(Laura Vecsey is a terrific news reporter; she proved it in two capitals of major states. She once almost bought a bit of land in a scenic portion of northern West Virginia that George Washington had surveyed. The other day Laura offered some friendly advice to her father, who was thinking about writing about the baseball post-season: “You know West Virginia; write about that.” So here goes.)
Joe Manchin was not in the spotlight when I was covering Appalachia in the early 70s.
The governor of West Virginia back then was Arch A. Moore, who later did 32 months for campaign corruption.
Manchin later became governor and is now a senator. Nominally a Democrat, he is doing his best to blow up bills that would protect the ecology and the people. He says his stance has nothing to do with the energy stock he divested. “It’s in a blind trust,” he often says.
The governor now is Jim Justice, allegedly the richest man in the state. Some governors might be concerned about the water supply or the bleak future of the coal industry, but Jim Justice spends much of his psychic energy coaching the girls’ basketball team in East Greenbrier, W.Va., far from the capital of Charleston. He also wants to coach the boys’ team in East Greenbrier, but school officials are thwarting that little whim of his. Stay tuned.
* * *
West Virginia is not all grim coal camps and refuse from hilltop strip mining; the coal seams run out below the northernmost sector. One of my best friends recently spent a long weekend with three of her long-time girl friends in a remote cabin in the woods – had a great time, even though the fall colors had not yet arrived. She talks with great affection of her first couple of years in a West Virginia college.
* * *
The reason I love old-timey country music is from a few summers as a kid, spent in upstate New York, where you could tune in Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, the Carter family – clear as a bell, through the mountains, straight from WWVA in Wheeling.
* * *
One of my first trips to coal country was to report on Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen, who carried around slides of dead miners’ lungs – ravaged from years of work underground, inhaling coal dust. Some coal-company doctors used to tell miners that coal dust would cure the common cold, but. Dr Rasmussen displayed the grisly slides at public hearings or outside the headquarters of coal companies.
* * *
I also got to meet a member of the House of Representatives who cared – Ken Hechler, a World War Two vet, a New Yorker, and a writer, who settled in West Virginia and became an advocate of the miners, the poor, and ran for office – living to be 102.
Hechler had a protégé, Arnold Ray Miller, a working miner who had absorbed the inequities of the business. In 1972, Miller – backed up by volunteers, those dreaded out-of-state college students, ran for president of the corrupt United Mine Workers. I traveled around with Miller’s cadre during the campaign; after the 1970 murder of the Yablonski family in western Pennsylvania, the campaign was under close protection – insurgent watchmen outside hotel rooms, everybody armed.
Miller won the election in 1972, but nothing much improved.
* * *
In March of 1972, I rushed from Kentucky to West Virginia to cover the flooding of a valley, when a coal-mine refuse pond gave way in heavy rain, killing 125 people alongside Buffalo Creek, early on a Saturday morning. I interviewed next-of-kin and neighbors and learned that the company had sent a worker named Steve to bulldoze more earth onto the failing dam, high in the hills. That is to say, the company knew the danger but did not bother to warn the families downstream. My reporting helped inform a successful class-action suit, that did not bring back the dead.
* * *
The coal-mine carnage and the current conflict of interest by public servants would have been no surprise to one of the greatest figures in West Virginia history-- Mother Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland (home of strong women, I believe) Mary Jones left the potato famine for Toronto, lost her husband and four children, and became an advocate of organized labor in the U.S. – particularly West Virginia. (She often praised the valor of Black laborers.) To know more about her:
The people of West Virginia deserve better. In 2016, they voted, 68 to 26 per cent for Donald Trump, who soon abolished as many pro-ecology bills as he could. Many miners understand theirs is a dying industry. But guess who bellied up to Trump in the swarm after one of Trump’s first speeches? None other than Blind-Trust Manchin.
Where is Mother Jones when West Virginia needs her?
(Note from GV: My friend Jerry Rosenthal was an all-conference shortstop at Hofstra. He is a Brooklyn kid, Madison High, the school of RBG, and suffered on Oct. 3, 1951, as did George Hirsch and Ed Martin and other aging fans of The Brooklyn Dodgers. Jerry says he cried for two days. This week’s Bobby Thomson and Bucky Dent anniversaries sent Jerry to the keyboard to send me this message:)
By Jerry Rosenthal:
George, kudos for your fine piece, “Red Sox- Yankees: As Good As It Gets!”
I’m glad you mentioned George Hirsch’s fine article, “70 Years Later, Thomson’s Homer Still Hurts” ( Sunday, 10/3/21 edition of the Times)!
Mr. Hirsch’s vivid description of cutting his high school classes, with a few of his buddies, to see what turned out to be the greatest playoff game in baseball history, resonated with all Brooklyn Dodgers’ fans, including me!
As a minor league infielder in the Milwaukee Braves organization in the early sixties, I would often chat with my spring training hitting coach, Andy Pafko about his major league playing days, especially the two seasons he played with the Dodgers (1951-2 ).
Knowing that I was from Brooklyn, Andy told me that his two years in Brooklyn were the most enjoyable of his career! He loved playing in Ebbetts Field in front of the great Brooklyn fans.
Andy said the saddest day of his career was when the Dodgers traded him to the Braves.
He thought he would be the Dodgers’ left fielder for years to come, but that wasn’t to be. However, he had some very good years with the Braves.
My conversations with Andy usually took place after dinner. We sat on a couch in the “rec room.” He wanted to talk more about Brooklyn than Chicago!
I finally worked-up the courage to ask Andy about that fateful October day in 1951 when Thomson hit his pennant-winning homer into the lower deck of the left field stands in the Polo Grounds.
Andy said: “I played left field with the Cubs for many seasons. As a visiting player, I knew that right-handed pull hitters, who made good contact had a good chance of hitting a homer run over that short left-field wall. Well, that’s just what Bobby did!! That’s about all Andy wanted to say about that devastating day.
It’s ironic that Pafko and Thomson became teammates on the Milwaukee Braves later in their careers. They played together for four seasons with the Braves and were roommates on the road.
Just think of the conversations they must have had!
(GV: Jerry Rosenthal is a retired teacher who lives in New York.)
(FROM PETER VECSEY, long-time basketball columnist and commentator, still writing, listening, and learning. From memory, my brother just reconstructed conversations he had with two great athletes -- Don Newcombe, who pitched into the ninth inning on that fateful day, and also with Bill Sharman, better remembered as basketball player and coach, who was on the Dodgers' bench for the final game, but never did play in a major-league game. )
Peter Vecsey: Shortly before Obama was elected president, Newk and I sat for almost 4 hours at a hotel near LAX. No camera. No recorder. He said numerous people had approached him to tell his story in book or movie/doc form, but declined all overtures.
Newk was furious after the game that (Manager Charlie) Dressen had removed him. Considering all the innings he pitched down the stretch, he felt he deserved to determine the outcome. Additionally, as I recall, Newk knew Branca had not been successful against Thompson.
Bottom line: almost 60 years later, Don Newcombe remained furious.
Sharman described the thoroughly depressed, mostly silent (except for the cursing) locker room and its emotions. What stands out, he said Jackie Robinson tried to console the inconsolable Branca. That’s what I remember off the top.
On the morning after, what are your reactions to the wild-card game Tuesday evening? (I notice one of our regulars, in the Comments section, is celebrating the 6-2 loss by the Brooklyn Dodgers' old tormentors.)
* * *
"Red Sox-Yankees: As good as it gets."
I heard myself – steadfast Brooklyn/ Mets/National League fan – uttering those words when the Red Sox and Yankees wound up in Tuesday’s wild-card game.
It really is baseball’s classic matchup -- between two teams that have never been mine.
I’m old enough to remember being at Jones Beach, middle of last century, and hearing stereophonic portable radios blaring Joe DiMaggio drubbing Ted Williams, over and over again, an endless summer of Mel Allen, blaring from blanket to blanket.
When I became a sportswriter, I rooted (unofficially, of course) for the underdog Red Sox but there was always a Bucky Dent or an Aaron Boone.
I have never been a Red Sox fan, per se, but I loved the city of Boston from my first trip there in 1962, and I used to think maybe someday we’d live there.
And Fenway Park – the wall, the deep right-field stands, the skyline, the immediacy of that great city.
A ball park, a city, worth rooting for.
I was rooting for the Red Sox on Oct. 5, 1978, when the two historic teams met in a one-game playoff.
We had driven our oldest child to visit a college in the Northeast, and while she and my wife were taking a tour, I sat in the car and listened to Russell Earl Dent morph into Bucky Freaking Dent.
Who doesn’t remember those autumnal mood swings that baseball does so well?
This past week has aggravated the angst for aging fans of the Boys of Summer.
We remember Oct. 3, 1951, when Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants drilled a home run into the left-field stands of the Polo Grounds and into collective memory of Brooklyn Dodger fans.
I remember coming home from junior high and hearing the terrible deed—and wandered outside to pick a fight with a much larger Yankee fan in the neighborhood. A friend asks: why fight Bluto? That was the point. Being a Brooklyn Dodger fan was masochistic, by definition.
My pal Jerry Rosenthal was a Brooklyn kid. When Thomson smote Ralph Branca, Jerry recalls, he cried for two days. (When Jerry played ball in the minors, his hitting coach was Pafko-at-the-Wall. They talked lovingly about Brooklyn.)
Talk about memory. George Hirsch, one of the founders of the New York City Marathon, wrote about his memories – how he and some buddies came down from suburban New Rochelle to watch the game. Hirsch wrote about it for the New York Times last Sunday, and he also appeared on CBS Saturday morning:
The Dodgers and Giants formed the great baseball rivalry, but that was then, in a different New York. Those two teams moved to California and broke a lot of hearts, including mine.
To be sure, they remained rivals. I was in the press box in Candlestick Park in 1965, when Juan Marichal clubbed John Roseboro over the head at home plate – as ugly as it gets.
Then there's this: the Yankees and Red Sox never left town. Gotta give them that.
In 2004, the Yankees drubbed the Sox, 19-8, for a third straight victory in the AL series. I will never forget being in that tiny Red Sox clubhouse and hearing Johnny Damon say (and I am writing from recall): “If I am not mistaken, we won four straight games eight times this season.”
His point was: they could do it again. And they did, beating the Yankees four straight and then the Cardinals four straight in the World Series for their first championship since Babe Ruth and 1918.
The Red Sox’ four straight victories over the Yankees in 2004 is now part of their rivalry – payback, as good as it gets.
There, I said it again.
One of my favorite scenes in all the Sopranos episodes -- plus, nobody dies.
There is a terrific article about the enduring appeal of the Sopranos’ series, in this Sunday’s magazine section of The New York Times, already online.
The writer Willy Staley, an editor of the NYT magazine, claims the series is extremely popular with younger people who were too young to watch it during its heyday.
Why? The Sopranos are trying to hold on to their thuggish edge in an apocalyptic world where all the rules are gone, even for gangsters.
Until I read this article, I had never seen the broader picture – I had laughed at the funny lines even when my stomach was churning, knowing what was going to happen to characters like Big Pussy or Adriana, in over her head. Who knew this was actually about America?
But then the magazine article popped up online, describing Tony’s world of expensive suburbs, with everybody emulating gangster architecture, until the palaces met in the middle.
No taste, no privacy, even for a gang lord.
Then on the very day of the magazine article, I was watching the televised Congressional budget death dance, and there was Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, ostensibly a Democrat, jutting out his jaw in a narrow corridor, being pestered by a reporter.
The pesty reporter, Ari Natter of Bloomberg News, asked Manchin if his view on protecting the dying coal industry was colored by the fact that his son ran a coal company and Manchin received profits from it.
“I’ve been in a blind trust for 20 years,” Manchin said, hard-faced. “I have no idea what they’re doing.”
“You’re still getting dividends,” the reporter persisted.
“You got a problem?” Manchin asked.
When the reporter asked another question, Manchin snapped: "You'd do best to change the subject."
(Published reports say Manchin has made $500,000 in coal dividends. The family is busy. Daughter Heather Bresch once presided over a drug company, Mylan, when the price of EpiPens soared to $600 a shot. And Gayle Conelly Manchin, wife of the senator, is now the federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, no doubt taking care of the poor folks in the hollers. That's the way it works in Appalachia.)
Seeing Joe Manchin in action, I thought immediately of how Tony Soprano’s face would darken as he menaced somebody.
I thought of how Furio, Tony’s muscle man, nudged the uncooperative doctor into the golf-course water hole, up to his ankles.
* * *
I know there is a prequel about the Sopranos coming out, but I think I’ll skip it. For me, that world, that series, ended – quite appropriately – with no resolution about what happened to Tony and his family.
I usually postulate that the evening in the restaurant ended prosaically, and Tony and Carmela found a way to get out of the business, changed their fingerprints and moved to Boca Raton. (I bet Tony even plays golf.)
Maybe, in their new lives, Tony and Carmela watch TV as Joe Manchin struts down a Congressional corridor, pretty much saying he doesn’t care what happens to all those people. He’s got his.
Tony: “That used to be me.”
* * *
Read the great NYT magazine article for yourself:
During Angela Merkel’s final weeks as German chancellor, a stirring fact came out in The New York Times: immigrants have been naming their daughters Angela, and sometimes their sons also received a male version of her name.
I have been delighted to learn this about Chancellor Merkel because she has been a familiar figure in my consciousness since the 2006 World Cup, as my wife and I had a glorious time taking trains to games in bustling cities all over the modern nation.
The chancellor showed up for her country’s games, her bright jackets making her findable among the staid politicians in the VIP tribunes of the stadiums. Her soft, thoughtful face was always findable, right above the lime and yellow and red jackets, comfortable with herself. As she endured in office, I came to think of her as one of the most stable forces in a world getting meaner by the hour.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is being appraised by experts who know her best: slow to act on climate change and aggression in Europe, plus Jeopardizing her country by encouraging immigration.
But I always thought of her as the pastor’s daughter, growing up in an East Germany crawling – and I use the word advisedly – with cold-eyed officers from the old Soviet Union, like Vladimir Putin, whom she would meet again, later.
The tolerance for immigrants reflects Merkel’s open attitude toward the poor, the desperate of the world. Some countries turned immigrants away – even viciously separated parents and children, as if to punish them for their dire straits.
But there were fewer barricades for millions who came to Germany, and began, as immigrants do, to work, to make life better for their families, to fit in.
Perhaps she had heard her Lutheran pastor father, Rev. Horst Kasner, referring to the Biblical passage (Matthew 19:14): "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" (The word "suffer" means to allow something or tolerate an action, in earlier forms of English.)
Without preaching, she lived the words. (The other great religions surely stress compassion for the poor.)
A recent article in the Washington Post traced the stance of the Chancellor to her father:
“Germany and even its churches are dominated by economic thinking,” Pastor Kasner said in 1991. “But the Bible’s message calls on us to judge political and economic systems from the perspective of their victims.”
Perhaps in retirement, Mrs. Merkel will elaborate on the sources of her views.
For now, she is the kind face of world politics.
I also think of the published photos of her with some of the male “leaders” she met.
In tribute to Angela Merkel, I have borrowed a few from the world’s archives.
I never had to use a word of German, not one, in a month of trains, hotels, stadiums and restaurants during the World Cup of 2006, so, may I say:
Danke, Kanzlerin Merkel
Here's my NYT column from a stay in Essen during the 2006 World Cup, when I tried to trace the last steps of my Belgian-Irish aunt in 1944; and realized how carefully Germany acknowledges those days:
Hoping you can open these fine strories:
A current appraisal of the Merkel regime:
There’s a new TV series with Jeff Daniels playing a sheriff with tangled loyalties, in a faded steel town in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania.
As soon as I heard about it, I said, “Hey, wait, I know that place.”
I came to know it, and root for it, in 2009-10, when I was working on the biography of Stan Musial, the great star of the St. Louis Cardinals, who grew up where the Monongahela River twists between the hills and fading towns and dormant steel mills.
Humankind has since screwed up a lot more places, probably irrevocably.
The Mon Valley was a signpost, a warning, of what we were doing. After the steel mills and coal mines were played out, some people were still living in, essentially, the ruins.
That is the site of the new series, “American Rust,” from the book of the same name, by Philipp Meyer, which had just come out in 2009, when I began my research on Musial and his roots. Musial’s dad had migrated from Poland to work in the mills, joined by immigrants from Europe and Africa and the east coast.
I read that the new series was filmed in studios in modern high-tech Pittsburgh, but some of the exteriors were shot in Monessen, just across the Stan Musial Bridge from Donora, where Musial grew up. He played basketball and baseball for Donora High, but his first baseball tryout was conducted in Monessen, where the St. Louis Cardinals had one of their many farm teams.
From what I read, Daniels’ TV town is as gray as the smoke-filled skies from the 1948 Halloween killer smoke cloud, known as “The Donora Smog.” (Stan Musial’s dad, Lukasz, breathed too much of that smog, trapped under an inversion on that October night, and was dead two months later – too much American rust in his lungs.)
Musial was no longer capable of giving interviews when I worked on the book – he would die in 2013 -- but other people took me around the valley.
One of my tour guides was a local hero named Bimbo Cecconi, a former Pitt football star and coach, now living up near Pittsburgh, who walked the hills of Donora and told me about the athletes from his hometown – Deacon Dan Towler of the Los Angeles Rams and Arnold Galiffa who played at West Point, and three generations of ball-playing Griffeys – Buddy and Ken and Ken Junior.
Bimbo escorted me to the Donora Public Library where Donnis Headley became a helpful source. When the Donora microfilm machine was out of commission, she directed me across the river to the Monessen library, where I read old clips about Musial and the two towns.
My other guide was Dr. Charles Stacey, who had been the superintendent of schools, and still lives on the main street, McKean Ave. Dr. Stacey gave me a black T-shirt with the legend Donora Smog Museum, which he had opened in the shell of a former Chinese restaurant.
Dr. Stacey was also a mentor to Reggie B. Walton, once a football star on the verge of gang trouble, who willed himself to a historically Black college and a federal judgeship in Washington, D.C. Judge Walton is a Republican who has delivered decisive and apolitical rulings.
As I walked around with Dr. Stacey, I expressed interest in talking to Judge Walton A week later, my home phone rang and a man said, “This is Reggie Walton….” He said Charles Stacey had asked him to call me – one of the honors of my working life. I wonder if this new series will take note of this accomplished judge who came out of the American Rust.
I learned other things from my days in the Mon Valley.
-- “Monongahela” is of Native American origin, meaning “river with the sliding banks” or “high banks that break off and fall down.”
--A young surveyor from Virginia, George Washington, was an aide to Gen. Edwin Braddock who was killed in action further downstream in the French and Indian War in 1755.
-- The names of Monessen and Donora are both amalgamations.
--- Monessen’s name is a salute to the German emigrées, from the industrial town of Essen.
-- Donora was named by industrialist Andrew Mellon of Pittsburgh, who built a new steel town at the end of a freight line. Mellon honored W.H, Donner, an executive who had made a lot of money for him, and also honored Mellon’s young wife, whom he had brought over from Europe -- Nora McMullen. The Mellon marriage did not last long but the odd mixture of names survives in a gritty town with memories.
I came away from my visits to Donora and Monessen with the same rooting interest I have for Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, further down the Appalachian chain, where I used to work. I cringe when I hear about the rampant use of opioids, the crime statistics, the dropouts, in Appalachia, and I gather that is the backdrop to this new series.
I’ve seen a few of Jeff Daniels’ interviews on TV, and he always stresses that while he works in Hollywood or Broadway, he always goes home, to Michigan – “Fly-Over Country,” I heard him say, using the ironic term midwestern people use for their part of the country.
Maybe I’ll catch some of “American Rust” sometime; (I don’t have Showtime on my cable package.) Some of the reviews I’ve read are not ecstatic, but I wonder: is Appalachia just not sexy enough for Americans?
After all, “The Sopranos,” in tense urban New Jersey, was the best TV series I have ever seen, and “The Wire” made people pay attention to inner-city Baltimore.
I just hope the writers – and the viewers -- do right by the Mon Valley.
(In a world of Kabul, Covid and Ida, the following is totally irrelevant. But this is what I know.)
* * *
(The Thumbs Guys "apologized" and the Mets won a doubleheader on Tuesday, the first with a stunning rally. But the basics remain. My friend, once a prospect with the old Milwaukee Braves' franchise, keeps up with the business, and gives his view of the Mets' problems:)
From Jerry Rosenthal:
George, your fine piece should resonate with angry Mets’ fans! This latest debacle was inevitable! The toxic duo of Lindor and Baez split the Mets’ clubhouse that was once led effectively by Jacob deGrom!
Steve Cohen made a huge mistake in signing Lindor for over $300 million! However, picking up Baez, a known malingerer and “all about me”ball player is Sandy Alderson’s mistake! The imperious Mets’ executive never seems to get criticized by the press for the poor construction of this Mets roster and senseless trades. The Mets gave up a top outfield prospect to get Baez just for a “short-term rental.” Alderson went for a home run hitter like Baez, ignoring the fact that he could easily strike out four or five times in a game!
Obtaining Baez brings to light the fallacy of the “money ball” philosophy! All season, the Mets were waiting for that home run that never came at the right time! It was all about the long ball! Putting the ball in play with two strikes was not in the Mets’ playbook in 2021.
Alderson fired respected batting coach, Chili Davis who was an advocate of using the wide expanse of Citi Field to the hitter’s advantage! Chili emphasized the importance of trying to hit the ball in the alleys and using the fundamentally sound hitting approach of “hitting through” the ball and making solid contact, rather than trying to “lift” the ball in the air!
Chili’s smart hitting advice was abandoned under the new “hitting gurus” Alderson brought in to replace him! ! They are more intent on tweaking the launch angles of Mets hitters. The subpar offensive performances of Conforto Lindor, McNeil , McCann, Davis and Smith proves this experiment has been a colossal failure!
The Mets offensive numbers are among the lowest in the major leagues! Alderson has yet to step up and take responsibility for these disastrous decisions!
The Mets must make many moves in the off season, but it will not do any good if the same decision makers stay in place. It remains to be seen if Steve Cohen recognizes that his organization is dysfunctional from the top to bottom!
Steve Cohen should be looking at the Atlanta Braves as a model of how a major league franchise should be run! We never hear of turmoil or scandal in the Braves’ organization. If an executive or player is not in-sync with the “team first” philosophy of the Braves’ organization, they are gone!
Continuity has always been important to the Braves. The long tenure of managers Bobby Cox and Brian Snitker shows that stability is highly valued by the organization. It’s the same with many of the Braves’ coaches and front office personnel.
Baseball fans recognize that the Braves fine young players- Jose’ Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley were all developed in the Braves minor league system, along with their great veteran team leader-Freddie Freeman. They were steeped in the Braves’ tradition of doing the right thing on the field and off the field!
That’s the way it was when I played in the Braves’ organization in the earlier 60’s, when John McHale was the Braves’ GM. That’s the way it is today with Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves’ GM.
* * *
(George Vecsey's earlier critique, before the "apology."
Well, Javier Baez made it easy for the Mets to let him go in a month.
The Mets’ rent-a-dud and his pal Francisco Lindor – the team leader by self-proclamation – showed their contempt for the Mets fans in recent days, flashing thumbs downward, like a couple of imperial Caesars.
This is not a good career move for two stars from other teams in other towns, who arrived separately this season and, a lot of the time, have stunk out the joint.
We all know that Mets fans are warm-hearted folks. They cheered every time Wilmer Flores appeared in the Giants’ lineup last week, because they remember how Wilmer wept when it seemed he had been traded one melodramatic night back in 2015. Wilmer cared…he showed his heart….and so did the denizens of the Mets’ ballpark, then and forever.
Mets fans are as nice as they are mean. Somehow Baez and Lindor never got that message when they were playing very good baseball in Chicago and Cleveland, respectively.
Lindor was an effervescent star, but quite possibly on a downward trajectory when the Mets’ committed to a franchise record 10-year, $341 million contract before this season.
He then decided he was the team leader, before he ever played a game, and spent the first few months posturing and smiling and interrupting pitcher-catcher confabs on the mound.
In the meantime, he struggled to get above the dreaded .200 border, but not by much -- .224 currently, including a big insurance hit on Sunday. As Lindor often tells the press, his fielding and running have been good. Fine. So nickname him “Leather” and let him play spot duty, for all those dollars from Steve Cohen’s hedge fund.
In addition to his on-the-field “leadership,” Lindor seems to have a side job of advising Cohen and whoever else makes decisions. He assured the Mets that his pal Javier Baez was just what the Mets needed to stay in the division race, so the Mets imported Baez for the rest of this season.
Baez arrived with a reputation in the arcane art of making the tag at second base, and also for having prodigious power, but also for striking out. The front office shrugged off that he leads the National League with 153 strikeouts – 22 since the Mets got him.
In this new world of analytics, apparently striking out is not the flaw older fans had always assumed it was. Baez does not make contact when a single or a sacrifice fly or even a grounder to the right side might lead to a vital run.
Did Cubs fans not boo him for being such a glaringly incomplete and self-centered player? Mets fans quickly figured this out, and booed Baez and also Lindor, and on the weekend the two pals flashed their thumbs.
“Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance,” the Mets’ president, Sandy Alderson, said in a statement Sunday afternoon.”The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.”
Alderson added: “Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.”
There has been precious little booing most of this season, as a rag-tag assortment of Mets stayed in first place. For me, it was the season Jacob deGrom looked like a latter-day Sandy Koufax, but also with the physical vulnerability that may doom his brilliant career. And fans appreciated gamers like Villar and Pillar, plus the most consistent Met, Nimmo, and bit players who won games, like Nido, Mazeika, Drury. Strangers ran into walls, and then were gone.
Manager Luis Rojas held things together until he removed Taijuan Walker – apparently because the computer people in the basement bunker found some statistic to justify it -- and the fans lost patience, as did Walker.
The Mets' front office showed its confusion early in the season when it fired hitting coach Chili Davis, a major-leaguer with a great reputation, and replaced him with two nonenties and, presumably, a link to the analytics lab.
Probably not by accident Messrs. McNeil, Smith, Conforto and Davis are all screwed up, four hitters in search of a major-league coach.
The front office seems to need a total house-cleaning. I hear the name of Theo Epstein, who might be worth his price, given his success with the Red Sox and Cubs. But Cohen should -- must! -- also hire Curtis Granderson, one of the smartest and best people I have met, who, for some inexplicable reason, does not have a serious job in baseball.
Meantime, the Mets are stuck with Lindor’s contract for nine years -- count them, nine. That is on the owner.
With any spec of wisdom in the front office, Baez is just passing through, looking for his next contract elsewhere. And taking his strikeouts and his thumbs with him.
Tom T Hall passed on Friday, He was a country songwriter who informed my work, telling stories about people. He observed every-day life, regular people, and made them real, with a large dollop of insight and sympathy and wit.
I read the lovely obituary in the Sunday NYT by Bill Friskics-Warren and I tried to remember when I first heard Tom T Hall.
I think it was after I had been one of the first reporters on the scene for the terrible mine explosion in Hyden, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1970. I came back many times, met a lot of survivors – “the widders,” as they say.
Turned out, Tom T. Hall was there soon after. He and a buddy drove a pickup from his home in Olive Hill, Ky., not far from the coal region, and he observed with a storyteller’s eye, including the sheriff and the undertaker whom I had met. Maybe he had read my stories, maybe not. Didn’t matter. He put it to music, got it perfect.
(The “pretty lady from the Grand Ole Opry” is Loretta Lynn, who had come off the road to play a charity concert in Louisville in 1971, for the survivors. That’s how I got to know Loretta, and later helped her write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”)
In the next years, I collected cassettes of Tom T Hall’s best albums and songs and would play them as I drove around Appalachia. .
Some of his best songs were about lost or unrequited love:
“Tulsa Telephone Book” --
Readin' that Tulsa telephone book, can drive a guy insane
Especially if that girl you're lookin' for has no last name.
“The Little Lady Preacher” --
(A picker remembers the gospel singer he backed up every Sunday morning: “She’d punctuate the prophecies with movements of her hips.”)
We never met, but I took my young family to see him in New York in the mid-70s. I learned that he had settled in the lush outskirts of Nashville with his wife, Miss Dixie, herself a fixture in Music City, who passed a few years back.
I owe Tom T Hall a great debt because he helped me recognize the best parts of people, as flawed as we all are. Only he put it to music and he sang it.
In honor of Tom T Hall – a requiem for the older friend who taught him to pick, and other stuff.
I have heard agitation to drop the name of Mario Cuomo from the bridge spanning the Hudson River – the one most New Yorkers stubbornly call The Tappan Zee Bridge.
Just because the son is resigning as governor – and not a moment too soon – does not mean the father should be obliterated from the elegant new bridge that was officially named for Mario Cuomo, who served three full terms as governor, which is more than the grabby son will ever serve.
Besides, we New Yorkers don’t follow every order we hear.
For example, we jaywalk.
Most New Yorkers never stopped calling it the “Tappan Zee” – “Tappan,” in homage to the Lenape tribe that lived there peacefully for many centuries before whites invaded, and “Zee,” the Dutch word for “sea,” connotating the wide point in the river.
It was “Tappan Zee Bridge” while we braced for rear-end collisions on the Sunday night southbound backup and it was “Tappan Zee Bridge” when we hit axel-threatening holes in the archaic pavement. And that name still resonates with New Yorkers, after the son had the power to bring about the naming of the new bridge for his father, a good human being.
Plus, we can save millions of dollars by not changing all those signs for the new span that opened during the tempestuous reign of Cuomo II.
New Yorkers do not change our minds or speech patterns easily, particularly regarding our bridges and tunnels and thoroughfares. Just a few examples:
As much as we (I) admire the late Robert F. Kennedy, the spans connecting Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx are still known as the Triboro Bridge.
Same thing with the low span between Manhattan and Queens, technically named for the late mayor, Ed Koch. I can still hear Koch’s petulant question: “How’m I doing?” but as a fellow Queens kid I can hear Simon and Garfunkel singing, “Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last,” in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy.)”
I can still smell the Silvercup Bread being baked in the evening in Long Island City as we drove home from “The City” – that is, Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is technically named after former governor Hugh Carey, but, you know…
When my father took me around the city, teaching me to love it, he told me no New Yorker ever calls Sixth Ave. by that grandiose name, “Avenue of the Americas.”
As an aside, I have never typed or spoken the name of the bank connected with the Mets’ current ballpark, which I call “New Shea” or “The Mets ballpark.” I hate naming rights. (Bless the NYT copyeditors who went along with my little affectation.)
Then there is this: A few minutes off Interstate 84, in Vernon, Conn., is Rein’s New York Style Deli. (Our friend Cookie, who lives nearby, introduced us to it and we sat right below a New York subway sign.) One of the deli’s featured sandwiches includes roast beef, turkey and pastrami on three slices of rye bread, and is named for the Tappan Zee Bridge. “We must have ridden the Tappan Zee a million times,” owner Greg Rein has said.
To prove my point: I love the heritage of Jackie Robinson, our blazing pioneer with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But that dangerous narrow parkway – now officially re-named for No. 42 -- that wriggles on the glacial spine of Queens to the Brooklyn border will always be The Interboro – or, as we New Yorkers pronounce it, “Duh Intaboro.”
Finally, a little personal Queens history. The Cuomo family moved into a bucolic neighborhood right behind my family house on a busy street, after I had grown up and moved out. The Cuomos voted at the same polling station as my parents – “Nice people,” said my parents.
(Word from others was that the three Cuomo girls were terrific, young Chris was a sweetie, and Andrew was…well…difficult.)
In time, I got to chat with Gov. Mario Cuomo about his loyalty to his Coach for Life, a leprechaun named Joe Austin who coached youth baseball and basketball teams for the St. Monica’s parish in South Jamaica. For his inaugurations as governor, Mario made sure Joe Austin was front and center, and addressed him as “Coach.”
(I wrote about Mario, combative Queens jock, when he passed in 2015.)
One time, a mutual friend brought Matilda Cuomo to our house while they were out for a ride, and they stayed a few hours for lunch. My wife and I have lasting memories of Mrs. Cuomo: she is a lady.
Leave Mario Cuomo’s name on the bridge. The Tappan Zee Bridge.
* * *
I should add: In the past five years, an assortment of rickety, glittery, pretentious, over-priced buildings have had a certain odious name scraped or painted or sandblasted from the façades, after outcries by the residents.
We New Yorkers do have our standards.
Watching over the East River like a benevolent gargoyle. I'm betting that even Mayor Koch would call it the 59th Street Bridge or The Queensboro Bridge. (Version by the Harpers Bizarre.)
I just read a great new book: “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” by Clint Smith.
Smith’s main point is that people, northerners and southerners, are now learning things about slavery they were not told in school -- the depths of depravity by which a female slave could be labelled a “good breeder” by her owners, and other aspects of good old-fashioned American enterprise.
Many people in this country still see slavery through a sentimental haze: slaves were better off here than they would have been in Africa; they were handled benevolently at the plantations.
You know, good people on all sides.
Nowadays mayors and school boards and governors are trying to forbid controversial or academic critiques of America.
(Some of these moronic governors are aiding Covid by not mandating vaccinations and masks at work and school.)
Smith’s book about slavery lies is a companion to the so-called “Big Lie” about alleged election fraud and the merry tourists who flocked to the Capitol last Jan. 6.
For all the chicanery and cowardice in high places, the worst parts of slavery are impossible to hide as Smith makes his rounds. As a one-time news reporter, I respect his shoe-leather approach -- visiting hot spots of the slave trade. A staff writer for the Atlantic – and a poet – Smith interviewed tour guides and museum directors as well as tourists, plus participants in Confederate commemorations.
The new cadre of historians and guides make it clear that that people, white people, mostly male, not only performed violent deeds but also knew what was being done, mostly in rural and southern states.
Smith begins where, in a sense, the country began – Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, where he "owned" slaves while preparing to write the Declaration of Independence. While he put pen to paper, his white staff put whips to the backs of Black slaves. Background music for Jefferson.
At Monticello, Smith chats with two visitors -- white, Fox-watching, Republican-leaning women, who hear a guide talk about Jefferson’s long association with a female slave.
Speaking to Smith, who is Black, the two women seem aghast. Smith quotes one of them:
“’Here he uses all of these people and then he marries a lady and then they have children,’ she said, letting out a heavy sigh. (A reference to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, who bore at least six of Jefferson’s children. The two were never married.) ‘Jefferson is not the man I thought he was.’”
That is the theme of the book – many Americans in position of responsibility and knowledge deliberately deflected what was known about slavery. And not just in the South. I know somebody who did college research on commerce in New England, and never came across the mention of slaves in Yankee states.
Then again, in a 2020 farewell to the great John Thompson, I praised a recent book about Frederick Douglass and noted that in all my school years in New York (with many history electives in college), I never heard the name "Frederick Douglass." (To be clear, I did know his name, just not from school. Our parents were part of a Black/white discussion group, and they extolled heroes like Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, and all of the children have learned from our parents.)
Smith points out that the Dutch and English, who pushed out the Lenape natives, welcomed slaves on the oyster-laden shores of lower Manhattan, and used them for labor, and shipped thousands to farms and other towns. New York was the second largest entry port, distributing slaves culled from Africa. Those who died were tossed, unmarked, into a pit near Wall Street.
One chapter in this book about slavery jarred me because I did not see it coming – a visit to the dreaded Angola Prison in Louisiana.
Smith explains his visit to Angola by pointing out that Black prisoners worked for free or for pennies, at the penal equivalent of plantations. In fact, Angola had a big house, where the warden and his family were served by trusted Black prisoners.
Prisons as plantations: As it happens, I have heard the metallic clank of the heavy door slammed behind me in three different prisons – and all three stories involved Black men. (See the links below.)
Smith’s itinerary includes: Monticello Plantation, Va.; the Whitney Plantation, La.; Angola Prison, La..
Blandford Cemetery, Va., Galveston Island, Tex, where emancipation was belatedly revealed to Blacks, leading to the recent proclamation of a new national holiday -- Juneteenth; New York City; and Gorée Island, Senegal, the legendary focus for the African slave trade.
In a moving Epilogue, Smith interviews his own elders for stories of prejudice, slavery and downright brutality they experienced or heard from their own elders.
Clint Smith’s book makes it clear that white America knew more about slavery than it discussed -- just as many of our "public servants" like to talk about sight-seers who had a fun day in the Capitol last Jan. 6, brandishing flagpoles, gouging eyeballs and shouting racial epithets.
It never went away.
It’s who we are.
* * *
Two book reviews in the NYT:
Three of my stories from prisons, when I was a news reporter:
* After writing this piece, and reading the thoughtful comments, I discovered a new book: “Land,” by Simon Winchester, a writer with great and varied interests. (We met in 1973 when he was posted to Washington by The Guardian.) Now living in the U.S., Winchester is writing about the creation and development of land.
An early paragraph about the original inhabitants of this continent fits right in with the tone of this discussion: (Page 17)
“The serenity of the Mohicans suffered, terminally. The villagers first began to fall fatally ill – victims of smallpox, measles, influenza, all outsider-borne ailments to which they had no natural immunity. And those who survived began to be ordered to abandon their lands and their possessions, and leave. To leave countryside that they had occupied and farmed for thousands of years – and ordered to do so by white-skinned visitors who had no knowledge of the land and its needs, and who regarded it only for its potential for reward. The area was ideal for colonization, said the European arrivistes: the natives, now seen more as wildlife than as brothers, more kine than kin, could go elsewhere.”
Winchester’s newest book then goes in many directions. I look forward to reading the rest.
Fifty-seven years go fast.
I was listening to the Mets’ game the other night, when a sturdy young pitcher named Tylor Megill gave up a grand-slam homer to the fourth batter in the first inning. Four up, four in.
Suddenly, the Mets’ broadcaster was talking about first-inning grand-slam homers, and I heard the name of Bill Wakefield, now an email pal, but in 1964 a rookie pitcher out of Stanford, enjoying the heck out of the one year he would have in the major leagues.
That year, Wakefield also gave up a grand-slam -- to Ed Bailey of the Milwaukee Braves.
I told my (long-suffering) wife that a friend of mine just had his name called out on the Mets’ radio broadcast – 57 years after the deed was done.
“What is it like for a ball player to be remembered for something, that long ago?” my wife asked.
Well, I said, there was Ralph Branca, a good guy who gave up a homer to Bobby Thomson,also a good guy, in 1951.
And I thought of other ball players who had one really bad moment that never went away.
But Bailey’s grand-slam off Wakefield was hardly historic – just rare enough to pop up 57 years later.
I shipped off an email to Wakefield, out in the Bay Area.
How did he take being back “in the news” again?
“I'll have a glass of Chardonnay,” he replied, “and/but, yes I remember it well.
“I always admired the guys who answered the tough questions -- and didn't duck out early.
“Sure go ahead,” Wakefield answered in two separate emails. “The only downside to telling the old stories is the rolling of the eyes and the ‘Dad, you think you've milked a modest career about long enough?’” from son Ed, 33, D1 pitcher at Portland Pilots and daughter Laura, 31, softball at Boise State!”
Then Bill Wakefield, just turned 80, successful businessman, frequent e-mail correspondent, pulled out all the details that many athletes store in their competitive brains.(I’ve heard Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova discuss their epic matches, stroke by stroke.)
For Bill Wakefield, it was yesterday:
“ 1964 -- We're flying to Milwaukee last road trip of the year. I'm feeling pretty good for a rookie -- lot of games -- 60++++ - pretty good ERA (low 3's!!!) -- 3 – 4, not bad for Mets of that era. On the plane, Mel Harder comes to me – ‘Hey Billy - I know you've been in a lot of games but....’.”
(Mel Harder, then nearly 55, had pitched 20 seasons with one team, Cleveland, and was a respected pitching coach with the Mets that year.)
“Casey wants to save our starters for the Cardinals in St Louis, ‘cause they‘re in a pennant race," Wakefield recalled Harder telling him. “We're gonna start you on Thursday in Milwaukee! OK?”
“Me ---What am I gonna say -- ‘Hey Mel the arm’s a little on the tired side?’ Tell Casey no?
“So I say, ‘I'll be ready.’”
The game was on Oct. 1, 1964. Wakefield recalls Hot Rod Kanehl, the utility player who shepherded him around the majors for one memorable season, coming up to him: “‘Hey, they're not playing Aaron today.’ So it turns out -- so what !!!! the other guys did pretty well"!!!!
Wakefield added: “Hot Rod sees there are 3,000 people in the stands - at best -- and tells me - "Well kid at least a big crowd won't make you nervous.!"
Ball-player gallows humor.
Nervous or just arm-weary, Wakefield gave up singles to Rico Carty and Lee Maye. Felipe Alou was up next.
“In that era, first inning, no outs, runners on first and second, 99% of the time the guy bunts the runners over to second and third. I'm thinking, cover third base line, field the bunt, throw to Charlie Smith at third and get the force. Get the out.
“Alou hits the first pitch, one-hopper back to me - the obvious play is double play -- throw to second. I throw to third for the force -- Charlie Smith is standing, looking at second with his hands on his hips -- almost hit him between the eyes -- he drops the ball, bases drunk, I'm in trouble!!!
“Rookies get in trouble and they try to throw a fast ball harder and get an out. Veterans throw softer and get a ground ball. Bailey -- first pitch -- I'm thinking two-seam fastball outside, he tries to pull it, ground ball to McMillan, and out of trouble.
“It catches too much of the plate -- he goes to opposite field and hits a home run.”
Wakefield fast-forwarded to the third inning. “Still a rookie. I'm still in there having trouble -- Walk Carty -- Casey comes out - Rookie question from me – ‘You taking me out because I walked Carty?’ Casey kind of has a quizzical look on his face -- and a smile and says ‘No, I'm taking you out because you've given up 7 runs!!!”
Mets lost. “No excuses -- they hit the ball.”
“I'm shaving after the game -- cut my chin - baseball humor -- Jack Fisher: ‘Did you try to cut your throat?’ I laughed." Then Wakefield recalled Joe Gallagher, the Mets’ TV producer, on the Mets’ charter flight that night, to St. Louis: “I said, did you lose some of your audience after the first three innings?”
The Mets scared the Cardinals on that last chilly weekend, and Wakefield’s memories come pouring out:
“On to St Louis -- Chase hotel -- Gaslight Square ( Hot Rod and I didn't know it -- but it would be our last visit to Gaslight Square!!) Hotel swimming pool stories - old classic hotel. Harry Caray's hang-out hotel. Casey late night in the lobby entertaining!! Westrum laughing at Casey's stories. Lou Niss smoking and watching. Whiskey-slick players file into the single lobby elevator!”
My memories jog totally with Wakefield’s. The Chase-Park Plaza was also my favorite hotel on the road.
The games were epic, too. “Give 'em a scare,” Wakefield recalled. The gallant original Met, Alvin Jackson, beat Bob Gibson on Friday, and the Mets won again on Saturday. Wakefield pitched in relief on Sunday and so did Gibson, to save the Cardinals’ season.
The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. Kanehl and Wakefield, Butch and Sundance, never played in the majors again, and remained pals until Hot Rod’s death in 2004.
“I could have used a few more pitches to be a starter!! Relief -- sinker/slider, OK. Starter needs 4-5 pitches. “
He can pull up the memories of his short career: “The Milwaukee game -- I would paint a different picture if I could. There were 60 other games I would rather recall!! But that's the way it is!”
Then Wakefield added: “As long as we're telling stories from 57 years ago -- who's gonna correct me??? -- make sure you also point out that I got Yogi Berra to ground into a double play in the Mayor' s Trophy Game in front of 55,000. Big deal in the era of no interleague play!!”
As I told my wife, Bill Wakefield pitched a season in the major leagues, and that is something,
My thanks to Marianne Vecsey for jogging some grand old memories.
The grand-slam game, courtesy of the great website, retrosheet.org:
Bill Wakefield’s career, courtesy of the other great website:
It was impossible to miss the sense of triumphalism in the Mets’ ballpark Saturday night, when Javy Baez made his debut – and clubbed a two-run homer that eventually helped the Mets win.
We deserve this – so New York.
The Mets’ fans celebrated this show of Steve Cohen’s money as the flashy rent-a-star for our times -- swing for the seats, strike out every-hour-on-the-hour, all condoned by the new analytics.
But woven into the new math of baseball is the wholesale transfers of stars – the Cubs’ absolute gutting of players who won the World Series just the other day, or maybe it was 2016. The Nats' dispersal of players who won a World Series in 2019.
Is there no loyalty, no sense of continuity, that lets stars grow old gracefully with their teams?
Of course not. The players deserve their freedom. Curt Flood suffered for all of them, fighting for free agency, whether they know who he was, or not.
You think the Brooklyn Boys of Summer would have stayed together if they had free agency? Imagine Duke Snider going for the big bucks and aiming for the right-field seats in Yankee Stadium before Roger Maris could.
Word has just come to me that the Yankees have done it again -- bringing in Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. It's an old habit: In 2012, I did a riff on late-season Yankee acquisitions over the years, with copious help and taunting from the late-great Yankee fan, Big Al, RIP.
As a Mets’ fan – finally outed after decades of trying to disguise it as a sports columnist – I am queasy about the Mets’ move because I have been enjoying the Mets’ rickety hold on first place this season.
I never believed the U.S. was getting back to “normal” with the murderous Covid, because I had a sour faith in the grits-for-brains mentality of the Red State no-vaccination crowd. (Did you see the Florida governor who scorns masks for school children because he wants to see the smile on his own child? Where do we get these people?)
So, if you have to hunker at home, the Mets have been a nervous pleasure, with a shifting roster of office temps.
Who will ever forget Patrick Mazeika, with his ZZ Top beard, a fill-in catcher, specializing in game-winning squibbers, getting his shirt ripped off in the new walk-off celebration?
Who will forget Kevin Pillar surviving a pitch in the face, coming back quickly to patch holes in the Mets’ lineup?
Patchwork players like Villar and Guillorme and Peraza and Drury helped the Mets stay in first place for roughly three months.
The least of it has been the expensive addition of Francisco Lindor, with his .228 batting average, who appointed himself Leader-for-Life, interrupting pitcher-catcher confabs on the mound, inserting himself into every photo op, and now, upgrading his job status, apparently urging the Mets’ fill-in general manager that his pal Javy Baez would be a great addition.
Maybe this is Lindor's best contribution to the Mets. But there is a school of thought that the Mets’ brain trust would have been better off finding a front-line pitcher to temporarily replace Jacob deGrom, who now has an endangered Koufaxian aura to him. But they went for the pyrotechnics.
One Mets wing of my family paid for seats in Queens Saturday night and watched Baez (a) whack a home run and (b) do his on-the-field post-game interview with apparent joy at being in New York for the day and maybe even the long term.
Is Baez a rent-a-star for this season, or will Steve Cohen pay the freight for a long-term contract, like Mike Piazza, who came…and stayed….and became a Mets icon? Or could Baez be like the magnificent Cespedes infusion in 2015? That was fun, too.
I fret because Baez imperils my particular favorite Met player, Jeff McNeil, who seems terminally undervalued by the Mets’ front office.
McNeil seemed to drink the Analytic Kool-Aid early this season, trying to launch Alonso-style homers, but lately McNeil has gone back to hitting the ball to all fields, with game-winning hits and a recent 16-game hitting streak – oh, and some flashy plays at second base in recent days.
When Lindor’s oblique injury heals, he will claim shortstop and his pal Baez will apparently get second base. This leaves Jeff McNeil exactly where? Displacing the slumping Michael Conforto in right field (from which he unleashed a game-saving throw the other night?)
What I’m saying is: old fans like me like old-style ball players, particularly the earnest Mets who have been a lot of fun this summer. But Baez certainly made a good debut Saturday night.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have already begun -- a year late and quite unwisely.
The American women soccer team got blasted by Sweden, 3-0, on Wednesday in Japan, in some early tournament action, before the Opening Ceremony Friday night.
So now the Games are official – gritting their way toward the finish line, in the face of a worldwide pandemic that humans of all nationalities and political systems have been too stupid to control.
This has been evident as the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese organizers willed the Games to begin, despite another surge taking place.
Athletes are already testing positive – and this is before they were shoe-horned into a dense city, into Olympic hideaways where athletes are theoretically sequestered.
But why should the IOC and the hosts show sense when most of the world is giddy on the concept that we are back to “normal?”
I already agree with the skepticism collected by the great reporter, John Branch, in the NYT this week. Branch talked to observors around the world, who wondered if it is time to end the Olympic Games.
After covering seven Summer Games and four Winter Games, from 1984 into 2010, I was veering toward the position that the Games existed mostly because of television money, blaring commercials around the world, but costing far more than they generate for the host countries and victimized host cities – all in the name of a faux ideal.
I know I became disenchanted with the Olympics when I saw cities and entire countries disrupted by the demand for specialized Olympic facilities. After the two-week festival, the traveling circus packed its tents and moved on, it mostly left the detritus and debt behind, as documented in John Branch’s article.
My first Games were in 1984, when Los Angeles and top executive Peter Ueberroth used existing facilities in the region, producing a profit for amateur sports groups, not debts for the host region. Some other host cities tried to think of leaving a lasting upgrade – Barcelona, in 1992, for example, and to my surprise, Atlanta's downtown was upgraded by the Olympic presence -- but others just spent and spent for a 17-day jamboree.
Having said that, I must add that some parts of the Olympics were wonderful to cover – great events intriguing personalities, in special places all over the world. I always tried to keep my perspective of whether these Games had lasting value for the cities that lusted to be the host, but I do have memories of events and competitors:
In Los Angeles in 1984, I had the good luck of watching a charismatic American volleyball team, with a lanky, thoughtful star named Flo Hyman, lose the tense gold-medal match to China. For me, that one tournament was as good as any sports playoff or tournament I have covered.
My first Winter Games – Calgary, 1988 – reminded me that I don’t like being cold, so I gravitated to events with a roof over them, like figure skating….and hockey…and speed skating, with rocking music and gaudy costumes as powerful athletes whizzed around the oval track.
The Olympic ceremonies often had the air of ersatz royalty – coronations! knighthoods! weddings! – but once in a while they touched the heart, as in 1996, in Atlanta: the final carrier of the Olympic torch, on a runway high above the stadium, turned out to be Muhammad Ali, already suffering from the Parkinson’s disease that would kill him way too young. We held our breath and prayed for him, as Ali willed himself to complete his mission.
In those same Atlanta Games, in the first Olympic soccer tournament for women, epic Americans like Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm won the gold medal.
In 2002, in Salt Lake City, Sarah Hughes, not yet 17, blended talent and will in her stunning gold-medal figure-skating routine. I had written about her family, John and Amy Hughes and their five other children, good people, who lived near me on Long Island. Sarah Hughes is now a lawyer in New York City; her dad, John Hughes, a great hockey player from Cornell, passed in August of 2020.
I admit, I often slipped out of the Olympic bubble, to see how real life was going on in the host nation. At the 1998 Winter Games in the modest Japanese mountain town -- Almost Heaven, West Nagano, as I called it – I watched residents sweep overnight fluffy snow off the sidewalks. In Athens in 2004, my wife and I played hooky one day, taking the slow ferry to Hydra and swimming off the rocks. In Beijing, Chris Clarey and Jennifer 8 Lee and I visited one of the old neighborhoods – a hutong – and ate in a restaurant run by Uighurs, the persecuted ethnic minority.
But maybe my best “Olympian” moment came in 2004 when the shot-put competition was held on the grounds of the very first Olympic games in 776 BC, in the Olympia region west of Athens. To inhale that dust was a grand honor.
Since I retired at the end of 2011, I admit, I have never watched a minute of Olympics Games, Winter or Summer – too much babble, too many commercials, too much else going on. In the next few weeks, I will rely on the NYT’s great staff to provide the words and pictures --- and I hope everybody gets through without calamity.
Colin Phelan is 23, a writer and teacher in Massachusetts, a recipient of a Fulbright-Nehru scholarship to India next year, and a friend of a family close to us.
Our friend raved about his website, so I volunteered to take a look and was knocked over by what he knows, what he cares about.
Back home in the States during the pandemic, Phelan has not lacked for adventures – taking his bike across country, going into Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado as fearsome sand tornadoes swirled ominously ahead, and so on.
Passing through St. Louis, he discovered a World Chess Hall of Fame – who knew? -- and perhaps because he gets hammered by his students in their early teens, he explored the museum. Of course, he did.
The exhibits fascinated Phelan with the various themes of chess sets around the world, and he also began to understand the role India played in the worldwide popularity of chess.
Phelan's blog also links warfare and chess, comparing the chess tactic of dominating the flank to one of the key moves of the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 2, 1863 -- how a professor from Bowdoin College in Maine, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, told his troops to fix bayonets and rush downhill, into what became the gruesome but decisive Battle of Little Round Top.
(Phelan caught my interest because, in my three years of college ROTC, Gettysburg was still being used as a key lesson in battlefield tactics, now of course outmoded, but still an object lesson in planning and reacting.
I have walked the battlefield with our grandson George, who lives not far away. I recommended that Phelan read the magnificent restored first section of the novel, “O Lost,” by Thomas Wolfe, which takes place north of Gettysburg, a few days before the battle.)
Phelan has done most of the teaching in our interchange. His blog includes copious photos of chess sets from around the world – including a fruit-and-vegetable set – as he veers into an appreciation of Anthony Bourdain’s lust for life:
“As a devotee to Anthony Bourdain’s ability to discover culture and companionship through food, I’ve for long tried to discover another means through which people wedged apart by language or other barriers can not only coexist, but catch glimpses of another’s personality and being,” Phelan wrote.
I would not have expected poor Bourdain to pop up in a riff on chess, but there he is. Colin Phelan is living at a fast clip, so many interests and observations and opinions.
Phelan has already had adventures on his first visit to Kolkata and Delhi, teaching English, learning the local languages. Now he’s back in the States for a school year, having adventures. Nice to be 23.
* * *
I have not begun to explore all the corners of this website. Please explore and enjoy:
The Euro final lived up to the morbid expectations of half the participants.
Italy conquered its shootout demons, aided by a keeper, only 22 years old, who most closely resembles massive dinosaurs that roamed the earth eons ago.
England lost the shootout, after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes of play, giving the nation another year, another generation, to talk about the lads from West Ham who beat the West Germans in 1966.
Italy, known for its dogged tactics, that include Giorgio Chiellini smiling and chatting up opponents, was consistent with its repuation, as Chiellini tried to yank an English arm out of its socket.
Unknown to much of the soccer world before this month, Gianluigi Donnarumma revised memories of hallowed keepers Dino Zoff, Walter Zenga and the retired anthem-bellowing keeper Gigi Buffon. Now there’s another one.
While England broods over the Euro tournament, like patrons of some national pub, fans will surely question the tactics of manager Gareth Southgate, who missed a penalty himself, as England lost the 1996 Euro final.
Having had 25 years to think about it, Southgate inserted two subs near the end of 120 minutes – so they would help win the shootout, if you follow that reasoning.
What really bothers me is that one of them, Marcus Rashford, has helped raise millions of dollars to fight hunger. He is 23 years old and plays for Manchester United, and could easily be focusing on accumulating sports cars, but instead he raises money for the poor. I’m sure this admirable young man wanted to be used in the match, but the manager was saving him and Bukayo Saka of Arsenal, who turns 20 on Sept. 5, for penalty kicks.
Both are Black; did I mention that? And while Southgate was consoling them on the field, the sneaks and cowards of the “social” media were making racial comments about the two late subs. So now that’s part of the legend, part of the complex.
* * *
In my earlier post, I wrote about old failures that haunt ancient soccer dynasties.
Italy and England, two nations with a toxic mix of entitlement and disillusionment, will meet Sunday in the finals of the Euros, the second best soccer tournament in the world.*
Fans of both countries can recite the failures, going back decades, with more facility than they can recall all the triumphs.
Italy has won four World Cups and the first Euro tournament, but the nation has a long case of ansia from every missed penalty kick in between – sturdy Captain Franco Baresi and creative Roberto Baggio, both suffering on bad legs, bravely taking PKs in the 1994 final -- and missing. It never goes away.
But England. Oy. England is riding a streak of 54 years without winning either of these tournaments.
Yet England dared to adopt as its theme song for the 2018 World Cup a ditty called “Football’s Coming Home,” and then England lost in the semifinals to Croatia, and France won the World Cup. France!
These years of English failure were recited, over and over again on Sunday by the ESPN broadcasting crew, Ian Darke (born in Portsmouth, UK) and Stewart Robson (born in Billericay, UK). I don't detect blatant rooting, like homer baseball broadcasters, urging “us” to score a few runs.
No, they knew their stuff about all the heinous moments in the past 54 years for the English side, and I don’t blame them for reciting the disasters for the folks watching ESPN. They were telling true stories.
Because American and English people share a common language, more or less, we Yanks have accepted English accents (whether or not Prof. Henry Higgins would approve of them) as the true soul of soccer.
To be fair, England is given credit as the modern home of the ancient sport of kicking stuff around – British sailors and workers bringing the game to the ports of South America, in the second half of the 19th Century, etc. etc.
Every year, every tournament, since 1966 looms even darker because of the wonderful event – England’s overtime victory over West Germany in the finals – at Wembley, the national stadium.
That match is probably the best-known in history because it is represented in the best sports documentary I have ever seen – “Goal!” written by Brian Glanville.
If an event like this can happen, English soccer must be the truth north of the sport, or so the theory goes.
England turns out to be the victim in two of the most famous plays in soccer history, at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when stumpy Diego Armando Maradona of Argentina elevated himself to the height of Peter Shilton, the English keeper, and obviously punched the ball into the net, stunning the incompetent ref into inaction. Nowadays, such villainy is detected by the official camera -- plus, goalkeepers tend to punch out the lights of an opponent who flies into their air space.
In that very same match in 1986, Maradona ran rings around all 11 defenders, or so it seemed, for the most circuitous and artistic goal in World Cup history.
Want more suffering? In 1998, in France, David Beckham, the matinee idol of England, was jostled by Argentina defender Diego Simeone, and flailed a leg at Simeone, who writhed, in apparent mortal pain, and the ref displayed a red card to Beckham, and Argentina advanced and England went home.
Every generation, England has its potential saviours -- Gary Lineker in 1990, and scamps who never quite made it happen like Wayne Rooney and Paul Gascoigne, known as Gazza.
Nowadays, English soccer has been upgraded from competition with wealthy European national leagues, as well as recruited talent from Latin America and Africa and nowadays even that longtime soccer wasteland, the United States.
And get this: the sparkplug for England on Wednesday was named Raheem -- Raheem Sterling. When I started watching world soccer, England's squad used to look like a Republican Party donors' picnic. All those white lads would dump the ball downfield and hope something happened.
As Wednesday’s match went into overtime, the broadcasters quite accurately recited, “just as it was in 1966!” As England won in a penalty shootout, the broadcasters talked about “England’s tortuous history.”
I almost felt sorry for English soccer – and I am a Mets fan since 1962. At least the Amazing Metsies have won two World Series.
Many Americans in my generation learned about soccer from my good friend Paul Gardner, a son of England, who came to America and wrote and broadcast about the sport he called “soccer,” not “football,” and he spoke of “zero-zero,” not “nil-nil,” to avoid sounding pretentious to the American ear. Andres Cantor, from Argentina, is known for his ululating “Gooooool!” call, but as a long-time resident of the U.S., he informs but never patronizes.
It would be great to have more “experts” in the U.S. with a broader, non-English viewpoint -- let's say an Italian bemoaning the missed penalty kicks over the eons or a Portuguese “expert” who can describe the drubbing inflicted on the great Eusebio in 1966 or a Brazilian who can discuss with passion the best team that ever participated in a World Cup – but neglected to win it, as beautiful Brazil did in 1982, while Italy purloined the World Cup with raffish zest.
As I have written in my book "Eight World Cups," that first World Cup made me an Azzurri fan for life. I got to interview Dino Zoff, the venerable keeper, and later met Claudio Gentile, who had beaten the daylights out of Maradona in 1982. I used to watch Serie A on some wavy-line TV channel in New York City, and a decade ago I met Gigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero (currently doing studio babble for ESPN) when Juventus paid a summer visit to the Stati Uniti. Del Piero told me, in English, "Your Italian better than my English" -- clear flattery, but charming nonetheless.
Yes, yes, I know, me mum was born in Liverpool, and spoke with English inflections for all her long and admirable life. Yes, I am proud of how the U.S. has, finally, developed world-level talent. But to this day, I love to watch the Italian players belt out the lyrics to the anthem, “Song of the Italians.” Long-time keeper Buffon is now retired but the Italians have another leader, Giorgio Chiellini, (with Buffon, above), who has the wrinkles of athletic old age and roars out the anthem, and jokes with opponents -- until the ref is not looking and he whacks and trips his opponents.
Yes, these have been terrible decades for sad, deprived Italy and England.
Now they will meet in Sunday’s final at Wembley.
Somebody will lose, and that nation will say: “Naturally.”
Somebody will win, and that nation will say: “Finally.”
* * *
*- The best tournament, of course, is the World Cup. The third best is the Copa América, which held a dream final Saturday at Rio’s famous Maracana Stadium, with Lionel Messi's Argentina beating between Neymar’s Brazil, 1-0.
* * *
(Complexes and failures aside, I am hooked on this video depiction of loyal, eccentric England fans; on Wednesday at kickoff, my pal Duncan-from-Arsenal sent me a terse email that said in its entirety: "Meat Pie." Do watch it.)
(This above masterpiece is from that innocent time when Robert Mueller investigated the goniffs.)
* * *
Who doesn’t love a perp walk, when an alleged suspect has to walk past a raggle-taggle media mob?
As a news reporter, back in the day, I stood on a city sidewalk and yelled questions at suspects and lawyers. Sometimes somebody would even say something.
I’ve been waiting for the ultimate perp walk for over four years, when the alleged perpetrator would have to bluster his way through the scrum, the way Messrs. Manaforte and Flynn and Stone had to do.
The way the porcine little accomplice Barr will have to do one of these days.
At least once a day, I ask my favorite news monitor: “Did they get him yet?”
Every so often, I watch the Youtube masterpiece, “From Russia With Love,” depicting many of the villains of recent years (but not the racist Stephen Miller; why not the racist Stephen Miller?)
I love the Vampira smile of the blonde turncoat, lurking in the shadows.
Actually, a lot of us are waiting for the big one. It may just be coming. But on Thursday I had to settle for the dumpy accountant Allen Weisselberg to get hauled into court, although the NYT made it clear the charges included the the Trump organization, not just the figures guy.
Everybody knows Weisselberg is the major facilitator for the shady Trump and his family – the phony “university,” the crooked “foundation,” the real-estate scams that now have residents lobbying to have the chiseler’s name chiseled off crumbling Trumpian facades.
Now Weisselberg has been summoned by the district attorney of New York City.
By mid-day, I had not seen a sidewalk scrum like the ones that nice Michael Cohen had to endure, but still, there was Mr. Weisselberg, court-mandated mask on, hands cuffed behind his back, being guided through a public hallway -- no tie on Mr. Weisselberg. Trés déclassé
I am sure somebody has told him his interesting options.
To flip, or not to flip.
“Mr. Weisselberg, we know you were merely following orders, weren’t you?”
This isn’t even the worst stuff suspected of Donald John Trump.
The rape charge. The payoffs. The racist policies in those badly-made buildings he and his father slapped up. And, if some legal mind wanted to try, the potential charges of dereliction of duty in the half a million avoidable American deaths in the ongoing Covid pandemic. And the sending of thugs (or, as Republicans call them, tourists) down Pennsylvania Ave. to tear apart the American government.
That’s all out there, gettable, somehow.
But right now, white-collar crime will do. Just for openers.
Al Capone on tax evasion.
The timing is perfect – just before the birthday of an idealistic country, not always perfect, but a beacon to the world, nonetheless, and now, maybe again.
“Mr. Weisselberg, you’ll be doing your country a favor. You could be a patriot."
Something to ponder over the long weekend.
Happy Fourth of July, Mr. Weisselberg.
Long before he won the Pulitzer Prize, Stephen Dunn helped win basketball games.
His soft jump shots from the outside floated into the basket, often enough to earn him the locker-room nickname, “Radar.”
His game was soft, gentle. His poetry had the impact of a subtle elbow, making its point.
He found himself along the road from the Queens playground to the Hofstra College gym to the gatherings where he read his poems.
We watched him soar, higher in poetry than he ever did in basketball, but always one of us, a bunch of Hofstra jocks – student-athletes, actually – plus, one former student publicist who became a journalist.
The quiet bloke at our table at Foley’s, the great sports pub, was a big-timer, with the 2001 Pulitzer to prove it, not that he ever brought it up. Radar was always quiet, modest, observant, and accurate.
The last time I talked to him, months ago, he allowed as how he was now confined to a wheelchair from Parkinson’s Disease, and his voice was so badly shot that a good friend would have to read his latest work at some Zoom poetry gathering. Then it got worse, and Stephen Dunn died Thursday on his 82nd birthday.
Stephen was another advertisement for the Hofstra of the late ‘50s – when Hofstra was stretching from a suburban commuter college, making a pitch for city kids – Francis Coppola from Queens, Lainie Kazan from Brooklyn, Tony Major from Florida and Harlem, and Stephen Dunn from Forest Hills, Queens.
Stephen won a starting job as a sophomore, was the second highest scorer, but always quietly, hesitant to roar. He was a first-generation college kid, and did not know how it all worked.
But on one of our big-time road trips all the way to Allentown or Gettysburg, he was listening to two older teammates, Sam Toperoff and Dick Pulaski, talking about "Moby-Dick," talking with enthusiasm and insight and opinions.
Wow, Radar thought. He began to pay more attention in class, began to work at his writing. That was one epiphany.
The other epiphany was next season, matching up with a new player on the team, from a basketball family. “He could block my jump shot. He could steal the ball from me,” Stephen wrote in an essay, “Basketball and Poetry: The Two Richies.” (This lovely essay is in “Walking Light; Essays and Memoirs,” W.W. Norton and Co., 1993.)
“No one could free me from Richie Swartz. Richie Swartz turned me inward to where doubts are, and doubts, while good for the poet, are bad for the athlete.”
(The “good Richie” was another teammate, Richie Goldstein, who once fed Stephen for 45 points in a Press League game.)
When Stephen Dunn was a celebrated poet, he would often read from this essay, and when he was finished lauding Richie Swartz, Stephen would add: “You son of a bitch,” but lovingly.
Stephen was still a core player on the 1959-60 team that won 23 games and lost 1, and crushingly was not invited to any post-season tournament. Stephen surprised himself by playing a season in the Eastern League, crowding into a car with more celebrated former college players, for weekends in Williamsport and Sunbury, Scranton and Camden. He was a pro. Then circuitously, he became a poet.
Dunn’s life and career are best appreciated in the obituary by Neil Genzlinger, in The New York Times:
Stephen Dunn lived his final decades in an aerie outside Frostburg, Md., with his wife, Barbara Hurd, also a writer, specializing in nature.
They held occasional soirees, with friends from around the region, people who liked to write and read and listen and talk. And his legs gave out, and his voice gave out, and on Thursday, all of him gave out.
Happy Birthday, Radar. You can get off your feet, your jumper arching perfectly, into the basket.
Happy Father’s Day…Best Wishes at Juneteenth….and hopes for a good and healthy summer for all.
My first present – there are others – was a lovely essay in The New York Times written by one David Vecsey. The essay proved (once again, to me) that it is hard for me, being the least talented and versatile among the five members of our family.
Marianne is an artist (more on that momentarily) and has a dozen other skills.
Laura was a poet first and then a really good news reporter and sports columnist at four major papers around the country, and is now a real-estate maven upstate.
Corinna worked in journalism (in Paris, later in New York) and is now a lawyer and consultant to feelgood projects in Pennsylvania.
David could have (should have) been a sports columnist but after some time in the Web world, he learned newspaper editing from some good teachers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and passed the editing test and tryout at the Times a decade ago, to our delighted surprise.
So….a father and husband can brag on Father’s Day.
My wife did it all. As David attests in his story, I was at the ballpark or typing in my room, putting in an appearance for meals or a catch or hoops or maybe a drive to Jones Beach or the city. I did take each of them with me on road trips to deepest America, not for games but for real life.
Marianne did the hard work, the parenting. And it shows.
They are all good parents.
They all can cook.
They all have spouses, Diane and Peter and Joelle, who match them, skill for skill, energy for energy, will for will, value for value. How blessed we are.
David is usually busy putting the last bit of polish on articles for the Print Hub (that is to say, “the paper.”) He’s been working at home the past year, and instead of riding the railroad he has been able to develop other corners of his brain.
In his younger days, he watched his mother cook, and sometimes went to the New York Philharmonic with her when I was away. He also watched her paint, in her “spare time,” late at night, her newest work materializing when we woke up in the morning.
Over the years, she won prizes, appeared in nice shows and galleries, sold around 300 paintings, some of them now around the world.
Recently, David asked if she had slides of her work, and yes, she had some tucked here and there. So he commandeered the slides, put them through the magic visual part of his computer, and turned some of them into posters and greeting cards, with themes and connections only his active mind could make.
He has put them online, displayed them at crafts shows on Long Island, placed them in some nice shops, mailed the work to Berlin, to England, and corners of the U.S. It’s all on a very modest scale, and by Dave’s decree, some of the money is going to charity. The point was never money, it was the art, the work, the product, the result.
I sit back and enjoy the smartphone pings from our scattered family.
They are the best gift, on Father’s Day.
* * *
You should be able to open David’s story online today:
For information on David’s project, Marianne’s work:
Like many people during the pandemic, we have been eating at home for well over a year – not hard duty for me, since my wife is a great and adventuresome cook.
She’s mostly cooking and eating vegetables these days, cutting back on meat and dairy to combat allergies. That’s great with me, since I’d rather eat vegetables than meat, generally.
I watched her prepare lunch today, noticing how many steps it takes to cook vegetables. (How astute on my part.)
While she cooked, I did some scut work around the kitchen – and had time to free-associate with each dish, and the memories attached to them.
1. Okra Past. Soft and fresh, mixed with crispy breadcrumbs doused with an almond-milk version yogurt, in olive oil. The sight of okra brought me back to a friend many years ago, who had a house in rural Appalachia. The kitchen faced south to a sunny patch where two different crops grew right outside the window, plenty of sun. One crop was not my department. The other was okra, which he cut from the vine without having to walk outside.
2. Walnuts Past. In another pan, my wife mixed walnut pieces with onions and mushrooms, sprinkled with natural sugar.
Why walnuts? She told me that on one of her child-care runs to Bangkok, she and colleagues would visit the outdoor markets and restaurants, in the relative cool of late evening. You could also purchase fish or meat, whatever vegetables you wanted, and a chef would toss it together in a wok, right in front of you.
She said another stall specialized in shelled walnuts in a sweet sauce. My guess is, from memory, she aced it.
3. Corn on the Cob Past. Nothing makes me happier about summer than the arrival of fresh Long Island corn. While I chomp away, I think back to hot summer evenings while our father was at work: Mom would take our large family to Cunningham Park (in Queens), a few blocks up the steep glacial hill. We would carry a dozen ears of corn, or maybe two dozen, and commandeer a vacant fireplace and bench in the shade, and start a fire, and fetch water and boil the corn.
My wife also has corn memories. On Sunday she nuked fresh corn in the microwave, but other times she twirls them over a flame, scorching them slightly, and sprinkling them with paprika.
An Indian friend taught her that here on Long Island, but my wife also ate corn during her 14 child-care trips to India. She has memories of meals in affluent homes as well as shacks in the slums, where people shared whatever they had.
(The Web says corn – maize – is mostly ground up for flour in India, but my wife set me straight: maize is also street food, strongly spiced, from stands in busy marketplaces – part of the life she came to love on her trips to Pune and Mumbai and other cities.
Food is more than vibrant tastes on our tongue; food can be a Proustian reminder of seasons past.
* * *
Got any vivid memories of food in other places and times? Please share.
Yes, yes, I know. I grew up (and suffered) when the Brooklyn Dodgers lived in the same town as the New York Giants and Yankees. (Bobby Thomson! Yogi Berra!) But that’s long gone.
I know all about the long Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, and the great football and basketball and hockey rivalries.
I covered Ohio State-Michigan football back in the day, and the glorious Lakers-Celtics finals in the mid-80s and Islanders-Rangers (The organ and the Potvin Chant in the Garden!)
But nothing is like Mexico-USA in soccer, for sheer nastiness, in a sport based on precious goals – and fueled by long-held stereotypes and resentments.
History lesson: you cannot be casual against the Mexicans. Planted in their memories is a computer chip from 1847 when Gen. Winfield Scott marched his troops from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. (“From the Halls of Montezuma….”)
The two squads had another episode of their rivalry Sunday night in Denver, in the finals of a regional tournament called the Nations Cup.
There were homophobic chants, apparently now a staple of Mexican “fans,” plus bottles and other stuff flying out of the stands, one hard object conking Gio Reyna, the 18-year-old wonderboy who had scored the first restorative goal for the U.S. ( Apparently, he is okay.)
All that stuff is deplorable, but the rivalry, the history, this great sport itself, is compelling. It held me for three hours in front of the tube Sunday night, watching the US rally twice for a 3-2 victory with repeated and late heroics.
The Mexican players are always fired up; sometimes the U.S. players need a reminder. At 60 seconds, an American defender made a super-cool pass to his right to clear the ball from goal mouth, but the Mexicans were in predatory gear and poached the pass for a goal, making the evening seem disastrous.
Hard lesson: You cannot be casual against Mexico, which has world-level talent, polished in some of the best leagues in Europe. The U.S. is just catching up.
Never forget. Three American former players in the pre-game TV booth remembered that lesson. In 2009, in a qualifying game for the World Cup, in that ominous, rumbling torture chamber known as Estadio Azteca, Charlie Davies scored against Mexico in only the 9th minute, and tore off toward the stands to exult, wherever American fans happened to be.
“See you later!” recalled Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu, his boothmates, two older players who also were on that field in 2009. They watched the talented, exuberant and innocent Davies strut into a barrage of debris from Mexican fans and quickly seek the safety of midfield.
(Oh, yes, Mexico rallied for a 2-1 victory in front of the home crowd that night. Tough place. I remember one U.S. match in Azteca, 2001, when the U.S. bus parked in a so-called secure area, only to be harassed by a lone heckler – a borracho, a drunk, a dwarf on a carpeted skateboard, given the run of the lot, rattling off Spanish and English maledictions at the visitors: Bienvenido a Azteca.
Every moment on the field is a battle. Personal. On Sunday, after a Mexican goal was disallowed because of a minimal offsides violation, Reyna, only 18, scored the equalizer in the 27th minute. In the stands, his parents, Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan Reyna, both former American players, celebrated.
I immediately flashed back to the best game I ever saw cool, selfless Claudio play, in the round of 16 in the 2002 World Cup in Jeonju, South Korea. He distributed the ball and defended and overtly set the tone for a 2-0 victory – also the best game I have ever seen the U.S. play, knocking out their rivals and moving into the quarters where they would lose, controversially, to Germany.
(That score was familiar, from a World Cup qualifier in a storm with wind and rain and evil greenish clouds, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2001, soon prompting a chant: “dos a cero!”) There were three other dos-a-cero American victories in that decade.
Sunday night’s game was not 2-0. Mexico scored and Gio Reyna tied it.
The American keeper, Zack Steffen, went out with a knee injury in the 69th minute, and his replacement, Ethan Horvath, hastily warmed up, getting more action than Steffen had, and responding marvelously.
Late in the overtime, two Mexicans put the squeeze on Christian Pulisic, the aging wonderboy, now all of 22, who went down, and drew the penalty kick. Pulisic coolly placed the ball in the upper-right corner (“where the spiders play,” said one of the American ex-players in the booth).
Some Mexican fans promptly unleashed a homophobic chant – against nobody in particular – and the regional officials threatened to halt the match and replay it Monday behind closed doors. (NB: most of the Mexico fans, many residing in the U.S., are sportsmanlike.)
“Bonkers,” was the perfect description of the mood swings, by my friend Steven Goff, longtime soccer correspondent for the Washington Post.
In the closing moments, Horvath had to defend a penalty kick by the venerable Mexican captain, Andres Guardado, just off the bench, and he dove to his right to punch away the shot for the victory. Later, as quoted by my man Goff, Horvath said he had been well prepared for tendencies during the week by his goalkeeper coach, using films from other Mexican matches. (My long-time colleague, Mike Woitalla of Soccer America, rated Horvath a 9/10 for his spontaneous heroics. Reyna and Pulisic were rated at 8/10.)
The U.S. celebrated – mostly toward the center of the field. Always a good idea. But the giddiness will fade quickly: Mexico still holds a series lead of 36 victories, 16 draws and 20 losses – and keeps producing talent.
(I was struck, particularly, by the skill and gall of Diego Lainez, all 128 pounds of him, three days short of 21, who plays for Real Betis in La Liga of Spain. Mexico could afford to save him for the 78th minute; he did not score until the 79th minute, and spent his spare time lobbying the field official.)
The rivals are probably fated to meet again in the qualifying stages for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Whenever they meet, there will be epic plays and mistakes and oaths and missiles from the stands, as well as moments of world-level soccer skills.
For me, whenever the two squads meet, in a “friendly” or a World Cup match, it’s the best rivalry in North America.
Try to access my NYT article from 2001, from the testing grounds of Azteca:
See if you can access the wrapup via that great asset, Soccer America:
Ditto, the Goff article in the WaPo:
Wikipedia has all the details of the Mexico-USA rivalry:
However she did it, Naomi Osaka found a way to catch the attention of all the people around her.
She dropped out of the French Open Monday, saying she has been suffering from depression since 2018. Whatever the circumstances, however she did it, she now gets better help, I hope.
Osaka rang the alarm by saying she didn't want to talk to the media, but now it is clear this is much more than a tantrum by a young adult.
My one question now is: who knew about her trouble? Who let it get this far? Did she have a worldwide number for a qualified counselor who knew her, who was reachable 24 hours a day?
One more thing: Tennis -- with a capital T -- is also to blame. I once knew a doctor who was appalled at the lack of consistent care these great athletes receive. Nothing was available for the next doc-on-call in the next continent to make a diagnosis. Maybe it's better now. But there Naomi Osaka was, in yet another great setting, in yet another Slam tournament, needing to shut it down. Everybody's meal ticket.
Did her parents know? Her coach? Her agent? Her hitting partner? Her physio? I am way out of tennis these days and know nothing of her and her "entourage." But she had to draw the line somewhere, and the media is a fine target, I don't blame her.
The tennis writers and commentators I know would be the first to say: brave lady, get some help, then come back. If you can. If you want. Be safe.
* * *
Here is Matthew Futterman's breaking news story from Paris:
* * *
(The following is my earlier piece.)
How much is it worth to not speak to the scurrilous wretches known as tennis writers?
It is refreshing to know that professional tennis pays so well that Naomi Osaka can willingly pay $15,000 to avoid one short session with the assassins and cut-throats of the press.
This was the going rate when Osaka ducked the media after her first round at the French Open on Sunday. She had promised not to speak, citing the threat to “mental health” from exposure to the troublemakers with pens and recording machines.
Up to now, Osaka has been known for becoming the best female player in the world and also becoming the highest paid female athlete in history, making $34.7-million dollars last year, according to Forbes.
As the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, representing Japan and growing up in the United States, she has worldwide appeal, and has often spoken out maturely on gender and racial issues. But suddenly, at 23, apparently on her own, she issued a manifesto that she would not appear at the mandatory conferences after every match.
Having covered these post-match conferences since I was younger than Osaka is now, I can attest to the rambling and scattershot tone of these sessions. Most of the accredited media members are from the tennis press – they know the sport, they are solicitous of the players, asking questions about on-court strategy, questionable officiating, luck of the bounce, and upcoming tournament plans. (“Will you be playing at Indian Wells this season?”)
Of course, there are also outliers – columnists, news reporters, and nowadays people representing websites and electronic media, looking for a snippet of quote or tantrum or tears.
Over the years, I have seen most of the enduring players adjust to sudden swerves of questions just as they adjust to swirling winds or glaring sunlight or capricious surfaces. Nobody gets to major tournaments without learning to cope.
Serena Williams deflects questions and criticisms with a combative mode. Her older sister Venus Williams does it with a distant manner; she doesn’t really know anything about this or that. But when they want, both are mature activists for themselves and good causes.
Many of the enfants terribles had their own defense mechanisms – John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors ramped up their obnoxious level, Andre Agassi retreated into a “whut?” response, Ivan Lendl could get haughty. Guys being guys. It got them through.
The best female players were even younger when they came along, facing questions that often veered into personal issues. Some of the female prodigies seemed preternaturally poised – Chris Evert, of course, as well as Pam Shriver and Steffi Graf and Tracy Austin and Martina Hingis and Ana Kournikova most of the time, even when some male reporters seemed to be summoning their inner Humbert Humberts in person and in print.
Female players had marvelous role models – the pioneers who fought for respect and prize money, most notably Billie Jean King. Some women had to face sniggering sexuality questions, most notably from the Beastie Boys of the British press, at post-match press conferences. I remember one female player being asked whether she was wearing an engagement ring from the woman in the family box.
The volunteer steward at the Wimbledon interview room in the '80s was a mannered scion of a major British firm, who would wave off some personal questions – “please, tennis questions only.” I have seen John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova tell him politely they were more than equal to the questions. Which they surely were.
Up to now, Naomi Osaka has been able to handle herself – on the court and in the media conferences. Her manifesto seems to have come from within, without advice from family or agent or coach or friends. Nobody seems to know the origin of her phrase “mental health,” but surely Osaka has seen players be mad or hurt by questions after a loss or a dispute. Perhaps she has been, also.
I can only hope she is talking with people who care for her, including veterans of the tour – Evert and Navratilova. I would suggests she check in with a Black pioneer like Leslie Allen of New York City, who was on the tour back in the day when prize and endorsement money was measured in tens and hundreds.
Unless there is more to Osaka’s angst than we know, she needs to remember that if she can face down the great players on today’s tour, she can handle the Beastie Boys (and Girls) in the media room. We’re the easy part.
With a growing sense of relief, I watched an American president demonstrate dignity in public.
Sometimes it just comes around the corner and strikes me: we have a functioning adult as our leader.
I wandered into our TV room Friday after a busy week and saw President Biden holding a press conference with his counterpart from South Korea, Moon Jae-in.
The tone was positive and informed as President Biden read his prepared remarks and then answered media questions. At one point he chided a male American questioner to be nice; clearly, they have a history. But it was said with a smile on both parts – a far cry from the ugly retorts, usually to female questioners, from the ignorant, preening brute we had until recently.
Instead, Joe Biden seems to be telling the country (and the world): we’re all in this together, we can do better, we can get along.
President Biden (I feel better just typing that) often speaks of his motivation to improve life for Americans. As David Brooks wrote recently after a telephone interview, President Biden often talks about his father’s suffering from a business going down, through no fault of his. Our president transfers his compassion to people who are not doing well.
I hear a tone from my younger days, now long, long ago. I can see my mother crying when she heard that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her father figure, had died on April 12, 1945. (I was 6; I had seen him campaign in Queens on a nasty, drizzly day in October.) FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt had helped carry this country through a depression and then a world war. They are the gold standard, for me.
I am surprised to think of Joe Biden in these terms. I was not impressed with him when he was a senator or even a vice president. I thought he was politically dead when he left New Hampshire and went to make his last stand in South Carolina in 2020. But he has grown, and grown, and grown.
Sometimes Presidents surprise. Harry S. Truman was derided as an unknown, a mediocrity, an accident, but he carried the U.S. from wartime into hopeful post-war growth. Coming from a leftward Democrat family, I tended to mock Dwight D. Eisenhower – but how centrist, how prepared, Ike seems now.
Time changes perspective. I reviled Lyndon B. Johnson for Vietnam but now appreciate his domestic policies; I scorned George W. Bush but now I envision him as the leader who jauntily fired a strike from the mound at Yankee Stadium shortly after 9-11.
Plus Michelle Obama likes him, that’s good enough for me, Let me put it this way: W makes a very decent ex-President.
Time and legal investigations will take care of the poseur who called in American terrorists to attack the Capitol, and forces his toadies to lie for him.
Meantime, President Biden restores a spring cleaning of the soul: dignity in the White House.
This President can take in information. He can read. He can speak precisely, in diplomatic codes. On Friday, I heard a former ambassador to Seoul, Christopher Hill, on MSNBC, analyzing the President’s performance: the diplomat said the President was telling the world he has his eye on the dangerous leader of North Korea; he gave South Korea major attention early in his term.
For starters, President Biden offered to vaccinate South Korean soldiers. (My wife and I went to the DMZ with the U.S. soccer team during the 2002 World Cup; we still remember the impressive American and South Korean troops, ready for anything, just steps from the border.)
Joe Biden has seen pain strike three generations of Bidens. Now he acts like a healer.
I don’t envy him, all the eruptions coming at him. I’m a few years older than he is, and I want a nap.
But going into the weekend, I feel a bit better at the sight of Joe Biden an informed adult, who wants to heal, not pillage.
Chinese faces and Southern accents.
Jewish women with Southern accents.
Black chefs talking about their specialties.
These are some of the highlights of a great new PBS series, “Somewhere South,” starring Vivian Howard, a chef now starring in a role she was born to play – a wandering correspondent with curiosity, exploring the food and histories of the diverse peoples of the Southland,
Howard is one of the great teachers who have enriched our lives in the past year, along with Lidia Bastianich, la maestra della cucina, and Margaret Renkl, one of the best reads in the NYT, explaining nature, literature and her native South.
Howard has been on TV for a while, on reality television, as she and her chef-husband, Ben Knight, established contemporary restaurants in her native coastal North Carolina. From their adventures and misadventures, Howard branched out a season ago, getting southerners to talk about their lives and their food.
I cannot cook at all – not a thing -- but I live well because of my wife’s eclectic and delicious cooking. As a journalist, I have also enjoyed my wandering around the South – some politics, some hard news, and a lot of time feeling the complexities. Now I enjoy watching Vivian Howard, a daughter of the South with a charming accent and a lively curiosity, as she gets Southerners to open up about their food and their lives, (One favorite moment was when a Korean-American chef sniffed at southern dumplings as essentially just doughballs.)
Howard finds the way ethnic specialties survive: one show features Jewish women’s way of making matzoh ball soup, followed by Chinese chefs showing Howard to crimp the dough just right.
Howard, it turns out, is a born journalist, not afraid to ask questions, eliciting the histories of her subjects. Chinese elders discussed how the older generation made money running restaurants and delicatessens, so their children could get educated and go into professions.
In one thoughtful segment, Howard talked with modern Black chefs, some of whom seemed to test her for any signs of patronization….and then they all relaxed and had a good talk and a few laughs.
Howard loves the South, much in the tradition of fellow North Carolinians -- Gene Roberts, the great NYT national editor who let me loose in Appalachia, and Charles Kuralt, the CBS host who roamed the country with a camera and his curiosity.
At times I find myself thinking of poor Anthony Bourdain, visiting places like Bahia, Brazil, bringing his lusty appetite for unique places, food, drink, music and people.
Two other great voices enriching the air waves belong to Lidia Bastianich and Margaret Renkl.
Bastianich survived the upheavals in northeast Italy in World War Two and is now entrenched in northeast Queens, a staple on TV. My wife understands the fine points; I love the way Lidia tosses off vital tips about how to simmer, how to sprinkle, how to chop. She is never patronizing, always generously maternal, sharing her tricks.
As a wannabe Italian, I love her zest for Italian culture and history – and always look forward to the end of her session -- tossing off her trademark “Tutti a tavola a mangiare.” – Everybody to the table to eat!
Lidia’s shows usually incorporated her beautiful mother, Erminia Motika, who passed peacefully at 100, this past Feb. 14. Our condolences a la famiglia.
Finally, I want to praise the NYT editors for installing Margaret Renkl as a highly literate voice on the NYT website and in print. Renkl is at her best explaining the nature around her home in Nashville (one of my favorite American cities), as well as the ways of her native Alabama and the Deep South. I loved her recent poetic appreciation of the 17-year cicadas, and why they are good for the ecology. Who knew?
My thanks to Vivian Howard, Lidia Bastianich and Margaret Renkl.
Mille grazie, you-all.
So many questions from Friday night's Mets game.
Who was that guy wearing No.76 who plunked a 35-foot dribbler to win the game?
Back in the day, they used to talk about banjo hitters. This guy could be a guitar hitter.
And Patrick Mazeika's moment of glory came on the very same week that a hoax was circulating that ZZ Top's guitarist , Bill Gibbons, was rumored to have died in a car crash. Total hoax.
Speaking of hoaxes, something happened in the runway behind the Mets' dugout Friday night.
Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, who had just botched a possible double play were the source of the commotion -- other Mets running down the steps to investigate something.
No problem, the lads assured reporters in the antiseptic pandemic press conference after the game. (No more sidling up to trusted sources in a crowded post-game clubhouse. Something precious has been lost in coverage of baseball and other sports. I always had a player or three in any clubhouse who would clarify stuff for me, quietly. Not gossip, usually....but a different perspective. Even for papers that cover clubs regularly, access is going, going....)
No fight, claimed Lindor, who had just crushed a game-tying homer in a season of grinding frustration. He and McNeil had been discussing, in raucous decibels, whether the giant beast they had both sighted was either a New York rat or a New York raccoon? Or was it a possum? Or one of our alligators from the marsh not far below the Mets' playground?
Nice try, boys. We New Yorkers can tell the difference, and so, I am sure, can you both.
Please coordinate your stories, and while you are at it, please coordinate your footwork around second base.
I can understand why Mets might be edgy these days. A few days ago, the Mets fired Chili Davis, a well-respected batting coach. (Reminds me of when the Mets fired my friend Bill Robinson to send a message to whom? the manager? the players?) Cheesy, either way, but Davis' firing highlighted the current make-it-up era. It didn't seem to dawn on the new owner, Steve Cohen, that fans will suss out the scapegoating of Davis. I guess that's how it goes in the hedge fund game. Now the Mets are being "run" by people who were second or third choices. No wonder tempers are fraught.
Plus, the domination by anonymous types in some underground bunker, running statistics through a computer. One result is defensive shifts, changing pitch by pitch, from hieroglyphics placed by the Analytics Crowd on plastic crib sheets, stuck in hip pockets, are confusing fielders.
Next time the mad analytics types are preparing their instructions for players who must react, in split seconds, to baseballs spinning in play, perhaps they could include photos to differentiate between rats (left) and raccoons (right.)
Meantime, fielders still have to deal with baseballs wriggling in play, put there by some new Met who looks like a ZZ Top musician. The human touch. That's our Mets.
It is dawning on me that the United States will never truly acknowledge the civilizations that were disrupted and ignored on “our” quest to take over a continent.
People who arrived here as slaves are one issue; I am talking here about the people who were here first – Native Americans, indigenous people, “them.”
The examples of ignorance just keep on coming.
I am thinking of some highly moronic words by Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, who has no respect for the civilizations that existed for many centuries before Europeans arrived.
I am also thinking of a stirring article in the April 19 issue of the New Yorker about an academic who spent a lifetime studying the language of the Penobscot people in Maine, helping save the language, to be sure, but in the end not giving a penny of his sizeable fortune to the Penobscot cause.
Let’s start with the blather from Santorum, who served two terms in the Senate, and recently spoke at the Young America’s Foundation “summit,” which was titled, “Standing up for Faith and Freedom.”
But whose faith, whose freedom?
“There was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture,” Santorum said.
Questioned about it, Santorum yammered on a bit. Never mind: we have had seen into his dark and ignorant heart.
“Rick Santorum is just saying what the majority of Americans silently believe – the only ‘real history’ is US history,” said Brett Chapman, a Native American attorney and descendant of Chief Standing Bear, the first Native Indian to win civil rights in the U.S.
“Everything centers around it,” Chapman added. “Many claim to appreciate and respect Native history yet know nothing about it. Let’s not act like he’s some lone wolf out there on this.”
I looked it up. Santorum’s father, Aldo Santorum, was an Italian emigrant, from Riva del Garda, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, and his mother, Catherine (Dughi), was born in Pennsylvania, of half Italian and half Irish ancestry.
As a proud carrier of an Irish passport, via my late grandmother from County Waterford, I think I can safely say: Irish and Italian immigrants were scorned by Anglo settlers who had already begun smugly looting North America, with God on their side.
As of today, Santorum still has his paid forum with CNN.
* * *
The other example of disrespect of Native Americans is the article by Alice Gregory in the New Yorker: “How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Come to Own an Indigenous Language?”
Gregory describes how Frank Siebert, a quirky scholar, became fascinated with the dying language of the Penobscot, whose reservation is based on Indian Island in the Penobscot River in Maine, north of Bangor.
Siebert arrived on the modest ferry from the mainland, sought out an elderly keeper of the language, and began keeping records by his own quirky methods.
Admirably, Siebert hired assistants like Carol Dana, a member of the tribe, who shared his interest and energy. Leaving his wife, Marion, and two daughters behind, he was based on the island, cataloguing the language but apparently without forming the bond or identity with the people.
The research and the memory of Carol Dana, now 70, , inform this stunning article, nine pages long, which I devoured in one sitting, and which I recommend most heartily.
When Siebert died on Jan. 23, 1998, Gregory writes, his collection was auctioned off by Sotheby’s: “The sale brought in more than $12.5 million. As stipulated in Siebert’s will, his daughters split the sum. Each bought a house for herself, and together they bought one for Marion. No provision was made for the Penobscot people.”
Gregory drily notes that Siebert “bequeathed his dictionary and his field-work materials to the American Philosophical Society, a scholarly organization, founded by Benjamin Franklin, in 1743, which is housed in a stately brick mansion in Philadelphia, a nine-hour drive from Indian Island.”
Gregory also notes that the society retains the intellectual property rights, and that visiting hours and conditions are rigidly controlled. She adds:
“In copying down the grammar, the stories, and the vocabulary of the Penobscot, Siebert made them his. In dying, he made them the American Philosophical Society’s.”
Siebert’s lack of generosity, the absence of respect, sounds cold,
However, former Sen. Rick Santorum, no doubt speaking for a huge segment of the white majority, could reassure us all, there was nothing much in the Native American culture when we invaded, and surely there is nothing worth bequeathing to the Penobscot people now.
Alice Gregory’s article in The New Yorker:
The Guardian's article about Santorum's ignorance:
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.
"People have said to me, ‘You’re fully vaccinated. Why are you being so careful?’” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m still in the camp of I don’t want to get Covid. I don’t want to get a breakthrough infection.”
---Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2021.