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.
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.
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.
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!
* * *
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
They changed their minds. A week ago, WNYC announced it was terminating its familiar "New Sounds" program with John Schaefer. On Monday, Goli Sheikholeslami, the new president and CEO of New York Public Radio, announced that "New Sounds" and Schaefer and the long-time producer, Caryn Havlik, will be remaining.
In a gracious statement, Sheikholeslami said, "A show like New Sounds can only be produced by public radio, and specifically at NYPR." She recently resigned from her arts job in Chicago to take the leadership of New York Public Radio.
Sheikholeslami's full statement on line can be read here:
The moral to the story is that sometimes new executives need to be reminded just what it is they are leading. Protesting is good, particularly in something as subjective as the arts. Donating (or not donating) also works. I am so happy for John Schaefer -- and for the eclectic audience of WNYC in the city that never sleeps.
Here is my original article last week:
I can’t remember where I was, but I definitely had the radio on, late one evening, listening to John Schaefer’s show, “New Sounds.”
You never know what you will get. Schaefer seemed to find music from cultures all over the world, and within the United States – odd instruments, string and reed and percussion, plus the human voice at all pitches, and he would bubble about them, with junior-high-school enthusiasm.
This night – he works best late in the evening – Schaefer introduced a trio performing the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim but with unique arrangements, a blend of classic and bossa nova, familiar songs, carefully crafted.
The album was “Casa,” performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto with his incisive, spare piano, and Jacques Morelenbaum, with his lush, sweeping cello, and vocalist Paula Morelenbaum, with her haunting Portuguese and charming almost lisping English. The songs were standards, from the basic Jobim playbook, but the interpretations were unique.
I think Schaefer informed us that the album was recorded on the piano of the late Tom Jobim – in Jobim’s lakeside house in Rio. From what I read, Sakamoto felt awe at his pilgrimage to the home of the master, and had to ease into touching the piano.
I was hooked, went out and bought the CD, which has become the most-played album on my iPod.
A classic. That’s what John Schaefer does. He finds new releases, some of them flirting with commercial, some of them delightfully obscure, destined for one-time hearing, but in the memory bank, somewhere.
A show like this would seem to have institutional permanence, particularly in polyglot multicultural New York. In fact, “New Sounds” lasted from 1982 until this week, when the new hatchet at WNYC announced that “New Sounds” is about to be disappeared. For what reason? They have a better replacement?
“Why would they do that?” Laurie Anderson asked Michael Cooper in the Times on Monday.
In the city that never sleeps, shouldn’t there remain a place for music you never heard before? Something that opens your mind and your ears?
“New Sounds?” What does the “NY” in WNYC stand for?
Thank you, John Schaefer, for the many years of “New Sounds” and please let your fans know about the next gig.
* * *
Bad news on the doorstep:
A review of "Casa" when it was new:
The memories begin with what the World Trade Center meant to people.
My friend John McDermott, master photographer, was working on a book in September of 2000, about the 10 most significant people in U.S. soccer in the 1990's.
"One of those was German-born Thomas Dooley, son of a U.S. soldier and a German mother and Captain of the US National Team," McDermott wrote me on Wednesday. "Thomas was already a friend, and someone I admired a lot. So for us it was also a chance to catch up and spend a fun day together. I had the idea to make the portrait about 'Thomas Dooley’s American Dream.' His story is actually pretty incredible, but for another day. I had bought an American flag and convinced him that we could do something memorable with him and the Manhattan skyline. He embraced the idea and the result you see here. It’s one of my favorite portaits.
"A year later, on September 11th, our lives changed forever.," McDermott continued. "And I thought back to the day I had spent with Thomas. The morning of September 12th my phone rang. It was Thomas. He wanted to tell me how much that picture now meant to him, that he had always liked it, but that now it had special meaning for him. We talked for a long time and, as I recall, probably also shed a few tears over what had happened. And we remembered that beautiful, warm and sunny day a year earlier. My September 11th memory...Never forget."
Grazie, John, for pointing out what those buildings meant, at the tip of the glittering island. I had forgotten that my family held a retirement lunch for my dad in the sky-high restaurant. And I had forgotten that I took two French friends, grandmother and grandson, Simone and David, for a drink one evening with a view of the harbor. The World Trade Center meant New York, meant America, meant a place of hope, like the lady in the harbor.
And that brings me to my first version, published on Wednesday:
In August of 2001, I covered a rehab start by El Duque Hernandez in Staten Island. On the ferry back, I chatted with some visitors from Spain and asked what they were doing next. They pointed at two giant buildings glowing into the night, at the tip of Manhattan.
“Es para turistas,” I said with a smile, about the newcomers on our skyline.
“Somos turistas,” one man said with a smile, giving it back.
* * *
I think about it every year. Our son was working in a newsroom in Atlanta and called us just before 9 AM.
Don’t go into the city, he told me. A plane had hit the World Trade Center.
We discussed whether it was big or small, while I flicked on the television.
Within a few minutes, I saw a blip across the sky, and we knew it was no accident.
* * *
There was news of a hijacked plane, missing over Pennsylvania. My wife and I thought of our first grand-child near the Susquehanna, and we quivered in fear. When we heard the plane had gone down further west, we felt horror and, I admit, relief.
* * *
After gaping at the tube, I called the office. Mr. Bill and I agreed that there was nothing a sports column could say that day. Life would go on? Save that for a day or seven. Safe in the suburbs, I watched, wondering who I knew worked down there.
* * *
As it turns out, there were connections -- tragic and escapes. A man one of my relatives had baby-sat for, decades earlier. The sister of a colleague, who stayed in her upper-floor office to be with a friend, who used a wheelchair. People in neighboring towns, whose cars remained in railroad parking lots, mute memorials to their vanished drivers. A relative had dropped her laundry at the cleaners in the World Trade Center, and walked home. A friend voted in a primary and was late for work downtown. A journalist friend was supposed to catch one of those flights but after two hectic weeks at the US Open, she chose to sleep in.
Soon we got to know thousands who were there, and are still there.
* * *
Having covered police and fire officers as a news reporter, I knew what they did, rushing into danger, the opposite way of the crowds.
I had written about cop funerals, firefighter funerals, and now there would be hundreds.
* * *
Two days later, the winds picked up. I went out for the morning paper and our cars were covered with gray ash, a dismal snowfall, 25 miles from Ground Zero. The air was vicious.
* * *
I received e-mails from friends all over the world: Japan, Mexico, Europe, Australia, wanting to know if we were all right. Nowadays, when earthquakes or floods or fires or massacres strike, I write to Osaka or Mexico City or Paris because I remember.
* * *
My work resumed. I wrote about the impact sports have made in wartime, national-tragedy time – how sport can be a diversion, a statement, a rallying point. It was hard to type these words, but I had to believe that life would resume.
* * *
I went out to lunch with my friend Logan in midtown. Food tasted good, people were dressed, but the mood was somber. People told us about what they had seen from office windows, apartments, rooftops. Every bite, every word, was like play-acting.
* * *
That night, I wanted to see. I took the subway downtown and used my police press card to get inside the first security barrier, but was stopped at the real barricade, as well I should have been. I watched the scene from hell, as people and machines labored in the smoke and the shadows. After 15 minutes, I realized my throat was scratchy and I felt sick. I bought a cup of black coffee just to clear the taste in my mouth, and took the subway back uptown, in terror. In the subway car, every suitcase, every gym bag, was a potential bomb.
* * *
In those days, federal and city officials assured everybody, including the cleanup workers, that the air was perfectly safe. These wilful ignoramuses were like doctors back in Appalachia, who told the miners, “Hell, son, that coal dust will cure the common cold.”
* * *
I was assigned to cover the first ball game back, the Mets at Pittsburgh. We were not ready to fly, so we drove due west. The September air was crisp and clear. I love that ball park at the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela, with the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the view of downtown, but I was in terror as I worked. Every noise made me jerk my head skyward, expecting to see a rogue airplane, a monstrous blip.
* * *
I think about those who were captives, and those who ran to danger.
My experiences and reflections seem peripheral, then and now.
Part of it is the tennis, of course. But I will admit, the high point of the U.S. Open these days, for me, is getting to see old friends and familiar faces, from decades of Opens and Wimbledons.
Tennis is a traveling circus, quite unlike any other sport -- writers, commentators, experts, former players, coaches, business types, publicists and officials who pop up in sunny places from Melbourne to Monaco to Miami, kaleidoscopic yet permanent. (There was Virginia Wade, 1977 Wimbledon champion, with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance, looking as brisk as she did rushing the net, on her way, presumably to a BBC assignment.)
I go to Flushing Meadows to see my friends, the ones who have survived the shrinking of the print-media corps. Some in this international rat pack seem to have been here forever –like Ubaldo Scanagatta from Florence, Italy, who files for three Italian papers and provides expertise on TV and radio on his site, Ubitennis.com. (In four languages.)
Ubaldo – who turns 70 on Saturday -- knows how to live. On his annual fortnight in New York, he comes prepared with familiar food -- grated cheese (Colla Parmigiano Reggiano), olive oil (Esselunga Extra Virgin) and Rigamonti Bresaola, which is described online as “air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months until it becomes hard and turns a dark red, almost purple color. It is made from top round, and is lean and tender, with a sweet, musty smell. It originated in Valtellina, a valley in the Alps of northern Italy's Lombardy region.”
Even in these barbarian parts of the New World, it might perhaps be possible to find such Parmesan and Olive Oil and Bresaola, but Ubaldo takes no chances. He deigns eating with plastic, and therefore carries a real fork and a real knife in his kit, and when Italian players are not keeping him busy il mangia bene.
One of the highlights of my journalistic career was before the Monday final in 2009, when Ubaldo invited a few American amici sportivi to the dining room, where he broke out the Parmesan, the Extra Virgin and the Bresaola.
On Thursday I spotted Ubaldo in the Italian corner of the media writing room and I thought of other compatrioti famosi – Rino Tommasi, who analyzed the daily matchups on the Open programs for many decades, and Gianni Clerici, the squire of Lake Como, former amateur player (including Wimbledon, 1953), novelist, expert, with a waspish humor on and off the air. Clerici bestowed Italian heritage on Bud Collins, re-naming him “Collini.” But alas, Gianni does not come around anymore at 89, and neither does Rino at 85, and Bud passed in 2016. (The Media Center is named for him.)
Many of my American friends are still typing and talking. A few days ago, I sat with tennis high priests Steve Flink and Joel Drucker during a match in Ashe Stadium, and also caught up with Johnette Howard, John Jeansonne, Wayne Coffey, Jeff Williams, Helene Elliott, Bob Greene, Anne Liguori, Chuck Culpepper, Andre Christopher and my tennis pal Cindy Shmerler.
Three more were hanging together in the media center: NYT international reporter Chris Clarey, retired NYT columnist (but still active) Harvey Araton and Adam Zagoria, New York sports expert who writes for the NYT on occasion. Nice guy that he is, Adam took a photo of the three of us.
For all the camaraderie, there is an air of nostalgia to the Bud Collins Media Center. A decade ago, the place bustled from morning to post-midnight with dozens and dozens of tennis writers from major cities – Boston, Miami, Denver, Orlando, Dallas, and on and on. There was a clatter of writers who were competitors but also friends – Robin Finn of the NYT provided a stash of Twizzlers (and really nasty nicknames for tennis stars.) Alas, falling circulation and earlier deadlines and changing Web priorities have cut back on the banter and the community.
The tennis endures. On Thursday, I watched in the lower press area of Arthur Ashe Stadium, as sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany matched his power and height against the mixture of power and drop shots of Frances Tiafoe, an American born in Sierra Leone.
On a sleepy, sunny, pre-holiday afternoon, the predominantly American crowd urged Tiafoe as he befuddled Zverev in the second and fourth sets, but ultimately Zverev prevailed, 6-3, in the fifth.
The fans surged out into the midway in search of refreshment or more tennis on the back courts. I went back to the Media Center to schmooze.
The present is superimposed over the past.
The U.S. Open began Monday by doing the right thing. A statue of Althea Gibson, pioneer and champion, was unveiled at the National Tennis Center, where she never played, at least competitively.
Billie Jean King, Zina Garrison, Leslie Allen, Katrina Adams and Angela Buxton, Gibson's old doubles partner, all spoke of how Buxton was first.
The statue, by Eric Goulder, is striking, as was Althea Gibson.
Buxton, 85 and in a wheelchair, flew from London to recall how she bonded with Gibson on a pioneering mixed tennis trip to India and other countries.
This belated honor to the first African-American player to play -- and win -- the "national" tournament is a prime example that this grand New York event is never only about these few weeks. The Open is about continuity.
For all the crass, hard edges to the contemporary Open, there is still a faint whiff of gentility from the old Nationals in Forest Hills. Maybe it was the grass and the clubby atmosphere that mellowed people out.
While tennis patrons this year are eager to catch a glimpse of Cori Gauff, age 15, to see if she just might be “the next” Naomi Osaka, or “the next” Sloane Stephens, the old champions still grace this event, in person or in perpetuity. I think of them every year as I visit the Open.
I was reminded of Gibson this past week when Art Seitz, long-time tennis photographer from Florida, sent photos of Gibson that he had taken over the years. Seitz said he often met Gibson and found her to be friendly within the tennis circle, particularly to the young players, as tennis evolved to the age of King to Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf and Venus Williams and Serena Williams and so many others.
The old champions are part of the Open, and so is the old site -- Forest Hills from 1915 through 1977. As a Queens kid of 10 or 11, I started taking the IND subway to 71st St/Continental Ave., walking to the little oasis of the West Side Tennis Club.
The place was so tiny, so intimate, that you could literally rub shoulders with players as they tried, politely of course, to reach their grass court for a match.
As a Brooklyn Dodger/Jackie Robinson fan, I was eager for glimpses of Althea Gibson, the first African-American to play in the “national” tournament.
She made her debut in 1950 and did not last long those first few years, but her athleticism and drive were obvious. She reached the finals in 1956 and won it in 1957 and 1958, after which she retired from tennis so she could make some money, as incongruous as that sounds today.
Gibson played professional golf and I think I saw her play as part of the Harlem Globetrotters tour that came to New York every March.
But money never reached Althea Gibson as tennis became big business, and old stars often returned to add their luster to the event. As a columnist who covered the Open and often Wimbledon, too, I was never aware of Gibson giving a press conference or showing up for big-bucks from sponsors and patrons.
Except to get Gibson's autograph a time or two on the crowded walkways of the West Side Tennis Club, to my regret, I never met her.
The best reflection of Gibson on Monday came from Buxton, a British player in the '40s and '50s, who had eagerly played doubles with Gibson, winning the 1956 Wimbledon doubles. Buxton said that as a Jew she was also somewhat of an outsider in those years.
Buxton told the crowd at the unveiling how her family in London was host to Gibson when she played Wimbledon, and how Buxton's mother introduced the two players as "my daughters."
In recent decades, Buxton would come around and chat with reporters, with obvious affection and a sense of mission about her friend Althea. In 2003, she told a reporter that Gibson was "tall and lanky and rather like Venus Williams.” Gibson was said to wish the Williams sisters, as great as they are, would rush the net more, but that is contemporary tennis.
articIn later years, Gibson was ill, at home in New Jersey. She passed in 2003.
The city of Newark has put a statue of Gibson in a park, and now the USTA, through the of efforts of Katrina Adams, a former player and recently the president of the USTA.
The talent and will of Althea Gibson are part of the Open, reflected by the current players, most of them tall and agile, like Gibson. We follow the new stars, and Althea Gibson’s image is with us forever -- on the lawns of the sedate little club a few miles away in another corner of Queens.
* * *
Obit, NYT, 2003:
Current NYT article on the statue and how it got here:
A Florida reporter's perspective of Gibson:
Gibson and "the Nationals" and Queens:
The Facebook site for Art Seitz:
New York City will clean up the tickertape from the parade for the soccer champions on Wednesday. But who will clean up the Mets?
This is the lament of a Mets fan facing the dog days of summer – jealous as hell about the Yankees’ talented young players starting with that nice Aaron Judge, but not able to switch allegiances.
For a Mets’ fan, what is there? More than half the major-league teams stink, either through ineptitude or lack of money, and the Mets would seem to suffer from both.
They are now going to divest themselves of some players who were supposed to be part of a contending team this season. Now begins the ugly dance of summer for bad franchises – when players get sent away.
The Mets’ TV caught Zack Wheeler skulking in a corner of the dugout the other day, and the knowing commentary was that he might be making his last start as a Met last Sunday (which turned out to be a stinker, surprise, surprise.)
So what does a fan have left? As a Mets fan in my certified old age, I go on line daily to read the New York Post’s fine sports section to find out what is happening with the Mets.
But some things a fan can figure out for oneself. The closest thing to “fun” for the rest of this season could be Jeff McNeil winning the batting title He is currently leading the league with .349, despite the Mets’ brain trust having hoped he would be crowded off the roster by opening day.
If Jed Lowrie – 35 years old, career average .262 – had not suffered some kind of lingering injury (it really doesn’t matter), my feeling is the Mets would have been playing him ahead of McNeil. Even so, McNeil has been banished from his best defensive position, second base, currently deeded to the ghost of Robinson Canó, trying to come back after a suspension for a performance-enhancing drug.
McNeil’s skills are throwbacks to another era – that is to say, Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs, hitters who knew how to stroke a pitched ball to a vacant patch of fair territory. This conflicts with the analytics promoted by techies in a dark room somewhere in New Shea Stadium. Launch Arc! The techies insist. And the Mets’ management seems to go along.
The general manager is a reforming agent named Brodie Van Wagenen, who apparently tossed a chair to demonstrate his manly-man qualities during a post-game tirade with his coaching staff. And the manager is Mickey Callaway, emphatically not from this franchise, who makes me appreciate, more every day, the old-school style of Terry Collins.
What do Mets’ fans have?
The Post’s Joel Sherman praises management for allowing Pete Alonso to make the team on opening day rather than tying him up in the minors to keep a legal hold on him for another season. Alonso won the home-run derby and drove in two runs in the All-Star Game and has 30 homers this season. Sherman compares Alonso’s run with Jeremy Lin’s short, furious spurt with the Knicks a few years ago. He calls Alonso “a rose floating in sewage.”
Jacob DeGrom is looking more and more grim as he faces years of pitching six great innings and watching the bullpen blow it.
And Jeff McNeil, reviving an unwanted art, is hitting it where they ain’t, as Wee Willie Keeler exemplified more than a century ago.
The Mets also have Gary, Keith and Ron in the TV booth. Their informed excellence makes it hard for me to watch network baseball.
That’s it. The dog days.
Where have you gone, Megan Rapinoe?
In 1869, a group of civic-minded women opened a home for older people, on the island of Manhattan. The leader was Hannah Newland Chapin, wife of Edwin Chapin, a noted Universalist minister in New York. The motto of the Chapin Home was: “What is your need‚ not your creed.”
In 1910, the home was moved to the glacial spine of Queens, where it remains to this day.
My mother, May Spencer, wrote about the Chapin Home as a reporter, and later Society Editor, of the Long Island Press in Queens. The home was on familiar turf -- right down the block from the beautiful new Jamaica High School, where my mom had been in the first group of students in 1927.
The Chapin Home obviously made an impression on our mom. When we began to suggest that she needed more care than she was getting, alone, in the big old house where she had lived since 1925, she was having none of it.
However, she allowed as how she had found the Chapin Home to be a nice place when she was a young reporter. And when it became necessary, our mom spent most of the last years of her life in the Chapin Home.
For the past month, the Chapin Home has been celebrating its 150th anniversary. How many institutions last that long?
Well, in that same year, with the wounds of the Civil War so visible, when these civic-minded woman built a rest home, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in New York City; the “golden spike" was driven in Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad; the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first fully professional baseball team. (Jesse James robbed his first bank that year, Happy anniversary, Jesse.)
And the Chapin Home is still going strong. I heard about a sesquicentennial party last Friday and accepted an invitation. But first, I consulted my siblings about their memories of Mom in Chapin. We all agreed that Mom’s formidable intelligence and strong will had given the staff a good challenge. One of the caretakers – I believe with a lilting Trinidadian accent – had nicknamed Mom “City Hall.” You know – you can’t tell City Hall anything.
My sister Liz recalled how the staff would make sure Mom was dressed for a ride in her wheelchair down the block to Jamaica High and how Mom would sit in Goose Pond, across the street, and tell about her days at Jamaica.
Liz’s husband, Rich, has fond memories of the weekly Catholic Mass there, and the musical entertainment – and how he would dance with some of the “showgirls” who lived at Chapin.
My sister Jane recalled how “staff members were so welcoming, and helpful,” and how other residents became Mom's friends - and ours. “What a blessing it was for her to spend her final years there,” Jane said.
My brother Chris remembered how the staff “showed loving humanity,” particularly a caretaker named Delva (still at Chapin) who “called me several times in Mom's early days at Chapin, either telling me what was most disturbing Mom or placing me in telephone contact with her.”
And my wife recalled how the staff made it easy for her to sit with my mom in her final weeks, and play opera on the CDs, and how other residents would visit the room, for the music as well as to give support.
With these memories fresh in my notebook, I went back to Chapin last Friday and met Kathy Ferrara, the director of activities‚ volunteers and spiritual care, a friendly face from Mom’s time. I also ran into Janet Unger, the former administrator, now retired, and Jennifer McManamin, now the chief administrator. I felt great energy and purpose from all the staff.
Nearly 17 years later, the main hall, under a bright skylight, seemed like home -- full of residents, many in wheelchairs, or with walkers, the clientele as diverse as Queens itself. After lovely music by a harpist, Chapin honored seven residents as centenarians – 100 years or older – and three others who are 99, including Frances Cottone, who wore her red Marines cap, having served stateside during World War Two.
(Local Fox News, Channel 5, did a nice feature on the centenarians)
After a few short talks, the staff distributed birthday cake, while a pretty singer entertained with American standards – Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, plus Tom Jobim’s “Corcovado,” in Portuguese. I later looked up the singer, Hilary Gardner, and discovered she is very active in jazz circles, in New York, Europe and elsewhere – and has a very interesting web site.
Some residents smiled and applauded the music; others just took it in. A few ladies danced in place, or with a few young male attendants, and Kathy Ferrara, alert and smiling, just as I remembered her, danced with several women. (She even got me up on my feet for a few minutes for my vague approximation of the lindy.)
Visiting my mom for five years demystified aging for me. On my return, I remembered how hard the staff worked, how they kept the Chapin Home clean and positive. I have no illusions about the daily routine back in the residential wing -- the care needed by the ill and the elderly, the hard work, the constant upbeat attitude.
Memories of my mom flooded back: sharing her mid-day meal, looking out her window at Joe Austin Park (named for an epic youth coach in Jamaica, an honor bestowed by one of his star athletes, named Mario Cuomo.) Coming back, years later, I felt very much at home.
My Buckner/Mookie column is back in The New York Times today, nearly 33 years after I wrote it….and rewrote it….in a manic press box on a hectic Sunday morning.
Poor Bill Buckner has passed at 69 and the Times paid him the honor of an obituary by Daniel E. Slotnik and a salute by Tyler Kepner and the NYT also resurrected my column through the glories of digital memory.
Having my column back “in print” is also an honor, bringing back memories of that crazy World Series. It recalls a time before the Web when papers had flotillas of sports columnists who were expected to be at major events and be able to type fast, with instant wisdom, for the next deadline for readers who would wonder what daily columnists like Daley or Lipsyte or Smith or Anderson or Berkow (later Rhoden, Araton, Roberts) thought.
This is, as I like to call it, ancient history.*
It seems like yesterday, that Saturday night in the press box. I had written a column for the early Sunday paper (in fact, the bulk of the print run) based on my meandering through New England on Friday, after the fifth game in Boston. My “early” column was written to make sense, no matter what transpired in the game late Saturday night. I was not predicting, merely musing.
So I wrote about how, with a 3-2 lead, the Boston sports radio was squawking and gargling and screaming including how Bill Buckner’s ankles were shot and manager John McNamara should get Dave Stapleton in for defense – tortured Cassandras who saw the truth about to fall on their heads.
I wrote my early column about Boston’s feeling of doom, even with a lead in the Series. I tied it to lingering Calvinist New England gloom, and the historically unfortunate sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918, but at no point in my column did I refer to any “Curse of the Bambino.”
The Red Sox had a lead on Saturday night and I can still see their players edging up the dugout steps, eager to celebrate, and the scoreboard briefly showed a message of congratulations to the visitors, but then the flower pot of history fell off the upper-story window ledge onto Boston’s head and, the assembled journalists commenced pecking away on our rudimentary computers, rewriting whatever we had written about Boston finally exorcising the ghosts of failures past.-xx
Now there was a new failure. The great Dave Anderson compared the Mookie/Buckner moment to Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run off Ralph Branca – Dave knew those guys.
I wrote the version in the NYT today and then a dozen or so Times reporters began breathing again.
A novice news reporter, in the press box to help out, remarked that he was impressed by how fast we had rewritten our stories. Joe Vecchione, our sports editor who was supervising us in the press box, drily said (sounding like Clint Eastwood in the subsequent movie “The Unforgiven”) “We do it every day, kid.”
And you know what? We did do it every day, kid. It was a different world, including journalistically.
The seventh game was postponed when the miasma of rain settled over New York, but the teams resumed Monday night and the Mets rallied (people forget that) to beat the Sox to win the World Series and the legion of Times reporters wrapped it up. The headline on my column was “Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again.”
Please note: I am not that smart or inventive to pull that concept out of the dank air. Over the decades, people had laid the failures by the Sox upon the sale of Ruth. In October of 1986, this was not new news, was not instant insight.
Eighteen years later, my esteemed colleague Dan Shaughnessy, wrote a book about various Red Sox failures (including Bucky Freaking Dent and Aaron Freaking Boone.) The title was “The Curse of the Bambino,” and the phrase is all Dan’s.
How The Sox have become overlords of the American League is a 21st-Century story of talented ownership, management and players. The club stages magnificent ceremonies to honor the past, even the failures.
Bill Buckner was a gracious and familiar presence at baseball gatherings, as the obituary and Kepner’s column describe. The rising tide of Red Sox success floated Buckner’s rowboat. He deserved more decades, more salutes, as a superb player who had a bad moment.
*- Talk about ancient history. Sports Illustrated was just sold to some other company. It was once a giant that advanced marvelous writing and reporter. I gave up my subscription soon after I retired in 2011 -- didn’t even know it had gone biweekly.
xx- A day or so later, the great Vin Scully -- who had just made the marvelous call of the final play as heard in the video above -- was quoted as saying he had been surprised to hear New York sportswriters cheering in the press box. With all due respect, we were not cheering; we were gasping – oy! – at the Mookie-Buckner turn of events, and how we now had to re-write our earlier gems, which were poised to go out to the waiting world.
(Deconstructing the legend of "The Curse.")
All championships are miracles, somewhere, if you think about it.
Even if a team assembles a lineup full of Galácticos and runs away with a championship, it seems like a miracle for that time, that place, those athletes, those fans.
But here in New York, the Greatest Little Town in the World, we know that our miracles are bigger and better, more stupendous than any other miracles, just because.
Take 1969 – precisely 50 years ago, when the Amazing Mets won everything, which is why there is a year-long (more, in the planning) of celebrations and evocations and memorials, to say nothing of a one-event boom in the publishing industry, just as there was in 1970.
I have just read – and enjoyed -- two of the lunar tide of books cresting this spring.
One is “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History,” by Wayne Coffey.
See what I mean about New York being the center of the universe?
Coffey’s book is delightful because it replays the surprising surge by a franchise known for its goofy, even charming, failures. (Casey Stengel! Marvelous Marv! Bedsheet banners!)
Coffey also catalogues how the Mets firmed up before our unbelieving eyes under the talents and Marine steeliness of manager Gil Hodges and franchise superstar Tom Seaver. Some reporters (me) never believed it until Cleon Jones caught the last out and went to one knee in what only could be construed as prayer.
But….the very best part of Coffey’s book is the work he did nearly half a century after the fans stopped ripping up the Shea lawn for souvenirs. Coffey, it turns out, was a schoolboy playing hooky, in that scrum, on that day of days. Later he became a good and versatile reporter for The New York Daily News. Now he writes books…and works at them.
I loved, absolutely loved, catching up with people I knew half a century ago. Coffey discloses a previous link between Hodges and the mid-season acquisition, Donn Clendenon, who has posthumously become a more vital part of those Mets. Also, Coffey discloses that Clendenon was mentored at Morehouse College by a graduate named Martin Luther King, Jr., and was often a guest in the King home.
By 1969, Clendenon was also a salty vet who hit the Met clubhouse motor-mouthing, heckling everybody, the way the 60s Pirates had done. He told Gil Hodges, Jr., the teen-age son of the manager, to man up and defy his Marine dad. Gilly was wise enough to tell Clendenon: no way.
Coffey pays attention to the bigger picture – Karl Eberhardt, the self-proclaimed Little Old Signmaker in the stands, and Jane Jarvis, the hip jazz musician who played the Shea organ with wit and talent, and two batboys from my high school (the late, lamented Jamaica High) who were mentored by Joe Austin, Mario Cuomo’s legendary amateur coach.
With Shakespearean breadth, Coffey describes the major players and also the Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns of the Amazing Mets. Yes, it was a miracle.
The other book I have read is “Here’s the Catch: a Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More.” If the book sounds like Rocky, earnestly thundering to epic catches and humiliating gaffes, that is because he has been writing it on his own for a while. He describes himself as an average-IQ human and middle-of-the-pack major leaguer but his curiosity and zest have made him much more, over the years.
Rocky, going on 75 and vibrant, tells about departed teammates and soul mates like Tug McGraw and Ed Charles and Tommie Agee – guys with whom he competed and talked and drank and ate ribs and gallivanted.
Having known him since he was a teen-ager in Met camp in 1965, I know Rocky to be an autodidact (one year of being a jock in college) who often demonstrates his eclectic tastes. He follows the music of the Marsalis Family of his adopted home of New Orleans, and he also mentions classical music…and the Globe Theatre of Shakespearean time….and Jackson Pollock…and Monet….and Don DeLillo and so on. He means it. That is Rocky.
Maybe the best part of Swoboda’s book is growing up in a working-class neighborhood of Baltimore – relatives with tempers and guns and wit and opinions, two of them working in the morgue, pulling gory pranks on cops. Then there was the family flasher. Plus, the Chinese cook his earthy grandmother married, who smoked and drank and drove erratically and taught him how to make and eat Chinese food.
Swoboda writes about his lovely redheaded wife, Cecilia, and how Casey and Edna Stengel, childless, fussed over the Swobodas’ first-born, and his active scorn for the Vietnam War and the instant rapport when he visited the troops over there, very close to combat.
He laments behaving like a jackass toward Hodges, who was not just resolute with big hands but also a wily manager. All sports memoirs should be this earnest, this real.
On my incoming table are books by Art Shamsky about 1969, plus Ron Darling’s book, mostly about 1986, which was, of course, another miracle.
They all are, but some are more miraculous than others.
Hansen Alexander passed on Dec, 22, 2020, and I just caught up.
He was a smart and passionate writer and lawyer, who often tried to educate and inform me. I am proud of his
interview with, of all people, me:
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV