It has taken nearly a month of mourning, but I am finally paying attention to baseball again.
The World Series has gotten interesting, after five games. Anything can happen, just like in real life.
Of course, my avid interest in the fifth game may have come from fear and withdrawal, because of the assorted ghouls floating in late October air -- fright masks of Donald Trump and Anthony Weiner, perfectly matched, like twin Rasputins, scoundrels that never go away.
Seeing Weiner crawl out of the crypt (with help from the FBI) to invigorate his soul brother from the other party drove me to watch the fifth game Sunday night.
Before the Series began, I wrote on another site that I had no dog in this fight,
since the gallant Mets went down in the wild-card game. That still goes.
(Hard to feel much sympathy for a franchise that traded Lou Brock or a franchise that traded Rocky Colavito. Then again, I root for a franchise that, gulp, traded Nolan Ryan.)
It would be easy to rationalize being a National League fan and root for a team that has not won a World Series since 1908, but what’s another year or 20? I also root for the Rust Belt, for old river towns like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- and Cleveland would qualify for underdog status ahead of Chicago.
But that’s not the point. Escapism is the point.
Things I have noticed about this Series:
Jason Kipnis of Cleveland personified the ambiguities of this Series after his three-run homer Saturday. He’s from a Chicago suburb, and would not exult on TV about what it would mean to win a World Series. He’s going home, either way, after the Series, and did not want to insult his home town. Nice guy.
I love the antiquity of Wrigley Field (blessedly still named after the chewing-gum family that used to own the team, not cursed anew with some geeky corporate logo.)
Wrigley is one of only four ball parks in which pitchers warm up in foul territory, bless its heart. The Cleveland bullpen was slow to clear out for Jason Heyward to chase a wind-blown popup in the first inning Sunday night.
I flashed back to Pat Pieper, the public-address announcer for half a century, who worked on the field, behind home plate. And I noticed the low-slung brick wall behind home plate from when my Brooklyn Dodgers traveled to meet Bill (Swish) Nicholson back in the day.
I love Wrigley the way I love Fenway Park – a reminder of the past. But that doesn’t mean I am rooting for the Cubs.
Pardon my smirk, but I love the two recent Yankees dominating out of the bullpen – lefty Andrew Miller of the Indians and righty Aroldis Chapman of the Reds.
This is the time of year for Mr. October (Reggie) and Mr. November (Derek.) Now these two ex-Bronxites will be rested for longish duty in the sixth game. The Yankees won’t know if they made good deals, unloading these relievers for young talent, for several years, so this Series must be a lot of fun for Yankee fans, what with A-Rod preening in the overcrowded Fox gallery.
(How I miss the Mets’ broadcasters, known commodities, not overloading the listener with detail and gab.)
Any World Series only gets really interesting when it goes to a sixth game, full of developed plot lines, when anything can happen from here on in. For somebody who has been taking a month off in sympathy for the injured Mets, these are fresh faces, fresh arms.
Thanks to long-suffering Cleveland and long-suffering Chicago and the long slog of post-season baseball for prolonging the World Series, for giving another day or three of diversion from twin Halloween horrors.
I look and listen for this man whenever I change subway lines at Roosevelt Ave. in Queens.
I often find him midway on the Manhattan-bound platform, facing the E and F trains.
In quiet moments I hear the melancholy strains of the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese violin.
The chords convey the vastness of China, the long history, the pain, the hope.
His own story, I do not know.
He keeps his head down, plays to the beat from a mobile speaker.
He puts a modest cardboard box between his sneakers.
I stand up close. His China is not the neon-and-skyscraper China I encountered at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, after they bulldozed most of the hutongs, the old neighborhoods.
I take a few photos on my iPhone. He does not seem to notice.
I drop $5 in the box and say “Xie Xie” -- thanks, in Mandarin.
He says, “Thank you.”
Then my train arrives.
(With homage to Joni Mitchell's "For Free" 1970)
Trump is out on his feet.
He is bragging about his stamina, how he is making two-three-four appearances a day, but he looks punch drunk.
Poor old feller hasn’t learned one of the great lessons of life – take a nap. Refresh your brain. Have an inner life.
Whom are we going to believe, Trump or Yogi Berra? In one of his most famous Yogi-isms, Berra revealed the secret of life: “I usually take a two hour nap from one to four.” You do the math.
Trump, 70, has been accusing Hillary Clinton, who turns 69 on Oct. 26, of lacking stamina. He mocked her for coming in off the road to recharge her batteries.
Then, in their third debate last Wednesday, she looked like Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), showing up in a fresh three-piece suit for a late-night pool match with Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) in the movie “The Hustler.”
Just one glimpse of his refreshed opponent un-nerves Fast Eddie: “You look beautiful, Fats, just like a baby, all pink and powdered up.”
Same thing the other night. If this were boxing, the ref would have called the fight.
Trump is the modern reincarnation of Joe Louis’s Bum of the Month, over and over again.
Trump doesn’t even know when to shut up. He yapped about Clinton’s need to take a drug test. Then she showed up for the Al Smith Dinner, and let him have it:
"Donald wanted me drug tested before last night’s debate. And look, I gotta tell you, I am so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer. Now actually, I did: It’s called preparation."
Trump cannot prepare. I realized this 30 years ago, from several sports interviews with him, that Trump cannot process information. He has a serious flaw somewhere. His wiring is screwed up. He has not even learned the benefit of a retreat into sleep.
“Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.” Of course, MacBeth had problems.
Even a 15-minute nap will suffice. I have seen teams use “blue rooms” for centering players' minds -- letting them prepare their image of themselves in the game to follow.
There are all kinds of lists about great people who knew enough to shut down, to let the mind and soul refresh. Churchill. Leonardo da Vinci. Eleanor Roosevelt often took naps before making a speech. I bet Hillary Clinton knows that.
When Harold Grundy helped dredge the Kennebec River in 1941, he knew how deep the channel was, and where it ran.
Harold Grundy – my wife’s uncle – still lives alongside the Kennebec in Bath, Maine. Just a mile up river, the Bath Iron Works has just finished the newest and biggest American destroyer, the $4.4-billion U.S.S. Zumwalt.
From the back window of his cottage, Uncle Harold has watched the behemoth on test runs.
Recently, he read in the paper that the skipper of the Zumwalt, the marvelously named Captain James A. Kirk, was curious about the history of the dredging of the river.
At 94, Harold remembers it all – how the workmen lived in modest cottages near the river, how he carried dynamite in a primitive pickup truck along a bumpy dirt road, lifting 100-pound packs onto a modest skiff and ferrying it out to ships, whose drill shafts went 90 feet deep, loosening thick slabs of rock.
They went out in almost all weather, sometimes sleeping on board, helping dump the excess rock far out at sea.
After the river was dredged, Harold worked for the Merchant Marines, ferrying ammunition, serving in murderous combat in the South Pacific as the ship’s carpenter, ubiquitously called “Chips” by the sailors for the sawdust and slivers produced by their labors.
He saw ships blown to bits all around him, saw sailors on stricken ships waving a solemn goodbye as they went down.
When the war was over, the Merchant Marine gave him a handshake but because he was technically a civilian he receives no military pension. Oh, well.
He worked for the military for many decades, helping build high-security structures all over the world.
Last year, nearby Bowdoin College honored him with a show of the photos he took in Greenland and other sensitive places. I wrote about it:
Living alone since the death of his beloved wife Barbara, Uncle Harold read about Captain Kirk’s admirable curiosity and wrote him a letter, sharing the copious details in his memory.
A few days later, Captain Kirk paid a visit to Harold's house, a mile from the Bath Iron Works, but Harold was out running errands. The captain left a unique gift -- a handsome peaked cap, dark blue with gold braid, and the name of the U.S.S. Zumwalt printed across the front. On the back was the name: Hal Grundy. Uncle Harold keeps it inside, in a large clear baggie. It’s not for all weather.
The Zumwalt left Bath on Sept. 7, heading toward San Diego and points beyond. Uncle Harold will follow her progress, knowing that he helped get her from the Bath Iron Works out to sea. Well done.
They are a matched pair, Bob Dylan in Oslo for the Nobel Prize, and Dario Fo, who already had a Nobel Prize, on his way to the Great Beyond for a reunion with Franca Rame.
Dylan and Fo, a couple of troublemakers. Dylan upset the establishment with his macaw singing voice and his confrontational lyrics; Fo upset entire nations with his anarchic words.
Which one of them wrote, “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Signore Rossi?”
My wife saw Rame, a true survivor, on stage in London a few decades ago, performing a short Fo play about a woman locked in her apartment by her husband, wearing a shortie negligee, ironing endlessly. It was an allegory.
After that, we cheered when the United States lifted a 15-year ban on Fo and Rame for their political views. (What, you think Trump invented this stuff?) They were heroes to us for thumbing their noses at convention, and hardship.
Dylan was more accessible here in the Stati Uniti, honking on his harmonica, rasping into the microphone, an outsider.
I have never met Dylan, exactly, but I annoyed the heck out of him in 1974 when I covered the great tour by him and The Band. Dylan did not do interviews but Bill Graham, the great promoter, slipped me into a highly secure sound check in an empty Madison Square Garden. I mean, even ushers and security people had to wait outside. But I was crouched down behind a chair, observing Zim as he checked out the acoustics and the lighting, uneventfully, as I described in my early space-holder story.
That evening, the joint was throbbing, like when Clyde and Willis were at their best. Dylan came out on stage and in a rare aside to the audience, he rasped it was “An honnuh to be here.” Wow! Dylan speaks!
That night, after a knockout show, Dylan was back in his hotel suite, perusing the early edition of the Times. He reached for the phone and called David Geffen, the uber-promoter, in Europe, to report: He Had Been Observed.
Dylan was so mad that the next day Graham sidled up to me and said he had to tell them that I sneaked in there on my own. Absolutely, Bill, I said.
I’ve always been proud that an innocuous little early story could spur Dylan into phone rage.
Now he is a Nobel winner, deservedly, for all the songs he gave us.
The best description Dylan was written by Joan Baez in Diamonds and Rust,” describing their love affair between “the unwashed phenomenon” and “the Madonna” who was his for free.
One of the most romantic sentences in pop music:
“Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there.”
Then Baez sums up her vision of Dylan:
“Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust
I've already paid.”
Dylan and Baez, matched in their temporary way. I like to think of Fo and Rame, performing again.
Gus Alfieri still writes his own stuff – a rare accomplishment for any coach.
Alfieri won a championship as a college point guard and he coached a state high-school champion and he has, quite admirably, made himself into an author.
Alfieri’s latest book, just in time for the season, is “The Heart of a Champion: A Basketball Coach’s Memoir of a Championship Team” – about the 1973-74 season when he took St. Anthony’s from South Huntington, Long Island, to the new (and technically unofficial) state championship.
But the book could be about many coaches and many teams that jelled in that one magical year.
Alfieri was a hard grader as a coach and he remains one as a writer. He describes moving into coaching on Long Island, which was just beginning to produce basketball talent in the early 1960’s:
Larry Brown of Long Beach and Art Heyman of Oceanside, two strange birds from neighboring towns, took their personal animosity to North Carolina and Duke, respectively.
But they were seen as anomalies. When Alfieri, a Brooklyn boy, began coaching out on Long Island, Lou Carnesecca, who had replaced Alfieri’s beloved Joe Lapchick at St. John’s, wondered out loud if they were still using a square ball out there. (I had the same smug feeling, as a Queens boy, when I worked at Newsday in the same period.)
Alfieri describes a golden age way out there on the Island – Julius Erving and Mitch Kupchak and all the future coaches like Rick Pitino and Jim Valvano.
He also recalls a coach or two he thought was weak and he remembers taking over at St. Anthony’s and feeling that some of his upperclassmen were holding back, possessive of their starting positions.
Probably a few former players, well into middle age, will not be amused at Alfieri’s memories. But he built his own system, as coaches do, and he turned St. Anthony’s into a powerhouse.
His role model, as always, is Joe Lapchick, the courtly and angular coach of the Knicks and St. John’s, who advised his players to “walk with kings.” That first book clearly a labor of love, glows with the presence of Lapchick, and this new book retains much of the old coach.
As he coaches big games, Alfieri often refers to what Lapchick might do. In a tense locker room at the final game, a player asks to speak. Alfieri likes control, but his inner Lapchick guides him to let the senior address his teammates.
Alfieri is a hard worker. For his Lapchick book, he found a former teammate who had been guilty of dumping games and, after many decades, he asked him “why?”
In this new book, he does his homework and recreates the key plays in the rally over the very loaded Lutheran High.
(There is also good stuff about the machinations in creating the tournament, by the wily administrator Jim Garvey.)
But Alfieri’s work does not end with that championship and a subsequent state title. After coaching, he became a teacher, earned a doctorate, ran a basketball camp, and every November he organizes a charity luncheon, giving high-character awards to deserving coaches.
I always love the stories by the female coaches, who built their own traditions with minimal budgets and maximum heart.
This year’s award luncheon is Nov. 18 at the Wyndham New Yorker, across from Madison Square Garden. For information: http://www.characteraward.com/
Gus Alfieri will be speaking about his book at the wonderful Book Revue in Huntington, Long Island, on Oct. 18 at 7 PM. For information: http://bookrevue.com/GusAlfieri.htm
My previous piece about Alfieri and his Lapchick book: http://www.georgevecsey.com/home/honoring-gus-alfieri-player-coach-writer
For further information: www.gusalfieri.com.
In the end, the Mets’ final game had nothing to do with ancient failures and curses on the Brooklyn Dodgers and early Mets. The Mets lost to a great pitcher, a great October pitcher.
I saw Madison Bumgarner’s expressionless face as he trudged out to the mound nine times. I was visiting my friends Gary and Nancy, and I explained to them that he was a mountain man from western North Carolina, neither north nor south but Appalachian. He had a job to do, and he had the tools to do it.
Later, when the job was done, he submitted to an interview, and I could hear the mountain accent; he comes from a hamlet full of Bumgarners, for generations. One tough, self-reliant dude, with great arm, great purpose.
My friend Big Al from Queens, who used to pitch off the scruffy mound in Alley Pond Park, wrote me this morning that as a former hurler he marveled that Syndergaard could bust in 98- mph fastballs, with admirable location, but that Bumgarner’s 92-mph pitchers went even more precisely to the right place, where Céspedes and others could not harm him. Big Al thinks Bumgarner could have gone 11 or 12.
I’m just sorry it was Familia at the end. He’s such a nice guy, gave us such a good season.
Then there is Granderson’s catch. He is already the favorite Met to so many people. (I know a few women who refer to him as “my boyfriend” when he smiles and hits home runs.) On Wednesday night he ran straight to the center-field fence knowing he could make contact, and he held the ball for the third out.
My son David wants to know how Granderson’s catch compares with Endy Chavez in 2006 and Tommie Agee and Rocky Swoboda in 1969, and I say quite equally.
Big Al had to bring up – he always does this – Mantle’s catch off Hodges to preserve Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, and I retort with names like Gionfriddo from 1947 and Amoros from 1955. But that’s old stuff.
Right now it is 2016 and Bumgarner evokes names like Ford and Gibson and Koufax.
For me, la guerre est finie. I got no dog in this fight from here on in. I’ve seen all the baseball I want for this lovely surprising gritty season of the Mets. I’m checking up on the Premiership and Serie A, and books, and classical music.
Big Al suggests Chopin and Schubert. I’m thinking Dvorak and Bartok. As we said in Brooklyn, wait til next year.
(Your comments on the game and 2016 are welcome; my earlier premonitions of gloom and doom are below.)
Brian Savin asks if I have any thoughts about the Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday.
Oh, yes, doctor, I have thoughts. I also have fear and trembling on this 65th anniversary of something terrible.
It happens every October, when I feel that something terrible is going to happen in a ball park near me. I mean, it’s only baseball terrible. Henrich terrible. Thomson terrible. Sojo terrible. Molina terrible.
This has nothing to do with Syndergaard vs. Bumgarner, Mets vs. SF Giants. They are on their own and will perform what they perform. I am talking about the miasma of gloom that hangs over an old, I mean old, Brooklyn Dodger fan at this time of year.
Let’s start with Oct. 5, 1949, first game of the World Series (still played in sunlight, before the current long march toward freaking November.) I race home from school, turn on the radio, just in time for the bottom of the ninth, and Tommy Henrich blasts a homer off Don Newcombe, first and only run of the day.
Traumatic? And not just me. Let us fast forward half a century or so. My good friend and Newsday colleague Steve Jacobson is typing in the press room of Yankee Stadium on old-timers day. He sees Tommy Henrich, still spry, heading toward the men’s room.
Steve accuses Henrich of ruining his childhood with that home run. From that point on, Steve laments, he could no longer study, and therefore had to drift into the sordid life of sports columnist.
“Tough shit,” Henrich says genially. “What were you going to be, a doctor?” (Perfect Noo Yawk inflections and gestures.) And like a man taking a trot around the bases, Henrich continues to the men’s room.
Next stop: Oct. 3, 1951. I am in shop class in junior high. The teacher lets us put on the radio. My Dodgers have a lead on the annoying New York Giants in the third game of a playoff for the pennant. A classmate, a Yankee fan, says, “I can’t imagine how you will come to school tomorrow if the Dodgers lose.”
I take the subway home. Bobby Thomson hits a home run. Perhaps you have heard of it. I go to school the next day. Giants fans and Yankee fans jeer at me.
The only good that comes of it is Don DeLillo’s great “Pafko at the Wall” segment of the otherwise murky (to me) novel, “Underworld.”
Later, the New York Mets will be formed, and the collective angst of the Dodgers and Giants will be infused into the Mets’ DNA. The Mets will know glory in October, but also despair, as in 2000 when Yankee fans outnumber Mets fans for World Series games in Shea Stadium and Luis Sojo dribbles a crushing hit up the middle, and in 2006 when Yadier Molina hits a two-run homer as the Cardinals beat the Mets for the pennant.
Now my friend asks if I have any thoughts about the Mets’ game on Wednesday.
This has been one of the most enjoyable baseball seasons I have ever had, with the Mets playing beyond all hopes and expectations in the final six weeks or so. I will always glory in Granderson and TJ Rivera, Cabrera and Familia, and the prodigal son Reyes.
But I am writing this on the 65th anniversary of Bobby Thomson.
The game will be played on the 67th anniversary of Tommy Henrich.
I have thoughts.
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.