(Paul Gardner is my personal Johnny Appleseed for soccer; he brought his love and knowledge and blessed testiness to this savage land, and continues to write brilliantly in Soccer America. I hope I am allowed to reproduce their work; this is what Soccer America does....every day.)
Monday, July 2, 2018
VAR totally fails to seize its chance for glory
by Paul Gardner
If ever there was a tricky soccer situation that was waiting to be solved by VAR, surely it was the problem of goalkeeper movement at penalty kicks.
Rule 14 is sharp and clear and brooks no misunderstanding: “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goal posts until the ball has been kicked.” The goalkeeper must stay on the goal line. He is not allowed to move forward (though he can dance alongthe goal line if he wants to) until after the kick has been made.
The difficulty with that is that it requires one person -- the rules give the job to the assistant referee -- to be aware of two actions taking place 12 yards apart at the same instant. Already a difficult assignment, the rules then make it virtually impossible by positioning the AR on the goal line, where -- by looking straight ahead of him he has a clear view of goalkeeper movement, but at best only a slight marginal view, at the fringe of his field of vision, of the penalty kick taker.
The AR is being asked to do the impossible. So a compromise has been adopted by the referee and his AR. The goalkeeper is allowed to take one step forward without being penalized -- simply because the AR -- with probably only one second at his disposal -- cannot hope to judge whether that step forward was made after the kick was taken, as it was taken, or before it was taken.
Like any compromise, it is far from perfect, but it has one over-riding advantage: it is practical, it works. And like all compromises it is open to abuse. Once goalkeepers know they will not be penalized for that first step, their instincts tell them to make the step as early as possible. This they have done, and by and large they get away with it. No call. (No special shame attaches to goalkeepers over this -- it is, I think, part of every player’s nature to push the rules to the limit, and beyond, to find out just how far they can go).
Three major European titles have been won in the past decades by flagrantly illegal goalkeeper movement during shootouts. Not even the defeated teams have protested. The compromise has evolved into a conspiracy of silence.
What was once acceptable has become objectionable. A compromise to make the rules work is now a subterfuge to undermine those rules.
Now arrives VAR, with everything necessary to set things aright. An immediate review of replays showing both kicker and keeper at the exact crucial moment. One can say, with total truth, that for this situation, VAR has rendered the AR totally irrelevant. His viewpoint is not needed now, VAR can quickly do everything.
During the Croatia-Denmark game, it had the perfect opportunity to do just that. It failed calamitously. So atrociously comprehensive was its failure that I can’t even say it made a mess of things. Its failure was simply that, given the perfect opportunity to prove its value, it failed to do anything at all.
The game had been a rather grim, frustrating affair. Croatia, capable no doubt of playing the better soccer, rarely managed to do so. Denmark played the spoiler role to perfection and obviously rattled the Croatians. The game lumbered into overtime and with just four minutes left, referee Nestor Pitana of Argentina awarded Croatia a penalty.
Luka Modric stepped up to take the kick -- and Denmark’s goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel moved early. But this was too early, too noticeable. Sitting here in New York I was immediately sure this was excessive. Not just me -- I have checked with journalist colleagues watching in England, in Italy, and the USA -- all three tell me that their immediate reaction was the same as mine: Schmeichel had moved way too early.
Schmeichel made the save and was duly praised for being “brilliant.” Neither referee Pitana nor his AR saw anything wrong. No appeal was made to VAR.
The official FIFA “VAR Handbook” specifically refers to “Penalty Kicks and Kicks from the Mark,” stating that “The Referee can initiate a review for an offense by the goalkeeper or kicker which directly affects the outcome of the penalty kick and thus whether a goal is scored. If an offense is clearly identified, the necessary discipline action must also be taken.”
The failure of the VAR to get involved here defies belief. Schmeichel’s movement was so blatant (I’m using that word from the rulebook, which says that the AR must wave his flag “if the goalkeeper blatantly moves off his line before the ball is kicked”) that it didn’t really need any technology to spot it. For once the human eye served very well. (Incidentally, I suspect that the number of people, never mind goalkeepers, who have actually seen a VAR wave his flag on these occasions is minuscule -- I have never seen it, and I watch out for such events).
My feeling that I had seen things correctly from merely watching the live action was confirmed by repeated viewings of the replays -- see below -- which show Schmeichel with both feet off the goal line, his left foot about a yard forward as Modric is about to kick the ball.
Thus Schmeichel went unpunished -- a “clear and obvious error” by the referee and his AR -- precisely the type of situation that VAR is designed, and is fully equipped, to recognize and to correct. VAR should have been immediately involved here. The penalty kick should have been retaken. Schmeichel, as stipulated in Rule 14, should have been yellow-carded.
VAR was given a wonderful opportunity to shine, to bring long-needed clarity to a murky area. It failed -- abysmally -- to seize the moment. (By Paul Gardner)
Ever since that White House Correspondents dinner Saturday night, I have not trusted my negative reactions.
I wanted to make sure I did not have a male-double-standard reaction to a female comedian who talked dirty about the disturbed man in the White House.
She, after all, did not say anything that my wife and I have not shouted at the tube in the last two years.
But there is a huge difference between insults hurled in a darkened tv den….or incessant breaking-news yammering on cable news….or kvetching on my own little therapy web site…or even actual news reported by my friend Michael S. Schmidt and other stars at the New York Times and Washington Post….and a raunchy televised monologue in a huge room filled with DC types.
So despite judgments by my wife….and Masha Gessen in The New Yorker….that the speech was righteous and prophetic, I am reminded why the Times, my former employer, does not participate in the annual dinner.
The Times also does not let its staff vote for awards – sports, entertainment, anything – because, as I understand it, the Times’ job is to report news rather than make news with a quirky vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame or something else trivial.
The Times has been way ahead of the curve on ducking the dinner, which may have been a grand old Washington custom when (male) swamp-dwellers smoked cigars and chuckled at musty jokes about Franklin Pierce’s golf game, or whatever.
I know scholarships and awards are involved, but the dinner (without the pulchritude of the Oscar show) was mean. Then again, I didn’t think Steven Colbert’s 2006 riff on President George W. Bush was funny. (I don’t think Colbert is funny, or Bill Maher, and I thought Louis C.K. was rancid when I caught him on tv once or twice. I love Letterman and Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes and Tina Fey but there are too many comedians. I know this sounds stuffy.)
The point is, there is a disturbed man in the White House, courtesy of angry people with racial bias and rich guys and evangelicals and frauds like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. This is serious business. Hiring a comedian for shock value does not help.
You should hear the stuff my wife and I shout at Sarah Huckabee Sanders in our den, as she pours self-righteous contempt on journalism, and facts, and reality. She was sent by the chicken-heart President to take the insults Saturday, and she reacted with stoic dignity, for once.
If you ask me, we need to listen to dead-serious people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, neither of whom has ever been described as a comedian.
The country needs Robert Mueller to do his job, and federal prosecutors, and lawyers, and journalists, and refreshing younger candidates, and journalists.
The dinner needs to evolve if not expire. No more comedians. No more yuks. This is serious business.
The correspondents should say: We are better than that.
The terrible plight of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates reminds me of the best newspaper crime story I ever read.
January, 1973, I had just moved to Metro news at the Times. The editors sent me out to deepest Brooklyn, where jewels had been stolen from the altar of an ornate church.
I wrote a wordy lead about the caretaker of the church muttering “Che coraggio” – what gall, in Italian. And I did quote a store owner in the neighborhood, noting the influential persons who supported the church, as saying: “No fence is going to touch this stuff.”
But the reporter from the Daily News wrote a classic.
I cannot locate the exact words by Frank Faso that day, but his story began something like this:
“Some nervy crooks stole the crown jewels from the altar of St. Rosalia Regina Pacis in Brooklyn the other day.
“If they are lucky, the police will catch them.”
Oh, yeah. How New York. How tabloid. How wonderful. (This was when two great tabloids, New York Newsday and the Daily News, were covering the city with zeal and skill.) I was chastened and respectful.
The jewels were recovered 24 hours later.
* * *
This tale of criminality reminds me of our current administration, in that Manafort and Gates, now making front-page headlines for their stunning variety of indictments, seem to have owed a good deal of money to some other rather unpleasant people – Russians, Russians with a memory, Russians with poisoned umbrellas and lethal cups of tea.
Paul Manafort. Is there anything on public record of him ever being or doing anything respectable, before he became an American shill for thuggish Ukrainians and Russians? What did he ever do to put him in the middle of a presidential campaign in a country whose income taxes he had apparently ducked?
Who is this guy? He seems to have had money problems, with bad people looking for him, to try to recover millions and millions of dollars. And Gates was a hapless Robin to Manafort’s compulsive Batman.
In this, they resemble a couple of pigeons with a gambling jones who bet too much on the third race at Aqueduct or 23 on the roulette table.
Suckers. Suckers on the lam. They tried to get it back by aligning themselves with two real-estate hustlers from Noo Yawk and Noo Joisey.
If this were a never-released season of “The Sopranos,” we would have new characters, Paulie Peanuts and Rusty Gates, trying to make it all right for themselves by serving in the family of Donnie Combs and his son-in-law Squeaky.
But remember in “The Sopranos” -- I have not watched any series since -- how there were always investigators listening on tapped wires, or cooped in a windowless van, or waiting to scoop up a member of the clan for a friendly chat?
Paulie Peanuts and Rusty Gates seem to have fallen into the right hands. Now they just have to watch out for lethal umbrellas or laced tea in their next abodes.
But wait, there seem to be a few more episodes in the series:
What about the money-laundering and real-estate nightmares of Donnie Combs and his son-in-law Squeaky? These guys seem to have Russian troubles and Chinese troubles, respectively.
To paraphrase the great Frank Faso of the old New York Daily News:
If they are lucky, Robert S. Mueller will get them.
It all comes back to me as my colleagues prepare to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics up near the border in South Korea.
Having visited the DMZ with the U.S. soccer team in 2002, I think about hordes of crazies streaming across the border with axes in their hands. At the moment, I read there is a norovirus loose in the Olympic complex. How’d you like to get frisked by a security guard, looking a little green?
There is always something. That’s why the New York Times always sends journalists who know Olympics sports but can handle anything. They have a dream team going this time – many of them colleagues from when I was covering Summer Games from Los Angeles in 1984 to Beijing in 2010, with four Winter Games included.
Fear and trembling. A rebellion in South Korea brought down the government in 1987 and sportswriters were urging that the Olympics be called off. The Games were fine and I fell in love with the country.
Fear and trembling. Atlanta was going to be a disaster, payback for over-reaching. There was indeed a bomb in the park one night, killing two people and injuring others – the work of one of our home-grown anti-government nutters, not foreign terrorists.
It was awful. Our reporters were roused from our rooms and the editor Kathleen McElroy dispatched The Three Todds from Georgia Tech to drive us downtown in the NYT vans. Dave Anderson and Frank Litsky and others walked the street in the darkness, collecting details. And Atlanta came through the tragedy.
Fear and trembling. Athens in 2004 was the first set of Games since 9/11. The fear was that terrorists were going to infiltrate Piraeus Harbor and blow up cruise ships. The worst violence was a domestic demonstration; our photo editor Brad Smith took a rock in the head and lived to tell the tale; (saw him the other day.) Juliet Macur was on the front lines and whiffed some tear gas. She’s in Pyeongchang, a columnist now. These are tough people. They don’t just keep score at games.
(May I digress to mention the San Francisco earthquake during the 1989 World Series? We all did some instant reporting; the dogged Murray Chass reported from the pancaked Bay Bridge. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/19/us/california-quake-highway-collapse-desperate-struggle-for-lives-along-880.html
A day later the NYT sent out a great news reporter who arrived with his boots and a helmet with a flashlight. Dude, we said, The City is making the cappuccino by candlelight.)
I don’t remember any fear and trembling heading to Almost Heaven, West Nagano, for the 1998 Winter Games. Soba noodles in downtown booths. Peaceful Games. But one night I went to sleep feeling fine and came down with a raging flu. I went downstairs to the press-center infirmary to see a long line of similarly stricken colleagues. The medics put some vile-tasting grainy medicine on my tongue and said I might sleep for a day. Wonder drug. I was back on the job a day later. The Japanese took care of us. Back to the daily dose of soba noodles.
So now I am retired, back home. I tend not to watch Olympics on TV because I had my fun covering them, being there. But I will be reading what Jeré Longman and John Branch and Juliet Macur and all the rest will write in the New York Times.
The other day, Andrew Keh arrived (from his post in Berlin) and wrote about discovering familiar Korean comfort food in that northern outpost:
I’d like to think I would have written a story like that. The beat goes on.
Need a baseball fix? Here’s one, right in the heart of Manhattan on Jan. 27 – a day-long festival of the summer sport, from SABR, the baseball research organization.
The speakers include many experts in baseball and/or research, including a librarian, a major-league umpire, a scout who played for the Philadelphia A's in 1953, and an outfielder who helped win the 1969 World Series.
Another speaker will be Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, who has been writing (excellently) about baseball since he was, I think, 3 years old.
Speaking of precocity, if you know a youthful baseball fan who follows all the trade rumors and knows the new analytics like WAR (I have no clue what that is, but I hear it all the time), this conference might make the young savant happy on a Saturday in January.
I spoke at this conference five years or so ago, and one of the highlights for me was a young fan who asked a good question and seemed to know just as much as the predominant geezers who had witnessed Carl Furillo and Monte Irvin and Whitey Ford in this city. (The rate for “students” is $20 as opposed to the rate of $35, still reasonable.)
Sometimes a young pheenom of a fan actually grows up to be Tyler Kepner. I witnessed that not long ago when a kid in Philadelphia started putting out an occasional baseball magazine, with features by him, drawings by him, layouts by him, headlines by him, circulation by him, marketing by him. The occasional journal was Phillie-centric, and it was charming.
The very same Tyler Kepner is now a great baseball writer for The Times, old enough to have four children.
Back in the day, Tyler produced his baseball magazine irregularly, to allow him to honor other commitments, like kindergarten. The late and lamented Robert McG Thomas, Jr., of the NYT wrote a feature about him in 1989:
Nowadays, in the time of the Web, when sportswriters are lashed to the 24-hour hamster wheel, Tyler keeps typing away, brilliantly. I recently heard how at the seventh game of the 2016 World Series he wrote an early column and then late in the game wrote a new column on Rajai Davis when it appeared Davis’s homer would win won the Series.
However, the Davis column never made the paper or the Web because, well, the Cubs won while Tyler was typing. So he started all over again, and then woke up the next morning and fed a few more columns to the beast – five columns within 18 hours, by the office's count.
The program for the SABR event does not specify Tyler’s subject on Jan. 27th but notes that he is currently writing a book. Oddly enough, about baseball.
The program will take place Jan. 27, 2018, from 10 AM to 3 PM at the New York Public Library, at 42nd St. and Fifth Avenue (you know, the one with the lions.) It will be held in the Celeste Auditorium, lower level of the South Court, of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
The event is officially the New York City Casey Stengel Chapter’s annual meeting, as part of the Society for American Baseball Research.
The participants, recruited and moderated by Ernestine Miller, are:
Virginia Bartow, the Senior Rare Book Cataloger in the Special Collections at the New York Public Library, whose illustrated presentation includes photos, graphs, trade cards, newspaper features and other memorabilia of baseball in New York.
Ed Randall, moderator of a panel on: “Standouts of the Game”-- author and on-air personality for WFAN, Sirius and ESPN
Phil Cuzzi, Major League umpire who has worked for 22 years in 2,428 games including three MLB no-hitters.
Tom Giordano, age 92, long-time scout and official who scouted Cal Ripken, Jr., and in 1953 played 11 games for the 1953 Philadelphia Athletics under manager Jimmy Dykes.
Art Shamsky, who platooned with Ron Swoboda on the 1969 Miracle Mets, and remains the only player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a game in which he was not in the starting lineup.
Jon Springer, SABR research presentation on Edward "The Only" Nolan, the star pitcher of the 1884 Quicksteps, a team that played a role in the first battle of the Reserve Clause war, the establishment of post-season play, and the evolution of playing rules and equipment. Nolan was recognized for his unique pitches as well as his notorious behavior which led to fines, suspensions, being kicked off a team, and eventually, his being blacklisted from the league.
(I have never heard of Nolan. This is what SABR does so well: telling about fascinating players from long-ago times.)
Diane Firstman will make a SABR research presentation, “The Three True Outcomes,” shedding light on the relationships among walks, strikeouts, and homers from her research on “three true outcomes” (TTO). She will highlight trends comparing Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Aaron Judge in those categories.
After this warmup it will soon be time for that glorious annual event called Pitchers and Catchers. It’s coming, honest, it’s coming.
Please pre-register if possible, with David Lippman at:
While waiting for the Alabama results to solidify Tuesday night, I was reading the obit for Roy Reed.
Roy was the great stylist when I was a rookie on the highly literate National staff of the New York Times in the early ‘70s. He could describe the exotica of New Orleans, where he was based, with the same fervor and grace he had shown in the head-breaker Deep South of the Civil Rights decade.
For me, he was the correspondent to emulate. I even noticed the conservative dark-blue pinstriped suits he wore on more formal occasions, making him look like a senator.
Roy Reed was from rural Arkansas and he never forgot it. I know he would have loved the campaign in Alabama – a candidate who prosecuted the murderers of little black girls vs. a candidate who stalked teen-agers in shopping malls and outside public buildings.
Fortunately, the Times and other great journals have deep and talented staffs these days, to capture the ludicrous spectacle of a hustler from New York conning people out there in America.
Also fortunately, I was able to hear Howell Raines, another of those great southerners who have graced the Times, talking about his beloved rural Alabama on MSNBC Tuesday night and also via a recent op-ed piece in the Times.
There was a great tradition of writers on that National staff when I joined it in 1970. Gene Roberts, who had covered civil rights and Vietnam, was the national editor, expanding his staff, and he called this young baseball reporter and said, “I like the way you rot.”
I sussed out that this was the charming accent of a self-styled “freckle belly” from eastern North Carolina who meant “the way you write.” Gene sold me. He and his deputy, David R. Jones, sent me off to Louisville to cover Appalachia.
What a staff. Roy Reed in New Orleans. My dear friend Ben Franklin plus John Herbers and so many other good people in the Washington bureau. Jon Nordheimer and Jim Wooten in Atlanta. Paul Delaney in Chicago. B.D. Ayres in Kansas City. Jerry Flint in Detroit, John Kifner in Boston and so many others further from my region.
(There was only one African-American, Delaney, and no women; the only way I can explain it is, “It was 1970.” Further down the decade, under Dave Jones, the NYT added Grace Lichtenstein in Denver as the first female national correspondent and later Molly Ivins, Judith Cummings, E.R. Shipp and Isabel Wilkerson, who would win a Pulitzer under Soma Golden's editorship.)
In my years, a kind day editor, Irv Horowitz, in New York, kept track of us, and great copy editors had the time and mandate to ask you to rewrite something so it would read better.
We communicated by telephone – not email and not cell phones. Such a primitive era. I relied on these older professionals to teach me something, anything, by osmosis.
I would like to correct one statement in that obit concerning Roy Reed: It said he was down the road getting a soft drink when James Meredith was shot on his epic protest walk through Mississippi in 1966, and that Roy’s respectful colleagues later presented him with a Coke bottle trophy that said “WHERE’S ROY REED?” in memory of his brief absence.
The fact is, there was another day when Roy turned up missing.
Dave Jones, our ringmaster in New York, was trying to find someone to get to a story in the South that seemed urgent at the time. (I can no longer remember what it was.) Dave tried me in Louisville. No answer. Dave tried one of the Atlanta guys. No answer. Dave tried Roy Reed in New Orleans. No answer. Ever diligent, Dave solved the problem some other way, and the world went on.
A few days later, the mystery was solved. A delightful March zephyr had moved north from the Gulf into Louisiana, into Georgia, and even to the southern banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky. All three correspondents had been, shall we say, indisposed.
On the phone, I asked Roy where he had been when the office was looking for us.
In his Arkansas drawl, Roy said: “Hidin’ out.”
I adopted his phrase for times when I was unfindable. Bless the era before cell phones. Bless the southern phrases, the southern outlook, I learned to understand from my colleagues, better reporters than I ever would be. And bless Roy Reed, for writing about a region that continues to produce great stories, from the new generation.
Nina Simone was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week. She passed in 2003; what took them so long?
Not sure what Simone would have thought about that, but she surely would have loved the vote in Alabama Tuesday night.
A candidate who was receptive to the integration of his high school back in the day beat out a religion-spouting accused pedophile who thinks slavery came during a good time for families in America.
Simone knew it all, put it into her music. She was an American treasure.
She mentions Alabama way up high in her signature song, “Mississippi Goddam.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Nina Simone:
As he passed 80, Ray Robinson had an idea for a new book – the last recorded words of prominent people.
He knew how to write books, of course – the Lou Gehrig bio, the Christy Mathewson bio. He was a magazine editor and a freelance writer.
The book came out in 2003, when Ray was 83 – “Famous Last Words: Fond Farewells, Deathbed Diatribes and Exclamations Upon Expiration,” published by Workman Publishing.
It fits in the hand or the pocket. Perfect quick-take reading. Perfect little gift.
This is a blatant plug. Ray would approve.
Alas, Ray Robinson passed on Nov. 1. He would have been 97 on Dec. 4 and was to be honored by a coterie of baseball buffs who meet monthly in the city.
Ray’s last words? I don’t know, but I talked to him the night before. What was on his mind was a perfect guide to this grand old man of New York and Columbia University and publishing.
In our last chat he did not bring up seeing Fidel Castro in Havana or how he met Lou Gehrig as a young New York fan or how he spilt ink on Lefty Grove while asking for an autograph at Yankee Stadium, or his activism with the ALS Association of New York, in homage to Gehrig.
Neither did he tell the great story of how a precocious New York girl named Betty Perske called him a “cheap SOB” or maybe it was “cheap bastard.”
This underscored link will explain the brief meeting of Ray and the future Lauren Bacall.)
Among Ray’s last words to me:
Ray’s passing will leave a huge gap in our lives -- for Jerry, our token ball player, who escorted Ray to the doctor, and Ernestine, who fussed over Ray, and Darrell, one of the originals from 1991 (!), and Lee and Marty and Willie from our group, and Bob and Jeremy, the busy superstars, plus Al and Rosa, who knew Ray and Phyllis forever, and all the other buffs who sat around the table once a month and talked baseball and politics and everything else.
We’ll meet on his birthday, I’m sure, and try to remember some of Ray’s good stories.
Before I tell my Jimmy Breslin-Casey Stengel story, let's talk about bad timing for obituaries. (For example: Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis both died on Nov. 22, 1963.)
Likewise, it is not a good career move to compete with Jimmy Breslin, “the outer-borough boulevardier of bilious persuasion,” as Dan Barry calls him.
Chuck Berry died the same weekend as Breslin; the Times rolled out the big guns for his strut and the clanging of his guitar, outside the schoolhouse, urging boys and girls to come out and play.
John Herbers was also honored with a Times obituary on Monday. He was 93, one of the great reporters of the civil-rights era, a gentleman all the way who politely treated me like an equal when I joined the national reporting staff. He had been in bad places – Emmett Till’s murder – and never lost the unassuming air of a small-town southerner.
Bob McFadden and the Times did right by John Herbers:
Okay. Here’s my story about Jimmy Breslin, my fellow Queens boy. Elderly editors still marvel at his imagination in the wonderful interviews he turned in for $10 fees on long-forgotten sports magazines.
In 1962 the New York newspapers acknowledged the Mets' raffish ineptitude early on. By late July Sports Illustrated dispatched Jimmy for his take on the worst team in the history of baseball.
Breslin arrived in St. Louis the weekend of Casey Stengel’s 72nd birthday, and watched them bumble away games. One evening the club held a party for Casey in the rooftop room of the Chase-Park Plaza.
Casey greeted the headwaiter, who had once tossed batting practice for visiting teams in the old Sportsmans Park. Casey imitated his motion, remembered his nickname.
I was fascinated by Casey and never left his side all evening. Breslin was also there, observing. If anybody was taking notes, I do not remember.
A year later, a Breslin book came out, entitled "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" a plea ostensibly uttered by Casey during his long monologue that evening in St. Louis.
Not long afterward, Breslin called me for a phone number or something and at the end I said, "Jimmy, just curious, I was at that party for Casey, never left his side, and I don't remember him ever saying, 'Can't anybody here play this game?'"
"What are you, the F.B.I?" Breslin asked, his Queens accent turning “the” into “duh.”
Years later, Breslin conceded he just might have exercised some creative license.
Casey never complained about being misquoted. He would have said it if he had thought of it.
That was the thing about Jimmy Breslin. He got the inner truths. He had an insight into people’s hearts, almost like a mystic or a psychic. Given his imperfections and his imaginations, he was a universal voice. He was also a very local voice.
As the world becomes homogenized, we lose the local voices, the salt and the spices that make life exciting. (Fortunately for readers everywhere, Corey Kilgannon is covering Queens for the Times.)
Chuck Berry caught the feel of Route 66 (“Well it winds from Chicago to L.A./More than 2000 miles all the way/Get your kicks on Route 66.” Makes you want to rev up the engine.
John Herbers reported from the Deep South, which he loved and sometimes lamented.
Jimmy Breslin understood Queens…and the world. He has not been well for years. I would have loved to read him on the scam artist from our home borough.
* * *
MUST READ: Dan Barry's personal tribute to Breslin on the NYT site:
Our friend Ina sent this video from a live French broadcast. World was never the same.
The New Yorker has long been a literary icon but through the odd couple of David Remnick and Donald Trump it has even ratcheted up its importance as a worldwide asset.
Hardly an issue arrives without at least one article about the tentacles of money and power between the United States and Russia and beyond.
In the March 6 issue is “Active Measures,” by Evan Osnos, Remnick and Joshua Yaffa, exploring just what Vladimir Putin is up to. At the core is Remnick’s own expertise from his long posting in Moscow. (He started as a young sportswriter, great company at the Olympics.)
The March 6 cover is the annual homage to the New Yorker’s dandified mascot, Eustace Tilley, monocle and all, inspecting a yappy butterfly with orange hair. Putin’s normal expressionless face seems to show a trace of amusement: “Who is this strange little fellow?”
The March 13 issue has an article by Adam Davidson entitled, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal,” which could be almost anywhere. In this case it is about Trump sending his entrepreneurial daughter Ivanka-the-Brand to supervise a “luxury” (well, what isn’t?) hotel going up in a grubby corner of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
This Trumpian deal staggers like Trump’s desperate lunges for success in Russia but in this case some investors are from Iran. The Trump involvement is said to have been terminated in December -- after American voters chose this great American businessman as their president: its obligations and secrets glow like Chernobyl.
Literature has not been ignored by the New Yorker. In the past two weeks there have been two magnificent pieces:
In the March 6 issue is a short story by Zadie Smith (“Crazy They Call Me,” from the song) imagining the inner voice of Billie Holiday in her final days: every word, every detail, is exquisitely placed, phrase by phrase, leading to the final cry from the soul the reader knew was coming.
In the March 13 issue is a poem by Robert Pinsky titled “Branca” -- an ode to the pitcher Ralph Branca who passed recently at 85. Mixing his pitches, the poet refers to Branca’s Calabrian name, his huge family of origin, his instant friendship with Jackie Robinson, and his victimization by enemy spying in the signature moment of his long and admirable life.
The New Yorker is best held in the hand, read at leisure as a ritual, early in the work week. In this age, great journalism is being done by the Times and Washington Post on the split second, on the web, and the New Yorker has kept pace.
As of Thursday morning I recommend the great Jelani Cobb’s dissection of the latest blathering by Dr. Ben Carson, who equated slavery with immigration. (I have often thought that Carson’s problems with language and reality stem from an infusion of too much anesthesia during the pediatric brain surgery he apparently performed for decades, masterfully. Or, is he doing a Pee-wee Herman imitation?) Cobb, as one would expect, goes beyond my flippancy.
The New Yorker also features Roger Angell on the traditions of the magazine, and also occasional pieces on, thank goodness, baseball.
* * *
I hope these links can be accessed; a subscription to the New Yorker includes full access to the web site.
Remnick et al:
While waiting for the grifter Donald Trump to be hooted off the campaign trail, I have ignored my own guilt, as a sports columnist, in his public survival.
In his home town, where he was known the best, he was always a joke, a poseur, a piker, a pisher, as we say in New York. And I contributed to this by using him as a punch line for something gaudy, something trivial, something absurd.
Trump pops up in many columns I wrote over nearly three decades.
Football: I first became aware of Trump in the mid-‘70’s when I met his brother, Freddy, who had gone to grade school with friends of mine. (The Trumps lived in a tony area half a mile from my busy street.) Freddy talked with great respect about his younger brother, the builder.
I met Trump when he purchased the Generals, a football team in a startup league. He held press conferences in his glitzy hotels – free advertising – and signed expensive players like Doug Flutie, but with Trump’s apparently short attention span, details were always vague.
Figure Skating: Through a mutual friend, I got invited to an exhibition in the Garden, where I met the very bright Ivana Trump. The Donald wore a camel’s hair coat, and always stayed on the periphery of social conversation.
Baseball: When George Steinbrenner seemed to have burned out, or gotten himself suspended, I would suggest he sell the Yankees to Trump. I assumed Trump could afford it; now it appears he could not. Later I realized George was twice as smart and had more compassion and social conscience than Trump.
Tennis: Trump had a box at Ashe Stadium, right above the media section. For yooge matches, he would materialize up front, leaning on the railing, like the captain of a ship, but I noticed that his head and eyes never moved. He didn’t watch the ball. I realized he was preening, advertising himself. Or possibly it was a cardboard cutout, one inch thick.
Boxing: I am an abolitionist toward boxing. Let’s start with that. A boxer, Stephan Johnson, died after a fight in the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. A few days later, Trump took my call and I reported his tone as shaken, but his rationale for boxing was this:
“'You have to understand that we do not sanction the fights. That is done by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Commission. All we are is the venue -- and fighting is popular. Every fight sells out. We have other things like gymnastics; they don't sell out. All I know is, boxing sells out.''
So there you have it. It was easy to feel he was a lightweight, who built gaudy buildings and postured. I was always making jokes about Trump trying to build Brasilia on the edge of Manhattan. Now he is the darling of many religious folk and flag-waving patriots.
Rachel Maddow said after the debate the other night that most people would be nervous if somebody with Trump’s facial twitches sat down next to them on an airplane. What did we in New York do wrong in not taking him more seriously? Mea culpa.
* * *
Here are some old columns in which Trump is a convenient target.
On his theory that it is not every day that a person turns 90, Frank Litsky threw himself a party the other night.
Frank drew over 40 old hands from the Times, who celebrated him – and our business, which was putting out the paper on deadline.
Looking great, sounding great, Frank noted others in his nonagenarian state – Tony Bennett, Fidel Castro, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Cloris Leachman, Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Don Rickles, just to name a few. (The overall list is impressive.)
Colleagues from the 50’s and 60’s, Gay Talese and Bob Lipsyte, made lovely talks about Frank’s energy and knowledge and productivity.
In an informal chat, I reminded Frank of my nickname for him -- Four-Fifty. This stems from when I came over from Newsday in 1968 with a lot to say, and Frank was the day assignment editor who shoehorned stories into the section.
I would check in each day with proposals for lengthy rambles about the Amazing Mets or the post-Mantle Yankees, and Frank would cut me dead with the fatal words: “Four-fifty.” That is, 450 words
Frank Litsky stifled my imagination and made it impossible to show my stuff, to the point that my career and the paper suffered terribly. He has never repented.
We crowded into Coogan’s Restaurant in Washington Heights, near the armory which has been refurbished to house Frank’s beloved track and field. (The proprietor, Peter Walsh, himself a copy boy at the Times in the late ‘60’s, even serenaded us with a song in Gaelic.)
We all had histories with each other, over the decades: Sports editors who had made tough decisions. Copy editors who had pulled stories together minutes before the press run. Reporters who had broken good stories. Columnists who had typed our precious little thoughts. Clerks and office managers who made the whole thing work.
Margaret Roach, the journalist daughter of James Roach, the beloved sports editor of the ’60’s, was there. Joe Vecchione and Neil Amdur, two subsequent sports editors. Fern Turkowitz and now TerriAnn Glynn, who held the section together.
All of us could, if we tried, recall snit fits and frustrations with some of the people we were now hugging. But what we remembered most was somehow letting the esteemed production people push the button on time. What we had in common was the identification with the physical product that people held in their hands, read seriously. It is in our blood.
Frank Litsky, who covered Olympics and pro football and women’s basketball, has known good times and terrible times, and now he sat there, a wise old Buddha figure with a New York accent, with “the love of my life,” Zina Greene, listening to old stories, some true.
One thing I learned that night was that in his alleged retirement, Frank has contributed over 100 obituaries of sports figures, sitting there in the digital can.
I am betting all his masterpieces go over 450 words. Just saying.
The two Korean athletes’ selfie in the Olympic Village – now flashed around the world -- reminds me of another Korean gesture for common humanity.
It happened at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul -- the first nearly complete set of Games after the American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the inevitable Soviet payback at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
After the futile boycotts – making athletes pay for the failures of nations -- the two behemoths were back in the Olympic business in 1988. Just before the games began, I was at a reception at the media center. Koreans are more than generous in plying visitors with food, drink, gifts – and fellowship.
(“They remind me of my relatives in Brooklyn,” a news-reporter friend of mine said. “They get up close to you, and they laugh and cry.” He loved them for it.)
At this reception, a South Korean host mingled among the visiting journalists and spotted an American (me) and a Russian, both alone, both within arm’s length.
He hooked one arm around me and his other arm around the Russian.
"We should all be friends,” he urged us. “Come on, shake hands.”
The Russian was as bemused as I was. I had no issue with Russians – had been in Moscow in 1986 for the Goodwill Games, midsummer, warm hearts, leaving me with a permanent affection for the people.
But, geez, two journalists at a reception? Two strangers? A handshake? Really?
The guy looked at me, and I looked at him, and he gave a very Russian shrug, and I did my best to imitate, as if to say, “что вы говорите” – whatever you say.
We shook hands, I think the Korean took a photo, and we retreated to separate corners of the hospitality tent. Enough freaking brotherhood for one evening.
Now I wish I had the photo, but that was before the age of digital.
Nowadays, a North Korean and South Korean athlete meet in the village and take a selfie. Somebody else takes a photo of them. It goes around the world. We all take heart in this.
Now we learn the North Korean athlete’s story is a bit more complicated. The latest article includes the phrase “coal mine.”
But bless the people who care. Two of the most touching columns I have read about these Games were written by Roger Cohen and Frank Bruni in the Times.
Cohen described the spiritual journey of an Egyptian volleyball player who wore a hijab in competition. (I don’t know anybody who writes better about Islam in the modern world than Cohen.)
Bruni wrote about the high points of competition that made him cry. (I’m going to sound like a jerk, but my memories of Michael Phelps and swimming events at previous Olympics bring back a strong whiff of chlorine, not much else.)
I do remember grand moments, many outside the arena -- like a warm-hearted Korean urging me to put down my little dish of kimchi and shake hands with a Russian.
The great journalist Sydney Schanberg died the other day at 82.
(Please see the lovely tribute by Charlie Kaiser, another ex-Times person:)
I was more of an admirer than a close friend, but we had one moment of contact that I probably recalled better than he did.
This was on the spring day in 1976 when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize after having stayed behind in Cambodia to write about the ravages of a society gone mad.
He had become separated from his colleague, his friend, his brother, Dith Pran, who was still missing.
I knew Schanberg only as a presence who moved through the city room now and then when he was on home leave. Foreign correspondents have an aura. I knew I could not do what they do, and I admired them greatly.
On Pulitzer day, I was a cityside reporter, covering the suburbs, but if the city editor spotted you walking and breathing you could get sent anywhere – a shootout in Brooklyn, an assassination in Bermuda, a visiting king or prime minister in our town.
One editor asked me to interview Schanberg for the profile of him in the paper the next day. He was surrounded by friends and I introduced myself and we walked to a less noisy corner and I started with a very general question.
This gutsy correspondent who had survived the Khmer Rouge began to cry, and then he began to sob. I did what reporters should do. I went silent and waited for him to make the next move. He was a pro. He gathered himself and managed to say a few things:
“I accept this award on behalf of myself and my Cambodian colleague, Dith Pran, who had a great commitment to cover this story and stayed to cover it and is a great journalist.”
Schanberg told me he had spent the last year “in a state of deep decompression – I lost a lot of friends over there.”
I knew enough not to go much further. I typed up his words, which were in the paper the next day.
* * *
In 1979, Schanberg’s friend, his brother, made it over the Thai border and soon became a photographer for the Times, a sweet and slight man who made us happy just by being alive. The two buddies got to watch Sam Waterston and Dr Haing S. Ngor portray them in the movie, “The Killing Fields.” (Dith Pran died in 2008.)
* * *
Sydney was appointed Metro editor in 1977 shortly after I had taken a new post reporting on religion. The Times already had an expert on theology and religious history, and Sydney did not think they needed a second reporter on such a soft beat. He said he would find something else for me.
I was enjoying the beat – Hasids one day, nuns the next day, Evangelicals the day after that. I did not want to get shifted.
A few days later I just happened to be having lunch with the rabbi who was the spokesman for the Orthodox wing of Judaism in North America. I allowed as how I was feeling a bit glum that day because they were cutting back on the religion beat. My rabbi thought that was too bad because the Orthodox liked the way I, a Christian, wrote about them.
It took me 10 minutes to walk from Lou G. Siegel’s on W. 38th St. to the old Times building on W, 43rd St. When I reached the newsroom, Sydney spotted me, and with a mixture of annoyance and possibly admiration he said, “Aw, fuck it, you’re staying on the beat.”
I asked no questions but I assumed my rabbi had called a higher-up (not that Higher-Up) and arranged things while I was walking five blocks on Seventh Ave.
Sydney held no grudges. He played hardball; he understood it.
The next spring, he called me to his desk and said Passover was starting that night and could I get him a Haggadah, the guide to the rituals of the Seder.
“Pretty contemporary,” he said. “But not too liberal. You know.”
Oh, that Haggadah.
I took the No. 1 train uptown to a Judaica bookstore, rounded up a few Haggadahs, and presented them to Sydney. I never asked how the Seder went.
He was a hard editor to work for because, like most great reporters, he was used to cutting his own deals; after all, he had defied his own editors by not leaving Cambodia.
He was not so good on leadership, on listening to his staff, but he was smart and tough and talented, and I admired him greatly. Later he wrote a column and inevitably butted heads with his own editors, and left the Times.
Over the years we met at Times get-togethers and funerals, and we got along fine, old colleagues who had been through stuff together -- but not the kind of stuff he had seen in Cambodia.
Every time I saw him, I thought of him crying in the City Room for his missing buddy.
For so many years, the schedule of a sports columnist took me far from home on the birthday of my country, on my own birthday.
“Do you remember all the places you’ve been?” my wife asked. Sometimes she was with me. Sometimes she wasn’t.
Companions get used to journalists being away -- weekends, nights, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. My wife recalls my taking a day's drive to the mountains on our first month in Kentucky -- and being gone for New Year's after a mine blew up in Hyden. (After that, I kept a change of clothes in the car.)
Reporters head toward danger, not totally unlike police and fire officers. But I was a family guy and could be hard to find by the office when a child had a big game or we had company. But sports reporters often work on scheduled events and cannot avoid being away holidays and weekends.
It's easier for a man than a woman to forage for a meal on the road. In her Sunday column, Maureen Dowd describes the snooty reaction to a single female diner in a Paris hotel. Alas, her good meal was spoiled by the rancid presence of Boris and Donald in her active mind.
My birthdays were often spent on the road. When I was at Wimbledon, I would scan the Times, which ran a daily box of birthdays of notables. I never expected to see my name – and never did – on July 4 but I was always happy that George Steinbrenner was a non-person in the UK, and I hoped Pam Shriver would be mentioned.
I never mentioned my birthday to colleagues; why draw attention in a press room? But in the age of the blog, here are birthday highlights of a travelling journalist:
1939: Born the day Lou Gehrig delivered his farewell speech in Yankee Stadium, I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan at birth.
The ‘60’s: a blur of Mets and Yanks, three children being born, great times. Was I in Minnesota…or Shea Stadium….or home? Can’t remember.
1970: We took the family to Italy for a glorious month. I can’t remember where we were on July 4 – possibly the side trip to Switzerland – but I do know that on July 9, Corinna’s birthday, my wife arranged a cake on the hotel patio, off the Via Veneto.
1976: Bicentennial Day. Now a news reporter, I was assigned to a destroyer in the Hudson, where Henry Kissinger was on board. Asked about the raid on Entebbe the night before, the Secretary of State said in his gravelly accent, “You people know more than I do.”
1982: I was alone in Barcelona, covering my first World Cup. On the night of the Third, I went to a concert by Maria del Mar Bonet in a plaza. The next day I went to El Corte Inglés and bought a vinyl record of hers, which I still play, in memory of a lonely but beautiful night.
1986: We landed in Moscow for the Goodwill Games. A grim customs agent inspected my passport and suddenly he smiled and said, “Happy birthday” in English – the start of a lovely three weeks, glasnost in summery Moscow.
Wimbledon: The English always honor the Original Brexit with flags flying, burgers in pubs. I would buy a bag of cherries in Southfields and sit with a friend and listen to the military band play American music before the tennis began.
1990: We woke up in Naples after Argentina beat Italy on penalty kicks in the semifinals of the World Cup, and we took the train back to Rome, celebrating the day in the trattoria beneath our flat near the Piazza Navona.
1994: Tab Ramos was cold-cocked by Leonardo in the round of 16 at Stanford. I bought a great t-shirt with American and Brazilian flags; it recently fell apart. After dinner with Filip Bondy and Julie Vader in Palo Alto, I caught the red-eye to Boston for another match.
1998: Dennis Bergkamp scored in the 90th minute as the Netherlands beat Argentina, 2-1, in Marseilles. We were staying in Aix; my wife had gone shopping in a market for presents.
1999: A joint birthday celebration, for me and ace photographer John McDermott in San Francisco, with family, the night before steamy July 4 semi of Women’s World Cup, a 2-0 victory over Brazil.
2004: Alone in a motel in Waterloo, on the Lance watch, reading David Walsh’s book that pretty much convinced me Lance was cheating. (The masseuse who was ordered to lie about saddle sores!) Watched Greece beat host Portugal in Euro final and wrote paean to underdogs.
2005: Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon finals. Next morning we took the Eurostar to France to pick up Lance’s bid for a fifth. Two days later, we heard that nihilists had set off explosions in the London transit.
2006: In our hotel in Berlin, watched Italy beat Germany, 2-0, in semifinals, then went out in streets to interview rollicking fans, celebrating a good run with beer and curry and ever-present wurst.
2010: Jeffrey Marcus drove from cold, inland Johannesburg to the fresh salt air of Durban for the Germany-Spain semifinal two days later. My unexpected birthday present: chatty Indian staff and glorious smell of curry from the dining room -- a treat for a journalist who picked an odd day to be born.
(Birthday wishes to Pam Shriver, John Hewig and John McDermott, all over the globe.)
What a wonderful night for journalism, at the end of the Academy Awards, to see “Spotlight” honored as best picture. The film shows how the Boston Globe pursued a history of abuse by priests in the region.
Yes, journalism is still being practiced at some of the surviving journals in the United States, the ones that devote precious time and money and staff to finding stuff out, and publishing it.
However, my pride in colleagues is tempered by the realization that not enough people read the information – and opinion – in the surviving fringe of American journalism.
I occasionally talk at colleges and high schools and generally get blank looks from students when I ask how many people read newspapers.
Even on line? I ask. Some nod yes, but cannot give examples. They like things that jump around. But apparently so do their elders.
A frightening swath of Americans seem to think Donald Trump knows how the world works. Because people do not read newspapers, in print or on line, they do not know that he is generally regarded with a shrug and a smile in New York, the town that knows him best. Oh, that guy.
This reality was brought home recently by two articles in The New York Times about Trump’s reputation (marginal) in New York real estate circles, and how he bled investors in a golf resort in Florida.
This is who the guy is; this is how he operates. But unless people delve into the details – that is to say, read – they will never know. This is where we are going.
Here are two stories most of America will never read:
Now Trump is threatening to suppress newspapers when he becomes President. Perhaps he will send his Brown Shirts to crowbar the printing presses.
Here’s another look at Trump, from 1990, by Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair -- the attention-deficit playboy-builder we knew before he unleashed his public bully.
I also recommend two current articles on Hillary Clinton and Libya, stemming from what is obviously weeks of work:
One last thing about journalism: Margaret Sullivan is leaving her post as public editor at the Times to become a media columnist at the Washington Post. In my now-outsider’s opinion, I wish the Times had found a new gig for Sullivan, the best public editor the Times has had.
I hope these links work in your system. If not, the stories are easily looked up. As a proud alumnus, I am glad the Times values its work by charging for it on line. It costs a lot of money for the Times and Globe to cast their spotlight.
The Mets opened their series in Los Angeles Friday night and beat one of the best pitchers in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, with David Wright earning a 12-pitch walk in the first and then driving in two vital runs in the seventh. But you already know that.
(The Mets then got upended, in more ways than one, Saturday night. Plenty of opinions on that slide by Utley. See Comments below, and please add your own. But first, let's talk about the "paper" that made deadline two straight evenings with crazy stuff from LA.)
The other team that had a great night on Friday was New York Times, which delivered 115,000 copies of the paper, the version you can hold in one hand while eating a bagel with the other hand.
That paper was in my driveway in a nearby suburb at 7:30 AM – not bad for a game that ended after midnight. Tim Rohan, out in Los Angeles, completed his very readable article in a hurry and sent it to my friends in the Sports Department, who shaped it and sent it to the plant in College Point, Queens, where people were waiting for it.
We got it at 1:15. On presses at 1:26.
Overall, 98% on time, one late NJ truck by 3 mins.
That was my note from one of my friends in the handsome plant alongside the Whitestone Expressway.
The Times is doing quite well with its print edition, as other papers basically give up.
The coup on Friday night/Saturday morning reminds me of a similar night, Oct. 14-15, 1992, when Francisco Cabrera, an obscure Atlanta Brave, delivered the hit that won the National League pennant (and broke the hearts of a Pirate team about to be atomized by free agency.)
In the midnight hour, I found Cabrera in the melee on the field and rushed upstairs to write a column with a headline: His Name Is Francisco Cabrera.
A few hours later, I caught the first thing smoking, and was back in my driveway before noon. The paper was waiting for me. The column was in print.
I love the Web. I’m poking around on it all day. It’s the future. The Times does spectacular things on line. I also love print.
Look at the front page of the Sports Section Saturday – huge picture of Jacob deGrom, locks flopping, fastball flying, story by Tim Rohan, and below that two more excellent articles by esteemed colleagues -- Chicharito of Mexico by the Europe-based Sam Borden and the wretched sightlines at the hockey opener at the Barclays Center by Filip Bondy, recently departed from the fading Daily News, now doing the occasional piece for the Times.
The Mets would come back out and play again Saturday night. So would the Times. As one of my great bosses, Joe Vecchione, said a few minutes after the Times revamped in minutes on Mookie Night in 1986:
“We do it every day, Kid.”
The Times put David Carr on the front page, above the fold, as well they should.
He gave everything he had until he collapsed in the office Thursday evening and passed at 58.
He was a voice, an honest voice, a reliable voice, a smart voice.
I never met him – that happens at such a large paper – but I read him, and I knew about him, his long addiction, his rehabs, which only made me respect what he accomplished even more, but mostly I knew him through the digging he did and the insights he provided.
He was burning it in recent days -- my wife said he looked like hell on the tube early Thursday -- explaining all the breaking media news. I can only guess at the high-wire act to write, edit and print the obituary on the front page, in literally minutes, before the first edition of “the paper.That tangible part of journalism still matters in these digital times, as David Carr noted so well.
* * *
With homage to that great pro, I’d like to drop a few other current thoughts on the media:
*- I have never totally trusted the concept of the anchor, those great men and occasional women, who spoon-feed us the news on television. I grew up on Edward R, Murrow and his CBS colleagues at the end of the war. They were reporters; today’s anchors are performers. I always thought Brian Williams was a symptom of the time -- show biz. I’ve often wondered when anchors are preening in front of the camera how they managed to do any reporting.
*- Bob Simon of CBS was the real deal, a correspondent who went to all those places, with a staff, of course, but also with reporter smarts. When he reported on 60 Minutes, you knew he had done the homework. His death in an auto crash brought out a very impressive detail: he had just worked on a piece on Ebola medicine, at the age of 73.
*- I’ve always been leery of the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert school. They are funny, but perhaps without meaning to they have insinuated themselves ahead of reality. For the new generation that does not read newspapers, they are the first line of information. Kids hear about vital events from a very savvy adult making yuks on the tube. Not Stewart’s fault. Our fault.
Stewart’s remark to Brian Williams’ face is classic: “You don’t write any of that stuff,” Stewart told Williams, as David Carr reported on his final day. “They take you out of the vegetable crisper five minutes before the show and they put you in front of something that is spelled out phonetically. I know how this goes.”
*-And finally, I have no problem with President Obama’s video for BuzzFeed, to promote the program bringing health care to more people. (How dare he!) We all know Obama is a writer and a performer and a wannabe hoopster. He made me and my wife – who predicted his victory in 2007 – roar with his delivery in the BuzzFeed video. Some people may fret that the President demeans the office. (That is Boehner's and McConnell's job.) I say, let the man have a few minutes of fun.
As I sit here typing my little therapy blog – not in classic blogger underwear, I promise – I am supervised by a phalanx of editors.
They perch over my shoulder, the ghosts of deadlines past, monitoring my every whimsy.
Before I can push the “Submit” button on my site, I must satisfy editors who kept me tethered for all those decades.
They suggest temperate phrases like “alleged” and “so-called” and “was said to be” for assertions I cannot totally back up.
“You need to do this over,” I can hear Jack Mann or Bob Waters snarling at me in Marine patois when I was learning to play the game right at Newsday.
“Ummm, that doesn’t read like Vecsey,” I can still hear a Times national-desk editor named Tom Wark saying to me about a long profile of a bank robber who had earned a degree behind thick federal walls. “Could you run it through the typewriter again?” What a wonderful compliment.
“Ummm, could you make a few more phone calls?” I can hear Metro copy-fixers like Marv Siegel and Dan Blum, or Bill Brink in Sports, saving me more than once.
And early on Saturday mornings, right on deadline for my Sunday column, I would get a careful final read from the superb Patty LaDuca (about to retire, for goodness’ sakes.)
When I am talking to journalism students, one of my main points is that if you have an editor supervising your work, you are actually participating in journalism. But if you expect your precious words to appear in print just the way you wrote them, you are merely a blogger.
Editors keep you from making an ass of yourself. And sometimes the best editor is….yourself.
I was thinking about editors a month or two ago when a major movie studio allowed “The Interview” to come out with the premise of the dictator of North Korea having his head blown off. Charming. The self-indulgent director waved the “creative freedom” flag, and the studio heads folded, with predictable world-wide tremors.
Movie directors and producers could use a reality check from an editor – “Ummm, could you look that up?” -- when making films like “Selma” and “Lincoln,” as Maureen Dowd pointed out on Sunday.
More recently, a weekly satire magazine in France published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, touching off horrible violence around the world – violence that surely had been waiting to be fomented by opportunistic lunatics. Then the staff came back with another cartoon of the prophet.
Was any of that necessary? Journalists have this implanted in their brains at an early age, by editors. What are the consequences? What does the other side say?
Those of us who learned to present all sides – to make a few more phone calls – are lucky. So are the people who read (or watch, or listen to) those increasingly rare sources.
(I don't count Stewart or Colbert. I am talking about their sources. That is, journalists.)
* * *
One of the most rational posts on the Charlie Hebdo issue is by Omid Safi, the director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, for that great site, onbeing.org.
And here are a few others:
Let me first say that I get the creeps whenever I encounter the new journalism buzz-phrase “long-form journalism.”
Long-form -- rhymes with chloroform.
Why not just say “long,” since that seems to be what is being advertised.
To be effective, the writer needs to blend facts, details, descriptions, observations, quotes, opinions, in an interesting manner. That is, the writer needs to be able to write, and the editors need to be able to edit.
That’s long enough, right there. However, some long pieces are glorious, worth reading slowly, carefully, from beginning to end. I just read three over the weekend.
The Passion of Roger Angell. By Tom Verducci. Sports Illustrated, July 21, 2014.
Roger Angell has graced the New Yorker and his own books for the past half century with his writing about baseball (along with other elegant pieces.) On July 26, Angell will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers of America. (Angell has never held a BBWA card since the New Yorker does not cover baseball on a daily basis.)
Tom Verducci, a Sports Illustrated writer and television commentator, has proven worthy of his subject, accompanying Angell to the cottages and docks and sailboats of his beloved Maine, and even to the cemetery, containing the headstones for Angell’s mother, Katharine Angell White, his step-father, E.B. White, his brother, Joe, his daughter, Callie, and Angell’s wife, Carol, whom he misses badly, and for Angell himself, the stone (1920-) lacking only a final date.
To his immense credit, Verducci captures the bittersweet outlook of a man who is 93 and has much left to say about baseball, about life, about writing:
“I used to have a terribly hard time starting, because when I wrote I didn’t do first drafts. I wrote the whole piece on typewriters and would x out and use Scotch tape. I think I began to realize that leads weren’t a big problem. You can start anywhere.”
For many decades, the best baseball writing of the year would arrive in the mail at the end of spring training -- Roger Angell’s report on spring training, often from the baseball hangout, the Pink Pony in Scottsdale, Ariz., now defunct. The first Angell of spring was a sure sign we would outlive winter, real life was resuming. His pieces could have gone on forever, as far as this reader was concerned. Amazingly, long-form journalism had not yet been invented.
Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice. By Rachel Aviv. The New Yorker. July 21, 2014.
Speaking of trends, the current infatuation with testing scores led the Atlanta school system to encourage cheating. Rachel Aviv followed one idealistic educator, feeling forced to abandon actual teaching and caring for the young, down the path to Watergate-style chicanery. Great reporting provides a guide to this tragedy.
The Trials of Graham Spanier, Penn State’s Ousted President. By Michael Sokolove. The New York Times Magazine. July 20, 2014.
The former president of Penn State allowed a seasoned magazine writer to visit him in the wreckage of the child-abuse case involving Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator with the football team. The article says Spanier was brutalized by his own father; I never knew that. Now Spanier faces legal charges that he failed to investigate the possibility that Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys within the football “program.”
There is no doubt Spanier and Joe Paterno were clueless in coping with developing hints and charges about Sandusky. (I listened in on a Paterno press conference in 2008; in retrospect, this was not the same man I had followed for decades, but Spanier could not get him to retire.)
Sokolove makes the case that the institution of Penn State was willing to chuck Spanier and Paterno into history and pay $60-million to the loan-shark-minded N.C.A.A. for the privilege of being able to make more money as a football “program.”
Note: I just discovered a piece by James Bennet in the Atlantic last December, decrying the spawn of longform-journalism. It’s really good. And not that long.
The year is full of fiftieth anniversaries, including the March on Washington and the terrible event coming up on Nov. 22.
Two other milestones are worth noting: the publication of a landmark book about Appalachia and the death of a landmark publisher.
I got to meet Harry Caudill and Alicia Patterson, two strong-minded patricians.
As a young sports reporter at Newsday on Long Island, I was aware of the publisher, with the tone of the country club and the vocabulary of a press room. She was descended from the newspaper family of McCormicks and Medills and Pattersons, and in 1939 she had been given a newspaper by her wealthy husband, Captain Harry F. Guggenheim. It was her toy, and she turned it into a great newspaper.
You could hear her down the hall, conducting business with her editors, a presence -- jewelry glittering, glasses perched on her forehead. The boss. Miss P.
I don’t claim to know what she did and said. I only know that all of us took energy from her. At Christmas parties, Stan Brooks – the same whirlwind reporting from the street for WINS radio today – used to don dress, glasses, stockings and high heels for a fantastic takeoff of Miss P, who loved it.
You can read all about Alicia Patterson via her foundation:
The final praise for her is from Jack Mann, the irascible sports editor who gave me a career. Jack got himself fired in the summer of 1962 after a dispute with a managing editor while Miss P was out grouse-hunting or something. When she came back, she told Jack she could not countermand her editor. I never heard him badmouth her for that.
A year later Miss P died during surgery for ulcers, at 56. The paper had glory years after her time, including the great run of New York Newsday, but it is now run by the Dolans. Some of us think it would never have slipped this way if Miss P had lived a few more decades.
Harry Caudill’s voice reached the big cities, all the way from Whitesburg, Ky., where he was a lawyer. In 1963, he wrote a lament called Night Comes to the Cumberlands, about the colonization of Appalachia, where coal lay under the surface. His book made me care for Appalachia; seven years later I went to cover it for the New York Times. Things were about as bad as he said, but I was captivated by it.
I got to meet Caudill, who goaded me to spend more time in the mountains. When A.M. Rosenthal, the great editor of the Times, was making a tour of the region in 1971, we had a nice lunch with the Caudills, who had the ear of the paper. The next summer Caudill called the home office to say an entire mountain had shed its coal slag, known as red dog, into a community. I was dispatched from vacation at Jones Beach to a bare-bones motel in Whitesburg, by which time a few families had raked the stuff out of their yards.
Caudill saw disasters large and small, standing up to politicians who served the coal industry. He suffered from a war injury, and came down with Parkinson’s Disease, and committed suicide in 1990 at the age of 68, in his yard, facing Pine Mountain.
By that time, I had written a book about a radical miner in southwest Virginia called, “One Sunset a Week.” Caudill’s book is still the most important book about Appalachia. Fifty years later.
(Alicia Patterson, reading her paper; Harry Caudill tutoring a visitor, Robert F. Kennedy, who paid attention, who cared.)
I understand branding and consolidation in the new electronic age. Still, allow me some nostalgia over the change from the International Herald Tribune to the International New York Times, effective Tuesday.
The Tribune was itself a landmark brand, descended from the original New York Herald Tribune, hawked on a Paris boule-vard by Jean Seberg in the movie Breathless. “Hey, get your Tribune! Get your New York Herald Tribune!” is the way I remember her spiel, in her corn-fed Iowa accent.
Young Americans traveled to Paris, to Europe, and needed to catch up on the ball scores, or something less important, so we bought the Tribune for news of home. But the Tribune aimed at an international readership with serious articles about politics and finance. Undoubtedly the Times is doing it bigger and better.
But an institution is gone. I used to drop in to the Tribune office from time to time, vaguely hoping somebody would offer me a job so I could live in Paris. It was a raffish ex-pat world, three or four decades ago, when the Tribune was in the Rue de Berri -- sort of Rick’s Café Américain, with typewriters.
In the last hours of the IHT, I called somebody who used to work there – Corinna V. Wilson, now the vice president of programming and on-air interviewer at PCN, based in Harrisburg, Pa., but for much of her junior year abroad a copy girl at the IHT. Also, our daughter.
“It was not an American work place,” she said with evident fondness. “There was an international zeitgeist to it.” She would hustle from classes to the office in Neuilly, often jollying up the union members in the composing room, inasmuch as she spoke French. She speaks with great respect for the editors and reporters on the small staff. They were serious people, with great backgrounds, she said, and the mood was “collegial,” at the very French mandatory dinner hour and after-hours excursions to Les Halles.
As a lawyer who was previously the chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, Wilson understands the need to synchronize resources.
“It’s a good move, I get it,” she said, but she had advice for the ambassadors from the home office: “They’ll have to listen. It’s different.”
Back in the day, the Tribune was partly owned by the Times, but it was not the Times, bien sûr. Now you can get ball scores on line, any time of day. No more hustling down to the kiosk to buy the Tribune to find out how the Red Sox and Yankees did in their playoff game. It’s a new world, and an evolving product, in good hands. Bonne chance.
* * *
I wrote my piece before discovering Hendrik Hertzberg had done a riff for the New Yorker in March, using the same Seberg photo. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg/2013/03/adieu-international-herald-tribune.html
This is the New York Times article on the turnover:
The babble from the American news media is that the new Pope is from Latin America and is a Jesuit, therefore this must be good for the poor and sorting out the scandals.
I am three years younger than the former Cardinal Bergoglio, in pretty good shape, and write four or five hours a day.
Having been around one conclave, and covered religion for four years, when I hear the expectations being projected from afar on the new Francis I, my first reaction is: I need a nap.
Take it from me, since I was around a Conclave, the Vaticanologists do not know what they’re talking about when they predict the new pope.
Better you should consult a Roman housekeeper from Sardinia, named Grazia. She will know.
I discovered this in August of 1978, when I was dispatched to Rome upon the death of Pope Paul VI. (The first thing I learned is that journalists in Rome do not refer to the popes by number but by their original family name; Montini had just passed, for example.)
Every expert was talking up the most famous candidates – Baggio, Maldini, Baresi, Del Piero. (Those are actually soccer names; I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. The point was, the favorites were all Italian.)
As soon as I got to Rome, the Times promptly went on strike. Our bureau chief departed for, I think, the beaches of Sardinia, lending his flat in the Piazza Navona to me and a colleague and our ladies. This gift included his Sardinian housekeeper, well under five feet tall, named Grazia. Her sister, also under five feet tall, was visiting. They wore black all the time.
Since I was the only one of our group who spoke any Italian, Grazia ran the household through me, but mostly she divulged her predictions for the upcoming conclave:
Signore Giorgio! Cardinale Luciani! Venezia! Famiglia Socialista! Uomo di Popolo!
I recited to her the names of all the Italian favorites. She wagged her index finger at me like a defender telling the referee not to give a yellow card.
Since I was on strike, my wife and I took a side trip to Vienna and Budapest. We came back when the conclave began. Grazia repeated her assertion that the Venetian cardinal would win.
Then one afternoon, while I was taking a blessed nap with the shades drawn, I could hear bells ringing all over Rome. I heard bustling in the hallway. Grazia and her sister, in their finest black, were heading off to church to pray for the new pope.
Grazia paused in the doorway and delivered her punch line:
Signore Giorgio! Cardinale Luciani! Venezia! Famiglia Socialista! Uomo di Popolo!
Albino Luciani lasted only a month. He was succeeded by a Polish prelate named Karol Jósef Wojtyla (whose name emerged from the first conclave; maybe I’ll tell that story in a day or two.)
If you want to know the identity of the next pope, ask a Sardinian under five feet tall. Or her sister.
The thing I remember most about Naked Came the Stranger is that Mike McGrady and Harvey Aronson shared the profits. This is such stunning behavior that it needs to be put in a separate category from Mike’s (a) being a superb journalist and (b) coming up with a noted publishing hoax or scram or prank or whatever it was.
When he passed this week at 78, Mike was celebrated not only in respectful obits in the Washington Post and New York Times but also in an editorial in the Times. It said he should be most remembered as a columnist; Mike went to Vietnam for Newsday in 1967 and his point of view was stated in the title of his series, later a book: A Dove in Vietnam.
When Mike got back, having sniffed out the hypocrisy of that mad endeavor, he and his colleague Aronson came up with an idea for takeoff on all the bad sex novels that sold zillions of copies. Proposing a novel about infidelity in the suburbs, they invented the main character, a scorned wife on a mission, and they encouraged co-workers to write our own steamy chapters.
(I was in the sports department at Newsday until 1968. Like many ball players, I have fond memories of my first team – a great newspaper back in those days, built by the visionary publisher, Alicia Patterson. Miss P. Harvey Aronson -- who called himself H. Casey Aronson -- was mostly the manager of the Nightside Softball Team. In his spare time, he sometimes edited and wrote and nurtured young talent.)
A lot of us received printed memos in the office mail, inviting us to take part. (Kids, this was before there was such a thing as e-mails, or computers.) Some of us contributed our foolish little chapters and became co-authors for life.
McGrady and Aronson cobbled together our efforts and sent forth into this land a cover, lurid for its time, and words that might have been erotic if they had not been so hackneyed. But at least we were trying to be ridiculous. It was not an accident.
The results are well-known – a novel under the Nom de Smut of Penelope Ashe. We were all Penelope Ashe, whether our scribblings were accepted or blended into one chapter, or merely noted with grace by Mike and Harvey.
Some in the so-called reading public – even reviewers -- were fooled; some suspected nothing could be this bad unintentionally; some people actually bought the damn thing and read it. We went on the David Frost show with a naked model based on the figure on the cover. Ultimately, somebody made a porn movie with the same title, and Stan Isaacs rented a hansom cab to take a few of us to the, um, grand opening.
But the most astonishing part was that McGrady and Aronson divided the income into equal parts – one-twenty-fifth, as I recall. The occasional checks financed the odd trip to the city, or milk and diapers for growing families, or an after-hour round set up by Leo at the Midway bar and grill in Garden City. Mike and Harvey had the idea, they did most of the work, they publicized it, and yet they shared the booty. I used to ask them about their egalité, and they just shrugged. This was the right thing to do. Tell that to people who collaborate in show business or web ventures or high finance or politics or lottery partnerships. Fairness is not a given.
A word about my own miserable efforts. While working an occasional shift on dreaded rewrite on the overnight sports desk, I was waiting for night baseball games to end on the West Coast. Having taken typing in junior high school, I batted out a chapter in an hour. Then the Dodgers beat the Giants, or vice versa, and I finished my excursion into soft porn.
I'm still not sure if this is a good thing or not, but mine is the cleanest, most tasteful, chapter in the book. For the hapless schnook in my chapter I gave the name Morton Earbrow. I remembered that Casey Stengel once said Gil Hodges was so strong that he could “squeeze your earbrows off.” I wasn’t quite sure what an earbrow was, but it sounded like a word I could resurrect in my one-hour career as 1/25 novelist. (Oh, yes, a sample of my dreadful prose -- intact, as I recall -- was cited in Mike’s Washington Post obit. Recognition at last.)
We all went our separate ways. Mike settled in western Washington State, and urged his pals to come visit. I wish I had, but I could never get further west than the pho emporiums on Aurora in Seattle. I’m left with fond memories of a colleague with talent and humor. And integrity.
(Note: My friend and mentor, Stan Isaacs, the long-time Newsday sports columnist, is temporarily without an outlet due to web problems. He always has a place here. GV.)
Ozzie Guillen Struck a Few Chords
The flap over Ozzie Guillen’s comments considered sympathetic to Fidel Castro reminds me of George Romney. Not Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, but his father, George, who was a governor of Michigan and had presidential aspirations of his own that petered out.
George Romney pretty much eliminated himself from contention for the 1968 Republican nomination because of one comment. In mid-1967 he reversed his earlier support for the Vietnam War; he said he had been brainwashed by American generals. As we all came to realize, Romney was correct to have turned against that disastrous war, but the American people didn’t want to hear it. Exit Romney.
Now, along comes the colorful Ozzie Guillen saying things that have more than a tinge of truth to it, but also angered many people because he showed some sympathy for Fidel Castro. Guillen is the new manager of the Marlins of Miami, the city known for having a rabid anti-Castro community. Anything positive said about Castro feeds the hatred of people who have never forgiven Castro (the left wing dictator) for replacing Fulgencio Batista (the right-wing dictator) in 1959.
Here is what Guillen told a Time Magazine internet edition website: “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why?. Many people have tried to kill Fidel Castro in the last 60 years , yet that mother ------ is still there.” Indeed. Castro is living through his 11th American President in Barack Obama.
The anti-Castro oldsters jumped on Guillen for actually saying he loved Castro. So did some of the politicians running for office now, because the anti-Castro community in Miami has been so powerful for so long. It has cowed not only local politicians but Presidential candidates. The enigmatic Guillen most likely wasn’t thinking about all that.
Castro is no civil libertarian. He has executed people who worked against the regime. But consider Castro’s background. Almost from the time he took power and edged toward an alliance with the Soviet Union in the face of opposition from the United States, he has had to worry about being deposed by the United States.
This is not paranoia. In April, 1961, President Kennedy supported the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro partisans determined to take back their former homeland. The invasion was a disaster but it alerted Castro to ever be on the alert against further attempts to subvert his regime. He has been ruthless at time in eliminating opposition, because the opposition centered in Miami has never stopped calling for the removal of Castro. We still have an embargo against Cuba that hurts, not Castro, but ordinary Cubans.
I was in Cuba some 30 years ago. I found that the Cubans hated the United States government for trying to bring down Castro, but loved Americans. We were treated well wherever we went. We heard criticism of Castro by people who didn’t seem to fear retribution for the comments. Most Cubans cared more about making a living than worrying about the lack of civil liberties that were the concern of the few genuine patriots who objected to Castro’s excesses.
Guillen is a colorful gent, who has often made outrageous remarks that were as confusing as they were amusing. This time he made the mistake of getting himself involved in the super-charged area of Cuban politics. His comments were not so much for Castro, the politician, as Castro, the man who outlasted all the people who have tried to kill him. Many plots were born in the Miami Cuban area.
Gullen said he loved Castro, sure, but he also called him a mother ------. That’s hardly the comment of a deep political thinker. It could be argued that he had the First Amendment right to say anything he wanted. But it doesn’t work that way in the world’s most heralded democracy because we are—from Eisenhower to Obama--bedeviled by the anti-Castro faction.
So Guillen soon found out he had stepped in it and had to apologize for his comments. The Marlins suspended him for five games. And before a press conference in which he grovelled an apology, management surrounded him with people who knew first hand of Castro’s brutality. Guillen cried as they spoke. “I know I hurt a lot of people,” he said.
One of the offshoots of the controversy was the revelation that Miami, for all its anti-Castro mania, is changing. At a protest calling for Guillen”s removal, only 200 people came out. The group leading it, a Miami report said, was a fringe organization always looking for reasons to break out the picket signs out of their car trunks. The average age of those holding the signs seemed over 70.
Little Havana used to bristle with the antennae of eight or so anti-Castro radio stations. There are two left. Most people seemed to accept Guillen’s apology. Suddenly there is room in Little Havana for nuance.
I have been surprised by another fallout of l’affair Guillen: criticism of the United States. Bryant Gumbel said on his HBO show, “And while there is no way to defend Ozzie or the blatant insensitivity of his remarks, let’s not pretend there’s no politics at work in some of those calls for his ouster. Whipping up a frenzy over slights real and imagined is a play straight out of a far-right handbook; Florida’s electoral clout has often given Fidel’s critics far more leverage that their arguments merit.”
An unidentified critic of the United States added this heresy on Google: “While Castro is undeniably guilty of subverting the civil liberties of Cubans and he did kill many political dissidents, the scale of his crimes does not even approach that of the crimes of the United States government against Cuba and many Latin countries. In reality our opposition to the Castro regime has everything to do with his unwillingness to play ball like his predecessor Batista.
“The reaction to Guillen’s comments just further illustrates the unwillingness of Americans to condemn the truth about our own transgressions. We need to realize how ridiculous we sound when we criticize the human rights record of another country when one considers our own.”
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.