The wild card is a gimmick. Now baseball is making the franchise of Edd Roush and Vada Pinson and Dave Concepcíon play the team of Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner and Roberto Clemente in one game for the championship of the Ohio River.
As an old Brooklyn Dodger fan, I cannot choose between cities. They exude history, from the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela to the miniature Roebling suspension bridge over the Beautiful Ohio.
When I lived in Louisville as a news reporter, Cincinnati was a major-league city, with young Al Michaels on the radio, calling the Big Red Machine. And I used to write about Pittsburgh, too – mine subsidence under schools, Heinz Hall, now the sweet ball park with the sensational view of downtown Pittsburgh. So don’t ask me to pick between cities.
All I know is this: back in 1992, a manager asked for respect for his team.
Jim Leyland had the credentials, even back then. He managed the game right. Now he was addressing reporters just outside the visiting clubhouse in Atlanta, where his Pirate players were dealing with the sudden 3-2 loss to the Braves on a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
Francisco Cabrera had just driven home Sid Bream with the winning run (in what seemed like slow-motion) and the Braves were going to the World Series (and a generation of success) and the Pirates were heading to oblivion.
Leyland said this team had tried hard, and fallen short, and he challenged reporters to be fair. Bobby Bonilla and John Smiley were already gone because ownership could not afford the free-agent salaries, and everybody knew Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek were leaving. Leyland’s talk was sentimental, what a reporter might encounter after a high-school championship game, but he was talking about professionals, and he made his point in a touching way.
Now Leyland manages in Detroit with great, expensive players, and it has taken 21 years for the Pirates to play another post-season game. This is a big event, for anybody who loves baseball, the American sport with the most history, the sport with regional ties.
These two grand old teams go back to the Nineteenth Century; now they must play one game just to keep going. Cruel.
All I know is that the Reds have been in the post-season in 2010 and 2012, but the Pirates have not played a single post-season game since Andy Van Slyke fell to the ground in center field watching Bream lumber home, and Leyland challenged us to be decent to a team that was coming apart. Twenty-one years. Go, Bucs.
The name jumped out of a random paragraph about the horror. A world-renowned poet was caught in the madness in an upscale mall in Nairobi.
I heard about Kofi Awoonor in 1976 when I was covering Long Island for the Times. His friends at the State University at Stony Brook were publicizing his arrest in his homeland of Ghana. He said he had driven a friend in political trouble across the border because that’s what friends do. He had been at Stony Brook before going home, and had many admirers in the States, including two Pulitzer Prize winners, Louis Simpson and Bernard Malamud.
Of everything I did on that story, I most remember calling the Ghanaian embassy in Washington, D.C., browbeating some telephone-answerer, saying, “Doesn’t your country know it has imprisoned an important artist, a man the world knows?” Reporters know how to make ourselves obnoxious in cases like this, and I’d like to think I did.
Ghana came to its senses in 10 months and released him for time served and assured him that he remained a citizen in good standing. He had dropped from 165 pounds to 135 pounds but said he caught up with his reading in prison. He also got a collection of poems out of his little sabbatical, called The House by the Sea, after the prison where he lived.
In January of 1978 he returned to Stony Brook to see his friends, and drink wine, and recite poetry. One he read was dedicated to his daughter Amewsika, whose name means, The Human Being Is More Precious Than Gold.
Tomorrow my love
You will turn eleven
I had promised a party;
But worry not, I won’t be there.
Your mother will give you a party;
Tell me if she doesn’t.
Where am I? Well, very near you.
But there are iron bars on my door.
A man stands there with a gun.
He brings me food and water
Now and then
And I dream that soon
You and I and all of us
Will be free!
Kofi Awoonor lived and wrote and taught from Ghana, and served as a diplomat, for the rest of his life, which ended this week while traveling to Kenya for a literary festival, as a prominent voice of Africa, of humanity. Other men with guns appeared at the mall and slaughtered innocents.
I went to a bookshelf – I knew just where it was – and found his book, The Breast of the Earth: A Survey of the History, Culture and Literature of Africa South of the Sahara, which I had read as I prepared to write the two stories while he was imprisoned. At the reception in Stony Brook, he had inscribed the book for me, the only time we met.
I want to add that I am grateful to Ghana for giving him back his life, his voice. I have since come to meet Ghanaian soccer fans in Germany and Brooklyn and South Africa, the nicest people. They mingled with Americans at the World Cup in 2010, some carrying flags of both nations. I think of Ghana as Kofi Awoonor’s homeland, and grieve along with the nation.
The article from the Sahara Reporters:
Being a licensed sports columnist, I cannot root for any team, you understand. But I know this guy named Spencer who is agonizing over the last weeks of yet another wretched Mets season. This is what he said:
“It’s awful. We lost Parnell and Wright and Harvey and then Davis, who could at least field when he wasn’t moping. I understand why they shipped Byrd and Buck at the trading deadline, but geez, they were professionals. As soon as Byrd was gone, you could pitch around their whole lineup.
“What else did they have? Hawkins has been great, willing to be a closer because there was nobody else. I respect Murphy and Quintanilla for trying. I like the energy of Young – he showed me something the day he collided with Hudson at first base, showing real concern. Now it sounds as if the Mets may not want him back. Who else they got? Lagares can catch a ball. D’Arnaud is not ready, not sure he ever will be.
“Collins kept them together. They still play for him. The Mets should bring him back because he’s a teacher and he doesn’t let up. Maybe they will, just on the theory that they couldn’t find anybody else capable to take over this bunch.
“You know how long this season has lasted? Tejada and Duda are back, playing regularly. Talk about a season going nowhere. Ownership has screwed up this franchise so badly.
“The only thing I have left is rooting for the Pirates. I love the old teams who stayed where they belonged. What self-respecting National League fan wants to see the team of Clemente and Stargell losing, decade after decade? I enjoy seeing Byrd contributing, and young talented guys like McCutcheon. It’s all we got. Go, Bucs.”
The weather was gorgeous. Of course it was.
We were sitting up front in the Mykonos restaurant in Great Neck. The windows were out so patrons could enjoy the traditional glorious weather of the holy days.
The Lubavitchers were walking to their Chabad, the men in suits, some of them tropical white, the women in dresses. This was a week ago, the second evening of Rosh Hashanah.
A cluster of young people, boys and girls, stopped in front of our table. A young man, maybe 12 or 13, surveyed our table of four and asked the classic question, often posed by proselytizing men in the city: “You Jewish?”
We glanced at Mike, our DH (Designated Hebrew, to use Ron Blomberg’s felicitous book title.)
“Have you heard the shofar yet today?” the young man asked.
(The shofar is the ram’s horn, blown all over the world at the Jewish new year.)
Mike had been to temple in New York, but he was not about to spoil a good scene.
No, we all said.
The one adult in the group, I am assuming a rabbi, began to blow on the horn, for two or three minutes, his notes undoubtedly reaching the shopping mall across the street.
Then he led Mike in a Rosh Hashanah prayer, as all four of us joined in.
They wished us not only a good Rosh Hashanah but a sweet Rosh Hashanah. A good Rosh Hashanah could sound like a root canal, the rabbi said. But Rosh Hashanah should also be sweet. The young people smiled sweetly and we thanked them, and then they were gone.
The manager brought our dinner, just perfect, like New York weather at the holy days.
This is a good week to talk soccer, if only to celebrate two World Cup qualifiers in the next week.
The third edition of Howler Magazine – getting better issue by issue – contains an all-century team picked by Howler contributors and other so-called experts (including me.)
The first team, in classic 4-4-2 formation, consists of: Brad Friedel, Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra; Landon Donovan, Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey; Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride.
The subs are: Kasey Keller, Thomas Dooley, Jeff Agoos, Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, DaMarcus Beasley, Cobi Jones plus Archie Stark, Billy Gonsalvez and John (Clarkie) Souza, the latter three from well before my memory.
The voting was done electronically and I cannot find my worksheet, but I am 95 percent sure this was my team:
First team: Keller; Cherundolo, Dooley, Balboa, Beasley; Donovan, Ramos, Reyna, Harkes; Dempsey, McBride.
My bench included: Friedel, Pope, Lalas, Michael Bradley, Wynalda, Jones and Harry Keough, the defender on the 1950 U.S. team that stunned England, 1-0, in the World Cup in Brazil. I was blessed to sit next to Keough at lunch in St. Louis in 2010, and I wrote about him when he passed in February of 2012. For me, Keough represents all the stalwarts in the great soccer cities, who played this sport back in the day.
One explanation: I included Beasley on the back line because he has saved this current qualifying effort by shifting to left back, and playing the full field, defense to offense. He was one of the young stars on the great 2002 run in the World Cup – and was the 80th-minute sub by Bob Bradley before the desperate 91st-minute goal against Algeria in 2010. He didn’t touch the ball on that run, but his presence was a sign that the U.S. had one run left. He makes everybody better.
If I’d waited another month or two, I might have put Jozy Altidore on my bench, too.
Readers may choose to comment.
The Summer 2013 issue of Howler is devoted to 100 years of U.S. soccer, with features on Jurgen Klinsmann, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, among others.
Then there is this story, I never heard before, about a bloke who was abusing Harry Redknapp at West Ham in 1994, only to have Redknapp put him in the match at halftime. The fan then put the ball in the net (but you need to read right down to the last paragraph.) Jeff Maysh finds Steve Davies and tells his weird story. Thanks to Howler for a memorable edition.
This is a good week for soccer. I hate that the match at Costa Rica Friday night disappears into a dark hole known as the beIN channel. The Mexico match in Columbus, Ohio, next Tuesday is on ESPN. A good week for soccer.
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.