Whether putting the ball on the fast-moving toes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Ryan Giggs, or knowing where the cameras were, David Beckham usually had a sense of time and place.
Then he came to America and found a way to make money and grow old, not always gracefully but near the end with even an appealing touch of grit.
Not only that, but he got to dub the voice of the Geico Gecko in the commercials. At least, I think that’s him.
Check out this video where imagination and reality overlap:
Beckham is leaving Major League Soccer after Saturday’s championship game between the Galaxy and Houston. (ESPN Broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m.) Beckham has done his six years, longer than I thought he would last, even though he had picked a nice safe aerie above Los Angeles for his family.
But he stuck it out and last year helped win the championship, with a hamstring injury that seemed to deepen the lines in his once pretty-boy face. He was hobbled all game, so he resorted to things like tackling opponents in the open field, just like the Yanks do in their funny version of football.
He was probably worth the $32.5-million guaranteed for five years and the $4-million he endured in his sixth and final season. He earned it, by coming along at the right time in the careful maturation of M.L.S., when he could have talented teammates -- maybe not the level of his old mates at Man U or with the Galácticos of Real Madrid, but players who could do something with the ball when he directed it into their path.
The league has had plenty of aging international stars in the 17 years it has been directed first by Doug Logan and since 1999 by Don Garber -- Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni, Cuahtemoc Blanco, Youri Djorkaeff and Lothar Matthaus, just to name a few.
Most of the old guys looked as if they were here for a nice holiday with the wife or the girl friend, and frankly that’s what I thought of Beckham’s amazing summer vacation when he turned up in 2007.
Some of the old stars became disillusioned almost right away.
I remember watching Donadoni, fresh from AC Milan, coming to the hideous own-goal MetroStars in the first year of 1996. Donadoni was a modest team player, and he would receive the ball on what could have been an attack, except that he would look to the left and find not a great option and he would look to the right and find not a great option. Where were Van Basten or Gullit when he needed them?
However, M.L.S. has gotten better incrementally, in size and attendance and talent, and Beckham was able to use his aging skills. I know it wasn’t a lot of fun for Landon Donovan and other members of the Galaxy, who were caught in a huge promotion on the run. My friend Grant Wahl wrote about that in a fine book in 2009 called The Beckham Experiment. But the league and the Galaxy were able to absorb a Beckham era, and see him toss his aging body around in a title game.
Beckham is talking of some further adventure. My guess is that despite his disclaimers his ego is angling to go back for a farewell tour with Man U. How many people get a flying boot in the face from somebody named Sir Alex and yearn for a cameo return? But Beckham understands that he is part of show biz. He gave as well as he took on this gig.
Ken Griffey was between seasons on Nov. 21, 1969. He had just hit .281 for the Reds’ Gulf League team – his first year in pro ball -- and was waiting to play in Sioux Falls in 1970. He did what made economic sense for a young man and his pregnant wife – they went home, which in this case was Donora, Pa.
Three generations have come through that hard town of zinc plants on the Monongahela River. Ken’s father, Buddy, was a great three-sport athlete at Donora High, whose teammate in basketball and baseball was a skinny kid named Stan Musial.
Years later, Musial would softly let it be known he had no problem playing with or against African-Americans because he had grown up with them as teammates.
Ken Griffey was also a three-sport athlete. Baseball was his weakest sport, but he signed with the Reds, and they taught him to hit. His first-born, Ken, Jr., happened to arrive on Stan Musial’s 49th birthday.
They love that bond, the old Cardinal and the retired Mariner. Somewhere I have a gorgeous color photo of Musial in a gaudy sport shirt and Junior in a Mariner uniform, both smiling. It was taken by Dick Collins, who photographed generations of Hall of Fame celebrations. If I ever get the photo scanned, I’ll put it up here. Meantime, Junior and Musial are linked forever, albeit with a melancholy date.
Stan the Man referred to John F. Kennedy as “my buddy.” They met one day in September of 1959 in Milwaukee when the campaigning senator from Massachusetts spotted the Cardinal bus, and sought out Musial, asking if he would campaign for him.
In October of 1960, Musial went on the road for a week in what are now called Red States. He had a rollicking good time travelling with James A. Michener, Byron (Whizzer) White, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Jeff Chandler, Ethel Kennedy and Joan Kennedy. In the 2011 biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, another of the campaigners, Angie Dickinson, raves about the athlete who made everybody laugh.
Musial always said he lost all nine states for the President, but it was more like 2-7.
Musial and JFK met again at the White House before the 1962 All-Star Game. The President noted that people thought he was too young and Musial too old to ply their respective trades. They laughed about that, two guys who knew they had it pretty good.
On Nov. 22, 1963, a lot of people did not feel like putting one foot after another, but Musial showed up at his restaurant and asked customers if everything was all right with their dinners. One customer who was there that night said he thought Musial showed up because people needed to see his familiar face. Truth or imagination, it was a nice thought.
All of us of a certain age remember where we were that day.
* * *.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice Thanksgiving feature on Stan the Man::
THIS JUST IN: DAVID VECSEY WROTE A SWEET MEMORY OF THE SUMMER WHEN HE AND JUNIOR WERE BOTH BEING PRODUCTIVE IN SEATTLE.
Is there some impulse for self-destruction among New York teams? First the Jets willfully bring in Tim Tebow and pretty much blow up the Tannenbaum-Ryan era. For what?
Now the Mets’ Sandy Alderson is throwing around coy hints that he might trade R.A. Dickey for some younger talent.
Let me drop a few names, before Alderson's time, to be sure: Joe Foy. Jim Fregosi. Mo Vaughn.
The Mets don’t have much – won’t have much for a long time – but the last time I looked they were using the golden images of David Wright and R.A. Dickey every half inning on television to thank the fans for their support.
Not only that, but whenever anything was happening around the Mets – good or bad – the visual of the dugout showed the 38-year-old knuckleballer right in the middle of it, the adult in the room, always positive, always there. A guy who played every fifth day is the heart and soul of this team.
Did I mention that Dickey won 20 games and the Cy Young Award with a pitch that he could conceivably still be floating toward home plate for three-four-five years?
And when he cannot pitch, and is doing all the family-religious-charity-academic-travel-writer things he wants to do, Dickey should be given a permanent position – chaplain, dugout coach, honorary uncle, spring-training guru, whatever he wants.
I understand the general manager’s tropism for negotiating contracts. It’s what they do. Feint a trade and save the House of Wilpon a few million. Fine. They need it. But the process is so undignifid that the Mets could actually botch their relationship with a very good pitcher who knows he will never have a better gig than in Queens.
I am confident the Mets could mess it up.
Two more words for them. Tim Tebow.
As the holder of an Irish passport (as well as my American passport), I think I can safely ask just exactly what Bill O’Reilly is trying to say.
O’Reilly tried to wax profound last week after President Obama was re-elected with help from African-American and Hispanic votes. (One perky guest on MSNBC suggested a new motto for the Republican party: “Hello, Brown People.”)
On Election night, O’Reilly said: “It’s a changing country, the demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”
O’Reilly added, “The white establishment is now the minority.”
In noting the shift in America, O’Reilly seemed to be harking back to some golden era in America when the Cabots and the Lodges sat around the Boston Common and sang Kumbaya with the Flynns and, dare I say it, the O’Reillys.
Was there ever a time in America when we were all just one happy family? After the settlers took the country away from the native Americans, that is. There were always newcomers to the land and the voting booths. They were noticeable by their clothes and their accents, if not their color.
It isn’t quite clear to me whether some of my Irish ancestors (on my maternal grandmother’s side) ever ran into help-wanted signs that said NINA – No Irish Need Apply. Did those signs actually exist in large numbers in the 19th Century, as some people claim? In a way, it doesn’t matter. There are always newcomers, always outsiders. And it’s funny how new people want things, like work and housing and education and a chance to vote, without public officials in Ohio and Florida making it tough for them.
O’Reilly seemed downright lachrymose when confronting the new reality – that voters of color now tilt the majority and helped re-elect a candidate who, despite being Kenyan and Muslim and, worst of all, an introvert, just might be the smartest person in the political room. The country keeps changing. Always did.
I’ll be talking about my book, Stan Musial: An American Life, on Saturday, Nov. 10, in Harrisburg, Pa.
The talk will also be streaming live at 3 pm at:
The talk is part of the Harrisburg Book Festival, Friday through Sunday, at the terrific Midtown Scholar Bookstore-Café, 1302 N. Third Street in Harrisburg. Tel: 717-236-1680.
My appearance has been arranged through my daughter Corinna Vecsey Wilson, vice president of programming and host at PCN.
The book was a New York Times best-seller in 2011. For a couple of glimpses of Musial, please see:
Musial will turn 92 on Nov. 21, and is the icon of St. Louis. I will be linking his modest, hard-working persona to his Pennsylvania roots in Donora in the western part of the state.
Stan the Man was one of the great baseball players of his time, or any time. At first I thought the subtitle should be The Forgotten Man (reference to the song in High Society) but when I began researching his roots as an immigrant's son in zinc-and-steel-and-smog country, I realized the subtitle An American Life was much better. It is always an honor to talk about one of the sporting heroes of my childhood.
On Sunday our son spotted a utility truck near his home.
It was from New Brunswick, the one in Canada.
That night, his electricity was restored.
Think of it: workers from a country with socialized medicine turned on the lights in the woods of Long Island.
I am tired of stumbling around in the dark.
I am also tired of the campaign, which amounts to the same thing.
Earlier in the year I was reassuring my wife that I met that guy during the Olympics, and he could run the country if he had to.
She knew better, long before his 47-per-cent remark and the Jeep-to-China lie.
Now I read that Democrats would work better with a Republican president than vice versa.
I also read blather about Obama being such a terrible person because he is an introvert. Something going on inside. Awful. .
It’s a race. Workers from Canada vs. returns from 50 states.
Maybe on Wednesday this will all be over.
Got no heat, got no Internet, got minimal cell phone coverage.
But two artifacts from antiquity have helped us stay in touch with reality since the lights went out Monday evening:
The familiar blue wrapper containing The New York Times in the driveway and the stolid landline telephone in our kitchen.
I have been able to read the paper – even without that technological marvel called the Internet that is suddenly not available.
I marvel at the work my friends at the home office in New York and the College Point plant and the drivers and deliverers did to produce this miracle at our house.
They gave up the reassurances of being with family to do their jobs the way “newspaper people” (like my father and my mother and my three children) have been doing for a long time.
Note I said “newspaper people.” It’s still a paper -- the best in the world, as far as I can see – produced by some very smart and dedicated people.
Yes, I love the emerging on-line form – the future, I am sure. I flick through the web package to seek the latest electoral percentages from Nate Silver and am a junkie for breaking news as it hits the web. But for this elder, there is nothing like “the paper.” In my driveway. Thank you, all.
The same goes for the landline phone. We have invested in cordless phones (that wear down much too quickly) but have resisted all those offers to link our phones to our cable package. We kept the landline, sensing that in a time of troubles it might enable us to get calls from the office and family and friends, plus robocalls from local officials who say LIPA may get to us by Thanksgiving or maybe New Year’s.
Our house is intact while some homes took direct hits from trees. My wife has made great meals on our gas stove and we have gas-heated water and the other day our neighbors let us run a cord to their generator, giving us a bit of electricity for a few chores. We are blessed.
Plus, those relics, the paper in the driveway and the landline phone, keep us in touch with the world.
(sent from the local stop-and-shop)
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.