Birch Bayh called me at the Times about a decade ago. I was curious why a former US senator wanted to talk to a sports columnist, and of course I called him back.
Now I can’t remember the reason he called. His obituaries this week praise him as a major force on Title IX, which has enriched sports for women – for everybody – in America, but I don’t recall him presenting himself as the Title IX guy.
Whatever it was about, we schmoozed for a bit. I told him I had covered his re-election in 1970 and I determined that this son of Indiana was now living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
As long as we were chatting, I had a question for him. It went something like: “Senator, could I ask you a question about politics? I’m looking at all this Tea Party business, and it seems that some of the new members of Congress hate government, can’t even stand being in Washington, just want to shut things down.”
He was diplomatic, did not go fire-and-brimstone on me. After all, he was known as a very moderate Democrat; he had to be, to win in Indiana. But he allowed that he had never seen anything like the antipathy between Democrats and the new Republicans, wandering around brandishing mental pitchforks. He recalled with a tinge of sadness that he always had friends across the aisle.
That made me think about legendary friendships between Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, Dick Durbin and John McCain (once again being vilified by Donald Trump.)
On the phone, Birch Bayh sounded reflective, maybe even sad, recalling better political times, and then we said goodbye. But his brief comments fueled my sense that things were not as mean in the 1970s when I had a brief fling as a national correspondent. There were giants in those days, on both sides of the aisle.
I keep a mental list of Republicans I met, or covered, and admired, mostly from Appalachia and the border states I covered:
I covered the retirement announcement of Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, a thoughtful gentleman. (One of his aides back then was a young guy named Mitch McConnell, whom I consider one of the most empty and destructive people I have ever seen in public life.)
I ran around Tennessee one glorious September afternoon in 1972, covering the re-election campaign of Sen. Howard Baker, who was accompanied by his assistant, Fred Thompson. They were good company, rational people, and Baker became a giant during the Watergate proceedings.
When I lived in Louisville, Richard Lugar was a constructive Republican mayor of Indianapolis, just to the north on I-65; later he became a highly positive Senator.
Later, I observed Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during the baseball steroids hearings -- a thorough gentleman who later got sick of the nasty politics and retired.
In that same period, I spent an hour in the office of Sen. John McCain, during a hearing on Olympic reform, and I retain a strong impression of him as an American hero, despite Donald Trump’s blather – with no retort from Trump’s new best friend, Lindsey Graham. How far we have fallen.
* * *
Two farewells to Sen. Birch Bayh:
Two daughters who adored their fathers.
Julia Ruth Stevens died Saturday at 102. She was the adopted daughter of Babe Ruth and, as long as she lived, referred to him as “Daddy,” as Richard Goldstein notes in his masterful obituary.
Dan Jenkins, one of greatest sportswriters, died Thursday at 90. He was eulogized by many admirers in his business, the best coming from, of course, his daughter, Sally Jenkins, sports columnist at the Washington Post.
Sally, terrific writer that she is, described the hectic and eccentric life of a sports columnist who was usually at a golf tournament or football game when the family gathered for Thanksgiving and other holidays.
Her dad was as glib about the indignities of old age as he was about golfers who mis-read the terrain of the course. Sally tells about her dad wheeling himself down the hallway of the hospital heading toward a presumed quadruple heart bypass.
When he emerged, he was told he had needed only a triple.
"I birdied the bypass," he pronounced.
That’s it. I’m not going to try to duplicate the Jenkins family, father or daughter. Read Sally’s tribute to her dad. The Washington Post has a pretty strong paywall, bless its heart, but you might be able to read it there, or the Chicago Tribune. Or pay for it.
Plus, Bruce Weber’s excellent obit in the NYT:
Babe Ruth’s daughter also receives a brilliant tribute in the Monday NYT. She was the daughter of Babe’s wife, Clare Hodgson, and was adopted and treated royally, as a daughter by the gregarious, larger-than-life Babe.
No doubt she witnessed, and heard about, examples of Babe’s excesses, even after he stopped playing. As subtle as a diplomat, she discussed “Daddy” as she saw him – a man who made egg-and-salami sandwiches and took her golfing out in Queens. And when she started dating, he insisted she be home by midnight. Imagine: The Babe. Enforcing a curfew.
They lived on the Upper West Side, in a 14-room apartment; whenever I am in that neighborhood I envision The Babe, with a cap on his head, walking on Riverside Drive or thereabouts, just another West Side burgher.
She was an ambassador not only for “Daddy” but for baseball itself, waving to adoring crowds at the closing of “The House That Ruth Built,” waving to adoring crowds at Fenway Park, where The Babe first pitched shutouts and hit home runs.
When my alma mater, Hofstra University, held an academic conference on The Babe in 1995, she and her son, Tom Stevens, represented the Babe and gave out Babe Ruth bats to a few lucky people, including me.
But that’s enough from me.
Better you should read Richard Goldstein’s obituary of Mrs. Stevens:
Hal Boyle’s columns were big wherever the Associated Press was used. He was Everyman, from Kansas City, writing for Middle America, with no political bias and plenty of heart.
I knew Boyle, from bowling in the Associated Press league when I was a 16-year-old copyboy. He was a jovial man whom I recall with cigar and perhaps a beer, laughing easily with everybody.
He had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 – for his coverage of the European war -- but you would never know it.
Now, as a recovering columnist, I am reading Hal Boyle’s columns. In 1954, he visited my Irish-born grandaunt in Brussels and wrote about the atomization of her family from World War II. (I recently came upon my mother’s cache of photos and clippings of her lost Belgian-Irish relatives.)
Decades later, Hal Boyle holds up in hard-cover form; very few columnists do -- Mike Royko, Jimmy Breslin, a few story-tellers, writing about the human condition.
Like the best journalists, Boyle has a fine eye for details – the bullet hole in Madame Duchene’s front doorway -- from the day a Scottish soldier she had been hiding bolted from the Gestapo, and was gunned down in the street. (He lived to old age but Madame Duchene’s daughter, Florence, and her son, Leopold, did not.)
I cannot access Boyle’s column on line, but I wrote about that family in 2006: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/09/sports/soccer/09vecsey.html
Boyle paints a portrait of the grandaunt I never met. On the 10th anniversary of following the Allies into Europe, he spent a few hours at her home – get this -- 7, rue Sans-Souci. (Street Without Care)
Again, like the best journalists, Boyle is there to observe, to ask questions. His compassion for the old lady with her memories and her medals, surely has roots in his mother’s childhood in poverty-ridden Ireland.
I never finished his collection – the aptly-named “Help, Help! Another Day!” – from a poem by Emily Dickinson – but now I am enjoying his changes of pace: communing with the graves of men who died on the Normandy killing beach, or staying in a camp deep in the Catskills, listening to the sounds of night.
Perhaps his most poignant column came from defying the third or fourth rule of journalism – never succumb to the cheap device of quoting taxi drivers. But Boyle happened to ride in the cab of a philosopher who was mourning a beloved wife who had died years earlier. The man advised Boyle to cherish his own wife, and life itself, and Boyle was wise and talented enough to make a column out of his encounter. (Boyle’s own wife would die young, and he would follow, from a heart attack, at only 63.)
Many great journalists are full of themselves, to the point of grimness, but Boyle was jolly, in a melancholy Irish way.
He was as much at home in the camaraderie of a beer frame as he had been with the sights and sounds of combat.
One thing I just learned from skimming his columns: his own meter was always running.
I am convinced: what I am about to tell you is no coincidence:
At that bowling alley – Beacon Lanes, 76th and Amsterdam, second floor – the coat-check was run by a highly loquacious and secure black man, who seemed to have the word “autodidact” glowing proudly like theater lights on his forehead.
The man liked to chat about the books and poems he had read – most notably “Thanatopsis,” by William Cullen Bryant, using the Greek word for “consideration of death.” At 16, I looked forward to my weekly chat with the brother.
Now, 63 years later, I pick up Hal Boyle’s collection. His latest column is from Jan. 9, 1964, called “Nostalgia Is a Medicine to Cure the Blues,” with one-line observations about things you don’t see much anymore. One of them was:
“Anybody with a claim to culture could prove it by reciting aloud the concluding lines of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.”
This means, to me, without a doubt, that Hal Boyle, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist of the Associated Press, had been chatting with the same vibrant coat-check man at the Beacon Lanes in the season of 1955-56.
With that discovery, I feel a great kinship with the man who visited my grandaunt in war-ravaged Brussels. I wish I had read more of Hal Boyle, had asked more questions, back in the day. But I did bowl with him.
It is beginning to dawn on me that President Trump is not merely some bloated orange spectacle from a reality show.
He is consciously presiding over the demolition of health in the country.
The New York Times ran one of those special public-interest sections on Thursday, the kind they seem to produce regularly – a Pulitzer-worthy section of the week.
This one was on the environment – in many of the corners where I used to work as a news reporter, including the Kanawha River in Almost Heaven, West Virginia.
The lead article is by Eric Lipton and John Branch, a great reporter with whom I had the privilege of working for a few years. John is based in his home state of California, and he already won a Pulitzer for his work on the science of a murderous avalanche.
Branch is a member of the sports department but they rarely send him out to cover games; he’s part of the direction the Times is going – important journalism being committed on a daily basis. (Yes, I miss baseball box scores and daily Mets coverage, but would choose the vital journalism being produced by the Times these days.)
Branch and Lipton write about the farmlands of Kern County, Calif., one of the major agriculture centers in the country.
Since Trump was inaugurated in January of 2017, in front of those yooge crowds in Washington, he has facilitated dozens of downgrades of environmental practice. The Times documents them in this section.
The presidential approval of pesticides in the vegetable garden of America could be poisoning you, wherever you are, but it is certainly sickening the workers – many of them brown and Spanish-speaking – the braceros, the obreros, who pick your lettuce, when they are not fainting and vomiting from the poisons Trump has let loose. The children's day-care center is downwind from the sprays.
The pesticide, named Chlorpyrifos -- why, look here, it’s from our old friend Dow Chemical -- belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in a Times column in 2017:
Kristof added that the nerve gas is “now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.”
This poison is now being sprayed all over Kern County, killing insects and sickening humans and also enriching the companies and the politicians that enable this toxic man.
Congratulations to the newspaper and web site that grow more serious and more invaluable all the time.
Here’s the on-line version of the article by John Branch and Eric Lipton:
Michael Cohen emerged into a phalanx of 20-inch necks and watchful eyes.
The NYPD had its best people out in front of the courthouse.
My first response was delight that Cohen had to walk the perp walk, the felon walk, in front of the cameras, in front of the world.
This is, after all, the same chap who once rang up a reporter working on a story and threatened to do something “f------ disgusting” to him. The same fixer who zestfully helped Trump become Grifter-in-Chief.
The threats and payoffs seemed to come naturally to both of them.
I noted Cohen’s well-clad family, now shaken by a three-year sentence, and I felt no sympathy. They must have known the line of work he was in.
My glee at the downfall of this enabler was tempered a bit on Wednesday by Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor, now a valuable contributor on MSNBC.
Rosenberg is a knowledgeable and stable presence – speaks softly, rarely even smiles, has no need to be cute, a pitfall for some regulars on the cable. He just knows stuff. And on Wednesday he made me feel (albeit temporarily) a bit guilty at my runaway case of schadenfreude.
MSNBC does not seem to have posted Rosenberg’s comment, and I was not taking notes, but the rationality of his impromptu comments stayed with me, after the moment.
Rosenberg said, not bragging, that he had loved being a prosecutor, finding the misdeeds, righting the wrongs. In words to this effect, he said he loved presenting evidence, convincing judge and jury, seeking justice.
But, he added soberly, the part he enjoyed least was the sentencing. He did not enjoy being in a courtroom and hearing most of the suspects being sentenced to….something.
These are real people, Rosenberg said. They have families. They have private lives. They may deserve their sentences, but they are….people.
Rosenberg’s decency calmed me down, well, for a few minutes. But as the day went on, and front-page news came of that slimy gossip paper having flipped, with a safe full of salacious clips on Trump, and my ongoing awareness that Trump is tossing very dangerous toys around his playpen, I felt no empathy for Michael Cohen.
Let him sell his apartment to pay his fines and legal bills. I don’t buy the line by his lawyers and apologists that he is a changed man. He is a caught man. Sorry.
I give thanks to MSNBC for, during this terrible time, having brought in their own phalanx of qualified “contributors” – people who worked in government and the law, people who have expertise, and share it.
People I mostly never heard of until Trump strutted into the White House: Rosenberg, Joyce Vance, Barbara McQuade, Paul Butler, Mimi Rocah, Frank Figliuzzi, Maya Wiley, Daniel Goldman, my fellow Jamaica High School grad Jelani Cobb, and many others, plus two grand oldie-but-goodie Watergate lawyers, Nick Akerman and (drum roll, please) my second favorite septuagenarian lady, dressed and coiffed perfectly, a legal guru, smiling like a blonde Buddha from Chicago, Jill Wine-Banks.
I learn so much from these contributors. Now I am looking forward to a lot of people named Trump being frog-marched into the pokey for their grifting from here to Riyadh or Moscow and back again.
While we’re on the subject, I apologize for my lowball estimate that Trump would self-destruct within 18 months. I was relying on my having known about him from back in Queens, but I vastly overestimated the vestigial patriotism and integrity and common sense of Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham and that White Citizens Council that stands mutely behind Mitch McConnell.
I once spent a day with Sen. Howard Baker on his campaign around Tennessee in 1972. None of these ciphers is Howard Baker, the Republican hero of Watergate.
So that’s where we stand. Michael Cohen got three years and had to walk the felon walk. It’s going down.
One of the great joys of reading the New York Times these days is the occasional and highly literate essay by Margaret Renkl, an Op-Ed contributor based in Nashville.
Renkl writes about life out there in the Real World -- if upbeat and evolving Nashville (say I, an old Nashville hand) -- can truly be called the Real World.
In Monday's Times, Renkl suggests a technique for countering the discordant blares and roars and whines of -- no, she does not say that! -- the mechanical lawn-blasters who have invaded our otherwise serene lives.
She talks about the garden crews that most of us employ to blow leaves around for hours at a time. (Disclosure: I recently hired a very nice crew that not only collects leaves but also seems to have produced new green grass on my ugly patch of crab-grass.)
The crews in our neighborhood seem to intentionally vary their attacks so that, from March into December, there is always a group of hard-working guys whose decibel output reminds me of my freshman year at Hofstra College, when its direct neighbor across the turnpike was Mitchel Air Force, with planes warming up 100 yards away. Good for concentration on philosophy or history.
To make a statement about the ugly noise in our leaves, Renkl proposes digging out prehistoric tools employed by our fellow homo sapiens back in other centuries -- an implement with a long handle and slender tines. She describes, rather lasciviously I might add, the joys of slow, careful interplay with leaves. At least, that's how I read it.
In fact, it sounded like so much fun that I went out and practiced my raking, putting some leaves in bags but saving some for the little things she says inhabit the earth. I will take Renkl's word on that part; she does, after all, live out there in the Real World. (For those of us who do not have a lawn, I might suggest paring raw vegetables or cleaning a few windows. Therapy is therapy.)
Try it! And look up the work of Renkl in the Times and elsewhere. She is right up there with Dan Barry and Sarah Lyall and Corey Kilgannon, whose every article I read avidly, for choice of content as well as for style. Renkl is what the great editor Gene Roberts calls, in his eastern North Carolina accent, "a rahter."
And not only a rahter but a therapist. After reading her essay, I felt relaxed enough to tackle the front page.
* * *
Here is Renkl's gem of an Op-Ed piece:
And recent works:
You could feel the rumble of power, all through the building.
The New York Daily News had the highest circulation in a country that used to read newspapers.
I was privileged to work there two summers – 1956 and 1957 – as a copy boy, doing lowly tasks like fetching a liverwurst sandwich and a container of beer for the sports editor, Charlie Hoerter.
Every so often, he would lurch back into the department at 9 or 10 PM and fire me or some other hapless wage slave.
“He won’t remember,” my mentors told me, and they were right.
The building quivered and shook in the evening, as the presses emitted 2-million copies and dropped them onto powerful trucks idling in the bays. Those trucks would speed them out all over the Northeast, put them on trains, delivering salty murder tales and sassy sports articles and snide editorials aimed at bleeding-heart liberals (like me, and my father, who moonlighted a few nights a week in Sports.)
We didn’t like the editorial slant but we lived for inside stuff on our Brooklyn Dodgers, by Dick Young, one of the best baseball writers I have ever read. Dick liked my father, and used to talk respectfully to me, a 17-year-old who asked questions, and later he welcomed me to onto the beat.
The Daily News had platoons of world-wise reporters, including pioneer women like Kitty Hanson, who could absolutely make my day by sashaying from the elevator to the news room in a summer dress. Oh, my.
Every afternoon, just before 3 PM, I would enter through the vast, high lobby, with its gigantic globe rotating in the middle. Tourists were respectfully quiet but not the printers or copy editors, planning a foray to the Old Seidelburg at 41st and Third.
One of the better sports copy editors would go there every time the Milwaukee Braves got to town, to fight with Johnny Logan, the Braves’ shortstop. It was their little ritual.
Between the late '50s and early '70s, the Daily News morphed into one damn good New York tabloid, along with New York Newsday. I know because I was a metro reporter for the Times from ‘73 to ‘76, trying to match wits with Daily News and New York Newsday reporters who knew all about crime and schools and City Hall and transit.
I have told the story of the best newspaper lead I ever read, three times as good as mine:
When the federal government chose to stiff New York during a financial crisis, an editor named William J. Brink (patriarch to other newspaper people named Bill Brink) wrote the best headline any of us will ever see:
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
To our chagrin, people stopped reading newspapers when they could convince themselves they were learning something from comedians on late-night tv or underwear guys typing blogs in their basements (like me these days.) The Daily News dwindled, with a smaller staff but a keen eye for NYC phonies and buffoons who somehow fooled the people Out There.
Now the Daily News hangs on in some anonymous skyscraper, owned by a company called Tronc, a name that says everything about the kind of person who would own it. (Tronc!!! It sounds like a jackass, braying.)
On Monday, this Tronc “laid off” half the newsroom. I know a lot of good people who could swear they have been “fired.”
I also know some good people who are still working for the New York Daily News, as long as Tronc feels like it.
The old building on East 42 St. still has the globe, and the name, but the trucks don’t rumble anymore. We have all lost something.
* * *
(For more on the Daily News lobby, please see)
(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.
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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:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: