I have consulted with noted Talmudic and Jesuit scholars and am assured it is all right to watch the Super Bowl as long as one thinks pure thoughts of spring.
Say to yourself:
“I am watching it for the ads.”
“I am watching it for Renee Fleming.”
“I want to join the water-cooler conversation on Monday.”
“The TV just went on by itself.”
It looks as if the blizzard I predicted for this week hit the South instead. Oops.
New York is unscathed. Gov. Christie hasn’t shut down any bridges or tunnels, so far.
And six of us were on the East Side of Manhattan the other night, had a lovely meal at Teodora on E. 57 St. – and there was not a trace of Super Bowl in that part of Big Town. Not one button or chant.
Just repeat: Pitchers and Catchers. Pitchers and Catchers.
One fine day in Florida in 1962, Casey Stengel lined up five prospective starters. Sometimes when he released a player, he said he had to do it because the Mets expected to be contenders.
At one point the Mets were 12-19. Then they lost 17 straight.
These five pitchers were professionals, good people, a pleasure to be around.
Roger Craig was the ace with a 10-24 record.
Jay Hook was 8-19.
Robert L. Miller was 1-12. (The Mets later acquired a left-hander named Robert G. Miller. Casey solved it by calling the righty “Nelson.”)
Craig Anderson won both ends of a doubleheader in May. His record was 3-1. He finished with a 3-17 record that year, and lost three more decisions over the next two years. This is what I wrote about Anderson in 1993:
Alvin Jackson finished with an 8-20 record. He kept the ball low and Casey loved him. He was impossible to cover in autumn touch football games on Long Island. He still works for the Mets.
The Mets finished with a 40-120 record.
These hopeful faces invoke instant spring.
(The Mets’ records for 1962)
This photo refers backward to John McDermott's comment in my Eusebio posting from last week. We have our memories in North American sports -- Jim Brown trudging back to the huddle, Tom Gola doing it all for LaSalle, the Rocket bearing down on the net. But these days I am concentrating on the warm sport to get me through to spring training.
One day soon, but not soon enough,
Weary of the vapid sitcoms
And offensive commercials
We will grab the clicker
And summon the Grand Kabuki
A jittery old pitcher
Scuffing at the mound.
A kid we don’t know, pinch-hitting
For the first time in the majors.
Banging up against each other.
We will be transfixed by this duel between strangers
And we will dump Carmelo chucking it up,
And snowboarders, and bad movies,
The stupidity of 800 channels.
As my friend Ford writes,
Sitting out the winter in coastal Virginia,
Reading Blake, waiting for AA ball:
Hang in there.
On Friday – what else does one do in the grip of winter? – I posted photos of three sets of twins, separated at birth.
Then Peter Wilson sent in a link suggesting Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are the same person.
Saturday morning, one of the guests on "Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!" said he had a hard time telling Bieber and Hillary Swank apart.
Umm, I don’t think so.
Below, are the three original sets of twins.
I'm just saying.
I was stunned by the outpouring of love for Eusebio when I wrote his obituary for the Times on January 6. There were 64 comments before the NYT closed the dialogue, almost uniformly knowledgeable and reverential.
What was the attraction of the Portuguese star from Africa that made him a folk hero, more than 47 years after his marvelous World Cup? Why do soccer stars touch this nerve? I know soccer has its share of louts, and goodness knows, American sport has its A-Rods plus football stars making jackasses of themselves in public.
Beyond that is the love – there is no other word – for some soccer players of the past, who showed humanity and talent. Part of the appeal is the relative modest size of soccer players, then and now. Another part is the relative nakedness – men in shorts and jerseys, out there alone in the world. And the third part is the creativity, making something from nothing, on a field, un-manipulated by that American authority figure known as Coach.
I was touched by two emails I received from a lawyer in Miami, Peter Cunha, age 28, whom I have known for several years. I have his permission to use excerpts:
(By Peter Cunha)
“I was asleep last Sunday morning when my phone started ringing. It was my Dad, and I knew that something was wrong based on the timing of the call. He delivered the news through tears that Eusebio had passed away the night before. I was crushed. Not just because a legend had died, but also because my father’s childhood hero was gone.
“My father grew up the youngest of seven kids during the ‘50s and ‘60s in Salazar’s Portugal. His father was a farmer, and though they were happy as a family and respected in the community, they were really, really, poor, and they experienced a level of poverty that I doubt my mind will ever truly comprehend. As a child my father went Christmases without presents, and grew up in a house without running water. He recently told me this past summer, when we visited his hometown on vacation, that as a kid he never thought he would own a car or a house in his lifetime. The fact that he was able to overcome this poverty and become a successful and good person is only one of the reasons he’s the greatest man I’ve ever known.
“In these conditions of his youth, the brightest spot was soccer, and, more specifically, the 1966 World Cup. My father was eleven years old when it occurred, and to this day when he recounts his memories from that tournament his eyes illuminate like no other.
“In the U.S., every kid has heroes they draw from sports. The average fifth grader today probably goes from being Albert Pujols to Lebron James to Peyton Manning on a single Sunday afternoon when they’re playing in the local park. But to poor kids in Portugal in 1966, Eusebio wasn’t just a star, he was the sun: the brightest object visible to man and the center of the Portuguese universe.
“My Dad can still recite the starting lineup that Portugal fielded for that tournament, but more importantly, the personal memories he recalls spent watching and experiencing that tournament illustrate why sports is so important to society and why it’s more than just a game. The first time my father ever saw any instance of soccer on television was the Brazil-Portugal match that took place during that World Cup. It wasn’t his TV: a local priest had somehow obtained one for the match and relocated it to the local parish. For the equivalent of a nickel donation for admission, my father saw Pele, Eusebio, and televised soccer for the first time in the same 90 minutes.
“During the North Korea game, when Portugal went down, 3-0, my Dad left the house in tears to give some hay to the animals on the farm and get a jump start on the next day’s chores, convinced that Portugal were finished. When he had come back, my uncle told him that, led by the now legendary performance of Eusebio, Portugal had fought back and won. My Dad also remembered the England game when Portugal was eliminated, and how hard he cried when the final whistle blew.
“I’m pretty sure last Sunday, when my father called to tell me the news, were the first soccer-related tears he cried since 1966, including the heartbreaking loss we had to Greece in 2004 (he expressed more frustration than sadness in the latter). Later that day, I called him to see if he was coping. He was a bit better, but he was still upset, and he was holding back tears. He told me words I’ll never forget: “Taking away my parents, it was the only thing we had growing up. We were poor. We had no money for gifts or sweets. But we had Eusebio.’”
“Sports are a lot of different things to a lot of people. Some good, some bad. But for some people, it’s the only thing, and not in a Vince Lombardi or Bill Shankly way. I mean, quite literally, sport is the only thing that brings them joy in their lives. And that’s a powerful thing, which is why we’re sad to see it go when it’s gone.
“Though I was born in 1985, I was lucky enough to see Eusebio play twice in charity matches in Newark in the early ‘90s. I’m attaching a picture I took with him when I was no more than eight years old. I’m the one on the far left with Eusebio’s right hand on my shoulder, the same hand he used to pull the ball out of the net twice in that North Korea game.”
Eusebio famously rushed into the net to retrieve the ball while turning a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 victory. People still talk about that game, and Eusebio, 47 years later. I think Cunha nails the connection between the people and the people's sport.
The World Cup is coming around again in June.
The obituary and the comments:
But let’s not waste any more time on sordid subjects like Chris Christie’s office, which inconvenienced and endangered thousands trying to get across the bridge.
Let’s talk about something wholesome, like Alex Rodriguez.
We can only hope that A-Rod will stick to his promise – he is a man of his word – and take that sabbatical for the next year, like a college prof, catching up on his reading.
The funniest thing I heard in recent weeks was that A-Rod was planning to take spring training with the Yankees and play in the exhibitions. I checked, and according to the labor agreement players under suspension are entitled to take part in spring training.
Since it is quite likely the Yankee organization has been dropping dimes (old police phrase for informing) on A-Rod for a long time, it would have been delightful to see him emerge in Tampa, like a Ghost of Creatines Past. Put me in, Coach.
The second funniest thing about A-Rod was his including the Players Association in his little law suit. This nervy move was an insult to the contemporary association, which was re-directed by the late Michael Weiner. After the previous Donald Fehr regime had stonewalled the concept of testing and penalizing – widely accepted throughout world sport by that time – the Players Association took rational steps to acknowledge the conniving by a swath of its membership.
Weiner’s death from brain cancer last November was a double blow -- the loss of a nice human being as well as a visionary leader. Then A-Rod went and filed a suit on his own association. What a guy.
My friend Bill Rhoden has a provocative column in Saturday’s New York Times. Bill has a point that Major League Baseball deserves some of the blame for overlooking drug usage in the past generation. I particularly love the part of his column in which an Episcopal priest explains the psyche of A-Rod, comparing him to Michael Jackson.
It reminds me of the explanation of Rodriguez in a column I wrote last year.
* * *
Another baseball thought: A bunch of baseball writer-types were discussing the new instant-replay rule the other day. Most of us regret the swerve by baseball, turning the challenge into a piece of strategy, as outlined by Tony LaRussa in Tyler Kepner’s as-always thoughtful column.
The new gimmick allows a manager one challenge per game. But what if a couple of umpires suspect they got it wrong, and the manager chooses not to challenge? Isn’t the point of instant replay to get things right?
The shepherding of that challenge could touch off a dozen stalling tactics in a game, as the manager awaits a call from his techie, down in the bunkers. Longer games. Just what we need. More time for baseball to bombard us with witless noise.
* * *
Finally, it was instructive to watch the Sosas and McGwires and Palmeiros sink in the voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. If the voting writers are indeed the Everyman of the American psyche, the Enhanced Generation is not going to be well represented in Cooperstown in generations to come. I thought there might be some recognition of the great original talent of Bonds and Clemens, but that may never happen. Creeps are creeps.
Another interesting development from the recent Hall of Fame voting was Dan Le Batard, the preening television personality, turning over his vote to a web site. He said he was trying to prove a point, which remains obscure.
The interesting part is that a great newspaper like The New York Times does not allow its writers to vote for any award, sport or otherwise, because it does not want them to become the story, yet another agency can send out a popinjay who will waste a vote as a prank.
Le Batard is banished from the Baseball Writers for a year. He’s from South Florida. Perhaps he can spend his time covering A-Rod.
* * *
(But, look, if you are really into the Christie scandal, check out the latest great work by Steve Kornacki on msnbc.com on Saturday morning. And also check out the real-estate angle to the bridge scandal, from Laura Vecsey. She is the only journalist in the world to have covered Alex Rodriguez as a slender shortstop before turning attention to Gov. Christie.)
We keep learning more about that little town with the infamous toll booths near the George Washington Bridge.
For example: Buddy Hackett– the comedian with the rubbery face and reputation for salacious jokes -- used to live there.
I always associated Hackett with Brooklyn. New Utrecht High School. Living next door to Sandy Koufax's grandparents in Boro Park as a child. What was he doing across the bridge?
Turns out, Hackett bought the large home in Fort Lee that had belonged to Albert Anastasia, a leader of the mob, until an unfortunate incident in the barber’s chair in a Manhattan hotel in 1957. The incident did not involve a slip of the razor or the scissors, but rather automatic weapons used by two visitors.
I learned this from Alan Rubin, a frequent contributor to this site, a former goalkeeper with his own web site about soccer.
Alan wrote this the other day. It deserves a separate posting:
* * *
The Hacketts, at least his wife, kept a kosher home. Buddy tells of coming home very late from performing in Manhattan and wanting something to eat. In kosher homes, meat and dairy utensils are kept separate.
For some reason, he decided to use a meat knife to put cream cheese and jelly on a piece of toast. As by some heavenly signal, his wife woke and caught him.
She was FURIOUS and demanded that he kasher the knife (make it kosher again for meat) by burying it. She stormed off to bed and slammed the bedroom door. Hackett went outside to bury the knife and the door slammed behind him.
He rang the doorbell but his wife was so angry she refused to answer. He called her, below the bedroom window, but she refused to answer.
The neighbors hearing him banging on the door and shouting at his wife, called the police. Two cops came to the Hackett household and asked Buddy what was up. He started to tell them that he was locked out. He said his wife had been furious with him. And they saw the hole he had dug in a shrub bed and the meat knife, with a glistening red blade.
Also, Buddy was only wearing a short night gown. The police asked him to raise his hands, but he refused.
They took him in, wrapping the knife for evidence, and other cops forced the door open, expecting to find the wife lying on the floor. She was even more furious that the door had been broken down. At the police station, Hackett demanded that they examine the knife which they discovered was smeared with cream cheese and strawberry jelly.
There are many Jews who do not understand cleansing a knife by burial, but try explaining to Italian and Irish policemen at two in the morning wearing a short night gown.
Also, Buddy could tell a better story than Governor Christie.
That is what happens when you elect a clown rather than a comedian.
* * *
Ouch. With thanks to Alan Rubin, whose web site is:
Christie’s Bridge: There’s More Going on Down Below
Until very recently, I knew only a few things about Fort Lee, New Jersey:
1. One of my sisters lived there briefly. Somebody down the block broke into the house and stole stuff for drug money. They caught the thief.
2. I once blew a tire in a Christie-size pothole, coming back from the Meadowlands. The Port Authority truck guys changed my tire, free of charge. Months later, the PA’s insurance paid for a new tire.
3. I associate the George Washington Bridge with some of the most unpleasant hours in my working career – hours stuck in traffic coming back from mind-numbing Sunday football games, fans drunk and aggressive.
4. How frustrated I felt, going nowhere, watching the last exit ramp, tantalizingly empty, headed toward the mysterious bottomlands of Fort Lee. What was down there?
Now we know so much more about the GWB – beyond the big man making jokes about manning the cones himself.
Now we know that political types were playing with the lives of thousands of people for some vicious purpose. But what was it?
The other day, the journalist Laura Vecsey – who once nicknamed Alex Rodriguez Pay-Rod when he was fleeing Seattle and she was a sports columnist there – delved into the real-estate angle to the lane closings. In a piece for Zillow.com, Vecsey wrote about the development down below by another Sokolich.
On Sunday, Steve Kornacki, who knows where all the bodies are buried in New Jersey (that’s a figure of speech, a joke), delved into the real-estate angle on MSNBC:
Later, Laura Vecsey got back to the subject:
Who knew? That dark space in the New Jersey night is the center of the universe. It’s time to descend into the lower depths of Fort Lee to explore the sulfurous source of Bridgegate.
Christie Reminds Us of Which Steve Martin Skit? (Updated)
“Oh, no. Now who would do a thing like that?”
This was the old skit, in which Steve Martin, as a Roman centurion, steps in a bag of excrement, planted by the Vandals.
The words, funny on Saturday Night Live in 1979, came to mind this week as we learned that people from Gov. Christie’s office squeezed an approach to the George Washington Bridge for four days – and joked about it.
Who would do a thing like that – inconveniencing, endangering, thousands, maybe millions of people, to get back at a local mayor who had not endorsed Christie.
An old lady died after her ambulance was delayed. Her daughter doesn't seem to blame the slow care but the ambulance people say the little practical joke out of Trenton added minutes to the hospital run, while the public servants were making jokes on their email.
They all need to go. On Thursday Christie fired his assistant, somebody named Kelly, whose next job needs to be working at Dunkin Donuts or an Arby’s, where she can wait on the should-be-former governor. People had health and safety and lateness problems because of these latter-day Vandals.
Christie gave a long press conference that sounded to me like the cheesiest defense I have heard since a certain candidate defended his wife's cloth coat and his little dog Checkers.
Kids, check out this guy from 1952:
Now the question is, who would do a thing like that?
A few names came to mind.
As it happened, the ruinous transcript emerged on Jan. 8 – Elvis’s birthday. It was also the 50th anniversary of the State of the Union speech by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, when he proposed a war on poverty – a noble task, particularly in light of current callous members of Congress who do not care about the poor.
Johnson, a New Deal Democrat, had the War on Poverty right. But then he went power-crazy and wound up killing tens of thousands of his own troops and millions of Vietnamese because he could not admit a mistake.
He slinked out of office, announcing he would not run again in 1968.
Now who would do a thing like that?”
Nixon, I thought. Nixon.
He replaced LBJ as President, and within four years he was directing a campaign against his enemies. The other party, that is. He needed the Watergate burglary the way Christie needed to dump on the mayor of Fort Lee. Had to have revenge for slights, real or imagined.
Christie is an overt bully, so was Johnson. Nixon was more insidious, playing the smarm card at all times, rubbing his hands together, unctuously, but the tapes reveal his paranoia, his prejudices.
Where do we get these people? Is there some deep recess, or abscess, in the American soul that produces people like Johnson and Nixon and Christie? Do we like them? Admire them? Want to be them?
“Well, that's just sick! I guess this is just another example of the decline of the Roman Empire!”
Steve Martin’s Centurion had it right.
Here’s the transcript from the Vandals skit:
One of these years, the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame will exercise their collective memories of just how good Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were before and during their presumed use of performance-enhancing drugs.
But that time has not arrived in time for this year’s Hall of Fame voting, to be announced on Wednesday. It’s the Chernobyl effect. It will take a while for the region to feel safe from contamination.
Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Fame players, with or without the stuff, but baseball has dumped them into the workload of the poor baseball writers, and said, here, you decide.
(The New York Times does not allow its employees to vote for awards, sports or otherwise, and I still observe the guidelines. Our job is to report and comment on the news, not make it.)
Eventually the writers will get past the sense of guilt, self-imposed and external, and deal with what Bonds and Clemens did on the field, before testing, before penalties. It’s not the writers’ fault that the leaders of the Players Association played upon the weaknesses and needs of the owners and executives and players and sponsors, making drug-testing sound like an invasion of civil liberties rather than the safeguarding of rules. Because baseball kept it all hidden, the voting writers must deal annually with the question of who was guilty, who should pay the penalty.
I wouldn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens this time around because of the creep factor of their personalities, plus the things we know about them and their association with unsavory laboratories and enablers. And I certainly would not vote for Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro because I suspect their numbers are inflated by stuff they were taking. There are too many terrific players out there.
One thing writers and fans must do is factor in the expansion of baseball from 16 teams to 30, starting in 1961. More teams meant more great players and more great numbers. The high salaries and improved medicine and diet and training allowed players to dominate longer.
We cannot compare all players to the greatest players – Ruth, Mays, Johnson, Koufax. There are four or five levels in the Hall of Fame. We cannot hold endurance against players like Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Mike Piazza, Larry Walker and Jeff Kent.
I’d vote for Thomas this time. I also remember the arresting sound of Piazza’s bat sending the ball out in the direction of the dim-sum palaces in downtown Flushing. I’d vote for him -- next year – and would consider Martinez, the epitome of the designated hitter, a position I dislike, but that’s not his fault.
This year, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were dominant and enduring pitchers who deserve to go in on their first attempt. Both pitchers helped make the Braves the best team in their league – and in return their statistics gained from that dominance.
I’d vote for Jack Morris because he won big games and time is running out, and I’d be tempted to vote for Lee Smith because he was one of the great closers of all time.
Then there is the matter of Don Mattingly, Donnie Baseball, who carried the Yankees through the bad years. It’s easy to say he would be an automatic if he had not hurt his back in mid-career, which limited his power to 222 homers, while he batted .307 and remained a terrific first baseman. Still, as a New Yorker, I saw Roger Maris, Gil Hodges and Keith Hernandez excelling on offense and defense, and can understand their not being in the Hall of Fame.
I also think Pete Rose, the player, belongs in the Hall of Fame. One of Bud Selig’s final gestures should be making Rose eligible for the Hall, despite Pete’s addictive behavior. Put it on his plaque: arrogant blockhead. But Pete the player belongs. Eventually, Bonds and Clemens will belong, too. It’s not the writers’ fault that baseball did not want to know. But give it a decade.
Here are other links about the voting:
Hall of Fame candidate biographies:
Richard Sandomir from the quiet 2013 ceremonies in Cooperstown:
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.