Our grand-daughter Anjali was going to use the facilities at a service station near New Hope, Pennsylvania.
The door was locked, with a quaint device attached.
However, since Anjali's mom was filling up, the attendant said, "Don't use a quarter; here's a token."
By that time, Anjali was fascinated with the gizmo, and she pulled out her smart phone, and photographed it, up close.
Haruko Hasumi loves baseball – Japanese baseball, American baseball. She flew from Tokyo to DFW in 1991 and witnessed the seventh and last no-hitter of Nolan Ryan’s career.
First time I met her, she was wearing her SWOBODA 4 Mets jersey outside the Tokyo Dome in 2000. She and the Swoboda family were in Queens for the final days of Shea Stadium in 2008. This year Hasumi began following another team – Nichidai-Fujisawa High School. She has been going to the same dentist, Yasuki Ito, for many years, and this spring his son Rui was a senior on the team.
“I heard that parents cheered for their children every game but they had no time taking photos,” she wrote in an e-mail. “That's why I thought of taking photos for them. At first I introduced myself to the parents, ‘Hi guys, I'm Dr. Ito's patient since 1990.’ That cracks them up.They call me ‘Ms. Patient.’”
Recently, Nichidai-Fujisawa was playing in the Kanagawa Prefecture playoff, the prelude to the famous Koshien national tournament. (Final Four and Super Bowl, wrapped into one.)
In the ninth inning, she caught Rui Ito throwing out a runner at home, and his father cheering in the stands.
But the team lost, which is clear from the mothers’ faces. The players bowed, everybody cheered – and the juniors had to carry the bags to the team bus.
Now Haruko will devote her energy to rooting for the Mets, from afar. And good luck with that.
The contrast between baseball and soccer, my two favorite sports, was never more apparent than this past week.
With baseball acknowledging the yawning length of games – now over three hours and getting worse – soccer returned (was it ever away?) in Europe with matches under two hours.
This is a huge advantage for soccer. A fan can commit to a match, or even half a match, without falling into a slack-jawed stupor in front of one of those four-hour Sunday-night horrors the Yanks always seem to be playing.
I made the decision last Saturday morning that I could afford to watch the first half of Manchester United and was rewarded with the delicious sense that it was 2013-14 all over again. (Man U, lost, 2-1.) Then I came back from chores to watch the second half of Everton, with Tim Howard picking up where he left off for the USA in the World Cup, trying to overcome a weak back four. (Everton coughed up a tying goal, late.)
Two welcome chunks of the Premiership, and it was not yet noon.
Meantime, baseball is acknowledging that the average time of a game has gone from 2 hours 35 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes 47 seconds -- the longest on record, according to Tyler Kepner in the Times.
One reason the games get longer was noted by Howard Kitt, once a promising lefty in the Yankee chain, who has been a specialist in antitrust issues with a keen eye on sports business. (I covered him helping win county titles in basketball and baseball at Oceanside High around 1960.)
Kitt, who advanced as high as AAA ball, listed one cause of long games – “the number of pitching changes per game, especially in the late innings.
“When I played, there were three categories of pitchers: starters, long relievers and short relievers. Starters were expected to finish; long relievers were used when a starter didn't have it; and short relievers were used when a starter ran out of gas and/or when a fresh arm was needed to finish a tight game. Closers? Never hoid of 'em!
“Now, the last three innings frequently take at least as long as the first six because of the number of pitching changes by each side. Think about it: A manager walks out to the mound; signals for a reliever; who comes in from somewhere beyond the outfield fence; who then proceeds to take eight warmup pitches (hardly necessary simply to get a feel for the mound, given that the pitcher is already warm); after which--finally--the game resumes. Multiply that time two or three times per team, and some real time elapses (this can easily be verified with a stopwatch).”
Kitt, who understands the importance of commercials in televised sports, added: “If this is required by TV sponsors, understood; if not, limit the number of changes per inning and watch the game speed up.”
Asked about the number of pitchers who seem to fall apart these days, Kitt cited the high salaries since free agency. Players don’t have to take off-season jobs as they did back in the 60’s and can work out virtually all year. Do their bodies ever really rest?
However, no sport grinds its players down more greedily than soccer. We saw Champions League-level players trudge into the World Cup in early June and many of them were still slogging into July. A few weeks after the final, my favorite-named player, Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, flew across the world for a meaningless friendly and was creamed by a red-hot player from Major League Soccer. Now he’s out six weeks.
Soccer, under the see-no-evil “leadership” of Sepp Blatter, does not care. On Monday, Neymar of Brazil, last seen writhing on the grass with a broken back on July 4, was running around Camp Nou on Barcelona, along with his new playmate, Luis Suarez, he of the health-hazard choppers.
I know Suarez is suspended from some league and national matches, but shouldn’t he be banned from going out in public until he is trained?
On Tuesday, some of the lads were playing in an early round of the Champions League.
But at least soccer league matches are over in two hours, whereas baseball could be dawdling toward irrelevancy.
Ray Robinson isn’t sure if Lauren Bacall called him a cheap bastard or cheap SOB. In fact, she may have called him both.
That was in 1941, when they were thrown together for a few hours in Sardi’s, with Robinson unaware that he and his pal had become the de facto hosts of an impromptu party.
Robinson, now 93, has survived the vilification by the gorgeous and opinionated young woman to become a magazine editor and author of many books, including celebrated biographies of Lou Gehrig and Christy Mathewson, as well as a charming little book entitled Famous Last Words, which is just what the title says.
Bacall’s words became famous to Ray Robinson. She was 17, an aspiring actress and model from the West Side then known as Betty Perske; he was just graduating from Columbia. His pal Ed Gottlieb knew the young woman, and the three of them were out together, and she suggested they drop into Sardi’s.
Some of her friends came over, and drinks were ordered, with Ms. Perske assuming her two gallant squires were good for it.
Robinson and Gottlieb did what any two broke young men would do. They simultaneously headed for the men’s room to discuss how they were going to pay the tab.
“Ten bucks or so,” Robinson recalls. “That was a lot of money in those days.”
To avoid washing dishes, their stratagem was to ask Ms. Perske to sign an IOU to Sardi’s since (a) she was gorgeous, and (b) she knew somebody in the Sardi family.
When they apprised her of the situation, she let loose some vocabulary that presumably Humphrey Bogart and Hollywood directors and critics would later hear. But she did sign something and they were free to go.
“We got outside and she said, ‘All right, who’s going to call me a cab so I can get home?’ We said, well, if we couldn’t afford the bill at Sardi’s, how could we afford a taxi?”
It was then that Ms. Perske uttered sneering last words to Robinson: “I should have known better than to go out with a couple of blankety-blank college students.”
“She just walked away into the night,” Robinson recalled.
He did see her again in 1945 when she was the bombshell star of her first movie, “To Have and Have Not.” He and Gottlieb were back home from the military and put on their uniforms and talked their way into a press party at the Gotham Hotel. (Robinson remembers stuff like that.) She greeted Gottlieb, whom she had dated, and moved on, politely.
Robinson has been telling the story ever since, as one of my very favorite lunch companions, discussing baseball or books or politics. He and his lovely wife Phyllis, a longtime editor at the Book-of-the-Month Club, have been living near Gracie Mansion while Bacall nested in the Dakota, until her passing last week at 89. Given the twin nationhood of East Side and West Side, he and Bacall never met again.
The smelt was incidental when our grand-daughter Anjali paid a visit to the Seattle Aquarium recently. She was more interested in the light on the reeds.
We were driving through upstate New York and I saw a sign for Oriskany Falls.
Right away, I flashed to a ball park in Brooklyn on the last day of the 1954 season, the Dodgers and Pirates playing out the string.
Before Sandy Koufax became Sandy Koufax, before Clayton Kershaw was invented, there was Karl Spooner.
I was there, one of 9,344 fans. A lefty from the minors, who had shut out the hated Giants on Thursday, came back and shut out the Pirates on Sunday.
Eighteen innings in his first two games. Seven hits. Twenty-seven strikeouts. No runs. One of the best two-game debuts in major-league history.
As my friend and I took three subway lines back to Queens that day, we envisioned the career ahead for Karl Spooner. As Brooklyn Dodger fans always said, wait til next year.
Next year arrived, and Spooner had an 8-6 record, and the Dodgers finally won a World Series.
But he had already blown out his shoulder in spring training of 1955, and never again pitched in the majors. Nowadays, there might be an operation for it, but by 1958, he was retired and living in Vero Beach, Fla., the training base of the team that had just deserted us.
He died in 1984 at the age of 52.
I ascertained via the Internet that a ball field is named for Spooner in Oriskany Falls, so my brother and I made a detour and asked a nice man at the filling station for directions. “I saw him pitch in 1954,” I said. I asked whether people in town still remembered Karl Spooner, and he said a few. I did not ask for their names or numbers; I had my own memories.
We found the field down the hill. This being America in 2014, nobody was on the ball field – no league game, no kids playing choose-up, no game of catch. There was a modest sign, painted in Dodger blue, and on the other side facing the field is a resumé of Spooner’s career, from childhood to Ebbets Field. The records were compiled by Dr. Rich Cohen.
“My friend, my doctor,” said my kid brother Christopher Vecsey, a professor at Colgate University. They umpire Little League games together, and every spring they gambol in a game of town ball, the ancestor of modern baseball.
Dr. Cohen has also written a lovely biography of Spooner for SABR: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/b6f00e89
My brother said he might take his grown son, who still pitches in an adult league, to this field. He can imagine his son taking aim at the short porch in right field. I strolled out to the mound and approximated a left-handed delivery, in homage to the man I saw pitch in 1954.
Somebody asked me what I think of the schism in the N.C.A.A. and I replied, “Not much.”
Frankly, big-time college sports lost me years ago. I had to cover it, moralize about it, until I stopped writing a regular column for the Times.
At that point, I didn’t have to write, or watch, or think. So much else to do in life.
From what I read of Thursday’s developments, the breakup of the N.C.A.A. is the logical extension of what I have been witnessing for decades.
I saw major universities bolt from traditional, regional rivalries in established conferences to pursue more television money. It’s all about the networks – and why should they care? If they have programming, that is their mission.
Education was supposed to be the mission of colleges, even the ones that are spinning off into a dog-in-the-manger Big Five. But I have never heard a valid argument linking education and big-time sports. The closest presidents and other apologists could come up with was that it got wealthy boosters on campus in September.
Possibly, some athletes in the new elite group will get paid more, have better health care, as they prepare for a professional career that few of them will achieve. I can assure you that the demands will be higher, also. What do you mean you have an afternoon lab? Go lift weights.
I don’t know what will happen to the leftovers in Division I. I saw my alma mater, Hofstra University, give up football a few years ago because of seven-digit losses every year. I ache for my friends who played football – and got educations – decades ago; their hearts were broken. Nowadays, students wouldn’t walk from their dorms to watch a second-tier football program. They’d rather watch Alabama or USC. on the tube.
Maybe more schools will be encouraged to give up football, to back off rogue basketball programs. The way I see it, the University of Chicago and New York University are doing fine since they took a big step back from professionalism.
My athlete friends got educations while playing sports at Hofstra back in the late 50’s and 60’s. I am in touch with some – a few teachers and entrepreneurs, a poet, a writer, a dentist, a few television executives, a major-league ball player.
They had teachers who would flunk them if they didn’t do the work. I don’t believe that is the remotely the case at big-time schools. I am always stunned when I hear that somebody got a degree while playing football or basketball, and I am impressed when an athlete shows signs of having opened his eyes and ears on a college campus. It’s been heading that way for decades.
The N.C.A.A. has been found out – not as universally sordid as FIFA, the world soccer body, but hypocritical on a domestic level. I was creeped out listening to the newest president, Mark Emmert, on his visit to the Times a few years ago: he was obviously a front man for networks and boosters.
One nice thing about retirement is that I can ignore college football and basketball. My sports more or less rotate from baseball in the warm months to soccer in the winter. More than enough. It is nice not to care. That's what I think.
I stick with things a long time – ratty t-shirts, tattered sneakers, faded easy chairs.
For the same reason, I am glad the Mets did not break up this juggernaut at the trading deadline.
Is this a personality defect, this disinterest in change? Probably. Go tell it to my clamshell cell phone. But some things work just well enough; you get used to them.
I just got an e-mail from a senior-citizen hardball player in the city who says he has stopped being a Yankee fan because of the way they dumped Brian Roberts, essentially an Oriole, to make room for new infielders.
Reminder: guys got dropped to make room for Johnny Mize and Johnny Sain and Enos Slaughter and Pedro Ramos over the years. Pistol Pete helped salvage the 1964 pennant, although he arrived too late to be eligible for the World Series.
As somebody who follows most Mets games, I’m glad they did not scuttle Bartolo Colon. I got used to his constant half smile (is he happy? is it gas?) and his Iron Mike steadiness. I know he’s a one-year wonder at 42, but move him in the off season.
I’m glad they didn’t trade Daniel Murphy because he hustles, old-school, even though he makes fans nervous every time he bends for a simple grounder.
Generally, I hate the trading deadline in the era of free agency. I hated it when the Mets sold David Cone in one of those weasel waiver deals in late August of 1992. I hated it last season when the Mets unloaded Marlon Byrd. By mid-summer, you get used to a player who is doing his job.
These mid-summer dumps happen when players’ contracts are running out, or getting too expensive. It’s the drawback to free agency, which the players earned, although the so-called reserve clause, servitude, contributed to that wonderful decade of my childhood – six pennants in 10 years for the Boys of Summer. That will never happen now. Duke Snider would have opted out. Or Big Newk. Or somebody.
If players have the right to move around, clubs have the right to move them first, for some quick-fix advantage. I get it. Fans have a lust for trades; if they didn’t, there would be no sports-talk radio.
But this Mets’ season is just comfortable enough, given our limited expectations in the hundred-year contamination period from Bernie Madoff. Sandy Alderson is building something – I don’t know what. They made a good move in keeping Duda. Who knew? They sent d’Arnaud to the attitude farm in Las Vegas, and brought him back fast. Who doesn’t love watching Famiglia and Mejia in the eighth and ninth? It’s been fun watching deGrom pitch – and swing – from his first game.
So play it out in Queens, while the Lesters and Lackeys and Prices go flying around, office temps.
Maybe Mets fans would feel differently if the Mets were a legitimate contender. Who has that kind of time?
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.