Catering to the Thumb Generation (of which I am a fringe member), Major League Baseball disappeared a game from television on Wednesday.
The business that still charmingly thinks of itself as The National Pastime has a new partnership with the dippy kid in the gray t-shirt, Mark Zuckerberg.
I think that means all information on Mets Nation -- all we scruffy, gauche losers who root for one miracle every generation – is now in the hands of Comrade Vladimir in the Kremlin.
Facebook was already chums with something called Cambridge Analytica which seems to have been in cahoots with various apparatchiks during the 2016 election including the possible next national security advisor, Mad Dog Bolton.
Baseball is letting the t-shirt guy put the occasional major-league game on Facebook so people can like or dislike what transpires on the field. The price for one MLB game a week is $30-million for the season – that’s what matters, isn’t it?
In real life, it’s not that hard to tell if baseball fans like or dislike something. Just the other day, Giancarlo Stanton struck out five times in his Yankee Stadium debut and Yankee fans faithfully gave him something called a Bronx Cheer.
Schnooky old baseball managed to distract from Wednesday’s Mets-Phillies game in Queens. James Wagner of the Times appropriately wrote an entire sagacious article about the t-shirt guy’s coup rather than the Mets’ bullpen or the clutch hit. (Tyler Kepner did write a column about the game itself.)
What with all the teeth-gnashing about baseball’s sellout, it seemed the game itself vanished into the dark hole of likes and dislikes.
Not true. I caught most of that game on this strange medium called radio.
The Mets’ game was on WOR – 710 on the AM dial – described by Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. Rose, aware the game had vanished from the tube, offered the observation, “I think radio is here to stay.”
Home-town fans get used to their TV and radio broadcasters. When the national broadcast pre-empts a Met game, I opt for radio. Mets fans don’t need national drop-in experts telling them stuff they already know.
Plus, the sellout by #ShamelessMLB on Wednesday meant that Mets-TV addicts were forever deprived of possible weird dialogues such as the one that ensued during Thursday’s game in Washington, with Gary Cohen monitoring the banter between old teammates from 1986, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Darling to Hernandez on Good Old SNY: Were you this funny when we played together? You’re pretty funny.
Cohen: He was the Prince of Darkness back then.
That's what Mets fans expect – not twiddling of thumbs.
At least the t-shirt guy hasn’t sold all of baseball to Cambridge Analytica. (Memo to Mark Zuckerberg: when you are hauled into Congress next week, go find a suit. Play dressup.)
* * *
Speaking of Queens and baseball, my friend-the-writer, Rabbi Mendel Horowitz, has written about following baseball in Israel during Passover: Enjoy:
Who made this &*%$#@?
How often do we scream this?
I do, every time water dribbles on my feet from the dispenser on our refrigerator.
I do, every time one of our imbalanced knives or forks goes clattering to the floor.
I do, every time I have trouble with coding or design on my not-totally-smart-phone.
Fortunately, I have found the perfect tool for one of those problems. Hint: you probably have a dozen under your desk.
First: the refrigerator. (I sometimes say “icebox” to annoy my wife.) Fairly new, and functional, except for the cheap pieces of plastic in all recent household appliances, designed to break after the warranty runs out.
The main problem is the gadget that dispenses ice (crushed or cubed) or water (allegedly cleansed by a pricey little filter.)
To get water or ice, you push in a curved bar with a glass; the H2O comes out of the innards; when you have enough, you take the glass away – and another few seconds’ of water, solid or liquid, falls to the floor.
Infuriating. No adjustment or fast hands can solve the problem.
My theory is that the people who built this device never, ever, tested it. Just built it.
Out of innate politeness, I will avoid mentioning the maker. Let me just say: Kamsahamnida.
* * *
Then there is our dinnerware, sleek and silvery, only used when we need a full set.
So pretty to look at. But the tines do not hold much, and when you lay the knife or fork down, the handle is so top-heavy that it performs a one-and-a-half gainer onto the tablecloth and thence to the floor, with rice, salad or fish splattering on the rug.
They never tested the thing. Just built it.
Out of innate politeness, I will avoid mentioning the maker. Let me just say: the imprint on the silverware reveals the country where it was made. Hsieh-Hsieh
* * *
Then there is my smartphone. I’ve only had it a few years – resisted a long time, but now I am hooked. Check for emails every 60 seconds.
It works pretty well, but the other day I could not fit the charger into the rectangular slot. My wife’s charger did not fit, either.
Oh, great, I thought, those blankety-blankers will tell me I need a new super-duper 12A phone, or whatever series they are up to. This is a costly little malfunction.
Then I had a thought. Nature’s wonder tool. Should be hawked on late-night TV.
The humble paper clip. Good for what ails you. Cures the common cold.
I opened one segment of the paper clip and inserted it into the slot where the charger no longer fit.
I wiggled it gently. And out tumbled a pound or two of what we New Yorkers call schmutz -- detritus from my pocket, my desk, my yard, my jogging shorts.
The charger now fit.
* * *
I don’t think the paper clip will help fix the spattering water dispenser or clattering silverware.
I have given it a permanent place of honor on my desk.
(PS: the paper clip has heroic implications in Norway. (Check it out.)
Here’s the stupidest thing I have read in a while (excluding American politics, of course.)
Akbar Al Baker, the head of Qatar Airways, recently criticized the blatant flaw in America commercial aviation – the age of its flight attendants.
He seemed to mean the females, ignoring the male ones.
Customers of American lines are "always being served by grandmothers," said Akbar Al Baker, who also called American carriers “crap.”
He’s half right, but that’s not the point. He noted that female attendants on his airline have an average age of 26, as if that were the major qualification for helping customers jammed together in a tin can in the sky.
Flying from Point A to Point B is not a fashion show or beauty pageant. Style was more important back in the day when service and amenities were better, when burly, hairy passengers did not wear shorts or sweatpants and chew on nasty-smelling fast food out of a paper bag.
Failing United even had thugs drag a bloodied passenger from a flight after he was randomly selected for termination by overbooking.
It’s all a good reason for staying home, which I do, after 50 years of travel. But one thing I know is that flight attendants could make things slightly better, and that your chances of expertise were often in direct ratio to a decade or three of experience.
Older attendants have been there and done that. When the airlines created havoc by charging for luggage, the attendants dealt with so-called carryons with a sense of authority and a feel for space. This is a generalization, but they did not get flustered. Solve the problem.
Many older attendants seemed to know stuff, could even drop a quip, if it looked like you might get it. I am blessed with being able to sleep on planes. Gone before the wheels leave the ground. One time I slept through a three or four-hour flight. Woke up on touch-down. An older attendant nodded and said, “very impressive.”
That was in coach. (The Times did not subsidize business travel for peons like me.) But when my wife was escorting children from India for adoption by others, her aunt – who worked at a great airline named Pan-Am; perhaps you have heard of it – often arranged an upgrade.
Those attendants saw her lugging one, two, once even three babies, and they found corners with more space and provided water, towels, food, whatever she needed. They were the best.
We all know that top executives, to please stockholders, have turned American carriers into hellish avatars of capitalism – your pass or your few extra dollars qualify you for a few more precious inches.
Airlines no longer respect family groups by encouraging agents to play with the computer to put families together. Pay a stipend – or sit in a middle seat surrounded by strangers. Tough. You should be rich. Your fault.
I’m not comparing attendants of Qatar with attendants on American carriers. Different cultures. I’ve seen uniformed attendants from the Emirates at the U.S. Open tennis, where their company was a sponsor -- their outfits fashionable, their demeanor modest, their posture superb, their smiles lovely; they represent their part of the world well.
But jammed into a torture chamber at 30,000 feet, wishing for one small favor with a touch of intuition, I’m opting for 40, 50, whatever. Older attendants notice stuff. Isn’t that what “service” means?
PS: Mr. Al-Baker recently issued an executive-style walking-back, or apology. Too late. We know what he thinks. See:
(*-I actually don’t know what a “bot” is. But it sounds good for the purposes of this rant.)
The modern electronic age has turned me into a cat burglar, on my hands and knees, messing with wires and cords and plugs.
I like to think this is not merely a young-old chasm as everybody scrambles to keep up with new developments with cellphones and computers and all these
so-called labor-saving devices.
The good side is that I managed to slip inside the velvet rope of minimal competence. The Internet and the gadgets allow me to do things and learn things that were impossible in my first two decades in journalism.
I have older friends of sound mind who stare blankly when I say “web site” or “emails.” They missed the Last Train to Clarksville for all the little stupidities that so captivate me.
When I broke into the business, we used typewriters and paper. With the help of technology mentors at the Times like Howard Angione (“If Vecsey can learn this, anybody can”) and Charlie Competello and Walt Baranger, I learned some stuff.
In the early ‘80’s, a union electrician turned off the press-box power at the stroke of midnight and blow out my portable computer. In Barcelona! But the next day I was able to find the right tubes in a growing technology block in that grand old city.
In the early days, I crawled around musty hotel rooms, unscrewing stuff and attaching primitive wires or clips. (One reporter risked his life splicing his bulky Kaypro computer to live wires from a dripping air conditioner in his hotel room.)
Later, I had to explain to dubious hotel clerks why I needed to borrow a dedicated 800 fax line for 30 seconds to transmit an article from my laptop. Nowadays, I call help centers when the wi-fi doesn’t work in my hotel room. This is called progress.
Somehow, I manage this personal therapy web site – photos, copy, headlines, type size – after training-wheels tutorials from my patient friend Becky Collet.
Labor-saving devices? A good friend (older than me) and I compare notes about constantly updating our contacts.
In my house we have three – count ‘em, three – clickers for one TV set and one sound bar. If my finger hits the wrong button, my wife has to reprogram the whole thing.
At times I dutifully try to diagnose the problems that pop up from having, oh, just a few cable boxes around the house.
Recently, a TV went dead. We ran around for days trying to sort it out. We exchanged boxes. Then we drove a TV to a throwback reputable repair place my wife discovered half an hour east of us. Nope. TV worked. And the guy waved off a bench charge. Can you imagine?
Ultimately, the problem was a faulty gizmo in the cable coming into the house, installed by our local company.
“No way you would know,” the technician told us before the office tried to bill us $80 for fixing their faulty piece they installed.
I keep blaming that cable company for the twin blights of Carmelo Anthony and Madison Square Garden, but it seems the cable portion has been sold to some Dutch company. Somebody smart sorted out the problem; maybe it was Amsterdam or maybe it was Long Island. Either way, this is also called progress.
(*- I made a list of recent words I do not fully understand, even if I may actually use them: meme, avatar, Siri, Sirius (are they related?), bluetooth, bitcoin, millennials, hipsters, (wait, whatever became of yuppies?), apps, cookies, streaming, podcasts, spotify, plus new baseball statistics with strange initials that I totally reject. I have my limits.)
* * *
I forgot to include this stanza from Loudon Wainwright III's "Last Man on Earth:"
Everybody's got a website
But that's all Greek to me
I don't own a computer
I hate that letter "e"
I don't pack a cell phone
Or drive an SUV
Yes, I'm the last man on Earth
That's what the matter is with me
Bill Campbell was a man of many homes, who reveled in all of them.
He went from the Monongahela Valley of Pennsylvania to Morningside Heights of New York City to Silicon Valley, and remained the same person – high energy, high expectations.
Campbell, who passed on Monday at 75, intrigued me as a beacon to others, by willing himself to a whole new life, after a term as yet another Columbia University football coach with a losing record.
Instead of catching on as an assistant coach at some other school, he reinvented himself in the growing dot-com world. Not everybody can shift gears at that level, but he proved it can be done.
He became known as “Coach” to some of the biggest companies - Apple, Google, Intuit -- even advising competitors.
I've often said I wished the leadership qualities of some coaches and managers leaders I admired -- Gil Hodges, Al Arbour, Herman Edwards, Dean Smith, Pia Sundhage -- could be grafted into the newspaper business. (Some other coaches were cruel and selfish louts.)
"Billy (as I knew him) was one of a kind: a 165-pound all-Ivy League linebacker and guard, (two-way players in his day), who was the most natural leader I’ve ever met," wrote Jonathan R. Cole, athlete, professor and former provost at Columbia. (From Jamaica High School in Queens, speaking of roots.)
Cole continued: "His type of intelligence can’t be measured in SAT scores or even GPA, but in the power of his personality to lead people anywhere. He was like the original Pied Piper -- his friends would follow him anywhere. His intelligence about people, his irrepressible energy, his warmth, his understanding of people and how to make them feel good about themselves was beyond measure."
He continued: "He was made to lead - and despite the despair he experienced in continually losing as coach of Columbia’s football team, he loved his players and they loved him. He was, indeed, a Shavian life force. Those people come along rarely and now one is gone. I’ll miss him."
I saw Campbell play once and talked to him on the phone once.
In 1961 he was the captain of Columbia’s Ivy League champs, who, in the last game of the season, took a lead before Rutgers rallied to finish its season undefeated.
(I was in the Rutgers stands that day after my brother-in-law borrowed somebody’s photo ID. I believe I was Wesley Wu.)
I talked to Campbell in 2009 when the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame re-named its annual award for a scholar-athlete for Campbell. Over the phone, I felt his gusto for frequent homecomings to New York (he had a favorite pub downtown) and his home town of Homestead, Pa.
Campbell's father had worked in the steel mills to send himself through college – and eventually become superintendent of schools. That faded world is described in the epic book, “Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town,” by William Serrin.
Profiled in the Serrin book is Ray Hornak, a foreman with a conscience, whose son, the Hon. Mark R. Hornak of the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania, was president of the Steel Valley school board in 1987.
“I had the pleasure of introducing Bill as the graduation speaker at our high school,” Judge Hornak recalled Tuesday. “His speech was terrific, but even better was the day that he spent at the high school with group after group of students, talking about achievement, dreams and how to do big things (as each kid would define them.)”
That day, the judge recalled, Campbell and Apple announced a major partnership with the school district, a public/private partnership in something called The Office of the Future.
"It brought 1987 tech to an industrial town high school,” Judge Hornak recalled, “but most of all, it threw the windows open on how our kids could view themselves, their education and their future.” (Campbell also donated money; he didn’t talk much about numbers.)
Campbell also stayed close to his alma mater, eventually becoming the chairman of the Columbia trustees. He carried himself as the avuncular coach-for-life, who encouraged a young athletic trainer, Neila Buday (a good friend of my family.)
“This is tough,” Neila wrote on Tuesday. “Bill was such a special person. I know that phrase is used often but here it truly applies. In my first few years working as an athletic trainer at Columbia, Bill embraced me into the Columbia Football family, both figuratively and literally as friends were always greeted with a big hug and kiss. Years later he embraced my husband Greg into this family as well, and loved the FDNY shirt Greg gave him. It gave him pride to wear it at the gym back west.
“When I left Columbia in 2010 he sent me an e-mail letting me know that I would always be part of that Columbia Family. Despite all his accolades, connections and relationships with the tech industry power players as the ‘Coach of Silicon Valley,’ I don't think anything meant more to him than Columbia football. I have seen him cry after both wins and losses. Both his son (Jimmy) and daughter (Maggie) went to Columbia. He bled Columbia Blue.
“After the Columbia Football Gold Dinner, or other Columbia formal functions, he could be found behind the bar at Old Town, tie undone and Columbia baseball cap on, handing out beer and burgers, always making sure you had a cold one in hand.
"You would never know who he was or how spectacular he as an industry leader. You just saw his charisma and genuineness. I loved watching the friendships he had with his former teammates, the famous 1961 team, and those players he coached. His smile was lit from within when he was around them.
“He will be missed by so many, but Columbia Football lost a true treasure.”
Neila Buday concluded: “Scroll through Facebook and see what all the former players have to say, how much he helped them, how humble he was.”
A wise analysis by Ken Auletta:
The NYT obit:
My 2009 column on the NCAA award:
The Fortune obituary:
A Columbia alumni feature:
Other voices celebrating Bill Campbell:
When I was helping Loretta Lynn write her book (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”), I got used to visible signs of security.
The bus driver, big Jim Webb, with his Elvis pompadour, tucked a softball bat under his seat – “In case a ball game breaks out,” he would drawl.
There were fake names in hotel registers, to foil stalkers.
And I got used to interviewing people with their pistols on the table. (“Umm, could you point that the other way and cover it with your ball cap?” I would ask.)
That security was necessary. So was Loretta’s formidable (and large) manager-agent, David Skepner, a Beverly Hills guy who had moved to Nashville.
“DAYYYY-vid,” Loretta would drawl. “You are mah son-of-a-bitch.”
After Skepner signed on, Loretta’s visibility went up, and so did her price. She won Country Music Entertainer of the Year, first woman to do so. She went on the “Today” show. She hired a writer (“Jawrge, you are mah wrahter”) and she watched talented people (not me) make a great movie about her life.
Even when they stopped working together, Loretta would call Skepner and get his guidance, now for free. He was her son-of-a-bitch.
I tell this story as Mets fans quiver over the machinations by Matt Harvey’s agent, the notorious Scott Boras, who has dropped a skunk in the middle of a garden party the Mets are tossing this September. He has raised questions – valid doctor’s questions, at a highly awkward time – about how many more innings the reconstructed Mr. Harvey should pitch this year. Possibly, you have heard of this.
Boras is Matt Harvey’s son-of-a-bitch. Of course, he was also A-Rod’s son-of-a-bitch -- until he botched a feint toward the Red Sox. They no longer work together.
Boras has led Harvey into a gross and intrusive display during a pennant race, but that is his job, until it isn’t his job. I am assuming the Mets were always going to minimize Harvey, more than 180 innings, far short of being a workhorse into the post-season. (Remember the speculation of whether Bartolo Colon would be on the post-season roster?)
Now the Mets may view Matt Harvey differently – as expensive collateral in the off-season: Cespedes Money. But that’s the chance agents and their clients take.
This is perhaps a little secret of life, but some writers also have agents. I had one, and now another, and both have served me well. I’m just guessing that some people who question Scott Boras’ ethics also have representation. In this cut-throat world, more people could use their own personal son-of-a-bitch.
Dow Jones Industrial Average 2 Minute
Dow Jones Indices: .DJI - Mar 6 4:35pm ET
I'm not a big money guy, and I know the Dow Jones is not a total indicator of national economic health.
All I can say is, this is what happens when a nation elects a Kenyan socialist introvert. It's all his fault, as usual.
I write this not only out of admiration for The New York Times but out of love for Mexico.
Many years ago my wife and I took a day trip to Teotihuacán and climbed the thick steps of the Pyramid of the Moon. We stayed a long time on top, marveling at the view, and still recall how it was easier – less scary -- to climb down backwards.
We’ve never been back to Teotihuacán but I have returned to Mexico for work and pleasure. I consider it a dear neighbor.
On Tuesday I read every word of three full pages of superb reporting in the Times about the profanation of that holy place. The article documents how a branch of the American company, Wal-Mart of Arkansas, apparently sent cash to evade zoning laws designed to maintain the green belt around the Pyramid.
Wal-Mart officials apparently found officials in Mexico who would take the money, although other people were suspicious and opposed the new store that went up, that looms there still.
The journalism by the Times is compelling. Everything fits, everything sounds right. I am less upset with venal officials in Mexico who did not mind cheapening their patrimony than I am with the American corporation that overlooked clear signs this was happening. Wal-Mart. Nice folks.
I was going to fulminate about pompous flag-waving self-proclaimed job creators who tell how much good they do by accumulating riches. But read it for yourself, in case you missed it. It really is worth the effort.
He was probably heading toward jail when he cruised the main street of our little town back in the day, honking his horn, or when he crashed his car into a tree with teammate Darren Daulton alongside him back in his Phillies days.
Lenny was a thrill-seeker, surrounded by other thrill-seekers. Now he is a pariah to family and others who trusted him.
Whoo-hoo! Yippie! That was Lenny on a baseball toot. For a quick refresher course, Lenny 101, please check out my favorite favorite:
Lenny provided legal thrills in October of 1986, running the bases after his game-winning home run against the Astros, running out his shot inside the Pesky Pole in Fenway, reviving the Mets in the World Series..
The part that flummoxed me was Lenny’s career as financial guru and publisher. There was Jim Cramer – the man with the weird inflections of a street person talking to himself - taking Lenny seriously in 2007.
Cramer somehow made Lenny out to be a man of his time -- another admirable nervy dude who knew how to convert millions into billions.
Kind of makes you wonder about anything Cramer touts, doesn’t it?
The only place Lenny made sense was in a uniform with the No. 4 on the back. (The Yankees had the aura of Gehrig; the Mets had the aura of Lenny.) For a few fun years, Lenny was a personification of the franchise, hitting the dirt, head-first.
I know somebody who carried his Lenny photograph to the Midwest, to the Northwest, to the New South. He would set up the frame on his desk, just to tick off the locals – Lenny’s bum photographed from behind, his eager little paws swiping at second base. Yippie!
People could even shrug off Lenny’s new muscles, as he displayed unexpected power with the Phillies. He wasn’t the only one. Besides, who had lab printouts on Lenny? (Trick question: there was no lab test.)
Lenny kept circling the bases, until his body failed. For a brief time he was a New Man of the financial surge, the wise advisor who would help athletes hold on to their money.
Once Lenny heard stadiums roar for him. Now he hears another sound.
My New Yorker arrives on Thursday.
It used to arrive on Monday.
The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that the United States Postal Service has stopped trying. Paranoid that I am, I suspect a plot.
I used to have a ritual. Very early in the week, Monday if possible, I would sit down with the New Yorker, at the expense of other reading material. I would scan it for concerts, art exhibits, odd lectures, take a peek at the fiction, look for the article I never could have imagined. The week was young. But now I don’t get the New Yorker until Thursday, and some events have already taken place.
I ascertained that the New Yorker had not changed its publishing or mailing routine. Then I went to the local post office and got a civil answer from a civil servant. Turns out, to save money, the Postal Service now routes magazines and other stuff through another post office 15 miles away. That would account for a day’s lateness, the friendly person said. I count three days.
If the Postal Service cannot deliver somewhat perishable reading material in reasonable time, it can also be willfully late in delivering medication, checks, or that relic from the prehistoric age, the letter.
Printed matter is already in trouble, as proven by the changes in publishing and journalism. I believe some people will be willing to pay for books and newspapers in their hands – but what about magazines that arrive three days late?
I know, I know, the New Yorker is on line. That’s how I found a lovely essay by my friend Roger Angell on Jan. 2, about the decline of the old-fashioned letter. (Roger practices what he preaches; he sent me a sweet letter recently. His handwriting is better than mine.)
The essay was classic Angell, witty and crisp and knowing. I’m all for interactive searching of the web to find treasures like this. But when you trust editors to present you material you were not expecting, as I trust the people who produce The New York Times and the New Yorker, it’s worth committing time and money to hold that miracle in your hands.
Here’s what I think is happening: people have bellowed so much about getting government out of their lives that it is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why Amtrak is so wretched -- because a portion of the country hates the thought of crack trains flitting through Europe and Japan. That’s not the rugged individualist way.
Part of the United States has started to doubt the reason for collective behavior. What better place to withdraw commitment than the Postal Service? It’s a plot, I’m telling you.
Now I am sitting down with the New Yorker. Gotta catch up.
Do the rest of you have this reaction? I walked into a Staples store on Sixth Ave. and 23rd St. in Manhattan Thursday night, needing a few mundane items
I was helped by five – count ‘em, five – nice people with smiles and time and knowledge.
One young woman met me at the door, pointed me in the right direction. One clerk dug out a 2012 datebook from a bottom shelf and another fitted refills for several pens, hardly big-ticket items and all requiring more than a few seconds of attention. And two cashiers could not have been more pleasant.
Then I read Paul Krugman’s Friday column in The New York Times that Staples has a policy of hiring for service, rather than downsizing. Those polite and well-prepared people were not there by accident.
I had the same experience on the phone the other night when I tried to cope with the hopeless non-instructions that came with a new HP printer. I was stunned to get through to Customer Support in Kolkata. The young man said “Calcutta,” the old Anglicized version, as if to reassure his grumpy caller, but we have a family affinity for India, and I knew I was in good hands. He talked me through the inscrutable process and the printer was humming in a short time.
Meantime, we hear politicians braying about growing the economy, but the biggest fortunes seem to be amassed by entrepreneurs – no names mentioned -- who line employees against a brick wall and machine-gun ‘em down. I’m not good at the math, but my visceral impression is that I am going to give my business to companies that provide service, whether in person or from Kolkata. Doesn’t that make sense to you?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.