Yogi Berra and Stan Musial go way back. They could even have been teammates except that the Cardinals offered more bonus money to Joe Garagiola than to Yogi, which is how history was made, or altered.
Yogi met Carmen at Stan & Biggie’s restaurant – he was wearing golf spikes.
On Tuesday at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair, N.J., I will be talking about my biography, Stan Musial: An American Life -- about this great and perhaps under-rated Hall of Famer.
This is a paid luncheon event at noon, with a copy of the book included in the admission. For information please check the museum web site or call: 973-655-2378.
Stan and Yogi were both seen as good-luck charms by their teammates. I’ll get into that, too.
Hope to see you there.
He arrived out of the ozone in the very late ‘60’s, a voice straight off the Fordham campus. On WNEW-FM, a station with its share of edgy types, he came off as much more than sophomoric but not yet a grad student – a perpetual junior, who was starting to get it. That is a compliment.
Pete Fornatale maintained that mix of wonder and knowledge as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough. He died Thursday at the age of 66.
He was a friend. We lived about a mile apart in Port Washington for decades, and took long walks around the old sand mines on Hempstead Harbor. We talked about serious issues as we walked – spiritual things, political things. He was deeply affected by 9/11 – talked about it on the air at WFUV-FM, his first and final station.
He didn’t seem much interested in talking sports, thank goodness, which gave me the leverage to ask him about his music contacts.
There were perks to being a friend of Pete’s.
He introduced us to our heroes, Anna and Kate McGarrigle, in some Village basement dressing room, right after a show.
We sat with him when he emceed a benefit brunch at the Lone Star, when Richard Manuel and Rick Danko were about to go back on the road. Check out the High on the Hog album. Richard sings She Knows in that sweet falsetto, and at the end Pete and Richard salute each other. Now all three of them are gone, and so is Levon.
Pete and I took our sons to a Grateful Dead concert at the Nassau Coliseum.
He introduced me to John Platt, his Long Island buddy, now a Sunday-morning presence on WFUV.
And one night in a club on the South Shore of Long Island, he introduced us to Christine Lavin, his friend, now my friend. Chris once performed Sensitive New Age Guys live on Pete’s Mixed Bag show – using Pete as the male foil. That night in the club, she called out both of us to sing backup. She’s currently on the road, working on a tribute to Pete that will be played sometime over the weekend on XM radio and also on WFUV-FM on Saturday. We are all in shock.
But the best part was the music, the thematic shows, where Pete could find four or five songs that belonged together. (Doug Martin’s obit in the New York Times on Friday does a great job explaining Pete’s technique. )
I hope this doesn’t get Pete in trouble with the authorities – what can they do to him now? – but he used to make copies (cassettes, which dates me) of his best thematic shows. I play them on my walks.
One show was Ladies Love the Beatles, amazing arrangements of old favorites.
Another show was about aviation, with a sensational version of Tree Top Flyer by Stephen Stills. Afterward, Pete admits, with that heh-heh laugh of his, that the song just might have been about an illegal pursuit.
Another cassette was about the Sunday papers, all those sections, including the so-called funnies, with Adam Carroll’s song urging Dagwood to take Blondie up on the roof for a glimpse of the sky. That one certainly puts some zip in the step.
Pete was still growing, still learning, still thinking, still talking. My deepest condolences to his family. I’ll miss the walks but I’ve got the cassettes.
My high-school class (Jamaica High, Queens, 1956) is pretty tight. We have held reunions in the old gym and the pizza parlor we used to frequent on Friday nights.
The other day some of us got together in the theater of our dreams, the great Valencia on Jamaica Avenue. Now it is the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People – as awesome as ever.
Our class leaders-for-life recently discovered that the Valencia still existed – 3500 seats surrounded by Spanish/Mexican artwork on the walls and ceiling.
The only difference, as Sister Forbes, our tour guide, told us, is that some of the statues have been clothed, for modesty’s sake.
This theater was one of five first-run emporiums in downtown Jamaica, once the shopping hub for Long Island in the 40’s and early ‘50’s. The Valencia had an orchestra pit and dressing rooms for live Vaudeville shows. My friends seemed to hear the throb of the massive organ.
We met on Jamaica Avenue, virtually unrecognizable in daylight. When we were young, the Jamaica El ended at 168th St., but it has long since been torn down. My parents met at the Long Island Press, which went down in 1977. The building is now a Home Depot.
We all remembered the glory of downtown Jamaica – the department stores, the cafeterias and clothing stores, but the fondest memories were of the Valencia. Secret smiles indicated great things had happened as James Stewart or Doris Day flickered on the screen. Perhaps the first cigarette in the balcony. Perhaps a first kiss in the dark.
The years faded away as we sat in the first couple of rows and listened to Sister Forbes, who told us how the Valencia was opened in January of 1929, designed by the grandiose Loew’s architect, John Eberson.
For a New York Times article about the turnaround, please see:
We all knew how movie theaters provided entertainment even during the Depression. And the glamour was there for us during the hope and security of post-war American, as we became old enough to go to the movies by ourselves.
For some reason, I could remember going to the Valencia only once – my parents took me to see South Pacific. I remember being out with them more than I remember the glory of the building. My friends supplied the awe and the nostalgia.
One of us remembered how a member of his group would hold their places in the ticket line during snowstorms – and how he would repair to an open upstairs room with a stove. Sister Forbes was impressed with his ingenuity.
Another of us remembered how one of his party would buy a ticket and then open a side door for his buddies. We didn’t tell Sister Forbes that, lest she cast us out of the tabernacle.
Jean White Grenning, our class president for life and captain of the cheerleaders, and Walter Schwartz, the editor of the school paper, recalled the victory rally for the 1955 New York City basketball champions from Jamaica, right there on the stage, as Jean Gollobin’s choir sang.
Sister Forbes told us how the Tabernacle was formed when the Valencia closed in 1977. The theater had been reduced to showing “black exploitation” films, she explained, and most of the African-American community wanted no part of that genre. The congregation was larger back in the day, she said. Nowadays around 300 members come to church on Sunday, but sometimes they hold regional services, and the old building rocks again.
The good part, she said, was that “things were built to last” in 1929. The congregation has surprisingly little maintenance and repair, she said -- a good thing, I sensed. The building looked great. The congregation does not rent out the building for secular music or other entertainment; we are Pentecostal, Sister Forbes explained. However, they do give tours for a donation, she said. Their number is 718-657-4210. They also welcome worshipers on Sunday -- but not cameras, she added.
After a tour of the lobby (some people think the building is gaudy, Sister Forbes said with a proud smile) we said good bye and returned to the bizarre daylight of modern-day Jamaica Avenue. We still expected the rumble of the El.
Then we headed toward lunch at a diner on what Walter Schwartz calls Re-Union Turnpike. Stanley Einbender, a star of the 1955-56 basketball team, drove us past Jamaica High, still gorgeous up on the hill.
I should add that New York City has cooked the books to come up with spurious excuses for phasing out Jamaica High itself. We are in mourning for a great city institution.
That glorious building will accommodate four boutique schools of various or changing description. I have no idea how the ambitious new minorities of Queens can possible navigate all these precious little creations to find a school they can attend.
Back then we had big schools, big theaters, big dreams. Our youth was reinforced by a visit to the Valencia, to the Tabernacle.
Barcelona looked tired, and John Terry once again showed his amoral side, but the key to the Champions League semifinal Tuesday was Didier Drogba's playing the entire field.
Once Chelsea was down a player because of Terry's stupid unprovoked foul from behimd, Drogba played his own form of sweeper, roving wherever he was needed against the crisp Barcelona passes.
Chelsea's defense has been vastly upgraded under interim coach Roberto DiMatteo's version of the old Italian defense, the catenaccio (chain or bolt.) But it took an inspired star to make it work while a man down.
The ball would be slotted into a bit of open space, and Drogba, 34, would appear from nowhere. One Barca shot went wide by a few inches when Drogba materialized and made the shooter alter his rhythm.
He was like Derek Jeter, showing up in odd places to make a play, or giving confidence by standing on second base and clapping his hands after hitting a double. He raised the entire team after the Chelsea captain, Terry, proved, once again, that he is unfit for leadership, or trust.
Eventually, Drogba had to leave because of discomfort high in one leg. Fernando Torres came in and supplied the crushing goal as Chelsea moved on the final on May 19 in Munich. My guess is that Drogba will be there. After Tuesday, he should be wearing the captain's armband.
Rusty Staub, Bud Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky, Ed Charles, Skip Lockwood and Joan Hodges -- just to drop a few names.
A lot of early Mets history will be coming to Hofstra University on Long Island Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Then there are the writers (Stan Isaacs and Steve Jacobson) and broadcasters (Sal Marciano) and historians (John Thorn) among panel members, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Amazing Mets in a conference that figures to be both academic and fun.
I'll be moderating two panels at Hofstra, my alma mater, Friday afternoon.
In the spring of 1962, I was taking my one and, as it turned out, my only graduate course -- the novel, with a terrific three-week segment by Dr. Hull on Ulysses, about a very human being who spends a long day wandering but finally gets to go home. How fitting. .
In sleet and rain, on Friday, April 13, also fitting, I attended the Mets' first home game – as a fan -- at the Polo Grounds, along with my Newsday pal George Usher. By mid-season I was one of Casey Stengel’s “my writers,” standing by his side at his 72nd birthday party in St. Louis, when he most emphatically did not ask, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Never signed up for any more grad courses. Dr. Hull and Casey. Both great teachers.
With my three grad credits, I get to run two panels Friday afternoon at the Hofstra conference.
At 3:15 PM, I will introduce my long-time friend, Ed Charles, the heart and soul of the 1969 Mets, who promises to recite a new poem for the anniversary.
And at 4:15 PM, I will conduct a panel entitled: New Yorkers Recall the Dark Ages: Four Long Years Before the Birth of the Mets.
Panel members will include Joan Lombardi Hodges, Gil Hodges, Jr., Stan Isaacs, the landmark Newsday columnist known for his appropriately-named column Out of Left Field, and Marty Adler, head of the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame.
Although a proud son of Brooklyn, Stan Isaacs promises to stick up for his dearly departed New York Giants.
We will be talking about the four lean years without the National League in New York,and then the bizarre early years of the Amazing Mets.
When I was writing about Levon Helm of The Band before his death on Thursday, I referred to the commonality of American and Canadian culture, pertaining to pop music.
I was not saying it all sounds alike, but that modern technology and communications have exposed all of us to various strains of music that we know and love.
The Band produced a new blend of rock, folk and country from all over the continent. Levon, bless his heart, brought Arkansas north of the 38th Parallel.
When the soul singer pictured above delivered the first note of Let’s Stay Together – the first high note! -- everybody knew he was doing Al Green. Of course, it was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and “The Rev” was in the audience, and President Obama quickly made a Sandman joke (Sandman Sims, a noted tap-dancer, used to give performers the hook when the Apollo audience had enough.)
Not everybody watching the President got the Sandman reference, but who didn’t recognize Let’s Stay Together? It’s in the culture.
I’m an official Old Guy, and my iPod has Brazilian music, Latino Music, the Chieftains, Anna and Kate McGarrigle with Quebec accordions, Joe Williams at Newport, Lucinda Williams, Thomas Hampson singing Stephen Foster. Not one culture, but so many cultures, all out there in our ozone. When the American President can do Al Green, we are getting somewhere.
Response to Thoughtful Reader Brian – II
The other day I mentioned a double Yankee connection to Stan Musial. This was before I gave a talk about my Musial biography, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a lovely building on the Grand Concourse.
Brian asked: just what were those connections? Well, in 1938, when Musial was already signed by Branch Rickey’s vast Cardinal farm system, he told a scout from his home-region Pittsburgh Pirates that the Yankee empire was showing an interest in him.
Apparently an un-named Yankee “bird dog” had spoken to him, according to a Musial friend who was trying to get the Pirates interested in the local boy. But the Pirates couldn’t touch Musial because he was under contract, and the Cardinals quickly sent him to his first minor-league post in West Virginia, as a wild lefty pitcher.
The other Yankee connection? When Musial slumped in 1959 and manager Solly Hemus saw fit to bench him, the Sporting News ran a copyright story that the Cardinals might trade Musial to the Yankees for St. Louis home-boy Yogi Berra. Musial said it was ridiculous, nothing to it. He had already blown away a proposed trade for Robin Roberts a few years earlier.
The question is: how would Musial have done as a Yankee, either at the start of his career or at the end? Perhaps he would have gotten lost as a wild young lefty pitcher, and never gotten a chance to show his hitting ability. He only got to play the outfield regularly in the Cardinal chain after blowing out his pitching shoulder while making a diving catch in center field.
Years later, the Yankees found a position for a shortstop named Mantle, and they found ways for Berra and Howard to co-exist. My guess is the Yankees – or any club – would have discovered the kid could hit and they could have used him in left field or at first base, just as the Cardinals did.
In 1960, the Pirates turned down a chance to get Musial for their pennant drive. Could his bat have helped either the Yankees or the Pirates in that wild World Series?
Oh, yes, Musial visited Yankee Stadium in his first two World Series in 1942 and 1943 and he hit his last all-star homer in 1960 in Yankee Stadium.
Those are his Bronx connections. With impeccable good sense, Musial managed to spend the last 70 years in a grand baseball city that loves and appreciates him. He did fine.
(Note: My friend and mentor, Stan Isaacs, the long-time Newsday sports columnist, is temporarily without an outlet due to web problems. He always has a place here. GV.)
Ozzie Guillen Struck a Few Chords
The flap over Ozzie Guillen’s comments considered sympathetic to Fidel Castro reminds me of George Romney. Not Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, but his father, George, who was a governor of Michigan and had presidential aspirations of his own that petered out.
George Romney pretty much eliminated himself from contention for the 1968 Republican nomination because of one comment. In mid-1967 he reversed his earlier support for the Vietnam War; he said he had been brainwashed by American generals. As we all came to realize, Romney was correct to have turned against that disastrous war, but the American people didn’t want to hear it. Exit Romney.
Now, along comes the colorful Ozzie Guillen saying things that have more than a tinge of truth to it, but also angered many people because he showed some sympathy for Fidel Castro. Guillen is the new manager of the Marlins of Miami, the city known for having a rabid anti-Castro community. Anything positive said about Castro feeds the hatred of people who have never forgiven Castro (the left wing dictator) for replacing Fulgencio Batista (the right-wing dictator) in 1959.
Here is what Guillen told a Time Magazine internet edition website: “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why?. Many people have tried to kill Fidel Castro in the last 60 years , yet that mother ------ is still there.” Indeed. Castro is living through his 11th American President in Barack Obama.
The anti-Castro oldsters jumped on Guillen for actually saying he loved Castro. So did some of the politicians running for office now, because the anti-Castro community in Miami has been so powerful for so long. It has cowed not only local politicians but Presidential candidates. The enigmatic Guillen most likely wasn’t thinking about all that.
Castro is no civil libertarian. He has executed people who worked against the regime. But consider Castro’s background. Almost from the time he took power and edged toward an alliance with the Soviet Union in the face of opposition from the United States, he has had to worry about being deposed by the United States.
This is not paranoia. In April, 1961, President Kennedy supported the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro partisans determined to take back their former homeland. The invasion was a disaster but it alerted Castro to ever be on the alert against further attempts to subvert his regime. He has been ruthless at time in eliminating opposition, because the opposition centered in Miami has never stopped calling for the removal of Castro. We still have an embargo against Cuba that hurts, not Castro, but ordinary Cubans.
I was in Cuba some 30 years ago. I found that the Cubans hated the United States government for trying to bring down Castro, but loved Americans. We were treated well wherever we went. We heard criticism of Castro by people who didn’t seem to fear retribution for the comments. Most Cubans cared more about making a living than worrying about the lack of civil liberties that were the concern of the few genuine patriots who objected to Castro’s excesses.
Guillen is a colorful gent, who has often made outrageous remarks that were as confusing as they were amusing. This time he made the mistake of getting himself involved in the super-charged area of Cuban politics. His comments were not so much for Castro, the politician, as Castro, the man who outlasted all the people who have tried to kill him. Many plots were born in the Miami Cuban area.
Gullen said he loved Castro, sure, but he also called him a mother ------. That’s hardly the comment of a deep political thinker. It could be argued that he had the First Amendment right to say anything he wanted. But it doesn’t work that way in the world’s most heralded democracy because we are—from Eisenhower to Obama--bedeviled by the anti-Castro faction.
So Guillen soon found out he had stepped in it and had to apologize for his comments. The Marlins suspended him for five games. And before a press conference in which he grovelled an apology, management surrounded him with people who knew first hand of Castro’s brutality. Guillen cried as they spoke. “I know I hurt a lot of people,” he said.
One of the offshoots of the controversy was the revelation that Miami, for all its anti-Castro mania, is changing. At a protest calling for Guillen”s removal, only 200 people came out. The group leading it, a Miami report said, was a fringe organization always looking for reasons to break out the picket signs out of their car trunks. The average age of those holding the signs seemed over 70.
Little Havana used to bristle with the antennae of eight or so anti-Castro radio stations. There are two left. Most people seemed to accept Guillen’s apology. Suddenly there is room in Little Havana for nuance.
I have been surprised by another fallout of l’affair Guillen: criticism of the United States. Bryant Gumbel said on his HBO show, “And while there is no way to defend Ozzie or the blatant insensitivity of his remarks, let’s not pretend there’s no politics at work in some of those calls for his ouster. Whipping up a frenzy over slights real and imagined is a play straight out of a far-right handbook; Florida’s electoral clout has often given Fidel’s critics far more leverage that their arguments merit.”
An unidentified critic of the United States added this heresy on Google: “While Castro is undeniably guilty of subverting the civil liberties of Cubans and he did kill many political dissidents, the scale of his crimes does not even approach that of the crimes of the United States government against Cuba and many Latin countries. In reality our opposition to the Castro regime has everything to do with his unwillingness to play ball like his predecessor Batista.
“The reaction to Guillen’s comments just further illustrates the unwillingness of Americans to condemn the truth about our own transgressions. We need to realize how ridiculous we sound when we criticize the human rights record of another country when one considers our own.”
They played music from deep in the collective continental soul. Four Canadians and a drummer from Arkansas.
First time I saw Levon Helm was backstage at the Garden during the Dylan tour in ’74. Somebody had placed a backboard outside The Band’s dressing room, and he was messing around with the ball, between shows. Wish I had said hello, but I was spying on Dylan’s sound check, so I kept moving.
Now his family says he is dying of cancer.
My favorite song from Levon is Ophelia because it is so….so…southern.
Boards on the window/Mail by the door….
Reminds me of funky neighborhoods in the south, where people come and go.
Although what could be more southern than Levon’s buzz-saw rasp on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?
Only met him once. He played Loretta Lynn’s father, Ted Webb, in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. I had written the book for Loretta, and the movie people graciously invited me to the openings in Nashville and Louisville.
I was afraid the movie-makers might commit a Beverly Hillbillies version about a part of the world I love. But as soon as I saw Levon as the slender, bashful miner, I knew the movie was going to be respectful.
The second night, there was a party at the hotel, with Loretta and Sissy Spacek jamming together. Sissy could crack up Loretta by imitating her voice and her down-home bended-knee gestures.
Levon was singing backup. It was the women’s show.
During a break in the music, my wife sidled up to Levon and told him how good he was in the movie, and then she added, “You can sing, too.”
He might have had a bit to drink, but not enough that he couldn’t detect the compliment.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
“He was so cute,” she recalled on Tuesday, when we heard the awful news.
Twice in his long and splendid career, Stan Musial was rumored to be going to the Yankees.
Once was before he was nicknamed Stan the Man in another borough; the other happened when he was Stan the Elder.
Of course, Musial became and remained the great sporting figure of St. Louis, a perfect blend of athlete and a grand old baseball town.
On Tuesday, April 17, in the Bronx, I will be discussing the Yankee parallels in my biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, published in 2011 by Ballantine/ESPN.
The talk will be at 3 PM in the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 165th St. and the Grand Concourse, part of a Yankee-centric spring baseball lecture series organized by Cary Goodman, the executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District.
It is a formidable lineup that began Sunday with Arlene Howard discussing her memoir of her husband Elston. Today (Monday) is Kostya Kennedy and his book about 1941. And on Wednesday Howard Bryant and Howie Evans will be talking about Henry Aaron. The full lineup is here:
I will give my theories why it was good for all concerned that Musial did not become a Yankee. Although, can you imagine him hitting to all corners of the old Yankee Stadium?
“If you’re in the neighborhood,” as the broadcasters say in the early innings, please come by and say hello on Tuesday.
Or your Jewish bubbe. Or your Italian nonna.
And don’t just listen. Ask questions, Get them to talk.
This lesson was reinforced for me recently in a column about Christine C. Quinn’s grandmother, a passenger who survived the Titanic.
As it happens, I also had an Irish grandmother with strong connections to the same White Star line that owned the Titanic. I am angry with my youthful self for not asking questions of my grandmother, or at least observing. Quinn was better at it.
Quinn is the speaker of the New York City Council and a front-runner for mayor in 2013. As the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic approached, Quinn told Jim Dwyer of The New York Times how her elderly grandmother almost never talked about how she managed to get out of steerage and into a lifeboat on that terrible evening.
Dwyer’s lovely column is included here:
Quinn said she knows a little about her grandmother’s adventure because she had the opportunity to ask questions when she was 13.
“The only time we spoke about the Titanic was when she was recovering from a broken hip, and I asked her the story when we were hanging around her room,” Quinn told Dwyer.
Now that I am a grandparent, I wish I had asked questions of my Irish grandmother, who mostly lived with us until she died when I was 12. I had plenty of time to observe her and ask questions, but, unlike Christine Quinn, I failed miserably.
I can remember my grandmother as an old lady in a black dress, who took me, the oldest of five, to church, to the diner for breakfast, and a few times to the movies. I can see her visiting her old-lady friends on Adirondack chairs at Lake George in upstate New York. In my mind, they are all dressed in black, interchangeable.
But I cannot even remember her voice – I think she had long since lost any Irish accent -- and I cannot remember her ever speaking about being Irish. If Bing Crosby would sing an Irish ballad on the radio about “strangers” who tried to impose their rule on the Irish, there was no response from my grandmother. Nana had long since become Anglicized and Americanized.
And I never asked her – and she never told me, as far as I remember – how she got from County Waterford to the New York area. It involved a circuitous trip that I cannot piece together. I do know that my grandmother’s sister moved to Brussels and lived through two ruinous world wars, but my grandmother took a different path. And it also involved the White Star Line.
When my mother was fading in her late 80’s, she mentioned that her mother had worked in South America as a governess, but by that time she could not supply any details. I know my grandmother spoke French from her frequent visits to her sister at Rue Sans Souci in Brussels. Did my grandmother also speak some Spanish? Did she work on the White Star Line to gain passage from England to South America? How did she meet the Australian-born ship’s officer whom she would marry, as they settled in Southampton? All gone now.
My mother could remember being in Southampton in May of 1915 at the age of 4, and going down to the harbor as people grieved for family and friends who were lost on the Lusitania. The Titanic was part of her life, through her father.
And after the war, the officer’s family immigrated in style on the White Star Line and ultimately settled in upstate New York with a large home and a nearby farm.
I’ve asked my younger sister, Janet, who was the “pet” of my grandmother, if she could remember anything about Nana, but she was too young to take in those kinds of details. We all agree, we were not the kind to sit around and tell stories of the old days. I try to tell family history to our grandchildren, but the opportunities are rare. One of my grandchildren, the youngest, actually uses the old-fashioned implement of email to ask me questions about trips I take, and what I do. She shows promise.
I am respectful and a trifle jealous that Christine Quinn had the sense to ask questions of her grandmother. I would urge everybody to do the same.
When I took the buyout from the New York Times last December, a few people asked if there was anything I regretted not doing.
I had to pause. I could think of a few legendary college football stadiums, a few arenas or ballparks, some great soccer stadiums in Latin America and Europe.
Then something popped into my mind: Paris-Roubaix.
If there was one unique sports event I had never covered, one exotic specialty I had not witnessed in person, it was the trek from outside Paris to the cycling-mad town near the Belgian border.
The chief attraction is the roadway itself – multiple sections of cobblestones put in place during the Napoleonic Era, state of the art then, torture to human and machine nowadays.
I have grown to love cycling, covering the last tumultuous years of Lance Armstrong’s reign. Some of my best days were spent in a car with Sam Abt, the Times’ long-time cycling correspondent, and James Startt, photojournalist and cyclist and musician based in Paris.
James would drive, and Sam would smoke, and they would bicker over whether the CD would blare reggae (James) or punk rock (Sam, go figure).
James is still plying his trade, as anybody can tell from clicking on Bicycling.com.
He recently found one of the most obscure winners of the Tour, Roger Walkowiak of France, whose stunning upset in 1956 annoyed the French fans because (a) he had a Polish name and (b) he was not a favorite and (c) he employed tactics like preserving his strength by riding in the pack on key stages. No panache.
Walkowiak made very little money from cycling but used it to buy a sheep farm in southwest France, and has remained mostly incognito ever since.
Somehow, Startt cajoled Walkowiak into granting an interview that casts a deep look into the history and mentality of this fascinating sport. You can access it:
I was hoping my friend Startt, a former American cycling hopeful, would get to ride the Paris-Roubaix course ahead of the big race on Easter Sunday, but it didn’t work out. Instead, he and his camera were there when the cyclists arrived in the bustling oval in Roubaix.
Also, the new NBC sports channel carried the last two hours of Paris-Roubaix, live, with the same phalanx of planes, motorcycles and cars used in the Tour, plus good old Liggett and Sherwen doing the commentary. I could sit in my living room and watch the best cyclists in the world try to avoid being maimed by the cobblestones of Flanders.
That epic, singular race was described last week by John Leicester, the Associated Press European sports columnist. I won’t even try to go over his superb description and reporting:
The sections are called pavés. I had seen them up close during one stage of the 2004 Tour de France, which meandered from Liege through the killing fields of World War One, and into France. I remember watching the team trial go past on a rainy, windy day, hardened Tour cyclists quivering from repeated shocks to spines and central nervous systems from hitting one 18th Century cobblestone after another. The cameras were so close you could see the reinforced bicyles shimmy and shake. It hurt to watch.
The weather Sunday was cool and damp. People were bundled up along the narrow lanes, waving at the cyclists from inches away.(Why are there not more accidents?) I saw quaint villages and the green fields of Flanders in early spring. I was comfortable in my house, but could sniff the coffee and the frites. I would have loved to be transported to chilly Roubaix, listening to survivors grouse and marvel at this cruel test.
I could only adapt the Passover saying: instead of Next Year in Jerusalem, I said, Next Year in Roubaix. It’s a thought.
The album is in the top ten in my iPod.
It is about baseball and it is about business.
But mostly it is terrific music.
In Sunday’s New York Times, I do a riff on the possible bicoastal curses that may or may not be attached to the Dodgers of Chavez Ravine. I use a few quotes from Ry Cooder, the legendary guitarist who produced the 2005 album, Chávez Ravine.
Cooder had more to say in a series of e-mails, but because my column also deals with the 25th anniversary of the career self-destruction of my late friend Al Campanis, I didn’t have space to rave about Cooder’s album, which was nominated for a Grammy after it came out.
Just turned 65, Cooder is perhaps best known for the music in Buena Vista Social Club, the movie by Wim Wenders. Out of LA,, he’s been involved in just about everything from the Rolling Stones to ethnic music since the 1960’s.
The Chávez Ravine album hits hard at the machinations that put the peripatetic Dodgers, former of Flatbush, Brooklyn, on a hillside overlooking LA. It incorporates sounds in Cooder’s head, and real news events and life in the mostly Latino village up on the hill, and it also contains a few artistic liberties.
But mostly it features East LA musicians like Lalo Guerrero, Pachuco boogie king Don Tosti, Thee Midniters front man Little Willie G, and Ersi Arvizu, of The Sisters and El Chicano.
Cooder depicts a sweet village life (Poor Man’s Shangri-La) interrupted by the greed of downtown, backed up by the anti-Communist furies of the 1950’s.
Of course, nothing like that could happen today.
“Myself, i don't like sports and i hate the developers and what they do, as i'm sure you know. i like old trees, little wooden houses, tiny winding streets, and the rural feel of elysian park and the ravine and bunker hill and all the beautiful places that are gone forever. i hate growth, i hate change. LA is ruined, cities are ruined, culture is quite ruined. now we have legal lynching back again,” Cooder e-mailed to me, the latter presumably a reference to Trayvon Martin.
Actually, he said, he liked boxing back in the day. He has a song “Corrido de Boxeo,” showing the sport as a staple of Latino life back in the ‘50’s, but in the album that world is disrupted after developers cut their deals.
He has a sweet-to-cynical song about a man who dreams about paving over the Los Angeles basin, with the phrase “It’s my town!” Cooder was amused a few years back when a Dodgers advertising campaign proclaimed, “It’s My Town.”
“Funny! I make no claim,” Cooder wrote the other day.
The developers send bulldozers up on the hill. (a driver sings: “It’s Just Work for Me”) and the people depart to the mournful strains of “Barrio Viejo” – old neighborhood.
Despite his instincts against big business and big sport, Cooder does leave the album with a sense of reconciliation in “Third Base, Dodger Stadium,” with a parking-lot attendant singing about the new ball park:
Second base, right over there,
I see Grandma in her rocking chair,
Watching linens flapping in the breeze,
And all the fellows choosing up their teams.
Somehow, the singer decides, “Yes, I’m a baseball man myself.” And the CD ends with a Costa Rican poem, mysteriously found inscribed on a wooden plank in a rain forest, transformed into a hymn, “Soy Luz y Sombra” (I Am the Light and the Shade) which talks about hope and reunion. One English translation includes this stanza:
Fertile home of old trees
Of tender flowers, newborn
With ancient roots and future hopes
The united family
The old goat pasture remains a symbol of the world that was evicted to make room for the Dodgers. An artist named Vincent Valdez has made a graphic version of that time. In my column, I raise the prospect of some left-coast curse waiting decades to smite the Dodgers. For all that, listening to the last two songs on Chávez Ravine around opening day made me ready for a new season.
A week ago I mentioned how I and another long-time colleague had forgotten separate articles we had written many years earlier.
The other day, Ernie Accorsi, most recently the general manager of the football Giants, told me how he had met Moonlight Graham – the legendary figure in Field of Dreams – and then filed it away in a back drawer of his memory.
Accorsi and I have known each other since Novcmber of 1963 when we were kids just starting out. We met in the press box at a Packers-Colts game in Baltimore. He was fresh out of Wake Forest, was working for the Charlotte News, an afternoon paper, now defunct, and I was working for Newsday.
Reporters remember a zillion details like that. But Ernie forgot how in July of 1963 he interviewed an old baseball player, Dr. Archie Graham, who had played for the 1902 Charlotte Hornets. That team was so good that the entire league disbanded.
Graham later played right field for two innings for the New York Giants in 1905 but soon broke his leg, and never played another major-league game. He went on to become a physician in Minnesota.
In the summer of 1963, the 82-year-old doctor was visiting Charlotte, and Accorsi wrote a nice feature on him. Ernie’s proud mother in Hershey, Pa., had a mail subscription to the paper and placed his article in a scrapbook.
By 1989, Accorsi was an executive with the Cleveland Browns. Dick Stockton, the broadcaster and a friend, told him he had to go see a movie called Field of Dreams, which Accorsi did. But amidst all the mythology about an old minor-league legend named Moonlight Graham, returning to a corn-field ball park in Iowa, Accorsi never flashed that he had met an old ball player named Graham whose major-league dreams ended abruptly.
In 1993, Accorsi was home in Hershey, going through the scrapbook his mother had maintained, looking for something else. He saw the article and realized he had met the man who was portrayed by Burt Lancaster (in his last movie role) 30 years earlier.
“Of course, he wasn’t known as Moonlight when I met him,” Ernie says. He likes to think he would have remembered a nickname like that if it had come up.
Suddenly it all came back – how Archie Graham sat in the dugout near John McGraw, the manager of the Giants, for the rest of the 1905 season, while his leg healed. Accorsi had watched a movie he loved, and never felt the personal connection to the old player.
“It’s not about old age,” Accorsi told me the other day. He was middle-aged when he blanked on meeting an old player named Graham.
“I’ve seen 1,000 football games,” said Accorsi, who still considers himself a sports historian at heart. “I had seen other games before, but that game in Baltimore was the first pro game I had ever covered.”
We both recall, as if it were yesterday, how two young reporters, going solo for our papers, agreed to share locker-room quotes. He went to interview Don Shula of Baltimore and I went over to the Green Bay side.
“And that was how I missed my one chance to interview Vince Lombardi,” Ernie recalled, with his sharp reporter’s memory.
Of course, I'm giving away the punch line.
This was at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when a bunch of traveling American writers were in Florence to watch Our Lads get waxed.
Searching for the press tribune, one of my colleagues spotted a man in a bright blue blazer standing in a portal.
What with the blazer, he could have been an usher.
"Excuse me," the reporter said, probably in slow, basic English, "but we're looking for the press section."
"My name is Giorgio Chinaglia," the man in the bright blue blazer replied with a smile.. "And I believe it is right over there."
My friend knew enough to be apologetic. Giorgio, who had what one might call a strong sense of self, thought it was funny.
Giorgio knew that current soccer writers might not recognize him. But defenders and keepers (and his own coaches and general managers) would always remember him.
Giorgio Chinaglia was one of those headstrong stars who came to New York in athletic middle age and could handle the pressure, much of it self-induced.
Think Reggie Jackson, Keith Hernandez, Mark Messier, Earl (the Pearl) Monroe.
Giorgio had the chutzpah to stick his 6-foot-1 frame as close to the goal as he could, and defied anybody – keepers, defenders, referees or, for that matter, his own coaches – to dislodge him.
Playing striker for the New York Cosmos from 1976 through 1983, he had the coraggio – translated more as gall or impudence than mere courage – to declare himself responsible for scoring goals. Anything else was somebody else’s job.
Just put the ball near the No. 9 on his jersey, and he would do the job.
He will always be the career leader in scoring for the North American Soccer League, inasmuch as the league is defunct.
Giorgio died at home in Florida on Sunday, at 65, of a heart attack. A friend said he had distress earlier in the week but checked himself out of the hospital. That would be Giorgio. Why should he regard doctors be any differently than he did Hennes Weisweiler, his German coach with the Cosmos, whom he openly defied.
“My job is to score goals,'' Chinaglia told me in 1981. “Other players may play both ends of the field, but they don't score as many goals. That is what the game is all about.” And he meant it.
Giorgio was the first world-level player I got to know when I was discovering soccer in 1980. He had a vaguely sinister presence even on his own team because he had the ear of ownership, and more or less flaunted it.
I saw him score two in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Fury in 1980 – first on a header, and then with a shot out of the pivot with 18 minutes remaining. He faked to his left as if to use his power foot, his right, but then he swerved to his right to score at close range with his left foot.
“Usually, he will set up for his right foot,'' keeper Bob Rigby of the Fury said about the second goal. “But you know Giorgio, he is an instinctive player. The great ones don't think. They just do it. He is more dangerous with his back to me because I can't tell what he will do. He has an uncanny sense for what is right. ''
Giorgio just didn’t care what people thought. He was born in Tuscany, in Carrara, known for its marble, and in Italy was regarded as something of a straniero, an outsider, because his family had run a restaurant in Wales and he had come up through the pro club in Swansea.
He later was a star for Lazio -- by now the tifosi called him Long John, because he was tall, and spoke English. He played for the underperforming national team in 1974, and when he moved to the Cosmos he was criticized by Italian fans for defecting. That was Giorgio. He went his own way.
The Cosmos were made for him, the way New York was waiting for Reggie and Hernandez and Messier and Earl the Pearl.
Later he did television in Italy and helped run Lazio and sometimes gave striker-like feints that he might be in the mix of leadership if the Cosmos ever truly materialized again. Instead his heart gave out. But never his gall.
PS: Some serious soccer buffs might see this. Your own memories/tributes/critiques of Giorgio would be welcome right here:
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.