THIS JUST IN
My friend Ron Swoboda has some thoughts on the steroid-era players. Now a broadcaster in his long-time home in New Orleans, Swoboda admits that he and other players from the 60’s have no idea what decisions they would have made if the stuff had been available back then.
If I was the new commish coming in the front door I'd try to figure out how to bring all of God's wayward children into the Hall. Even if it meant admitting that baseball was lax on steroids when Sosa and McGwire were bringing fans back to the game after the stupidity of 1994. Of course, the players would all have to own up to their transgressions as well. Then after the truth has set us all free, we have the players in the Hall who belong there and a good set of rules and blood checks to go forward with.
Since I'm not in any danger of becoming commish, these musings come cheap.
Your thoughts? (Comments Below)
I couldn’t wait for a baseball game so I popped in a DVD for one of my favorite baseball movies.
I love “Eight Men Out” for the Dixieland music and vintage suits and funky hotel lobbies and ball parks – also for the loving look at the game even in a dirty time, the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Well, I guess all times are dirty. Baseball currently has two separate scandals hanging over it. One involves Pete Rose, who bet on games while managing, and then lied about it. I am conflicted about Rose, a total knucklehead who gave me a great amount of enjoyment as writer and fan.
I think Pete played honest, although we all knew he had a major gambling jones and ultimately broke the major rule of baseball – No Gambling. I wish Rose the player were eligible for the Hall of Fame – but I don’t know I would make that decision if I were commissioner.
Then there is the whole steroid generation, when the union fought testing, for reasons I am sure the union leaders understood. No player identified or suspected as a steroid user has later been voted into the Hall by the writers. Some come back as coaches and guests at old-timers’ games and some just vanish with bloated home-run and strikeout totals.
Now Alex Rodriguez, the ghost of scandals past, is haunting Yankee camp, yawning his way through first-base practice. What a chump. But the Yankees and baseball are legally stuck with him, no doubt hoping he breaks a leg taking grounders, and the insurance kicks in.
What are we going to do with all those specters? A friend of mine says baseball writers of the past generation will never vote for suspected users because of guilty consciences for not breaking the story. Fair enough. I do not vote because the Times does not want its writers making news; I also never had proof of anything, except what my eyes told me about body sizes, and what common sense said about union stonewalling.
Apparently, some writers did suspect some White Sox players were throwing the 1919 World Series. I love “Eight Men Out” because I am a huge John Sayles fan but also because I was there when they were filming it – in Indianapolis, an old ballpark – and also because I wrote about how D.B. Sweeney learned to hit left-handed to portray Shoeless Joe Jackson.
I love the movie for the portrayal of a cheapskate owner and a hanging judge turned commissioner who channeled eight players of varying guilt into a lifetime ban. I love the image of the great David Strathairn as a pitcher, Ed Cicotte, who is cheated out of a bonus, and John Cusack as a tormented infielder, Buck Weaver, who plays it straight, but will not squeal. The gamblers and thugs and cynical sportswriters and innocent wives are all part of a beautiful American period piece.
Today, would Shoeless Joe Jackson (.375 in that Series) and Buck Weaver (.324) be included along with the core fixers? I do not feel any sympathy for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and A-Rod, great players who got in deep, as far as I can see.
But the game goes on. I helped myself to a seasonal preview in “Eight Men Out” – dirt, grass, finger signals, wood on ball, clunk of ball on an outfield fence, and a Dixieland band. Hang in there.
Looking for a poem about work, for my visit to a New York high school, I came across “Let America Be America Again,” by Langston Hughes. It is as contemporary as the current flap over Rudolph Giuliani’s comments about President Obama.
The President, a graceful writer, has often talked about his love for America, as it is, as it could be. Giuliani, particularly disappointingly for a New Yorker, deliberately overlooks the President’s body of work.
Langston Hughes, writing in a time of lynching and outright segregation, begins his poem this way:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Hughes then touches on the aspirations in this country:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
But near the end, Hughes raises what sounds to me like a prayer of hope:
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
The high-school class I visited had mature young people from other lands -- young women in head scarves, several young men from Asia, a young woman from Mexico about to begin an internship, a young woman from Ecuador who in two years has learned to speak English almost perfectly.
It’s Black History Month. I wanted them to share the hope I feel when I listen to President Obama, the hope I feel when I listen to Langston Hughes.
On Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 9 PM, Terrance McKnight will host a show about the pianist Hazel Scott on WQXR-FM.
And as a bonus, here is “I’ve Known Rivers,” a jazz version of Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” performed by Gary Bartz:
For business reasons, my friend had to stay overnight in Queens. His hotel window looked out on the architectural jumble that is New Shea and the lumpy mounds of Chop Shop City (foreground), under ice and snow.
The good news is that the ball park did not sink into the muck over the winter. In this most unlovely of places, something glorious will happen on April 13, the home opener against the Phillies. Perhaps the Yankees will also be starting another season around then.
My question is, what is it that baseball junkies miss the most in the off-season?
Is it the games themselves -- outfielders going back on a fly ball, hitters putting the ball in play to advance a runner, the fundamentals that drive the sport?
Is it the arguments, of theological nature, about saving a few seconds on every pitch, or the use of instant replay, or all the new mathematical gauges?
Shaun Clancy of the Irish baseball pub Foley's on W. 33 St. advances the theory that it is history: something we see today reminds us of the past. It is true. Juan Lagares, going back on a ball, reminds me of Curt Flood, 40 years ago.
A pitcher who can hit in the National League, where they play Real Baseball, reminds me of Don Newcombe or Bob Lemon or Bob Gibson. Then we start arguing about the Designated Hitter gimmick. If we start now, we may settle things by opening day.
What do you miss in the off-season?
Óscar Arnulfo Romero seemed like a holy man -- including his very real danger of martyrdom. Now the Roman Catholic Church has confirmed the late archbishop of El Salvador as a martyr, a major step toward sainthood.
I met him in Mexico in February of 1979 when I was covering a regional conference of bishops and cardinals in Puebla. My colleague Alan Riding, who was based in Mexico, knew Romero quite well, and sought him out.
Standing on a street corner, they spoke and I tried to follow with my poor Spanish. My impression was of an austere man who was unafraid to speak with a reporter from The New York Times. I later learned that he spurned all luxuries back in San Salvador, insisting on a modest apartment, where he slept in a hammock, peasant-style.
Archbishop Romero was associated with Liberation Theology, the concept that Christ’s teachings must be applied in an option for the poor. Romero said, “There are two theologies of liberation. One is that which sees liberation only as material liberation. The other is that of Paul VI. I am with Paul VI.”
But what did the new Pope think? John Paul II, the former Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, was making his first trip out of Italy since his selection the previous fall. The world was awaiting his vision, which was delivered in the crowded Zócalo, the ancient center of the Aztec city, once named Tenochtitlan.
The Pope's views can be interpreted many different ways. It sounded to me that he had suggested priests and nuns get back into uniform and stick to administering the sacraments. If so, it seemed quite likely that Oscar Arnulfo Romero had been set up as an enemy, a radical, although the cardinals tried to deny the Pope would ever be so overtly political.
The Pope went back to the Vatican and the conference began in Puebla, on the other side of the twin volcanoes. I requested an interview with Archbishop Romero, and was honored when he slipped out of a conference for a few minutes. In the wintry sunshine, I asked him, as best I could, if he thought the public interpretation of the Pope’s message could be dangerous to people working with the poor in Latin America.
I have lost my notes -- and the brief conversation never got into print – but the Archbishop understood my question. The danger had been ratcheted up.
On March 24, 1980, I was driving in Florida and heard that Archbishop Romero had been shot once in the chest while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. Tears in my eyes, I had trouble staying on the road. That December, four American nuns were raped and killed by soldiers in El Salvador. I had met heroic nuns like that in Mexico; I think of them often.
For over three decades, people have been compiling their memories of Romero – how he climbed hillsides to deliver Communion to the peasants, how he dealt with Vatican bureaucrats while watching his priests get knocked off.
The current Pope, Francis I – who saw murderous activity up close in his homeland of Argentina – has encouraged the process to honor Archbishop Romero. The Pope has asked “Who am I to judge?” about gay people and is currently installing bathrooms and showers for the homeless off St. Peter’s Square. He reminds me of the cleric I met in 1979, the man with the kind, fearless eyes.
Anybody remember the movie “The Hustler” – Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in a contest of pool talent, and guile, and will.
Newman is Fast Eddie and Gleason is Minnesota Fats.
I thought about “The Hustler” this week when I read about the latest verdict in the Lance Armstrong saga – an arbitration ruling that Lance owes $10-million to the man and the company that made a legal insurance bet about how many Tours de France Lance could win.
Even when witnesses like Betsy Andreu provided extremely creditable testimony that Lance had been doping all along, Armstrong was sure he could bluster his way through.
Even when Lance admitted – on Oprah, America’s ultimate confessional – that he had cheated, he seemed to think he could avoid this judgment from a three-person panel.
I once interviewed Bob Hamman, the world-level bridge champion and proprietor of SCA, a company that makes insurance policies on odd events. He was in from Dallas, and used somebody’s board room for our interview. He exuded power and money.
In her knowing column in the Times on Tuesday, my colleague Juliet Macur wrote: “In going up against Hamman, who is 76, white-haired and stocky, Armstrong underestimated his competition.”
That reminded me of the scene in the “The Hustler” in which Fast Eddie makes a midnight challenge to Minnesota Fats, who returns, all shaven and dressed, for another round.
Eddie: (unsteadily) You look beautiful, Fats, just like a baby, all pink and powdered up. (In contrast, he looks down at his own ragged, wrinkled shirt.)
What follows -- I am not surprising anybody about a 1961 classic -- is the pool equivalent of a $10-million arbitration.
The common denominator between the Newman character and Lance is callow arrogance. Fast Eddie had only a small-time manager but Armstrong had lawyers and investors from a murky company called Tailwind. Captains of 1990’s financial entitlement assured Lance that nothing could go wrong, go wrong, go wrong. And Fast Lance believed them.
He still does not get it, as Macur reminds us, bringing up the recent episode in which Armstrong’s lady friend tried to take the rap for an auto collision, to keep Lance out of it. How gallant of him. What does Oprah think about that?
I want to swerve here and note how much Armstrong has meant to some people touched by cancer. He truly did survive a terrible bout with cancer, and he put himself out front as an example – and he still does. I heard about him recently reaching out to an amateur cyclist who has been stunned by a cancer diagnosis. He deserves that slice of respect for what he means to cancer patients.
I also need to say that, despite all the things we know about him, I keep rooting for Armstrong to get it. Meantime, he says he is going to challenge the arbitration ruling.
What does the insurance version of Minnesota Fats have to say about this? The terrific reporter Macur quotes the lawyer for SCA: “This is just a very good start to getting SCA full compensation. Oh, no, we’re not finished with Mr. Armstrong yet.”
I don’t remember that line from “The Hustler.” But this is real life, isn’t it.
The Times put David Carr on the front page, above the fold, as well they should.
He gave everything he had until he collapsed in the office Thursday evening and passed at 58.
He was a voice, an honest voice, a reliable voice, a smart voice.
I never met him – that happens at such a large paper – but I read him, and I knew about him, his long addiction, his rehabs, which only made me respect what he accomplished even more, but mostly I knew him through the digging he did and the insights he provided.
He was burning it in recent days -- my wife said he looked like hell on the tube early Thursday -- explaining all the breaking media news. I can only guess at the high-wire act to write, edit and print the obituary on the front page, in literally minutes, before the first edition of “the paper.That tangible part of journalism still matters in these digital times, as David Carr noted so well.
* * *
With homage to that great pro, I’d like to drop a few other current thoughts on the media:
*- I have never totally trusted the concept of the anchor, those great men and occasional women, who spoon-feed us the news on television. I grew up on Edward R, Murrow and his CBS colleagues at the end of the war. They were reporters; today’s anchors are performers. I always thought Brian Williams was a symptom of the time -- show biz. I’ve often wondered when anchors are preening in front of the camera how they managed to do any reporting.
*- Bob Simon of CBS was the real deal, a correspondent who went to all those places, with a staff, of course, but also with reporter smarts. When he reported on 60 Minutes, you knew he had done the homework. His death in an auto crash brought out a very impressive detail: he had just worked on a piece on Ebola medicine, at the age of 73.
*- I’ve always been leery of the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert school. They are funny, but perhaps without meaning to they have insinuated themselves ahead of reality. For the new generation that does not read newspapers, they are the first line of information. Kids hear about vital events from a very savvy adult making yuks on the tube. Not Stewart’s fault. Our fault.
Stewart’s remark to Brian Williams’ face is classic: “You don’t write any of that stuff,” Stewart told Williams, as David Carr reported on his final day. “They take you out of the vegetable crisper five minutes before the show and they put you in front of something that is spelled out phonetically. I know how this goes.”
*-And finally, I have no problem with President Obama’s video for BuzzFeed, to promote the program bringing health care to more people. (How dare he!) We all know Obama is a writer and a performer and a wannabe hoopster. He made me and my wife – who predicted his victory in 2007 – roar with his delivery in the BuzzFeed video. Some people may fret that the President demeans the office. (That is Boehner's and McConnell's job.) I say, let the man have a few minutes of fun.
Watching the current Inoculation Frolics, I was reminded of my recent reading of the superb biography, “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,” by Robert K., Massie.
In the spring of 1767, smallpox was rampaging through Russia. Catherine II, the German-born, French-speaking empress of Russia, saw a beautiful young countess die in mid-May. After that, Catherine took her young son and heir, Paul, into the countryside, avoiding all public gatherings.
Catherine was well aware that smallpox vaccination was being done in western Europe and the British colonies. (Thomas Jefferson, 23, the squire of Monticello, had himself inoculated in 1767.)
She sent for Dr. Thomas Dimsdale, 56, of Edinburgh, who arrived in August of 1768 and cautiously tried to inoculate other women before the empress, just to prove his process worked. (Massie notes that Dimsdale proclaimed Catherine, 39, “of all that I ever saw of her sex, the most engaging.”)
However, Catherine bravely insisted she go first and he took a sample of smallpox from a peasant boy, Alexander Markov, and inoculated the empress on Oct. 12, 1768. She developed the anticipated modest amount of pustules and illness but was back in public by Nov. 1.
The doctor inoculated 140 people in St. Petersburg and another 50 in Moscow, including Catherine’s son and grandson. Before Dimsdale returned to Scotland, she rewarded him with 10,000 pounds and a lifetime annuity. By 1800, over 2 million Russians had been inoculated.
The final word belongs to Voltaire, as it often does. The French philosopher was a regular correspondent with Catherine, although they never met. Massie writes:
“Catherine’s willingness to be inoculated attracted favorable notice in western Europe. Voltaire compared what she had allowed Dimsdale to do with the ridiculous views and practices of ‘our most argumentative charlatans in our medical schools.’”
Fortunately, in these enlightened times, we do not have any “argumentative charlatans.”
(My mother-in-law passed recently at the age of ninety-three. Her grand-daughter, Corinna V. Wilson, composed an obituary, from fond memories.)
By Corinna V. Wilson
On February 1, my grandmother, Mary Mase, passed away. She lived many years in Levittown and Shelter Island NY; Bloomsburg and Camp Hill, PA, and Leesburg, FL.
Mary Betsy Grundy was born on April 3, 1921 in Ledyard, Connecticut. She and her twin brother Elwin were the second and third of eight children born to Betsy Crouch and Harold Grundy. Harold had emigrated from England as a young man while Betsy’s family had been in the United States since 1633, when Noah Whipple landed in the colony of Massachusetts. One of my grandmother’s ancestors, Stephen Hopkins, signed the Declaration of Independence on behalf of the new state of Rhode Island.
Life on the Grundy farm was not easy, and Mary told stories of selling apples door-to-door during the Depression and of the kids going without shoes in the summer to save money. To survive, Harold got a job on the railroad, Betsy opened a bakery in New Haven, and the family operated a boarding house in Orange. Later, they moved to a farm in Waterbury, where Mary met her future and former husband, George Graham.
Mary always said that the invention of double-knit was the greatest thing because she had ironed all of the laundry for her big family and their boarders and really didn’t want to iron ever again. To the end, Mary was also a tremendous baker and could teach anyone how to make the perfect pie crust.
The Grundys were religious people, and Mary’s deep faith in God sustained her throughout her entire life. She often spoke of talking with Jesus directly and of his multiple interventions in her life.
Mary was preceded in death by only two of her siblings – her twin and her baby brother, Tommy. Donald, Harold, Pearl, Bettina, and Lila all survive her and are still formidable in their own right.
Mary was also predeceased by her son, Edward Mase. Her remaining four children, Marianne (my mother), George Lauren (Larry), Peter, and Rachel survive. Mary has 16 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
Mary married her second husband, our “Grampa,” Richard Mase, in 1947. After his death in 1988, Mary remarried two more times, to Ariel Eisenhauer and Marlin Reisinger. Still attractive to the end, Mary received a marriage proposal when she was just shy of 90, which she declined, despite the amused teasing of her grandchildren that she could be like the Pittsburgh Steelers and have “one for the thumb.”
Mary’s long life had many chapters. She was a jewelry model and worked in a munitions plant in Groton during World War II, an original “Rosie the Riveter.” She was an accomplished seamstress and quilter. She made the best gravy of anyone, ever, and her pin always matched her blouse. She taught her grandchildren how to clam the sandbars of Long Island and she prided herself on being a homemaker and a perfect size 6.
Ninety three years is a long time to live and our family is going to have to adjust to her absence.
(We are thankful to Corinna for expressing what we feel.)
Sometimes in sports, it is possible to over-think.
We saw that in the Super Bowl when the Seahawks coaches decided to “waste” a down by putting the ball in the air at the goal line. Some waste.
New Yorkers are watching an entire basketball season get wasted as the Knicks stumble around the court, consulting copies of a textbook titled “Triangle Offense.”
The flawed reasoning is clear in Harvey Araton’s fascinating luncheon interview with Phil Jackson in Wednesday’s Times – too old New York hands talking hoops.
What I take away from the candid conversation is that even very smart and successful people like Jackson can over-think. I am reminded of that in the computer age,when people belatedly employ statistical analysis to what athletes and coaches did on the field, on the fly.
The 2014 World Series ended with the tying run on third base for Kansas City. Many hours afterward, the great Nate Silver – who aced the 2012 presidential election –wrote that the runner should have been sent home as the ball was kicked around in left field. Silver came up with statistics that the tying run scores from third with two outs only 25-27 percent of the time.
Silver suggested that the Royals were not likely to get another hit off Madison Bumgarner and postulated that a collision at home plate would have favored the Royals because of rule changes since Buster Posey of the Giants had his leg broken in a collision in 2011. I found that specious over-thinking because Posey remains a tough and resourceful catcher.
Having seen the play as it happened, on television, and in many replays, I go along with the decision by the Royals’ third-base coach – Mike Jirschele, a baseball lifer – as he lined up the wayward ball, the butterfingered Giants fielders, and the hitter, Alex Gordon, as he steamed toward third.
This was a decision on the fly that journalists and numbers crunchers will never have to make.
If the coach had tried to remember the statistical probabilities of tying runs on third base, the process would have interfered with his complicated spot decision.
After a lifetime of covering sports, up close, talking to managers and coaches, I have great respect for what they know and do, in real time. Not that mistakes don’t happen. We saw one in the Super Bowl, when the very smart Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator called a pass from half a yard outside the end zone.
A day later, I read an “analysis” in the Times that said in football, as in life itself, people have to employ a “mixed strategy” or else they become too predictable. I agree, in theory, but I say that second-and-goal, maybe 18 inches away, is not the time to get cute and put the ball in the air, where a defensive back, having the greatest moment of his career, maybe his life, can go get it.
Somewhere in the Football Handbook of Statistical Probability, there is a rule: Give the Ball to the Big Fella.
That’s not statistics, a day later. That is common sense, for playing the game in the moment.
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.