work.
I HAD A GOOD SEAT IN the Abbey. It was in the north transept looking down from about mezzanine level onto the central ceremonial theater. It provided a clear, unobstructed view of the Queen and the throne in left profile. Opposite, in the south transept, sat the lords and ladies of the realm in scarlet and ermine. The few good seats allotted to American correspondents had been distributed by a lottery drawing, and I had got lucky.
After being ushered up the ramp to the chair I was to occupy for the next seven or eight hours, I took a spiral note pad out of my pocket and began taking notes, just as I would have done at a three-alarm fire in Baltimore.
This was by design. After worrying for weeks how to cover a coronation, I had decided to cover it pretty much the way I would cover any routine assignment on the local staff. I would show up, keep my eyes open, listen closely and make notes on what I saw and heard.
My hope was to produce a story that seemed fresh, and I thought this might be possible if I treated it as though I'd just strolled into the newsroom one afternoon and the city editor had come dancing at me, shouting: ''They're having a coronation up at the Abbey in 10 minutes. Get up there as fast as you can.''
This was not the safe way to cover the coronation, but it offered the best chance of doing a good story. The safe way was to write the story before the coronation was held. This was also the surest way to produce a lifeless story.
This idea I discarded quickly. For one thing, I was cocky about my ability to produce a fresh story of several thousand words under deadline pressure. I had always worked well on deadlines, maybe even better than when there was time to dawdle.
So I entered the Abbey with no backup story ready to send in case of emergency, took out my spiral pad, and started jotting notes on what I saw. Tier upon tier of dark blue seats edged with gold. The stone walls draped with royal purple and gold. The stained glass of rose windows transforming the gray outer light into streams of red, yellow, green and blue high up against the Abbey roof.
Many of these notes appeared almost unchanged.
''Yellow men and tan men, black men and pink men, men with cafe au lait skins and men with the red-veined nose of country squiredom.''
''Malayans with bands of orange and brown-speckled cloth bound tightly about their hips. . . .''
''Men dressed as Nelson might have dressed when he was sporting in London . . . like courtiers who dallied with the Restoration beauties of Charles II's court . . . like officers in Cornwallis's army. . . .
''. . . violins far away eerily unreal. . . .''
Writing to my mother later, I disposed of the coronation in a single paragraph:
''I am so sick of the whole business that I can't write about it. Suffice it to say that I was in the Abbey about 7 and didn't get out until 4 P.M. In this time, I ate two sandwiches, several chunks of cheese, went to sleep three times, and drank a half pint of brandy to keep my blood flowing. I was seated in the midst of all the African and Oriental potentates and had a fine view of the staircase leading down to the water closets, where I could see Africans in leopard skins and Chinese dressed like French admirals queuing up to wait their turn to make water. I came out of the Abbey, stiff as a board and woozy, and had to run through a cold driving rainstorm to find a taxicab. Then I had to write for six hours, producing that mass of type which ran in The Sun. I didn't feel that I laid an egg completely, because next day mine was the only story from any American newspaper which had parts reproduced in any of the London papers. Considering that papers like The New York Times and Tribune had 25 and 30 reporters to do the job, I felt we did fairly well.''
The humility in this last sentence was entirely bogus. By the time I wrote my mother, the reaction from Baltimore was in, and I felt I had done far better than fairly well. I felt I had scored an absolute triumph. The day following the coronation, I had a cable signed by 16 members of the city staff. It said:
''Magnificent. Your coverage worthy of the coronation, and of Baker.''
Pete Kumpa, one of the best newsmen on the staff and an old friend whose regular correspondence kept me posted on events in the home office, reported: ''Your story received here in the greatest admiration. Magnificent is the word.''
The greatest ego bloater of all, however, was a note from Buck Dorsey's wife, Becky, marked ''Very Personal.'' She reported various compliments about the coronation piece which Buck had received from various high and mighty types in the Sun hierarchy, then said:
''The nicest of all, Tom O'Neill, said, 'Buck, the boy knows how to use the English language. It's a finished piece, beautifully done.' '' O'Neill was the most dashing reporter on The Sun.
Closing, Becky wrote, ''I do not know that Buck would approve of my telling you all this, but on thinking of that fine ignorant old face of yours, I couldn't help myself.''
I could have discounted praise from my friends on the city staff. They had been writing glowing reviews from my very first days in London. They were my cheering section back in Baltimore, and for good reason. Being picked from the local staff for The Sun's plum assignment abroad, I was a symbol of hope for them. If one man from the local staff could escape into the sweet world of foreign correspondence, there might be hope for all. They had a stake in seeing me succeed and wrote constantly, applauding and cheering me on to keep my morale high.
Becky's report about Tom O'Neill, however, was not so easily explained away. Nothing could have done more to puff me with self-admiration than those few words about Tom O'Neill's remarks to Buck. I was not the type to have wildest dreams, but if I had been, the wildest I could have concocted would have had Buck Dorsey listening with the respect he always accorded his favorite reporter as the great O'Neill heaped me with praise.
Two months after the coronation had crowned me with glory, my triumph was confirmed in a cable from Baltimore:
''Ten dollar merit raise effective next week for you. Happy August Fourth and all that. Love. Dorsey.''
That brought my salary up to $120 a week. I was a $6,240-a-year man.
Russell Baker is a columnist for The Times. This article was adapted from his book, ''The Good Times,'' to be published by William Morrow & Company in June.
When Reality Shows Got Worse
A young Black man is shot knocking at the wrong door.
A young woman is killed after her car pulls into the wrong driveway.
And then there are the police shootings.
People are trigger-happy, and I know when it got worse – back in 2016 when a real-estate grifter and reality-show character ran for the presidency. He was sending a message to a huge segment of America that it was time to get tougher.
Just look the sneers and cheers behind the bad actor, as he goads them into action. People were getting dumber, by choice, and a swath of the country welcomed his message to gear up.
America as a reality show was on my mind as I read an analysis of the late Jerry Springer by Jane Coastan in The New York Times on Saturday.
She describes Springer as a kind of Dr. Frankenstein who got caught up in his own monster, but she also suggests that he knew what he was doing, all along. Reality shows pay well.
I never watched the grifter’s show (having met him a few times) and I never watched Springer’s show, either but I did pay attention to him because he was another Queens guy (Forest Hills HS) and had gone into politics in Cincinnati when I was living down-river in Louisville.
Turns out Springer and the more dangerous reality show buffoon were both descended from Germany – one was a Jewish refugee, born in a makeshift maternity ward in the Underground in wartime London, the other whose father attended Nazi Bund rallies and lived in posh Jamaica Estates, Queens.
They both understood their audiences. One went into politics to play to the angry white people in America, the other went into television to play to people who liked life on the violent and kinky side.
The young grifter also knew the violent side – somebody who would know has told me about the grifter’s father being bandaged all over, recuperating at home after some kind of organized beating. Lesson learned: Just give some orders and people will go out and break some bones. That’s what he was suggesting at his rally in Las Vegas in February of 2016.
His subtle political message: How he would like to punch that heckler. Just let me at him! But America has become too soft to allow that kind of frontier justice. Still, thanks to the gun merchants and the Republican lawmakers and the sour Americans waiting behind their front doors, we have quickie frontier justice – and students being shot up in school, and legislators banning the elected messengers. Plus, Charlottesville. Good and bad on both sides, right?
America has always had guns. I moved to cover Appalachia in 1970, and some journalist pals at the Louisville Courier-Journal (now terminally Gannett-ized) told me about the television journalist in 1967 (from dear, sweet Canada!) who ignored the warning not to intrude, and was shot dead. The recluse served a year. Yes, I thought about that every time I needed to knock on a door in some distant holler.
But now the violence is spreading. People go to political rallies, packing. The grifter is finally facing legal justice, after a wasted year from the sclerotic Justice Department. And good grief, he's threatening to run again.
RIP, Jerry Springer. All he did was give Americans what they liked in bestiality and incest and brawling. Seems so innocent now.
(Marty Goldman has written this tribute to Michael Spivak, our mutual classmate at Jamaica High School in Queens in 1956, and something of a folk legend. Marty was the valedictorian and Michael was sixth in our class -- quite an accomplishment for both, considering there were over 850 June graduates. Let me hastily add: I was in the third quadrant.
By Marty Goldman
It is with sadness that I report the passing of our Jamaica High classmate, Michael Spivak. Michael may not have been known to everyone in the Class of ’56, but he was my friend and he just bowled me over with his math brilliance. He was barely 16 at graduation. There he received a top Math Prize, won an award for English and accompanied our Choir on piano.
I remember a conversation we had while we were waiting to get into the JHS cafeteria. He was telling me about a book he was reading for pleasure - Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, which explored the foundations of logic and set theory. At that point I realized that I didn’t have his degree of the curiosity, patience and deep intellect required to become a successful career mathematician.
So, what became of this precocious, talented person? Simply this: his writings, sense of humor and reclusiveness made him a legend in the world of mathematics!
After JHS, Harvard and a PhD in Math at Princeton under the renowned John Milnor, he began writing math textbook after textbook. However, these were no ordinary textbooks! Consider, for example, what is said about his 1967 book, Calculus. Bloggers call it, “The greatest Calculus book of all time,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oave4Z939as) and “The most famous Calculus book in existence,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huSD6GysL6k). A review article by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), states, “This is the best Calculus book ever written” (https://www.maa.org/press/maa-reviews/calculus-4).
It was not his first Math book. Two years earlier, at twenty-five years old, he published a little textbook, Calculus on Manifolds: A Modern Approach to Classical Theorems of Advanced Calculus, which has been translated into Polish, Spanish, Japanese and Russian. This book explained what is known about Calculus on surfaces and volumes in higher dimensions – even beyond three. The book is described as, “elegant, beautiful, and full of serious mathematics,” in a review by the MAA.
While writing his books, Spivak taught as a full-time Math Lecturer at Brandeis University. In 1967 he won a year-long National Science Foundation Fellowship to Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein had taught and struggled, in vain, to develop a theory unifying gravity with the other fundamental forces in nature.
When Spivak returned to Brandeis it was as Assistant Professor of Mathematics. At this point the usual academic career move for a mathematician would be to publish significant original research papers, which serve as the imprimatur for promotion to Associate Professor and, eventually Full Professor with tenure – a lifetime job.
However, this was not the path followed by Michael Spivak, who turned away from the customary academic career in favor of an iconoclastic career as an author – a prolific, much-admired sole author – and eventually as a publisher and science popularizer.
During his three years as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis, Spivak continued to write books, while teaching classes. In 1970, his last year as Assistant Professor, he published the first two volumes of what would become a five-volume masterpiece with the daunting title, Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry. More later about the sensation this set of books produced in the math community.
After leaving Brandeis, Spivak was no longer on a conventional academic track, although he continued to give lectures at universities like Berkeley and in Bonn, Germany. By 1975 the first edition of the five volume, Comprehensive Introduction was published. Thus, by age 35 Spivak had published seven books.
His reputation among mathematicians was growing but it was increasingly difficult to track his whereabouts and impossible to learn anything about his personal life. He began to acquire a cult following.
Spivak’s new projects were often surprising and witty. He created a Canadian TV series, Science International, featuring many short segments dealing with an eclectic assortment of topical scientific and technical issues. Science International was later brought to U.S. TV as, What Will They Think of Next? (IMDB). Next, he founded his own publishing house, Publish or Publish, which produced the second edition of his five-volume opus as well as other works by him and others. In order to deal with the difficult art of typesetting mathematical formulas in his publications he extended the equation-editing program, TEX (pronounced “tec”), and documented his contributions in a treatise entitled, The Joy of TEX.
He also invented one of the first gender-neutral set of pronouns called the Spivak Pronouns and wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Calculus.
In 1985 he received the American Mathematical Society’s highest award for expository mathematical writing, the prestigious, Leroy P. Steele Prize for his five-volume Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry. His PhD advisor won the same award, years later.
The citation from the American Mathematical Society reads, “In the ten years since its completion, this work has become a kind of classic of its own, providing the reader with important insights into the development of the subject, a well-selected set of central topics, and a unique and exhaustive annotative bibliography. Furthermore, it is written in a lucid and informal style that makes reading it a pleasure. An earlier "classic" by Spivak is his Calculus on Manifolds, one of the first books to make available to an undergraduate audience the basic concepts and techniques of differentiable manifolds and differential forms.” (Notices of the AMS., October 1985 Issue 243, Pgs. 575-576)
His response was, “It was as gratifying as it was surprising to learn that I was to receive the Steele Prize for my books on differential geometry. When I made my first intrepid, not to say foolhardy, attempts to fathom the multi-media world of differential geometry, I certainly hadn't anticipated completing a work of such outlandish proportions. I hope this award will encourage others on similar ventures and show that they can be accomplished even from the periphery of the academic world.” (Notices of the AMS., October 1985 Issue 243, Pgs. 575-576)
Spivak had a lifelong interest in Physics and wrote a book called, Physics for Mathematicians: Mechanics. It is described in a Wikipedia article about him, which contains the photograph below, left.
What is he doing in this photo and how is this pose even possible?
It is rumored that in each of Spivak’s books there are hidden references to yellow pigs, an idea Spivak apparently came up with at a bar while drinking with David C. Kelly.
Michael Spivak’s productive, colorful and unconventional life sadly came to an end on October 1, 2020, at age 80 in Houston, Texas.
Details, unfortunately, are not available. We can all justly take pride in the lifetime of accomplishments of our classmate, Michael Spivak.
From George Vecsey:
My thanks to Marty Goldman for volunteering this informed essay.
I only wish more had been written about Michael Spivak when he passed, after breaking a hip, according to snippets on the Web.
One of Spivak's accomplishments has widespead implications these days: his scholarly creation of gender-neutral pronouns, very much an important subject these days.
The May 23, 1956, issue of the Hilltopper, with the lead story announcing that Michael Spivak had been awarded a National Merit Scholarship and that Martin Goldman had also earned a scholarship. The article was by Walter Schwartz, the editor for much of the year, which is why I call him "Chief." Hail to the chief for digging this clip from his files.
So Much to Watch, How Can I Type?
Using tango music and the physical concussion of boots stomping on the floor, the ballet follows the unwanted little girl who grows into a dance-hall performer who captivates Juan Perón. But she is followed by her childhood self, a waif in a plain white gown, who quietly materializes at key moments, to haunt Evita.
Perhaps the best part of this ballet, from choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, is performed
by the eyes – with camera closeups revealing the emotions of Evita, (Dandara Veiga), fearing her past will be revealed.
My wife and I have decided that this ballet might be the best we have ever seen.
I have always been something of a snob about TV -- soaps, game shows, series (i was obsessed with "The Sopranos.") However, while staying close to home in recent years, I have opened my mind, at least a bit.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, we seek out the Aerial America series on the Smithsonian channel -- hour-long views of the states. Sometimes we “visit” states we do not know very well – like New Mexico and Arizona. My wife, born in Connecticut, with genes from early settlers of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, loves the aerial views of New England.
Today the series returned to Maine, which we discovered in the past decade from visiting her uncle Harold, who lived in Bath, a few yards from the Kennebec River, which he had helped dredge before World War II.
Harold is gone now, but the Smithsonian cameras take us to coastal scenes so familiar we could taste the fresh catch at Bet's Fish Fry in Boothbay, A swoop over Brunswick showed the home of author Harriet Beecher Stowe near downtown Brunswick – with an old red-brick mill converted into urban offices and shops – “Look, there’s our Thai restaurant!”
If we were a bit younger, if there were no Covid, we’d be visiting more of Maine, and other parts of this blessed continent.
In recent months, we have seen documentaries of singers who have been part of our adult lives.
Joni Mitchell was honored by the Gershwin award, at the Kennedy Center, beaming in the front row, as people praised her music, her idealistic messages. Joni has been recovering from a stroke, but -- spoiler alert: -- on this recent night, she agreed to go to the microphone and in an older, huskier but still blatantly Joni voice, she totally aced the Gershwin standard, “Summertime.”
Another documentary showed how Roberta Flack started singing classical music – not an easy path for a young Black woman -- and over the years how she took control of her own career.
We try not to miss the series, “Now Hear This,” with American conductor-violinist Scott Yoo traveling all over the world to talk music with classical musicians.
In all the fields I have covered, I have loved shop talk – from coal miners, from athletes, from politicians, who know their field and, if encouraged, will divulge tricks of the trade.
The other night, Yoo explored how Robert Schuman may have been bipolar, interviewing a doctor/musician who can talk and play Schumann.
Finally, CNN has been running a series with the actress, Eva Longoria, exploring the food of Mexico, region by region. Longoria, born in Texas of Mexican ancestry, visits contemporary restaurants in Mexico City and is at her best visiting the countryside, chatting respectfully with the earnest women who farm and cook and also trek into the cities to sell their wares.
Recently, Longoria was in the Yucatan peninsula, not just Merida, but the tidal flats where she learned to sift for salt. She also watched the deliberate process of the regional specialty -- baked pork, cochinita pibil -- in a covered pan, underneath a layer of dirt, overnight, for 8 to 12 hours.
It’s been two decades since I’ve been to Mexico – a soccer match against the USA.
It brought back memories of reading travel adventure books by Richard Halliburton in grade school. (Longoria did not mention the human sacrifices into deep wells that Halliburton explored so many decades ago. )
Longoria’s series makes me want to go back to all the places I've visited -- Puebla, Monterrey, and next time Oaxaca.
For the moment, I’m thankful to contemporary television for the documentaries that take us so many places,
At the moment, Sunday afternoon, TV will take me to another corner of the world -- Oakland, A's vs. Mets.
RIP. Ryuichi Sakamoto
A master has died. Ryuichi Sakamoto was an innovator, transcending styles and mediums.
He was so productive that the New York Times ran a lush and knowing obituary on Monday -- yet never mentioned my favorite work involving Sakamoto-san.
"Casa" did not make the cut, squeezed out by work for movies ("The Last Emperor" for Bertolucci), modern collaborations with David Bowie, a performance at the opening ceremony at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
He was transplanted into my brain, my heart, two decades ago when I was listening to John Schaefer, New York's jewel of a music teacher, with his familiar radio show, "New Sounds."
Late one evening, Schaeffer's new sound was a CD entitled "Casa" -- "Morelenbaum2 Sakamoto" -- a cellist with a beard (Jaques Morelenbaum), a beautiful singer (Paula Morelenbaum), and a pianist (Sakamoto) -- all three interpretating the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
La casa? The interpretetations evolved in the home of the late Tom Jobim, in Rio, and later recorded in studios in Rio. Rarely do you see creative genius intermingling, so respectfully. Jacques Morelenbaum suggests (in thick English) a dramatic piano chord to end one song, as Sakamoto nods his mane, Paula Morelenbaum reclines casually on a sofa, then out of nowhere she tries out a phrase in Portuguese or maybe English.
Over the years I realized that Sakamoto lived in Greenwich Village and later I read that he was fighting cancer. Then on Monday I read a lush and informed obituary by William Robin in The New York Times. Sakamoto was 71.
Favorite new fact? His influences ranged from Claude Debussy to John Cage (who has been one of my wife's favorites for many years.)
Maybe you can access the link to Sakamoto's obituary in Monday's NYT:
And maybe you will enjoy the interplay among these artists, courtesy of YouTube:
Opening Day Takes Back Seat to Justice
Brother-sister Web banter, Wednesday evening:
Dave: “Fact: The day before opening day is the longest day of the year.”
Laura: “That’s the tweet du jour. An ode.”
Dave: “The coldest winter I ever spent was the day before opening day.”
That’s a lot of responsibility to put on any sport – to make things right with the world.
It used to be that baseball’s major chore was to make people feel warm after a long, cold, lonely winter.
Here comes the sun.
But the stakes are higher these days, what with Donald J. Trump still stinking up the world. It's hard to get excited about anything, any sport, with hundreds of thousands of Americans dead of Covid because that “administration” would not administer.
It's hard to worry about a pitcher's injury or a batter's slump compared to Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, committed by the dictator who turns Donald Trump into a stammering schoolboy.
It's hard to wonder how your team will do this season while America's children are being mowed down in schools, which apparently is okay with the political party in thrall to Donald Trump. I saw that Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee ("We homeschool") shrugging off the slaughter of the innocents in Nashville, with the disdain of a true worshipper of Donald Trump.
Still, on a frigid day up north, I was eager for the opening days of the two New York teams because I need a break from the dismal news in my newspaper of choice olus radio and television stations.
Some fans were excited by the possibilities on opening day, with baseball opening a season with a full slate of games. All teams were in the position Casey Stengel used to take with new seasons, new players: “They aint failed yet,” he said, when he was managing the Mets, always looking for the Youth of America.
You can make a case for the restorative powers of opening day.
My father played hooky on April 18, 1923, to watch the first game in the new Yankee Stadium – Babe Ruth against his old team, the Red Sox. Although Pop was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and later a Mets fan, he loved to tell me about the thrill of cutting high school to see The Babe, and he recalled the construction rubble around the new ballpark.
Years later, when I was based in Louisville, the NYT assigned me to drive alongside the Ohio River to cover two traditional home openers in Cincinnati, in respect for the original Red Stockings, the first professional team. Rose and Bench and Perez, cold and damp, but tradition being honored. Baseball doesn’t do that for Cincinnati anymore, and something has been lost.
Mets fan that I am, I eagerly tuned in the Yankee opener on radio station WFAN, with John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, whom he sometimes calls “my compañera” – John’s shtick, Suzyn’s knowledge.
They were bristling with baseball – Aaron Judge’s home run into Monument Park behind center field at the Stadium, and the debut of Anthony Volpe, from Manhattan and New Jersey, age 21, making his debut with a uniform patch that said “MLB Debut” -- the Youth of America, Casey's dream.
I was planning a pensioner's doubleheader on opening day, recalling how I had attended the Mets’ first home game in 1962, as a fan, in the funky old stopgap home, the Polo Grounds. A sharp wind made raindrops sting like needles, and the old Mets stumbled around in the field, a portent of years of epic but charming clumsiness.
On television Thursday, there was the triumvirate of Gary and Ron and Keith, so comfortable with each other, and then I switched to Good Old Howie Rose on the radio, who closed the victory with his trademark, "Put it in the books!"
Midway through the game, my cellphone began pinging, and instead of baseball details I was receiving news that Donald J. Trump had been indicted in the case of paying a stripper to cover up the brief liaison he had with her. (The stripper said it was 90 seconds. His life changed in 90 seconds.)
Finally, after all the contemptuous behavior of Donald J. Trump and his lackeys, and the unproductive legal shuffling by Robert Mueller and Merrick Garland, a grand jury in New York has returned an indictment.
So what if it isn't the biggest violation we know Trump did -- planning a seditious raid on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, leaning on the governor of Georgia to "find" some non-existent votes, hiding classified federal documents in his playpen in Florida.
As somebody just said to me, "This is the perfect indictment for a sleazebag."
A good beginning.
So I didn't have anything more to type about Opening Day.
All I wanted to do was read the stories on the Web, plus to the experts, the lawyers, the journalists.
I grew up in Queens, less than a mile from the Trump house on Midland Parkway. I know people who were close to the Trump household, who regarded nasty little Donald as a bad seed. He's been getting away with stuff for seven decades, with the smirk of a spoiled kid.
Finally, somebody has had the courage to act on Donald J. Trump.
Shohei Ohtani Adds to His Legend
Let me start by saying Babe Ruth is my favorite athlete, all-time.
Not just because I witnessed him, last game of 1947, clearly sick, addressing a crowd in Yankee Stadium.
Not just because he had coached for my Brooklyn Dodgers for a while.
Not just because I later met his daughter who talked about “Daddy.”
I consider him my favorite athlete because he could pitch and he could hit and he could entertain fans just by being “The Babe.”
Now I can say, I have also seen Shohei Ohtani pitch and hit in the same game, for the World Baseball Classic, holding off the Americans with skill and power and flair, just like the Babe.
Whatever else is wrong with the world at the moment – don’t get me started – there is this versatile champion from Japan, thrilling fans around the world.
By now, you undoubtedly know that Ohtani saved Japan’s victory over the United States late Tuesday evening (Eastern time), closing the game by striking out his Los Angeles Angels teammate, Mike Trout, with a hellacious slider that broke clear across the plate.
If there is anything you don’t already know about Tuesday’s championship, try to log on to Tyler Kepner’s column in the Times, written right after the game.
Tyler touched all the bases, with gusto and knowledge, writing: “ The tournament, it is safe to say, is no longer taking off. It is already in orbit.”
The Babe, it is said, saved baseball by hitting more home runs than anybody had ever done, 29, while still a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.
In the same year, some members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the so-called World Series, in a gambling plot, followed by sleazy legal maneuvers by the hangin’ jury of the baseball leadership. The Yankees purchased Ruth, who promptly hit 54 home runs and entertained the world (including Japan, on a barnstorming visit) for a decade and a half.
Now, Shohei Ohtani has pushed the baseball tournament toward the grand tournament for the world’s most popular sport, soccer/football, the World Cup. In its own quadrennial tournament last fall, Argentina’s elder superstar Lionel Messi held off France’s young superstar Kylian Mbappé in an exciting final.
Baseball still has a long way to go, around the world, but at least Ohtani has nudged his sport into the discussion of world events.
Ohtani made baseball a 24-hour spectacle. I confess, as a notorious early bird, that I have rarely caught a glimpse of Ohtani (or, for that matter, Mike Trout.) I’m a Mets guy, a National League guy. But now Ohtani, with one inning of smoke, has inserted himself into worldwide consciousness.
I woke up Wednesday morning and found an email from our friend Fumio, who used to live across the street on Long Island – such nice people, I think of him and Akie every day. back home in Japan.
I replied to Fumio that as a baseball fan and a journalist, I recognized that the “story” was this poised young superstar holding off his Angels teammate and the American all-stars.
It is now 105 years since Babe Ruth pitched and hit the Red Sox to a “world” championship.
Imagine. One hundred and five years. An accomplishment I can legitimately label “Ruthian.”
Time for Gio Reyna to Move Forward
Finally, a kind word and a mature stance in the ugly standoff in American men’s soccer.
Gio Reyna, all of 20 years old, has been chosen for the national squad in two matches later this month, as well he should have been.
“As far as we’re concerned, Gio is a part of our program. He’s a good guy and a top talent and he is evaluated like any other player,” said Anthony Hudson, the interim coach of the national team.
Reyna was the most controversial American player on the U.S. squad in the disappointing World Cup last fall. Apparently, he contributed to his bad standing by moping when thwarted. He is, did I mention, only 20. But the so-called adults and leaders came off worse.
This is one of the saddest stories in the history of men’s soccer – involving two teammates from the 2002 team in South Korea that made the best standing ever by the U.S. in a World Cup.
Claudio Reyna played the best match I ever saw from him on the national team – distributing the ball, holding the defense together from midfield. He was brilliant as the U.S. humbled Mexico – dos a cero -- in the round of 16.
Gregg Berhalter nearly scored in the quarterfinal match against Germany, but a German defender just happened to stick his arm in the path of the close shot by the American defender. The referee ruled that the defender did not commit a hand-ball infraction – but several former German stars at the match later said the U.S. should have been awarded a penalty kick. (In his best Lawn Guyland sarcasm, American coach Bruce Arena grumped, “That’s nice.”)
Reyna and Berhalter. Two decades later, Berhalter was the coach of the American World Cup squad in Qatar last fall, making the decisions, including telling young Gio Reyna, a promising player in the Bundesliga, that he was not likely to get much playing time because…because….well, it’s not clear. How to Lose a Promising Young Player, by Gregg Berhalter. Reyna has had injury issues, and apparently his attitude went downhill from there, and he played bits of two American matches.
Meantime, his parents, Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan Reyna, herself a former national player, were grumping in the stands, telling people they knew bad stuff about Gregg Berhalter, and if it ever got out….
What the Reynas knew was that when Berhalter was in college, he was dating Rosalind Santana, a member of the college women’s team, and the two 18-year-olds had an argument in a bar, and she slapped him, and he kicked her in the legs, and the brawl was broken up by a stranger. Berhalter told school officials, sought counselling, and the following fall Santana contacted Berhalter and they have been married for two decades.
Berhalter’s judgment about Gio Reyna may have been questionable, given the young player’s swivel-hipped instincts in cutting through defenses. However, Berhalter’s judgment as a leader was even worse. After the World Cup, Berhalter was invited to speak in a private meeting of business people – officially off the record – and he discussed “leadership” decisions he had faced including a certain player who acted up during the World Cup. Needless to say, word got out. This is how to lose face with players, forever.
Finally, finally, the so-called leadership of the U.S. Soccer Federation contacted a legal firm to investigate all aspects of the Reyna-Berhalter incident. The report came down this past week, finding no legal faults by anybody, leaving the decisions up to the federation.
What should happen now?
Berhalter is technically a candidate to regain the job. I can’t say I was impressed with his coaching during the World Cup mission, and in my opinion the blatant allusion to Gio Reyna in a business speech makes him a poor candidate for a second term. (His personal life, his marriage, an incident 20 years ago, is not an issue, as the legal report points out.)
And what about Claudio and Danielle Reyna, who apparently were bad-mouthing Berhalter all over Qatar during the World Cup? Unhappy parents are part of every level of soccer, but I think Claudio Reyna, deservedly a member of American soccer hierarchy, had a responsibility to behave better.
And then there is this:
While Claudio was playing the best soccer of his career in the 2002 World Cup, Danielle Egan Reyna was a personable presence around the team hotel in Seoul, pregnant with their second child, who in November of that year would become Gio Reyna.
Nearly a decade later, the Reynas’ first child, Jack, came down with a lethal form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, and he died in July of 2012.
The other day, when the legal report came out, I went online and found a touching article about the Reynas’ terrible loss.
I would suggest anybody should read this before forming an opinion about the Reynas – what they have been through, how they describe Jack, the ideal big brother for Gio and two subsequent children.
Also, please note that this beautiful article was written by one of best writers ever to cover soccer, Grant Wahl, of Sports Illustrated. Last fall, during the World Cup in Qatar, Grant slumped over and died at his desk in the press tribune.
Part of Grant’s legacy is this description of the humanity of the Reyna family.
Also, I would propose reading the words of the aforementioned Anthony Hudson the interim coach. He does not have a public reputation as player or coach, but he sounds like an adult who knows a thing or two about leadership, and that is no small thing.
“We had the issue at the World Cup that we dealt with internally, that we dealt with as a group,” Hudson told Mike Woitalla of the valuable site, Soccer America, adding, “There was a positive response from Gio after that … and we all moved forward.
“The World Cup ended, and beyond that it became a very, very, complex situation that we see as separate from Gio, even though he’s impacted by it. ... But as far as we’re concerned, Gio is a part of our program. He’s a good guy and a top talent and he is evaluated like any other player. We made the roster decisions based on what gives the team the best opportunity to win these games, and we brought him in because we think he can help us do that.”
Gio will be with the U.S. squad in two Concacaf Nations League games at Grenada on March 24 and vs. El Salvador in Orlando March 27. After all that has happened, Gio Reyna deserves the chance to grow up, to go forward, to find open space, no matter who the coach is.
THIS JUST IN: FRIDAY, MARCH 17
In Soccer America Daily, an article by Paul Kennedy, "Christian Pulisic backs Gregg Berhalter in face of 'childish' controversy." Pulisic, who has learned patience from his time with Chelsea, speaks positively about Gregg Berhalter's chance to return as coach:
"Everything that happened with Gregg, first of all, has been handled in an extremely childish manner," Pulisic said. "I think we've seen what has been going on. I think it's childish, it's youth soccer, people complaining about playing time. I don't want to go too far into that, but I think Gregg has been extremely unfortunate to get into the position he's in now."
The report commisioned by the US Soccer Federation:
(15 MARCH 2023. BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH.)
AS OF WEDNESDAY MORNING, I HAVE RENEWED CONTACT WITH THE WEB COMPANY. I'LL TRY TO ADJUST TO NEW CONDITIONS IN NEXT FEW DAYS.
THANKS FOR THE NOTES, YOU HARDY FEW WHO NOTICED I HAD BEEN DISAPPEARED.
TO BE CONTINUED. MAYBE.
IT IS, AFTER ALL, THE IDES OF MARCH. GV
Rupert Murdoch's star agitator, Tucker Carlson, is sharing the secrets of his squirrelly heart, via internal e-mail. He says he hates Donald Trump, as opposed to the slavish adoration he shows on Fox Fables.
How to explain this?
Your explanation is welcome on Comments. (below)
Meanwhile, Alex Murdaugh is locked up, permanently.
Rupert Murdoch may be out a billion dollars or more for emitting falsities about the Dominion company and called it "journalism," when he actually admits they are lies.
I was wondering about the two blokes with similar names a couple of weeks ago, wondering if they are related, so I looked it up.
“Originally, the name was a nickname for a person associated with the sea,” says the website, House of Names. The name Murdoch derives from one of two Gaelic names which have become indistinguishable from each other. The first of these, Muireach, means belonging to the sea or a mariner. The second name is Murchadh, which means “sea warrior.”
As for the other man in the news: The name “Murdaugh” is “an altered form of Murdoch,” according to “The Dictionary of American Family Names.”
I do not mean to make light of the terrible events in South Carolina that sent Alex Murdaugh, a so-called scion of an old family off to prison in handcuffs, convicted of the murders of his wife and younger son. And there are other deaths in the backdrop, including a Murdaugh family housekeeper who died, perhaps from falling downstairs, or perhaps not. (At the very least, the scion stole her insurance money.)
That is a tale of privilege and money and also the contemporary usage of drugs. I wouldn’t have minded seeing an occasional mention of the family that profited from OxyContin (and the doctors and pharmacists and flat-out criminals who doled them out like candy, hooking thousands of poor people as well as a lawyer and “scion” with too many toys in lowland South Carolina.)
We are left with the image of a wife apparently on the verge of separation, and one son (“the little detective”) discovering more piles of OxyContin, both murdered, and the older son sitting in court, thinking, what?
Also in the news is the similarly-named Murdoch, Rupert, who has been infecting public discourse going back to his origins in Australia. He brought his sniggering style of “journalism” to Great Britain and then to the United States.
I still remember when a quirky liberal tabloid, the New York Post, morphed into a Murdoch property in the 1970s.
Soon we were treated to the Page Six gossip of a lightweight real-estate poseur who would brag about the women he had slept with, allegedly. For many, that was the first time they ever heard the name “Trump.” So we have Rupert Murdoch to thank for that.
Recently, in the manner of ganglords, Rupert Murdoch turned on Donald Trump when he began losing at the polls. A Post headline referred to “Trumpty-Dumpty” after recent congressional elections.
However, Fox television continued to make money from blather by its commentators – most scandalously in the wake of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump’s legion of thugs attacked the Capitol. The most famous names on Fox – I cannot even type their names, and of course I never, ever, watch them – stuck with their on-air position that Jan. 6 was a picnic for gentle tourists.
In their spare time, however, these paragons of Fox journalism ridiculed some of the buffoon lawyers supporting Trump, and they acknowledged that Trump did lose the 2020 election. But tell that to their viewers out there? People like Tucker Carlson worried about the company profits.
“They endorsed,” Mr. Murdoch said under oath in response to direct questions about the Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, in a $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, the New York Times reported.
“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” he added, while also disclosing that he was always dubious of Mr. Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.
Now he tells us.
Rupert Murdoch has testified that he knew his stars really did not believe the lies they were spewing on-air. He sounds a bit dazed from recognizing reality. But his words are out there. Rupert Murdoch does not believe what makes him rich. So much for journalism.
Alex Murdaugh has been sentenced to two life terms. He’s yesterday’s news, sad and horrible news.
Rupert Murdoch created a media empire that disregards truth – a television network that helped send thousands of thugs climbing into the American capitol building.
Rupert Murdoch undermined a nation, leading to a Gaetz-Greene-McCarthy infestation in Congress. (Can he be deported?)
Now his empire is being sued. Apparently, over half the Fox stock is owned outside the Murdoch dynasty. If Murdoch’s acknowledgements ultimately hurt the product -- bad ratings = defections by sponsors – the Murdoch dynasty could be in trouble.
Your comments about the strange psycho-drama with Carlson and Trump, and the bizarre hiccups of reality from Rupert. Under "Comments:"
I Thought My Music Player Was Broken
Thursday: George Wilson, our grandson, has written about the music that a 26-year-old is following. I asked him, and he came through, overnight. His comment is around 23rd in the queue. GV
Ever since the pandemic began – seems like decades – I had been mourning the music I stashed on my beloved MiniDisc Recorder and Player.
Something was wrong – not batteries, not one bad diskette, but serious mechanical stuff, or so I thought.
My music. For some people, music is the heartbeat of life, the faithful companion, in our ear, as we exercise or daydream.
The MiniDisc allows some obsessive types to download and program favorite songs, favorite concertos – (I plead guilty.)
Bad enough my wife and I have not dared see friends or go into the City. But no MiniDisc library, either?
I was told via the Sony support site that this device from 1998 was neither being manufactured nor repaired – the story of our throwaway times.
But the other day, I gave it a try, and for some obscure reason, when I popped in two new AA batteries and a trial disk, programmed by moi, familiar sounds flooded into the taut little headset, and my ears.
A miracle cure.
This meant, first of all, that I could re-visit treasures I had recorded live from the radio, back in the day –particularly treasures from Peter Fornatale’s weekend show on WFUV-FM. Pete is gone now; he was a friend and neighbor, and we used to take walks together along Bar Beach, and he would talk about thematic shows he was preparing:
*- One entire two-hour Sunday show about flying – including, of course, Arlo Guthrie’s classic, Coming Into Los Angeles.
*-- Another two-hour special all about the Sunday papers -- including Adam Carroll’s homage to Blondie and Dagwood, that eternally married couple, with loving tribute to hard-working Blondie (“You’re looking pretty good for a girl of 82.”)
* -- Plus two entire hours of “Ladies Love the Beatles,” – with Pete lavishly lingering over the title. The highlight, a cover of “All My Loving,” (linked here), by the great Christine Lavin. (Pete introduced us, and that wise, generous troubadour is still out there on the hustings.)
I know there are other sources of music. I've got pop and classical music on my iPod, but have no clue about more recent sources.
The joy of the MiniDisc is that you can be your own disk jockey, on your own whim or wisdom. In my little shoebox of sound I have gift disks programmed by Laura from Upstate, including a classic by Keb Mo’ – “More Than One Way Home” – listen to me, play this once a day, for your health -- and from Kathleen in Texas, a collection including “La Bamba,” by the real Ritchie Valens.
So now, by some miracle cure from the great deity of out-of-supply MiniDiscs, on a warm Presidents’ Day, I went for a walk and chose a diskette I had programmed a few decades back:
1- Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes by Taj Mahal.
2- Room Off the Street by Suzanne Vega.
3- Fanette, with Shawn Elliott, from original “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well. (evoking memories of the late 60s when my wife drove into the Village for a Sunday matinee.)
4- Estate, Susannah McCorkle, the late polylingual singer-writer, about gloomy endless Summer (“Estate,” Italian for “Summer.”)
5- Along the Verdigris, Tom Paxton and Iris Dement. I was writing a feature about the latest album by the Oklahoma-born folk singer, and he and his wife Midge delivered the cassette, and I was touched by this song, plus the backup by an unforgettably piercing voice. “You don’t know Iris DeMent?” they asked.
6- “Sweet Is the Melody,” by Iris DeMent, from Paragould, Ark. her ode to a dance hall, “A Friday-night romance, forgetting the bad stuff and just feeling good.”
7- “Like Everyone She Knows.” James Taylor.
8 –“Talk About It.” Anna and Kate McGarrigle. Another weekend/dance song. (I’m still mourning Kate.)
9 –“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with Bonnie (3 Grammys) Raitt, and Bruce Hornsby, memorably.
10 – “Twenty-Third Street,” by Bill Morrissey, with his raspy voice, a man in a bar missing a woman who is living somewhere uptown.
11 – “I Will Always Love You,” by Dolly Parton. When I first saw her, backstage at the Opry, she was a shy mountain girl, still singing with Porter Waggoner. The legend is, she wrote this about moving on from Waggoner. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Dolly aces all the other versions.
12- “Last Man on Earth,” by Loudon Wainwright. A declaration of manhood.
13– “The Scent of Your Cologne.” By Christine Lavin – on an elevator, catching a whiff of the fragrance used by her late, adored father. (On Christine’s “Shining My Flashlight on the Moon” album.)
14- “Raglan Road,” by Roger Daltrey and the Chieftains – about the pangs of love in Belfast, during the Time of Troubles. (You could also find a classical-sounding version by the great Loreena McKennitt, Irish-Canadian.)
15 – “Forever Young,” Bob Dylan and the Band. The Thanksgiving ritual.
I know, I know, there are more contemporary ways to program music -- including my iPod with thousands of classical and folk, samba and soul. But that collection has been swallowed up in the mysteries of Apple Music, so no way for me to edit. Whatever. I'm now back in business with all those disks, two decades old, containing Dvorak, Britten, Stevie Wonder, Bocelli, Loretta Lynn. Grateful Dead.
No matter what comes down…outwalk the pandemic....put one foot in front of the other.
My overnight thought: Do the people a favor and put Keb Mo' right here, one click away.
Perfect Segue to Baseball Season
Players come and go – stars and role players – and fans remember the good things.
At least they do in baseball, maybe because it happens every day, and fans get to know players, even the ones riding the bench.
That’s surely why a segment of Mets fans were rooting for Kansas City in the Super Bowl Sunday.
Nothing against the Eagles. City rivalries, city putdowns, are over-rated, faux passion. But it wasn’t hard to like the Chiefs because of their live-wire quarterback – Patrick Mahomes, whose father played two seasons for the Mets.
This is old news, now that it is officially baseball season, and not a moment too soon. Pitchers and catchers. I chose to read a book Sunday evening and tune out the Super Bowl – I’m long retired and don’t have to watch -- but the family message link was pinging with talk of Rhianna, whether or not she is pregnant. (She is.)
From what I hear, the second major event on Sunday was the Mets’ commercial, every nuance relayed Monday by our son (born on the day the Mets clinched their division in 1969, just saying.) Nimmo sprinting, Lindor preening, Guillorme by the water cooler (ready to snag a wayward flying bat, no doubt), new Met Kodai Senga introducing his signature pitch, Nido interpreting, Edwin Diaz closing the deal, of course. Yet another bravo to Mets owner Steve Cohen.
Mets fans get it. Those of a certain age remember Mahomes père, with an 8-0 record in 1999 and 5-3 the next year, then bouncing around for another decade or so.
New York sportswriters who were around in those years – and I was – remember Pat Mahomes as one of those wise old heads who have seen it all, and when they pass through town they can talk about the sport, adult to adult -- Bob Watson and Chili Davis with the Yankees, Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson with the Mets, just to drop a few names.
Pat Mahomes used to bring his frisky little son with him to the ballpark and give him a glove and uniform and let him scamper around the field during practice.
(Check out the great article by old-hand Steve Serby in recent New York Post.)
It’s like watching old family movies.
Actually, Mets fans were sentimental from their first year, 1962, when old Giant and Dodger fans flocked to the Polo Grounds to applaud Snider and Mays, Musial and Banks, back in Big Town.
Later, Mets’ fans cheered Tom Seaver of the Cincinnati Reds after that abominable trade by a vindictive Mets official.
These days, Mets fans never fail to greet Wilmer Flores – Weeping Wilmer, as we call him in this family -- for the way he watered the field with his tears on the foul night when he heard he might be traded. Wilmer has made a place for himself in San Francisco, doffs his cap, the Mets’ ultimate prodigal son.
Now other Mets have moved on. Fans will surely greet recent Mets like Dom Smith, now with Washington, who showed his soul as a great teammate; Taijuan Walker, ditto, now with the Phillies; Seth Lugo, now with San Diego; and the new Giant, Michael Conforto, whom I could mourn more if I didn’t enjoy Starling Marte so much.
Players come and go.
I wonder how fans will react on Aug. 28-29-30 when the Texas Rangers come to Queens.
With any luck, a healthy Jacob deGrom will be with the Rangers, maybe even starting a game.
I would expect Mets fans to applaud him. But how much, and how hard?
It seems to me, deGrom bolted from the Mets for more money and did not have much to say about his wonderful years in New York (unless he did not consider them so wonderful.)
Was it the lack of runs?
Or, no, it couldn’t be – was it us?
Not a Weeping Wilmer situation.
Definitely not a Weeping Wilmer situation.
(Your thoughts? In Comments below)
Epic Weekend of Music
On the same weekend, hiding indoors from the cold, we were fortunate to catch two live shows dedicated to music -- both bristling with talent and energy.
The radio show was on Friday, a live performance from Carnegie Hall, featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi, her ensemble of young musicians.
The show was broadcast by WQXR-FM, the gem of a classical station which has recently enlarged its program of live performances. Not only that, but the station often assigns two of its assets, Jeff Spurgeon and John Schaefer, to be co-hosts. (Spurgeon is known for his witty three-minute synopses of upcoming operas; Schaefer is known for his esoteric taste in new recordings.)
The two were posted in the wings of the historic hall, as the musicians walked toward stage, nervous tension crackling through our Bose FM radio at home.
Because the concert was on the radio, we could not see which of her bright gowns Mutter had chosen, to go with her energy (and, dare I say it, her beauty) but the music reminded us why Mutter has been one of the best violinists in the world, for four decades, since her mid-teens.
Mutter was the driving force in pieces by Vivaldi, Unsuk Chin, and Saint-Georges, a composer of Senegalese ancestry, who was a few years older than Mozart. The co-hosts told us that Saint-Georges is the subject of a forthcoming movie, “Chevalier,” due to be released in April.
After the break, Mutter led the ensemble through a bristling version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and then the audience (this was, after all, Carnegie Hall) was treated to three encores.
Finally, the musicians filed off the stage, punctuated by shoes scuffling and satisfied fragments of chatter. Schaefer likened himself to a sports broadcaster in a clubhouse, watching and interviewing athletes after a good performance. Mutter herself stopped and gave a proud baseball manager’s critique of her players, generous with her time for Spurgeon and Schaefer. In our living room, my wife and I applauded – for the leader, for the ensemble, and for the two hosts. Bravo, WQXR. Bravo!
Two evenings later, we found a warm corner in our house to watch the Grammy awards. We are acutely aware of being, how can I say this, out of it. We don’t know the contemporary pop music that our kids and grandkids choose, but my wife has been an early fan of Adele, and I had heard that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were on the card, and that Bonnie Raitt was up for a few awards. Quite enough.
We marveled at the star power of Lizzo and her group -- "Big Grrrls" – and we could detect the intelligent sizzle from Taylor Swift – and I wondered why the dynamic singer from Puerto Rico is named Bad Bunny – and we frankly didn’t think Harry Styles has much of a voice. Or does that matter?
But Stevie Wonder had the same impact that he did 50 years ago when he was “Little Stevie Wonder” – and Smokey Robinson could still rock.
When Grammy-winner Kim Petras announced that she was the first trans woman to win an Oscar, I could not help but wonder what Gov. DeSantis of Florida – that scowling, ignoramus latter-day George Wallace wannabe -- was thinking, if he was watching. Will he ban the Grammys next year? Or CBS itself?
Then came the spectacle – an anniversary celebration of hip-hop – 50 years? Really? A lot of gents with attitudes and costumes, names and faces I sort of recognized, came bounding onto the stage, chanting things that merited a quick and frequent network finger on the bleep key. Frankly, I was spellbound by the procession. Wish I had somebody to explain who they were and what they stood for. But…but…I liked them. Keep bouncing, guys.
Beyoncé arrived late. The word was that she got stuck in LA traffic. I didn’t believe it for a minute. Beyoncé merits a squad-car escort with red-lights flashing. Late is fashionable. Beyoncé is fashionable. She can do better than that excuse.
The Grammys honored dozens of music people who passed in the last year, starting with a sweet tribute to Loretta Lynn by Kacey Musgraves, singing her signature, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” My whole family, watching here and there, pinged its approval and why wouldn’t they? Auntie Loretta invited me to help write her autobiography—and put our three kids through college. Thank you, darlin’.
Nearly three hours into it, First Lady Jill Biden came out to present the award for the best song. The announcement seemed to legitimately stun her fellow septuagenarian, Bonnie Raitt, who somehow managed a kind and coherent acceptance speech.
I have been a fan of Raitt for decades, particularly for her “Road Tested” double album -- one of the most played albums on my iPod – with heart-touching songs like “Longing in Their Heart” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” qualifying me as a flat-out Bonnie Raitt groupie.
As poleaxed as she seemed, Raitt found the grace to mention John Prine, her friend who died of Covid nearly three years ago, who wrote the song “Angel from Montgomery,” on that same “Road Tested” album.
Bonnie Raitt, thanking John Prine.
With an hour to go on the Grammys, I clicked off the tube. Quite good enough for me on this long, cold and highly musical weekend.
Two Poets, Two Sports
A week ago, I wrote about a terrific new biography of Jim Thorpe, by David Maraniss.
I was particularly tantalized to read that the great American athlete, while at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, had been friendly with a young teacher named Marianne Moore.
Yes, exactly, the same Marianne Moore who soon moved to Brooklyn and became a
famous American poet into very old age.
Finding Miss Moore in a Thorpe biography touched off my recollection that in 1968 the worldly president of the New York Yankees, Michael Burke (whom I miss to this day), invited her to throw out the first ball on opening day.
The mention of Marianne Moore also touched the heart of the writer, Sam Toperoff, who has been my friend and inspiration since he was a basketball player/scholar at Hofstra College in the late 1950s.
Within 24 hours, I received Sam's email from the Hautes-Alpes department of France, containing references to two poets who won Pulitzer Prizes, 49 years apart – Marianne Moore (1952) and our friend Stephen Dunn (2001.)
“Dear George—After my first book came out, I got a call from the editor to tell me Marianne Moore loved it and wanted to talk with me about it. She invited Faith and me to tea on a sunny Sunday. She lived in a brownstone downtown, very near the Tombs. The fall of 1965, I think. She was, when she opened the door, indeed Marianne Moore, the old lady whose poetry I had studied as a student and taught as a professor at Hofstra.
“Yes, I was intimidated. But the editor had told me she wanted to meet me because she thought me very brave to have endured all I had written about in my book when in fact for me it was just a normal accounting of my lower middle-class family life as I had lived it up to that point.”
(NB: Sam’s first book was “All the Advantages,” circa 1965, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Atlantic Monthly Press.)
Sam recalled how Miss Moore “served tea and cookies she had baked herself. Marianne Moore! All was sort of stiff and formal until somehow the subject of baseball came up — I knew from her poetry she loved the game. Then she went off on the Dodgers. Remember, she had spent most of her writing life in Brooklyn; she had just moved to Manhattan. Well! She loved Pee Wee Reese, spoke poetically about him, how he glided, how effortlessly he played, how good he was for Jackie. Marianne Moore! She also lauded Red Barber for making her life so rich in her Brooklyn apartment. That was mostly what we talked about with Miss Moore that long afternoon — the Brooklyn Dodgers!
“I signed my book for her; she signed her last collection for me. And we went home. Her volume sits on my shelf next to Stephen Dunn.”
Before Stephen Dunn became a poet, he was a zone-busting jump-shooter teammate of Sam, who, on long bus rides into the wilds of Pennsylvania, encouraged Stephen to use the rest of his brain.
My college athlete pals (I was the student publicist) followed Stephen’s fame and also his terrible battle with parkinson’s disease, which rendered him unable to recite his own work in later years, although he wrote to the end.
Sam wrote: “As Steve was dying — I only thought he was ailing, damn it — he sent me a poem called ‘Final Bow.’ That’s when I got the message. Then when his collection came out, this was the poem he used to say goodbye, so he had orchestrated his own exit, the son-of-a-bitch. It’s a superb and funny and serious poem.
“Hell, why don’t I type it, forgive me if I cry:”
In my sleep last night
When the small world of everyone
Who’s mattered in my life
Showed up to help me die,
I mustered the strength
To rise and bow to them
A conductor’s bow, that deep
Bending at the waist, right arm
across my stomach,
the left behind my back.
At first it seemed like the comedy
of aging had revised and old scene--
how, with time running out,
I’d make the winning shot
In my schoolyard of dreams,
Only now I was wearing
an unheroic gown,
apparently willing to look foolish--
for what? What no longer mattered?--
before I lay again down.
---Stephen Dunn, 2021
Sam wrote: “I take that last poem of his as something of a challenge: How to go out the right way.”
Stephen died on his 82nd birthday in 2021.
Sam added: “And yes, I did cry. I love this poem. I love him, his talent, his courage, his exit.”
Larry Merchant writes, in the good old New York Post, about Marianne Moore:
The Captain Found His Letter
(We all put stuff in boxes or suitcases and stick them in a closet or an attic or under a bed. And there they sit.)
Bob Seel had no shortage of varsity letters – 10 in four different sports at the college formerly known as Philadelphia Textile, now Thomas Jefferson University.
This letter popped out of a cardboard box recently – a large “J” from Jamaica High School in Queens, where Bob was the star and captain of the soccer team, as a senior, merely 67 years ago.
He called me to say, "I found my letter."
I can attest to his skill and leadership. I was a defender of no known skill or experience, when Bob was playing in goal.
In his shrill voice, Bob would bark commands at me, as if that would help.
By mid-season I was on the bench, which meant I had the privilege of watching Bob Seel -- one of the best players in the city.
“We both played two positions,” recalls Dr. Robert Mindelzun, still teaching radiology (via Zoom) at Stanford University, but then a survivor of the terrors of the Holocaust, finding a refuge in Queens. (I wrote about his life not long ago.)
“If Bob was playing up front, I would play goalkeeper, and if Bob was in goal, I would play up front,” Mindelzun said the other day. Mindelzun earned honorable mention in our county, and later played for Queens College before settling in Palo Alto. (By my count, five teammates became doctors.)
Dr. Mindelzun recently watched the World Cup, including the tie-breaker device of penalty kicks, that decided the championship for Argentina over France. He doesn’t think he or Captain Seel ever had to deal with a penalty kick because “there was only one ref, and they were not about to call penalties.” If the game was tied, the visitors would get back on the subway and go home.
That raised my question: in this modern era, goalies wear gaudy glow-in-the-dark Captain Keeper outfits – yellow, purple, green, red – to differentiate from field players. But in those prehistoric times, keepers wore the same kit as the field players. If we needed a goal, Bob Seel might switch to center forward, and Bob Mindelzun would move back into goal, same outfit. Somehow, the game got played.
Seel already had a large varsity “J” from his junior season at Jamaica, which was sewed on a long white sweater. He has no idea what happened to that sweater, but another letter remained in the family home, in a box, until the Seels downsized, a few years ago.
“We moved from New Hyde Park to Seaford,” he said. “We had to move because I’m in a wheelchair.”
This superb athlete has neuropathy, often connected to nerve damage from one trauma or another. Bob’s wife, Barbara, says he got it from playing too many sports – get this: four years of college soccer (three of them as captain), three years of basketball, two years of baseball and one year of tennis. As a senior at Philadelphia, he was named the outstanding athlete and was given a watch – “which I still have,” he said, adding that it does not work.
Most old sports stuff, blessedly, gets tossed out. Pretending to be an athlete, I had my one varsity “J” sewed on a blue satiny jacket with red trim, with on it, and I wore it so often that it was dirty and ragged –– until it got junked in my mid-20s.
Bob Seel and I lost contact while he worked as an agent for the Treasury Department and I went into journalism, A couple of decades ago, we met at a reunion and I had a flash of memory of his leadership and his fire and his skill. (Meantime, the geniuses who run New York schools terminated Jamaica High a decade ago, putting three or four smaller schools in that beautiful hilltop building.)
While working on my soccer book, “Eight World Cups” for 2014, I talked to Bob about his background in soccer. He told me his dad learned the sport in the Kaiserslautern region in southwest Germany, and then his family moved to the soccer hotbed of Glendale-Ridgewood-Maspeth in Queens. Bob played youth soccer near the hallowed soccer field known as Metropolitan Oval. (I once played defense there against Grover Cleveland High, facing the city skyline and the late afternoon sun, while a curly-haired marauder named Bubbi Herink flitted past me and scored several goals past poor Captain Seel.)
Bob and Barbara Seel now live in a complex on Long Island, where he can scoot out to a clubhouse and play cards and schmooze with his pals. I have never heard him complain.
Recently, the Seels were sorting through an extra cardboard box, left from their move, and there was the “J” – in pristine condition.
What will he do with the letter? “I have no idea,” he said.
Their son Steve took a photo of the Captain, flashing that modest, pragmatic smile, holding the “J,”
Jim Thorpe Carried the Ball
When I was a kid, Jim Thorpe was still alive (he died in 1953, just short of 65.) Sportswriters and athletes and fans had seen him perform.
He had been dubbed “the most wonderful athlete in the world” or “the greatest athlete in the world” by the king of Sweden after dominating the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.
Thorpe was also known as the first great American football player who later played baseball for the New York Giants but could not hit a curveball. (Neither could Michael Jordan, decades later.)
Thorpe was a cautionary tale – via snickering sports-page references to firewater and lack of discipline and other weaknesses. He was part of the broader picture of a country where white invaders felt they had holy permission to kill as many Native Americans as they could.
The new Americans had various words and definitions for Jim Thorpe, back in the day -- "Chief" or "Redskin,” referring to his mixture of Sac and Fox, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Menominee, as well as French and English.
"By that definition, Jim Thorpe would tell people he was five-eighths Indian," writes David Maraniss In the stirring biography, "Path Lit by Lightning," a current best-seller published by Simon & Schuster.
These days, some of us tend to use the word “Indigenous” rather than “Indians” or “Native Americans” for the descendants of people who lived for hundreds, thousands, of years on this continent, very often in harmony with nature and neighboring tribes. They were so far more complex than contemporary Americans can imagine.
Great reporter that he is, Maraniss parses the life of a great athlete born on a reservation in Oklahoma, when the white invaders were taking what they wanted – often at the point of a gun.
The title of the book refers to Thorpe’s name, translated from the Sac and Fox language, as American leadership tried to gouge the native words and ways out of the survivors of the killing fields.
Whereas the Civil War general, Philip H. Sheridan was known for saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” his philosophy had been moderated just a tad by Col. Richard Henry Pratt, the first superintendent of the Indian school at Carlisle, Pa.
“In a sense, I agree with the sentiment,” Col. Pratt is quoted by Maraniss, “but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.”
The most blatant example was in Carlisle, which recruited male athletes from all over the country, playing the top colleges (Ivy League!), and keeping the athletes in uniform as long as possible, in those days before the niceties of the N.C.A.A.
Thorpe arrived in Carlisle, young and under-sized but rugged, hard to tame, motivated to play football better than anybody.
Perhaps the most delightful surprise in the Maraniss book is the young teacher, the same age as Thorpe -- Marianne Moore, later a famous poet ensconced in the gentility of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In letters to George Plimpton decades later, Moore described Thorpe’s strength and athletic gait and recalled him, as a “diligent” and polite student. She also told Plimpton that Thorpe had walked alongside her on campus and said, “Miss Moore, may I carry your parasol for you?”
Another sweet little section is when Thorpe fell in love with a fellow student, Iva Miller, 20, from out west, who was raised among indigenous but was all Caucasian.
Thorpe had been playing baseball for the professional New York Giants, recruited partially as an attraction for an off-season world tour in 1912 – Asia, Australia, Europe.
The two were married before the train headed west from New York, and the 20-year-old bride filled her diary with the details of a girl in love with a man she called “Snooks” and also with the world out there. She took notes about seasickness and rickshas and shopping and parties, later riding donkeys or camels at the Pyramids and wandering around Paris to the Moulin Rouge and Napoleon’s tomb. The reader roots for her life to go on and on like this.
But the “greatest” athlete was already blighted by the “revelation” that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball (for money) in his summers at Carlisle, and his Olympic medals were taken away for violating Olympic amateur standards.
Needless to say, the poohbahs in the “amateur” world of sport and education knew nothing of his minor-league forays. Maraniss describes the role of noted Carlisle coach Pop Warner,”where everything was made to be subservient to athletes and football.”
In other words, college football (and its coaches and presidents and boosters) hasn’t changed a bit in more than a century.
The last third of the biography careers downhill -- divorce, two more marriages, children, tragedies, jumping from team to team, from baseball to football, working in construction during the Depression, erratic behavior, all so predictable, all so sad.
Yet Maraniss points out that the indigenous people did not go away. He refers to the diversity and accomplishments of the indigenous today – doctors and lawyers and civil leaders, teachers and writers and performers.
Off the top of my head, I toss out the current names of Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, a Laguna Pueblo; Buffy Ste. Marie, Canadian-American from the Piapot Cree; and Louise Erdrich, writer, from the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa.
The invaders did not succeed in wiping out the Indian ways. And in this compelling biography, David Maraniss shows how, early in the 20th Century, Jim Thorpe took the hits.
Mets Gambling Den in Queens? Really?
It's bad enough that Baseball Commissioner Rob (Roll ‘Em) Manfred has brought about a sleazy era of gambling on the sport that has banned Pete Rose for life.
Baseball is also the former holier-than-thou business that banned Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for fronting for gambling dens after their retirement. They were reinstated, but then Rose got busted for life for violating gambling rules.
Nowadays baseball runs blatantly insulting commercials of young males displaying their insecurities by betting on sports events. Some hitter in a distant ballpark smacks a double off the wall and the young man leaps from his chair, as if he himself hit the damn ball.
Encouraging gambling is Rob Manfred’s game, and maybe Steven A. Cohen’s world, on deck. The Mets’ owner is pushing to see if he can get away with building a gambling den a dice throw away the ball park named after a bank.
Cohen has been an activist owner since taking over the Mets – getting rid of a lot of deadwood in the organization and spending millions upon millions for better players plus activists like Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter. Those are the current conditions, and Cohen spends and spends.
(He also showed great showman instincts by staging two of the best feelgood events I’ve ever seen in a ballpark – the retirement of the No. 17 of Keith Hernandez, and reviving the Old Timers’ Game and festivities, including a dying John Stearns, and survivors of Mets’ stalwarts Tommie Agee, Alvin Jackson and Bill Robinson. Events like these do not just happen. They take money, and staff, and good instincts on the part of the still-new owner.
One suspects Cohen will even go ahead and sign Carlos Correa, unless Correa truly has a lead leg. Cohen is no fool. He avoided getting stung by over-paying for the five-innings-a-week pitcher, Jacob deGrom, despite the grand memories of when deGrom was healthy.
(As for deGrom’s cold-blooded “I’m rich! I’m rich!” smile when he bolted from the Mets with nary a kind word about the good times in Flushing: As we say in Queens, Yeccch!)
Cohen understands the process of making more and more money. He has noticed the bleak concrete emptiness of parking lots -- “50 acres of asphalt" -- to the west of New Shea Stadium, and he has envisioned late-model cars bringing lucky tigers escorting handsome women, with money to burn. Or at least, that is the image.
Fortunately, the governments of New York city and state still have a chance to veto a gambling den on very public land. (Wait, don’t Mets fans park their cars there 81 home games a year? Isn’t traffic bad enough in that tangled sector?)
According to the Wall Street Journal, Cohen held an open house for interested Queens types the other day. No fool, Steven A. Cohen. He played down the lust for a gambling den by saying he just wanted to hear the opinion of the Queens folks – known for their cagey urban instincts (sussing out the criminality and bullying of former Queens resident Donald Trump.)
At the open house, my Queens homeys seemed to voice a skeptical attitude toward the gambling den. According to the WSJ, the folks who showed up – for a ballpark frank! – voiced preference for live music, dining, art exhibits and festivals rather than gambling.
The WSJ reported that Laura Shepard, a community organizer for the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Cohen that the development should be a destination that people can walk, bike or take transit to — not just drive.
“Personally, I don’t want to see the casino,” she said. “Most people want more green space, concerts and community events.”
There is a lot of communal pride in Flushing-Corona-Jackson Heights-Forest Hills swath of Queens, home to a hundred languages and food tastes. This is the same region that fought back an attempt to build a soccer stadium on the crowded public fields of Flushing Meadows park a couple of decades ago. A big-time soccer stadium will soon be built where the chop shops once hunkered. Isn’t that enough upgrade for anybody?
The locals should tell Cohen and Manfred: Go gamble somewhere else. Go to Atlantic City, that once bled the great businessman Donald J. Trump. Go to hilly Connecticut where white marauders once slaughtered Indigenous people near the site of today’s Foxwoods -- tainted grounds, now packed with roulette wheels and poker tables and sporty folks.
Here’s one idea for Stephen Cohen’s “50 acres of asphalt:” Mara Gay of the New York Times recently wrote: “More and more, living in New York is out of reach not just for working-class or middle-class residents but nearly anyone without a trust fund.”
I bet Steven Cohen could make a few bucks from something actually needed, like moderate-cost housing.
Then, there is this. One of the great New York City treasures of recent decades – an Irish/baseball pub, if you can imagine, named for a gremlin sportswriter, Red Foley – had a trove of baseball souvenirs covering every inch of wall and ceiling across the street from the Empire State Building. But the pandemic forced the proprietor, Shaun Clancy, to close down (paying his workers for at least a month, out of heart.)
Shaun is now cooking at a refuge for the homeless on the Gulf Coast of Florida; he chats up the weary while doling out something filling and maybe even healthy.
I bet you – pardon the expression – that if Steven A. Cohen erected a Foley’s II on the ”50 acres of asphalt,” Shaun would dust his vast souvenirs from its storage place, and oversee a renaissance of Foley’s II. And patrons could teeter discreetly to the 7 Line or the LIRR station, staying off the highways. Win-win.
Steven A. Cohen, meet Shaun Clancy.
Farewells From 2022
ALLAN MISSED HIS WIFE
Allan Fishkind took care of people, most notably his wife, Joan Smith. She was the star, the name on the bustling shop, Joan Smith Flowers, with her talent and hearty personality that charmed friends and clients alike.
Allan, big and strong and dependable and low-key, drove the flower arrangements into toney clubs and hotels in the city or around our town, maintaining the shop, fixing stuff.
Joan was the love of his life, and vice versa, both of them coming from earlier marriages, with children.
With friends, Joan would unwind, tell stories of her Dickensian childhood, leaving home in her mid-teens, surviving in a Y.
Allan did not tell stories. He was tall, like Joan, usually with an inscrutable smile on his face. Some attributed his mellow presence to what he called his health regimen.
He also found time to take care of a blind friend who bravely lived in her own house. In the days after 9-11, he collected clothing and blankets and drove them to the collection point at the edge of the horror scene.
In our old waterside commuter town, Joan and Allan were townies. I remember them talking about a bar that had line dancing on weekends or a spaghetti-and-meatball fest for some good cause.
Allan took care of Joan during her illnesses, which neither discussed, even when the shop closed down.
Two summers ago, they popped over to our deck, Joan as chatty as ever. My wife loved Joan, knew her well, and sussed out that Joan was saying goodbye, which turned out to be true, on Sept. 20, 2020.
There was no service, no fuss, but Allan’s goal was to arrange a memorial bench for Joan at the edge of Manhasset Bay, across the street from Diwan, a favorite restaurant. He accomplished this on a sweet Sunday morning, Sept. 5, 2021, greeting friends from all their circles, giving a sweet talk about Joan, the star. Then he settled into a routine nobody could quite chart – but clearly, life without Joan was not the same.
This past summer, Allan materialized on our deck, settled into a chair, and chatted about himself more than he ever had before – even alluding to his own youthful hard times. We made him an herbal tea, and he chatted some more. He looked thin, and it turned out that other friends were telling him he should check with a doctor, but he delayed until he was days away from death from pancreatic cancer.
Word got around that Allan had been buried by a son, somewhere upstate, far from the town Joan and Allan had graced. When I go for a walk along the bay, I stop by Joan’s bench and think of both of them, together. Joan and Allan.
MY COUSIN CARYLE ADMIRED JUDITH JAMISON
Among my earliest memories are two Spencer cousins. Art died last year and his kid sister Caryle passed this year. I can remember a lot of giggling when we were little and our families would get together.
My wife and Caryle shared an interest in family genealogy, and would compare notes – and on the rare times we got together, Marianne says, Caryle retained an adult sense of humor. Also, my brother Peter loyally visited Caryle in her final, uncomfortable years.
But the person who knew Caryle best is her daughter, Michele, now living in England. Michele wrote a lovely tribute, which includes the memory of her mom being “a bit of a tomboy, and loved being outdoors and in nature,” as a girl. Michele recalls walks on nature trails and horseback riding and bird-watching and home crafts, making Christmas decorations and fruit cakes “that took months of soaking in brandy and had the weight of a doorstopper.”
Caryle fed local birds like cardinals and hummingbirds and took in stray cats and often had a horse or two nearby.
Michele added: “What I most admired about her was her complete lack of prejudice or bigotry.”
Then Michele added a surprise to me:
“The second was her love of dance. She didn't make a show of it, so it's easy to think it wasn't that important to her. I've come to suspect it was a deep part of who she was.
“Mom loved ballet and modern dance and took lessons in both during her early adulthood. She even took part in an interpretive dance troupe at our church. She loved musicals that featured dance, and I have many childhood memories of staying up late with her to watch old musicals on television.
“What I didn't fully comprehend until many years later was the depth of her interest. That realization came at my college graduation. The commencement speaker was American dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison. Mom surprised me by not only having heard of her but knowing the full history of her career and having seen her dance with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was the only time I've ever seen her star-struck. She was desperate for an autograph but couldn't work up the nerve to approach her.”
As it happens, I once interviewed Judith Jamison and was struck by her elegance, her intelligence, her long expressive hands and eyelashes. Whenever I think of my cousin Caryle, with her animals and her crafts, I will hold on to this vision of her, adoring the glamorous and thoughtful dancer.
Historian of a Steel Town
Charles E. Stacey never left his hometown. He went to school in Donora, Pa., alongside the Monongahela River, when the mills were running, and clogging the lungs, when Stan Musial was the most famous native.
Dr. Stacey stayed in Donora and taught history, and one of his pupils was Reggie B. Walton, a football star with a brain and a will.
“I can visualize him in American History, near the back, fourth row,” Dr. Stacey said a few years back. “Near the window. Totally attentive. Everybody liked and respected Reggie.”
Reggie Walton went away to college, and law school, and became a federal judge known for his independence, his dedication to fight drugs.
Charles Stacey became the superintendent of schools, and he and his wife, Sue, remained on McKean Ave., the main drag, with its empty movie theatres and restaurants. Somebody had to be the voice, the memory, of Donora, available to teach the history of the region to visiting students and reporters.
When I was writing the biography of Stan Musial in 2011, I met Charles (“call me Chuck”) Stacey, who was running the Donora Historical Center, in a deserted storefront on the main drag. I asked if he could put me in touch with his star pupil, and a few days later my phone rang and a voice said, “This is Reggie Walton. Dr. Stacey asked me to call you.”
And when Donora honored the star baseball player, Ken Griffey, Sr., not too long ago, Judge Walton made it back to be with his old teammate. The two stars stood alongside their teacher.
Dr. Stacey died on April 25, at the age of 90. Every small American town deserves a Charles Stacey, who remembers the people who settled and worked and dreamed.
Lucky Donora. It had Charles Stacey.
BEAU GESTE BY AN OLD FRIEND
Last month I heard from Sam Toperoff, athlete and writer, that Thierry Spitzer had died in a car accident. I remembered Thierry as an active pre-teen, but in fact he was 58.
At the memorial for Thierry in the old neighborhood in Queens, I caught up with his sisters, AnneLise and Karine, and I told them my two daughters always felt Thierry had a certain life force, as a long-haired active kid.
I hadn’t seen Thierry since he was an early teen but I knew he had worked for decades as a waiter at the Hotel Carlyle in the city. His dad, Philip Spitzer, who died last year, had been an agent for me and also for Sam Toperoff, who now lives in the French village near the Alps, a second home for Thierry’s mother Anne-Marie.
Sam, being a writer, told me about the adult Thierry:“A very sweet and funny man. Less than two months ago, he was sitting in my big comfortable chair in the living room talking about how good it was to get back to the Carlyle after two years without work and how sad Manhattan was still.
“He came over most summers to stay with his mother and Karine in the village. We talked sports as though we really knew stuff. We walked in the mountains when his knee permitted.”
Thierry had played basketball and softball in the French village, and also played tennis.
“I just remembered this,” Sam wrote. “Thierry was in the semi-finals of the big tennis tournament here, big crowd, tough match, and in the third set he called an opponent’s ball good after the judge had called it out and conceded the point, it cost him the match. I’ve never forgotten that. So revealing.”
That's how I will remember Thierry.
FAREWELL TO MY ROOMIE
When Julie Bretz got me in touch with her dad early in 2022, Joe Donnelly and I greeted each other on the phone as “Roomie.” This dates back to when and the Newsday’s sports editor had us share a hotel room during the World Series in St. Louis, to save a few bucks. I just might have griped a bit about Joe's smoking…but forever more, Joe and I were “Hey, Rooms!” -- just like ball players.
While others recall the great stories Joe wrote, let me talk about another skill of my roomie:
Joe Donnelly could throw. When we called him “Joe D,” it was homage to another great fielder with a strong arm, many decades ago. I recall Newsday softball games but also a few baseball games at a mid-day empty Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium, before the real players arrived for work.
Joe could roam center field and his throw from the outfield would sting the palm of any infielder or catcher who stuck out a glove.
Joe also played touch football – quarterback, of course. I recall him saying his model was Sonny Jurgensen of the Washington NFL team. He could throw the ball 30-40 yards, maybe more, with perfect aim.
I know this because we Newsday people used to play touch football in the fall. In those days, Newsday was an afternoon paper, meaning deadlines were long after midnight, but somehow or other we would wobble into a park in nearby Hempstead around 11 AM. A few Mets who lived on Long Island would join us, for the running more than the competition,
Joe would shuffle around, not trying to look or act like a pro quarterback, just another scribe who had worked late the night before. But when the ball was hiked, and he had a few counts of “one alligator, two alligator…” and everybody went running off in different angles and Joe would put the ball in somebody’s hands.
Joe didn’t gloat or strut. Slinging the ball deep was what he did. Then we would go to a luncheonette and talk about the game, or our editors.
Those Newsday games were a highlight of my life, my career, and I suspect it was the same for all of us. I still refer to my Newsday mates as “we” and “us,” just as old ball players refer to all their teams.
Joe loved his family, loved to write, and loved being around sports, so in his spare time he would caddie or ref games or serve as an official scorer. and he incorporated the vocabulary into his daily life:
For a great view of Joe Donnelly, you absolutely must read the tribute to him by Tom Verducci on the Sports Illustrated website:
Two talented pioneers of sportswriting died this past year – Jane Gross and Robin Herman had to put up with a lot of resistance when they tried to be sportswriters. I am so glad I got to know them and work the locker room and the pressbox with them:
Two familiar faces from soccer passed a few days apart in December -- Grant Wahl, on the beat at the World Cup, and Alex Yannis, who was so kind to me when I started to show up in soccer press boxes for the Times.
Nobody spans the eras of Yannis and Wahl better than Paul Gardner, whom I call "The Johnny Appleseed of Amercan soccer -- crossing the Atlantic with a Brit's birthright of soccer knowledge, and spreading the lore in his opinionated but yet charming way. Paul's expertise is still vital in the great resource, Soccer America:
Two-long time friends departed this past year:
Joe Vecchione was the sports editor who monitored my path to sports columnist. He and his wife Elizabeth, with her charming Newfoundland presence and nursing career, became good friends.
Stan Einbender and I went to school for nine straight years -- junor high, Jamaica High and Hofstra, where he was the captain and rebounder on the team with a 23-1 record when we were seniors. We both married artistic, strong-minded women.
I hate that the pandemic has kept us from seeing friends, particularly Elizabeth Vecchione and Roberta Einbender.
And finally: we think about Loretta Lynn, who made it so easy for me to help write her autobiography, "Coal Miner's Daughter." Loretta's daughter, Patsy Russell, has kept us in the loop. Laura Vecsey, our oldest, wrote her memories of being on the road with me and Loretta:
Loretta was part Cherokee, via her mother, Clara. When she and Mooney bought their ranch west of Nashville, she started to learn more about how the Cherokees were forced from their homes (just a little bit of American history the country never taught us, back in the day.) The Duck River is about 10 miles to the west of the Lynn ranch at Hurricane Mills. Loretta said she could hear the Cherokees crying as they marched along the Trail of Tears.
She brought her pride with her on the stage.
On Page 16 of the original hard-cover book, Loretta has a few words about Andrew Jackson and other Tennessee people who sent the Cherokees away.
December 27th, 2022
Feedback: Best World Cup Final Ever? Best Sports Event Ever? What's With These Tie-Breakers?
SINCE THE WORLD CUP FINAL ON SUNDAY, I'VE BEEN RECEIVING CRITIQUES OF SOCCER AND ITS RULES FROM PERCEPTIVE READERS, INCLUDING SPORTS-CENTRIC WRITERS. (See Jim Henneman's post from Baltimore, below):
I'LL TRY TO RESPOND BELOW MY ORIGINAL POST:
You could hear all these superlatives in the babble after Argentina beat France on penalty kicks on Sunday to win the championship.
But don’t take anybody else’s word for it. Ask my wife.
Up to now, Marianne had been sure she attended the best World Cup final ever, in the Stade de France, 1998, when Zinedine Zidane scored two goals as he floated and danced his way through a woozy Ronaldo and the Brazilian defense.
The videos show Zidane at the peak of his profession, but on Sunday the whole world saw two players at their peaks -- Lionel Messi of Argentina and Kylian Mbappé of France, trading goals and both making their penalty kicks in the tie-breaker at the end.
From start to finish, everybody was superlative, even the coaches.
The Argentine coach, Lionel Scaloni, made a great decision in starting the aged playmaker Angel DiMaria, who had missed three previous matches due to a leg injury and his 34 years.
On Sunday, DiMaria came out of the stadium tunnel with the starting unit, and I knew Argentina had a much better chance of winning, which also meant Messi had a much better chance of earning the only honor missing in his long and honorable career as shifty goal-scorer for the ages.
I have always been slightly skeptical of Messi for not winning a World Cup with Argentina whereas he had won titles with the Barcelona club, because of the smooth playmaker Andrés Iniesta, when the two overlapped from 2004 to 2018.
On Sunday, DiMaria, playing the part of Iniesta, had a subtle, smooth control over the flow of the Argentina offense, allowing Messi to infiltrate, free-lance, pass, shoot – worthy of Zidane himself.
Even Marianne – a Francophile – allowed that Messi had reached Zidane level, which just about says it all for us. We were in Paris that day, and they played the French anthem, “La Marseillaise,” which we have known since we were children (in the U.S.) and on that raucous Sunday evening in 1998, French people walked below our rented flat, toward the Champs Elysees, their shoes clattering and their voices chanting “ZEE-dan, ZEE-dan,” to celebrate late into the night.
Sunday’s final involved two glorious teams, and two superstars at their peak, plus two coaches doing everything right.
Messi’s two goals and his penalty kick in the shootout set the tone of the day, but France shared the glory because its coach, Didier Deschamps, had the courage to make two substitutions before the first half was over, hauling off two players who had botched the defense.
Deschamps knows what is needed to win a World Cup. He was the unflappable midfielder, the metronome of the French offense and defense that Sunday in 1998, and now, 24 years later, white-haired, he let his discontent show.
The French perked up immediately, although it took Mbappé until the 80th minute to score two goals.
What a game.
For months, when friends asked me to predict a World Cup winner, I automatically said, well, Mbappé reminds me of young Magic Johnson, when he jumped from Michigan State to the Los Angeles Lakers of professional basketball, bringing his reflexes and suppleness and size and cool to the peak of that sport. To my surprise, he is only 5-10, but on a soccer field he seems 6-4.
Anyway, there was Kylian Mbappé, son of the hard Parisian suburbs, excelling in the world’s sport, hauling France on his solid shoulders.
Surely, world soccer fans know that for most of the soccer season, Mbappé and Messi are teammates on the same French club – Paris St-Germain – owned by Qatari interests.
The two are said to not be best friends on that squad, overloaded with talent and egos, and they surely were on opposite sides on Sunday – the little old star and the large young star – and they spurred each other forward.
("Mbappe and Messi are forces of nature. It's a shame that only one could win. Just amazing. I can't believe how intense that was." --G. Wilson, Pennsylvania.)
The game, 120 official minutes, took it out of the players. DiMaria lasted 64 minutes, and then he came out -- which might explain why France was able to come back.
Both sides gave their bodies, all they had. Late in the match, a French player, Raphael Varane, had to make a belly-whopping landing to tie up an Argentina player near the sideline. He struggled to stand up, but it appeared he had nothing left, and France used up one of its final substitutions.
It was a war of attrition. It was a match of two superstars, with suitable accomplices.
The broadcasters ran out of superlatives.
Was it the greatest World Cup final ever?
My wife – who has been talking about Zidane since 1998 – is willing to say, yes, this final was greater than that final.
Then again, you could check out this highlight film of Zidane in the 1998 final. It's in French. And at the first exquisite pass, you will hear the broadcaster gush: "Ooooh, c'est beau.!" And it was, always will be.
Jim Henneman, my long-time colleague, from Baltimore, has written his own take on the great World Cup final (second highest TV ratings of any 2022 sports event.)
Morocco the Star of This World Cup
"Maybe these boys I stumbled upon long ago in a Marrakech back street were dreaming that one day Morocco might be in the Final Four of a World Cup. Or that maybe one day they might even get to play in a World Cup semi-final, maybe even the Final. This week that dream is coming true. Go Morocco!" ---Text and Photo: ©John McDermott (John has covered seven World Cups. GV)
Nobody could have imagined Morocco in the World Cup semifinals, the first African team to ever reach these heights. The Moroccans have been the highlight, with their skilled young players and their energetic young coach, just hired early this year, and their joyous fans. Morocco plays France on Wednesday in Qatar, after Croatia plays Argentina on Tuesday, both matches at 2 PM, Eastern USA time.
And speaking of Croatia, my favorite player of this World Cup is Luka Modrić , who runs the team.
Modrić reminds me of the great backcourt players of earlier basketball generations -- Cousy and McGuire, Wilkens and Nash, alert, unselfish.
With his darting eyes and sharp beak, Modrić also reminds me of a hilltop perch in upstate New York, where I sometimes watch hawks circling, catching a draft, looking for...something.
He swoops into an opening, goes as far as he can, dishes the ball off to a teammate who can handle his soft, accurate pass. Sometimes Modrić dips a shoulder or points his fingers to direct a teammate or two, but never to show off, only to improve position.
He is 37, veteran of brutal schedules of European club and national schedules, but he continues to catch the currents, seeking the best chance.
On Tuesday, in the first semifinal, Croatia plays Argentina, which has Messi, a totally different type.
Modrić vs. Messi.
And on Wednesday, surprising Morocco against the champion, France, with Kilyan Mbappe against the darling upstarts of this World Cup, which has perhaps saved the best for last.
RIP, Grant Wahl, Journalist
In his final hours, Grant Wahl wrote that he had been wrong. He had predicted that the Croatian star Luka Modric was too old at 37 to take the team any further, but after Croatia reached the semifinals on Friday, Grant wrote a mea culpa. Then he went on to write about the second World Cup quarterfinal of the day, and he died, at 48.
The circumstances must be examined by American authorities. It’s way too easy for Elon Musk’s new toy to carry kneejerk claims that Grant Wahl was given the Khashoggi treatment, some kind of chemical bonesaw. But we don’t know, not yet.
The New York Times and other responsible news agencies quickly examined Grant’s own recent articles mentioning his not feeling well in Qatar, and going to a clinic at the stadium, and he described how other journalists covering this marathon had the same symptoms, from long hours and work stress and crowded press rooms and Lord-knows what kind of travelling microbes. I’ve been there, done that, under the same conditions, during World Cups and other mass events. (More on that, below.)
Grant Wahl was one of the major journalists covering soccer, and had been right about so much, including the repressive air to this World Cup in Qatar, born from scandal – packets of $100 bills to delegates -- in the world soccer body, FIFA.
One day at the World Cup, Grant wore a rainbow t-shirt, the universal symbol of support for gay rights, gay existence, and he was held by stadium police, until released. That takes courage. Most people learned after Grant’s death that the rainbow t-shirt was a tribute to his brother, Eric, who is gay.
His brother linked the death to Grant’s speaking up for gays, and for thousands of itinerant laborers who have died building these pop-up stadiums in a country with enough money to buy FIFA, the most corrupt sports organization in the world.
“They just don’t care,” Grant wrote about leaders of Qatar and FIFA.
I read Grant’s posts from Qatar, on the personal website he was building after leaving Sports Illustrated during the ongoing pandemic. He was offering his experience and courage for paid subscriptions, but also made some free essays available. He was no home-bound typist – known as an Underwear Guy -- pecking away on a laptop. Grant Wahl was out there, fully credentialed, with the respect of the soccer community, and also with the eyes of the Qatar security force on him.
In a very real sense, he was a lone wolf, existing on his own guts, his own instincts, his own strength, in a FIFA/Qatar environment that had no reason to like what he was typing.
As soon as I heard about Grant’s death, I had a pang of déjà vu.
I was also 48 during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, a country I love, traveling to modern and hospitable cities, hundreds of miles apart. I stubbornly continued to jog at high altitude, taking in the bad air. After a few weeks, I was shot. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t type. Fortunately, my wife was with me, to witness that I was running down.
I also had something Grant Wahl did not have these days – a home office. I called the NYT sports department and said I was dragging, and needed a day or three off, but my editors, my friends, Joe Vecchione and Lawrie Mifflin, agreed that I had another great assignment, the Goodwill Games in Moscow, coming up, and I needed to be strong for that.
My editors told me to come home, see my doctor, and determine if I was strong enough to go back out to Moscow – which I was. One of the best assignments I’ve ever had. (Plus, my wife was with me, buying fresh vegetables and fruit at a farmer’s market in a nearby square.)
I also had editors watching my back, whether as a news reporter or a sports columnist. To this day, even as a typist for my own Little Therapy Website, I consider every word, every opinion, from the vantage point of the great editors, who found mistakes, even reined me in sometimes, much as I griped.
Journalism has its dangers. I’ve been sent to riots and shootouts and assassinations and coal-mine disasters where I had to be quick on my feet, but nothing like colleagues currently in brave, admirable Ukraine. Sometimes, “even in sports,” the hours, the travel, the diet, the microbes in crowds, can beat you down. We will learn more.
What we know now is that Grant Wahl was doing his work, writing so well about a subject he loved, and he has passed, way too young.
What Kind of Day Was It?
During a Congressional gold medal ceremony, the family of officer who died protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6 decline to shake hands with McConnell and McCarthy, who have shunned them since that evil day. It is stunning that these cold fish "public servants" even showed up.
Jurors in New York found the Trump Organization guilty on nine counts in the criminal tax fraud trial, on Tuesday, the second day of deliberations. The guilty verdict followed a month-long trial by the Manhattan District Attorney that relied on testimony by finance chief Allen Weisselberg, shown here in a photo with two sour-looking men, who just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
The Washington Post reported that Jack Smith, the special counsel, has subpoenaed local officials in Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, following reports they had tried to install fake electors favoring Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Smith was appointed recently when it appeared nobody in the Justice Department had any heart for this line of work. I like three things about him – he is listed as having done his undergraduate work at Oneonta State (N.Y.), his Pacino-esque beard and eyes; and his most recent job was in the Hague, prosecuting war crimes. He should feel right at home in this assignment.
OH, AND THEN THERE'S THIS: Sen. Raphael Warnock, minister and follower of the the tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and John Lewis, ran for a full Senate term against Herschel Walker, who once followed his blockers on a football field. Late Tuesday evening, the new Georgia narrowly chose Rev, Warnock. I like this day.
U.S. Soccer Not Quite Ready
The Dutch players were technically strong, physically strong, mentally strong, as they beat the United States, 3-1, Saturday in the World Cup.
In recent years, American players have run into Dutch players, sometimes literally. They know how sound the Dutch are.
Virgil Van Dijk, 6-5, 203 pounds.
Denzel (!) Dumfries 6-2, 174.
Cody Gakpo, 6-4, 172.
Memphis Depay, 5-10, 168, and solid.
And that keeper, Andries Noppert, all 6-8, 205 pounds of him.
Welcome to the knockout round of the World Cup. Americans may be wringing their hands – looking for scapegoats, blaming the coach--for losing in the Round of 16 but they need to remember: the U.S. produces great athletes in so many sports, and the progress in recent decades is encouraging, but this time the U.S. ran into a top-ten soccer nation.
The Americans came out smoking, and Christian Pulisic had an early shot on goal, but it was swatted away. his velocity appearing to be 75 percent of normal. This told me his pelvic injury last Tuesday was still hampering him. Fans may grumble that manager Gregg Berhalter kept Pulisic in for the full match, a tribute to Pulisic’s skill and his drive, but Pulisic was not up to his own level.
(Did Berhalter miss the chance to sub for a subpar Pulisic? Did he not react to the Dutch offense aiming at the flanks? Did he fail to control the huge Welsh sub who dominated the middle in the first match? Fans are making a list.)
The big Dutch people took a lot out of the Americans. The U.S. was trailing, 1-0, in the final minute of the first half, clearly dragging, as they urged themselves to one more attack. I saw Sergiño Dest shaking his wrists, as if trying to prod himself to keep moving, as the Americans pressed for a late goal, but the Dutch scored against the weary Yanks just before the first half ended and the Americans never caught up.
Dest was born to a Dutch mother and American father, and grew up near Amsterdam, but was not funneled into the Dutch academies where prospects are taught.
The Netherlands is known as the best soccer nation to never win a World Cup, even as they modernized soccer with a smart geometric tiktok-passing style. When Dest had to choose whether to play under a Dutch passport or an American passport, he went for the better chance to play for a national team, in a World Cup.
The U.S. is trying to catch up, producing admirable teams that reached the knockout round in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014 and now 2022. A musty mom-and-pop organization in the early 1980s, the federation has been seeking U.S.-based Latino players learning the game from their elders, and African-American players who take to the sport.
The best example is DaMarcus Beasley, who could dunk a basketball from his adult height of 5-8. He was teased in his neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Ind., because he preferred soccer, but he became one of the great American players in the past generation.
When the U.S. World Cup team visited the 9-11 memorial in New York City or the DMZ between North and South Korea, Beasley gave the most thoughtful insights. And in the 2010 match with Algeria, he was a sub in the 81st minute, his speed opening up the field for the game-winning fast-break goal.
The U.S. continues to attract players of color – Cobi Jones, with his 164 caps, and Earnie Stewart, another Dutch import, plus Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, just off the top of my head. But other great sports – football, basketball and even baseball, growing more white -- also attract Black athletes.
As American soccer players continue to move to Europe, with its lucrative salaries, and as the World Cup blasts over the tv in the U.S., the point will not be lost: This is a great sport, attracting Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic and all the other charismatic U.S, athletes.
But for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will have to raise its game to confront world powers like the Netherlands.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.