Mike Moran was one of the giants in sports – a spokesperson for the United States Olympic Committee for decades who told the truth either with facts or with a sardonic tone and a pronounced rolling of the eyes. He was “in the room” when the 1980 Miracle on Ice transpired, and he was there when Nancy Kerrigan was whacked and when Tonya Harding was allowed to skate in Norway and he was there to explain the grandiose statements of George Steinbrenner and other bumptious officials passing through the hierarchy.
Mike was the Deep State of Olympics, and thank God for that.
He passed on Tuesday at the age of 78 after a sad few months of feeling himself go downhill. He stopped e-mailing political columns and other snarky writings by others, and that was a dire sign.
I could go on, but other people knew him better than I did. One of them is Bob Condron, one of the best people I know in sports, himself a professional publicist and great company in some Olympic site. Bob went on Facebook to extol his boss and friend, and I am going to desist right here and let Bob tell you about Mike Moran:
By Bob Condron:
A friend of mine died today. He was the library of the Olympics, as it pertained to the United States. He was the spirit of what good there was in having Olympic Dreams and reading and hearing about them.
His name was Mike Moran, the spokesman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who guided the organization’s mindset for a quarter century. He was my boss. He brought me from college athletics into the Olympic Movement and my life was so rich for 30 years because of it.
Mike had a variety of titles: editor of the Olympian Magazine, director of communications, Chief of Communications Officer, whatever. He came at a time the U.S. Olympic Committee had just formed by an act of Congress. The USOC was a Park Avenue kind of Travel Agency in New York. But, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 changed all that. And it came to Colorado Springs. And its headquarters was at the old ENT Air base, the new Olympic Training Center just off downtown.
Baaron Pittenger and Col. Don Miller talked Mike into coming to the USOC from the University of Colorado where he was the sports information Director. A football power with Mike riding the Buffalo wave. The USOC organization was new, the training center was new, the attitude was new. And Mike changed his life and he launched a new philosophy of trying to get the media to pay attention to the Olympics and the athletes of the United States who had dreams.
He built a foundation in the early days to make sure the American media had a contact, someone who cared about small hometowns of athletes, the colleges they came from, the stories of their lives, coaches, moms and dads.
But, Mike became more than that. He was the guy who stood at the podium when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. His heart broke because of it and the nastiness that came from the powers to be in the Carter administration.
And he was at the podium when there was Payback four years later when the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc said NO! to Los Angeles and the 1984 Olympics.
And he was the man in the TV lights when Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the kneecap by the Tonya Harding camp at the Olympic figure skating trials in Detroit before the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. He called the 1 a.m. press conference in Norway with 1,600 media in a space that probably seated 500.
He was the man at the Podium for all kinds of calamities for the USOC: possible bankruptcy, investigations that wanted to make the USOC a farm club of Congress, Drug busts, George Steinbrenner, drug positives, athlete deaths, fake bios of USOC leaders, conflicts of interests by officers…fun stuff.
He’d take the podium, the lights, explain things and might say…”we need to do better. Can I answer any questions?” And a hundred waving palms would rise into the air, blood vessels enlarging, right to know things, screaming at Mike.
He was calm on top. Paddling like crazy underneath. But he stayed the stay. Answered every question. Met for one on ones later. He was accessible, he was the man with the quotes. Sometimes with leaders. Sometime without. Stuck on an island.
He was the man who set the standard for the USOC of old. The man the media depended on to be available…at that moment. No matter whether it was the New York Times, USA Today or Bonnie Blair’s hometown paper in Wisconsin.
He made this profession proud. He made me proud. He made this nation proud.
He’s pain free now. Not lonely from all of his mornings at the coffee shop with six papers all prohibited by this god-awful pandemic. The poison in his body from pneumonia and organ shutdown is gone. . The 6-4 body of a former AAA pitcher that once hit Curt Flood in the family jewels as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals is forgiven. At least by God.
After l:37 pm. Tuesday, he’s reading the papers now. Having coffee. Wishing the Colorado Springs Sky Sox was still a farm club of the Rockies. Writing to all the media who might have gotten credentials in Heaven .
And waiting for us.
* * * * * *
A reporter's appreciation of Mike Moran, by Phil Hersh, long-time Olympic correspondent :
You’ve heard of Men in Blazers?
Get ready for (what I like to call) Men in Shorts, talking footy from a suburban patio on a Sunday morning.
My St. Louis pal Tom Schwarz is part of an eclectic group of soccer buffs who emit the weekly show, captured as it happens and sent out through the mysteries of Youtube and Facebook.
The merrie bande called me Sunday, July 5, and we talked about survival during the bungled pandemic, viewing “Hamilton” on the tube, live sports in empty stadiums. I am heard from Minute 30, as long as they can carry me.
The show is “live” on Facebook, so I am told, but later put together for Youtube. They occasionally get a real soccer person, like Taylor Twellman of St. Louis, ace scorer now ace broadcaster, on Jan. 20, 2019.
Cast members include:
Edmundo (Gail Edmunds, plus guitar).
Ted Williams, not the frozen one, women’s soccer authority and show producer.
Josh McGehee, Bradley Univ., 2018, labelled “our resident soccer expert” (every show needs one.)
Russell Blythe, St. Louis Univ., Dept. of Mathematics, “native of New Zealand” (you can hear it), reads the scores of Sunday matches in “traditional BBC fashion,” lover of tango and Liverpool fan.
Patio Host Tom Schwarz, seller of plants, world traveler, family guy, outside gunner in basketball, and master salesman who once hawked 175 copies of my Stan Musial biography in soccer pub in one night.
The lads are gearing up their act for the arrival of a St. Louis club in Major League Soccer in the 2022 season, an honor for one of America’s best nurturing cities for the sport.
Meantime: socially distanced. (My old photo vanishes by pushing the video arrow, I hope.)
Some colleges have their priorities straight during this time of Covid-19.
Four schools I already admired – Bowdoin, Morehouse, Sarah Lawrence and Swarthmore -- showed their values in recent days by cancelling all or part of their autumn athletic programs, so they could concentrate on education.
These schools do not exist to present extravaganza football games every Saturday during the fall semester, for the benefit of boosters and TV networks, to churn up money to keep the whole monstrosity going.
However: each decision to cancel caused terrible pain to the people who mattered the most – the student-athletes who will not get to compete this fall, practice with their teammates, perform in front of vociferous family members and loyal fans.
You cannot red-shirt a virus-cancelled season, say “come back for a fifth year.” Plus, these student-athletes have futures, although the 2020 fall season will not be part of them.
We take it personally in our family. Our grand-daughter, Lulu Wilson, is a loyal member of the Swarthmore women’s soccer team that reached the Division III tournament in her first two seasons.
She played very little in her first year due to an eye condition following a concussion, but she played some in her sophomore year - - and every time I checked in on her she raved about her teammates and her coaches and the practices and the togetherness.
In between, she pursues a pre-med program, having already spent compelling days in hospitals, gowned up, watching the routines and even the operations. She is all in.
When Swarthmore cancelled all fall sports, I checked in on Lulu and asked how she felt about the decision.
“Honestly, I think it is smart of Swat,” she texted, using the nickname for the school, “and I admire that they are trying to keep us safe and move our country towards an end.
“I think it would be ignorant of them to let us play,” she added. “I look at these big schools going back full-force and I worry that these kids are going to cause outbreaks and keep the pandemic going for the country as a whole.
"So I respect what they did,” she said, adding her opinion that “online learning is not the same as a true Swat experience.”
Now she is in mourning for what will always be lost – an autumn of practices in the drizzle and gathering darkness, the bus rides around the Northeast, and the identifiable voices of parents who travel from around the country to cheer for Swat.
(Intro to Div III: in 2018, after Swarthmore lost to Middlebury in the Round of 16 up in Vermont, on the long bus ride back to Philadelphia, many of the players started studying for final exams coming up, she told me then.)
“These four years are really special for us to be together as a team so this time apart will be hard," Lulu said Thursday. "We will have to find ways to stick together and find the positives in this situation.”
Swarthmore student-athletes are not alone.
I had a premonition a few days ago when I read that Bowdoin had cancelled fall sports. My wife and I have fallen in love with the college in Brunswick, Maine, from visiting the area in recent years, and we always find time to visit the jewel of an art museum on the campus.
I also admired the decision by Morehouse in Atlanta to cancel football this year. I have become a fan of Morehouse over the years because of alumni like Martin Luther King, Jr., Donn Clendenon of the 1969 Mets, my Brooklyn hero Spike Lee, and Terrance McKnight, knowledgeable host of a nightly show on WQXR-FM, the classical station in New York.
And Sarah Lawrence, in Bronxville, just above New York, is where we were lucky enough to send our two daughters, who gained great educations and eclectic talented friends. The other day, SLC cancelled all autumn sports.
All schools are wrestling with terrible choices in this time of the virus. There are no easy answers, but these four admirable schools examined their values and realized sports were expendable – nevertheless, leaving a gigantic loss for a young student who loves her sport, her team, and also her education.
John Pappas has no new bikes in his shop. None. He sold out weeks ago, and the manufacturers keep promising: soon.
But Pappas and his colleague, Mike Black, Master Fixer, have a shop full of bicycles waiting to be fixed, waiting for parts, waiting to be picked up.
“You see that bike over there?” Pappas asked me on Saturday, giving me the feeling it was a bit of a relic. “It’s a Peugeot, costs over $300 to fix, I asked the lady, ‘Do you really want it done?’ and she said yes.”
Everything that can roll is now rolling, in a renaissance for bicycles that Pappas and Black could not imagine a few years ago. They worked in a store that was a tradition in my town – we bought our Schwinns there in 1969 – like a clubhouse on Port Blvd., just drop in and chat about the Tour de France, or anything.
But at holiday time in 2016 nothing was moving in the relocated shop, and the owner at the time, plus Pappas and Black, were bemoaning that kids today do not ride bikes, they go where their helicopter parents approve, or they hunch over their computers, indoors.
It was a dystopian view of the next generation; the owner got out of the business, and Pappas and Black relocated to a modest storefront in adjacent Manorhaven, calling it Bicycle Playground of Port Washington.
Then along came Covid-19, rampaging across the country, courtesy of our “leaders” and their willful stupidity. Schools are closed. Adults, if lucky, are working from home, and people are getting in shape -- running or jogging or trudging around town, or dusting off the two-wheelers and three-wheelers and scooters. (The other day I saw four or five boys lugging baseball bats and gloves to the nearby playground. I swear: I saw boys going to play baseball, on their own.)
This is, admittedly, a privileged view from a comfortable sliver of the country, while others are suffering, but the renaissance of bicycles….kids on bikes….is one sweet result of this horror.
From our house, I can hear the voices of children – squeaky, earnest, engaged, away from adults, away from regimen – riding by themselves, like we used to do when we were kids.
We live at the top of a hill. Kids stop and check out the modest little drop, and then, whee, off they go.
Sometimes it is a family expedition, a parent or two, a kid or three, trading safety precautions or just letting out little yelps of enjoyment, throwbacks to a time before all the gibberish on the Web.
Sometimes I walk these back streets, a bandana ready to pull up if I get close to anybody. I am privy to snatches of conversation between, let’s say, a mom on her bike, and a son, on his bike. These seem like sweet moments: I remember my mother teaching me to ride a two-wheeler.
A lot of these adventures would not be happening if Pappas and Black had let the dream go. I associate them with good times – my current Trek old-guy bike, plus how they installed a stationary bike and a treadmill in our house, before both gave out after a few decades.
Now they are waiting for new bikes while scrambling for parts.
The other day my rear tire went flat and I walked the bike home, leaving a message for them, and figuring I was back to walking for the duration.
But Pappas called me back in a day or so and said he could take a look if I got the bike to him. My bike fit into the back of my son’s car: I used to ride him on the back of my Schwinn, along the Ohio River in Louisville, or into Brooklyn or Queens, on quiet Sunday mornings; now he lugs my wounded bike for me.
The guys at the shop found the right tube and got me on my way a day later, but the general backup is so severe that Pappas and Black are planning something they never could have imagined:
“If you had told me I would be taking a week off at the Fourth of July, I would have said you were crazy,” Pappas said.
Then again, if I had predicted children and adults would be cruising the streets of our town, having exercise and conversations, I would have sounded crazy.
Bicycles live. It is something.
And not just kids. Frequent correspondent Randolph Fiery is a serious biker, who enclosed photos from a recent two-day "ride" through the Greenbrier River Mountain Trail, a former railroad track, in his native West Virginia.
I just learned something about sports in empty venues: even without the fans roaring, the drama and the skill can be magnificent in front of the tube.
This is worth noting as major American sports prepare for unprecedented short seasons and makeshift playoffs.
None of this means any athletes should be playing. Covid-19 is raging, sparked by the cruel and intentional stupidity of Donald Trump. Athletes are probably setting a bad example just from their proximity, no matter the health protocols cobbled together.
To be continued.
But what I realized Thursday was that great athletes and great sports and great histories and great plots make for great viewing.
My little epiphany came during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City in London. I wasn’t even watching until I started getting pinged by my son-in-law in Deepest Pennsylvania, telling me that homeboy Christian Pulisic from nearby Hershey was starting for Chelsea.
The next ping told me Pulisic had scored. So I dropped my household chores and turned on the tube.
The replays showed the wunderkind, not yet 22, sharking two Man City defenders, putting pressure on them, forcing them into a dreadful giveaway, and then changing his gears several times as he corkscrewed the hapless Man City keeper into the turf and slipped a goal into the corner – a brilliant bit of opportunism, whether in front of a packed house in Stamford Bridge or an empty one. On TV, it was stunning.
The goal was also vital because Man City was one loss or one draw away from yielding its title to Liverpool after two straight championships. Liverpool was so far ahead this season that a title was inevitable, but now it might happen without Liverpool flexing a muscle except of course in front of their own TV sets up north.
The great soccer continued: Kevin DeBruyne, the red-headed Belgian with Man City, hooked a free kick into the left corner to draw the game. World level skill.
Raheem Sterling, the young Man City star who has been the spokesman for Black Lives Matter in British football, missed twice by inches.
Pulisic sharked Man City again but this time Kyle Walker slid on the goal line to stop the ball millimeters from the white line.
And then a seasoned City player, Fernandinho, let his left hand dangle to stop a shot in goalmouth, and was called for a red card. (Sour Grapes Dept: the very same act, uncalled, cost the U.S. a goal in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany.)
Willian scored the penalty for Chelsea in the 78th minute and idle Liverpool would clinch the title – its first in 30 years.
Pinging in my phone from father and son in Deepest Pennsylvania followed by the TV views of fans lurching around Anfield Road at dusk, and a raucous Zoom montage around Britain of Red Devil fans in their red jerseys celebrating – the modern mix of Liverpool fans, white and black, young and old, male and female, even the odd dog. Some fans held up signs that said: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the inspirational theme song of Liverpool for decades now.
One of the broadcasters noted that Liverpool has been revamped in the past decade by John Henry, the very same introverted owner who revamped the Boston Red Sox from a decades-long miasma of its own.
People who follow sports carry these legends with them while watching, and debating, even while sitting out off-seasons and [postponements during this frightening plague.
On this very same; day, in unusually hot England, close to a million people rushed to the southern shore, packing the beaches, breathing on each other at close range, just as they would be in a packed stadium.
Are we humans that eager to infect each other, perhaps mortally, at sports events, the beach, religious services, political rallies for the fragile ego of a dangerous president? Well, it would appear we are.
Now we are about to will American sports into close-order competition, with “rules” that seem ludicrous. (One of my favorite new conditions for baseball players on the road for the next three months stipulates that only close relatives will be allowed into players' hotel rooms.)
For the moment, a father and son in Deepest Pennsylvania celebrated a championship in England, performed by some of the best players in the world.
I watched. It was terrific. Now, heart in mouth, in this dangerous time, I await the Mets.
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
* * *
(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
* * *
How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
For many years, Marianne painted in the midnight hours, when the kids were asleep and I was on the road somewhere. After a few hours of sleep, she got up and made school lunches and checked her lesson plans and drove off to teach art.
At some point she produced this large painting, which wound up in a gallery in Manhattan, and then in friends’ apartment on the Upper East Side. But now those friends are downsizing, and no longer have room for the painting, so they graciously offered it back to the artist.
In the middle of a pandemic, with no station wagon anymore, we did not see retrieving it and squeezing it into our house, already crammed with books and art and kitchen utensils.
Marianne mentioned her dilemma to our West Side friends, who are redecorating their apartment in the 50s. They know her work, and were interested, but the painting had been wrapped, and was sequestered in the basement of the East Side building. So they accepted it, sight unseen.
Then came moving day, part of the daily buzz of the city, good times or bad times -- folks clutching modest bags of clothing on the subway, other folks engaging gigantic moving vans that block side streets, out-of-town children of privilege who come clumping down the elevated train stairs with one wheeled suitcase in an “emerging” neighborhood, getting dirty looks from ladies in the local peluqeria whose rents are about to double. (I witnessed that in Bushwick two years ago.)
Now our friends were joining the sidewalk shuffle, taking 45 minutes to walk across town, spotting “dog runners and dog strollers in the park, empty buses plying Fifth, a fit couple racing up and down the Met Museum’s steps. The ‘Ancient Playground” at 85th and Fifth still temporarily closed,’” as the lady half of the couple wrote.
I had warned that if they tried to carry the painting across town, one of those classic crosswinds that scream out of a side street could pick them up, clutching the painting, and deposit them in Oz, or New Jersey.
But it did not come to that, because when the East Side porter delivered the 6-by 4-foot package near the front door, they realized it was so sturdy that blithely carrying it across town – for fun, for exercise – was out of the question.
Now began the quest for wheels.
They tried shoe-horning it into a city taxi, but it was four inches too long, so they tipped the driver for his effort, and waved farewell.
The super helped them carry it to a busy corner and left them to their adventure. They hailed two panel trucks and tried to cajole the drivers into making an excursion, but both apologized for being busy. A plumber parked nearby offered to help but needed an hour to set up his crew.
Tired of standing on the corner propping up a large painting, they called a messenger service, New York Minute, which promised to drop it at their building, as they took a taxi back home. An hour later, the painting arrived and they set it on the terrace for a few hours to give germs time to die.
They still had not seen the painting that had occupied several weeks of logistics that could have sent a spaceship to a far-off docking station. (Did I mention that Marianne, in her other life as matchmaker, a/k/a the shiksa shadchen, had matched these two friends, not so long ago?)
“Unwrapped, it was love at first sight. It’s Marianne’s Geometric Period, mixed media watercolor and oil,” our friend reported. “It miraculously fit on the pre-existing hooks opposite our bed.”
They took a photo – the miracle of the smartphone—and beamed it to Marianne, who immediately recognized it from the period, decades ago, when she found a makeshift table that could accommodate larger canvases.
She has sold around 250 paintings, some now dispersed around the world. She may not recall the year or the circumstances of each painting, but she recognizes each painting, remembers the creation.
She has won awards in juried shows, has placed her work in slide form or real-life form, in Manhattan galleries, has received respectful “keep-painting” receptions from major galleries, some of them part of the art hustle of recent decades, no names mentioned. It all came back to her, including the review in NYT’s Long Island Section, by critic Phyllis Braff:
One feels and imagines the aura of the Grand Canyon, Notre Dame, a night sky, a fall landscape or a cemetery in visions that are executed through rather innovative manipulations of small squares made vibrant with mottled, transparent watercolor tones. Color selections that tend to be symbolic, and exacting schemes of dispersing the painted units, are both important in carrying the message.
This painting, part of Marianne’s most active period, is now hanging in the bedroom of a fashionable apartment, home to many soirees with art-conscious New Yorkers.
But the main reward came when the lady wrote:
The painting is now the last the last thing we see at night, and the first thing we see in the morning. Joy.
Marianne’s painting has made the daunting crosstown trek from the East Side to the West Side.
Its journey has also brought us joy.
* * *
The review in the NYT by critic Phyllis Braff:
I’m getting the feeling that baseball is negotiating itself out of even an abbreviated season.
And maybe that’s okay. I’m not sure anybody should be doing something as unimportant as playing sports, what with the murderous virus still very much floating in the air we breathe.
Then again, I truly miss baseball. I can’t watch old games on the tube, just can’t, but I can read about them.
I just read a book about my favorite team from somebody who was “in the room where it happened.” (From “Hamilton”)
That would be Jay Horwitz, owner of the largest head this side of Mr. Met, the mascot for whom he is often mistaken. The book is entitled “Mr, Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid from Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers," issued by Triumph Books.
Horwitz was the head public relations person for the Mets from the time of Joe Torre through the time of Terry Collins (both of whom he openly admires.)
As Jay tells it, confident managers like Davey Johnson relied on Jay's ability to keep a secret, and explained personnel moves or strategy decisions, counting on him to put a positive spin on them.
The book is full of examples of Horwitz offering advice to players, particularly the younger ones, moments after a game, before the vicious bloodhounds of the media came yowling through the clubhouse door.
Let me attest that Jay Horwitz has not yet in his life given any journalist (or at least me) a truly newsy “scoop.” He made his rep as a college PR man who could get Fairleigh Dickinson in the sports pages, in the waning days when print dominated sports coverage, and he was not about to divulge anything damaging or derogatory about any Met that ever lived. Therefore, he had the run of the place.
For example: Horwitz was in the locker room on the night of Oct. 25, 1986, when the Mets and Red Sox played the sixth game of the World Series. When the game went into extra innings, he knew he had to get to the Mets’ clubhouse to console or congratulate the players but also to monitor the post-game madness.
He was sitting in Davey Johnson’s office with Darrell Johnson, one of the Mets’ advance scouts, watching on TV as the Red Sox scored twice. Then Wally Backman flied to left and Keith Hernandez flied to center. (Anybody who was there will never forget the Shea Stadium scoreboard prematurely flashing congratulations to the Red Sox.)
A minute later, Hernandez burst into the clubhouse, not about to gawk like some tourist as the visitors celebrated in the Mets’ house.
Then the three of them watched Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight single to bring the Mets within a run
“I’m not leaving my chair,” Hernandez declared. “It’s got hits in it. It’s a hit chair.” Most ball players believe that stuff.
Then Mookie Wilson had perhaps the greatest at-bat in the history of the Mets and as the Mets roared in from the field, Jay Horwitz “was in the room."
In bad times -- and for the Mets, that's most of the time -- Horwitz suffered and sighed so visibly the players treated him as one of them, including when they divided up the World Series swag. This is the annual autumnal test of character, with some teams generous to people who serve them, and some teams not so much.
The club was passing out $4,000 bonuses to department heads but the players voted Jay in for a full share -- $93,000 -- the same amount as Hernandez and Carter and Mookie, a highly unusual gesture.
He was hesitant to break tradition, but says players like Mookie insisted he take it. Then Jay consulted the person who truly had his back – his mother, Gertrude.
“I didn’t raise a schmuck,” she told her son. “Take the 93.”
The share was a big payoff for Jay Horwitz but it sounds as if he had a payoff every day he reported to work -- a loyal PR man, as unathletic as they get, who has gone through life with only one eye working due to glaucoma at birth. A bachelor, he has put his loyalty into the Mets since 1980, and the players (often the stars like Tom Seaver or John Franco) often showed their love by dousing him from the whirlpool hose, cutting his tie, slipping greasy foodstuffs in his jacket pocket as he slept on the team airplane.
Jay still seems to beat himself up that he did not do enough to steer young Doc Gooden and young Darryl Strawberry, who found ways to self-destruct early and often. He does not go into details, but he trusts the reader to know them.
After the 2018 season, the Mets’ new front office created a new job as vice president of alumni relations; Jay now brings back old Mets, some immortal, some transient, for some feel-good events, plus he still gets to report to the ballpark every day.
In the absence of baseball, this sweet book shows the beating heart of a sport that normally takes place every day. Jay Horwitz and loyal fans (I outed myself as a Mets fan after retirement) may have a long wait to root and suffer during a game, any game. The Horwitz book gives a glimpse of the daily agony, unique to baseball.
“I suspect that seeing NYC burn arouses strong feelings in you,” writes a friend from Queens, long living overseas.
* * *
We sat in our den with a visitor from Moscow and watched smoke pour out of the Parliament building.
This was October of 1993; our friend was frightened because her son was a journalism student in Moscow and she knew he would get up close, to observe, to report, maybe to protest.
Now it is our turn. My wife and I sit in the same den and watch our country – places we have lived and visited – quiver with rage.
One over-reaction and we could have Moscow-on-the-Hudson, Tienanmen-Square revisited. I feel the way our friend must have felt that warm autumn day when she watched smoke rise above the Moskva River.
New York is my hometown and it’s in my blood, ever since my father took me around, teaching me names and histories. I still see New York through the prism of being 5 years old and watching Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an old white wizened president, campaign through Queens in an open limo during a cold drizzle, or being 7 and having my father call from the office and say our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had just signed Jackie Robinson.
I see New York from memories of gentle folk, bootstrappers from Queens, who met sometimes in my family living room, in a discussion group strictly maintained at a 50-50 black-white ratio.
So many white people have lived more comfortable lives because of the enslavement of so many black people. We can’t get past it. It would be interesting if we could go back in time with those nice people, long gone, and in 2020 terms discuss America’s Original Sin.
Now, from my safe perch in a nearby suburb, I feel viscerally sick when I see video or photos of broken windows, burning cars, confrontations.
People are expressing their horror at the murder, caught on a smartphone camera, of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis.
I feel proud of the Americans who have flocked, mostly in peace, to express their believe that Black Lives Matter. The Floyd family has cited religion to score violence and revenge, but this is not a cool time, and I know there are bad actors, white and black, who want to cause anarchy and fear.
The rock-throwers and the window-breakers will give racists a chance to break heads in the name of law and order. (Tom Cotton, you old op-ed sage, I’m talking about you.)
I’ve been lucky to travel all over the States -- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Seattle, LA, Chicago. For two years in the early 70s, we lived, on assignment for the Times, in Louisville, Ky., -- five homesick New Yorkers nevertheless blessed with two stimulating years.
The other day, from Louisville, I saw a story that gave me hope, or rather temporary hope – a human chain of white women at the front of a protest, ahead of black protestors, sending a physical and emotional message: “We got you.”
Our next-door neighbor in Louisville would be so proud of these protestors. Rabbi Martin Perley had built bonds with the African-Americans of the 60s, so that when Louisville seemed ready to go up during a protest, he joined other civic leaders in walking the city’s West End, urging people not to take out their rage on their town.
So I was proud of the white women of Louisville who went up front, but then I read about the police shooting of a well-known BBQ merchant on the West End, who may have fired a pistol in response to looting outside his door. So we’re back where we started with George Floyd.
Now it is our turn in the TV den to watch nightly confrontations in New York. I spy a street or building or bridge and know exactly where it is. I have walked there and chatted with fellow New Yorkers; I have ridden the buses and subways; I drive comfortably all over my hometown.
In my home borough of Queens, the Cuomos lived 10 blocks to the east of my family and the Trumps lived 10 blocks to the west of our busy, noisy street.
Most days, Cuomo is hectoring New Yorkers to stay smart about social distancing and keeping an eye on the bumblings of the mayor. On Friday that disturbed and dangerous president brayed that George Floyd would be so proud of the big stock-market leap. What a jackass.
Trump is the Republicans’ kind of guy. We are all paying for the anarchy and hate and stupidity he has emitted.
Still, I take hope when I see blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, mostly young, demonstrating their idealism, while we sit in front of the tube, like our friend from Moscow once did.
Tuesday, June 2: Finally: I answered the first 13 Comments. I've been corresponding with two Bay Area pals about favorite locals. Best. GV.
(The following was written Friday afternoon. It may seem trivial, given the virus, the malfeasance of Trump, and growing protests around the country, to write about a baseball-centric pub, but this also happened on Friday, leading to this response from me and others. Be safe. GV.)
The world will never be the same.
We say that a lot these days, about death and loss of work and the blurring of the future; now something else has been wrenched away.
Foley’s went down Friday, officially. It was a grand contradiction – Irish? Baseball Pub? – and for thousands upon thousands of regulars it was home.
We all rubbed elbows, when business was good – baseball umpires and out-of-towners and business types and guys at the bar who seemed to have a lot of free time in mid-day and, when a big game was on, clusters of loyal fans who claimed it as their place.
It could have been a funky little pub off in the Irish countryside, particularly when Proprietor Shaun Clancy and his father John Clancy were in attendance, with their lush accents. No matter what time of day it was, John Clancy was always eating an Irish breakfast.
Foley’s was Shaun’s baby. He learned baseball in the States while his dad worked at Toots Shor’s, the Foley’s of its day, particularly when DiMaggio or Sinatra was in the place.
At Foley’s, it was more about Joe McEwing, a Mets supersub, taking a kid named David Wright out for a late supper on his first time in the majors, and now there is a David Wright sandwich on the menu.
Baseball was on the walls, and on the ceilings – all manner of memorabilia, thousands of autographed balls. Our group of old Hofstra jocks (and me, scribe-for-life) has been meeting there for a decade; the first time Brant Alyea, who played five years in the majors, joined us, he had to sign a ball for Shaun.
The place faces the Empire State Building on 33rd St, just west of Fifth. There are Irish road signs out front in case you are lost. The bar is on the right of a narrow corridor down the middle, and on the left is a men’s room with three enormous enamel urinals taken from either the old Waldorf or the old Astoria when the two hotels merged uptown. Now I am wondering: who gets the urinals when the landlord goes back to Square 1?
Shaun named the place for Red Foley, the leprechaun of a sports wizard who graced the New York Daily News when it was America’s most powerful newspaper. Red knew everything. His column was called Ask Red.
Mostly you heard Irish accents from the manager and the bartenders and the waitresses, but the staff also had a New York mix including Kathy-the-Waitress who I think hailed from Brooklyn.
Every time we Hofstra guys gathered, Curtis-the-Point-Guard would order shepherd’s pie and Kathy-the-Waitress would squawk, “You can’t order that! It’s not healthy for you!”
Shaun Clancy made everybody feel welcome. He would stand with us and whisper inside stuff he had heard. Our star baseball players like Jerry Rosenthal the shortstop and Dennis D’Oca the lefty, both from Brooklyn, glowed when Shaun dropped inside stuff on us.
Like regulars in any pub, we brought guests. One time our Hofstra contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola, joined us, and listened to our opinions and our questions about his movies, just one of the guys, more than half a century later.
One time we entertained a few hotshots from Wagner who had ruined an undefeated season for Stanley and Ted and Curtis and Stephen Dunn, the zone-busting guard, now a Pulitzer Prize poet.
In recent years, we saw less of Shaun because he had (a) a place in Florida and (b) a lady friend, Kristie Ackert, baseball writer with the Daily News. They seem so compatible that they must have been introduced by the great matchmaker in the sky.
When the virus hit in late winter, Shaun shut it down and took off to Florida -- paying his staff for the duration. This week he took a look at the books and realized the bleak future for drinking, eating and rooting in close proximity in high-rent midtown.
Here is Shaun, Friday, on Twitter, grief all over him:
I am now in mourning. I cannot imagine the next time I will take a train or subway into the belly of the beast, and mingle in a clean, well-lighted place like Foley’s.
Plus, this is my second heartbreak. For more than a decade, I was a regular in L’Angolo on Houston St. in the Village, an Italian soccer cafe. Con Ed construction and smoking restrictions and landlord gouging killed L’Angolo in 2008 but somehow I was granted another home place for the past decade.
The way I see it, Shaun Clancy ran a place as memorable as Shor's was when his dad was working. Nothing lasts forever.
Thank you, Shaun, for a great time.
* * *
But don't take my word for it. Pete Caldera, the singing writer, or writing singer, is a true Foley's regular. Here is his ode from USA Today:
More about Foley’s:
From the hockey hotbed of Israel comes a reminder that today, May 24, is the 40th anniversary of Bob Nystrom’s goal that gave the Islanders the first (of what would be four consecutive) Stanley Cups.
"You're tellin' me?!?!" Nystrom told journalist Hillel Kuttler in their phone conversation, which is part of Kuttler’s podcast series about how noted athletes are trying to stay safe during the virus plague. A few weeks back, Kuttler reached the hallowed Brooklyn Dodger nonagenarian Carl Erskine.
Kuttler, a Queens boy now living in Israel, had to remind me that the best team I ever covered has a Big Four-Oh anniversary.
Kuttler had a 30-minute chat with Nystrom, who is currently holed up in Boca Raton, Fl., but has been a resident of Long Island since playing for the Islanders. Kuttler recalled “that glorious afternoon when I sat on a stool at the Charlie O's pub in Rockefeller Center, glued to the TV throughout a terrific game, climaxed by Nystrom's magical goal off superb feeds by Henning and Tonelli.”
It’s true. In that final sequence, the broadcaster described how a Flyer “took a hit from Nystrom” -- that was known to happen – and the puck went squirting up the ice, followed by a back pass from Henning to Tonelli on the right side and a cross to Nystrom for the goal, just as they practiced it, for years and years.
The Islanders had been showing talent and discipline but a lot of potential dynasties never happen. This one did. The Islanders won three more, and Nystrom, a tough guy from out west in Canada, was a vital part of it. He could play with skill…and he could play rough….and he could handle the guff from Al Arbour the bespectacled coach when he needed somebody to scold in practice. Nothing bothered Bobby Ny.
One of the last N.H.L. players to not wear a helmet, as the league got serious about safety, Nystrom was the guts of those four teams. The Islanders, a frugal outfit run by Bill Torrey, were not restocking with expensive stars as the Yankees did, so the team stuck together under Arbour. Sixteen of them played on all four Stanley Cup teams and three others played on three championship teams.
Go ahead, Islanders fans, try to remember all of them.
Every player on that list evokes a smile from me…and I am sure from Kuttler, and all Islanders fans of a certain age.
Kuttler asked Nystrom how he would rank the Islanders with other Stanley Cup dynasties like the Oilers who followed them, or the Canadiens, who preceded them, and Nystrom said: "I would put us up there with the best ever to win the Stanley Cup."
These days I don’t indulge in much nostalgia -- life is too serious. Haven’t seen a second of Michael Jordan and don’t plan to watch a second of Lance Armstrong, and I don’t watch old games even when Willis Reed or Rocky Swoboda or Mookie Wilson or Mike Bossy are involved. But I love the old days, and I love hearing Bob Nystrom, 40 years after his goal, talk about social-distancing. He never did much of that on the ice, back in the day.
Hillel Kuttler’s interview with Islander immortal, Bob Nystrom:
When the Trump era ends next January – if some of us make it through – our descendants will want to know what we knew about this guy that convinced us to put up with his reeking malicious incompetence.
But time is short and we may need to set up a time capsule. I would search for the Paul Revere moment when somebody rode through the countryside crying, “The sociopath is coming! The sociopath is coming!”
I would pay homage to the great reporting and snarky social media and legislators who tried to reign him in, but I would make sure the time capsule included three videos of John Mulaney, making us laugh, and cry.
To be honest, I never heard of Mulaney until he materialized as the host of “Saturday Night Live” in 2018. He has since made two more appearances, both hilarious, both biting.
Mulaney’s evolution on the Trump issue began with a guest appearance on Nov. 19, 2015 with Seth Myers, who prodded him about the strange New Yorker threatening to run for president.
Mulaney, who lives in New York, had been paying attention to Trump as poseur billionaire builder and ham reality show host, and pronounces him "an odd person."
Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. (see above video, the first few minutes.)
By June 9, 2017, Trump had been president for five months, beginning his regime by exaggerating – lying, really – about the size of the Inauguration crowd, and going on from there.
By now, Trump is something more than an "odd person," which is clearly on Mulaney’s mind as he danced through his interview with Stephen Colbert.
The first 7:20 are fine late night chatter but you can skip through it. Then it gets good as Colbert prods him about this strange phenomenon in the White House.
The thing is, Mulaney ponders, it’s almost like….you know….there’s a horse…in a hospital. Some in the audience start to titter as they start to get it, which encourages Mulaney to keep tossing out fragments of thoughts about this horse…in a hospital….and soon people are applauding...and then are roaring, wanting to hear more….but there is no more.
Was it spontaneous combustion? I don’t know. Comedians have their creative ways, always trying stuff out.
I only know that by February of 2018, Mulaney is on tour as Kid Gorgeous, appearing in Radio City Music Hall.This By now this slim and strangely graceful comic has the horse routine down, choreographed, informed and anxious, emphasizing the punch lines at high decibels, exhaling hard for each “H” in “Horse” and “Hospital.”
He prances and points, he pauses and resumes.
And he has saved two marvelous punch lines for the end.
And remember: this show was two full years before the present Covid-19 plague, when Trump shows not the slightest grasp of details, only wanting to goose stock prices, claiming he drinks an untested substance to ward off the virus, at danger to anybody who still believes anything he says.
Trump belittles scientists and doctors in front of them, on live television. He shows no ability to organize anything (No wonder he tapped out on his daddy’s money.)
John Mulaney had it right. Years ago. "Odd."
In this medical crisis: There’s a horse! In a hospital!
(Now, check out the video below)
Big-time sports returned to the tube -- and to empty stadiums -- on Saturday, with the Bundesliga returning first.
Two squads -- and four socially-distanced ball persons in the four corners of the yawning stadium -- celebrated, at discreet distance.
But was it worth the cost, real or potential? Many of us have been mulling this over since various major leagues have tried to figure out whether to tempt the fates, and Covid-19, by providing "bread and circuses," as one reader asked recently, citing Cicero.
Just watching the normally-emotional Ruhr regional Revierderby from the safety of my living room, I could appreciate the skill of the players after a two-month layoff. But what was risked, in Germany itself or around the world? Do we need this circus when people around the world are struggling to produce....and find....the bread part?
The game itself was fine. Dortmund beat FC Schalke 04, by a 4-0 score, and let us see Erling Haaland, the 19-year-old prodigy from Norway.
But how many sacrifices, how many tests and masks and medical attention were spent, just to produce this spectacle?
Germany may not even be the best example for the risks because, as Rory Smith pointed out in his Saturday soccer column in the NYT, Germany already has a good record in lowering the damage from the virus, plus it already has a good national health program.
Germany is also blessed with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has "the mind of a scientist and the heart of a pastor's daughter," in the words of one observer.
What happens if the U.S. and Canada start playing baseball again, or hockey, or basketball or soccer? What could go wrong?
I had a revelation on Friday when I joined a Zoom link of baseball/writer pals who normally have lunch once a month. A few were hopeful about a start of the baseball season, but other buffs, who can cite arcane stats from half a century ago, seemed willing to let this year slide past without baseball, so that a few more tests could be available to a giant and deprived nation.
We all miss the games, but we have bigger questions. I'm not going near my barber, or doctors, or even the hardware store, until I think it won't jeopardize my wife and me.
I was happy on Tuesday when some of the parks opened near me on Long Island, but only to "passive" exercise.
On my way back toward my car, I spotted a miniature ball field, with artificial turf, and I stood at home plate, in the left-handed batter’s box, and pretended I was Jeff McNeil, the old-timey cult figure with the Mets.
McNeil flicked his bat, smacked a single into left-center field, and I felt immense joy that this might happen sometime again soon.
Then reality struck me. Should kids actually use this field this season?
On Saturday, we saw German players making contact on a corner kick or running into each other "by accident.?" ,
Assuming labor and management can agree how to share the TV income from games in empty baseball stadiums, we might observe the players, coaches, managers and umpires all violating each other’s breathing space?
Given the murderous intruder, does any of this collective behavior make sense? The world is also suffering an economic crisis, cited by the disturbed man in the White House, unable to take in information from experts.
Sports seem to fall into the category of "opening up" the economy. Now we have thuggish Trumpites, back up his rantings.
Carry the economic "opening up" to people playing sports for our entertainment. I would hate to think the ball players are posturing about safety for a better slice of the TV pie. It's their lives at stake.
The players want to play, but their concerns are obvious from the Twitter stream by Sean Doolittle, the Washington Nationals’ closer and one of the more thoughtful heads in the game.
And what about the health of clubbies who pick up damp towels the players deposit on the floor (never, ever, in the basket)? What about the physios who knead aching backs or hamstrings for hours at end?
Is any of this risk worth it so players can play, and owners can take their half out of the middle? Here, I am guilty of gross hypocrisy: If they build it, I will watch -- in the safety of my den, messaging with my son in his own lair.
I enjoyed watching the Bundesliga Saturday and the Fox broadcasters tried to explain the Revierderby in this vital region of Germany -- hard to tell from an empty stadium.
Americans did get to see Weston McKennie start for Schalke. He's had better days, but his was better than the day of Gio Reyna of Dortmund, who hurt himself in warmups and did not play.
Those were fan sub-plots. For the players and support people in empty stadiums in Germany on Saturday, these are life-gambling decisions.
I hope they know what they are doing.
Your thoughts? Comments welcome.
NOT TO BE MISSED: Thomas Beller's loving depiction of Jerry Stiller as Hasidic elder, from the West Side, one neighbor writing about another.
* * *
(From me:) As a New Yorker who has never lived in an apartment, I am fascinated by friends’ buildings.
Friends were said to live in the same West Side building as a singer I love. Whenever we would visit for a Seder, I would imagine getting on the elevator with the singer. Never happened.
Another friend lived in the same Village building as a noted writer and doctor. My wife had some questions for him, if we ever got on the same elevator. Never happened.
However, two friends of ours did live in the same building as Stiller and Meara. One summer in the 80’s, our friends, sisters, threw a Sunday 5 PM cocktail party on the penthouse patio – classic New York. Noted rabbi. Noted historian, female, who wanted to talk about Pete Rose (before Pete had been found out.)
And Stiller and Meara, one of the gang, chatting with everyone. She was gorgeous, and friendly. He, not so gorgeous but equally friendly.
I could not resist. I told them how much I admired their work, which, to me, consisted of their ultra-droll commercials for Blue Nun, a semi-sweet wine formerly known as Liebfraumilch.
Never do this. But I did. I told them my favorite Blue Nun commercial was about a radio-detective type sitting in his office when a mysterious redhead appears.
I am ashamed, but I wasn’t then, to semi-imitate their voices, as I recalled the dialogue:
He: “From the moment she walked into my office, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She had legs that went from here to there – and back again.”
She: “You’ll have to excuse me for not sitting down, but I’ve got legs that go from here to there and back again.”
(Anne Meara was indeed way taller than Stiller, surely part of the attraction. Somehow a detective and long legs led to a pitch for Blue Nun wine.)
They both gave me deadpan looks, shook their heads.
Sorry, each said, I just don’t remember that one. (The point being, there were so many.) Then they asked me about the Yankee game I had just attended. They fit right in. West Side neighbors.
I never met Anne Meara again but I used to bump into Jerry Stiller at The Garden. This was before his Seinfeld renaissance, and he was just another West Sider, saying hello at halftime.
I reveled in the success of their daughter and son, plus his success on Seinfeld, grouchy and loud, at the next table in a deli. (We all remember that bustling ambience, don’t we.)
Anne passed in 2015. Jerry passed the other day, at 92.
The NYT ran a lovely obituary – of the two of them, really – with classic Seinfeldian sub-plots about a fitting obituary, and a killer last line by Peter Keepnews.
Better you should read it for yourself. Meantime, farewell to that classic West Side couple, Stiller and Meara:
NB: Please save your best stuff about resumption of BB/Soccer, seasons, etc.. I am planning a piece on this by midweek when the plot thickens some more. Best, GV
* * *
Last week I wrote about missing the Kentucky Derby – the place, the season, the event itself.
Some readers mentioned other grand sports sites and events – Jim Nabors singing at the Indy 500, walking into Yankee Stadium (or almost any other ball park) and seeing the green grass, a day trip to Saratoga during “the season.”
I wracked my brains about sports places I have visited:
--Ebbets Field in 1944, when I was 5 and my dad took me to an off-season bond drive event.
--My first assignment to Notre Dame football in 1964, remembering a nice man up the block when I was a kid, who took me to see a few live Notre Dame games in a movie house in Flushing, and told me proudly about having been on a great Notre Dame team and never, ever, getting into a game.
--Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 1986, feeling the place physically rock when El Tri was on the move – the appeal of any home team during the World Cup, but particularly for our neighbors to the south.
That was just three off the top of my head. Last night I remembered going to the Montreal Forum in 1984 and getting a tour from Camil DesRoches, the grand old publicist of Les Habs. Camil was old school – suave, bilingual, mustached, loved the cultures of Canada plus the U.S. He implanted the lore of Les Habs in my brain, so I wrote about it.
I kept up with Camil for many years after. He would send me cassettes, particularly of Montreal’s chanteuse, Danielle Oddera, and her duets and interpretations of Jacques Brel. Nowadays, the Forum is a cineplex; my friend Camil DesRoches passed at 88 in 2003; I still treasure my visit to this home to a great team, a great culture.
Please write about a sports shrine in your life:
* * *
My column from 1984:
SPORTS OF THE TIMES; FIRST VISIT TO THE FORUM
By George Vecsey
He pointed to a color photograph on his office wall, a picture of the Montreal Canadiens who won their fifth straight Stanley Cup 24 springs ago. His total impartiality was tempered not in the slightest by his being employed by the Canadiens for the past 46 years.
Camil DesRoches spent yesterday morning escorting a greenhorn on his first visit to the Forum, a pilgrimmage somewhat akin to the first visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or St. Peter's in Rome or Westminster Abbey in London: the feeling of closeness to the soul of a people.
''I always say that hockey is like a religion here in Quebec,'' Camil DesRoches was saying. ''We are perhaps 90 percent Catholic, but we are all hockey fans.''
Camil DesRoches is a classic Gallic gentleman, nearly 70 years old, with a thin mustache and a large heart. He loves his wife, he loves Broadway musicals (he saw ''Oklahoma'' 26 times), he loves wine (''We have never had a bottle of milk in my house, and I still have all my teeth''). But just as strongly, he loves the Canadiens, and he loves the Forum, for which he is now the publicity director.
He was conducting the tour on a day of both sadness and anticipation. Yesterday morning, there was a funeral for Claude Provost, a member of the five-time Stanley Cup champions, who died on a tennis court in Florida last week. Later in the evening, the current Canadiens would work on stopping the Islanders from winning a fifth straight Stanley Cup.
The Islanders were taking a brief workout as Camil DesRoches led the visitor into the stands. Outside, on a perfect spring morning, the Forum seemed an ordinary brick building, surrounded by traditional Montreal tenements with their dark fire escapes. But inside, the Forum seemed a holy place, where one lowered his voice.
On the morning a Canadien was being buried, it was not hard to remember that in this building in 1937 the body of the great Howie Morenz was put on public display after his death from complications following a broken leg (suffered, as the history books always say, when he crashed into the boards on the St. Catherine Street side of the Forum). The Forum was filled with 15,000 people, yet it was as silent as a cathedral.
Yesterday the Forum's lower red seats glistened, as if painted five minutes earlier, and so did the middle white and upper blue sections, forming a classic tricolor. The stands of the Forum are oval-shaped, following the shape of the rink itself, just as the best bull rings and soccer stadiums of Europe are tailored for one sport, rather than multi-purpose arenas not quite right for any sport.
''There used to be eight columns,'' Camil DesRoches was saying. ''So in 1968, we rebuilt the Forum completely in five and a half months months, leaving only the seats. Look how narrow they are. But nobody complains, because we get more people in that way, 16,400 seats in all.''
From the rafters hang 22 banners, signifying
the club's Stanley Cups, 20 of them won since
the Forum opened in 1924.
''The best game I ever saw here?'' he said. ''Maybe in 1936, when the Maroons beat Detroit in six overtimes when Mud Bruneteau scored. I got home at 2:25 AM. Or maybe it was Dec. 14, 1965, when our so-called amateur club beat the Russians using Jacques Plante, who had just left the Rangers a few months earlier.
''Or maybe it was March 23, 1944, when Maurice Richard scored all five goals to beat Toronto, 5-1, and they named him all the top three stars of the game. Or what about the game in 1979, when Boston got a penalty in the last minute and Lafleur and Lambert scored to win it?''
The pucks from the Islanders' target practice started slamming into the shining red seats, so Camil DesRoches continued the tour. He pointed out Le Salon des Anciens - the Old Timers' Room - where former Canadiens are welcome.
The Canadiens are noted for their propriety, including a private room for the wives of the players. Only recently have patrons been allowed to carry beer to their seats, an experiment that would end at the first abuse.
In the lobby, two escalators form the pattern of crossed hockey sticks, a sight Ken Dryden, the retired goalie, always found compelling. Nearby, is the Pantheon of Montreal hockey, the plaques of 30 players and coaches from Quebec who had their best years wearing the bleu, blanc, rouge.
Near the entrance is Le Club de Bronze, 11 bronze busts of journalists and broadcasters considered to be friends of Montreal hockey. The 12th bust is of Camil DesRoches.
''I feel funny every time I see that,'' he said with a shrug.
The next stop was the Canadiens' dressing room. On one wall are plaques containing the names of every player since 1917. Above the lockers is a line from Dr. John McCrea's poem, ''In Flanders Fields.''
In English it says: ''To You, From Fallen Hands We Throw the
Torch, Be Yours to Hold It High.''
On the other side of the room, Camil DesRoches has translated it into French:
'' Nos Bras Meurtris Vous Tendent Le Flambeau, A Vous Toujours de le Porter Bien Haut.''
Camil DesRoches said: ''I have been told I did a good job of translating but also making it rhyme in French.''
Over a glass of vin rouge, Camil DesRoches talked of being the youngest of 19 children, of being taken to the cellar when he was 6 years old and being shown the barrel of beer and the bottles of wine.
''My father said: 'You are almost grown up now. You can drink what you want - but never get drunk.' I got drunk once, when I was 17, and my father made me stand almost naked in front of my family, in that condition. I never got drunk again in my life.'' Sipping his wine, he compared three of the great Canadiens of his 46 years: ''Maurice Richard was the Michelangelo of hockey - such dedication, he would work on his back painting the Sistine Chapel, never give up. Jean Beliveau, complete finesse, what style, he was the Da Vinci of hockey. And Guy Lafleur is like Raphael, whose career was not long, but he was an artist and he had a great time.''
When lunch was over, Camil DesRoches concluded: ''I hope you enjoyed the visit to the Forum. Also, I hope you see what it means to our French environment here in Quebec, just like the language, part of our life.''
Under normal circumstances, the world would be turning its attention to a horse race in Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.
This year, nothing is normal.
In other years, people from all over the world – rich horse owners, trainers and jockeys, gamblers and hustlers, once-a-year swells, young party people – congregate on the south side of Louisville in a throbbing spectacle of energy, the polar opposite of social distancing (particularly in the mosh pit of the infield.)
The ritual got to me. We lived in Kentucky for only two runnings of the Kentucky Derby, 1971 and 1972; I went to a Derby party of black professionals on the West End one year and my wife organized a Derby-night party the next year.
I took a cab home from the track in 1972 and the driver charged me some horrendous figure and when I protested that I was a resident, not a tourist, he told me “Derby rates, Chief.”
I think about that every first Saturday in May, back home on Long Island. When the grandkids were younger I would make them stand up for the playing of the official song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: “My Old Kentucky Home,” and they shook their heads, as if to say, “What is it with Pop?”
It’s the spectacle -- women sporting colorful broad-brimmed hats with gaudy flowers, as if they dressed that way every day.
But this is one day a year – when Louisville emerges from the mists, like “Brigadoon” or Atlantis, some mystical civilization.
Yes, I know it’s only a horse race – the prime American event in an industry tarnished by copious deaths of horses in recent years.
And yes, I also know I am getting sentimental over a song – “My Old Kentucky Home,” by Stephen Foster, now scrubbed of overt words and nostalgia that seemed to glorify the very worst tradition of the South.
There is a legend that Foster, from Pittsburgh, never set foot in Kentucky but as a boy he visited an uncle who was president of tiny Augusta College, in northeast Kentucky. Quite likely, Foster heard blacks worshipping – singing -- at a church in the little town.
As an adult, Foster wrote a song about a slave who was sold down the Ohio River, saying farewell to all he knew. Although he used the worst words and stereotypes, Foster apparently meant the song as a criticism of slavery, taking his cue from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” that sensitized the North to the evils of slavery. Both came out in 1852.
Long ago, Kentucky changed some of the lyrics about how happy the “darkies’” children were, rolling around on the cabin floor. Over recent decades, Kentucky maneuvered the song into the sentimental remembrance people have for their home towns, their home states, the goods and the bads.
I was a news reporter based in Kentucky, with no illusions. When all the Derby celebrants in blue jeans or expensive frocks stand up for the state song, I always think about the coal-camp shacks in some gritty bottom land, or modest farmhouses in the western part of the state.
The wind whistling across Long Island on Thursday reminded me of the tornado I covered in 1972 that impaled a boy on a tree branch while he slept in his own bed, only an hour southeast of Louisville, or the killer tornado in 1974 that blew through our old neighborhood on the East End, blowing the roof off the grade school our children had attended, before doing much worse just north in Xenia, Ohio. ("I knew it was coming," my wife said, now back home.)
When they play the state song on the first Saturday in May, I think of Dec. 30, 1970, after the “shot man” had employed illegal outdoor sparking fuses in the gaseous mine, a violation of rules and common sense, causing 38 miners to be blown to Kingdom Come.
For all that, I celebrate the spectacle on TV – don’t bet, don’t drink juleps or anything else, but I do love to watch.
I don’t pay attention to racing now that I am retired, but I love the pre-race program when NBC educates instant Derby fans.
Last year, alone with my wife, I stood for the anthem, then watched several thoroughbreds veer dangerously close to each other. “Hold on! I shouted at the gallant jockeys, inches from danger. Nobody fell, but I was not at all surprised when stewards took down the winner (can't remember the names) because he had been the most blatant factor in the near collision.
Nothing will happen on Saturday. Nothing at all. Theoretically they have pushed the Derby back to Sept. 5, but I have major doubts we are going to see sports crowds any time soon.
By-and-by hard times will come a-knocking at my door
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight
* * *
About Stephen Foster:
One of my greatest sports thrills came the day after the Derby in 1989:
In honor of the Kentucky roots of John Prine, who passed from Covid-19 recently, here is his recording of “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Two of my favorite NYT bylines on the same weekend:
Elaine Sciolino gave us a walking tour of her street in Paris – how Rue des Martyrs is still feeding (and delighting) locals during the time of troubles.
And Margaret Renkl writes from another part of the world I love – Nashville – about the proliferation of wildlife around the world: sheep in a Welsh village, wild boars in Barcelona, coyotes all over the place.
Renkl also notes that global warming has affected her part of the world – Middle Tennessee -- causing birds to migrate northward, but not all of them: She glories in spotting a couple of bright red-headed male flickers, strutting their stuff for a female in the vicinity.
I’m happy for Renkl that she can see the mating competition in the woods near her home, but migration also explains the matinal fusillade of flickers on our home on hilly northern Long Island.
We agree with Renkl that the retreat indoors by noisy, destructive two-legged mammals has given wildlife more space and peace. (I’m still looking for the red fox that inspected our driveway so haughtily a few years back.)
The bay window in our breakfast nook overlooks the front lawn. On days when the most dreaded invader of all – the gasoline-powered blasters – are not blowing leaves and dust and pebbles and decibels around the spring air, the squirrels and birds are frolicking on our meager lawn, pecking away at last fall’s acorns, assorted bugs and worms, and other goodies.
With no place to go at the moment, we enjoy watching the most prosaic birds of the Northeast – sparrows, robins, blue jays and my favorites: having lived in Kentucky for a few years, I don’t call the state bird "cardinals" but rather "redbirds," lovingly, the way people do in Louisville or Whitesburg or Bowling Green.
Margaret Renkl revels in the maneuvers of the flickers the way Elaine Sciolino delights in the sales pitches of the shopkeepers with their delicious wares. (One vendor tosses in a few pears and suggests she make a tarte. Vive la France, toujours.)
If climate is truly taking the flickers northward, I know exactly where those rascals are going – the flyway near Manhasset Bay. In the glacial hills where we live, some birds chirp or tweet, but the flickers and other species of woodpeckers get up early and start battering the shingles and wood and siding of our home -- just as annoying as the day-to-night blasters and power washers we all use.
As the family early bird, so to speak, I seem to have the job of scaring the flickers away from their breakfast. I get out on the deck and clap my hands – which works to chase migrating starlings spring and fall, but does not intimidate the woodpeckers, who seem to be here to stay.
On Sunday, the creative half of the household fashioned a tinfoil streamer, like a silvery scarf, and wrapped it around the long neck of the emu she fell in love with at Home Goods a few years ago. According to Web experts, the fluttering and reflections of the tinfoil upsets the delicate little bug-eating creatures.
I know that most people who keep boats on the nearby bay post a fake owl to scare off the gulls and other airborne pests. They say it works. Dubious of most sales pitches online, I was curious to see if the silver scarf on the family emu might work.
I was up at my usual 6:30 AM on a cool, misty Monday. While preparing coffee, I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of something. I couldn’t blame any particular species but something was drilling into our house -- perhaps another byproduct of global warming.
* * *
Today, Thursday, is the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564, or his death in 1616, or both.
Preparing for this double event, I have just finished reading “Shakespeare,” by Anthony Burgess, with lavish illustrations, a treasure that seems to have been a college textbook of one of our children.
My lasting impression of Shakespeare is the so-called Chandos portrait, believe to be of the bard, but without proof. All I know is that when you walk into that room in the National Portrait Gallery (closed now for three years of repairs) you see the smirk on somebody’s face, and an earring glittering on his left ear.
I am more than willing to assume it is Shakespeare, thinking of a good writing day he just had, or an assignation ahead of him, or both.
My fascination with Shakespeare stems from having attended Hofstra College from 1956-60 when the absolute best thing on campus (with all due respect to our great sports teams) was the annual Shakespeare Festival, on the stimulus of the school president, Dr. John Cranford Adams, a major authority.
The school had a Globe theater, installed every March. I can still see an undergraduate named Francis Ford Coppola with a hammer tucked into his overalls, working on the sets, and I see a classmate – now known as Lainie Kazan – playing one bawdy role or another.
For all the drama classes I took, and the performances I witnessed in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, I am still learning about Shakespeare.
Burgess quotes Rev. John Ward’s notebooks as saying that, in retirement in Stratford, Shakespeare had a “merrie meeting” with Michael Drayton and Ben Johnson and ate too many pickled herrings and drank too much Rhenish wine. “He sweated, took cold and died.” He was 52.
Lately, much has been made that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in 1606, during a major plague. (The Guardian had an article yesterday, citing James Shapiro as the source, and that more than works for me.)
If he could write during a plague, what are mere scribblers like me doing with our time? Blogs? I don’t think so.
Burgess is very good on innuendo and gossip. In this book I learned that Shakespeare took a room for many years in a place run by one Marie Mountjoy. Given my dirty mind, I can only think that if she did not exist Shakespeare would have created her.
Also, I don’t know why it took me so long to discover that a noted writer named William Davenant was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Shakespeare, who often passed through an inn in Oxford where Davenant’s attractive mother worked as a hostess. Davenant himself seems to have advanced the rumor.
Shakespeare clearly lived a busy life, however slight the documentation, and I have no doubt he wrote all the plays attributed to him.
Today, my wife and I plan to watch the latest offering by the National Theatre of London, currently closed down, of course. “Twelfth Night” was filmed during a live performance in London recently, and we saw it at the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens.
One of the quirks of this version is that Malvolio has switched genders from male to female (Tamsin Greig.) Given that young men played all the female roles during Shakespeare’s time, this is not such a big leap.
Looking out from the Chandos portrait, the smirk and the earring seem to twinkle even more brightly. Shakespeare lives.
* * *
(Link for "Twelfth Night" below, 2 PM Eastern.)
(The trailer for "Twelfth Night," starting today at 2 PM, Eastern. Donations are welcome.)
How are we doing by you, Madre Tierra – aside from the virus and global warming, that is?
I remember the first Earth Day, 1970. I was in my first go-around as a baseball writer that spring, switching between the Mets and the Yankees.
As one of the so-called Chipmunks, the chattering youth of the press box, I loved the concept of Earth Day as a logical extension of protests against the Vietnam War and demonstrations for civil rights.
Ecology, to me, mostly focused on cigars -- weapons wielded by older men in the pressbox and newspaper offices. For most of the ‘60s, I worked for the great newspaper, Newsday, with a rotating schedule in sports that meant working in the office sometimes, well past midnight, with no rules against smoking.
We had our own little clubhouse – teammates of sorts, who bantered and cussed and popped a beer or two in the midnight hours.
Still, I would grump about the cigars while the older guys would look at me with shrugs. That crazy kid, there he goes again.
When I got home at 2 or 3 or 4 AM, the house rule was: dump my clothes in a hamper and take a shower before even thinking of sleep. But my throat would be sore from the smoke, and I would cough myself to sleep.
Pressboxes were just about as noxious, and baseball clubhouses were acrid with the players’ smoke. (Yankee manager Ralph Houk would spit tobacco juice on the cement office floor, near the shoes of reporters who displeased him.)
Some of the old reporters would even bring a soggy cigar butt onto the team bus. (In those days, reporters were part of the team entourage.) The worst offender was….well, no names mentioned….an old guy who could be smelled before he could be seen or heard. Sometimes we would ask him to put out the cigar, and he would just shrug, mutely.
On that hopeful April 22 of 1970, I was boarding a team bus to some airport or ballpark, and there was our colleague, with an odiferous lump of tobacco hanging out of his mouth.
“-------,” I said, using his last name, affectionately, of course, “don’t you know today is Earth Day? No smoking on the bus today.” He stared at me mutely. No clue. Well, I had tried.
At some point, while I was off working in the Real World, reporters stopped traveling with the team – just as well – and pressboxes and clubhouses began to cut down on smoking. (Chewing tobacco was banned, after a crusade by the sainted Joe Garagiola and others.)
By that time, I was encountering strip-mining in Appalachia – lopping off mountaintops to get at the coal, and dumping the debris into the valleys. I saw wind-blown damage from acid rain and smelled the befouled creeks of the coal region. Earth Day, indeed.
Nowadays the glaciers are melting and the seas are rising and this once hopeful country is ruled by avaricious know-nothings like Trump and McConnell.
Their aversion to facts has been endangering the world – even before the killer virus arrived and the red-state preachers and rabble-rousers protested the alleged loss of their liberties.
Our leaders make the old pressbox smokers seem downright harmless.
* * *
(courtesy of my one-lady research staff, a few pertinent links:
(how the NYT covered the first Earth Day, glorious bylines like Joseph Lelyveld, Gladwin Hill and McCandlish Phillips:)
How to celebrate, or mourn, the endangered planet today:
And in homage to John Prine, who died recently at 73, his witness to the destruction of his parents' home town, the coal-destroyed Paradise, Ky:
Omigosh, you never know what will pop up. I picked up “the paper” in the driveway on Monday and there in the sports pages was a column I wrote 33 years ago, and it seems like yesterday.
Actually, it did involve two yesterdays – a seventh game of a Stanley Cup series that began Saturday night outside Washington, finished Sunday morning on Long Island (I was columnizing from home) and appeared in the Monday paper.
In those days, there was no Web, no 24-hour urgency to the newspaper business. I watched the Islanders (descendants of the mythic champs I had loved covering from 1980-83) battle the upstart Capitals for the right to move on to the next round.
Sports columnists were caught up in the interminable pedaling on the hamster wheel, the typing, the travel, the creating - - a mission, an honor. Only six months before, also on a Saturday night, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner had gotten caught up in another epic game.
In the long madness of that night, I declared that the Red Sox’ misery was somehow linked to their disposal of Babe Ruth nearly half a century earlier. One gets very wise very late at night.
(And speaking of momentous marathons in the middle of the night, one of my favorite books about sports, and suffering, is “Bottom of the 33rd,” about baseball’s longest game between Pawtucket and Rochester, by Dan Barry, now one of my favorite bylines at the NYT. By the quirks of the calendar, that April 19 was both Holy Saturday for Christians and Passover for Jews, spiritual overtones galore.)
The Islanders-Capitals marathon also began on Holy Saturday and led into Easter Sunday while the lads kept playing, and playing, and playing.
I was living the life of the sports columnist, circa 1987 – when you knelt before the editor-in-chief and he tapped you on the shoulder with a mythical sword and dubbed you a knight of the keyboard, giving a modest raise for the honor of working your fingertips and frazzled brain around the clock, around the calendar-- three or four columns and week, often on deadline, deputized to explain sports to Times readers (and editors.)
I took my mission seriously and went out to slay dragons around the clock, around the week, around the cycle of sports as we knew it then. Fact was, I loved it, the freedom to think, and type, and see it in the paper, regularly.
(How trivial it all seems now, when most of the “news” of sports is about whether to resume competition, while in the Real World people are merely hoping they and their loved ones can continue breathing and eating. It is just possible that the longing for sports only leads to more Foxed-up yahoos picketing state governments to get people “back to work,” no matter what those scientists say about the killer virus. Personally, I don’t miss sports at the moment, well, except for the Mets.)
As my column from April 1987, materialized in the NYT, I was proud to read the way a columnist could converse regularly and familiarly with readers.
After the Islanders outlasted the Caps, I seem to have slept for a few hours, and gotten up early on Sunday and written about our Saturday evening – walking the dog often, my wife prepping Easter dinner (we had two friends coming for dinner), our youngest-the-busboy coming home from Louie’s smelling like fried shrimps, and how I switched channels so often that I also watched chunks of my all-time favorite movie, “The Third Man.”
But I wrote the column – keeping the faith with the holy mission of the sports columnist. Thirty-three years later, how much fun it was – and still is.
* * *
Here is the 1987 column:
Here’s a review of Dan Barry’s lovely book about the longest baseball game:
(The eulogy for three citizens can be found from 3:00 to 10:00.)
I don't know much about Gov. Phil Murphy from the neighboring state of New Jersey -- but I do know he has two admirable assets in a leader: a brain and a heart.
These were amply evident on Thursday when Gov. Murphy spoke about the impact of the pandemic on New Jersey, starting with the horrible facts and then moving into the personal.
In six-plus minutes, he eulogized three residents of New Jersey who had died of the virus.
They were selected as a balanced ticket – a Roman Catholic white man, a black man, and a Jewish woman, who had survived as a 15-year-old in Bergen-Belsen and remained a witness and a teacher, into her 90s.
As he introduced these three pillars of his state, Gov. Murphy used terms often heard at wakes and funerals, invoking some version of an Almighty to bless their hearts, bless their souls.
I doubt that any non-believer, even those allergic to religious presence in public, would be offended by the opening of Gov. Murphy’s own heart. He was feeling the tragedy of losing people, good people, to a killer. By blessing their lives, he was helping all of us feel the humanity of the fallen, and ours.
This is one of the highest callings of a leader, in any field. When David Stern passed recently, many people recalled him as tough negotiator as commissioner of the N.B.A., but I also recalled the day he had to banish a player (Micheal Ray Richardson) for life, for repeated violations of drug policy. Rather than be vindictive, Stern seemed to be feeling deeper emotions as he blurted, “This is tragedy.” He felt it. He made me feel it.
This was leadership from the heart, as was President Obama’s visit to the church in South Carolina where worshippers had been murdered by a man with a gun. The President took a deep breath and sang, a cappella, the first lines of “Amazing Grace.” He called a blessing on all. He made us feel the horror.
Amidst all the legal skirmishes about the presence of religion in public life, leaders often give witness to their faith, sometimes recklessly.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., has insisted on re-opening Liberty University; 78 cases of the coronavirus have since been detected in the immediate area. (Personal note: I covered religion in the late ’70s and knew and liked Falwell’s father. I bet Falwell, Sr., would have had enough sense to listen to medical experts.)
Nancy Pelosi often ascribes her public policies to her Roman Catholic faith. Former vice president Joe Biden and current New York governor Andrew Cuomo – who applies real facts, real logic, in his daily seminars on the plague – are said to bond in their faith.
Meantime, evangelicals ascribe a previously undetected faith to the current president. Preachers told their flock to vote for him in 2016 and I am sure they will again in 2020. He has speculated out loud about the eternal destination of the deceased landmark member of the House, John Dingell of Michigan.
There is no evidence that Donald Trump holds any belief in the goodness, inherent or potential, of others. His worth is measured in the stock market, how much relief money he can slip to his cronies. Life is a battle to make himself look good, pushing the rock uphill with every event. It is all about him.
Gov. Murphy helped us love the lives of the three citizens, as stand-ins for all the others who have fallen in recent weeks. However we felt it, however we expressed it, in religious or secular terms, we knew it was a tragedy.
May the governor have fewer occasions to introduce us to the fallen of his state.
* * *
The transcript of Gov. Murphy’s eulogy for the three citizens:
A separate clip about Margit Feldman:
Holocaust survivor, NJ resident dies of COVID-19, honored by governor
Doing what we were told to do – get the heck out of the way if you have no skills – some of us are hunkering, blessed to be healthy at the moment, with a roof over our heads, and food.
It sounds trivial, but while many people suffer and some serve (and suffer), others are at least able to catch up on one thing or another for diversion. People are cooking at home, putting things in order, just in case, reading, exercising, getting in touch.
Some are watching the gift of plays (from the National Theatre!!!) movies, operas, ballet, concerts, literally streaming before our eyes and our minds.
Sometimes the themes are universal: louts and bullies, fools and despots, always with us.
On Saturday evening, the PBS station in my town played the classic film “A Man for All Seasons,” from 1966. It holds up magnificently, including lush scenes on the River Thames.
Viewers never can get away from the multi-menaces of our time. In this version of history, a young and lean satyr of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) menaces Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) to approve the king’s desire for a divorce, and a son and heir.
Henry romps through the mud of low tide to visit the More family, where he notices the educated and comely daughter Margaret (Susannah York), and drops a phrase of Latin on her. She replies. He is impressed. He drops another phrase of Latin on her. Then, with the skilled grace of Martina Navratilova rushing to the net, she responds with a stream of Latin.
King Henry VIII goes blank as the ball/phrase whizzes past him. He is exposed.
We have seen that look before – often, recently – as the talk, the concepts, the facts – get too much for another satyr in our midst. Henry backs away, over his head in much more than mere river muck.
You know how that movie ends.
On Sunday evening, NBC played the 2018 version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera, filmed live in an armory in Brooklyn. Jesus (John Legend) wanders through the hippie dancers, far more befuddled than the committed Jewish mystic of the Bible, but look, it’s a rock opera.
Christ is passed up the chain of command, all the way to King Herod of Judea – none other than Alice Cooper in the role he was born to play. Mincing and menacing, Herod takes the measure of the feared preacher, offers him a way out, and is infuriated by his mute resignation.
“Get – out --- of – my – life!” Herod spits.
You know how that rock opera ends, too.
There is no ducking the contemporary menace here – the addled bully who cannot comprehend what the committed know and do. Furious sacrifice is never out of style – Melville’s “Billy Budd,” a prime example. (Actually, I think Trump's obsession with Barack Obama is like the rage of Claggart toward Billy Budd.)
I am sure Dr. Anthony Fauci, from Regis High and Holy Cross University, knows all the themes here. He does not seem afraid as he stands near our Dolt for All Seasons, our orange-hued Alice-Cooper-Without the 60’s Leather Outfit.
Dr. Fauci was still here, as of Tuesday morning.
* * *
In addition to being menaced by the virus and our freebooter president, Americans in the South and East were menaced on Monday by a brutal storm. On Long Island, we double-hunkered, moving to safe parts of our homes, away from windows, on lower floors, if possible.
It could have been worse. At 6 PM, the sky lightened in the west, the sun appeared. People who have been staying the heck out of the way emerged for exercise, for air, for the illusion of normalcy. I went on a walk, encountered dozens and dozens of liberated strollers, some with their dogs.
I did not see one mask in the quiet streets but people swerved on wide paths. I heard a couple of guys talking about a rainbow, but I had not seen one. Then I ran into John and Reina Teeger, long-time friends, out for their stroll. John showed me his smartphone capture of the rainbow, arched across the western sky. We talked about our families.
For a few moments, life was normal. Then we headed to our homes, later to catch up on the spreading menace of the virus in Third World countries, the cupidity of Mitch McConnell and his mute White Citizens Council, the mounting evidence that our Herod, our Henry VIII, was deep over his head in this crisis.
May the rainbow protect us.
My friend Mendel Horowitz has a lovely essay on the op-ed page of the New York Times today.
It's about one memorable Passover with his wife's bubby, her grandmother, a survivor.
You could/should click on the link right here:
Mendel is a New York guy, who moved his family to Jerusalem. He is a husband, father, rabbi, psychotherapist, volunteer first-responder, runner, Mets fan and soccer buff, and also very much a writer, currently working on a book about Orthodox Jewish men, group therapy and faith.
We get together for lunch once a year or so when he comes back to Long Island. I love his stories about the male group sessions, or how, when he responds to a crisis with the medics, he never knows if the victim(s) will be speaking Hebrew or English or Arabic – “and it doesn’t matter.”
Two years ago at this time his article on Passover and baseball was published in the Jewish Journal.
I can only imagine how many Seders this evening will be asking why this year is different.
One answer might be that Jeff McNeil should be swinging at the first pitch and smacking it into left-center field to set up a lead for Jacob DeGrom. I suspect there are deeper answers.
* * *
Another writer, my classmate from junior high and Jamaica High in Queens, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, is in the midst of a glorious career. She issues a personal newsletter from time to time, and in her current one she includes a snarky political cartoons and photos.
For the why-is-this-year question, and how we can make the most of it, she reproduces a poem by Kitty O'Meara. (It has been attributed to Kathleen O’Meara, a writer of the 19th Century, but the Web says it is by Kitty O'Meara, a contemporary, different person. Thanks to reader Paul Rerecich for the update.)
And People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara:
And people stayed home
and read books and listened
and rested and exercised
and made art and played
and learned new ways of being,
and listened deeper.
someone met their shadow
and people began to think differently
and people healed
and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,
dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
even the earth began to heal
and when the danger ended
and people found each other
grieved for the dead people
and they made new choices
and dreamed of new visions
and created new ways of life
and healed the earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.
* * *
Letty finishes with her holy days wish:
Wishing you a sweet Passover starting tomorrow night. A happy Easter on Sunday. And a generous Ramadan starting April 24. Stay strong, stay safe, stay home. – Letty
“Chag Pesach Sameach" -- GV
In the grip of terror and incompetence, a few laughs wouldn’t hurt.
Nearly three hours of slapstick are being sent our way this week by the National Theatre in London – for free, unless you are inclined to donate.
Thursday was Opening Day, and I looked forward to it the way I normally look forward to baseball’s Opening Day.
Baseball teams normally open the season with their best pitcher; NTLive began with the smash hit from 2011, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” starring James Corden as an oaf in a checkered suit, willing to do almost anything for a few bob here and there.
Starving, he falls in with a bunch of grifters and mugs and hustlers and dimwits, the likes of which I had not seen since the last televised Cabinet meeting, except those blokes in DC are not funny at all.
The plays originated from the three-theatre shrine on the Southbank – our favorite place in England. My wife has been known to see two plays a day, all week long, while I was laboring at Wimbledon.
In recent years, a selection of the best plays has been available as NTLive in movie houses around the world, for a price. But with London shut down, NTLive found a way to send a selection to the huddled world, via the web and outlets like YouTube.
I could not locate it on the YouTube site, which contained a thousand things I did not want to watch and no apparent directory. But I was easily able to pull up “One Man” on my laptop.
Corden came into my periscope only recently, through his romp in “Carpool Karaoke” with Paul McCartney – on Penny Lane and other holy places.
That inspired us to catch “One Man, Two Guvnors,” when it popped up in Patchogue, Long Island, last fall, one day only. We roared as Corden performs pratfalls and inter-acts with the audience – including one charming plant – as his character escapes violence from his two raffish guvnors, as he ogles the pub food and also a new lady friend named Dolly.
This collection of characters has been adapted by Richard Bean from the original Servant of Two Masters (Italian: Il Servitore di Due Padroni), a 1743 Commedia dell'arte comedy play by Carlo Goldoni.
There is a bit of everything in “One Man, Two Guvnors” – various thugs, a ham actor, an old-fashioned skiffle band, a scheming woman in drag who knows how to brandish a knife, a charming little breakout of Calypso steel band, and a hapless old waiter – 86, with the shakes -- who keeps getting knocked down the stairs or hit by a cricket bat.
Gets your minds off the troubles for a bit. NTLive, bless its heart, has brought this diversion into our living rooms.
Without further ado, here is the link to the show:
* * *
“One Man, Two Guvnors” is available at home until next Thursday, followed by weekly appearances of “Jane Eyre,” “Treasure Island” and “Twelfth Night,” with Malvolio as a woman, so 21st Century. It's almost always terrific.
We have already seen “Jane Eyre” and “Twelfth Night,” via NTLive, in The Kew Gardens Cinema,” in my home borough of Queens.
NTLive, we owe you,
Oh, there is a way to donate from The States. We just did.
Oh, my goodness, it was 20 years ago.
Today, the NYT reprinted an article I wrote 20 years ago today, on the Mets-Cubs league game in Tokyo.
It was a pleasant surprise to be back in the paper and be reminded of a great trip and how much I love visiting Japan.
This, at a time when there is much sadness at postponing the Tokyo Olympics to next year.
Gomen'nasai (I am sorry)
The article jumped out of the Monday sports section – about Benny Agbayani’s grand-slam, pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning that defeated the Cubs.
It was the end of a grand assignment – two Mets exhibitions around Tokyo, plus two official games, showing me how much the Japanese fans know about baseball, and America.
It kicked off so many memories:
---Japanese fans booing good-heartedly when activist Mets manager Bobby Valentine (with his love and knowledge of Japan) had Sammy Sosa walked intentionally with first base open.
“Japanese fans never boo the manager for this,” a Japanese reporter told me. “But they know it is normal in American baseball.” How cool – like young couples on Friday date night, going to TGIFriday’s glittering outlets all over Tokyo, for ribs and fries.
---Standing outside the Tokyo Dome that week, watching fans congregate and spotting a woman wearing a Mets uniform with Swoboda 4 on the back. Haruko told me, in quite good English, that she was a Mets fan – had seen a Nolan Ryan no-hitter in the States (for the Angels) and in fact had stayed with Ron and Cecilia Swoboda in New Orleans.
---The great Ernie Banks, retired by then, sidling up to me around the batting cage and repeating his iconic phrase: “Let’s play two.”
---How I spotted Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese national to play in the American majors – I covered that game, too, in 1964 – and re-introduced him to the Mets’ roving pitching coach, Alvin Jackson, who was his opponent in that epic debut. They laughed and shook hands and chatted, so comfortable with each other, as old players are. Alvin passed last year; I was so honored to have shared that moment with him.
My other memories of that trip are less baseball-centric:
---Zonked on jet lag, taking my wife on the Tokyo subway, telling her how easy it would be, and emerging in sunny Ueno Park for a nice stress-free walk (and subsequent first meal in a neighborhood)
---Being driven from bustling Tokyo to a famous shrine by our former Long Island neighbors, Fumio and Akie, the nicest couple. Originally from Osaka, Fumio did not know every inch of Tokyo – does anybody? – but he relied on a novelty GPS built into his dashboard, and he negotiated all the tight little turns and ramps to get us on a freeway to a leafy shrine.
--- Salarymen – and women – stopping to offer us directions when we appeared baffled by the odd numbering systems.
--- After the baseball work, visiting historic Kyoto, where a woman addressed my wife in French; she had lived in France and loved to use that language. My wife, who speaks some French, sat on a bench and they chatted for an hour, about La Belle France.
---And finally, since it was 20 years ago this week, having people in Kyoto apologize to us because the cherry blossoms were late.
In this grim spring, I think of all the places we cannot go, but when I think of baseball…and Japan….and friends….and spring...and having been privileged to go places and write stories, the day seems better.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: