Last Friday Sandy Koufax was chatting with fans at the Dodgers' spring base in Glendale, Ariz.
This photo was taken by Abe Schear, the Atlanta attorney who has been interviewing baseball people for years.
Later, Koufax was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Andre Ethier. He was conscious, with some blood on the side of his head, as he sat on a cart while being taken for treatment in the clubhouse. Koufax, who serves as an adviser and occasional tutor to young Dodger pitchers, assured reporters and players that he was fine. The story:
In another Brooklyn angle, MLB has come up with a video from spring training of 1945. Because of wartime travel restrictions, the Brooklyn Dodgers were training at Bear Mountain, above the Hudson River, north of New York City.
The video was sent to me by the former Mets pitcher, Bill Wakefield:
Leo (The Lip) Durocher, the manager, candidly says in that brassy voice of his that the Dodgers can’t get much worse, since they finished seventh the year before. Leo always did have opinions. He fusses at his wartime players, perhaps knowing that the Dodgers have stockpiled players named Hodges and Snider when the players come back from war.
Spotted briefly on the scruffy looking diamond are Dixie Walker (wearing No. 14 instead of No. 11) and Tommy Brown, (No. 9), all of 17 years old.
Also on the roster is Ben Chapman, the old Yankee outfielder, who was hanging on – as a pitcher. Chapman would pitch 10 games for the Dodgers that year. In 1947, he would become infamous as the Phillies’ manager, for racial heckling of Jackie Robinson. I never knew, until now, that Chapman had passed through the Dodgers toward the end of the war.
In 1947, when Chapman was not directing vile words from the dugout, Chapman and Robinson posed for a photo. My friend the photographer, John McDermott, wonders if we should even look at a photo of Chapman. I mainly stuck it on here because I was intrigued upon learning Chapman pitched for the Dodgers in 1945. John has a point.,
As somebody who could not watch a second of Jay Leno, ever, I was charmed by Jimmy Fallon’s first show Monday night.
I’m a total Letterman fan, attuned to his twitchy moods, his dark history, his world view, his infatuations – Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett. But Fallon can be an outlet during reruns, commercials, stupid pet tricks.
I love that Fallon is young (39), agile and musical. I love the brothers in the shades in his band (The Roots) and hope they get more of a chance to play whole riffs than Letterman allows Paul’s talented band to do, on air.
My one question about the Fallon show is the presence of his announcer pal Steve Higgins. As an old guy, I kept saying, “Why is Steve Allen standing there? Is he a ghost who materializes from the walls of the ancient studio?”
I also love the Spike Lee intro for Fallon – need to catch more of the references – and love the ‘30’s set, so New York, so Rockefeller Plaza. Two shows from The Greatest City in the World, as Letterman’s announcer used to call it.
Welcome to Big Town. It may be time to learn how to download TV shows.
The first baseball sighting was on the tube the other night. The Yankee network YES had the brilliant idea of showing a game last summer with Masahiro Tanaka facing the Tokyo Giants.
American broadcasters, aware of Japanese subtleties, were calling the game, pitch-by-pitch.
In real time, Tanaka was chartering a jet to get to New York.
My reaction to watching him pitch in the Tokyo Dome -- against those classic orange-and-black-trimmed Giants uniforms -- was that Tanaka was poised, and had a variety of pitches, but not a lot of power.
Will he be able to find the extra 5 mph he will need in MLB? Not evident from the few innings I saw. That's the Yankees' problem.
More important, I saw baseball being committed. Saw a dandy over-the-shoulder basket catch by a second baseman. And I saw a Giants pitcher wince when he did not get a third strike call from the umpire. Sure enough, he fell apart, started to groove the ball, and gave up four runs. Baseball in mid-season form, with all its human imperfections.
I did have one flashback. Playing for Rakuten was Kazuo Matsui, now 38 -- the other Matsui, as he is known in Queens. He is still the only major-league player to lead off three straight seasons with a home run, but Mets fans celebrated when he went to Colorado early in 2006. The Yankees kept their Matsui, much longer.
Now the Yankees have Tanaka and the Mets have Matsuzaka.
Meantime, my high-school pal Thor Larsen visited Scottsdale the other day and took a photo of the stadium, just waiting for
pitchers and catchers. Stay warm.
The great Pelé will be awarded an honorary doctorate at an academic conference on soccer at Hofstra University on Long Island from April 10 through 13. The star of Santos and the Brazilian World Cup champions and the New York Cosmos is associated with a new version of the Cosmos, who play at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. Over 100 speakers will be present.
I should have also written that one of my great regrets as a latecomer to soccer is that I never saw Pelé play. His Cosmos days were my Dalai Lama-JP II days. A fair trade, I guess. My pal Alex Yannis, who covered soccer for so many years, used to play in choose-up games with Pelé after that. Pelé is the nicest man -- yes, being himself, a great brand, but he cannot fake the warmth and love of his sport. I always talk to him about his friend Julio Mazzei, The Professor, who taught me so much. Being around Pelé is a jolt every time.
I will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon and plan to be around my alma mater on all days, learning more about the sport -- plus shamelessly plugging my book, “Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,” to be published by Times Books/Holt in mid-May, just before the World Cup in Brazil.
For further information:
And then there’s my book:
One of the most thoughtful of readers who connect to this page, Brian Savin, calls himself a “contrarian.” He has a point of view about Michael Sam, the college linebacker who has announced he is gay.
In the previous posting about the Mets, Brian wrote this:
In this day and age being gay gets you lead articles in the NYT, WSJ and a story covered in the first 60 seconds of every morning TV news show???? This is 2014 (albeit with a little 1964 Ed Sullivan thrown in yesterday). And they claim this Defensive Player of the Year is "projected" to be drafted in mid-third round?????!! You know what I think? (I'll tell you anyway.) I think this kid has latched onto the greatest sports agent who ever lived. He just somehow, some way moved the kid up to high second round, or maybe even first, and several million dollars. I'd like to hire this guy to be my agent for my retirement portfolio. Good hunting, Mr. Sam.
GV replies: I don’t think any athlete would welcome this kind of publicity strictly for its own sake. Any athlete knows there are players in his or her locker room who are prejudiced for religious or other reasons.
Just look at the front page of the NYT on Sunday, about gay men being whipped in northern Nigeria. We’ve got some psychological hand-choppers in various religions right here in the U.S. I know some.
Thank goodness for Pope Francis asking, "Who am I to judge?" The funny thing is watching his cardinals trying to walk back the Pope's comments.
It sounds as if Sam has been surrounded by support in his college career. It may be a smart business/life decision to get this out before the meat-market workouts by the NFL, coming soon. It’s out. No whispers. Will this make money for Michael Sam – or get him shunted to a lower draft round because he did not “test out well?”
Let me ask this: with all the big men, regulars or backups, getting injured this NBA season, has Jason Collins, one of the most positive professionals, gotten a call since coming out last year? Good luck to Michael Sam.
This Met fan I know, up north, thought he was ready for pitchers and catchers and all the rest of it.
Then, even while slipping and sliding on the ice, he began to think about the alleged warming powers of spring training.
That implies preparation for another season.
He can’t remember the last time the Mets had hope. His two favorite players last season were Marlon Byrd and LaTroy Hawkins, grownups, gamers. The Mets didn’t keep them.
Instead, in the Age of Madoff, the Mets have signed Kyle Farnsworth and Daisuke Matsuzaka and they are bringing back Duda and Tejada.
My man would like to be warmed by the prospect of another season. But now he’s not sure. Should he actually obsess about a 2014 season?
A good actor always knows his cues. The last loads of Super Bowl schleppers were being hauled back to civilization when Derek Jeter entered, stage right.
Jeter took batting practice on the field in Tampa Monday and said he was fine. Of course, he says that when he has broken bones.
Funny thing. I was thinking of Jeter last Thursday while watching the current London production of Coriolanus, in our favorite movie house in Kew Gardens, Queens.
It seemed to me that the star, Tom Hiddleston, resembled the Yankee captain: A star. A distant star. But a star, nonetheless.
Probably not a good recommendation for the production, if your mind wanders like that. Hiddleston is popular with young audiences. (The Queens audience skewed decades younger than usual for the mid-week production, live from the UK.)
We saw Ian McKellan play Coriolanus at the National Theatre in 1984, for goodness' sakes. McKellan was 45, an aging and properly arrogant soldier-survivor. Hiddleston looks like a star shortstop.
With my mind wandering from this pop version of Shakespeare, I found myself hoping Jeter has one more good year left in him. This is no fun, even for somebody emphatically not a Yankee fan, to watch the wheels fall off one of the signature players of our time.
Jeter has started the rallies, clapping his hands as he reached second base, standing up, staring back at the dugout, as if saying, “Next!”
He retrieved a wayward baseball and retired a knucklehead who did not bother to slide. (One of my favorite columns:)
Jeter has also played an extremely dependable shortstop.
He is the Yankee captain. He doesn’t give much of himself away, but he represents the team. Coriolanus would respect him.
Is it too much to ask that Derek Jeter be healthy and productive for one more season, clapping his hands at second base and retiring knuckleheads?
Plus, he knows his theatre. Football exits, stage left. The captain walks out on the field.
The aggressive swarm of Seattle Seahawks reminded me of a young HC of the NYJ.
Not Bill Belichick, but Pete Carroll.
Carroll was the new head coach in 1994. He had an outdoor basket put up in the Jets’ bunker, on the theory that team members might enjoy shooting hoops in their spare time.
Some football people snickered at this unorthodox maybe-Left-Coast way of doing things. The Jets went 6-10 and Carroll was fired by the owner, Leon Hess, the oil man who used to tell a Times reporter to please not write that Hess had visited Jets’ camp because he was supposed to be in the office.
Carroll later coached the Patriots and won a national title at Southern California, where he ran around at night with youth gangs, urging members not to tear up their world.
Now the Seahawks have humbled the Broncos, showing not only speed and power but also the flexibility to make big plays. They could react, not just follow orders.
I thought about the outdoor basket at the Jets’ bunker, and the new coach who had a somewhat different way of doing things.
* * *
There was another moral to the Super Bowl. The NFL tempted fate by putting a Super Bowl in a northern clime, in what is turning out to be a nasty winter. Some gloom-and-doom types, no names mentioned, forecast a blizzard.
But the Giants built pro football in New York by selling a few hundred extra tickets on Sunday mornings when rain or snow or chill somehow dissipated and people felt like going out to watch a game. In New York, this glorious tradition is known as Mara Weather, after the family that still owns half the team.
The Super Bowl was played on an early November or early April day. Mara Weather. Never, ever, forget it.
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.