I’m proud to be on the program for the national convention of SABR, the invaluable baseball research group, on June 28-July 2, in New York City.
I’ll be on a panel about Yogi Berra – aptly titled “It Aint Over” -- with Dave Kaplan, Harvey Araton and Lindsay Berra, the oldest grand-daughter of Yogi and Carmen.
This means I can sit back and listen to Lindsay, a compelling presence who tells lovely stories about Yogi.
Kaplan, who founded the valuable Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J., and my pal Harvey, still writing great stuff in the Times in "retirement,” also knew Yogi well.
I'm sure I can talk a bit about being a young reporter and asking a question of Yogi. Every so often my friend Big Al sends me an email, out of nowhere:
"Tell me, was Yoggalah some kind of clutch hitter?"
Just to rub it in to an aging Brooklyn fan.
Our time is 9:15 AM Saturday, July 1, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at Grand Central Station.
SABR is an international treasure of well-researched articles about famous and obscure baseball people and is now a go-to source for analytics.
The program includes needs-no-introduction stars like: Jean Afterman, Claire Smith, Jim Bouton, Marty Appel, William Rhoden and John Thorn.
For information on schedule and rates, please see:
For full program, please see:
Carmen and Yogi. They met when she was a waitress at Stan Musial's restaurant in St. Louis. But what was Yogi wearing that one might not wear to a restaurant? It's in my Musial biography, and I will be glad to tell the story if somebody asks at the panel.
On the Memorial Day weekend, it is only right to suspend hostilities and remember the people who served.
I’m thinking of the story Harold Grundy tells us every time we visit Maine. My wife’s uncle was a master carpenter working for the military during “the war,” mostly on ships delivering goods and ammunition.
On one mission in the South Pacific, the closest ship was hit by a bomb or torpedo and split in two sections, both doomed.
One half floated in his direction.
“The men were on deck, waving to us,” he says. “They knew they were going down. The only thing we could do was wave back.”
Think of it – dozens, perhaps hundreds, of doomed sailors, hailing their comrades.
They all served. I think of two West Point football teammates who came home from Vietnam and discovered they had been serving (in different branches) way up north, during murderous fighting. Later, they learned the civilian government had figured out the war was not winnable, but did not bother telling anybody.
“Their little epiphany,” one called it. He may be visiting the Academy this weekend, to honor classmates who died over there.
I think of a man I did not know, a fraternity brother of sorts, buried in the military cemetery on Long Island. A friend of his from college visits the grave on the day he died in Vietnam, and organizes a scholarship in his name.
I think of a journalist pal, Jim Smith, who served on the Stars and Stripes. For decades, he did not talk about Vietnam but now he has written a very nice book about what he saw, and gives the proceeds to veterans’ causes.
I think about John Fernandez, the West Point lacrosse player who lost the lower parts of his legs in in Iraq --“bad day at the office,” he called it. Later, he played in alumni lacrosse games, on prosthetic feet and worked for veterans’ causes.
I think about Tammy Duckworth, the pilot who lost parts of both legs on a mission in Iraq. She is now a senator from Illinois.
I think about John McCain, who crashed in Vietnam and spent a few years in prison in Hanoi. I interviewed him once and told him my wife had learned McCain and his buddies quietly ran a pipeline of goods into Vietnam.
Why? I asked him. His answer was a highly eloquent shrug with his broken arms and shoulders.
* * *
I think about heroes who served, not civilians who did not (like me), or ones who think people who get captured or shot down are not heroes, or ones who shove their way to the front of the pack and preen, as if they had done something mighty. This is the weekend for heroes.
(*-I actually don’t know what a “bot” is. But it sounds good for the purposes of this rant.)
The modern electronic age has turned me into a cat burglar, on my hands and knees, messing with wires and cords and plugs.
I like to think this is not merely a young-old chasm as everybody scrambles to keep up with new developments with cellphones and computers and all these
so-called labor-saving devices.
The good side is that I managed to slip inside the velvet rope of minimal competence. The Internet and the gadgets allow me to do things and learn things that were impossible in my first two decades in journalism.
I have older friends of sound mind who stare blankly when I say “web site” or “emails.” They missed the Last Train to Clarksville for all the little stupidities that so captivate me.
When I broke into the business, we used typewriters and paper. With the help of technology mentors at the Times like Howard Angione (“If Vecsey can learn this, anybody can”) and Charlie Competello and Walt Baranger, I learned some stuff.
In the early ‘80’s, a union electrician turned off the press-box power at the stroke of midnight and blow out my portable computer. In Barcelona! But the next day I was able to find the right tubes in a growing technology block in that grand old city.
In the early days, I crawled around musty hotel rooms, unscrewing stuff and attaching primitive wires or clips. (One reporter risked his life splicing his bulky Kaypro computer to live wires from a dripping air conditioner in his hotel room.)
Later, I had to explain to dubious hotel clerks why I needed to borrow a dedicated 800 fax line for 30 seconds to transmit an article from my laptop. Nowadays, I call help centers when the wi-fi doesn’t work in my hotel room. This is called progress.
Somehow, I manage this personal therapy web site – photos, copy, headlines, type size – after training-wheels tutorials from my patient friend Becky Collet.
Labor-saving devices? A good friend (older than me) and I compare notes about constantly updating our contacts.
In my house we have three – count ‘em, three – clickers for one TV set and one sound bar. If my finger hits the wrong button, my wife has to reprogram the whole thing.
At times I dutifully try to diagnose the problems that pop up from having, oh, just a few cable boxes around the house.
Recently, a TV went dead. We ran around for days trying to sort it out. We exchanged boxes. Then we drove a TV to a throwback reputable repair place my wife discovered half an hour east of us. Nope. TV worked. And the guy waved off a bench charge. Can you imagine?
Ultimately, the problem was a faulty gizmo in the cable coming into the house, installed by our local company.
“No way you would know,” the technician told us before the office tried to bill us $80 for fixing their faulty piece they installed.
I keep blaming that cable company for the twin blights of Carmelo Anthony and Madison Square Garden, but it seems the cable portion has been sold to some Dutch company. Somebody smart sorted out the problem; maybe it was Amsterdam or maybe it was Long Island. Either way, this is also called progress.
(*- I made a list of recent words I do not fully understand, even if I may actually use them: meme, avatar, Siri, Sirius (are they related?), bluetooth, bitcoin, millennials, hipsters, (wait, whatever became of yuppies?), apps, cookies, streaming, podcasts, spotify, plus new baseball statistics with strange initials that I totally reject. I have my limits.)
* * *
I forgot to include this stanza from Loudon Wainwright III's "Last Man on Earth:"
Everybody's got a website
But that's all Greek to me
I don't own a computer
I hate that letter "e"
I don't pack a cell phone
Or drive an SUV
Yes, I'm the last man on Earth
That's what the matter is with me
I counted on them. Just the thought of them got me through a horrible winter.
Every fan knows what I am saying: the unique place of baseball -- seasonally correct, holding promise of a new spring.
My team happens to be the Mets, already sinking toward the lower depths, but fans of other teams will recognize the angst: for this I dreamed all winter?
I see Curtis Granderson floundering and I see Asdrubal Cabrera falling apart – two of my favorite players, with intelligence and humor and a fine body of work, who were so fine last season. This is hard to watch.
I am allowed to root. One of the liberations of retirement is shucking professional neutrality. I obsessed about the Mets’ pitching staff, all those talented kids, and I saw the Mets beating out the under-achieving Nationals.
I needed the Mets to thrive, particularly since that sickening night in November when a candidate we New Yorkers knew as a damaged charlatan was elected, ick, but I cannot say it.
I tried to get through the winter with partisan television news -- squirmed through rude interruptions of guests, daydreamed through 20-minute rambles with two minutes of content, rolled my eyes at the harmless repetitions of the word “lies,” as if they did any good.
Everybody reacts differently. People I know are developing a cursing syndrome when McConnell and Ryan ooze into view. Tim Egan called Ryan an "Irish undertaker." I think he meant unctuous. With my Irish passport, I laughed out loud. Felt good. For 30 seconds.
I tried behavior modification. I cannot listen to my large collection of rock and folk and country and jazz on my iPod. No mood for The Band or Stevie Wonder or Iris Dement or The Dead.
Songs of lost love and rolling down the highway don’t do it right now.
In mid-winter I listened to chamber music and waited for DeGrom and Céspedes and Familia, when his mini-suspension was over.
Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. It’s all right.
But now we are a month and a half into this season, and the Mets look done. This is not their year. I know, I know, this is not the loyalty of a true fan, but I covered a zillion games of baseball and I can tell a team that has too many flaws. What’s up with the Alleged Dark Knight?
In the same way that I assess my broken ball team, I assess my homeland. I thought the damaged goods would be returned to sender, like some bad Amazon purchase, within 18 months, and it could happen sooner.
But the Democrats look like an expansion team – too old, too callow, no core. I scan the prospects among the majority party for enlightened, idealistic action: I see stirrings of conscience in Graham and Collins. I really like John McCain from having interviewed him once; if you spot him approaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a couple of cohorts, let me know.
I watched Ben Sasse – a fresh face, a note of hope, like Michael Conforto of the Mets -- during the hearings the other day and thought, this guy could actually have intelligence and courage.
But I’ve been wrong before. I thought my ball team would give me spring-to-autumn diversion.
Now I peek at them, through spread fingers, like a child, for an inning here or an inning there. (I'm even happy for Yankee fans. First time in my life.)
It’s mid-May and I have lost hope for my team.
A lovely article by Edan Lepucki in the Times this week had women considering photos of their mothers’ vibrant youth.
Can a son do the same? I would think so.
I went scurrying to the digital files I am assembling of our diverse family. My siblings and others have contributed photos they squirreled away in boxes or scrapbooks.
May Spencer Vecsey passed late in 2002, at nearly 92. It is bittersweet to look back at the serious young woman in the old black-and-whites – the student with so much promise, the daughter permanently mourning a beloved father who died in her early teens.
She does not strut her stuff for the camera. There is precious little smiling, even when her father was moving the family from Southampton, England, to Coxsackie, New York, with enough money saved for a large house in town and a farm just outside.
The father is English (via Australia) and the mother is Irish and they are now upstate bourgeoisie, until her father hits a tree protruding onto an old country road now used for automobiles.
This is the great tragedy of her life. (I saw her sob when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in 1945; he was her surrogate father.)
She apparently was always serious – a top student at Jamaica High School after her mother moved to Queens. A good friend of mine from high school says her mom used to talk with respect about May Spencer, writer and scholar.
The college photos are the same: the photo with the hat depicts a sober young lady at the College of New Rochelle, a star in academics, yearbook, essays. Her classmates and the nuns said she would go far, even in the growing Depression.
As Edan Lepucki notes in her sweet article in the Times, these young women in the photos cannot imagine what lies ahead. My mom would become a social worker, then a reporter for the Long Island Press, then society editor, where she would meet my father. (“They met at the water cooler,” my brother Pete has said. “Pop was buying.”)
They would share a belief, a passion, if you will, for The Left; they were management but they would go on strike with the workers, facing the Cossacks on 168th St., and would never get back in that building again.
Could she envision hard times during the War, my father fearing a blacklist but always having work in the newspaper business? Could she see herself learning to cook, clean, wash and iron, to care for five children within 10 years, to care for her dying mother, to go through hard times in the family and then get whacked by multiple sclerosis – and fight it off with long daily walks up to Cunningham Park with her loyal dog Taffy?
She was strong. I find no evidence of her mugging for the camera, no frivolous outfits. But I remember once, in a casual aside, my father compared her to a movie actress. Pop knew movies as well as he knew his Brooklyn Dodgers and politics and books, but I cannot remember which actress it was. His attraction was real. That’s all I know.
She put her seriousness and her morality and her intelligence into her family. All five of us are doing well. That studious young woman in the hat made sure we did.
The other day I wrote about watching the Champions League match from Monaco -- in Brooklyn.
Young fans in Israel watched the most recent Clasico from Spain, on April 23 -- projected from a laptop onto canvas, resting on an artist's easel.
The host, Mendel Horowitz, does not have a TV in his house. (What a great idea. Except for soccer and baseball.) The young people improvised.
This was the match won by Leo Messi, two minutes into stoppage time.
My friend Horowitz, originally from Queens, insists Messi is the greatest active player in the world.
One thing I have learned over the years is, never argue with a rabbi.
(see Comments below)
A few months ago, Rory Smith wrote a prescient piece in the Times saying the Champions League was becoming same-old, same-old.
That could also be said about many American events like the Final Four or Super Bowl, when a new Destiny’s Darling rarely wins out, but he was basically right.
The disparity in soccer is continued during the first leg of the semifinals this week, with Real Madrid humiliating cross-town rival Atlético, 3-0, on Tuesday in their annual Champions League encounter and Juventus pretty much annihilating Monaco, 2-0, on Wednesday.
For me, the utter one-sidedness of both matches was made tolerable by people I have seen in uniform in the past couple of decades -- great moments and abject failures by Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gigi Buffon, dominant players, dominant personalities.
And, really, isn’t that the essence of sport – the past adding to the present? This gigantic youth with the Yankees – Aaron Judge – has already hit 13 homers this season, bringing comparison to Ruth and A-Rod, to say nothing of Mantle and Maris.
Sports fans watch two things at once – live action and mental replay.
On Tuesday, I saw two trim gents on the sidelines, just a few yards apart. I envisioned Simeone, stalwart defender for Argentina, provoking David Beckham into the worst moment of his career, a petulant kick of Simeone in plain view of everybody in St. Etienne, France, during the 1998 World Cup, for which Beckham was ejected.
And speaking of ejections, I could see Zidane gliding and dancing and leaping for two header goals in what I consider the greatest (or at least most beautiful) World Cup final performance, ever in the Stade de France, 1998, the whole nation chanting Zee-dahn! Zee-dahn!
Then of course I could see Zidane, provoked by a former opponent, from Serie A, head-butting Marco Materazzi of Italy, late in the final of the World Cup, and trudging off impassively after being ejected.
There they were on Tuesday, two great players involved in historic meltdowns, watching Atlético being destroyed by Real Madrid – or should I say by Cristiano Ronaldo?
CR7 willed himself to three goals, the second one, into the upper left corner, about as vicious and accurate a missile as any of us will ever see.
I have referred to Ronaldo as a pretty boy with tinted hair and supercilious smirk, but now I see him as the best player of his time. My two Arsenal pals, with whom I watched Wednesday's match, say Leo Messi is the best but for me Messi excels in a pattern whereas Ronaldo is a force unto himself.
The fourth familiar face this week was the expressive Buffon, who shows more emotion at singing the Italian anthem than most people muster up for the biggest events of their lives. He and Juve seem to have been doing this forever, interrupted briefly by scandal a decade ago.
Buffon is 38, still able to flick away just about anything and then find time to socialize with opponents. He shut down Radamel Falcao Wednesday and greeted his opponent as he departed.
Later Buffon fell to the ground to smother a loose ball and Monaco’s 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé chose to leap over him, rather than raking his cleats on Buffon's ancient spine. Buffon gave him a toothy smile and a collegial pat on the head.
Don’t be fooled by this show of brava figura. Italian defenders often smile and schmooze – like lanky Giorgio Ciellini of Juventus, who cold-cocked a Monaco opponent with his elbow Wednesday and then knelt over him solicitously, as if he were some kind of genial paramedic.
It’s always good to see people I recognize, to have their past exploits hovering over the field. But good enough to invest time on the second leg next week? Not so sure about that.
(below: the most beautiful WC final by one player, ever.)
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.