When Reality Shows Got Worse
A young Black man is shot knocking at the wrong door.
A young woman is killed after her car pulls into the wrong driveway.
And then there are the police shootings.
People are trigger-happy, and I know when it got worse – back in 2016 when a real-estate grifter and reality-show character ran for the presidency. He was sending a message to a huge segment of America that it was time to get tougher.
Just look the sneers and cheers behind the bad actor, as he goads them into action. People were getting dumber, by choice, and a swath of the country welcomed his message to gear up.
America as a reality show was on my mind as I read an analysis of the late Jerry Springer by Jane Coastan in The New York Times on Saturday.
She describes Springer as a kind of Dr. Frankenstein who got caught up in his own monster, but she also suggests that he knew what he was doing, all along. Reality shows pay well.
I never watched the grifter’s show (having met him a few times) and I never watched Springer’s show, either but I did pay attention to him because he was another Queens guy (Forest Hills HS) and had gone into politics in Cincinnati when I was living down-river in Louisville.
Turns out Springer and the more dangerous reality show buffoon were both descended from Germany – one was a Jewish refugee, born in a makeshift maternity ward in the Underground in wartime London, the other whose father attended Nazi Bund rallies and lived in posh Jamaica Estates, Queens.
They both understood their audiences. One went into politics to play to the angry white people in America, the other went into television to play to people who liked life on the violent and kinky side.
The young grifter also knew the violent side – somebody who would know has told me about the grifter’s father being bandaged all over, recuperating at home after some kind of organized beating. Lesson learned: Just give some orders and people will go out and break some bones. That’s what he was suggesting at his rally in Las Vegas in February of 2016.
His subtle political message: How he would like to punch that heckler. Just let me at him! But America has become too soft to allow that kind of frontier justice. Still, thanks to the gun merchants and the Republican lawmakers and the sour Americans waiting behind their front doors, we have quickie frontier justice – and students being shot up in school, and legislators banning the elected messengers. Plus, Charlottesville. Good and bad on both sides, right?
America has always had guns. I moved to cover Appalachia in 1970, and some journalist pals at the Louisville Courier-Journal (now terminally Gannett-ized) told me about the television journalist in 1967 (from dear, sweet Canada!) who ignored the warning not to intrude, and was shot dead. The recluse served a year. Yes, I thought about that every time I needed to knock on a door in some distant holler.
But now the violence is spreading. People go to political rallies, packing. The grifter is finally facing legal justice, after a wasted year from the sclerotic Justice Department. And good grief, he's threatening to run again.
RIP, Jerry Springer. All he did was give Americans what they liked in bestiality and incest and brawling. Seems so innocent now.
Mets Gambling Den in Queens? Really?
It's bad enough that Baseball Commissioner Rob (Roll ‘Em) Manfred has brought about a sleazy era of gambling on the sport that has banned Pete Rose for life.
Baseball is also the former holier-than-thou business that banned Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for fronting for gambling dens after their retirement. They were reinstated, but then Rose got busted for life for violating gambling rules.
Nowadays baseball runs blatantly insulting commercials of young males displaying their insecurities by betting on sports events. Some hitter in a distant ballpark smacks a double off the wall and the young man leaps from his chair, as if he himself hit the damn ball.
Encouraging gambling is Rob Manfred’s game, and maybe Steven A. Cohen’s world, on deck. The Mets’ owner is pushing to see if he can get away with building a gambling den a dice throw away the ball park named after a bank.
Cohen has been an activist owner since taking over the Mets – getting rid of a lot of deadwood in the organization and spending millions upon millions for better players plus activists like Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter. Those are the current conditions, and Cohen spends and spends.
(He also showed great showman instincts by staging two of the best feelgood events I’ve ever seen in a ballpark – the retirement of the No. 17 of Keith Hernandez, and reviving the Old Timers’ Game and festivities, including a dying John Stearns, and survivors of Mets’ stalwarts Tommie Agee, Alvin Jackson and Bill Robinson. Events like these do not just happen. They take money, and staff, and good instincts on the part of the still-new owner.
One suspects Cohen will even go ahead and sign Carlos Correa, unless Correa truly has a lead leg. Cohen is no fool. He avoided getting stung by over-paying for the five-innings-a-week pitcher, Jacob deGrom, despite the grand memories of when deGrom was healthy.
(As for deGrom’s cold-blooded “I’m rich! I’m rich!” smile when he bolted from the Mets with nary a kind word about the good times in Flushing: As we say in Queens, Yeccch!)
Cohen understands the process of making more and more money. He has noticed the bleak concrete emptiness of parking lots -- “50 acres of asphalt" -- to the west of New Shea Stadium, and he has envisioned late-model cars bringing lucky tigers escorting handsome women, with money to burn. Or at least, that is the image.
Fortunately, the governments of New York city and state still have a chance to veto a gambling den on very public land. (Wait, don’t Mets fans park their cars there 81 home games a year? Isn’t traffic bad enough in that tangled sector?)
According to the Wall Street Journal, Cohen held an open house for interested Queens types the other day. No fool, Steven A. Cohen. He played down the lust for a gambling den by saying he just wanted to hear the opinion of the Queens folks – known for their cagey urban instincts (sussing out the criminality and bullying of former Queens resident Donald Trump.)
At the open house, my Queens homeys seemed to voice a skeptical attitude toward the gambling den. According to the WSJ, the folks who showed up – for a ballpark frank! – voiced preference for live music, dining, art exhibits and festivals rather than gambling.
The WSJ reported that Laura Shepard, a community organizer for the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Cohen that the development should be a destination that people can walk, bike or take transit to — not just drive.
“Personally, I don’t want to see the casino,” she said. “Most people want more green space, concerts and community events.”
There is a lot of communal pride in Flushing-Corona-Jackson Heights-Forest Hills swath of Queens, home to a hundred languages and food tastes. This is the same region that fought back an attempt to build a soccer stadium on the crowded public fields of Flushing Meadows park a couple of decades ago. A big-time soccer stadium will soon be built where the chop shops once hunkered. Isn’t that enough upgrade for anybody?
The locals should tell Cohen and Manfred: Go gamble somewhere else. Go to Atlantic City, that once bled the great businessman Donald J. Trump. Go to hilly Connecticut where white marauders once slaughtered Indigenous people near the site of today’s Foxwoods -- tainted grounds, now packed with roulette wheels and poker tables and sporty folks.
Here’s one idea for Stephen Cohen’s “50 acres of asphalt:” Mara Gay of the New York Times recently wrote: “More and more, living in New York is out of reach not just for working-class or middle-class residents but nearly anyone without a trust fund.”
I bet Steven Cohen could make a few bucks from something actually needed, like moderate-cost housing.
Then, there is this. One of the great New York City treasures of recent decades – an Irish/baseball pub, if you can imagine, named for a gremlin sportswriter, Red Foley – had a trove of baseball souvenirs covering every inch of wall and ceiling across the street from the Empire State Building. But the pandemic forced the proprietor, Shaun Clancy, to close down (paying his workers for at least a month, out of heart.)
Shaun is now cooking at a refuge for the homeless on the Gulf Coast of Florida; he chats up the weary while doling out something filling and maybe even healthy.
I bet you – pardon the expression – that if Steven A. Cohen erected a Foley’s II on the ”50 acres of asphalt,” Shaun would dust his vast souvenirs from its storage place, and oversee a renaissance of Foley’s II. And patrons could teeter discreetly to the 7 Line or the LIRR station, staying off the highways. Win-win.
Steven A. Cohen, meet Shaun Clancy.
Please Don’t Blame Queens for Trump
Oy, it’s back – the theme of Donald Trump as prototypical Queens lout.
I gather this from this Sunday’s NYT, a review by Joe Klein of a new book by Maggie Haberman, both of whom I admire greatly. But somehow the lumpen masses of Queens County are still being connected with the disturbed, amoral thug who has terrorized the U.S. and the world since 2016.
As it happens, I grew up on a busy street, about half a mile from the Trumps to the west and the Cuomos to the east. Many of my friends went to grade school with Freddie Trump, older brother of Donald, and say good things about him.
But in the big picture, nobody is typical of Queens, which ranged from ethnic western Queens to the remaining open spaces of eastern Queens. In the middle was Jamaica High, one of the best schools in the city. (Nasty little Donald was sent off to private schools, where, theoretically, money would buy protection if not character uplifting.)
Was central Queens to blame for the criminal tendencies of Donald J. Trump?
That premise annoys me because I could name dozens of friends and acquaintances who worked for success in more socially-acceptable ways.
I will name only a few – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who grew up a block of so from the Trumps, who came through a hard childhood to become a major voice in feminism and journalism (Letty has a new book), and Steven Jay Gould, a grade or two younger than me, who became a major scientist.
Nowadays, I follow the very public activity of two other Jamaica grads -- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from Yale, representing an urban ward in Houston, and Jelani Cobb from Howard, a bad right fielder for Jamaica (he says) but a terrific journalist and professor.
I submit that the striving ethos of Queens produced those four above, and thousands more, beyond the larcenous Trumps.
From our little chunk of Queens in mid-to-late-‘50s: the professor and NASA scientist, two civic activists from Jamaica Estates, our Class President-for-Life who has been air-lifted into Alaska in the winter to serve as teacher and community volunteer, and several judges, including one long settled in Washington State.
I could tell you about my Black pal in the Jamaica chorus who had to lobby against being stereotyped into vocational classes, and now has a doctorate and a career in a government agency. (We sang the school song at his recent Significant Birthday celebration.)
I could tell you about the Cleftones, who sang under-the-streetlights doo-wop harmony for decades.
Then there was the Holocaust survivor who played soccer at Jamaica and became a doctor out west. We had five doctors on the Jamaica soccer team. One could also sing. One became a med-school dean. One has been working at a Queens hospital in the worst of the Covid pandemic.
And speaking of doctors, one of the wittiest and smartest kids in Jamaica Estates graduated from college and then realized she could have become a doctor – and she did, years later, and has had an admirable career.
Two guys in the same radio-journalism class with me turned out to be well-known political activists for decades.
And another teammate (a doctor) and his kid sister (an academic) lived next door to the Trumps for a while. She remembers how her ball would bounce into the Trump yard and Terrible Little Donald, 4 or 5, would pounce on it and say, “It’s in my yard. It belongs to me.” Kind of like classified government papers, you might say.
By the way, the drive to excellence was not just a Jamaica High phenomenon. At nearby Forest Hills High, the star jump-shooter, Stephen Dunn, played at Hofstra and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. At Van Buren High, which sprung up in our eastern neighborhoods, a future lawyer, Alan Taxerman (the late and lamented Big Al to readers of this site), was sure he was the smartest kid in the universe, until he noticed that Frank Wilczek actually was. (Wilczek later won the Nobel Prize in physics – see Van Buren’s hall of fame.)
And then there were Central-Queens people who went into business, education, government, law, library work. Was there something in the air or the water of Central Queens that led thousands of us to socially-acceptable lives?
Joe Klein – again, a long-admired colleague – mentions elders making snide references to other ethnic groups.
Were we all Archie Bunkers?
I ask this because my household was a meeting place of the Discussion Group, organized by two upwardly-bound subway motormen, one white, one Black, kept at 50-50 ratio, comprised, by definition, of Queens bootstrappers with ideals.
My brother Peter recalls being a little kid, sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to loud voices and loud opinions -- but then refreshments would be served and voices would soften, laughter would commence. It was a lesson for the next generation. You could care – and you could get along.
What was the motivation for we rustics out there in Queens? Were we different from kids in “The City” A friend of mine was running with a fast little group from Manhattan, and I tagged along, impressed by how they knew the music clubs and museums and parks of Manhattan. (One of our new friends, a very nice girl named Gloria, actually lived on Park Avenue, facing the new Lever Building, and went to the very elite and public Bronx Science. I often wonder what became of her.)
As I look back, going into The City (by subway) reminds me of the John Travolta character in “Saturday Night Fever,” when he visits his dancing partner, who has moved up in the world. She shames him into losing a brutish edge to his Bay Ridge behavior. But that, remember, was just a movie.
We in Central Queens were pushed by post-war ideals and ambitions, many of our teachers setting examples of inclusivity. (By the way: New York City could not run Jamaica High in the 21st Century, so the city closed it down, history and potential be damned. See Jelani Cobb’s article: https://www.georgevecsey.com/home/the-new-yorker-analyzes-the-end-of-jamaica-high)
I tend to avoid all books about Trump. Just the journalism and the copious glimpses of Trump on the tube plus half a dozen meetings with Trump in less horrible times are quite enough for me.
I love the reporting by Maggie Haberman, and the many insightful works of Joe Klein. But being caught up in a Trumpian caricature makes my Central-Queens skin crawl.
Another Old-Timer Back in the Ball Park
Not all the old-timers wore uniforms at the grand celebration of antiquity.
The old players, legends all, visited Queens on Saturday as the tradition of Old-Timers’
Day was honored after a gaping absence of 28 years.
How wonderful it was to sit in my home cave and watch Frank Thomas, Jay Hook, Ken McKenzie and Craig Anderson from the first team in1962. They were good people then, helping Casey Stengel create the lovable myth of the Amazin’ Mets.
Now, in the very young and very promising era of the new owner, Steven Cohen, the Mets brought back 60 old-timers to stand in for the Richie Ashburns and Alvin Jacksons who toiled so honorably in 1962.
Wonderful touch: room on the field for family members representing Gil Hodges, Tommie Agee, Willie Mays and my departed friend, 1986 coach, Bill Robinson.
Mingling with the old-timers was my friend Steve Jacobson who helped cover the first season for Newsday and starred as columnist for decades. Steve, going on 89, was welcomed by Jay Horwitz, the haimish maestro of Mets alumni affairs, who also invited me as a surviving veteran of 1962. But I’m still ducking public gatherings during the pandemic, so I stayed home and waited for Steve to call me with the gossip.
Steve said he wished he could have chatted with all of them, but there was such a crush, everywhere. He could have talked to Frank Thomas about hitting 34 homers and driving in 94 runs, and Ken McKenzie, who had the only winning record (5-4), and Craig Anderson, who won both ends of a May doubleheader over the Milwaukee Braves to raise the Mets’ record to 12-19 and cause manager Bobby Bragan to call the Polo Grounds a “chamber of horrors.”
Oh, yeah. The Mets promptly lost 17 straight, en route to a 40-120 record.
Steve also could have talked to Jay Hook, with his engineering degree, who won a game one day and told the writers it was like eating sour cherries but then tasting a sweet cherry. (All three 1962 pitchers present Saturday were part of Casey’s respected “University Men” – McKenzie from Yale, Anderson from Lehigh and Hook from Northwestern.)
Steve did have time to mingle on the field, wearing a Newsday ball cap, with his wife, Anita, snapping photos of him with epic Mets including Ron Swoboda and Mookie Wilson (who later would gambol in the outfield in the old-timers’ game, along with another sleek alum, Endy Chavez.)
The part that Steve treasured most was having a few old Mets tell him he had been one of those sportswriters who did not throw them under the bus when they had a bad hour on the field. We were reporters, we were critics, but we were not rippers.
Now the Mets are in a new era. Steven Cohen, a grown-up Mets fan, used his money to hire Billy Eppler, Buck Showalter, Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer. Who knows if the Mets will hold off the Braves and go far in the post-season? But gestures like the recent Keith Hernandez number-retirement and Willie Mays number retirement (honoring the jolly first owner, Joan Whitney Payson, indicate a generosity of pocketbook and heart.
(Speaking of not throwing people under the bus: a few old players and writers and fans have blasted the previous ownership of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz for not putting enough money into the franchise. I have a friend who ran a center called Abilities, Inc., on Long Island, which helps people function better in work and social life. I am told that the Wilpon-Katz family was generous with money and energy.)
Let's just say: the Mets are in a new era. I was happy to hear my friend Steve Jacobson bubble about his hours back at the ball park with similarly elderly Mets who once upon a time gave the fans so many memories -- some of them even good.
Police Funeral: It All Comes Back
I can still hear fists smashing against lockers in the back room of a precinct station, after the murder of a colleague.
The wail of a bagpipe. People crying.
New York had another police funeral on Wednesday, for the second officer shot down by a man emerging from a bedroom in a narrow hallway. A family disturbance. You never know.
The cold-blooded shooting of two young New York officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, touches me because I once entered an apartment right behind two officers, answering a similar call about a disturbance.
This was in November of 1976, when I was on the Metro staff at the Times. My bosses suggested I do a feature on NYPD officers who commute from the suburbs to patrol the city streets and stores and homes – the same issue kicking around today.
I was no stranger to police stories in the city. In 1973, I had covered the terrible standoff in Bushwick, Brooklyn, when four young men killed an officer and took over a sporting goods store under the el. Some police officers wanted to storm the store and shoot the men but the standoff was defused by negotiating tactics advocated by a top officer, Benjamin Ward, who later became the first Black police commissioner.
I was in the station house when enraged cops expressed their anger by punching their lockers. Later, I covered the funeral at a sad church in Brooklyn. It feels like yesterday.
For my article in 1976, I don’t remember how I was introduced to a detective and officer who worked as a team in Jamaica, Queens, where I grew up. Now I was living in Nassau County, just like a lot of cops,
The two officers – experienced and verbal – were willing to escort a reporter on a shift on a cold, dark evening in late November. They soon were busy:
A fellow officer had cornered several young men suspected of shoplifting in a five-and-dime store near Jamaica Ave. I was neither armed nor wearing any kind of protection, as I followed the two officers.
I can still see the lone cop, standing guard on two or three young man in a corner. I cannot envision a gun, but he must have had one out because the young men were standing against a wall, restive but taking no chances, yet.
I can still see the huge drops of sweat pouring down the single cop. He was quite heavy, and I was concerned he would keel over at any moment. (The officer and suspects were Black, and the two officers who escorted me were white.) The suspects were loaded into a police car, and “we” went on our way.
Another major call was about a disturbance in an apartment – a man and a woman, anger in the air, but no violence in progress. The two officers took a low-key approach, asking a few questions, softly, casually, non-judgmentally, urging the woman to stop insulting the man, telling the man to “be cool.” One of them “suggested” the man pack up and leave, which he did. But when you enter an apartment, you never know.
At some point, the two officers and I stopped for Romanian skirt steaks along Hillside Ave., and I learned more about the two – the detective from Queens, the officer originally from England. Neither displayed a harsh edge, like military occupying a foreign land, nor did they act like social workers, trying to right all the wrongs. They were, how can I say it, professional.
Things got more tense later in their shift – a radio call about a fight in progress near Merrick Ave. The two officers were the first on the scene, learning that a stabbing had just happened during a card game on the hood of a car. One officer tried to apply a tourniquet on one wounded man, the other apprehended a suspect bleeding from the face.
The gathering crowd did not threaten the officers but nobody helped attend to the two bleeding men, either. There was an allegation of cheating on a 50-cent bet. Backup arrived, and the wounded man was taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, (where I had been born) and the two officers followed.
In the hospital, I stood behind the two officers as they tried to talk to one man being treated in the emergency room. He kept saying he wanted to go home, but somebody whispered to me that the man had been knifed in the heart and was not going to live.
I still remember a nurse (Black, like the two wounded men) saying: “Full moon. Friday night.”
The detectives gathered information and they left.
The man died overnight.
I caught up with the two officers over the weekend, in Nassau, and they told me about their lives, and the reasons (economic, social) for not living in the city. I wrote an article, and I do not believe I ever met either man again, but I remember their level-headed professionalism – neither racists nor missionaries, but rather peace-keepers.
These days, I know there are bad cops, like the four who allowed George Floyd to be slowly and intentionally murdered in the street in Minneapolis in 2020. But I also watched TV on Jan. 6, 2021, as a Capital officer Eugene Goodman brilliantly enticed a pack of terrorists up the wrong stairway, away from their target, the Vice President. Black Capital officers endured cruel violence and racist taunts from insurrectionists dispatched by Donald Trump, sociopathic rich boy from a tony corner of Queens.
As a city kid at heart, who loves walking all over town, fearlessly, I feel I know the young officers. They became cops with eyes wide open, knowing the dangers, but wanting to make life better in the city .
They died when they entered an apartment, to keep the peace.
I once walked behind two officers doing the same thing; now I mourn Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora.
For a glimpse into the heart of a police family, please read the beautiful column by Maureen Dowd:
Same to You, Fellas
(In a world of Kabul, Covid and Ida, the following is totally irrelevant. But this is what I know.)
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(The Thumbs Guys "apologized" and the Mets won a doubleheader on Tuesday, the first with a stunning rally. But the basics remain. My friend, once a prospect with the old Milwaukee Braves' franchise, keeps up with the business, and gives his view of the Mets' problems:)
From Jerry Rosenthal:
George, your fine piece should resonate with angry Mets’ fans! This latest debacle was inevitable! The toxic duo of Lindor and Baez split the Mets’ clubhouse that was once led effectively by Jacob deGrom!
Steve Cohen made a huge mistake in signing Lindor for over $300 million! However, picking up Baez, a known malingerer and “all about me”ball player is Sandy Alderson’s mistake! The imperious Mets’ executive never seems to get criticized by the press for the poor construction of this Mets roster and senseless trades. The Mets gave up a top outfield prospect to get Baez just for a “short-term rental.” Alderson went for a home run hitter like Baez, ignoring the fact that he could easily strike out four or five times in a game!
Obtaining Baez brings to light the fallacy of the “money ball” philosophy! All season, the Mets were waiting for that home run that never came at the right time! It was all about the long ball! Putting the ball in play with two strikes was not in the Mets’ playbook in 2021.
Alderson fired respected batting coach, Chili Davis who was an advocate of using the wide expanse of Citi Field to the hitter’s advantage! Chili emphasized the importance of trying to hit the ball in the alleys and using the fundamentally sound hitting approach of “hitting through” the ball and making solid contact, rather than trying to “lift” the ball in the air!
Chili’s smart hitting advice was abandoned under the new “hitting gurus” Alderson brought in to replace him! ! They are more intent on tweaking the launch angles of Mets hitters. The subpar offensive performances of Conforto Lindor, McNeil , McCann, Davis and Smith proves this experiment has been a colossal failure!
The Mets offensive numbers are among the lowest in the major leagues! Alderson has yet to step up and take responsibility for these disastrous decisions!
The Mets must make many moves in the off season, but it will not do any good if the same decision makers stay in place. It remains to be seen if Steve Cohen recognizes that his organization is dysfunctional from the top to bottom!
Steve Cohen should be looking at the Atlanta Braves as a model of how a major league franchise should be run! We never hear of turmoil or scandal in the Braves’ organization. If an executive or player is not in-sync with the “team first” philosophy of the Braves’ organization, they are gone!
Continuity has always been important to the Braves. The long tenure of managers Bobby Cox and Brian Snitker shows that stability is highly valued by the organization. It’s the same with many of the Braves’ coaches and front office personnel.
Baseball fans recognize that the Braves fine young players- Jose’ Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley were all developed in the Braves minor league system, along with their great veteran team leader-Freddie Freeman. They were steeped in the Braves’ tradition of doing the right thing on the field and off the field!
That’s the way it was when I played in the Braves’ organization in the earlier 60’s, when John McHale was the Braves’ GM. That’s the way it is today with Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves’ GM.
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(George Vecsey's earlier critique, before the "apology."
Well, Javier Baez made it easy for the Mets to let him go in a month.
The Mets’ rent-a-dud and his pal Francisco Lindor – the team leader by self-proclamation – showed their contempt for the Mets fans in recent days, flashing thumbs downward, like a couple of imperial Caesars.
This is not a good career move for two stars from other teams in other towns, who arrived separately this season and, a lot of the time, have stunk out the joint.
We all know that Mets fans are warm-hearted folks. They cheered every time Wilmer Flores appeared in the Giants’ lineup last week, because they remember how Wilmer wept when it seemed he had been traded one melodramatic night back in 2015. Wilmer cared…he showed his heart….and so did the denizens of the Mets’ ballpark, then and forever.
Mets fans are as nice as they are mean. Somehow Baez and Lindor never got that message when they were playing very good baseball in Chicago and Cleveland, respectively.
Lindor was an effervescent star, but quite possibly on a downward trajectory when the Mets’ committed to a franchise record 10-year, $341 million contract before this season.
He then decided he was the team leader, before he ever played a game, and spent the first few months posturing and smiling and interrupting pitcher-catcher confabs on the mound.
In the meantime, he struggled to get above the dreaded .200 border, but not by much -- .224 currently, including a big insurance hit on Sunday. As Lindor often tells the press, his fielding and running have been good. Fine. So nickname him “Leather” and let him play spot duty, for all those dollars from Steve Cohen’s hedge fund.
In addition to his on-the-field “leadership,” Lindor seems to have a side job of advising Cohen and whoever else makes decisions. He assured the Mets that his pal Javier Baez was just what the Mets needed to stay in the division race, so the Mets imported Baez for the rest of this season.
Baez arrived with a reputation in the arcane art of making the tag at second base, and also for having prodigious power, but also for striking out. The front office shrugged off that he leads the National League with 153 strikeouts – 22 since the Mets got him.
In this new world of analytics, apparently striking out is not the flaw older fans had always assumed it was. Baez does not make contact when a single or a sacrifice fly or even a grounder to the right side might lead to a vital run.
Did Cubs fans not boo him for being such a glaringly incomplete and self-centered player? Mets fans quickly figured this out, and booed Baez and also Lindor, and on the weekend the two pals flashed their thumbs.
“Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance,” the Mets’ president, Sandy Alderson, said in a statement Sunday afternoon.”The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.”
Alderson added: “Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.”
There has been precious little booing most of this season, as a rag-tag assortment of Mets stayed in first place. For me, it was the season Jacob deGrom looked like a latter-day Sandy Koufax, but also with the physical vulnerability that may doom his brilliant career. And fans appreciated gamers like Villar and Pillar, plus the most consistent Met, Nimmo, and bit players who won games, like Nido, Mazeika, Drury. Strangers ran into walls, and then were gone.
Manager Luis Rojas held things together until he removed Taijuan Walker – apparently because the computer people in the basement bunker found some statistic to justify it -- and the fans lost patience, as did Walker.
The Mets' front office showed its confusion early in the season when it fired hitting coach Chili Davis, a major-leaguer with a great reputation, and replaced him with two nonenties and, presumably, a link to the analytics lab.
Probably not by accident Messrs. McNeil, Smith, Conforto and Davis are all screwed up, four hitters in search of a major-league coach.
The front office seems to need a total house-cleaning. I hear the name of Theo Epstein, who might be worth his price, given his success with the Red Sox and Cubs. But Cohen should -- must! -- also hire Curtis Granderson, one of the smartest and best people I have met, who, for some inexplicable reason, does not have a serious job in baseball.
Meantime, the Mets are stuck with Lindor’s contract for nine years -- count them, nine. That is on the owner.
With any spec of wisdom in the front office, Baez is just passing through, looking for his next contract elsewhere. And taking his strikeouts and his thumbs with him.
Please Don't Confuse Mario with Andrew
I have heard agitation to drop the name of Mario Cuomo from the bridge spanning the Hudson River – the one most New Yorkers stubbornly call The Tappan Zee Bridge.
Just because the son is resigning as governor – and not a moment too soon – does not mean the father should be obliterated from the elegant new bridge that was officially named for Mario Cuomo, who served three full terms as governor, which is more than the grabby son will ever serve.
Besides, we New Yorkers don’t follow every order we hear.
For example, we jaywalk.
Most New Yorkers never stopped calling it the “Tappan Zee” – “Tappan,” in homage to the Lenape tribe that lived there peacefully for many centuries before whites invaded, and “Zee,” the Dutch word for “sea,” connotating the wide point in the river.
It was “Tappan Zee Bridge” while we braced for rear-end collisions on the Sunday night southbound backup and it was “Tappan Zee Bridge” when we hit axel-threatening holes in the archaic pavement. And that name still resonates with New Yorkers, after the son had the power to bring about the naming of the new bridge for his father, a good human being.
Plus, we can save millions of dollars by not changing all those signs for the new span that opened during the tempestuous reign of Cuomo II.
New Yorkers do not change our minds or speech patterns easily, particularly regarding our bridges and tunnels and thoroughfares. Just a few examples:
As much as we (I) admire the late Robert F. Kennedy, the spans connecting Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx are still known as the Triboro Bridge.
Same thing with the low span between Manhattan and Queens, technically named for the late mayor, Ed Koch. I can still hear Koch’s petulant question: “How’m I doing?” but as a fellow Queens kid I can hear Simon and Garfunkel singing, “Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last,” in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy.)”
I can still smell the Silvercup Bread being baked in the evening in Long Island City as we drove home from “The City” – that is, Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is technically named after former governor Hugh Carey, but, you know…
When my father took me around the city, teaching me to love it, he told me no New Yorker ever calls Sixth Ave. by that grandiose name, “Avenue of the Americas.”
As an aside, I have never typed or spoken the name of the bank connected with the Mets’ current ballpark, which I call “New Shea” or “The Mets ballpark.” I hate naming rights. (Bless the NYT copyeditors who went along with my little affectation.)
Then there is this: A few minutes off Interstate 84, in Vernon, Conn., is Rein’s New York Style Deli. (Our friend Cookie, who lives nearby, introduced us to it and we sat right below a New York subway sign.) One of the deli’s featured sandwiches includes roast beef, turkey and pastrami on three slices of rye bread, and is named for the Tappan Zee Bridge. “We must have ridden the Tappan Zee a million times,” owner Greg Rein has said.
To prove my point: I love the heritage of Jackie Robinson, our blazing pioneer with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But that dangerous narrow parkway – now officially re-named for No. 42 -- that wriggles on the glacial spine of Queens to the Brooklyn border will always be The Interboro – or, as we New Yorkers pronounce it, “Duh Intaboro.”
Finally, a little personal Queens history. The Cuomo family moved into a bucolic neighborhood right behind my family house on a busy street, after I had grown up and moved out. The Cuomos voted at the same polling station as my parents – “Nice people,” said my parents.
(Word from others was that the three Cuomo girls were terrific, young Chris was a sweetie, and Andrew was…well…difficult.)
In time, I got to chat with Gov. Mario Cuomo about his loyalty to his Coach for Life, a leprechaun named Joe Austin who coached youth baseball and basketball teams for the St. Monica’s parish in South Jamaica. For his inaugurations as governor, Mario made sure Joe Austin was front and center, and addressed him as “Coach.”
(I wrote about Mario, combative Queens jock, when he passed in 2015.)
One time, a mutual friend brought Matilda Cuomo to our house while they were out for a ride, and they stayed a few hours for lunch. My wife and I have lasting memories of Mrs. Cuomo: she is a lady.
Leave Mario Cuomo’s name on the bridge. The Tappan Zee Bridge.
* * *
I should add: In the past five years, an assortment of rickety, glittery, pretentious, over-priced buildings have had a certain odious name scraped or painted or sandblasted from the façades, after outcries by the residents.
We New Yorkers do have our standards.
Watching over the East River like a benevolent gargoyle. I'm betting that even Mayor Koch would call it the 59th Street Bridge or The Queensboro Bridge. (Version by the Harpers Bizarre.)
Mr. Weisselberg Visits the Courts
(This above masterpiece is from that innocent time when Robert Mueller investigated the goniffs.)
* * *
Who doesn’t love a perp walk, when an alleged suspect has to walk past a raggle-taggle media mob?
As a news reporter, back in the day, I stood on a city sidewalk and yelled questions at suspects and lawyers. Sometimes somebody would even say something.
I’ve been waiting for the ultimate perp walk for over four years, when the alleged perpetrator would have to bluster his way through the scrum, the way Messrs. Manaforte and Flynn and Stone had to do.
The way the porcine little accomplice Barr will have to do one of these days.
At least once a day, I ask my favorite news monitor: “Did they get him yet?”
Every so often, I watch the Youtube masterpiece, “From Russia With Love,” depicting many of the villains of recent years (but not the racist Stephen Miller; why not the racist Stephen Miller?)
I love the Vampira smile of the blonde turncoat, lurking in the shadows.
Actually, a lot of us are waiting for the big one. It may just be coming. But on Thursday I had to settle for the dumpy accountant Allen Weisselberg to get hauled into court, although the NYT made it clear the charges included the the Trump organization, not just the figures guy.
Everybody knows Weisselberg is the major facilitator for the shady Trump and his family – the phony “university,” the crooked “foundation,” the real-estate scams that now have residents lobbying to have the chiseler’s name chiseled off crumbling Trumpian facades.
Now Weisselberg has been summoned by the district attorney of New York City.
By mid-day, I had not seen a sidewalk scrum like the ones that nice Michael Cohen had to endure, but still, there was Mr. Weisselberg, court-mandated mask on, hands cuffed behind his back, being guided through a public hallway -- no tie on Mr. Weisselberg. Trés déclassé
I am sure somebody has told him his interesting options.
To flip, or not to flip.
“Mr. Weisselberg, we know you were merely following orders, weren’t you?”
This isn’t even the worst stuff suspected of Donald John Trump.
The rape charge. The payoffs. The racist policies in those badly-made buildings he and his father slapped up. And, if some legal mind wanted to try, the potential charges of dereliction of duty in the half a million avoidable American deaths in the ongoing Covid pandemic. And the sending of thugs (or, as Republicans call them, tourists) down Pennsylvania Ave. to tear apart the American government.
That’s all out there, gettable, somehow.
But right now, white-collar crime will do. Just for openers.
Al Capone on tax evasion.
The timing is perfect – just before the birthday of an idealistic country, not always perfect, but a beacon to the world, nonetheless, and now, maybe again.
“Mr. Weisselberg, you’ll be doing your country a favor. You could be a patriot."
Something to ponder over the long weekend.
Happy Fourth of July, Mr. Weisselberg.
What's Your Pandemic Daydream?
On my daily walk, I pass the end of the line, where trains are idling more than they should be. We live 45 minutes from The City, my hometown.
I hallucinate about getting on the train, masked, at social distance, passing familiar sights I have not seen in 13 months – the high overpass between Manhasset and Great Neck, the tidal inlet between Douglaston and Bayside, the crowds in Flushing Chinatown, the skyline up ahead, the new high rises in Long Island City, the tunnel under the river, and then we arrive in the insulting dump known as Penn Station.
In my daydream, I get off at the front, rush up the stairs to Moynihan Train Hall, which opened this January, the instant landmark that has risen in the poisonous air of fear.
* * *
With one shot in my arm, and another on the way, I dare to dream again.
In the name of sanity, I have repressed memories of things we used to do, back when.
Our widespread family is mostly okay. My wife and I are blessed in many ways, including family and friends and the means to pursue projects and interests at home during this pandemic. This is hardly a lament. She got wise to the pandemic right away and we agreed: Don’t take chances.
But now the urges and the memories come flooding back.
I’ll admit it, I am stir-crazy. My daydreams multiply.
--- My wife and I have been hard-liners, repressing the urges to hug our kids, our grandkids, in a year of elbow bumps, quickie chats in driveways, emails and phone calls, a few furtive visits across a deck or a large living room, the door cracked open for ventilation, even in mid-winter.
We have been united mostly by a chain of eight text-message addresses, known as Family Bigs – snarky politics, music links, family gossip, sports updates. But in my daydream, there is the chance to settle in, tell stories, laugh behind a mask –at long last, hug.
-- I am a realist. I know these daydreams could be destroyed by another surge, brought about by simpleton governors like the guy in Texas who does not seem to comprehend what the scientists are saying. These politicians and their followers want to “open up” the businesses, even at the risk of lives. I understand the urge for normalcy, after the vicious ineptitude of the previous president. Now we are close to being able to imagine the past. We can dare to dream. But don’t screw it up.
-- In this daydream, we are upstate, visiting one daughter’s home in the woods, and I take a walk up the hill, and look out over a long Adirondack ridge. I cannot hear a human sound. Hawks glide below. Way over on the other side, a car pulls up to a house in the woods, but at this distance I cannot tell if it is a modest cabin or a luxury hideaway. I have missed open space; all is mystery, all is serene.
--- In another daydream, we slip into a booth at one of our local favorites, let’s say Gino’s, and order pasta for my wife, Gaby’s salad (fresh farm vegetables) for me, those great chewy rolls, and then one slice of Cheesecake a la Nonna with coffee. Or maybe we are in Diwan down by the bay (Bobby C's amazing roasted cauliflower!) or DiMaggio’s on Port Blvd, or Little Dumpling in Little Neck. My wife has cooked so well over the past 13 months; for reasons of safety, we cannot see ourselves going out for a meal anytime soon.
--- Waiting for the second dose of vaccine (I hear tales of chills and aches), in my mind I start making overdue appointments -- a recall on our car, the dentist, the dermatologist, the optician, maybe even the barber. Then there's the furnace/AC spring tuneup plus a capable carpenter who can fix everything that is falling apart. And what about the telephone company that is threatening to install an “upgrade” on our service. (Or is it really time to ditch our landline?)
--- In this daydream, I am walking around The City, any neighborhood will do. I bet I am pulled to the Met Museum, for a pilgrimage to the Goyas. I also miss my friends from high school, from college, from work. Zoom and e-mail and phone calls have served their purpose but maybe soon, in early spring, I meet one good friend or another on an outside bench, for a coffee, just to encounter a familiar voice, familiar eyes, over a mask.
--- We drive to visit our other daughter in Deepest Pennsylvania -- the ridge of Blue Mountain, on our right, accompanying us for more than an hour. Barns and hexes and old farmhouses alongside I-78. Then a meal on the patio, laughter, gossip, work updates, maybe the grown grandson and granddaughter materializing. Real life.
--- Sometime in the near future, we sit in a den with our son and his wife, rooting for deGrom and McNeil, enjoying the banter of Gary and Keith and Ron, in their cloisters up in the booth. Real life.
----These are just the starters. I daydream about new National Theatre presentations in the revived Kew Gardens Cinema; I daydream about a run up to our late-in-life discovery -- Maine; I daydream about seeing my siblings. Real life.
What do you miss?
How do you imagine it coming back, in some form, maybe soon?
Please feel free to share, in the Comments section, the things you imagine when you close your eyes.
Our Teammate Had Been Around
Bob Mindelzun was a great soccer teammate. He knew the sport, had played it in Poland, and was big enough and fast enough to be one of the best players on our team.
He laughed easily and was good company on the buses and subways that took us to road games in Queens and Brooklyn.
He spoke English with a thick accent, which was not unusual in Jamaica High School in central Queens. I remember teammates from Italy, France, Sweden, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and I think Greece. Our great captain, Bob Seel, had learned his soccer in the German-American clubs of Ridgewood.
We did not talk about backgrounds, not in the mid ‘50s, when the world was still processing what exactly had happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The wounds were so recent that words like “Shoah” and “Holocaust” were not part of our vocabulary, not yet.
After graduation, I kept in touch with many accomplished and interesting friends from Jamaica; five of my teammates became doctors, including Dr. Robert Mindelzun, radiologist and professor at Stanford University.
I have not seen him since graduation, but lately I realized that Bob came from Eastern Europe. Recently, we talked on the phone, and I asked a few questions, and he said, “Would you like to see my book?” Yes, I said. Please.
Bob wrote and published, in 2012, a book entitled “The Marrow of Memory,” about the terrible journey of his father and mother and their only child, from bombed-out Warsaw, thousands of miles further north into Russia, first to the Komi region, with its Finno-Ugric tribal history, near the Arctic Circle, to camps for refugees, the most endangered of whom were Jews, like the Mindelzuns.
In this time of pandemic….and a rampaging American president…it is easy to blurt that life has never been this dangerous. Bob’s book tells of other times.
This little cluster of family, which had lived a comfortable urban life in cultured Warsaw, now had to survive. The Jewish Poles were particularly vulnerable, including the little boy.
“They just had to see you with your pants down and you were done,” Bob said recently, a referral to the Jewish practice of circumcision.
Leon and Halina and young Robert stayed together as long as they could in hideous conditions – minimal food, terrible sanitary and medical conditions. Early in the war, his father re-enlisted in the Polish army – as a truck driver, for the relative safety, and for many months he was away, on duty.
“We did not know if he was dead or alive,” Bob said recently.
There was always danger. Bob’s mother loved to dance, and once went to a social evening in a camp, where she was asked to dance by a Russian officer, as acrobatic as a professional folk dancer. At the end of the traditional kazotsky, he landed gracefully at her feet, and kissed her shoes. She understood the danger, and never went back to the social evenings.
I was surprised by the number of photographs in the book – not just old family photos from vibrant Warsaw but also documents and photos from the war. Bob explained: The strength of rural life was the small villages, where even in wartime there were still amenities like photo shops, if you can imagine.
Somehow, through all the upheavals, they kept a trove of photos and documents, many in this book.
There was another advantage to living in the Arctic Circle: according to Dr. Mindelzun: up north there was much less disease than in the more southern regions.
At the end of the war, the family was reunited in Warsaw, now bombed out by the Nazis, and came to realize many in their family had died or been killed. Others were in hiding, depending on good luck, the kindness of strangers.
When the Cold War began to loom, the parents made the decision to emigrate to France – a tiny rented room in Belleville, a Paris suburb. They did not speak any French. The father, seeking a new trade, traveled all over Paris by Métro, the subway, only to be confused that so many stations had the same name: Sortie.
The mother explained that was the word for Exit; it became a family joke among the three of them.
For a time, the parents had to put their only child in an orphanage, but when they felt the menace of the Russians in the Cold War, they applied to several nations and were accepted by the United States. They arrived in Queens in 1953, still together.
And that’s where the book ends. Bob alludes briefly to his father opening a modest luncheonette in Jamaica but he does not write about Jamaica High, with its great tradition of education. (The geniuses who run the city recently terminated Jamaica High but the beautiful building on the glacial hill, built to last forever, houses smaller schools.)
He does not tell how he played soccer at Queens College and eventually took his parents with him when he began his medical career in the Bay Area. The father lived to 89, the mother to 93, and they told him stories of that awful time. He used great swatches of their tales in his book.
Our friendly and skillful teammate joking in the fourth or fifth language of his young life, later married Naomi, an artist in the Bay Area, whose shimmering versions of his way stations grace the book. They have raised two children, one of them a doctor and writer.
I asked my teammate to compare the time of his childhood to the dangers, medical and political, of today, and he said: “As unpleasant as this is, it doesn’t compare.”
He has seen worse.
This book is a memorial to all who perished, and those lucky enough to survive.
Speaking of survivor-athletes, my friend Leo Ullman and his parents survived in wartime Netherlands, and he is the subject of a prize-winning documentary, “There Were Good People Doing Extraordinary Deeds…Leo Ullman’s Story:"
(Leo also has a huge collection of Nolan Ryan memorabilia, now the subject of a webinar:)
Not bad for a child who was sheltered in the Dutch countryside while his parents hid in an Ann-Frank type garret in Amsterdam -- and with the good will of this country back then, they made a success here, like my teammate and his family have done.
Election Hangover: Now I Am Numb
For days before the election, I had this image, this memory, of a young woman crying on the phone to her father, in the midnight hours, in November of 2016.
How could this happen? She wanted to know. Well, so did we, and so did Secretary Clinton.
I must have been clairvoyant because late Tuesday evening, my wife and I felt the same way. Four years later, and now this again?
The best part of the evening was the stunning professionalism, on live TV, mastering the obscure counties of the U.S., handling the magic boards, like two pinball wizards, Steve Kornacki of MSNBC and John King of CNN. (We switched around.) My ballplayer pal Jerry switched to Judy Woodruff on PBS and raved about her calm neutral professionalism.
I fell asleep with Biden on the bad end of a lot of numbers, but I woke up five hours with reassuring tweets from Deepest Pennsylvania and Way Upstate telling me that there was a chance.
Trump was being Trump -- threatening to go to his judges on the Supreme Court. Twitter cut him off. Much too late for that.
So now we are waiting it out.
I still think of the young woman asking her dad from long distance: How? Why?
* * *
(Steve Kornacki got a great writeup in Variety today:
(One of his colleagues said they forcibly ejected him from the studio after pulling an all-nighter, sent him to a place with a bed and pillows. Well-deserved.
Other than that, I am poleaxed by the mathematical complexities, the suspense, the rumors, the threats. . Going back to the tube soon.
Your experiences and reactions the last 24 hours?
* * *
(This was my post before Election Day:)
I got nothing.
Maybe you have something.
This malignant earworm has been proposing and doing mischief since he loomed on the escalator eons and eons ago.
Now I am tapped out.
I’m leaving this post out there, starting Monday morning.
If you disagree with my point of view, please say so.
I’ve been typing about this guy for a while, reminding people that I grew up (on a busy street, houses close together), a crucial half mile from the Trumps. I resent the hell out of him being described as a “Queens guy.” I know Queens people, tens of thousands of them, who went into socially-redeeming lines of work.
Just check out the “Trump” category to the right of this. I’ve said my piece.
Nervous on the day before the actual Election Day? “Breaking News” on the actual voting day? Do Barr and the new Supreme Court pull some scam in the days to come?
Get it out of your system, here.
I’m already discredited. Pole-axed by the results in the midnight hours, four years ago, I kept telling people, “I know this guy. He will do something heinous, and will be out of office in 18 months.”
They let him go on, and now we have a pandemic raging because he was always incompetent, and now it has become fatal.
For all my blathering, the best two words of this endless campaign came from Michelle Goldberg in the NYT. On the night after the second and last debate, she wrote:
Mocking Biden’s concern for struggling families sitting around their kitchen table, Trump tried to position himself as being above political clichés, but he just came off like a callous schmuck.
A “callous schmuck.” I am so jealous.
I am sure that some of the good people who read my little therapy website, and respond to it will have your own angst in the hours and days to come.
Araton and Berkow, Together Again
Not too long ago, Harvey Araton and Ira Berkow were gracing the sports pages of The New York Times with their wise columns.
Now they are both issuing books with their very personal views of the world.
Harvey’s book is “Our Last Season: A Writer, a Fan, a Friendship,” about the bond between him and Michelle Musler, who for decades was a fixture in the stands just behind the Knicks bench in Madison Square Garden.
Ira’s book is “How Life Imitates Sports: A Sportswriter Recounts, Relives and Reckons With 50 Years on the Sports Beat,” which just about tells it all.
(In alphabetical order)
Araton praises the wise businesswoman who was always there – for the Knicks and for him. He describes himself as the child of a project in Staten Island, who earns his entry into sports journalism while battling his own insecurities.
As he works his way from the Staten Island Advance to the Post to the Daily News, his talent and earnestness impress not only editors and readers but also a fan literally looking over his shoulder in the Garden.
Musler saw all – could read the body language, maybe even read lips, of the Knicks and the opponents and the refs. She had put her people skills to great advantage in the corporate world, undoubtedly by being wiser than the average (male) executive.
The Knicks were her outlet, she freely told friends, her social life. Everybody knew her – the players, nearby fans, reporters, ushers, even the team PR man, who left a packet of media stats and releases for her before every game. How cool was that?
Musler more or less adopted Harvey, counseled him, shaped him up, told him to aim big. She became friendly with Harvey’s wife, Beth Albert, and sometimes met Harvey after a game to debrief him on what she had seen from her perch.
When he fretted whether he was worthy of the Times job being offered, she figuratively slammed him up against a steel locker and gave him what a high-school coach I knew called “a posture exercise.” And when his career took a sour detour, she shaped him up, to the point that in retirement he remains an extremely valuable contributor to the Times sports section. Harvey is still what somebody once called him: “The Rebbe of Roundball.”
In return, Harvey came to know Michelle Musler – her strange childhood, her husband leaving her with five children, her career, her need to make money, her love of the Knicks. Her decades of working with male executives prepared her for a searing analysis of James Dolan, the miserable owner of the Knicks.
As Michelle’s health deteriorated, Harvey would sometimes drive from New Jersey to Connecticut to the Garden to get her to a game.
And when Michelle Musler passed in 2018, Harvey wrote a beautiful obit for the Times:
Ira Berkow’s book is also personal – about a talented, ambitious kid from Chicago who made his way to New York and became a fixture in the Times and also in books, not all about sports.
Ira has touched on most stars of the past half century – Muhammad Ali! Michael Jordan! He sized up O.J. Simpson, before and after! He had lunch with Katarina Witt! He shot baskets with Martina Navratilova! He also shot baskets with a retired Oscar Robertson! He schmoozed with Abel Kiviat, then America’s oldest living medalist! And he scrutinized a brash real-estate hustler named Donald Trump!
One of my favorite segments is about Jackie Robinson – who broke baseball’s disgraceful color barrier in 1947. Ira recalls being 15, a high-school athlete himself, watching the Dodgers take on the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
In 2018, with JR42 long gone, Ira was being interviewed on TV about Robinson and came up with a description of how Jackie Robinson had faked the Yankees’ Elston Howard -- a catcher playing left field -- into throwing the ball to second base while Robinson steamed into third.
Later, he remembered interviewing Robinson in 1968 about his thought processes in testing Howard, who was out of position because Yogi Berra was the catcher. Robinson seemed to deflect Ira’s analysis, but the audacious move remained in Ira’s fertile brain.
A few years ago, Ira looked it up in the official play-by-play for the 1955 Series: it confirmed that Robinson, by whatever logic, had victimized Howard into throwing behind Robinson.
This section confirms the instinctive genius of Jackie Robinson and also the enlightened journalistic observation powers of Ira Berkow.
* * *
Most of sports have been thrown off balance by the pandemic, but these very different books by Harvey Araton and Ira Berkow remind us how great sportswriters have enriched us by writing about the world, on and off the court.
When Lou Brock passed more than a week ago, my friend Jerry Rosenthal flashed back to a summer evening in St. Cloud, Minn, in 1961.
Jerry was playing for the Eau Claire Braves, on a road trip to play the St. Cloud Rox, in the old Northern League.
Jerry was a college guy, all-conference shortstop at Hofstra, where I was a student publicist. I saw him take a fastball over the left eye in 1959 but he willed himself back for two more seasons before signing with the Milwaukee Braves.
Lou Brock was also a college guy, out of Southern University, academic scholarship, latecomer to baseball, and 1961 was his first season in the minors.
“Lou was a great guy!,” Jerry recalled in an e-mail the other day. “Very personable and smart! I ran into Lou after a night game near our hotel in St. Cloud. He was reading ‘The Long Season’ by Jim Brosnan. Lou was surprised that an active major leaguer would write such a controversial book."
Switched to second base in the Milwaukee Braves’ chain, Jerry got to see Brock up close in six games: “Not a big man, he was very muscular and had good power and blinding speed! Lou was at full speed on his second step, putting great pressure on infielders to getting rid of the ball as fast as possible! Needless to say, Brock turned singles into doubles and doubles into triples!”
The next year, Jerry moved up to Yakima in the Class B Northwest League. He recalls how warm and welcoming that town was, how fans would recognize him and ask for his autograph. He treasures his memories of teammates like Rico Carty and Bill Robinson who had so much talent it was clear they were heading for the major leagues. He says that Robinson, my late-blooming friend, “had the best arm I ever saw from right field" -- how he stung Jerry's glove hand when Jerry was the cutoff man.
Jerry also talks about his minor-league batting instructors, baseball lifers like Birdie Tebbetts, major-league catcher and manager, then a roving batting instructor at Wellsville. Tebbetts told him to go with the outside pitch to the opposite field -- and Jerry surprised himself with a game-winning home run to right, his second homer of the game.
Jerry also met major-league stalwarts who loved talking Brooklyn Dodger baseball with him -- Dixie Walker, once The Peepul's Cherce in Brooklyn, and Andy Pafko, the old Cub who was standing at the wall as Bobby Thomson's legendary homer soared over his head.
“In my rookie year at Eau Claire. I’m wearing uniform number 25, Bobby Thomson’s hand me down! How ironic is that? Pafko gave me his first-hand description of ‘the shot heard round the world’ and I was assigned to wear Bobby’s uniform! As a true-blue Dodgers fan, as a kid, that’s an occurrence that I could never have dreamt!”
At Yakima, Jerry was steamrollered by one Spencer Scott at second base and was on the bench a day later. But Rico Carty, the regular catcher, was hurt, and the backup catcher was injured during a game, so Jerry hit for him -- and slugged a homer. Jerry had never caught in his life, but he caught that game, and another, until the Braves could send another catcher.
The players were always competing against others in the Braves system. A brash kid from Missouri, Ron Hunt, informed Jerry in spring training that, as a former shortstop, Jerry did not know squat about the double play from second base, and Hunt, who loves the game as much as Jerry does, demonstrated the proper pivot steps -- then moved past Jerry in the chain.
By 1963, Hunt hustled himself into a regular job with the Mets, and a great career. By then, Jerry was out of baseball, teaching school, playing semi-pro ball and taking care of his Irish mom. However, he kept up with his old minor-league colleagues. In Shea Stadium, he said hello to Bobby Cox, who had played against him in the Northwest League and was now a successful manager with the Braves. Cox warmly greeted him and recalled the entire Yakima infield, including "Rosey."
Jerry never ran into Lou Brock until he went to a baseball dinner in New York many years later. In a crowd, he greeted Brock, who said he remembered him from the Northern League, but other people interrupted and they never got to chat.
Still, there is a bond between players who “made it” and those who did not: they all played the game. The backdrop is the minor leagues – the cruel classroom where a difficult sport is taught, where most dreams were destroyed.
Jerry, in retirement, lives in the city, is close to his sisters and many friends, catches good movies and knows restaurants all over town, reads a lot, and has traveled all over the world, usually by himself. He played in a senior hardball league, finally getting his Spencer Scott knee replaced. As a fan, Jerry adopted Jeff McNeil, the scrappy Everyman late bloomer who had fought to become a .300 hitter the Mets never expected.
Jerry is barely following this weird “season.” He has a raging contempt for the short-sighted proprietors of baseball and their still unproven commissioner, Rob Manfred, who are scheming to devour a number of minor leagues to save a few dollars. That rash move would be an insult to the history, the soul, of the sport -- fans who used to say they saw a rag-armed lefty named Musial pitching in the low minors, or fans in Trenton could say they saw a comet named Mays heading straight for the 1951 World Series.
That hallowed system allows old minor-leaguers like Jerry Rosenthal to display ancient box scores and mourn stars like Lou Brock, and sometimes able to say, with all due respect, "Back in 1961, I out-hit Lou in our six games."
* * *
COMMENTS PREFERRED ON THIS SITE RATHER THAN MY EMAILS--THANKS, GV
COMMENT FROM JERRY:
George, here are my comments regarding your fine piece.
George, it was an honor being the subject of your great piece, “My Friend Out Hit Lou Brock....in Six Games.”
I will always treasure my minor league memories ; the highlights as well as the lowlights. Your superb writing brought out how important the institution of minor league baseball is to the development of young prospects and to the small towns they play in! For over one-hundred years, the minor leagues and major leagues have had a mutually beneficial relationship. Sadly, that relationship no longer exists!
MLB ‘s arbitrary decision to “contract” 42 minor league, owner-operated, clubs could be the “beginning of the end “of the minor leagues! Clearly, the commissioner and the thirty MLB owners are only interested in increasing revenue, not preserving the traditions of the game!
George, you were right on target when you described the minor leagues as -“ the cruel classroom where a difficult sport is taught, where most dreams were destroyed.”
I played for three great managers: Jim Fanning, Bill Steinecke and Buddy Hicks. These “baseball lifers” taught me facets of the game that I was completely unaware of coming out of college!
Just as important, these fine men told us to view “self-doubt” and “failure” as just part of the game! They all emphasized the idea that mental toughness was as important as physical skill! My managers were very aware of how you dealt with adversity!
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were being taught “ valuable “life lessons”!
I will never forget their words of support and encouragement! These are just the kind of mentors organized baseball needs today! I’m sure MLB’s
response to that idea would be: “We are going in a different direction”!
George, thanks again for this wonderful piece!
Thanks for being a good friend for these many years!
* * *
I Miss My Home Town
The city shimmers in the night sky.
I take my walk after the sun goes down, and sometimes a magnetic force pulls me to the crest of a hill facing west.
My home town is out there, but at the moment I cannot construct any excuse to visit, much as I miss it, blessed to live in a lovely close suburb, as far from the city as I can stand.
Sometimes I think of the great walks I have taken in recent years.
Last winter, just before the plague struck leaderless America, I took the A train, thinking of Billy Strayhorn's immortal song, saxophones racing uptown, and got off at 125th St. and strolled east to Third Ave. and then south to 80th St. for my monthly lunch with some baseball/writer pals. Every block was an adventure, now a distant memory of a lost city, Atlantis on the Hudson.
* * *
How is New York? Fortunately, The New York Times had one of its very best writers, Dan Barry, write the text for a section of photos by the equally artistic Todd Heisler, in Saturday's paper, also available online:
* * *
Their artwork in the NYT makes me miss New York even more.
Some losses are irreparable, including the fabled Irish baseball pub, Foley's, run by Shaun Clancy. When the plague hit, Shaun realized he could not recover the losses in the foreseeable future, so he put his memorabilia in a warehouse, and retreated to his home in Queens, my home borough.
As it happens, his home is -- that is to say, was -- exactly two miles north of my family home, both on 188th St -- his in Auburndale, mine in Holliswood.
Last week, as Shaun sold his house, we finally arranged our long-discussed socially-distanced meeting. I picked Cunningham Park, the park of my childhood, where my family had corn-and-hot-dog picnics and I played sandlot baseball and kept an eye out for a girl who lived a few doors from the park.
For our long-delayed meeting, Shaun and his companion, Kristie Ackert, baseball writer for the Daily News, and I sat at a picnic table in the shade and drank iced coffees and talked about Ireland and Queens and how Kristie covers the Yankees without access to the players. I told Shaun again how much Foley's has meant to my jock pals from Hofstra who are mourning our decade of occasional lunches at the back table. He's got a place in Florida, and Kristie will be there a lot when she is not watching the Yankees in empty ballparks.
I miss my friends...and I miss Foley's...and I miss the magic place that glitters off to the west on a summer evening.
* * *
I see your silver shining town
But I know I can't go there
Your streets run deep with poisoned wine
Your doorways crawl with fear*
*The Pride of Cucamonga, Philip Lesh and Robert Peterson. Sung by Lesh with the Grateful Dead.
Even Cardboard Fans Know Terror
This is how bad it got bad at the Mets’ home opener on Friday:
When Edwin Diaz walked into the game, the cardboard mockups of real fans began to head for the exits. I swear.
Edwin Diaz! Aaagh! Not him again!
Cardboard people began checking with the baby-sitter on their phones, began edging toward the rest rooms, began filing out toward the parking lots and the No. 7 elevated train – to get the hell out of there before Diaz torched the place, again.
Eight innings into the first game of this bizarre season -- a season I am not sure should exist, given the pandemic -- I experienced the mini-terror of the fan – with no ticking clock, with three massive last outs to achieve.
This is the same Edwin Diaz who was acquired by the Mets last year and had one of the worst years ever for a so-called relief pitcher. Fans groaned when they saw him flexing in the bullpen.
On Friday, as rigid and lifeless as the fans appeared, they knew a terrifying situation when they saw it.
It was a classic Mets’ game of recent seasons, Before Covid. Jacob deGrom pitched five crisp innings, looking like the two-time Cy Young Award winner that he is, reaching his pitch limit, and turning the game over to the bullpen.
All those vividly-colored one-inch-thick fans recognized the script – the paralysis of the Mets’ hitters whenever DeGrom pitches.
This opener had a subplot – the presence of Freddie Freeman for the Braves, after a terrifying siege with Covid months ago, when he admittedly felt he would not live. Later, he recounted his experience to Nick Markakis, a teammate, who promptly decided to sit out this season.
Freeman is back, one of those admirable opponents that even some Mets fans, in all their bilious loyalty, can respect. He monitored first base, and seemed to greet the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo with a tap of his glove after both of Nimmo’s singles.
This camaraderie would not have gone over back in the day, when an opponent would have fallen to the ground and called for the umpire to eject Freeman for menacing with his microbe-laden glove. In these nicer times, it was good to see Freeman’s hawk-like features back on the field.
The Mets got a post-deGrom run when Yoenis Céspedes clubbed a massive home run, and Diaz induced terror in Mets fans by striding onto the field, but somehow he procured three outs, around a walk (to Freeman), to secure a 1-0 victory, and the Mets remained undefeated 24 days into July.
This patchwork “season” may or may not last 60 games. But on Opening Day, with thousands of faux fans planted in the seats, a pyromaniac “relief” pitcher terrified the fans, in whatever form.
I know it is hypocritical of me to worry about spreading the virus -- (the Mets abandoned all pretense of safety when they greeted Cespedes in the dugout)-- but baseball, in this strange form, is back.
Faux Fans, Faux Baseball
Cardboard spectators stared vapidly from behind home plate, their expressions never changing as the Mets and Yankees committed something akin to baseball.
This was the ambiance at New Shea Saturday night as Major League Baseball introduced Covid-Ball, a makeshift version of the great American pastime, or what used to be.
Cruel boss that I am, I assigned myself to stick it out as a preview, or warning, of what this truncated season will be, if it lasts its threatened 60 games. (Some wary big names have already dropped out for this season; others are trying to come back from a Covid attack. To be continued.)
This was only an exhibition, spring training in mid-July, and there was to be another one at Yankee Stadium Sunday evening before the “season” opens late in the week.
I will tell you up front that my biggest thrill of the night was seeing the aerial view of Queens, my home borough – the globe in the park, a glimpse of the wonderful Queens Museum, the No. 7 elevated train gliding through the neighborhood, as sweet as a gondola through Venice.
Oh, my! I am so homesick for Queens!
I thought of the joys within a mile or two of this sweet spot – my friends and the heroes at Mama’s deli on 104th St., other friends at the New York Times plant, just to the east, the food and the crowds in downtown Flushing, the Indian food in Jackson Heights, and so on. I miss all these at least as much as baseball.
There was a strange hybrid form of baseball taking place in New Shea. Yankee manager Aaron Boone was moving his jaws inside his soft gray mask, either chewing something or talking a lot.
The first home-plate ump (they mysteriously rotated during the game) had some kind of plexiglass shield inside his mask, to ward off virulent Trumpian microbes.
I was mostly watching the Mets’ broadcast, with good old Ron and good old Keith two yards apart in one booth and good old Gary in a separate booth, but their familiarity and friendship came through. Welcome to this strange new world.
Later I switched to the Yankee broadcast and realized Michael Kay and the others were not in Queens but were commenting off the same video we were seeing. Not sure how that will work out during the season.
Early in the game I learned that the Toronto Blue Jays will not be able to play in that lovely city this “season,” for fear of being contaminated by the virus the viciously bumbling Trump “government” and block-headed Sunbelt Republican governors have allowed to rage.
I don’t blame the more enlightened Canadian government – but a few days before the season opener? The Jays will apparently play in Buffalo, creating all kinds of logistical horrors for anybody in Ontario with Blue Jay business.
The highlight of Saturday’s exhibition was Clint Frazier, the strong-minded Yankee outfielder who plans to wear a kerchief-type mask during games, including at bat. Does a mask impede a batter’s reaction to a fastball, up and in? Maybe. But Frazier unloaded a 450-foot homer into the empty upper deck – (Sound of summer: Michael Kay: “SEE-ya!”) -- and some teammates in the dugout flashed masks in tribute to Frazier.
I obsessed about those cardboard fans behind home plate. The absence of real people takes away one of the peripheral joys of watching a game – demonstrative or even annoying fans, the occasional celebrity, and, yes, I admit, women in summer garb. Will these faux fans become part of lore? Will they be rotated, replaced by new faces during the “season?” Just asking.
Finally, there was the recorded crowd noise, an apparently steady hum. No pro-Met chants, no anti-Yankee jibes, just background, like the roar of the sea,
I caught the last inning on the Mets’ radio broadcast, where good old Howie was speculating that the home-team genies in the control room were raising the sound a bit when the Mets were rallying.
I stuck it out because I had assigned myself to “cover” the event.
But I wondered about the reaction of my pal, Jerry Rosenthal, one-time all-conference shortstop at Hofstra, two-year Milwaukee Brave farmhand, and now lifetime baseball purist and authority.
How did Jerry like the ersatz game? He texted:
“Watched one inning of the game. I am now watching ‘The Maltese Falcon” for about the 25th time. That should tell you something!”
Yes, it does.
The Crosstown Trek of My Wife's Painting
For many years, Marianne painted in the midnight hours, when the kids were asleep and I was on the road somewhere. After a few hours of sleep, she got up and made school lunches and checked her lesson plans and drove off to teach art.
At some point she produced this large painting, which wound up in a gallery in Manhattan, and then in friends’ apartment on the Upper East Side. But now those friends are downsizing, and no longer have room for the painting, so they graciously offered it back to the artist.
In the middle of a pandemic, with no station wagon anymore, we did not see retrieving it and squeezing it into our house, already crammed with books and art and kitchen utensils.
Marianne mentioned her dilemma to our West Side friends, who are redecorating their apartment in the 50s. They know her work, and were interested, but the painting had been wrapped, and was sequestered in the basement of the East Side building. So they accepted it, sight unseen.
Then came moving day, part of the daily buzz of the city, good times or bad times -- folks clutching modest bags of clothing on the subway, other folks engaging gigantic moving vans that block side streets, out-of-town children of privilege who come clumping down the elevated train stairs with one wheeled suitcase in an “emerging” neighborhood, getting dirty looks from ladies in the local peluqeria whose rents are about to double. (I witnessed that in Bushwick two years ago.)
Now our friends were joining the sidewalk shuffle, taking 45 minutes to walk across town, spotting “dog runners and dog strollers in the park, empty buses plying Fifth, a fit couple racing up and down the Met Museum’s steps. The ‘Ancient Playground” at 85th and Fifth still temporarily closed,’” as the lady half of the couple wrote.
I had warned that if they tried to carry the painting across town, one of those classic crosswinds that scream out of a side street could pick them up, clutching the painting, and deposit them in Oz, or New Jersey.
But it did not come to that, because when the East Side porter delivered the 6-by 4-foot package near the front door, they realized it was so sturdy that blithely carrying it across town – for fun, for exercise – was out of the question.
Now began the quest for wheels.
They tried shoe-horning it into a city taxi, but it was four inches too long, so they tipped the driver for his effort, and waved farewell.
The super helped them carry it to a busy corner and left them to their adventure. They hailed two panel trucks and tried to cajole the drivers into making an excursion, but both apologized for being busy. A plumber parked nearby offered to help but needed an hour to set up his crew.
Tired of standing on the corner propping up a large painting, they called a messenger service, New York Minute, which promised to drop it at their building, as they took a taxi back home. An hour later, the painting arrived and they set it on the terrace for a few hours to give germs time to die.
They still had not seen the painting that had occupied several weeks of logistics that could have sent a spaceship to a far-off docking station. (Did I mention that Marianne, in her other life as matchmaker, a/k/a the shiksa shadchen, had matched these two friends, not so long ago?)
“Unwrapped, it was love at first sight. It’s Marianne’s Geometric Period, mixed media watercolor and oil,” our friend reported. “It miraculously fit on the pre-existing hooks opposite our bed.”
They took a photo – the miracle of the smartphone—and beamed it to Marianne, who immediately recognized it from the period, decades ago, when she found a makeshift table that could accommodate larger canvases.
She has sold around 250 paintings, some now dispersed around the world. She may not recall the year or the circumstances of each painting, but she recognizes each painting, remembers the creation.
She has won awards in juried shows, has placed her work in slide form or real-life form, in Manhattan galleries, has received respectful “keep-painting” receptions from major galleries, some of them part of the art hustle of recent decades, no names mentioned. It all came back to her, including the review in NYT’s Long Island Section, by critic Phyllis Braff:
One feels and imagines the aura of the Grand Canyon, Notre Dame, a night sky, a fall landscape or a cemetery in visions that are executed through rather innovative manipulations of small squares made vibrant with mottled, transparent watercolor tones. Color selections that tend to be symbolic, and exacting schemes of dispersing the painted units, are both important in carrying the message.
This painting, part of Marianne’s most active period, is now hanging in the bedroom of a fashionable apartment, home to many soirees with art-conscious New Yorkers.
But the main reward came when the lady wrote:
The painting is now the last the last thing we see at night, and the first thing we see in the morning. Joy.
Marianne’s painting has made the daunting crosstown trek from the East Side to the West Side.
Its journey has also brought us joy.
* * *
The review in the NYT by critic Phyllis Braff:
“I suspect that seeing NYC burn arouses strong feelings in you,” writes a friend from Queens, long living overseas.
* * *
We sat in our den with a visitor from Moscow and watched smoke pour out of the Parliament building.
This was October of 1993; our friend was frightened because her son was a journalism student in Moscow and she knew he would get up close, to observe, to report, maybe to protest.
Now it is our turn. My wife and I sit in the same den and watch our country – places we have lived and visited – quiver with rage.
One over-reaction and we could have Moscow-on-the-Hudson, Tienanmen-Square revisited. I feel the way our friend must have felt that warm autumn day when she watched smoke rise above the Moskva River.
New York is my hometown and it’s in my blood, ever since my father took me around, teaching me names and histories. I still see New York through the prism of being 5 years old and watching Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an old white wizened president, campaign through Queens in an open limo during a cold drizzle, or being 7 and having my father call from the office and say our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had just signed Jackie Robinson.
I see New York from memories of gentle folk, bootstrappers from Queens, who met sometimes in my family living room, in a discussion group strictly maintained at a 50-50 black-white ratio.
So many white people have lived more comfortable lives because of the enslavement of so many black people. We can’t get past it. It would be interesting if we could go back in time with those nice people, long gone, and in 2020 terms discuss America’s Original Sin.
Now, from my safe perch in a nearby suburb, I feel viscerally sick when I see video or photos of broken windows, burning cars, confrontations.
People are expressing their horror at the murder, caught on a smartphone camera, of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis.
I feel proud of the Americans who have flocked, mostly in peace, to express their believe that Black Lives Matter. The Floyd family has cited religion to score violence and revenge, but this is not a cool time, and I know there are bad actors, white and black, who want to cause anarchy and fear.
The rock-throwers and the window-breakers will give racists a chance to break heads in the name of law and order. (Tom Cotton, you old op-ed sage, I’m talking about you.)
I’ve been lucky to travel all over the States -- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Seattle, LA, Chicago. For two years in the early 70s, we lived, on assignment for the Times, in Louisville, Ky., -- five homesick New Yorkers nevertheless blessed with two stimulating years.
The other day, from Louisville, I saw a story that gave me hope, or rather temporary hope – a human chain of white women at the front of a protest, ahead of black protestors, sending a physical and emotional message: “We got you.”
Our next-door neighbor in Louisville would be so proud of these protestors. Rabbi Martin Perley had built bonds with the African-Americans of the 60s, so that when Louisville seemed ready to go up during a protest, he joined other civic leaders in walking the city’s West End, urging people not to take out their rage on their town.
So I was proud of the white women of Louisville who went up front, but then I read about the police shooting of a well-known BBQ merchant on the West End, who may have fired a pistol in response to looting outside his door. So we’re back where we started with George Floyd.
Now it is our turn in the TV den to watch nightly confrontations in New York. I spy a street or building or bridge and know exactly where it is. I have walked there and chatted with fellow New Yorkers; I have ridden the buses and subways; I drive comfortably all over my hometown.
In my home borough of Queens, the Cuomos lived 10 blocks to the east of my family and the Trumps lived 10 blocks to the west of our busy, noisy street.
Most days, Cuomo is hectoring New Yorkers to stay smart about social distancing and keeping an eye on the bumblings of the mayor. On Friday that disturbed and dangerous president brayed that George Floyd would be so proud of the big stock-market leap. What a jackass.
Trump is the Republicans’ kind of guy. We are all paying for the anarchy and hate and stupidity he has emitted.
Still, I take hope when I see blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, mostly young, demonstrating their idealism, while we sit in front of the tube, like our friend from Moscow once did.
Our Irish Baseball Pub Is Gone
Tuesday, June 2: Finally: I answered the first 13 Comments. I've been corresponding with two Bay Area pals about favorite locals. Best. GV.
(The following was written Friday afternoon. It may seem trivial, given the virus, the malfeasance of Trump, and growing protests around the country, to write about a baseball-centric pub, but this also happened on Friday, leading to this response from me and others. Be safe. GV.)
The world will never be the same.
We say that a lot these days, about death and loss of work and the blurring of the future; now something else has been wrenched away.
Foley’s went down Friday, officially. It was a grand contradiction – Irish? Baseball Pub? – and for thousands upon thousands of regulars it was home.
We all rubbed elbows, when business was good – baseball umpires and out-of-towners and business types and guys at the bar who seemed to have a lot of free time in mid-day and, when a big game was on, clusters of loyal fans who claimed it as their place.
It could have been a funky little pub off in the Irish countryside, particularly when Proprietor Shaun Clancy and his father John Clancy were in attendance, with their lush accents. No matter what time of day it was, John Clancy was always eating an Irish breakfast.
Foley’s was Shaun’s baby. He learned baseball in the States while his dad worked at Toots Shor’s, the Foley’s of its day, particularly when DiMaggio or Sinatra was in the place.
At Foley’s, it was more about Joe McEwing, a Mets supersub, taking a kid named David Wright out for a late supper on his first time in the majors, and now there is a David Wright sandwich on the menu.
Baseball was on the walls, and on the ceilings – all manner of memorabilia, thousands of autographed balls. Our group of old Hofstra jocks (and me, scribe-for-life) has been meeting there for a decade; the first time Brant Alyea, who played five years in the majors, joined us, he had to sign a ball for Shaun.
The place faces the Empire State Building on 33rd St, just west of Fifth. There are Irish road signs out front in case you are lost. The bar is on the right of a narrow corridor down the middle, and on the left is a men’s room with three enormous enamel urinals taken from either the old Waldorf or the old Astoria when the two hotels merged uptown. Now I am wondering: who gets the urinals when the landlord goes back to Square 1?
Shaun named the place for Red Foley, the leprechaun of a sports wizard who graced the New York Daily News when it was America’s most powerful newspaper. Red knew everything. His column was called Ask Red.
Mostly you heard Irish accents from the manager and the bartenders and the waitresses, but the staff also had a New York mix including Kathy-the-Waitress who I think hailed from Brooklyn.
Every time we Hofstra guys gathered, Curtis-the-Point-Guard would order shepherd’s pie and Kathy-the-Waitress would squawk, “You can’t order that! It’s not healthy for you!”
Shaun Clancy made everybody feel welcome. He would stand with us and whisper inside stuff he had heard. Our star baseball players like Jerry Rosenthal the shortstop and Dennis D’Oca the lefty, both from Brooklyn, glowed when Shaun dropped inside stuff on us.
Like regulars in any pub, we brought guests. One time our Hofstra contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola, joined us, and listened to our opinions and our questions about his movies, just one of the guys, more than half a century later.
One time we entertained a few hotshots from Wagner who had ruined an undefeated season for Stanley and Ted and Curtis and Stephen Dunn, the zone-busting guard, now a Pulitzer Prize poet.
In recent years, we saw less of Shaun because he had (a) a place in Florida and (b) a lady friend, Kristie Ackert, baseball writer with the Daily News. They seem so compatible that they must have been introduced by the great matchmaker in the sky.
When the virus hit in late winter, Shaun shut it down and took off to Florida -- paying his staff for the duration. This week he took a look at the books and realized the bleak future for drinking, eating and rooting in close proximity in high-rent midtown.
Here is Shaun, Friday, on Twitter, grief all over him:
I am now in mourning. I cannot imagine the next time I will take a train or subway into the belly of the beast, and mingle in a clean, well-lighted place like Foley’s.
Plus, this is my second heartbreak. For more than a decade, I was a regular in L’Angolo on Houston St. in the Village, an Italian soccer cafe. Con Ed construction and smoking restrictions and landlord gouging killed L’Angolo in 2008 but somehow I was granted another home place for the past decade.
The way I see it, Shaun Clancy ran a place as memorable as Shor's was when his dad was working. Nothing lasts forever.
Thank you, Shaun, for a great time.
* * *
But don't take my word for it. Pete Caldera, the singing writer, or writing singer, is a true Foley's regular. Here is his ode from USA Today:
More about Foley’s:
NOT TO BE MISSED: Thomas Beller's loving depiction of Jerry Stiller as Hasidic elder, from the West Side, one neighbor writing about another.
* * *
(From me:) As a New Yorker who has never lived in an apartment, I am fascinated by friends’ buildings.
Friends were said to live in the same West Side building as a singer I love. Whenever we would visit for a Seder, I would imagine getting on the elevator with the singer. Never happened.
Another friend lived in the same Village building as a noted writer and doctor. My wife had some questions for him, if we ever got on the same elevator. Never happened.
However, two friends of ours did live in the same building as Stiller and Meara. One summer in the 80’s, our friends, sisters, threw a Sunday 5 PM cocktail party on the penthouse patio – classic New York. Noted rabbi. Noted historian, female, who wanted to talk about Pete Rose (before Pete had been found out.)
And Stiller and Meara, one of the gang, chatting with everyone. She was gorgeous, and friendly. He, not so gorgeous but equally friendly.
I could not resist. I told them how much I admired their work, which, to me, consisted of their ultra-droll commercials for Blue Nun, a semi-sweet wine formerly known as Liebfraumilch.
Never do this. But I did. I told them my favorite Blue Nun commercial was about a radio-detective type sitting in his office when a mysterious redhead appears.
I am ashamed, but I wasn’t then, to semi-imitate their voices, as I recalled the dialogue:
He: “From the moment she walked into my office, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She had legs that went from here to there – and back again.”
She: “You’ll have to excuse me for not sitting down, but I’ve got legs that go from here to there and back again.”
(Anne Meara was indeed way taller than Stiller, surely part of the attraction. Somehow a detective and long legs led to a pitch for Blue Nun wine.)
They both gave me deadpan looks, shook their heads.
Sorry, each said, I just don’t remember that one. (The point being, there were so many.) Then they asked me about the Yankee game I had just attended. They fit right in. West Side neighbors.
I never met Anne Meara again but I used to bump into Jerry Stiller at The Garden. This was before his Seinfeld renaissance, and he was just another West Sider, saying hello at halftime.
I reveled in the success of their daughter and son, plus his success on Seinfeld, grouchy and loud, at the next table in a deli. (We all remember that bustling ambience, don’t we.)
Anne passed in 2015. Jerry passed the other day, at 92.
The NYT ran a lovely obituary – of the two of them, really – with classic Seinfeldian sub-plots about a fitting obituary, and a killer last line by Peter Keepnews.
Better you should read it for yourself. Meantime, farewell to that classic West Side couple, Stiller and Meara:
What's a Stolen World Series These Days?
I’d like to wax moralistic about the baseball scandal that got a manager and a general manager of a championship team fired on Monday.
I feel cheated because I fell in love with that Houston team three-four years ago, so much talent, so much charisma with Altuve and Springer and seemingly admirable guys like Hinch and Cora and Beltrán.
Now, as a Mets fan, I want to know how this scandal affects their new manager, Carlos Beltrán, but according to the commissioner, you can’t really bust a dugout full of players. (Plus, players have a union.)
So it seems Beltrán will be the manager. Just hide the garbage-pail cans.
So many scandals, so much cheating.
I'll admit, I used to think it was funny when ball players I knew were caught with sandpaper or thumb tacks in their pockets to doctor the ball, or a catcher had a sharp edge on his belt buckle so that the two-out, two-strike pitch would swerve downward, game over.
Then, a generation ago, everybody had new muscles all over them, and players were whacking 50 or 60 or 70 home runs a year. Looks to me like burly, wired pitchers were cheating, too.
Then again, out in the Real World, public figures are lying every time they move their lips, and have reputations for not paying their bills and cheating on their wives, while preachers tell their flocks to vote for them.
Just saying. No names mentioned.
After I absorbed the breaking news of suspensions and subsequent firing of Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, I flipped to the news section of the Times and read a piece by the great Michael Kimmelman. He is one of the jewels of the paper, who has morphed from art critic to covering the social implications of architecture over the world.
As described by Kimmelman, that new playground for the 1 per cent, known as Hudson Yards – Heaven forbid New York should try to house its working class – is trying to slip a two-out, two-strike pitch past the city by building a huge garage on the west side of the playpen for the rich. (Never mind that the city is already choking on cars, and trucks and limos, plus amateurs swerving around on rented bikes.)
The new garage would loom right where a much-needed rail tunnel to the American mainland should be rounding into shape – except that big-mouth Chris Christie blew up the project when he was governor of New Jersey. His one-finger salute to society is surely the first thing on Christie’s lifetime resumé.
Now, like some pitchers I used to know, the builder of Hudson Yards was going to slip one by the public. This little surprise would loom over the High Line, the quirky elevated walkway with the great views that has enhanced the city and even encouraged people to get out and walk. The friendly folks at Hudson Yards were going to pour the concrete and block out the view and explain it all later, as builders do all over New York.
Fortunately, Kimmelman and the NYT got word of this Down near the bottom, he included a quote from a state senator about the builder of Hudson Yards:
“The last thing New Yorkers need is a wall, and from all people, Steve Ross.”
That, Kimmelman dutifully noted, was a reference to Ross’s recent fund-raising efforts for, oh but you guessed it, President Trump.
It is not clear whether our public servants can undo the mischief, the trick pitch, from the Vaseline on the back of Steve Ross’ neck.
Meantime, the Astros will find another manager and general manager, and there will be a baseball season.
No matter who is ingesting what, or stealing what signals, the new season will somehow seem more wholesome than just about anything else going down these days.
How Imus Saved My Life
Say what you will about the I-Man, this alternately cruel and shy character who passed Friday at 79, he kept me alive many years ago.
I had paid him no attention until he popped up on the new sports talk station, WFAN -- 660 on the AM dial – in the late 80’s. Most of the station was devoted to hard-core sports babble but his four hours in the morning – “the revenue-producing portion of the day,” I think he called it – was a snarling, sneering refutation of sports, plus music critiques and skits.
One of the best things I have ever heard on the radio was a skit in which Princess Diana visits America to get away from that strange bunch she had married into. (I forget the name of the woman who portrayed Diana.) Somehow or other, Diana is invited to Imus’ home in Connecticut, for a hot-dog roast with real people, that is to say, the I-Man. She is so enthralled by his informality that she pleads for asylum, asking in a plaintive voice, “Please, may I stay here?” Oh, if only she had.
Imus grew on me, with his frequent praise for his favorite musician, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. He also acted as a one-man media critic of the noble knights of the keyboard back when newspapers and sports sections and columnists played to the snarky taste of the New York region.
He was vicious toward his station mates, calling Mike Francesa and Chris Russo “Fatso and Fruit Loops.” He derided his literary agent and consigliere, Esther Newberg, referring to her as, of course, “Lobsters.” He regularly berated the plugged-in sports columnist of the Daily News, Mike Lupica, and sometimes when he had nothing else to do, he picked on me.
(Let it be noted that Lupica and I are clients of the sainted Ms. Newberg.)
One time Imus relayed a new item about an elderly gent who was left, in a wheelchair, I believe, by his guardian at some rural dog track. This became the Imus standard for irrelevancy, for being past it. He often would ridicule my masterpieces and state the obvious: “Dog-track time for Vecsey.”
One time my sister Janet rang up the station to blast the I-Man and he put her on the air, and was oh, so civil to her. That was the I-Man, a human mood swing. I met him a few times, hanging out in a baseball press box, making no fuss. In person, the radio tough guy would softly say hello and kind of look sideways at me.
How did Imus save my life? My wife was on a trip somewhere and I thought it made sense for me to drive our car from south Florida to Long Island – straight through, overnight (with a couple of 15-minute naps at rest stops.)
I got near Baltimore, the sun rising, and to keep awake I punched the dial seeking Imus going on the air at 6 AM.
But I was sleepy. Very sleepy. I could feel the car starting to edge onto the rough border of the inside lane. I righted the steering wheel and willed myself to stay awake. But I was sleepy.
Just then, Imus began a tirade against a failing columnist who had just written another piece of foolscap. In his basso voice of denunciation and doom, Imus pronounced: “Dog-track time for Vecsey.”
That got my adrenaline surging – who doesn’t like attention? – and I gripped the wheel and listened to Imus for the next four hours until the revenue-producing part of the day was over, and I got home, alive.
* * *
I’d like to say that my debt to the I-Man made me a listener for life, but that’s not true. He and his radio sidekicks increased their racial crap and their creepy comments about women until one day he made ugly comments about the mostly-black players on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, competing in the Final Four. That was it. I turned Imus off, and never listened to him again.
In a way, Imus was a predictor of where we are today. However, unlike some public figures I could name, he appeared to be generous, to have a heart. According to the obituaries, the I-Man hosted young people at his Imus Ranch and raised funds for Iraq veterans, and his wife Deirdre has her own charity at a New Jersey hospital. It seems he affected thousands of lives – plus one sleepy driver, edging off the Interstate on a warm sunrise.
* * *
Here’s a treat: the NYT’s star, Robert McFadden, on the I-Man:
In a dark time, the very least we can do is opt for light
The other day I had a spare hour in my home town so I opted for the great hall in the heart of the Met, where I knew I could find light and memory.
What I sought was not religious as such, but the nearly universal reassurance of people being together, like the Neapolitan figurines who flock to the base of a tree every December.
There is light -- from Christmas trees past in our house, or the Menorah we take out, or family faces, past and present.
As my internal compass found the tree through the maze of hallways, I gave thanks for the little rectangular device in my pocket that allows me to take photographs for the first time in my life --a miracle.
The tree was there, as it has been every year since 1957 (read about it here.) Almost every year we make the pilgrimage, to be reassured. The light endures.
I'm leaving this photo up for a while. Happy Solstice. Happy Holidays.
How Did We Get 'Here?'
I’ll let you define “here.”
There are thousands of factors from "there" to "here," but I’m going to list four random indicators that something was happening.
One. My wife went to the movies with some fellow teachers, circa 1981 -- "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She watched as Harrison Ford blew away a guy who was wielding a sword, in front of a crowd, and she felt he did it with a smirk, for yucks, and the audience laughed, and she felt tears. Something is different, she said. Life means less.
Two. I was clicking through the cable channels around 2006 – no doubt looking for a ball game or a soccer match – and happened upon a talent competition.
We had these things when I was a kid, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts – first prize being a week on his morning radio show. Godfrey was generally genial on the air (well, except when he fired his singer, Julius LaRosa, live, to teach him some “humility.”)
In 2006, a talent competition was different. A British guy named Simon was sneering and making remarks about the competitors, and also about the wisdom of his fellow judges. I had never seen such sheer nastiness on the air; the show was about this Simon guy, not about the contestants singing or dancing their hearts out.
I had never seen a reality show -- knew they existed, but avoided them, scrupulously. Only thing I could say about sneering Simon was “If he acted like that in the schoolyard where I played basketball, somebody would have popped him one.” But Simon seemed quite popular.
Three. I did hear there was a comparable reality show on the tube, starring a guy who grew up near me in Queens. He was rather yappy; friends of mine who lived next door told me that. I never saw him in the schoolyard.
Later, I heard he had been staked by his successful builder father to a rather large allowance to look like a successful businessman. He owned a team in a low-scale pro football league; his wife (first wife, as it turned out) had to correct all the things he did not know about his team.
Then I heard the guy had his own reality show, on which he postured and preened, Simon-like, dismissing candidates with a curt “You’re fired.” I heard it was popular but I never saw it. After all, I had met the guy. People in New York didn't take him seriously. We knew.
Four. Starting in 2009, I started to read about new members of Congress who had run for the House or Senate because….they did not much like centralized government and the use of taxes to run the country, to help other people.
Once elected, they were obligated to go to Washington for a few days here and there, but to show their disdain for centralized government they bragged about bunking in with friends, maybe even sleeping on couches in their offices, until they could get back home to God’s Country, away from the Deep State. These advocates of minimal government were labelled The Tea Party by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Last elected rep to leave, please turn out the lights.
That brings us to today, when the country seems to be divided between elected public officials who seem to have studied and respected the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and other elected public officials who seem to have a Tea Party twitch to shut the whole thing down and turn it over to Our Masters – particularly the guy on the reality show.
I guess it goes back to laughing at bodies being blown to bits by Indiana Jones, back to contestants and fellow judges being mocked by the Simon guy, back to Tea Party types who don’t believe in the separation of powers of government, who do not respect the public servants who make government run.
It’s been coming on for a long time.
The first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go
---James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James”
Snowing again, this first of December.
This typist has little to say on this left-over Sunday. Over the holiday, I’ve been reading “Poems of New York,” selected by Elizabeth Schmidt, while my wife is reading “Underland,” by a philosopher-explorer, Robert MacFarland.
Thank goodness for writers.
Pete Hamill is writing a book from his home borough of Brooklyn. Pete is among the three great print troubadours of my home town – along with Murray Kempton and Jimmy Breslin. (Dan Barry would make a quartet, when he is in print.)
Hamill is not well, as documented by Alex Williams in the Sunday Times, but he is going to get his Brooklyn book done, he says.
Also gutting it out is the great film director, Michael Apted, who has just issued his latest documentary – and, he says, his last – in the seven-year cycle about English youths who grew older, the ones who were lucky.
I have a great debt to Michael Apted for putting Loretta Lynn’s story on the screen, after I helped her write her book, and Tom Rickman wrote a magnificent film script. I was afraid Hollywood would turn Loretta’s world into a segment of “Beverly Hillbillies,” but as Rickman told me about Hollywood: “Sometimes the good guys win.”
I got to thank Apted when the movie had its premiere in Nashville and then in Louisville. Invited along for the chartered bus ride up I-65, I asked Apted how he got the feel for Eastern Kentucky and he talked about his roots in England – not just London – and he said, “I am no stranger to the coal mines.”
Good luck with your new movie, sir.
Today belongs to talented people like James Taylor and Pete Hamill and Michael Apted. A friend recently gave me a couple of poetry books, one by Seamus Heaney, the other a collection about my home town.
I include a segment from Nikki Giovanni, about the sudden flashes of humanity you encounter just about anywhere in the city. This is about a blind woman, uptown.
You that Eyetalian poet ain’t you? I know yo voice.
I seen you on television
I peered closely into her eyes
You didn’t see me or you’d know I’m black.
Let me feel yo hair if you Black Hold down yo head
I did and she did
Got something for me, she laughed
You felt my hair that’s good luck
Good luck is money chile she said
Good luck is money.
-- From “The New Yorkers”
I’ll leave it there. Keep writing, Pete Hamill. I’m waiting on your Brooklyn book.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.