I’ve met only one astronaut, and that was Eileen Collins on Aug. 31, 2005, after she had been the commander of the Discovery space flight.
Many of us had seen live images of Discovery gliding to a graceful landing on terra firma, with Collins in control, and three weeks later for some reason or other she and her two colleagues were in Shea Stadium before a Mets game.
Given the crush of reporters, I talked to Collins only briefly – she had been a Mets fan as a girl in upstate New York – but I did get to chat with her husband Pat Youngs, a pilot for Delta. I learned he was a good amateur golfer, knew all about Mike Piazza's sore wrist, and was very proud of his wife.
A pilot who controlled jets packed with passengers displayed obvious awe for his life’s companion, who had taken a craft where he presumably would never go.
I thought of Eileen Collins and Pat Youngs the other day when I read the obituary for Sally Ride. I am not a big follower of space travel, but I did know the name Sally Ride.
Not only was she the first American woman (and third overall) in outer space, but she also had that felicitous name that seemed to come directly from the fertile mind of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or Joseph Heller, if they had been writing a novel about a female astronaut. Ride, Sally Ride, indeed.
The obituary also contained a reference to a former husband and a subsequent "partner," Tam O’Shaughnessy. Since then, the media has pointed out that Ride was both a business partner and life partner of O'Shaughnessy, and that the couple was rather private about the relationship, as was their right.
However, we are in a time when that most public of officials, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, likely the next mayor of the city, can don an apron for the Times and describe her restorative weekends on the Jersey shore with her now legal spouse Kim M. Catullo.
These days, Kim Catullo will be able to stand front and center if her spouse is inaugurated as mayor, the way Pat Youngs stood in front of the Mets dugout and watched his wife chat with the media horde.
Despite the judgments of Rep. Michele Bachmann and others on the religious right, more people are able to openly live the life they want. In that earlier time, one can only hope, Tam O’Shaughnessy never felt she had to cover up the pride she surely felt in being the life partner of Sally Ride.
The Yankees were in a terrible slump a few months ago.
That is to say, they were not in first place.
My prototypical Yankee fan friend was fretting and saying they would have to bring in some new talent.
I sent a two-word reply: Johnny Hopp.
My pal was mystified, in that Hopp is not the classic insurance acquisition the Yankees have made over the decades. He was a fading first baseman they picked up on Sept. 5, 1950 – too late to be eligible for the annual World Series, but he made his modest contributions until early 1952, when his services were no longer required. My point was, the Yankees usually get what they want and what they need.
Other names come to mind ahead of Hopp: Cecil Fielder in 1996, David Justice in 2000, and Johnny Mize in 1949. The Yankees always have the money to bring in somebody during a pennant race. They paid $40,000 for Mize, an aging first baseman, on Aug. 22, 1949, and he helped win five consecutive World Series. I can still see Duke Snider and Carl Furillo staring at his three blasts in the 1952 Series.
As a young sportswriter, my personal favorite among late-season Yankees was Pistol Pete Ramos, who came over from Cleveland on Sept. 5, 1964 – ineligible for the World Series, to be sure, but he made sure the Yankees got there, pitching 13 times and saved eight victories. Not only that, he jollied up his old friend Mickey Mantle by daring him to stage their long-delayed challenge sprint. By that time, the Mick could hardly walk.
Just guessing that Ichiro Suzuki will not propose an old-guy race with Derek Jeter or compare arms with Yankee outfielders, although the word is that he can trash-talk in English with the best of them. He will be a presence.
Supply your own moral judgment. My Brooklyn heart was long ago broken by the Johnny Mizes – and the Johnny Hopps.
In the last hours of the Tour on Sunday, I thought of the friend who taught me to love the sport.
So I went upstairs to get Roby’s old tricolor national-team jersey he gave to me after the Tour we shared in 1982.
I hung the jersey by the television as I watched the riders make the normally ceremonial journey into Paris. I wear it only for special occasions – maybe a softball game or the five- mile Turkey Trot I used to run. I want the jersey to last.
Roby Oubron was a four-time world cyclocross champion in 1937, 1938, 1941 and 1942, who was helping the Jonathan Boyer team during the 1982 Tour. Boyer had been the first American to race the Tour in 1981 – a forerunner to the Yanks who would later win the Tour.
Roby was driving the car for Boyer’s manager Rob and photographer William and a Belgian camera crew (three guys known as Vandy). I was allowed to squeeze in for five days and immediately bonded with Roby who was squat and powerful and looked like Picasso.
Although he had never ridden in the three-week road race that is the Tour, he had coached and mentored generations of French, Czech and blind cyclists – and was tight with Bernard Hinault, the Breton who would win the Tour that year.
The car had access to the heart of the Tour. If I asked why Hinault was making a breakaway, Roby would gun the car alongside Hinault and chat with his pal, and then would report back to us in French simple enough for me to understand.
Roby knew where to stop for a quick omelet during a long stage. He knew all the good bars for a quick beer in Bordeaux or the Pyrenees. He was at home with millionaire sponsors and rugged motorcycle messengers. He was one of the warmest, funniest, most communicative people I ever met.
Roby had fought in World War Two, and had been injured and pulled off the battlefield by an American soldier.
A few months after the 1982 Tour, Roby accompanied some Tour riders to a new race across Virginia – his first visit to the United States. I was in a car with him when we saw the Washington Monument, and I saw tears roll down his cheeks.
“J’adore l’Amérique,” he said.
He became my adopted uncle figure; he and his lovely wife Simone watched over our daughter when she was working in Paris; he gave me a jersey that had been worn by French cyclists; and we met every so often in New York or Paris.
“Tu es un champion du monde,” I would sometimes utter in dramatic fashion, and he would chuckle.
Roby passed in the late 80’s; I never got to say goodbye. But every year when the Tour comes around, I think of the old cyclocross champion who never rode the Tour, but helped me love it.
* * *
On Sunday Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour and also dug up a great finishing kick to launch his countryman Mark Cavendish to win the stage -- a gripping end to this year's Tour. I celebrated the riders, the country, and Roby by putting on his jersey and hopping on my old-guy bike, and going for a spin.
At first I thought Chris Hayes was a trifle callow when he began making cameos on MSNBC, but he has quickly become one of the most thoughtful talk-show hosts on television.
And my long-time impression of Christopher Hitchens was of a skanky mixture of alcohol, tobacco and ego, but now I am enjoying his last collection of essays.
My wife kept saying there was more to both of them, and she’s usually right. (She told me to take a fresh look at the noted wingnut Ted Turner during his hilariously epic Goodwill Games venture with the old Soviet Union in the late ‘80’s.)
Hayes was tall and young and enthusiastic when he started to pop up on the Rachel Maddow show. It wasn’t that I disagreed with him about much, but I just didn’t think the world needed another true believer on the left or right.
Fortunately, somebody saw enough to give Hayes his own show, Up w/Chris Hayes, on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8 to 10 on MSNBC. He knows his stuff, and he also lets his guests speak – in paragraphs, in complete thoughts – without shouting them down or belittling them, which is surely the mode on cable these days.
Hayes is a master of getting smart guests, most of them from the liberal end, but he is gracious and fair to all guests (as is the well-prepared Maddow.)
Last Sunday Hayes had three panelists I did not know, all of them interesting, as well as Edward Conard, who helped build Bain Capital and is the author of the current book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong.
In the course of a civil conversation, Conard agreed that Mitt Romney was “legally” the CEO of Bain until 2002, a point Romney does not choose to concede.
I could not tell if Conard felt he was able to fully represent his book, but he seemed to fit in with the other panelists.
(Melissa Harris-Perry strikes pretty much the same thoughtful tone on MSNBC on weekends from 10 to noon. May their tribe increase.)
Christopher Hitchens was an acquired taste. I had caught him preening and pontificating over the years and was mostly turned off. (As my friend Pincus once said about somebody at work, we grew up in different schoolyards.)
A few years ago, at my wife’s urging, I read Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, about a life far more Dickensian than I could have imagined. After he died, I began reading his last book, Arguably: Essays.
Hitchens takes readers places we do not have time to explore – authors, countries, mind sets. I have no idea how he managed to know so many people, be so many places. He even had himself waterboarded -- without Dick Cheney ordering it.
Just one essay will stand in for all of them. Given the ferment that has come out of Tunisia in the past few years, I was delighted to discover Hitchens had visited there for a July 2007 essay in Vanity Fair. It began:
If we all indeed come from Africa, then the very idea of Africa itself comes from the antique northern coast of the great landmass, where the cosmology is subtly different and where the inhabitants look north to Europe and southward at the Sahara. Here was the mighty civilization known as Carthage, which came as close as possible to reversing what we think of as the course of “history” and conquering Europe from Africa instead of the other way around. With its elephants and armies and under the brilliant generalship of Hannibal, it penetrated all the way through Spain and France and down over the Alps…
Hitchens soon introduces us to the wine and cuisine and feminism and education level of modern Tunisia as well as the tensions within Islam that more or less prepare the reader for the revolution that followed.
I am going through the Hitchens collection slowly, hoping somehow it will keep expanding. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that avowed atheist found a way to file from the beyond?
Jeremy Lin’s time with the Knicks ended when Carmelo Anthony's ankle healed late last season. The Knicks’ fast break and open-man passes ended, and the ball gravitated to Anthony, and Lin’s usefulness reached a grinding halt.
Anthony demonstrated scorn for the rookie point guard, his body language effectively saying, “Just get me the ball, Junior, and get out of my way.”
Lin would have been wise to make a personal fast break at half the price, so he could develop his skills, but the $25.1-million offer for three years from Houston was a no-brainer, for all concerned.
Now Lin will have a chance to develop, but the real pressure is on the Knicks’ ownership, which put so much faith in Anthony’s self-involved game. He has never shown he can carry a team in the playoffs, when defenses are ratcheted up. He does not have the imagination or discipline for that level of ball.
One thing we can all expect: Jeremy Lin will never express those thoughts. He’s too smart and too polite to go over the end of his run with the Knicks. He gets to start over in Houston. The Knicks start over with new point guards trying to deliver the ball to Anthony. The Garden will be watching.
A morbid thought crossed my mind the other morning while I was transfixed in front of the tube.
No matter what, the Tour de France is going to end on Sunday with the ceremonial ride up the Champs-Elysées, and then it will go away for the next 49 weeks.
Why does it have to go away?
The Tour catches my attention like no other sports event; I’ve covered parts of six or seven, sometimes driving the course just before or just after the riders. Now I watch the live show on NBC Sports Network every morning (Tuesday is a rest day.) as the cyclists flit from mountain to coastline, from country to city, always something different around the next turn.
The riders all look alike, with their thrust jaws and wraparound shades and wiry physiques hunched aerodynamically.
For the viewer, the cyclists come to individual life through the expertise of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett, two Englishmen who have been broadcasting the Tour since humankind invented the wheel. They know all 198 riders registered for the Tour and, as the day’s race unfolds kaleidoscopically, they discuss which rider is a sprint specialist and which one a mountain man.
One thing is certain: the Tour endures despite the retirement and current legal troubles of Lance Armstrong. Whatever he was doing chemically, we all saw him whup a bunch of riders who actually did test positive. He was a great force but he is long gone now. And the land and the riders remain.
As seen by camera from a Tour helicopter, a knot of riders banks to the left around a curve on one rainy desolate section of country road. In the background are sheep or maybe one tent pitched in a field. A couple stands by the wayside, clapping politely. The mind snaps the picture and the camera rolls around the next bend. While the network breaks for a commercial, the camera may focus on a crumbling hilltop castle.
Here is the ultimate truth about the Tour de France: the star of the show is one of the most beautiful and diverse and historic countries in the world.
I know, I know, one does not need the Tour to drive through Normandy or down the Rhone valley or across the haunting Massif Central. (I tremble as I type that name.) For three weeks a year, the network brings France into my house. I try not to dwell upon that grim moment, coming next Monday, when the Tour goes away.
When I took the no-brainer buyout last December, I talked about watching the wheels go round and round. Instead, I’m watching waves.
Two years ago my wife bought me another perfect present, an inflatable kayak from Sea Eagle. Pumps up with a pedal in 10 minutes. Seats two. All I need is company up front.
This week Grandchild No. 5/5 and I paddled across the bay to inspect a mcmansion at West Egg. We glided through a school of baby blues (you should see them jump when they are fully grown in September, I told her), and watched a gent in a motorboat cut his engine politely when he reached the No Wake sign. I pointed out the Bronx and New Rochelle past the north end of the bay and we talked about the Huguenots who settled there. We watched the afternoon flights heading toward JFK.
After an hour, I told her to navigate toward the dock and the beach. The kayak deflated and was easily stuffed in the back of the car.
The summer is young.
Looks like we all invented Joe Paterno and Happy Valley, turned them into an idyllic magic kingdom, to justify the seedy world of big-time college football.
There had to be one factory with a coach who got it, who walked with the philosophers in his spare time, who was plugged into the moral issues of his time.
There had to be one good place. Otherwise, what is the justification of college football?
After half a century of covering college sports, I came to think of the vast majority of big-time coaches as talented and maybe even charismatic hucksters, who were warped inside. Their job was to prepare for the next game, the next season. But morally, many of them were like moles, who dig in the earth but never see daylight.
With the Freeh report on the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State emerging on Thursday, it seems clear that Penn State never prepared this sanctified football coach for the one real tough issue of his career. He could not act on evidence there was something wrong with his buddy down the hall.
Apparently, Paterno had never even walked through a room where the great common denominators of our time – the Oprahs, the Dr. Phils, the Jerry Springers – were blaring on television about the dark side of life.
The coach we needed so badly lived underground. And when confronted with hints and clues and allegations, he was surely not the person to do anything about them.
He had a game coming up. He had a practice. He had a recruiting trip.
And so did the rest of his university, and the fans who came rolling into the mountains on Saturday, and the sportswriters who idealized the coach. They all had a game. The pressure was on. The state of Pennsylvania and the whole football-loving nation wanted to think of Happy Valley as that good place that also produced linebackers.
We had the myth. How many children’s lives were ruined by a blind system of big-time college football that fit our needs?
Editing papers at Jamaica High and Dartmouth College, Larry Sills dreamed of working for The New York Times. Instead, he went into the family manufacturing business.
The next thing I heard, Sills was the focus of a terrific article in the Atlantic in January, about a company that still makes things right here in the United States.
If you want to jump immediately to the article by Adam Davidson, I would encourage you to do so.
I was told about the article by the Hon. Walter Schwartz, my lawyer and friend -- otherwise known as Chief -- the editor of the Hilltopper in our senior year at Jamaica. Sills was the sports editor who gave up his column and assigned me to take over. I hope I remembered to thank both of them for giving me a start.
Schwartz and I visited Standard Motor Products the other day. The Sills family used to own the six-story factory on Northern Blvd., but now leases the airy top floor.
Sills told us how the recession has challenged his company, but he continues to produce things in Greenville, S.C. and elsewhere.
He paused and pointed to the ceiling.
“There’s a farm up there,” he said, telling us how the landlord arranged for the Brooklyn Grange to run a one-acre farm on the roof.
Sills described how a crane lifted tons of dirt and a tractor onto what New Yorkers used to call Tar Beach. He winced as he recalled the concussion of the tractor spreading dirt a few inches above his curly head.
We climbed a flight of stairs to the farm, where four or five nimble college-age people were doing what farmers do. There was also a photo shoot going on, with an actual model; we tried to stay out of her way.
Sills pointed out the skyline of Manhattan, plus the tomato and pepper plants, and early shoots of sunflowers which, in a few weeks will reach our height. He pointed out several bee hives in one corner and laughed about how the bees took a ramble one day, blocking traffic on the busy street below. He showed us the chicken coop. Every Wednesday, he said, Brooklyn Grange holds a public market in the lobby, in front of the art display.
We took a short drive to Zenon Taverna in nearby Astoria, for some excellent grilled fish, celebrating this ethnic borough. Sills and Schwartz and I discussed our college newspaper careers at Dartmouth, City College and Hofstra, respectively.
As it turns out, Larry and I both chose industries currently being challenged in this new economy. He did not display any remorse about heeding the tug of his family business. After all, he used to accompany his dad to work on Saturdays as a child, and he keeps photos of his ancestors in the board room.
The company has given him a livelihood that supports his family. He has been portrayed in what seems like a fair way by a good young journalist in a major magazine. Plus, the roof continues to support the farm right above him. A century ago, people built factories to last.
With deep gratitude for all the fun last winter, my best wish for Jeremy Lin is that the Knicks will somehow decline to match the sumptuous contract from Houston.
Lin cannot play to his potential with the Knicks, who are now a two-man team – Carmelo Anthony and James Dolan. Anthony has been empowered by ownership to call for the ball and make his solitary moves toward the basket.
Anthony is is a one-dimensional player with no concept of team motion. In their short time together, he displayed open scorn for Lin’s style of finding the holes and dishing to the open man. It was Anthony's team, Anthony's ball.
Jason Kidd is old enough and wise enough to adjust to Anthony’s self-centeredness. Otherwise, he would not have signed on. But Lin needs to find his rhythm for a full season in the N.B.A. with teammates who will play with him. That won’t happen with the Knicks.
As Howard Beck points out in his expert analysis in Saturday’s Times, the Knicks must respond to an offer sheet of $19.3-million for three years for Lin, as soon as next Wednesday. They have reason to wonder if he can become the point guard of the future.
Lin should have equal skepticism about whether he can succeed with the ball disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle that is Carmelo Anthony. With any luck, Lin fakes to New York and takes a quick step to Houston.
We used to hang around together on the road – Stanley Cups in Montreal and the Garden, that Italian restaurant in Nagano, the shot-put in Ancient Olympia, and insane nights at Fenway and Yankee Stadium and the Kingdome.
I could be deep in thought in the press box, composing my early-edition column, when a voice would screech right behind my head: “Pop!!!” Everybody in the press box would stop what they were doing.
If we were in Boston, she would deposit a roll of Necco Wafers on my desk. She always had a stash.
My daughter Laura Vecsey was a sports columnist in Albany and Seattle and Baltimore for more than a decade. I marvelled at her big-sister insight into Junior and Alex and Pedro. One day Jim Palmer, on the air, praised her throwing arm.
Life on the road was never the same on the road after she became a political columnist in Harrisburg, Pa., keeping an eye on chicanery and obtuseness in the real world.
After she got out of the newspaper business, I realized what a good job she had been doing when I met former Gov. Ed Rendell on a live television show. His first words were, “I miss your daughter.” I bet he does.
Last month the editors at the Harrisburg Patriot-News asked her to write a personal tribute to Title IX, to go along with their impressive package on the 1972 legislation.
Laura wrote a lovely memory about being a 10-year-old who wanted to play ball, but the only way was with the local Police Athletic League boys’ hardball team.
Her entire essay can be accessed via this link:
Laura then told how competition for women got better mostly because of Title IX. My big thrill was when my daughter made the basketball varsity as a sophomore. I was playing on Monday nights in adult recreation up at the high school, and the scoreboard contained the roster of the girls’ varsity. How cool was that, to see the family name up there.
In her essay, Laura recalls her responsibility, as the point guard, to set up the star of the team, Debbie Beckford. And if the team got off message, Mr. Beckford, in his lilting Caribbean accent, would shout: “Get the ball to Debbie!” Quite right, too. Debbie became as a Big East star for St. John’s and is now a success in business.
The lives and working careers of women have been enriched by varsity sports in the age of Title IX – including my colleague who supplied me with Necco Wafers and screeched “Pop!!!”
Sometimes there were tears of rage. Once there was even blood.
Spain had never beaten Italy in regulation time in seven meetings in a major tournament going into Sunday. The only victory over Italy had come in a penalty-kick in the 2008 Euros quarterfinals when Iker Casillas saved two shots.
It is hard to believe that Spain is the great dynasty for one generation in the history of the sport. Not long ago the Spaniards were seen as under-achievers, long on talent but short on will. I've read articles in Spanish papers back in the day with Spanish observors fretting over a litany of losses in the World Cup and the Euros, brooding if there was something wrong with the way people were raising their sons.
That blather is over now that Spain is the champion of three straight major tournaments, after the 4-0 drubbing of Italy on Sunday in the Euro final. Even if the last two goals were accomplished while Italy was gassed, and short a player because of injury, it was still an overwhelming victory. Spanish players ran and Spanish players passed, and the lines met at the perfect spot near the goal. We are getting used to this art. It is hard to remember the misery of the past generation.
The most painful defeat came in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals in Foxboro, Mass., when Roberto Baggio scored a late goal for a 2-1 victory. That match ended with Luis Enrique of Spain rolling on the ground after Mauro Tassotti cold-cocked him in the nose with an elbow.
The cheap shot from Tassotti remains tied for the most vicious play in World Cup history with West Germany’s Toni Schumacher’s human steamroller hip check that broke the jaw of France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semifinal.
In those primitive times of 1994, the lone-ranger referee, Sandor Puhl of Hungary, got no help from his two sideline assistants and no electronic advisory from FIFA Central on a headset. He had missed the play and could only wonder why Luis Enrique’s jersey was suddenly flecked with blood.
Two sidelights to that ugly moment:
*- By the time FIFA caught up with the play, Italy was through to the finals, and Spain was long gone. But Tassotti received an eight-match suspension for international play, and was never chosen to the Azzurri again. It took Tassotti 17 years to shake hands with Luis Enrique, before a match in Milan last year.
*- In the video, as the Spanish players tried to alert the hapless ref what had occurred out of his vision, one Spanish player has the name Nadal on his jersey. It is indeed Miguel Angel Nadal, uncle and one of the great role models for that current Spanish sportsman, Rafael Nadal. And, yes, that is Pep Guardiola, then a Span defender, recently the Barca coach, milling around with other frustrated Spanish players in 1994.
The blood of 1994 was ancient history in Kiev on Sunday. Italy has been a perpetual dynasty since winning its first of four World Cups in 1934. It had a good tournament, in the face of soccer scandals back home after a disastrous 2010 World Cup. But after a long and painful path, Spain is now a dynasty.
The New York Times is running a Goal blog asking readers how they rank Spain with all sports champions.
Here, I want to congratulate Spain for joining the great soccer nations like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy.
Much better to be remembered for rolling past Italy in 2012 than for suffering the cheap shot from Tassotti in 1994.
Your comments are welcome about Spain's coming-of-age. .
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.