There was a commercial break in the 1975 Richard Pryor rerun of Saturday Night Live. Was he brilliant.
I clicked on the Mets. Two outs. Runner on third. Mets down, 1-0. Duda against some lefty.
“Game over. He can’t hit lefties,” I informed my wife.
Clang. Home run off the foul screen in right. Perfect timing for my baseball wisdom.
I texted our son. Doo-dah. Doo-dah.
David was on the phone with his wife, who was visiting family. At the same time, he was watching the Mets.
“Losers to the end,” he said. Duda can’t hit lefties.
Clang. Do we know the game, or what?
Soon there will be no Mets, no season. As mediocre as the Mets have been, they have given us Lagares and de Grom, Mejia and Familia, and Daniel Murphy, who worked himself into an all-star. Collins is really a good manager.
My guess is that baseball fans in a lot of cities feel the same way, bereft. Yankee fans and others now that Jeter-mania is over. Baseball has been with us every day since April.
I’m adopting the Pirates to make a run in the post-season, and I’m adopting the Tigers in the other league. I like the old cities, the old clubs, and root for them in October.
But it’s not like having your own team, every day, even when you are 100 percent positive that Duda cannot hit lefties. Clang. The (imagined) sound will echo all winter.
I was going to write something about world politics, or Derek Jeter, or Gail Collins’ column on climate, or why it is raining in New York, when the Jewish holy days are supposed to bring gorgeous fall weather, or my friend from junior high school who is becoming a rabbi.
Instead, I am sending a photo from our granddaughter Anjali, currently visiting family in the north woods.
We’ve managed to catch some of the wonderful Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts on Public Television – a great vision of America, as vital as today’s front page.
In the parts we’ve seen, I recalled my slight personal connections to Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt.
As a young reporter, I interviewed Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter, Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby, by then in her eighties, in Oyster Bay, Long Island. I almost blew the interview right away by referring to her father as a hunter. He was not a hunter, she snapped; he was a sportsman. (I had seen those heads in the museum.) The documentary refers to him often as a hunter. Mrs. Derby would not be amused.
As a five-year-old, in a household that loved Franklin and Eleanor, I was taken to his campaign through New York on a miserable rainy day, Oct. 21, 1944. I recall being on a hillside, watching the motorcade on Grand Central Parkway. The car was open, and his face was pasty white. The web says he told the crowd in Ebbets Field that he had never been there before, but claimed he had grown up a Brooklyn Dodger fan. He died six months later. That romp through the boroughs did not help.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a staple in the politics and affection of my family. Later we read books about how she pressured her distant husband into absorbing information about the plight of so many Americans.
Two things I have heard about Eleanor Roosevelt lately:
When I was working on the Stan Musial biography, I learned that Musial had joined a tour for John F. Kennedy in 1960, which included Angie Dickinson. The actress became a knowledgeable source about that campaign, telling me how she was addressing a crowd in the New York Coliseum on the Saturday before the election:
“My big claim to fame is that I was making my speech, and I heard a hush and they wheeled in Mrs. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and I got to say, ‘What I have to say isn’t important’– I almost was finished – ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the great Eleanor Roosevelt,’ and I got to introduce her.”
Dickinson’s respect, half a century later, was palpable.
I learned something about Mrs. Roosevelt recently while reading a very nice history book – Indomitable Will: Turning Defeat into Victory from Pearl Harbor to Midway, by Charles Kupfer, an associate professor at Penn State Harrisburg.
In the first shocking hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the President assembled advisors and friends in the White House, including Edward R. Murrow, the CBS broadcaster (this was back when networks maintained serious news organizations.) FDR picked the brains of Murrow, who had access to the back rooms of the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt, who had fought for millions of poor people, who had fought for civil rights and women’s rights, cooked some eggs for Murrow. Kupfer’s book had me, right there, on Page 22.
The Burns documentary had me as soon as I saw the insecure half-smile of young Eleanor Roosevelt, before she discovered the activist within. Her wise eyes take the measure of a country that has failed its people. She spends her own money to build experimental communities in deepest West Virginia. She sets an example.
The camera cannot find too much of her. She reminds us of the men who went to war, the women who went to work, the blacks who wrote letters to the President, asking for help. Her face reflects the country many of us thought we were, or could have become.
As I wrote this, I flashed on something else about the Burns documentary: Elizabeth Warren reminds me of Eleanor Roosevelt.
For those of you about to watch a little football over the weekend, does the "sport" induce brain damage not only to the players but also to the viewers?
After a weekend of listening to the blather on the tube, many viewers tend to believe that “college” players are really student-athletes and that NFL players can step back into society on Sunday evening after a week, after a near lifetime, of banging heads.
The Ray Rice case probably should cost Commissioner Roger Goodell his job one of these days. Hearing the report that Rice had dragged his girlfriend, now his wife, out of an elevator after “rendering her unconscious” did not arouse any curiosity in Goodell. Biff-bam-pow. It sounded like one of those phrases John Madden and the lads used to chortle on the compliant networks not so long ago.
“Got his bell rung.”
X-rays of autopsies to follow.
Just think about it while watching the “amateurs” and the “professionals:" the know-nothing impulse of Goodell and his league regarding Ray Rice and now-wife is not the first or perhaps most widespread scandal facing the NFL.
These people have been ducking the clear evidence of damaged players for generations. Men had their uniforms taken away when they could no longer compete, and soon afterward an alarming number had another clubhouse - a rest home with burly attendants to care for them.
For many years the NFL relied for brain advice on its medical advisor, Dr. Elliot Pellman, who was not an expert in neurology, and who resigned in 2007 after articles by Alan Schwarz in The New York Times and other sources.
I had already posted this article when things got worse. The front-page story in the Times by Ken Belson said the NFL is admitting that one-third of its former players are likely to have brain damage. In case you missed it:
Until recently, the NFL's position was that players did not have brain damage. Rather, they were rendered unconscious. Big difference.
What happens to players still getting hit early and often by other behemoths? Do they left-hook their companions, or strangers, and dump them halfway out of an elevator and nudge them with their feet?
At the moment that ugly video surfaced, the two NFL scandals were joined. Does football make players violent long before brain damage is confirmed -- via an autopsy?
Have a nice violent weekend.
Long before he was a doctor, famed as a diagnostician, Kenneth Ewing was the captain of the Guatemala national soccer team. That made him a double legend in my eyes.
Dr. Ewing passed on Sept. 1, leaving a lot of us bereft. At the crowded wake on Saturday, people traded stories about voicing vague discomfort and how Ewing discovered the underlying problem.
The guestbook from the funeral home tells about his talent for saving lives.
His was an old-fashioned practice, in a big old house near the bay in Port Washington, Long Island, attracting the olla podrida, the grand mix, of our town – old ladies he greeted courteously, commuter types, a track coach and former Olympian (I could only imagine the dialogue between those two) plus the new hopeful generation from Central America.
It was an eclectic clubhouse, teammates drawn by the charismatic and talented star, who would poke his head through the door and summon his patients. I was “Professor.” Another guy was Flaco – Skinny.
I started going to him when my doctor, a very good friend of mine, was away a lot on business. I asked Dr. Ewing about soccer, and he told me he had played for Guatemala and then professionally in Toluca, Mexico, to finance medical school, and then moved to the United States.
He told about a friendly match in Guatemala with the touring Real Madrid stars, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.
“Another world,” he said admiringly. “Those guys could do things you never saw before.”
He told about playing in front of hostile crowds in El Salvador or Honduras, never quite qualifying for the World Cup. Known as Tony Ewing back then (his middle name was Anthony), he was admired for his soccer, and for his second career.
In 1989, Guatemala was playing the USA in New Britain, Conn. Dr. Ewing was going up with some countrymen in a chartered van and I was covering the match. He had told me about another Guatemala legend, the old equipment man, from back in the day.
An hour before the match, I spotted a little old man lugging jugs of water toward the Guatemala bench. He looked to be 100 years old. I introduced myself and asked if he knew Kenneth Ewing.
“Conoce Ewing?” he asked with awe. You know Ewing?
“Es mi doctor,” I said. He’s my doctor.
I told him how popular Ewing was in my town. Then I watched the old man step proudly toward the field. Later, I wrote this: :
Ewing was as formidable in his practice, specializing in cardiology, as he must have been as a defender. He liked to be in charge. I learned early on that the worst possible thing I could do was raise a medical point: “Hey, I was reading on the Internet…” His response was as terse as a hip check to a marauding forward: “You think I’m trying to kill you?” I knew a patient he had flat-out fired because he didn’t follow orders.
I’ve never seen him so furious as when I neglected the blatant symptoms of shingles while I was in California covering the World Series. I came home with a rampaging case of Bell’s Palsy right up my facial nerve toward my eye. He took 30 seconds to totally ream me out, then picked up the phone and had me in a neurologist’s office within an hour, and I escaped visible damage, probably by minutes. For the next six months, he shook his head at me in disdain.
A checkup could take a while. He was one of those doctors who work with their hands, getting up close, making sure the system is in working order. At the same time, he would be talking about a Mexico match on television the night before.
He insisted he could drive out the Expressway on Sunday morning to fields where teenagers and adults had moves never seen on the US national team. I am sure the US federation would love to find the next Maradona on Long Island, or anywhere, but I knew my place and rarely argued with him.
He was a private man but I learned his son Paul (PK) is an Annapolis graduate and Marine major, now retired. His wife Pauline was a teacher. He comes from a family of pro-fessionals, scattered around the world. I once inquired about the name Ewing and he said, “What, you think there weren’t slaves in Guatemala?”
Last February I was about to pick Germany to win the World Cup. I went in for a checkup and asked the doctor who would win. Germany, he said. Brazil was too fragile. In journalism we call this a second opinion.
Kenneth Ewing was a god to many of his patients, and also to his colleagues. One orthopedist told me with visible relief how he had spotted my mother's problem before Ewing saw her.
It was pretty clear Dr. Ewing was not well in recent years, but I never asked. This June I was scheduled to plug my World Cup book at the local library, and I invited Dr. Ewing to join me. I wanted people in town to know him not only as a famed doctor but also as an athlete who had once played with Puskas and Di Stefano, a neighbor who had gone to four World Cups as a fan.
Somebody who knew him warned me there was no chance in the world the doctor could make it at 7 PM because he needed to go home and rest every evening, but there he was, sprightly and charming, up for the big game.
I went to see him in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. One Guatemalan family, thriving in their second home, had driven up from New Orleans, to bring him familiar food. A nurse had come over from St. Francis Hospital, his home base, bringing home-made bread he loved. The doctor and I chatted for 15 minutes, but only about soccer. Captains must show no weakness.
As I left, he praised me for looking in good shape.
“I’ve got a good doctor,” I said.
I heard somebody on the radio the other night suggest the Yankees drop Derek Jeter down in the lineup as they make a run at the post-season.
That would constitute not only bad baseball but bad karma.
Take it from an old Brooklyn Dodger fan who has never rooted for the Yankees in his long and tormented life, the Yankees need to finish the Jeter generation with him high in the lineup and playing shortstop most of the time.
He deserves it, and the Yankees need him, just the way he is.
You don’t monkey with the great ones. Casey Stengel put Joe DiMaggio on first base one day – DiMaggio sweated through his uniform, and went to ownership after the game – and Mickey Mantle had to hobble out to first base late in his career because it would have been inhumane to make him play the outfield anymore.
Jeter will go out with dignity and competence. He was batting .261 going into Friday, and his range has gone down, but he is not among the top 10 reasons the Yankees are outside the wild-card zone. Joe Girardi knows that.
If younger Yankees were playing better, Jeter would be seen as a stabilizing force, but he cannot carry this assortment of mostly strangers and failures. That’s not his game. He always made everybody better, but that was when they had Bernie and Posada and Mo and Andy and all the gamers they collected. That era is over. Just don’t take it out on an epic Yankee who is drawing deserved cheers as he goes around baseball one last time.
The only slip I detect in Jeter’s dignity is his huckstering of autographed balls and other so-called collectibles. He is making $12-million on his final one-year contract, and I am not sure he needs to hustle all kinds of junk to rich people just because they can afford to splurge. I don’t see any reference to his foundation or other charities.
Maybe Jeter is putting a new wing on his modest Tampa Bay bungalow which locals call St. Jetersburg. (I think it is the model for Putin’s dacha wherever Putin plans to go in exile.)
But Jeter’s choice of life style is not the issue here. He has been an epic Yankee, a great baseball player, and the club gains from treating him with respect, through his last game.
If the Yankees are out of contention, I think Jeter owes it to himself to show up in Boston for the final weekend, Sept. 26-27-28, rather than pull a Teddy Ballgame and skip the last road trip. He has always been a class act. Let him go to Boston, and let a great baseball town fuss over him. He deserves it. Boston fans know that. This old Brooklyn Dodger fan knows that. Presumably, so does Derek Jeter.
* * *
This just in. I discovered today's terrific piece by Richard Sandomir, about the Yankees' collectibles deal with Brandon Steiner. I don't get this kind of collecting but am willing to compartmentalize my respect for Jeter the player. Still, when is enough enough?
Watching President Obama catch hell lately, I want to assess 15-yard penalties for piling on.
Much of his trouble stems from political opponents like McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, Paul, Graham, McCain -- rednecks in suits -- unable to cope with a smart president of mixed ancestry. But now, their malice and selfishness and, dare I say it, prejudice, are spreading outward.
The only time I winced during the summer get-him frolics was when the president was photographed apparently enjoying himself playing golf shortly after announcing the beheading of an American journalist by savages. He could not have been more dignified at his official appearance.
What was he supposed to do? Not get photographed, I guess is the answer. What if his children had made him laugh? Some things are best kept private.
I realized, my problem was with the golf. Why did it have to be golf, a compelling sport that nevertheless speaks of money, free time, money, lessons, money, equipment, money, ritual, and money?
People pile on presidents. I get it. If I didn’t like the policies of President Reagan, I made fun of his horseback riding. Ditto, George W. Bush, riding a bike while warning reports sat unread on his desk.
With more than a twinge of guilt, I remember reacting, as a snide teen-ager, to President Eisenhower’s playing golf, even when African-American children were being harassed for seeking an equal public education. Why didn’t he put down the damn putter and escort those children into school? (Ike looks better all the time, as Obama will, down the line.)
Just once, I would like to hear a president say, “Thanks, but I don’t play golf. Just never learned. I was too busy working my way through school, providing for my family, getting into government, and I never could find the time or money to go off for half a day and play golf. Now it’s too late. In my little bit of free time, I’d rather… (ride a bike, swim, work outdoors, jog, play a set or two of tennis, play hoops, or just take a walk to work off steam.)"
I know that lush courses and a chance to schmooze with benefactors are inviting. At least Obama plays golf mostly with people he likes, rather than with people who have been undercutting him since Day One. (“Really? Why don’t you have a drink with Mitch McConnell?” -- one of the great things the president has ever said.)
So, yes, I admit, my personal problem was with the way the president relaxed on his deserved vacation. I fall into the category of a certain Mr. Williams – Tony Soprano’s henchman from the Old Country, real name Furio Giunta – who expresses his view of golf during a shakedown on a course.
I’ve played eight or ten times, always visiting people, and loved every outing, and totally acknowledge golf as a challenging sport, but I was afraid of getting hooked. Plus, who can afford it? Certainly not a president who is catching hell for just about everything, even from people who should know better.
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.