Sunday 6 PM: Since this post began as a praise to baseball for keeping me sane, let's stick with this post through the end of the Series....even with peregrinations to college rivalries (?) and uniform numbers and love of La Belle Province. My dirty new little secret: I couldn't watch Games 3 and 4 because I cannot stand the two Fox guys. They display no wit, no change of pace. In the day hours, my baseball lunch companions have been conducting a web seminar in scoring, fielding, analytics pro and con. Anyway, I am on for Game 5 Sunday evening -- and any ramblings that may ensue. GV
While waiting to see if the United States can save itself on Election Day, I needed something to fill my socially-distanced time.
Once again, baseball has come through – with a 60-game mini-season that allowed me to have a familiar sense of angst and rage about the Mets.
Now there is about to be a World Series – with any luck, as taut as the two league series, seven games preferable to four – something to occupy house-bound fans like me.
My first hope is that the network types will stop bombarding us with “post-season” statistics. First of all, give the computer a rest. Enough with the arcane stats. Second, we are about to enter what used to be called the World Series but now seems to be morphing into “the finals,” like the other endless post-season “playoffs.”
True, the title “World Series” is a bit pretentious, even now with Latino and Asian players everywhere, but the title is baseball’s throwback to the days of two separate leagues that produced one champion each, to meet in early October.
The leagues were different. Starting in 1947, the National League got a head start with the majority of Black superstars, and the American League had the Yankees stomping on their supine league rivals. Then, more likely than not, the Yankees won the World Series.
Now baseball has blurred the rivalry between two leagues, but the separate identity of the World Series needs to be protected – including separate World Series statistics and achievements as homage to history, going back to 1903.
So much else has changed in baseball. The recent series confirmed that the age of great starting pitchers has been terminated. Pitchers are interchangeable parts, no longer expected to go long. As Tyler Kepner pointed out, a pitcher can have a 3-0 lead in only 66 pitches and still be replaced by the parade of relievers, as Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton was Saturday evening. That’s the way the Rays roll – right into the World Series.
Most managers seem wired into the dictates of the analytics hordes in some bat cave under the ballpark. Hitters are encouraged to swing for a launch arc, not putting the ball in play in some open sector of the field. Something’s been lost.
But I watched. And watched. As an alternative to endless sightings of a dangerous fool on the loose. And when the league finals came around, I found things to like about all four teams.
I fell in love with Houston a few years ago, because of their charismatic players, before we knew the organization was systematically stealing signals. Now the Astros have become the team people love to hate. Did you see James Wagner’s great piece about the fan who hectors the Astros at high decibels?
I get it -- the antipathy toward the Astros -- but Dusty Baker, age 71, a good human being who surpreisingly got to manage the Astros after the housecleaning, and I want him to win a World Series one of these years. Plus, I loved how Carlos Correa made clutch hits and showed leadership by lecturing his pitcher who was about to blow his top. I could not hate the Astros.
However, the Tampa Bay Rays played the Mets late in the regular season and I acquainted myself with a willful group of mostly interchangeable parts, managed by Kevin Cash. Some of them could even steal bases and hit for contact, not distance – a throwback to real baseball.
FAVORITE MOMENT AS SOME FANS WERE ALLOWED IN THE JUST-CONCLUDED SERIES: Justin Turner of the Dodgers picked up a foul ball -- and lobbed it to a fan in a distant seat. A sweet little custom, now revived
I couldn’t choose between the Dodgers or the Braves, either.
The Dodgers are the team of my youth, in Brooklyn. I love the uniforms and colors, although I have trouble seeing newcomers in blue Dodger trim. (Wait, why is Kiki Hernandez wearing Gil Hodges' No. 14?)
The Braves are the retooled power in the same division as my second-tier sad-sack Mets, and I am jealous about their talent and leadership.
The Dodgers had Mookie Betts making plays in the outfield. The Braves had Freddie Freeman, surviving an ominous case of Covid-19 and earning MVP honors – and chatting up any “opponent” who stopped at first base, including Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ star who would win the pennant with a home run late Sunday evening. (And dislocated his shoulder giving high-fives in the tumult.)
Now the two survivors are going to meet in what sportswriters used to call “the old autumnal classic.” (And I just did it again.)
Somebody, please tell the network yakkers: it’s the World Series.
Four superstars, overlapping.
I am referring to Rafa Nadal, one of the nicest people I have met in sports, who won his 13th French Open on Sunday. I am also referring to Chris Clarey and Karen Crouse of the NYT, who wrote about Nadal in the Monday paper. And I am also referring to Art Seitz, master tennis photographer, who has been snapping away, well, forever.
I loved reading about Nadal and seeing Art’s photos, having become a Nadal fan in 2011, the only time I met him. I had heard he was a good guy, a sportsman, and he lived up to his reputation on a miserable day, with the remnants of Hurricane Irene lashing New York much as the tail end of Hurricane Delta was drenching New York on Monday.
He had done his obligatory media conference and was eager to get back to Manhattan, but he was promoting his book and had promised me a few minutes for an interview. We got into a conversation, and I mentioned that I had covered eight World Cups by then, including my first, in his country, Spain.
I think it's fair to say that reporters do not expect their subjects to show much, or any, interest in them. But Nadal seemed intrigued that an American knew and loved soccer, even my modest dose of knowledge. I knew that his uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, had been a mainstay for Johan Cruyff at Barcelona in La Liga in the 90s, and I had covered Spain’s World Cup championship in 2010. So we talked soccer…as well as tennis….as well as his penchant for cooking for himself and entourage on the road.
He could have ducked out at any time, but he stayed and talked, and my impressions of him since have been confirmed – a centered person who has willed himself to the top of tennis, and can speak with compassion about the pandemic, knowing it is more important than tennis.
My pals Chris Clarey and Karen Crouse caught him perfectly in Monday’s paper – Chris concentrating on the match and the career, Karen focusing on his values and his acquired trilingual abilities. When I first saw Nadal nearly two decades ago, he could not speak any English in public. Now he is eloquent, from the heart.
My article in 2011:
For a sample of Art Seitz tennis photos, check out his Facebook page:
The first Yankee player I ever met was Whitey Ford, who died Friday at 91.
I was a kid at Newsday, the great Long Island paper, covering the high schools, and my mentors would occasionally take me to Yankee Stadium, the only New York ballpark open during what I call the Dark Ages.
Either Jack Mann, the sports editor, or Stan Isaacs, the columnist, introduced me to Ford, in a corner of the clubhouse.
Ford lived in Lake Success, just over the city line, and he was identified as “the crafty Long Island southpaw.” We wrote about him a lot because he was a great pitcher and because he was friendly. Not all the Yankee players were.
I was not disappointed in the introduction. Whitey Ford offered his hand and fixed his alert eyes on me – a Queens guy, with accent to match.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, and he made small talk, and I got the impression that I could talk to him, win or lose, and I was not wrong. For the rest of his career, Whitey Ford was available. He liked the coverage he got from his hometown paper, of course, but he also deserved it. For six of his first seven seasons, the Yankees won the pennant.
I’m sure the Times and other papers will give proper respect to Ford’s marvelous career. I’ll stick to personal memories of Edward Charles Ford:
--- When Ralph Houk replaced Casey Stengel in 1961, one of the first things he did was use Ford in 283 innings, the highest of his career. Perhaps Casey had been wary of Ford’s modest size, did not want to wear him out, but Ford became more of a workhorse through 1965. Houk rarely gave incisive answers to young reporters – known as Chipmunks because we chattered so much – but one day the manager visited Ford on the mound, as if to take him out, but instead he left him in, with good results.
When we asked Houk later, he said: Whitey always told him the truth. If he was out of gas, he said so. If he still had something left, he said so. Houk’s answer seemed to me the ultimate affirmation of Ford, as pitcher and competitor and team player.
-- Distinct memory of Whitey Ford from my first year or two: I cannot replicate it from the records, but I know I saw it: Two outs. Two strikes. A runner or two on base. My boss, Jack Mann, nudged me: “Watch this.” A hellacious curve broke in on the lefty batter, who lunged at the ball, as Elston Howard caught it – and sprinted to the dugout – as the visiting manager screamed bloody murder from the dugout steps. The manager said the ball had been doctored by Howard’s ultra-sharp belt buckle, but when asked later by intrepid reporters, Elston and Whitey knew nothing. Nothing. Ford's stuff and brain were enough on 99 percent of his pitches. He said it was Howard who named him "The Chairman of the Board."
--- Ford was a good friend of Mickey Mantle, at all hours and all seasons – the city boy and the country boy. They called each other “Slick.” Ford would never try to explain his moody pal, but sometimes he could joke with Mantle, get him into a mood to talk to reporters. Life was so much easier that way.
-- In those days, reporters traveled on the same charter flight as the Yankees – it made travel easier, and Newsday and the Times paid their own way, of course. The Yankee plane came back from Kansas City or Minnesota long, long after midnight, and at the baggage claim, I offered a ride home to Ford, and Hector Lopez, who lived on the way. I just needed to get my car in a nearby parking lot, while they guarded my suitcase. But when I got to my car, there was a flat tire – and my spare was shot – so I needed help. There were no cellphones in those days, kids, so I couldn’t notify Ford and Lopez that I was stuck. Needless to say, they – and my suitcase – were not at the terminal when I finally swung by. Okay. Next morning, at a reasonable hour, I got a call….from Whitey Ford….who said he had my suitcase at his house, and I could pick it up when convenient. That made him a major-league mensch in my book. May I just say that not every ball player would be as thoughtful.
-- Ford’s body fell apart in 1966 and ’67 and he was sanguine about it. One day, in New York smartass humor, I jokingly called him “the game southpaw.” He twinkled as he corrected me: “the gamey southpaw.” But his career stats and his Hall of Fame stature smell like roses.
-- Ford and Mantle were friendly with a chatty clubhouse attendant out of Fordham University named Thad Mumford, who was smarter and funnier than any ball player or any reporter, for that matter. Munford moved on, but at subsequent Old Timers Days, Mantle and Ford would spot him and the badinage would pick up, all over again. One year, Mantle drawled, “Hey, Thad, would you get me a beer?” Ford, with city-cat patronization, advised Mantle, “Hey, Slick, Thad writes for “M*A*S*H,” and Mantle blushed beet-red, as he sometimes did. Munford loved it – and went to get a beer for his old pals. Mumford would have occasional bouts of nostalgia out in California, and would call some old-time contacts. Thad passed two years ago; he counted Ford as one of his best Yankee friends.
Now the Chairman of the Board is gone, but his records remain, and so does the twinkle from a friendly corner of the long-vanished Yankee Stadium.
* * *
I did not make the connection when President Trump went to the hospital.
But Laura Vecsey was right on it, sending out the best Youtube I have ever seen.
In fact, I wrote about it in May. But that was before Trump actually went to the hospital the other day -- touching off the same panic and misinformation and danger that John Mulaney's horse does in the confines of a hospital.
Just as he does in the White House, Trump was screwing up everything -- his doctors giving out bad medical explanations, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, trying to be, how did the TV commentator put it, "a little less inaccurate."
There's a horse in the hospital. This one escaped Sunday afternoon to wave from a freaking motorcade of some sort -- at a huge cost and inconvenience to thousands of government workers. Then back in the hospital.
Since his self-destructive behavior in the debate debacle last Tuesday, I have been thinking Trump was doing it on purpose -- hastening his defeat through his erratic behavior. (From minus-8 to minus-14 in one poll, since his debacle.)
It also crossed my mind that he has been lurching around with no mask so he could pick up the Covid and get himself out of this nightmare -- plus, as revenge to society, passing it on to other people at that infamous reception who were talking to each other from inches away, with no masks on. (I'm talking about you, Kellyanne Conway and Bill Barr.)
There's a horse in a hospital. As of Sunday evening, the President was back, hooves flailing, nostrils flaring, a disruptive mammal out of control.
Take a bow, John Mulaney.
You had it, dude.
My first piece on Mulaney's masterpiece:
Bob Gibson passed Friday of pancreatic cancer.
He was one of the most competitive athletes I ever covered – a fierce, purposeful flame.
I wrote about Gibson (below) 26 months ago when he disclosed the fearsome diagnosis.
I would also recommend today’s obit in the NYT by my friend Rich Goldstein:
Also, you might want to see the piece I did in 2009 when Gibson and Reggie Jackson were promoting a book they had written (with Lonnie Wheeler) about the eternal struggle – that is, between pitchers and hitters.
I watched the rivalry play out over a power breakfast in New York, and when I asked a question Gibson considered cheeky, he verbally buzzed me, high and inside. I thought Reggie was going to choke on his oatmeal, or whatever he was eating. His look said: “And you writers think I’m a hard guy.”
I consider myself fortunate to have been around Gibson, in the tight little sanctums of the Cardinal clubhouse in the old, old ballpark. That kind of access to athletes is gone during the pandemic, with writers minimally getting sterile, mass interviews with a few principals, and I’m just guessing it never comes back. No writer today will see a star like Gibson, up close, the way I did in the tense last weeks of the 1964 season and World Series.
Finally, a word about superstars. My admired colleague Dave Kindred has a mythical mind game called “The Game to Save Humanity,” meaning “we” get to play Martians, or whatever, one game, Pick your team. My pitchers are Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, lefty and righty, even beyond numbers and longevity, but just, well, just because. I saw them.
RIP, Hoot. It was an honor to observe you.
From July, 2018:
Don’t Mess With Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson is fighting pancreatic cancer – “fighting” being the operative word.
Everybody knows Gibson’s combative pose as the best right-handed pitcher in the universe, starting in 1964.
I was lucky enough to be present when Gibson morphed from very good pitcher to legend, in 22 epic days at the end of that season.
He had been underestimated by his first manager, Solly Hemus, who had lost his black players by using a racial taunt to taunt an opponent in 1960. Gibson was still very much a work in progress after Hemus was canned in 1961, and replaced by Johnny Keane, who reminded me of the kindly commanding officer, Col., Potter, in the classic series, “M*A*S*H.”
After mid-season of 1964, Gibson pitched eight straight complete games – a statistic that probably would default the computers of today’s analytics gurus. Yes, really good pitchers really did finish a lot of games.
As the Phillies started to fold, the Cardinals and Reds put on a run.
On Sept. 24, Gibson lost a complete game in Pittsburgh. On Sept. 28, he beat the Phillies, going 8 innings. On Oct. 2, with the Cardinals in first place on the last Friday of the season, Gibson lost, 1-0, to the lowly Mets as Alvin Jackson pitched the game of his life.
Then on a very nervous Oct. 4, Gibson pitched 4 innings in relief, gave up two runs, but was the winning pitcher, as the Cardinals won their first pennant since 1946.
I can still see him on the stairs to the players-only loft.
“Hoot, how’s your arm?” a reporter asked.
“Horseshit!” Gibson said. Then he was gone, up the stairs.
When Manager Keane gave his pennant-winning media conference, somebody asked why he went so often with a certifiably fatigued pitcher.
“I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane said softly.
Those words gave me a chill as Keane spoke them; they remain one of the great tributes I have ever heard from a manager of coach about a player. Keane’s faith, his shrewd understanding of the man, helped Gibson demolish the stereotype that many black players had to overcome.
Gibson then started the second game (8 innings, lost to Jim Bouton), won the fifth game in 10 innings) and the seventh game in 9 innings to won the World Series.
He had pitched 56 innings in 22 days, become a superstar after some delay, just as Sandy Koufax had done earlier. In over 70 years as fan and reporter, I will take the two of them over any lefty-righty pair you want to pick.
Gibson never put away his testy edge. He was rough on rookies, rough on how own catchers and pitching who trudged out to the mound to counsel him. “You don’t know anything about pitching, except you can’t hit it,” he told Tim McCarver, who has relished that taunt ever since.)
He did not observe the fraternity of ball players, even chatty types like Ron Fairly of the Dodgers.
One time Fairly stroked a couple of hits off Gibson, who then hit a single of his own. But Fairly made the mistake of engaging Gibson in a collegial way. I always heard that Fairly praised Gibson for his base hit, but Gibson insisted that Fairly had raved about Gibson’s stuff and wondered how he had possibly made two hits off him. Either way, Gibson glared at Fairly. Didn’t say a word.
Next time up, Fairly observed Gibson, glowing on the mound, and mused to the catcher, Joe Torre, that he did not think he was going to enjoy this at-bat, was he? Torre wasn’t going to lie about it; he just smiled as Fairly took one in the ribs.
That is Gibson. Don’t mess with him. Torre later brought Gibson to the Mets as his “attitude coach,” as if you can coach attitude.
Gibson remains competitive. A decade or so ago, he and Reggie Jackson collaborated on a nice book about the age-old yin/yang of pitcher/hitter. They met me for a power breakfast in New York to discuss their book, and it went fine until near the end. Working on a book on Stan Musial, I asked Gibson if I could ask one question about Stan the Man.
“Absolutely not,” Gibson snapped. He and Musial had the same agent, and he knew that Musial had put out a fatwa against friends and family discussing him with writers.
Gibson’s abruptness caused Reggie to nearly choke on his bagel as he tried not to laugh.
This is the guy who is going to fight a formidable disease.
Knock it on its ass, Hoot.
* * *
(Below: video of Christopher Russo interviewing Gibson (Reggie in background) about the friendly little incident with Fairly, back in the day.)
(I've got nothing coherent to say at this moment about that "debate" or my sociopathic ex-neighbor from Queens. Perhaps you do. Please feel free to type away. The following was my open letter to Postmaster Louis Dejoy after I posted our ballots on Monday.)
Dear Postmaster General Louis Dejoy:
I just mailed our absentee ballots, both filled out correctly, to the county Board of Elections.
I could have driven to the board’s office, or even walked, or used certified mail, but I figured, that’s only 7.28 miles – that is, .2 miles per day. That shouldn’t be too hard for Louis Dejoy’s post office.
I know this is a stressful time for you, what with The New York Times’ blockbuster about your patron’s tax issues. He’s going to be looking for somebody to punish, and will not be happy if you let too many of those absentee ballots get through.
After all, you were hired to take a sledgehammer to the voting procedure, what with many millions expected to vote during the Pandemic. And from what I hear from USPS employees, you did a good job – slowing the mail down.
Where does he find people like you?
Just the other day, you said you could not use the sorting machines you took out of use. Either you demolished them, or you cannibalized them for parts -- sounds like the Louis DeJoy wrecking ball, either way.
As you may have been told, there are voters way out there in rural red states areas -- at the head of the holler in Mitch McConnell's state -- who depend on the USPS vehicle to bring checks and medicine. So either you serve the people of the country or you serve the anarchist Donald J. Trump.
Must be a stressful time for you.
Meantime, point-two miles a day.
You can do it, sir.
Comments? Please, You'll feel a bit better for a moment.
With absolutely no regrets, I faced the end of the “regular” baseball season, not that anything has been regular about it. The Mets lost Saturday afternoon, and were eliminated, but I have no complaints. . Baseball has done well enough by me this summer.
In a terrible time, baseball kept me reasonably sane, in a baseball-fan kind of way – that is, stomping upstairs at 10 PM, gritting the words, “It’s over. They stink.”
The “season” came at just the right time – when I figured out we weren’t going to take a drive or visit our grown children or hug our grandkids or go out for dinner or return to the city, my home town, until this poor bungled country figured it out.
For entertainment, for escapism, I would watch nearly 60 games’ worth of overmatched pitchers, erratic hitters, outfielders turning the wrong way on fly balls, base runners stumbling into outs, a catcher who couldn’t catch -- and that was only the Mets, the only team I follow.
I don’t watch the Yankees (nothing personal, I’ve gotten over my tormented youth, plus Aaron Judge is one of my favorite players), and I cannot stand network baseball, with its overload of gimmicks and just-learned drivel and bland “experts.” I watch only the Mets, or listen to them, and it got me through two months.
Besides, what were the alternatives?
--Following the smokescreens of a crooked and deranged President?
--Obsessing over a pandemic that remains unchecked in an inept "administration?"
--Keeping up with merciless hurricanes and fires?
I kept to the high road the first few months of the pandemic – reading good books, listening to classical music, watching National Theatre re-runs from London, keeping up with family and friends.
But when baseball gave it a try in mid-summer, I devoted myself to the Mets my team since 1962 (even if I had to feign neutrality while covering baseball.)
In a sick way, the Mets were fun this year, even as their pitching crumbled and Pete Alonso had a sophomore jinx for the ages.
As a fan, I enjoyed Jacob deGrom, the master, and somebody named David Peterson who finished with a 6-2 record Thursday night, as a rookie. I watched Jeff McNeil embarrass the analytics wizards who do not value a fiery throwback, a contact hitter who plays four positions.
It was a joy to watch Andrés Giménez, 22, show speed and savvy and great hands whenever they would let him play. Time is on his side.
It was also delightful to watch Dominic Smith blossom into a clutch hitter and get to use his glove at first base, and he learned to be a decent left fielder. But most of all, in a time of social awareness, as Blacks kept getting knocked off, Smith knelt to express his concerns, and wept with emotion.
. enjoyed watching the calm eyes above the mask of Luis Rojas, the accidental manager -- he's Felipe Alou’s son; that told me a lot.
I tried to ignore the counter philosophy that said we should avoid this goofus version of a season – 60 games, a tie-breaker gimmick in extra innings, 7-inning games in doubleheaders, no pitchers hitting in the National League, and, worst of all, no fans.
I heard baseball people say they are just beginning to appreciate the fans. Really? Just now?
The other day, I read an article by Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, the writer-commentator who knows the sport, lamenting a baseball season without “fun.” Tim is terrific, but I want to say that in my masochist world, “fun” involves suffering.
Fun? I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan in 1950 when Richie Ashburn threw out Cal Abrams at home, and in 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit the home run, and 1956 when Don Larsen no-hit the Dodgers. Was any of that fun? I missed it.
The real “fun” of baseball is thinking along with the participants and the commentators. I know more about the game since I retired and have been able to watch and listen to Gary and Keith and Ron, plus Howie on the radio, even though this year they did not travel with the team but made their calls, as well as possible, off the TV in an empty Mets’ ballpark. Hard for them and the audience, but it was still a game.
With the Mets not qualifying for the playoffs, I don’t plan to watch the long 16-team slog to a “World Series” but I might be a backslider I’m liable to catch the occasional soccer game in the winter months but I stopped watching football and basketball and hockey years ago. College football? I never had respect for the ugly alliance between colleges and football, and now the Pac-12 has joined the other major conferences in risking the health of the so-called students who will play during Trump's pandemic.
I think voters will get rid of this vile and ignorant President, and maybe more Americans will wise up about how to slow down this pandemic even before a legitimate vaccine arrives.
Speaking of change, prospective buyer Steve Cohen says he will bring back Sandy Alderson to run the Mets. This must mean Alderson's health is stable. But what does it mean for Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent who has been running the Mets the last two years?
In the meantime, the Mets got me through a long hot summer, and that is something.
Tim Kurkjian’s knowledgeable view of this weird season:
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!
* * *
Bad enough that epic ballplayers are passing. Now it’s Toots.
Our oldest, Laura, caught him two summers ago in Albany, the gateway to Almost Heaven, Adirondacks.
“Bucket list item for me,” Laura typed Sunday from Upstate, when we heard about the passing of Toots Hibbert, age 77, the lead singer of Toots and the Maytals, classic reggae group, which was around for, oh, forever.
I remember when I became aware of Toots. I was a regular listener on WNEW-FM, since it became the great pioneer rock station in 1967.
For years, Dave Herman had the morning drive-time show that ended at 10 AM. One morning he said he would have, live in the studio, the great Toots Hibbert. And kept telling us, as the final hour ticked away.
Finally, about 9:50 or so, Toots arrived in the studio. Only thing was, his mind and his voice had not yet arrived. Brother Dave tried to engage him on why he was in New York, where he was playing, plug his latest album, etc. etc., but Toots emitted only monosyllables.
About 9:58, Toots started talking…and talking….a deep-throated but lilting monologue, right up to the signoff music the universal signal that the station is about to move on to news weather, the next host.
Ultimately, click, the engineer cut Toots off, mid-sentence.
“I think I like this guy,” I said, and I went out and found his cassette (yes, it was that far back), “Funky Kingston,” with songs like “Pressure Drop” and ”Time Tough,” plus the adaptation of John Denver’s song, “Country Roads,” but in the Maytals’ version it becomes “Almost Heaven, West Jamaica.” I loved it, just as much as I love the ruined mountains of Appalachia, and I loved Toots from afar. Never saw him, but the cassette endured. Laura says she has replaced her copy two or three times.
Toots had a sound – I’ll let the pop music critics explain.
He wasn’t Bob Marley, whom I regard as musical divinity, but Toots’ earthly voice and rhythm told of joy and pain, good times and bad times. And made you want to move.
I never caught him live and never will, but Laura and Diane drove down to the Capitol Region in August of 2018 to catch Toots.
“Toots. Free concert. Diverse Albany crowd. Weather,” Laura messaged on Sunday morning as we commiserated.
The band had driven all the way from California and barely got there on time. The band played Toots in for a good 5-10 minutes before he finally walked on from the back. Then. It was ON. He was older and somewhat stiff but still totally commanding and powerful and totally adept at working the crowd.
I typed, “Got any photos?” and the cellphone quivered and hummed and buzzed.
She added: "One of the great nights out. Ever."
I was trying to write something about Tom Seaver that had not been said in the past few days.
Then our-son-the-newsman texted me on Sunday afternoon: “Omigosh, now Lou Brock.”
Immediately, immediately, I thought of a falsetto voice in the cramped old Busch Stadium clubhouse, piercing the hubbub of a great team:
“Chris going to America! Chris gonna find Lou Brock!”
That was Bob Gibson, the crabby but funny straw boss of the Cardinal clubhouse, emitting the punch line of Flip Wilson in his epic routine about Christopher Columbus:
Queen Isabel -- Elizabeth Johnson, that is -- is underwriting the mission of Columbus, and she is down at the dock cheering him on -- in American Black patois:
“Chris going to America!” the queen shrieks. “Chris gonna find Ray Charles!” (*-see below)
By inserting Brock, Gibson paid tribute to the player whose legs and brain and will helped the Cardinals win three pennants in the mid-60s, and for a while made Brock the all-time stolen base leader.
Lou Brock, who died Sunday, was the final piece of the 1964 Cardinals, coming over in a one-sided trade with the Cubs. (You got it: for Ernie Broglio.)
He gave the Cardinals one more star to go along with Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood, Dick Groat, Tim McCarver and Ken Boyer, one of the great teams (and clubhouses) I ever covered.
Brock also gave Stan Musial one of his favorite punch lines during the World Series of 1964. Musial had retired after the 1963 season, and the Cardinals landed Brock in mid-June of 1964.
Why were the Cardinals celebrating in October of 1964?
“We finally got a left-fielder,” Musial would say with his giggle.
Brock did not come from nowhere. While the Mets were still waiting for The Youth of America, in Casey Stengel’s prophecy, the Cubs already had talent but negated by bad management.
In 1962, the Cubs promoted Brock to the majors, to his surprise. On His first at-bat in a Sunday doubleheader in the Polo Grounds, he lofted a drive that landed directly on top of the bleacher fence -- only the third player in history to hit a home run into those bleachers.
“You won’t ever do that again!” shouted Alvin Jackson, the Mets’ lefty, who gave up the homer. Brock agreed, he never would. (Two college men from the South they became friends.)
Brock soon acquired the reputation of an under-performer who was skittery in left field. The Cubs gave up on him in 1964, and the Cardinals’ manager, Johnny Keane, did the same thing with for Brock that he was doing with Gibson. (“I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane once said about Gibson, one of the most beautiful statements I have ever heard from a coach or manager. Overlooking old racial stereotypes was part of Keane’s life vision.)
After the Cardinals won the 1964 World Series, I had dinner with Brock in Chicago, for a profile of him for Sport Magazine.
“They needed a lift,” Brock said. “I had a history of not being able to help anybody. I think the ballplayers felt this. Nobody said anything to me but I could feel it.”
By 1967, Brock was an established all-star who had never seen Seaver closer than 60 feet, 6 inches. Their first encounter in the National League all-star clubhouse is a wonderful story that Seaver told many times over the years. (The Brock-Seaver part is about 60 seconds into it:)
Brock and the “kid” eventually faced each other 157 times, more than either faced any opponent. The record shows that Seaver got the better of Brock. (But Brock played in three World Series.)
Many years later, Brock made a great contribution to the Mets, without meaning it. He was a soothing older teammate to a hard-driving young Cardinal named Keith Hernandez, telling him to relax and play his game.
When Hernandez became the infield straw boss of the Mets in the 80’s, he often referred to Brock’s kindness and encouragement. I am sure Hernandez is gutted today, because his mentor has passed, after losing a leg to diabetes years ago.
Two giants, a few days apart. I was lucky to be around the Cardinals and Brock, just as I was proud to cover Tom Seaver on some of his epic days. I can’t claim I knew him well, but I had plenty of opportunity to observe. One of my last impressions was Seaver’s inner Marine joining Manager Gil Hodges to give the Mets’ self-image a posture adjustment in the late 60s. I wrote about it last year:
In this weird, truncated season, these two Hall of Fame players, linked by familiarity in their careers, are linked again.
*- Here's the origin of the Columbus/Queen Isabel (Isabel Johnson) /Ray Charles riff.
The above quotation came from Ronny Thompson, a Georgetown basketball player back in the day, describing the leadership style of his coach, that is to say, his father.
John Thompson, Jr., the long-time basketball coach at Georgetown University, died Sunday night at 78.
He did things his way, defying any definition imposed by others. If you praised some aspect of his leadership or coaching, he bristled, blustered, maybe even dropped an epithet.
I got a first-hand view of his bombast in 1984, days before Georgetown won the national Division I basketball championship.
I had called the president of Georgetown, Father Tim Healy, to assess the impact of Thompson on his players, almost all of whom were Black.
''This is a man from the Washington area who is taking kids who don't have two coins to rub together and is literally teaching some of them how to use a knife and fork,” Father Healy said in my column before the Final Four.
“He knows just what he's doing, “ Father Healy continued. “And we at Georgetown support him in what he's doing.''
At the press conference before the Final Four in Seattle, Big John went off, loud and clear.
I distinctly remember him denying that he ever taught anybody to eat properly and I distinctly remember him saying: “I ain’t no Jesus Christ.”
He did not mention Fr. Healy or The New York Times (or me) but it was clear he had read the column and was not amused.
John Thompson surely had a powerful role in the lives of many of his players. Of the players who stayed with the program, the graduation rate was said to be 97 percent.
Some left early, to be sure, but while they were there, they all had to play relentlessly, without any frills to their game. Thompson once said a certain player would be all right as soon as he dropped “the old Boogaloo” from his game – meaning, fancy moves, fancy passes. He expected people to know what he meant by “the old Boogaloo.” No definitions.
In Thompson’s time, Georgetown had an academic advisor, Mary Fenlon, a former nun, on the bench. Fenlon, who passed in late 2019, was said to be witty and sociable, but in public she was as inscrutable as Thompson.
His model player was Ronnie Highsmith, an Army vet who was four years older than the stars and would lend physicality on the court and discipline off the court.
The players succeeded, under Thompson's model of discipline and education.
As it happens, I am currently catching up with the biography, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” by David W. Blight, published in 2018. (I believe that I went through grade school through college without ever hearing a mention of Douglass.)
The book tells how Douglass, the escaped slave, educated himself to become a writer and speechmaker and caustic critic of Abraham Lincoln when he saw fit. His larger-than-life persona pushed America toward the Emancipation Proclamation.
America has gained from black critics and activists. Early in my career, I ran into powerful figures like Harry Edwards, the academic, and Jim Brown, the football player, and Bill Russell, the basketball winner (for whom Thompson was an understudy for two years.)
Nowadays, athletes like LeBron James and Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery are setting a tone, just as John Thompson did once as a protest. My friend and colleague, Harvey Araton, AKA The Rebbe of Roundball, has a knowing column on Thompson, the activist, in the Tuesday NY Times.
Like Frederick Douglass, John Thompson did not talk about his feelings, his inner reactions. He had a posture and he stuck to it.
Ronny Thompson’s evaluation of his father was perfect.
* * *
My column quoting Father Healy:
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.
Two promising things happened on Tuesday:
---Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, a decision that seemed logical the moment it was announced.
(Update: Did you see her speech from Delaware Wednesday afternoon? Full of passion and concern and reality. Clearly, Joe Biden picked the right candidate. Back to my original essay.)
---And two of the major college football conferences called off their season, sending a message to the American public that a few sports administrators are smarter than the murderous and avaricious fools who keep talking about “opening it up” and passing false virus "information" to the public during a pandemic.
Because I am a reforming sports columnist, let me start with the football news. The Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences will not be sending athletes out to maul each other, up close and personal, for our entertainment.
The remaining conferences may be shamed into the same decision, with other fall sports also postponed until a safer time.
This pandemic is dangerous. I just read it in the Times. But young people will congregate, up close, without masks and spread the globules of damage and death, because they are young. What is the excuse of government and business and education “leaders” who ought to know better? Instead, moronic governors and educators allow children to mingle and spread the virus, as happened in Georgia.
As for the naming of Kamala Harris, it was a decision that made a couple of Warren Wing Democrats exhale and say, “Well, of course.”
I did not like the way Harris went after Biden in the first debate, in such a studied, assassin-type way. Biden blinked and stared at her and took it....a sign of grace....and months later he chose her, maybe because of that.
Or, as Aretha Franklin sang, "What's like got to do with it?"
Hearing people describe Harris’ career gave me a more realistic feeling -- that she is a big-timer who has been preparing for this a long time, as prosecutor and state attorney general and senator.
Harris made a fool of Bill Barr in a Senate hearing, although he may be so far gone that he didn't realize. She will drive Trump crazy, and we are wondering if Pence's wife -- a/k/a Mother -- will have to sit with him during the debate, to make sure he is all right.
On Wednesday, we heard dozens of insiders describing Harris's sense of humor and political astuteness. And then there is this: Blacks are the soul of the Democratic party. This selection honors that, as well as all the considerable assets of the candidate herself.
(I know, I know, we shouldn’t write about the way female candidates present themselves, but we both saw hours of clips of Harris over the years, always dressed in smart sport jackets, or suits, giving an aura of power and purpose.)
Trump must be worried, since he called Harris "nasty" several times Tuesday night – a code word to his male followers, a sign that his pathological contempt for the female gender is kicking in. See how that works at the polls in November.
The rest of the country now has time to observe Kamala Harris carrying the case to the voters.
Much or all of the country will not have the normal diversion of college football, thanks to the courage and intelligence of sports administrators who have more sense than the old and inadequate Trump regime.
This baseball season may turn out to be a colossal gamble, but I am enjoying the cardboard fans in the stands, particularly these folks in Oakland.
I think I would like sitting with them in the stands on a warm East Bay afternoon.
Fact is, I miss human company, as my wife and I hunker down waiting for Jan. 21, when intelligent adults take back the country.
I miss my kids and I miss my grandkids. This elbow contact on our deck, when the weather cooperates, is not the same as hugging my family, or sitting indoors, or, imagine this, going out...somewhere.
Then I remembered the three people who inhabit our storage room in the basement -- present from our dear creative friend Rachel, who had these made up for her job, back a few years, when we all were younger.
(Let me add this: I have an Irish passport, courtesy of my maternal grandmother from Waterford, and I am very proud of it. My identification with the UK has way more to do with the National Theatre and Portrait Gallery than the royals, When I see these one-inch likenesses, I think of our friend Rachel, speaking up for Palestinians at a Seder on West End Avenue.
For all that, Queen Elizabeth II fits right in with our unused dining room. As I walk through, I find myself singing along with Paul:
Her majesty's a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn't have a lot to say. ...
Irreverent, I know.
Fact is, the Queen is one of the stable elders in the world today. What with Trump and Pence and Pompeo and Barr and that bunch, Americans are in no position to snicker at royals. Welcome upstairs for a while, Your Majesty. Let's sit and have a cuppa.
Did Charles ever look this militant on his best day? But he's doing a good job, guarding my wife's studio day and night.
Plus, as I walk past and give him a snappy salute from my ROTC days, I remember that Emma Thompson is a good friend of his, and always speaks well of him when she is interviewed. Whatever is good for Emma Thompson is good for me.
Until an adult leader takes control of the Covid virus and puts an end to this social-distancing, good old Charles serves a purpose,guarding the house, waiting, waiting, waiting...
It's true, Princess Diana looks a little stiff in our living room, but let me tell you about the time she and her two frisky little boys were guests in the Royal Box at the old Wimbledon, which was directly next to the open press area. Needless to say, we were all eyes for her, and the Beastie Boys of the British press were coming up with plummy accents and snide comments. And while we tried to covertly look at Diana, I noticed that her eyes, like lasers, were scanning the doings around her. She was looking at us! Curiously, like, who are those people, and what do they do, and are they having a good time? She was out and about, not at all rigid, clutching her purse, like in this cardboard version. Her eyes saw all.
So, welcome to our living room. May I take your coat? please, have a seat.
May we offer you a glass of wine?
What do you think of Brexit?
How do you like Boris Johnson?
We hear you are working to to sort out this Covid mess.
We apologize for our buffoon.
My wife's been working on our family trees: her roots in Lancashire include William the Conqueror; my middle name is the same as your family name --Spencer, from my mom, born in England.
* * *
We still miss our family and friends, but in a weird way, thanks to baseball, our living room lives again.
Thanks to our friend Rachel for these vital presences.
One of my favorite e-mail correspondents is Bill Lucey, a journalist and baseball fanatic in Cleveland. (We have never met.)
Occasionally, Lucey writes a blog, but he goes beyond the stereotype of the guy-in-underwear-slapping-together-a-pronunciamento.
He actually contacts experts for their opinions. The gall of him, working at his blog.
His latest is a very well-written look at the acceptance of the word "irregardless" by an alleged authority in grammar. He writes about other innovations, including one taking place in Major League Baseball is this very shaky season.
Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all ages, please open the following link and read Bill Lucey's erudite essay on the dumbing down of grammar:
* * *
*- My little joke. One of my pet peeves is the misuse of the word "hopefully," particularly by sports broadcasters, but also by many people who speak in public.
* * *
And while you're at it, check out this site for very short plays. This one is by my friend Altenir Silva, from Rio and Lisbon, Yankee fan, writer in English, frequent presence on this site. He has written a shortie about Godot, as performed by Abbot and Costello. Honest. Of course, it has allusions to baseball. I told you, he's a Yankee fan.
On Monday morning, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida was telling one of those money channels that the U.S. had to “open up” for business.
Sen. Scott knows a lot about business, having run a “health-care” company that paid $1.7-billion in penalties, while he personally escaped jail as the leader of the devious pack.
But there he was, a senator, urging American businesses to get back to work. At the very same time, Major League Baseball – as part of its patriotic duty to get back to business – was postponing two games scheduled for Monday because many members of the Miami Marlins, in the state Scott theoretically represents, had tested positive for Covid-19.
Getting back to business has its drawbacks, whether for endangered children and endangered teachers in schools being pressured to open, or ball players in their own little playpens.
Donald Trump, allegedly once the greatest baseball prospect in American prep-school history, has insisted the game be resumed as part of the economic re-opening. Then again, he felt the same thing about political rallies and nominating conventions. Poor schlub, he invited himself to throw out a first pitch in Yankee Stadium and then got disinvited. (Ever hear an empty stadium boo?)
Baseball is supposed to contribute to normalcy while a pandemic is going on, particularly in the presumably-red Sunbelt states being led into danger by clodhoppers like Abbott of Texas, Kemp of Georgia and DeSantis of Florida. (Where do they get these people?)
As of this typing, baseball was still planning to hold most games in its improvised season of 60 games. But ballplayers were starting to follow the new protocols, donning masks on the field, refraining from some bro hugs, and some were voicing their fears.
This puts these masked men ahead of many millions of Americans currently milling around unmasked at bars and beaches and back-yard parties, ignoring the warnings of scientists. It’s part of their constitutional rights, as Americans, to be independent knuckleheads.
This raises questions for me, hunkering in our cool cave at home, watching just about every pitch of the Mets'first four games.
How can I watch the runs, hits, errors, facial expressions and strategies in empty stadiums, while millions of people around the world are endangered by this pandemic?
We stay home as much as possible, we read, we watch filmed plays from London, we listen to the political yammerers on the tube, my wife makes great meals. And for the moment, I watch the Mets.
Every winter I wait for the season, and finally it is here, in its imperiled fashion, and I am watching Jeff McNeil’s fire and Jacob deGrom’s near-perfection and Pete Alonso’s power and Seth Lugo’s monk-like calm.
Am I doing something wrong? Am I encouraging baseball…and other businesses….to “open up?”
I took a random sample Monday night.
One fan, nameless, was at home in front of the tube, watching the Mets from Fenway Park, which was sadly not quivering with energy and history.
The game was not 15 minutes old when the Mets committed a blunder on the field. My phone pinged with a message from the aforementioned fan: “Not a very disciplined ball club.” So we pinged back and forth while the Mets held on for a 7-4 victory. For one more evening, we watched baseball, knowing it could be the last for a long time.
My sample was balanced by other pings from a good friend of mine, a former minor-league prospect who knows the game so well and shares my appreciation for the late-bloomer Jeff McNeil.
Except that my ball-player pal was not watching. He thinks baseball should not be open, should not be exposing players and those who serve them. He pinged:
“George, I refuse to watch this stupid circus! MLB has lost the little credibility they once had! The owners do not care about baseball’s image! They care only about taking in anti-trust-protected profits!”
So there you have it. One for. One against.
For the moment, I am watching the Mets.
What else I got to do?
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.
I love baseball schedules --get all excited when they come out, months ahead. Look for big rivalry series, the odd day game, illogical road trips. Force of habit, from being an old baseball writer.
Lately, I've been fascinated by pandemic charts, like the current one above.
The makeshift 60-game baseball schedule also caught my attention, sucker that I am. I could visualize Jacob DeGrom keeping the batters off balance, Jeff McNeil smacking the first pitch of the season for a base hit.
But now, I realize I was wasting my time. This 60-game improv season may start, but it won’t finish.
This realization has been dawning on me for days, beginning when Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals said he was going to sit this one out, and growing when Mike Trout and others said they just weren’t comfortable going out to play ball in the time of the virus, when they had responsibilities to wives, to children, to family members.
Ball players, collectively, are clearly smarter than the governors of Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida, who followed the lead of the ignorant man in the White House, and decided to get back to business without a clue about the pandemic. Where do they get these people?
Now the infection is reaching the young louts who jumped up and down and exhaled on each other in close quarters at beaches and pools and bars in recent months, with no masks, just to prove a government could not tell them what to do.
Now, the cobbled-together “protocols” for players and staff members are coming undone. Players – and their colleagues in the other team sports – were supposed to live hermit lives when not socially-distancing at the stadium. Only they know if they did, and maybe it makes no difference. I saw soccer players in England hugging each other after goals on Saturday. Boys, boys, boys.
Even before the games start, baseball players have picked up microbes floating on the breeze in the clubhouse or the hotel lobby or the team bus or whatever. It was never going to work, not while this nation, relying on a fool who has sabotaged the federal government, was falling further behind the murderous path of the virus.
On Saturday, the Yankees announced that Aroldis Chapman, their ace relief pitcher, had come down with the virus. He joins two other Yankees expected to be vital in this theoretical mini-pennant race. May all the cases be mild. But the number has reached critical mass.
The players want to play, and the owners want to make money, and sucker fans like me want to watch games from empty stadiums. (It works pretty well with watching top-level soccer, I’m here to report.)
However, Europe appears to be more disciplined than our poor run-amuck country, forsaking science for the ravings of the Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago.
This experimental season may start in less than two weeks. I miss baseball and I will watch the Mets when I can. However, 60 games are going to seem an eternity when more healthy young athletes come down with this virus.
Under the “leadership” of Rob Manfred, baseball is going to stick it to the players in labor negotiations next year. So even if somebody outside this government comes up with a vaccine and some leadership, baseball's traditional "wait til next year" is a long, long way off.
* * *
Current list of ball players who have already chosen to miss 2020: BC: Before Chapman.
Saturday's virus scorecard, including Aroldis Chapman:
Mike Moran was one of the giants in sports – a spokesperson for the United States Olympic Committee for decades who told the truth either with facts or with a sardonic tone and a pronounced rolling of the eyes. He was “in the room” when the 1980 Miracle on Ice transpired, and he was there when Nancy Kerrigan was whacked and when Tonya Harding was allowed to skate in Norway and he was there to explain the grandiose statements of George Steinbrenner and other bumptious officials passing through the hierarchy.
Mike was the Deep State of Olympics, and thank God for that.
He passed on Tuesday at the age of 78 after a sad few months of feeling himself go downhill. He stopped e-mailing political columns and other snarky writings by others, and that was a dire sign.
I could go on, but other people knew him better than I did. One of them is Bob Condron, one of the best people I know in sports, himself a professional publicist and great company in some Olympic site. Bob went on Facebook to extol his boss and friend, and I am going to desist right here and let Bob tell you about Mike Moran:
By Bob Condron:
A friend of mine died today. He was the library of the Olympics, as it pertained to the United States. He was the spirit of what good there was in having Olympic Dreams and reading and hearing about them.
His name was Mike Moran, the spokesman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who guided the organization’s mindset for a quarter century. He was my boss. He brought me from college athletics into the Olympic Movement and my life was so rich for 30 years because of it.
Mike had a variety of titles: editor of the Olympian Magazine, director of communications, Chief of Communications Officer, whatever. He came at a time the U.S. Olympic Committee had just formed by an act of Congress. The USOC was a Park Avenue kind of Travel Agency in New York. But, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 changed all that. And it came to Colorado Springs. And its headquarters was at the old ENT Air base, the new Olympic Training Center just off downtown.
Baaron Pittenger and Col. Don Miller talked Mike into coming to the USOC from the University of Colorado where he was the sports information Director. A football power with Mike riding the Buffalo wave. The USOC organization was new, the training center was new, the attitude was new. And Mike changed his life and he launched a new philosophy of trying to get the media to pay attention to the Olympics and the athletes of the United States who had dreams.
He built a foundation in the early days to make sure the American media had a contact, someone who cared about small hometowns of athletes, the colleges they came from, the stories of their lives, coaches, moms and dads.
But, Mike became more than that. He was the guy who stood at the podium when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. His heart broke because of it and the nastiness that came from the powers to be in the Carter administration.
And he was at the podium when there was Payback four years later when the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc said NO! to Los Angeles and the 1984 Olympics.
And he was the man in the TV lights when Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the kneecap by the Tonya Harding camp at the Olympic figure skating trials in Detroit before the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. He called the 1 a.m. press conference in Norway with 1,600 media in a space that probably seated 500.
He was the man at the Podium for all kinds of calamities for the USOC: possible bankruptcy, investigations that wanted to make the USOC a farm club of Congress, Drug busts, George Steinbrenner, drug positives, athlete deaths, fake bios of USOC leaders, conflicts of interests by officers…fun stuff.
He’d take the podium, the lights, explain things and might say…”we need to do better. Can I answer any questions?” And a hundred waving palms would rise into the air, blood vessels enlarging, right to know things, screaming at Mike.
He was calm on top. Paddling like crazy underneath. But he stayed the stay. Answered every question. Met for one on ones later. He was accessible, he was the man with the quotes. Sometimes with leaders. Sometime without. Stuck on an island.
He was the man who set the standard for the USOC of old. The man the media depended on to be available…at that moment. No matter whether it was the New York Times, USA Today or Bonnie Blair’s hometown paper in Wisconsin.
He made this profession proud. He made me proud. He made this nation proud.
He’s pain free now. Not lonely from all of his mornings at the coffee shop with six papers all prohibited by this god-awful pandemic. The poison in his body from pneumonia and organ shutdown is gone. . The 6-4 body of a former AAA pitcher that once hit Curt Flood in the family jewels as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals is forgiven. At least by God.
After l:37 pm. Tuesday, he’s reading the papers now. Having coffee. Wishing the Colorado Springs Sky Sox was still a farm club of the Rockies. Writing to all the media who might have gotten credentials in Heaven .
And waiting for us.
* * * * * *
A reporter's appreciation of Mike Moran, by Phil Hersh, long-time Olympic correspondent :
You’ve heard of Men in Blazers?
Get ready for (what I like to call) Men in Shorts, talking footy from a suburban patio on a Sunday morning.
My St. Louis pal Tom Schwarz is part of an eclectic group of soccer buffs who emit the weekly show, captured as it happens and sent out through the mysteries of Youtube and Facebook.
The merrie bande called me Sunday, July 5, and we talked about survival during the bungled pandemic, viewing “Hamilton” on the tube, live sports in empty stadiums. I am heard from Minute 30, as long as they can carry me.
The show is “live” on Facebook, so I am told, but later put together for Youtube. They occasionally get a real soccer person, like Taylor Twellman of St. Louis, ace scorer now ace broadcaster, on Jan. 20, 2019.
Cast members include:
Edmundo (Gail Edmunds, plus guitar).
Ted Williams, not the frozen one, women’s soccer authority and show producer.
Josh McGehee, Bradley Univ., 2018, labelled “our resident soccer expert” (every show needs one.)
Russell Blyth, St. Louis Univ., Dept. of Mathematics, “native of New Zealand” (you can hear it), reads the scores of Sunday matches in “traditional BBC fashion,” lover of tango and Liverpool fan.
Patio Host Tom Schwarz, seller of plants, world traveler, family guy, outside gunner in basketball, and master salesman who once hawked 175 copies of my Stan Musial biography in soccer pub in one night.
The lads are gearing up their act for the arrival of a St. Louis club in Major League Soccer in the 2022 season, an honor for one of America’s best nurturing cities for the sport.
Meantime: socially distanced. (My old photo vanishes by pushing the video arrow, I hope.)
Some colleges have their priorities straight during this time of Covid-19.
Four schools I already admired – Bowdoin, Morehouse, Sarah Lawrence and Swarthmore -- showed their values in recent days by cancelling all or part of their autumn athletic programs, so they could concentrate on education.
These schools do not exist to present extravaganza football games every Saturday during the fall semester, for the benefit of boosters and TV networks, to churn up money to keep the whole monstrosity going.
However: each decision to cancel caused terrible pain to the people who mattered the most – the student-athletes who will not get to compete this fall, practice with their teammates, perform in front of vociferous family members and loyal fans.
You cannot red-shirt a virus-cancelled season, say “come back for a fifth year.” Plus, these student-athletes have futures, although the 2020 fall season will not be part of them.
We take it personally in our family. Our grand-daughter, Lulu Wilson, is a loyal member of the Swarthmore women’s soccer team that reached the Division III tournament in her first two seasons.
She played very little in her first year due to an eye condition following a concussion, but she played some in her sophomore year - - and every time I checked in on her she raved about her teammates and her coaches and the practices and the togetherness.
In between, she pursues a pre-med program, having already spent compelling days in hospitals, gowned up, watching the routines and even the operations. She is all in.
When Swarthmore cancelled all fall sports, I checked in on Lulu and asked how she felt about the decision.
“Honestly, I think it is smart of Swat,” she texted, using the nickname for the school, “and I admire that they are trying to keep us safe and move our country towards an end.
“I think it would be ignorant of them to let us play,” she added. “I look at these big schools going back full-force and I worry that these kids are going to cause outbreaks and keep the pandemic going for the country as a whole.
"So I respect what they did,” she said, adding her opinion that “online learning is not the same as a true Swat experience.”
Now she is in mourning for what will always be lost – an autumn of practices in the drizzle and gathering darkness, the bus rides around the Northeast, and the identifiable voices of parents who travel from around the country to cheer for Swat.
(Intro to Div III: in 2018, after Swarthmore lost to Middlebury in the Round of 16 up in Vermont, on the long bus ride back to Philadelphia, many of the players started studying for final exams coming up, she told me then.)
“These four years are really special for us to be together as a team so this time apart will be hard," Lulu said Thursday. "We will have to find ways to stick together and find the positives in this situation.”
Swarthmore student-athletes are not alone.
I had a premonition a few days ago when I read that Bowdoin had cancelled fall sports. My wife and I have fallen in love with the college in Brunswick, Maine, from visiting the area in recent years, and we always find time to visit the jewel of an art museum on the campus.
I also admired the decision by Morehouse in Atlanta to cancel football this year. I have become a fan of Morehouse over the years because of alumni like Martin Luther King, Jr., Donn Clendenon of the 1969 Mets, my Brooklyn hero Spike Lee, and Terrance McKnight, knowledgeable host of a nightly show on WQXR-FM, the classical station in New York.
And Sarah Lawrence, in Bronxville, just above New York, is where we were lucky enough to send our two daughters, who gained great educations and eclectic talented friends. The other day, SLC cancelled all autumn sports.
All schools are wrestling with terrible choices in this time of the virus. There are no easy answers, but these four admirable schools examined their values and realized sports were expendable – nevertheless, leaving a gigantic loss for a young student who loves her sport, her team, and also her education.
John Pappas has no new bikes in his shop. None. He sold out weeks ago, and the manufacturers keep promising: soon.
But Pappas and his colleague, Mike Black, Master Fixer, have a shop full of bicycles waiting to be fixed, waiting for parts, waiting to be picked up.
“You see that bike over there?” Pappas asked me on Saturday, giving me the feeling it was a bit of a relic. “It’s a Peugeot, costs over $300 to fix, I asked the lady, ‘Do you really want it done?’ and she said yes.”
Everything that can roll is now rolling, in a renaissance for bicycles that Pappas and Black could not imagine a few years ago. They worked in a store that was a tradition in my town – we bought our Schwinns there in 1969 – like a clubhouse on Port Blvd., just drop in and chat about the Tour de France, or anything.
But at holiday time in 2016 nothing was moving in the relocated shop, and the owner at the time, plus Pappas and Black, were bemoaning that kids today do not ride bikes, they go where their helicopter parents approve, or they hunch over their computers, indoors.
It was a dystopian view of the next generation; the owner got out of the business, and Pappas and Black relocated to a modest storefront in adjacent Manorhaven, calling it Bicycle Playground of Port Washington.
Then along came Covid-19, rampaging across the country, courtesy of our “leaders” and their willful stupidity. Schools are closed. Adults, if lucky, are working from home, and people are getting in shape -- running or jogging or trudging around town, or dusting off the two-wheelers and three-wheelers and scooters. (The other day I saw four or five boys lugging baseball bats and gloves to the nearby playground. I swear: I saw boys going to play baseball, on their own.)
This is, admittedly, a privileged view from a comfortable sliver of the country, while others are suffering, but the renaissance of bicycles….kids on bikes….is one sweet result of this horror.
From our house, I can hear the voices of children – squeaky, earnest, engaged, away from adults, away from regimen – riding by themselves, like we used to do when we were kids.
We live at the top of a hill. Kids stop and check out the modest little drop, and then, whee, off they go.
Sometimes it is a family expedition, a parent or two, a kid or three, trading safety precautions or just letting out little yelps of enjoyment, throwbacks to a time before all the gibberish on the Web.
Sometimes I walk these back streets, a bandana ready to pull up if I get close to anybody. I am privy to snatches of conversation between, let’s say, a mom on her bike, and a son, on his bike. These seem like sweet moments: I remember my mother teaching me to ride a two-wheeler.
A lot of these adventures would not be happening if Pappas and Black had let the dream go. I associate them with good times – my current Trek old-guy bike, plus how they installed a stationary bike and a treadmill in our house, before both gave out after a few decades.
Now they are waiting for new bikes while scrambling for parts.
The other day my rear tire went flat and I walked the bike home, leaving a message for them, and figuring I was back to walking for the duration.
But Pappas called me back in a day or so and said he could take a look if I got the bike to him. My bike fit into the back of my son’s car: I used to ride him on the back of my Schwinn, along the Ohio River in Louisville, or into Brooklyn or Queens, on quiet Sunday mornings; now he lugs my wounded bike for me.
The guys at the shop found the right tube and got me on my way a day later, but the general backup is so severe that Pappas and Black are planning something they never could have imagined:
“If you had told me I would be taking a week off at the Fourth of July, I would have said you were crazy,” Pappas said.
Then again, if I had predicted children and adults would be cruising the streets of our town, having exercise and conversations, I would have sounded crazy.
Bicycles live. It is something.
And not just kids. Frequent correspondent Randolph Fiery is a serious biker, who enclosed photos from a recent two-day "ride" through the Greenbrier River Mountain Trail, a former railroad track, in his native West Virginia.
I just learned something about sports in empty venues: even without the fans roaring, the drama and the skill can be magnificent in front of the tube.
This is worth noting as major American sports prepare for unprecedented short seasons and makeshift playoffs.
None of this means any athletes should be playing. Covid-19 is raging, sparked by the cruel and intentional stupidity of Donald Trump. Athletes are probably setting a bad example just from their proximity, no matter the health protocols cobbled together.
To be continued.
But what I realized Thursday was that great athletes and great sports and great histories and great plots make for great viewing.
My little epiphany came during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City in London. I wasn’t even watching until I started getting pinged by my son-in-law in Deepest Pennsylvania, telling me that homeboy Christian Pulisic from nearby Hershey was starting for Chelsea.
The next ping told me Pulisic had scored. So I dropped my household chores and turned on the tube.
The replays showed the wunderkind, not yet 22, sharking two Man City defenders, putting pressure on them, forcing them into a dreadful giveaway, and then changing his gears several times as he corkscrewed the hapless Man City keeper into the turf and slipped a goal into the corner – a brilliant bit of opportunism, whether in front of a packed house in Stamford Bridge or an empty one. On TV, it was stunning.
The goal was also vital because Man City was one loss or one draw away from yielding its title to Liverpool after two straight championships. Liverpool was so far ahead this season that a title was inevitable, but now it might happen without Liverpool flexing a muscle except of course in front of their own TV sets up north.
The great soccer continued: Kevin DeBruyne, the red-headed Belgian with Man City, hooked a free kick into the left corner to draw the game. World level skill.
Raheem Sterling, the young Man City star who has been the spokesman for Black Lives Matter in British football, missed twice by inches.
Pulisic sharked Man City again but this time Kyle Walker slid on the goal line to stop the ball millimeters from the white line.
And then a seasoned City player, Fernandinho, let his left hand dangle to stop a shot in goalmouth, and was called for a red card. (Sour Grapes Dept: the very same act, uncalled, cost the U.S. a goal in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany.)
Willian scored the penalty for Chelsea in the 78th minute and idle Liverpool would clinch the title – its first in 30 years.
Pinging in my phone from father and son in Deepest Pennsylvania followed by the TV views of fans lurching around Anfield Road at dusk, and a raucous Zoom montage around Britain of Red Devil fans in their red jerseys celebrating – the modern mix of Liverpool fans, white and black, young and old, male and female, even the odd dog. Some fans held up signs that said: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the inspirational theme song of Liverpool for decades now.
One of the broadcasters noted that Liverpool has been revamped in the past decade by John Henry, the very same introverted owner who revamped the Boston Red Sox from a decades-long miasma of its own.
People who follow sports carry these legends with them while watching, and debating, even while sitting out off-seasons and [postponements during this frightening plague.
On this very same; day, in unusually hot England, close to a million people rushed to the southern shore, packing the beaches, breathing on each other at close range, just as they would be in a packed stadium.
Are we humans that eager to infect each other, perhaps mortally, at sports events, the beach, religious services, political rallies for the fragile ego of a dangerous president? Well, it would appear we are.
Now we are about to will American sports into close-order competition, with “rules” that seem ludicrous. (One of my favorite new conditions for baseball players on the road for the next three months stipulates that only close relatives will be allowed into players' hotel rooms.)
For the moment, a father and son in Deepest Pennsylvania celebrated a championship in England, performed by some of the best players in the world.
I watched. It was terrific. Now, heart in mouth, in this dangerous time, I await the Mets.
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
* * *
(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
* * *
How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: