I probably should have written about Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday today. His legacy is with us -- Stacey Abrams and others paving way for Black and Jewish candidates winning in Georgia, and hundreds of leaders of color around U.S. They are a sign of hope for the future, which begins Wednesday as soon as we dump Trump and his pardon patrol -- PillowMan a sure sign of the rot.
* * *
Slow that I am, I have just discovered there is such a thing as PillowMan.
That’s right. He was Donald Trump’s new best friend for a few days, or so he thought – disregarding the public fact that Donald Trump does not have friends.
I only realized PillowMan's existence on Sunday morning when my wife told me, and I looked him up. As other Trumpites scurried to get a new life, and maybe new fingerprints, a newfriendship was growing.
(Maybe only for the moment. More below.)
PillowMan, whose real name is Mike Lindell, apparently has a company called MyPillow, and is on TV a lot plugging his product as well as yakking on Fox.
I would have thought this would somehow get in the way of Material Girl, a/k/a Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is often hustling tea cozies or lamp shades of her design.
But somehow, PillowMan got into the inner circle, giving counsel to, as the papers are calling him, “the defeated President.”
How much did this cost PillowMan? Nobody knows, but maybe he was making political donations or paying for pardons to some of PillowMan’s family, friends, henchmen.
(Are Covid vaccines also on the Trump market? Is that why I get “Currently Unavailable” when I try to sign up?)
Anyway, PillowMan has talked and spent his way into the inner sanctum, and has been photographed laughing it up with the defeated President.
Their ease and happiness with each other reminded me of something, or somebody.
Wait, I’ve got it. Remember Richard M. Nixon’s best pal, Bebe Rebozo, a Florida real-estate developer and banker? They hung out together and Rebozo was always doing favors for Nixon, that often involved expensive homes.
PillowMan seems more political than Rebozo was -- apparently advising Trump as the White House cadre narrowed down, particularly after Trump’s thuggish foot soldiers followed his orders and tried to take over the Capitol on Jan. 6.
While Trump was pondering the long flight to Florida, PillowMan apparently showed up at the White House a few days ago with plans for averting the Inauguration of the man who actually won the election.
But PillowMan made a mistake. A big mistake.He brought the plans in printed form, overlooking Trump's well-known allergy to the printed word.
According to Sunday’s Washington Post, Trump glanced at the PillowMan Papers and suggested he check it out with any White House lawyers still risking their careers by working for Trump to the end.
Read these sad words in the WaPo:
But Lindell said Trump was noncommittal on what he would do with the information and told him to talk to the lawyers, who were dismissive and argued with him.
“They were skeptical,” Lindell said. “They were disinterested, very disinterested. They are giving the president the wrong advice.”
He said the lawyers did not allow him to see Trump again.
It’s heartbreaking to hear about good friends moving apart.
* * *
The three of you, smirking Republicans, defying Congressional staffers who are trying to get you to wear a mask, to keep from passing around germs. .
Look at you, wearing the same insolent smirk as the still-President of the United States, who looks like he is trying to take us all down.
I take your behavior personally because, maybe you three have heard, there is a pandemic going on – and masks help protect people. You three may also have heard by now that three members of Congress came down with Covid-19 since being sequestered with Republicans when Trump’s Army came calling.
Here’s why I take it personally. We happen to see one of the three -- Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Seattle, knowledgeable and decent -- on the channel we watch.
We saw Rep. Jayapal last Wednesday, wedged below a seat in the upper gallery of the House, when anti-social morons were patrolling the hallways, doing Trump’s bidding. There was fear on her face, for what could happen next. The domestic terrorists may not have gotten her, but somebody in a later scrum passed along a little souvenir -- Covid-19.
I don't know if it was the insolent threesome in the photo above, but those three bare-faced wise guys -- Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga), Markwayne Mullins (R-Okla.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz) -- are pretty much laughing off the offer of masks in close quarters. They think it’s funny, like Trump at one of his WWE rallies, telling the herd that he’d like to punch somebody in the face.
I don’t know much about them except that Taylor Greene is identified as a follower of QAnon, which, I gather, is a dangerous cult believing in mad fantasy. She’s been in Congress only a few days but she’s already infecting people in her own vicious way.
Here’s why I take this personally. Many of the smartest and kindest authorities on the tube these days, talking about Covid-19, are of Indian descent - like Rep. Jayapal - doctors and academics and politicians. They represent an uptick in the skills and social ethics of our country, balancing the slope-browed thugs wandering the halls of Congress.
It’s about race. But you knew that already. Race.
We have relatives and friends of color. My wife made 14 trips to India a while ago, doing volunteer work with children, and she loves the country and the people. Rep. Jayapal and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris both have roots in Chennai (formerly Madras), the sixth largest city in India – a city known as the health capitol of India, for its skills and services.
Who are these members of Congress who cannot put on a mask as a sign of respect and to avoid spreading germs? In the NYT the other day, Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham wrote about the evangelical Christian base – make that white, evangelical, Christian base – of the armed marauders.
Their version of religion makes them uncomfortable with dark-skinned people as well as knowledgeable people who try to explain the virus to them.
I know a bit about them. Some people I love scurried off to vote for Brother Trump in 2016 because their pastor said Trump was a man of God, and really, what else is there? (My guess is also that the evangelical pastors figured Trump would be good for the economy – their economy. They live pretty well, you know.)
So now we have the man of God telling his people to go storm Congress.
Big man. He would have liked to storm with them but his bone spurs were acting up.
Besides, Trump had other people doing his work for him – people who would breathe on other people.
Diabolical, you could say.
Somebody got Rep. Jayapal, the gentlewoman from Chennai and Seattle.
Like I say, I’m taking this personally.
* * *
Tweet from Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “I just received a positive COVID-19 test result after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one."
While I sat gaping at the spectacle on the tube, some of the valued regulars on this site were already inserting their comments on the disturbance, but after an earlier post. I have a great idea: like having ice cream and pie before dinner, how about readers giving their thoughts (reasonably compact, when possible)? Dissent, disagreements, welcome. Here are the first four comments:. GV
1/8/2021 09:01:04 am
Having had the privilege of being acquainted with some of the Bush kin, I tend to agree about HW. I believe there was a sense of duty to the country that went along with the privilege of material comfort that the family has.
Now having had the benefit of a few more days of history since George's perceptive piece about Thornburgh, I admit to a sense of visceral relief when Pence and McConnell came around on Wednesday. Something like, "See, even they are resisting the Sociopath in Chief . . . ." I can't help that my visceral reactions were not in line with more thoughtful reactions. We cannot allow Republicans' more sensible reactions over the past couple of days to dilute their record of abdication of responsibility to such ideals as truth, democracy and the constitution for more than the past four years.
Our country faces enormous challenges as the Internet has empowered and deceived ignorant white trash - I'm sorry - into believing they matter more than others, based on misinformation. I remember that my 4th grade history book was essentially a compilation of chapter-length biographies of important Americans, including Robert E. Lee. I think curricula need to include strong education from K-12 about discernment of truth over the internet. Scary.
1/8/2021 09:10:44 am
i think pence and mcconnell are officially listed in the better late than never category.
1/8/2021 09:41:01 am
Nope, Bruce. That's what I'm afraid of. "Too little, too late."
1/8/2021 09:56:19 am
Their actions are too late to merit much praise. It was nice to see them publicly chastise Trump, but for me it does not make up for their four years of support.
Cabinet members DeVos and Chao may have resigned in protest, but avoiding a vote on invoking the 25th amendment might have played a part in their decision.
(I was gearing up to write something about my despicable ex-neighbor from Queens, who is trying to take the country down with him. Then I read the obits of two people who enriched my life, in several senses of the word, and realized I need to pay homage to Michael Apted and Tommy Lasorda.)
* * *
I was afraid of what Hollywood would do with Loretta Lynn’s book, and her life, and her roots in Eastern Kentucky. Having been the Times’ Appalachian correspondent, I was blessed to get to know her and be asked to write her autobiography, and have her tell me great stories that made the book “Coal Miner’s Daughter” so easy to put together.
Then the book was marketed to Hollywood. From a vast distance, I heard rumors that this producer or that director wanted to put out a steamy version, a Beverly Hillbillies knockiff, of her colorful life. But then, way out of the loop, I heard that the Hollywood gods had lined up producer Bernard Schwartz….and screenwriter Tom Rickman….and British director Michael Apted.
I exaggerate sometimes that when I say that I was invited to an early private screening in Manhattan and brought a fake mustache and a wig and a raincoat I could put over my head like gangsters do when they are arraigned. I did fear the worst.
Then the movie began in the little screening room and I saw Levon Helm, as Loretta’s daddy, coal dust all over his face and hands, coming home from the mine and being met by his daughter, played by Sissy Spacek, and instead of goofus cartoon figures they were tender father and daughter, giving thanks that he had survived another shift underground.
I could breathe. No disguises necessary.
“The good guys won,” Rickman told me later.
Michael Apted, best known for his “Up” documentaries, was a principal good guy. He has died at 79.
I got to meet Apted a few months later at the “grand opening” in Nashville, where my wife and I were treated like one of the gang. Levon, Sissy and Loretta (if I may call them by their first names) gave an impromptu concert at the hotel, and the next day “we” took a chartered bus up to Louisville.
I chatted with Apted for a few minutes and told him how much I loved the movie, how fair it was to the region and how it lived up to what we had tried to do with her book.
I still remember one sentence: “I am no stranger to the coalfields.” Later, I looked it up and saw he was born in posh Aylesbury and grew up in London, but the point was, Michael Apted was a serious film-maker who traveled and learned and listened. For a more distinct Appalachian feel, he incorporated some locals into the movie, just as Robert Altman did in the movie “Nashville.”
I never met Apted again, but I am eternally gratefully to him and Schwartz and Rickman and the talented performers.
* * *
I knew Tom Lasorda better. I met him in the early 80s when he was already a celebrity manager with his monologues about “bleeding Dodger-blue blood.” He made it his point to know the New York sports columnists and including us as bit actors in his own personal production..
One time he told me that “Frank” had been at the game the night before. I guess I looked blank and he sneered at me and shouted, “Frank! Frank! Frank Sinatra!”
Wherever he was, Lasorda’s clubhouse office might be home to show-biz or restaurant types, plus Mike Piazza’s father, Vince, Lasorda’s childhood pal.
One time, in a big game in LA, the Dodgers had a lead in the late innings and there was a commotion in the dugout as Jay Johnstone ran out to right field and waved off some directive. Later we asked Lasorda what happened, and he said he tried to send Rick Monday out to play defense – a normal tactic -- but Johnstone had run past him, saying, “F--- you, Tommy, I’m not coming out!” Lasorda told it -- laughing, proud of Johnstone’s stand – particularly since it had not cost the Dodgers.
I was working on a book with Bob Welch, the pitcher and my late friend, about his being one of the first athletes to go through a rehab center for alcoholism. I knew Lasorda had made a brief visit to the center during Bob's family week, and I wanted his recollections, but Lasorda was evasive. Finally, on the road, he agreed to talk to me in his hotel suite, blustering, raising his voice, as if somebody were listening in the next room.
“He’s not an alcoholic!” Lasorda shouted. “He can take a drink or two! He just has to control it!” – totally against what recovering addicts know to be true.
I will give Lasorda credit for giving me the time…and his point of view. Whenever we met, he always said hello. Whatever his personal life was like, he loved wearing Dodger Blue. In his bombastic showboat way, he incorporated peripheral types, like a New York sports columnist, into his world, and he made us enjoy our little part of it.
* * *
Richard Goldstein and Tyler Kepner have told many great tales of Lasorda’s life:
Doctor, Doctor! I have great news! That malevolent earworm has subsided. I don't have to worry 24/7 about what he is stealing, what he is breaking. I have more time for other things -- like reading.
* * *
We can’t get enough of our long-lost neighbors. At least, I can’t. And the growing study of Neanderthals tells me this is a collective curiosity.
With a flash of recognition, we see something of ourselves in them, as they tried to survive,
As the earth thaws, as our science grows, we are learning more about the people who co-existed with “us” until about 40,000 years ago.
Many “humans” stare at renderings of what Neanderthals may have looked like, based on recent findings of Neanderthal bones. Sometimes the adults are pictured holding a child, just like us.
The latest source of my fascination is a book, “Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art,” by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, published by Bloomsburg Sigma in November, and already greedily devoured by this reader.
Sykes is a scientist who took eight years to write this book. She was still finishing it last spring when the pandemic began, which motivated her to compare our lot with the demise of a previous people. (Just like the Neanderthals, we have some contemporaries with no clue about what is killing a lot of us.)
The author gives us the romance of a lost people, still kicking around in some DNA. I am jealous that I do not seem to have a trace while two friends have 1 or 2 percent..
The more I read, the more my admiration grows for Neanderthals, named for one of the early discoveries in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany. Sykes describes in great detail how they chiseled tools out of rocks, knowing what they were doing, and how they made spears and arrows to hunt the fat-laden animals that would sustain them.
Sykes details how these Neanderthals migrated with the seasons and shifts in climate, how they seemed to know, to remember, where the water was, where hiding places were, where they could cook, congregate, tend to their tools and garments, care for children, and sometimes bury their dead.
Other people existed in the same regions – Homo sapiens up from Africa, Denisovans across Asia, both groups encountering Neanderthals as they made their last stand in southern Europe.
Sykes saves the best part for the end – the mystery that has made Neanderthals an appealing subject.
Married, with two young daughters, living in mid-Wales, Sykes helps the reader understand a people that got squeezed out, many perishing in the caves and crannies of Spain and France.
As we unworthy survivors pollute the only world we have, Sykes points out one benefit of our pollution: Soon we will discover more Neanderthal bodies emerging from the melting permafrost.
Twelve hours after I read her prophesy, I found a recent story about an ancient baby wolf that has been found intact in the Yukon.
Before we expire, we may understand more about our complex ancestors as they roamed the earth, at least three separate species, standing on two legs, encountering each other on their search for food and shelter and, when they got up close, sometimes doing what came naturally.
I don’t think I am giving away too much to reveal Sykes’ final words, which confirmed to me the current aura of these people who were “just like us.” Sykes’ penultimate chapter ends:
“Neanderthal. Human. Kindred.”
* * *
(my previous post on Neanderthals)
(The recent NYT review of Sykes’ book)
One of my favorite “teachers” passed on the turnaround between wretched 2020 and overburdened 2021.
Richard Thornburgh, a former governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general, died on Dec. 31, at 88.
I met him when I was a news correspondent in the Appalachians, and through the years I reached out a few times for comments and background – for a column on drug testing in baseball, for my biography of Stan Musial.
Richard Thornburgh seemed to me a just person, a good teacher, a great storyteller who shared with me a close view of Musial, his boyhood hero in western Pennsylvania.
Our first meeting was in Pittsburgh in 1971 when I was working on a story about a pollution case, involving acidic runoff from a factory into the Monongahela River, a few miles upstream from the confluence with the Allegheny to form The Beautifiul Ohio.
The offending company was of modest size, but waiting in the docket were offenses attributed to huge corporations that contributed to Pittsburgh-area people holding their noses 24/7.
Thornburgh was the federal prosecutor for Western Pennsylvania, appointed by President Nixon. He knew the Times was covering, and suggested I attend jury selection, and we would talk later.
After a long morning session, we repaired to the bar at the Pittsburgh Hilton, with its scenic view of the confluence and the rugged hills, and Thornburgh gave me a quickie seminar on jury selection:
-- Why had he excluded the woman with glasses who was reading a hard-covered book in a front row of jury candidates? Precisely, he said. He did not want people who might think outside lines he would be setting. Okay.
-- Well, in that case, why had Thornburgh chosen, for foreman, a dean for a state junior college? Precisely, he said. He wanted somebody who worked in a structure, who was favorable to some form of law and order. Okay.
As my seminar continued, I spotted two faces from my previous life – Al McGuire and Jack McMahon, basketball players and coaches from St. John’s University, my childhood team. They pulled up chairs, and the smart and gregarious McGuire began grilling Thornburgh on the case, and law, and other cosmic subjects. Thornburgh got in a few sage questions for McGuire, and seemed delighted that I knew these characters, from a vastly different world. The NYT was buying.)
The case meandered onward after my little story, and eventually, polluters began to clean up their acts – courtesy of Thornburgh. Pittsburgh is a cleaner place today because of cases like that.
I kept up with Thornburgh as he became attorney general and governor, when he was hailed for his leadership during the Three Mile Island nuclear threat. Later, he returned to private practice.
During the drug scandals in baseball in the early 2000s, I found an essay Thornburgh had written about the complications of testing, citing his Yale friend A. Bartlett Giamatti, the baseball commissioner who had expired days after banishing Pete Rose for rampant gambling offenses.
While I was researching the Musial biography, I ran across Thornburgh’s name as part of a merry band of Americans who had met in Rome during the reign of the Polish Pope John Paul II. (James Michener, the writer, had described this confluence of superstars.) Musial had been Thornburgh’s favorite player during his childhood in Pittsburgh – and Thornburgh could imitate Musial’s batting stance as well as his autograph.
We corresponded another time or three and then – bad news on the doorstep -- I picked up the paper on New Year’s morning and saw he has passed. I learned that his first wife had been killed – just like Joe Biden’s wife – in a car accident.
Richard L. Thornburgh seemed to be a public servant in the best sense of the word. When I covered his pollution case, I got the feeling he believed companies really should not be pouring their crap into the river. Thank you, sir.
* * *
(Somewhere in my mental notebook, from one-off glimpses as a reporter, I keep a list -- a short list -- of Republicans I Have Seen Up Close and Respected: Richard Lugar of Indiana, Howard Baker of Tennessee, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, in his younger days. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky -- despite his hiring an amoral slug named McConnell -- Tom Davis of Virginia. John McCain of Arizona, with whom I spent two glorious hours in his Senate office. Plus, Fiorello LaGuardia, NYC mayor when I was a little kid, who read “the funnies” to people on Sunday radio. And Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania, my “mentor” in law and government service.)
* * *
Thornburgh’s life is described by the master of NYT obits, Robert D. McFadden.
The Musial biography, with anecdotes from Pittsburgh boy:
Three Mile Island Recap:
NEW PHOTOS: My friend Ken Murray, one of the great photographers in Appalachia, has sent photos of the terrible days after the explosion. Please see below. GV.
Shadowy figures around a bonfire, silence that screamed of fear.
It was Dec 30, 1970, and people were waiting, waiting for what they already knew.
The mine had blown up.
This was outside Hyden, a Kentucky town I had never heard of, until the office back in New York said I'd better get there, fast.
The next hours are a sad blur to me – a reforming sportswriter on my first month as a news reporter in Appalachia, trying to make sense of a coal-mine explosion.
I had taken the job offer from Gene Roberts, the legendary national editor at the NYT, and my wife and three small children had just moved to Louisville. On the next-to-last day of 1970 I drove down the Mountain Parkway for a feel-good, get-acquainted story, my first from the Appalachian Mountains.
After a few hours, I decided to call the office before heading back to Louisville.
The office told me a mine had blown up about an hour to the east, so I took off.
I found the mine and saw a woman walking on the chewed-up dirt road. I stopped my car and opened the passenger door and she got in.
We did not say a word. Her fear was palpable, as if she were thinking, "I am now a widow."
I let her out near the crowd outside the mine office. When I parked my car, I realized she had left a pair of gloves and a can of cat food.
The troopers herded reporters behind barriers so we would not intrude on families, but reporters always find ways. The one thing we knew was that there had been an explosion on the day shift at the Finley mine at Hurricane Creek.
As darkness fell, we knew that 39 miners had been in the drift mine – a horizonal opening into an Appalachian slope. One miner had been blown clear of the mine mouth and was alive; the rest were inside, and we pretty much got the point.
Family members clustered together, as if forming a protective huddle against outsiders. It felt like one of Goya's haunting "Disasters of War," on which he wrote: "This I have seen."
Gov. Louis Nunn arrived and informed the reporters that this is the kind of thing that happens once in a while in coal mining. Then he got on the helicopter and headed back to Frankfort.
Somehow, I scribbled a rudimentary story in my notepad and waited my turn for the one telephone on the mine wall. A trooper guarding the phone got itchy about my taking up time but I fended him off with shrugs and hand signals, and he let me finish. (I asked the office to call my wife and say I would not be home that night.)
The warm spell ended abruptly, and snow began to fall – a desolate scene, lit by bonfires. The Red Cross was giving sandwiches and drink to everybody.
My very supportive colleague in the Washington bureau, Ben Franklin, using his vast sources, dug up news that the non-union, "dog-hole" mine had been open less than a year with numerous citations but no major penalties or shutdowns.
I needed a place to stay that night, and Dr. Tim Lee Carter, who represented the district in Congress, suggested a motel just north of Harlan – “ a short ride from here,” he said.
Turned out to be 34 miles – 51 minutes, much longer in a snowstorm.
I made it up the hill to the motel and got a room but of course had no clothing, no shaving kit, no change of shoes. I was alive. I made some phone calls and went to sleep.
The next morning, there was nearly a foot of snow on Pine Mountain.
Heart in my mouth, I told myself that I was now a New York Times news reporter and I needed to get back to the story.
My car did not have snow tires.
I tried to gun it uphill but the car spun out, onto the shoulder – a good thing, since the other side of the road was facing downhill. Nobody without four-wheel drive and chains was going over Pine Mountain that day, so I worked the story via the motel phone, and bought a fresh shirt from a trucker who was also stranded and spent New Year’s Eve watching the snow fall.
On New Year’s Day, reinforced with snow tires, I made it over Pine Mountain and back to the mine, still feeling very much like an outsider. The sun was out, and reporters waited for more details.
The county judge – the top elected official in Kentucky counties – a sturdy guy named George Wooton -- was crouched over a bonfire, frying “coal-miner steaks” – bologna.
The owner of a neighboring mine was giving his opinion of what caused the explosion – words to the effect that “those miners made a big mistake.”
In one sequence, Judge Wooton calmly laid the frying pan alongside the fire, stood up, and with one swift punch, he cold-cocked the talkative mine owner, who was out for a few minutes, before slinking away, while Judge Wooton resumed frying bologna. (I found out the other day that Wooton had served under Patton during WW II; tough old guy lived to be 94.)
The next day, Ken Murray and I attended the first funeral for any of the miners, attended by other miners. Nobody was talking much, there was an air of let’s-get-it-done. I didn’t understand at the time, but later learned that the first man buried had been the “shot man” in the mine – the one who detonated the explosives.
In the days and months ahead, I covered hearings in Washington or Kentucky and watched Finley miners smirk and swagger as they testified they knew nothing, nothing, about the explosion.
It turned out that the “shot man” had regularly used the fast-working but dangerous primer cord, an outdoor device that was unsafe inside a mine, with its methane-gas deposits and live sparks – particularly in certain barometric conditions, like a warm day in December, with a snowstorm on the way.
The understanding of the dangers, the violation of law and common sense, was part of the ethic of miners. Mining was the best way to make a living in isolated Eastern Kentucky. In pillow talk, miners sometimes told their wives or girlfriends what was going at the mine, but other times they practiced a miner version of omertà.
I loved this part of my job, speaking up for Appalachia, whose coal was used to heat and cool much of the country, after the rubble had been dumped in the narrow valleys. (Even now, fools like Donald Trump blather about reviving the coal mines; the miners know better.)
In the days and months ahead, I returned to Hyden for hearings, interviewing some of the widows, like Edith Harris, smart and outspoken, who said the “rich widows” were, in a perverse way, envied for the insurance money they received.
For months afterward, the gloves and can of cat food from the woman on the mine road remained in my car; I could not bear to touch them.
To this day, when I think of the bonfires and the silent suffering in the wintry darkness, the very name “Hyden” gives me the shivers.
* * *
--- A few months after the mine blew up, I ran into Judge Wooton in a coffee shop on the Mountain Parkway, and he raved about Loretta Lynn, who had come off the road to give a benefit for the miners’ families. I made a mental note to write about her for the NYT – which ultimately led to my helping Loretta write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
* * *
---After the Hyden nightmare, as long as I worked as a roving reporter, I kept a bag in my car trunk, with clothes and a shaving kit and warm shoes.
-- (some of my articles)
* * *
---Wonderful recent photo spread in the Courier-Journal:
* * *
--Kentucky-born Tom T. Hall – “The Storyteller," whose work I admire -- visited Hyden early in 1971 and wrote a song about the disaster:
Some lady said, "They's worth more money now than when they's a-livin'. "
And I'll leave it there 'cause I suppose she told it pretty well
Kenneth Murray and I met at the Hyden mine, went to some funerals and press conferences and became friends for life. Ken has worked for newspapers in the Tri-Cities area of Virginia/Tennessee and has roamed the area, with an eye for the old ways that are still with us His books and artful photographs are easily found on line. These photos give a sense of those grim days.
There are people out there, breathing a killer virus at you.
There is also a ton of snow on the ground where I live.
My suggestion: try tuning out the Lame-Duck Orange Sicko for a day.
I did it over the weekend. Good Stuff on everywhere. .
I started with a link from a friend known as The Cork Lady. (Ireland, that is.) She and her husband sent me a link to a concert via the shut-down Metropolitan Opera -- Bryn Terfel with a holiday concert from his native Wales.
What a wonderful surprise: the concert (with no audience) was in the Brecon Cathedral – a place we know and love, in the highlands above Cardiff, The vivid stained-glass brought back memories of a beautiful summer evening, still light outside, our friend and host Alastair (like all Welsh men) singing in a chorus.
While Terfel and a talented cast took turns, my mind drifted to Brecon in long-ago summers --sheep being marshalled by border collies, the jolly sound of tourists on canal boats from the nearby Usk River, trips to upscale pubs along the canal, and Alastair going to Brecon market to buy lava bread (pungent, allegedly edible seaweed from the coast.) Not exactly Christmas memories, but lovely memories nonetheless.
At 5 PM, another link – this one via the Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Stephen Dunn, my friend from his days as a zone-busting shooter for Hofstra College. No. 20 was known as Radar on a 23-1 team.
Radar writes as he shot – smoothly -- his latest book, Pagan Virtues, just out.
Stephen’s poetic aim is still perfect but his voice does not permit him to read his own work these days. In a weekly web poetry reading, called LitBalm, some of his new work was read, and read well, by his friend Indran, while Stephen listened in one of the squares on the laptop grid. Keep lofting these jumpers, man.
At 9 PM, we turned on the local PBS station, Channel 13, with its Saturday-night feature -- a classic, or classy, movie (sometimes, inexplicably, displaced by drippy oldie concerts). But not Saturday.
Mercifully, there was the Trevor Nunn movie version of “Twelfth Night,” from 1996, Shakespeare’s gender-bender comedy, with a cinematic shipwreck and looming Cornwall hills and castles and Helen Bonham Carter falling in love with a saucy emissary with a highly dubious mustache draped across her kissable upper lip.
The cast, as in any English rendition of Shakespeare, was marvelous, but let me praise two: Nigel Hathaway as Malvolio, the resident mansion bully, and Ben Kingsley, for goodness’ sakes, as an omnipresent troubadour (with a really nice voice, his own; it turns out that Kingsley was once urged to pursue singing by his pal, John Lennon.)
(We recently saw a stage version of Twelfth Night via the marvelous National Theatre's at-home series, prompted by the pandemic. In that version, Malvolio is female, played by Tamsin Greig, and her comeuppance seems more cruel than Hawthorne’s.) During the final scene Saturday night, when everybody finally figured everything out, I had tears in my eyes. Good Shakespeare does that to me.
The antidote for tears came nine – count ‘em, nine – minutes later, on “Saturday Night Live,” the last new one for a month apparently. The host was Kristen Wiig, one of the all-timers, visiting her old haunts.
Her opening bit was singing the wintry standard “My Favorite Things,” and when she botched the lyrics, she was joined by another all-timer, Maya Rudolph, who also botched the lyrics, and was in turn joined by the current all-timer Kate McKinnon.
Regarding McKinnon: I am watching SNL more in my “retirement” than I ever did, and am totally enthralled with McKinnon
In the all-time web ratings of SNL females, I propose St. Gilda as first, and Tina Fey as second (those laser eyes, looking right at you), and McKinnon now ranks third, with me.
I love her versions of Rudy and Dr. Fauci and that fuzzy little attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and McKinnon also aces some dark-side female roles, throwing off heat in all directions. How Shakespearean.
That brings us to Sunday.
The far-flung family of Anna and the late Kate McGarrigle is staging a virtual reunion, Sunday, all over the world, apparently. It will be streaming (at a price) and available for two weeks, starting at 3 PM. The cast includes longtime backup Chaim Tannenbaum, third-sister Jane McGarrigle, and other staples of that wonderful time. I will catch it, and think of Kate.
* * *
Also, Nick and Teresa Troiano Masi (Terry and I worked on the paper at Jamaica High) have a grown daughter, Terri Dierkes, who is a cantor in a church in Connecticut, and a leading member of a lovely Christmas concert, which aired Sunday. Details at:
Finally, ongoing, for a season of great plays in our homes, the National Theatre is showing 12 filmed plays, for quite modest fees. We've seen about half in recent years. Wonderful stuff.
* * *
There’s a pandemic out there. Nasty weather all over.
Stay safe til the vaccines get here.
You can't watch The Dangerous Fool every second.
Ride it out. Stay safe. Happy Holidays to all.
Diego Maradona died two weeks before Paolo Rossi, but they were already linked -- two scamps who hijacked separate World Cups.
Rossi got there first by four full years, more of a surprise than when Diego Armando later commandeered the 1986 World Cup. Maradona was expected to produce a World Cup in his career, but Rossi came from essentially nowhere, from Limbo, from ignominy.
I was at both World Cups, my first and second of eight. Rossi’s rampage stunned me, a Yank who had no clue about world soccer, but was curious.
Brazil was always the favorite and the experts also mentioned Argentina with El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Kid), West Germany, of course, and, reflexively, there was always England, only 16 years past its host-nation glory of 1966.
Instead….instead….Italy came roaring into the World Cup in Spain, like kids on Vespas, roaring into a genteel piazza, grabbing unattended purses from table top -- the dreaded Scippatori.
Italy, the Azzurri, came as a shock after a gambling scandal a few years before. Rossi apparently knew of the coup, but said nothing, and was suspended for two years – at the peak of his career, as an opportunistic forward who found unguarded entryways to the goal.
Rossi was reinstated – what a coincidence – only months before the World Cup because the chatty manager, Enzo Bearzot, wanted him on the squad. I had not arrived at the World Cup in Spain for the first round, and Rossi barely arrived for the three matches, rusty and so insecure that he was waiting for Bearzot to bench him. However Bearzot kept telling him to get his stuff together, he was playing.
The engine was tuned up by the second round – a bizarre three-team round robin quarterfinal. Argentina, which had won in 1978, was touted to win, this time with chunky spectacular Maradona. Brazil, the perennial darlings who played with a flare, was also touted to win, with brilliant offensive players named Socrates, Zico and Falcao.
Italy played Argentina in the first match, and a swaggering defender named Claudio Gentile, known in Italy as Qaddafi, not only because he had been born in Libya but because he tended to hurt people. Non-molto-Gentile mugged Maradona early and often, rendering him pointless, insensate. (That is Gentile, Qaddafi, shirtless, in the video above.)
Meantime, vroom, vroom, here came Italy, players operating in space they never saw in the nasty defensive-minded Serie A of Italy. They moved the ball upfield and then, out of nowhere, came Paolo Rossi – still in the starting lineup? --che sorpresa – operating in wide open lanes that could have accommodated six lanes of Italian autoroutes.
Rossi did not score, but was a threat, and Maradona hobbled off, and Gentile swaggered in victory.
Next, Italy played Brazil, which moved the ball so magically for 75 or 80 yards but then stumbled into Italy’s defensive chain – Il catenaccio.
I remember one moment. The Brazilian right back, Leandro, wanted to get into the fun of moving the ball upfield, so he took off downfield. His swath of unguarded field suddenly was invaded by 12 or 14 Vespas, motors roaring, vroom-vroom.
Italy won, and Rossi scored three goals, I was beginning to get the point. Rossi scored twice in the semifinals against Poland, whose best player was banned for too many yellow cards. Then in the finals, with West Germany’s best player hobbled with a leg injury, Rossi scored once and Italy won, 3-1.
Rossi was voted the star of the game, and while I was in Madrid, writing about the match, my friend Thomas Rogers of the Times, back home in New York, wrote a lovely Man in the News profile of the surprising Paolo Rossi:
I will always love the Brazil of 1982 – the best team ever to not win a specific World Cup – but I was now a wannabe Italian.
Other teams, other stars, come and go: Zidane’s beautiful final in 1998, the U.S. getting cheated by a blatant handball by Germany in 2002, Spain’s coming-of-age in 2010, Germany’s nearly-perfect meshing in 2014.
Now that I am retired and free to root, I wait for the United States to mature (which it is doing with magical frequency from young stars like Reyna and McKennie and Pulisic in Europe)
But I always have a second team – Italy – the blue shirts, the merry little tarantella of an anthem, the legends of maestri like Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero, and always going back to Paolo Rossi, who came from disgrace and took over a World Cup. Vroom-vroom
You always remember your first.
* * *
(Obit of Paolo Rossi in The Guardian.)
Don't we all have things we miss in this pandemic -- beyond family and friends?
I miss my home town twinkling on the western skyline.
I wrote about this a few months ago.
On Sunday I did something about it.
With the plague at full blast, I had to deliver something to the NYT plant in the College Point section of North Queens.
It was a cold day, very little traffic. Ideal driving conditions.
My muscle memory told me how to handle the turns and merges and quick decisions of parkway driving in the city,
With every mile, my exhilaration grew.
First stop was the NYT plant; since my retirement in 2011, I have become friendly with the people there.
On a quiet Sunday morning, I dropped off the item and kept going.
The museum had large banners facing the Grand Central Parkway. I remembered one winter in junior high school, when I went ice skating in this building with some classmates. Now it is a vibrant community asset; I thought of my friend who helps run it, and the Panorama of New York City, where we have "bought" our family home in Holliswood.
I drove around to the front of the awesome building on the glacial hill. My mom was in the first wave of students in the new building -- in 1927. She loved the school as much as I do; it was our major bond, She passed in the very nice Chapin Home, a few blocks away, in 2002. The city, in its dunderhead way, terminated Jamaica High a few years ago -- a DiBlasio failure -- but there are several smaller schools tucked away in the building that will last forever.
I drove along Henley Rd., near the house where the worst president in American history used to live, soiling the image of Queens. There was no time for a drive past our old house, where my mom moved nearly 100 years ago; I had to pick up my order of Shanghai dumpling soup in Little Neck.
My Sunday morning excursion temporarily dispersed the miasma of the murderous pandemic.
I'll keep in touch with the many dozens of my Jamaica contemporaries; we are very tight.
Maybe some quiet Sunday morning soon, I will drive into The City (Manhattan, that is) -- just to see it.
The main thing is that thousands of people are dying per day because of the Orange Fool and his little helpers in Congress. (Somebody on MSNBC called them "eunuchs" on Saturday. Sounds about right.)
Americans are dying at a growing rate because he has convinced a horrifying chunk of the nation they can breathe on each other at close range.
Nurses are getting sick, getting demoralized. This is the tragedy. We know that.
The personal side of Covid-19 is the carnage in a region I know well, North Queens, one of the worst-hit neighborhoods in the country. The human side has been caught by the NYT in a special section in the Sunday paper, written by the great Dan Barry. You won't hurt my feelings if you abandon this blog and go read about the very American swath of Queens, the losses of humans who are now real to us.,
Meanwhile, the Orange Fool is trying to break the nation in his final weeks, protesting the election, which he lost soundly. To cover for himself while he pillages, he sends out Rudy the Clown, performing Opera Buffa in the courts of America. We know that, too.
Nothing’s working, and now I am beginning to realize that even the Web-driven delivery system. designed to keep consumers safe from germy stores, is starting to sputter and falter.
For once in my journalistic life,, I just sniffed a trend. After encountering delays on most things I tried to do online, I just read another story in the NYT's Sunday paper: the backup of many items ordered online for delivery. The system is on overload. Plus, it's the holiday shopping season. None of this, I hasten to add, is as bad as Covid-19.
NB: The following is the bleat from the comfortable class, which wants to shop and do business by computer, by phone, by courier.
That "system" breaking down, too.
Most online and telephone ventures are met with a long pause. Banks. Stores. Utilities. Services. People are working from home. Good luck to you. I got this message the other day:
"Due to COVID-19, our carriers are experiencing delays in shipping packages. Thank you for your patience. Please check online for the status of your order."
That message pops up regularly, online or on recorded announcements, from the new masters of the Internet. Even Amazon is having trouble with Covid in the warehouses, and when the workers complain, Amazon seems to be putting the legal squeeze on them, in classic management heavy-handedness:
Here are three personal examples of services wearing down. Bear in mind, this is the whine of somebody (me) who would pay somebody else to do his shopping, to deliver his goods:
*-- Our regional cable company used to have techies available on the phone, some of them quite knowledgeable, in their weary sarcastic Long Island accents, talking Luddites into re-setting their TV sets. Now the company depends on a Chat system with people apparently in call centers working from a script. One of our sets went rogue the other day. and the voice at the other end told me to perform the normal reboot functions. No good. He claimed to run some tests. Nothing. “Your box is broken,” he typed. “I will send you a new box.” In a few weeks. Okay. When he was done, I noticed a little white card in a slot in the box. I pulled it out and inserted it again. The TV set immediately went on. How do I notify the unreachable cable company? Let’s see if they send the box.
*-- Another hurdler for the well-off: We selected nearly 60 grocery items from our favorite big-box emporium but the "system" shuddered to a halt when the store tried to hand off the order to a delivery service. I asked for help online and got a personable bloke at a call center -- in Durban, South Africa. I love Durban! Spent my best three days of the 2010 World Cup alongside the Indian Ocean, smell of curry in the homey little hotel. Great memories. Alas, the agent couldn’t help me, and my food order got blown out during the transfer. I typed it all over again, somehow got the order from a very capable delivery guy. The process? Maddening. But of course we ate well. As I say, indulge me.
*-- We ordered a few basic items from a very good office-supply chain. It was supposed to take two days, but got stuck in a warehouse somewhere. A very helpful agent named Pamela convinced me to wait for the delivery, which arrived Saturday morning, four full days after ordering. But as the saying goes, nobody died.
You know what's efficient? I'll tell you what's efficient: The federal government. Medicare. The very thing our Vandal-in-Chief is trying to break. I went online Friday to finalize the drug programs for my wife and myself in 2021. The process took less than 15 minutes for the two of us. Every step was simple. The same thing is true about ventures into Social Security – real people or website -- smart, knowledgeable, polite, able to solve the problem. Just what we need to tear down, according to angry maskless Trumpites.
Meanwhile, if we listen carefully, there is the crunch of things being broken, on purpose, Trump still trying to harm immigrants while stuffing goodies into his gunnysack. Evidence of pardons for money, pardons for his sweet little kiddies. People are being told not to believe the obvious election results.
After this guy vacates the White House, please, somebody, check the silverware.
Diego Armando Maradona died Wednesday at the age of 60.
Many of us have tales to tell about his genius, about his flaws, about his legendary burst through England’s defenses in the 1986 World Cup, and his other goal that day, a cynical punch of the ball: “The Hand of God.”
My friend John McDermott, long-time soccer insider (and player in a tough San Francisco league), an American now living in northeast Italy, often visits Napoli, the raffish city settled by Greeks long ago, known for its symbol, the scugnizzi, the street boys.
Playing for SSC Napoli, Maradona from Argentina found his spiritual home. The city of the scugnizzi understood him best.
John McDermott often visits Napoli, for subject matter, to teach photography, to enjoy the city.
On Wednesday, when word came of Maradona’s death, John send me some photos and he also wrote:
“Diego in his finest hour...the 1986 World Cup Final...RIP, Campeon. I first covered him in 1979 for Sports Illustrated, games against Holland in Bern and against Italy in Rome. He was a kid among men but was already acknowledged as an arriving superstar. There were to be many more occasions after that where I witnessed his brilliance first-hand.
“In his book ‘The Simplest Game,’ the distinguished soccer journalist Paul Gardner wrote, 'No player in the history of the World Cup had ever dominated in the way Maradona ruled over Mexico-86.'”
Of Maradona's legendary solo goal against England in that tournament Gardner described the run as “10 seconds of pure, unimaginable soccer skill to score one of the greatest goals in the history of the World Cup.” Such was his importance to Argentina that the country has just declared three days of national mourning. But he also belonged to Napoli and the southern Italian city is also in mourning. An ironic note, Diego died on the same day as George Best, fifteen years ago. If Maradona and Pelé were the greatest players of all time, Best was not very far behind them.” Photo © John McDermott.
You ask if I ever met Maradona. Sort of. To prepare for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the NYT Magazine asked me to write a profile of the stubby wizard who had hijacked the 1986 World Cup. I started doing my homework, as I wrote in my book, “Eight World Cups,” Henry Holt, 2014.
Somebody slipped me Maradona’s home phone number in Naples. I dialed the number and in my very modest Italian I explained my mission. A male voice at the other end immediately switched to a form of Spanish. All right. I switched to my limited Spanish. The man at the other end shifted back to Italian. He seemed to understand my message – I was a New York Times reporter, looking to interview Maradona – and he professed to take my number, and promised to pass it along. I did not get a call back.
In the spring of 1990, I went to Naples and with the help of Cristina, the very able NYT bureau translator/guide, I saw Maradona play, meshing perfectly with Careca, a Brazilian forward, the two of them as smooth and swift as a Lamborghini
Afterward, Napoli held a press conference in a room near the locker room. To my delight, Maradona himself materialized, his thick curls showing a touch of gray, an earring glittering from his left lobe.
After they lowered the microphone for him – geez, he was short – Maradona began answering questions.
That voice sounded familiar.
Son of a bitch. That was the voice on the other end of the phone, the guy who kept switching languages on me. Cristina said his guttural Italian, with an Argentine accent, was not bad at all.
The obits will tell the sad and probably even sordid tale of a genius who fell apart before our eyes, banished from the 1994 World Cup for having a “cocktail” of drugs in his system.
His legacy is contained in the video of one screaming South American broadcaster, witnessing the romp of Diego Armando through the English defense. Never mind the Hand of God scam. This goal was human soccer brilliance, genius on the fly.
Bob Mindelzun was a great soccer teammate. He knew the sport, had played it in Poland, and was big enough and fast enough to be one of the best players on our team.
He laughed easily and was good company on the buses and subways that took us to road games in Queens and Brooklyn.
He spoke English with a thick accent, which was not unusual in Jamaica High School in central Queens. I remember teammates from Italy, France, Sweden, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and I think Greece. Our great captain, Bob Seel, had learned his soccer in the German-American clubs of Ridgewood.
We did not talk about backgrounds, not in the mid ‘50s, when the world was still processing what exactly had happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The wounds were so recent that words like “Shoah” and “Holocaust” were not part of our vocabulary, not yet.
After graduation, I kept in touch with many accomplished and interesting friends from Jamaica; five of my teammates became doctors, including Dr. Robert Mindelzun, radiologist and professor at Stanford University.
I have not seen him since graduation, but lately I realized that Bob came from Eastern Europe. Recently, we talked on the phone, and I asked a few questions, and he said, “Would you like to see my book?” Yes, I said. Please.
Bob wrote and published, in 2012, a book entitled “The Marrow of Memory,” about the terrible journey of his father and mother and their only child, from bombed-out Warsaw, thousands of miles further north into Russia, first to the Komi region, with its Finno-Ugric tribal history, near the Arctic Circle, to camps for refugees, the most endangered of whom were Jews, like the Mindelzuns.
In this time of pandemic….and a rampaging American president…it is easy to blurt that life has never been this dangerous. Bob’s book tells of other times.
This little cluster of family, which had lived a comfortable urban life in cultured Warsaw, now had to survive. The Jewish Poles were particularly vulnerable, including the little boy.
“They just had to see you with your pants down and you were done,” Bob said recently, a referral to the Jewish practice of circumcision.
Leon and Halina and young Robert stayed together as long as they could in hideous conditions – minimal food, terrible sanitary and medical conditions. Early in the war, his father re-enlisted in the Polish army – as a truck driver, for the relative safety, and for many months he was away, on duty.
“We did not know if he was dead or alive,” Bob said recently.
There was always danger. Bob’s mother loved to dance, and once went to a social evening in a camp, where she was asked to dance by a Russian officer, as acrobatic as a professional folk dancer. At the end of the traditional kazotsky, he landed gracefully at her feet, and kissed her shoes. She understood the danger, and never went back to the social evenings.
I was surprised by the number of photographs in the book – not just old family photos from vibrant Warsaw but also documents and photos from the war. Bob explained: The strength of rural life was the small villages, where even in wartime there were still amenities like photo shops, if you can imagine.
Somehow, through all the upheavals, they kept a trove of photos and documents, many in this book.
There was another advantage to living in the Arctic Circle: according to Dr. Mindelzun: up north there was much less disease than in the more southern regions.
At the end of the war, the family was reunited in Warsaw, now bombed out by the Nazis, and came to realize many in their family had died or been killed. Others were in hiding, depending on good luck, the kindness of strangers.
When the Cold War began to loom, the parents made the decision to emigrate to France – a tiny rented room in Belleville, a Paris suburb. They did not speak any French. The father, seeking a new trade, traveled all over Paris by Métro, the subway, only to be confused that so many stations had the same name: Sortie.
The mother explained that was the word for Exit; it became a family joke among the three of them.
For a time, the parents had to put their only child in an orphanage, but when they felt the menace of the Russians in the Cold War, they applied to several nations and were accepted by the United States. They arrived in Queens in 1953, still together.
And that’s where the book ends. Bob alludes briefly to his father opening a modest luncheonette in Jamaica but he does not write about Jamaica High, with its great tradition of education. (The geniuses who run the city recently terminated Jamaica High but the beautiful building on the glacial hill, built to last forever, houses smaller schools.)
He does not tell how he played soccer at Queens College and eventually took his parents with him when he began his medical career in the Bay Area. The father lived to 89, the mother to 93, and they told him stories of that awful time. He used great swatches of their tales in his book.
Our friendly and skillful teammate joking in the fourth or fifth language of his young life, later married Naomi, an artist in the Bay Area, whose shimmering versions of his way stations grace the book. They have raised two children, one of them a doctor and writer.
I asked my teammate to compare the time of his childhood to the dangers, medical and political, of today, and he said: “As unpleasant as this is, it doesn’t compare.”
He has seen worse.
This book is a memorial to all who perished, and those lucky enough to survive.
Speaking of survivor-athletes, my friend Leo Ullman and his parents survived in wartime Netherlands, and he is the subject of a prize-winning documentary, “There Were Good People Doing Extraordinary Deeds…Leo Ullman’s Story:"
(Leo also has a huge collection of Nolan Ryan memorabilia, now the subject of a webinar:)
Not bad for a child who was sheltered in the Dutch countryside while his parents hid in an Ann-Frank type garret in Amsterdam -- and with the good will of this country back then, they made a success here, like my teammate and his family have done.
When Kim Ng, of Chinese descent, was appointed general manager of the Miami Marlins on Friday, she became the first female to hold that role in top American sports.
Americans like to congratulate ourselves on being the land of opportunity, which it has been, although under duress from our child-kidnapper-in-chief in the past four nasty years.
When voters elected Kamala Harris, part Jamaican, part Indian, and female, as the vice president nearly two weeks ago, this was cause for celebration in the U.S. -- although not by militia-type worthies with rifles on their hips who came out of the woods to help "supervise" the polling.
As for the rifles -- only in America.
Oddly enough, this opportunity stuff goes on in other countries, too.
Currently in London, under the leadership of Mayor Sadiq Khan, of Pakistani ancestry, large-scale celebrations of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, are being held in public places. This is not new. Two decades ago, my wife and I were in London (for a Giants football game!) when we ran into a modest Diwali celebration, some music, some dancing -- and we saw four female police officers, in classic bobby uniform, dancing along with the celebrants. Only in London.
Canada has its own share of vibrant minorities. I was reminded of this in the Saturday NYT in a touching profile of an orphan, from India, who lobbied his way to adoption in Toronto and now runs a high-end restaurant there.
When he was 8, Sashi was a street kid, abandoned, taken into a home in Tamil Nadu, operated by a small Canadian outfit, Families for Children. There are places like that all over India. My wife, Marianne, used to escort children from Pune to the U.S. for pre-arranged meetings with their adoptive families. ("I am the stork," was her motto. I think her total of kids was 24.) The U.S. was not the only country involved in adoptions. Canada was, and Norway had a large presence in India.
Children in these orphanages know what is going on: they are on display. They are not shy about asking foreign visitors: "Take me with you." (My wife still talks about the sadness of a girl, heading to her teen years, who had realized she was not being adopted.)
But as Catherine Porter writes in her poignant story in the NYT, young Sashi, with the desperation of a survivor, spotted Sandra Simpson of Canada, a return visitor to the orphanage, and he persuaded her to take him to Toronto and adopt him into her large brood.
How Sash Simpson became a top chef, four decades later, is a tribute to his drive to get in the back door of a restaurant, and do any job, and keep learning. He made his own luck, with the help of the Simpson pipeline, and others. His restaurant -- Sash -- is hurting during the pandemic, but he gives the impression that he forced his way this far, and will survive.
Only in Canada.
Then there is Ireland, where Hazel Chu, of Chinese heritage, has become mayor of Dublin, replacing Leo Varadkar, of Indian heritage, the first gay mayor of Dublin.
With my Irish passport (courtesy of my grandmother), may I say: "Only in Ireland."
What a waste. Nearly four years, over 235,000 lives, untold damage to the environment, friends betrayed, alliances broken. What a waste.
But now we have a chance to start over, and I want to credit one source for the grace and vision and strength behind this chance to recover -- the Black public figures who made such a big difference.
In the same year that a white police officer openly ground a Black man’s life into the pavement, the best and brightest helped elect a centrist who might, just might, pull some disparate parts together again.
The tone of this election year was set by Blacks who have been preparing for years, for decades, for centuries, for this moment. One great part was former President Obama sinking a feathery impromptu shot as he strolled through a gym – one and done – and as he kept moving he said, over his shoulder, “That’s what I do” -- Just as when he sang “Amazing Grace” in a church honoring slain members.
The tone of this election year was set early by Sen. Kamala Harris who began a primary debate by reciting racial injustices to one of her competitors, former Vice President Joe Biden. He blinked and took it, seemed to be listening, and months later he had the grace to select this accomplished lawyer/prosecutor/campaigner as his running partner. Grace under pressure, by both.
* * *
Now I want to praise four others who raised the grace level in this country:
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland passed last year, after setting a high level of righteousness in Congress. I witnessed him leading some sports/drugs hearings years ago, and ever since I have referred to him as The Prophet. In his final months, he admonished balky witnesses, “We’re better than this.”
Rep. John Lewis also did not make it to this election, but he had been setting an example since the police beat on him back in the ‘60s, at lunch counters and on the Pettus Bridge. He survived that, served in Congress, seeming so innocent but actually a living holy man, tempered in the flame.
Stacey Abrams lost a narrow race for governor in 2018, and soon used her intelligent smile, her knowledge, her persuasiveness, to help register voters – Black voters – in the South, where the desire to vote means standing on line in heat or rain for many hours, by Republican plan. This week, Abrams’ work helped throw two Senate races in Georgia into runoffs, early in January.
Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina changed history by endorsing Joe Biden, who had just gone through two disastrous primaries in the frozen North. Clyburn is one of the most composed of politicians, no bluster, no swagger, just serene confidence. He read the mood of South Carolina perfectly, and gave the nation a Democratic candidate who could balance the disturbed posturing and fatal incompetence of Donald Trump.
* * *
The positive effect on this nation will carry over into the new year, the new regime. Trumpites gloried in their man depicting Philadelphia, any urban setting, as dangerous, but a white President and a Vice President who is part Jamaican and part Indian live up to the professed ideals of this country.
As it happens, my family has some Jamaican and some Indian ancestry, as well as Black American, and Latino, and Asian, all kinds of Europeans, including the lady I live with who can trace herself to William the Conqueror and early New England settlers.
One young man in the family – with some Black ancestry -- called his grandmother in a nearby Atlanta suburb on Saturday to deliver the news that Biden had won.
* * *
And Saturday evening, a joyous, liberated, masked, socially-distanced, horn-honking, all-colors-of-the rainbow-crowd in a parking lot in Delaware greeted the new look of the Biden and Harris camps -- people who seemed to like each other, and love their children and speak comfortably of making this country work for everybody. The mixed racial makeup in that crowd seemed to match the impromptu crowd in the streets of Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered, only this time not to protest but to cheer, to smile, to breathe,
Maybe, just maybe, things get better.
For days before the election, I had this image, this memory, of a young woman crying on the phone to her father, in the midnight hours, in November of 2016.
How could this happen? She wanted to know. Well, so did we, and so did Secretary Clinton.
I must have been clairvoyant because late Tuesday evening, my wife and I felt the same way. Four years later, and now this again?
The best part of the evening was the stunning professionalism, on live TV, mastering the obscure counties of the U.S., handling the magic boards, like two pinball wizards, Steve Kornacki of MSNBC and John King of CNN. (We switched around.) My ballplayer pal Jerry switched to Judy Woodruff on PBS and raved about her calm neutral professionalism.
I fell asleep with Biden on the bad end of a lot of numbers, but I woke up five hours with reassuring tweets from Deepest Pennsylvania and Way Upstate telling me that there was a chance.
Trump was being Trump -- threatening to go to his judges on the Supreme Court. Twitter cut him off. Much too late for that.
So now we are waiting it out.
I still think of the young woman asking her dad from long distance: How? Why?
* * *
(Steve Kornacki got a great writeup in Variety today:
(One of his colleagues said they forcibly ejected him from the studio after pulling an all-nighter, sent him to a place with a bed and pillows. Well-deserved.
Other than that, I am poleaxed by the mathematical complexities, the suspense, the rumors, the threats. . Going back to the tube soon.
Your experiences and reactions the last 24 hours?
* * *
(This was my post before Election Day:)
I got nothing.
Maybe you have something.
This malignant earworm has been proposing and doing mischief since he loomed on the escalator eons and eons ago.
Now I am tapped out.
I’m leaving this post out there, starting Monday morning.
If you disagree with my point of view, please say so.
I’ve been typing about this guy for a while, reminding people that I grew up (on a busy street, houses close together), a crucial half mile from the Trumps. I resent the hell out of him being described as a “Queens guy.” I know Queens people, tens of thousands of them, who went into socially-redeeming lines of work.
Just check out the “Trump” category to the right of this. I’ve said my piece.
Nervous on the day before the actual Election Day? “Breaking News” on the actual voting day? Do Barr and the new Supreme Court pull some scam in the days to come?
Get it out of your system, here.
I’m already discredited. Pole-axed by the results in the midnight hours, four years ago, I kept telling people, “I know this guy. He will do something heinous, and will be out of office in 18 months.”
They let him go on, and now we have a pandemic raging because he was always incompetent, and now it has become fatal.
For all my blathering, the best two words of this endless campaign came from Michelle Goldberg in the NYT. On the night after the second and last debate, she wrote:
Mocking Biden’s concern for struggling families sitting around their kitchen table, Trump tried to position himself as being above political clichés, but he just came off like a callous schmuck.
A “callous schmuck.” I am so jealous.
I am sure that some of the good people who read my little therapy website, and respond to it will have your own angst in the hours and days to come.
Not too long ago, Harvey Araton and Ira Berkow were gracing the sports pages of The New York Times with their wise columns.
Now they are both issuing books with their very personal views of the world.
Harvey’s book is “Our Last Season: A Writer, a Fan, a Friendship,” about the bond between him and Michelle Musler, who for decades was a fixture in the stands just behind the Knicks bench in Madison Square Garden.
Ira’s book is “How Life Imitates Sports: A Sportswriter Recounts, Relives and Reckons With 50 Years on the Sports Beat,” which just about tells it all.
(In alphabetical order)
Araton praises the wise businesswoman who was always there – for the Knicks and for him. He describes himself as the child of a project in Staten Island, who earns his entry into sports journalism while battling his own insecurities.
As he works his way from the Staten Island Advance to the Post to the Daily News, his talent and earnestness impress not only editors and readers but also a fan literally looking over his shoulder in the Garden.
Musler saw all – could read the body language, maybe even read lips, of the Knicks and the opponents and the refs. She had put her people skills to great advantage in the corporate world, undoubtedly by being wiser than the average (male) executive.
The Knicks were her outlet, she freely told friends, her social life. Everybody knew her – the players, nearby fans, reporters, ushers, even the team PR man, who left a packet of media stats and releases for her before every game. How cool was that?
Musler more or less adopted Harvey, counseled him, shaped him up, told him to aim big. She became friendly with Harvey’s wife, Beth Albert, and sometimes met Harvey after a game to debrief him on what she had seen from her perch.
When he fretted whether he was worthy of the Times job being offered, she figuratively slammed him up against a steel locker and gave him what a high-school coach I knew called “a posture exercise.” And when his career took a sour detour, she shaped him up, to the point that in retirement he remains an extremely valuable contributor to the Times sports section. Harvey is still what somebody once called him: “The Rebbe of Roundball.”
In return, Harvey came to know Michelle Musler – her strange childhood, her husband leaving her with five children, her career, her need to make money, her love of the Knicks. Her decades of working with male executives prepared her for a searing analysis of James Dolan, the miserable owner of the Knicks.
As Michelle’s health deteriorated, Harvey would sometimes drive from New Jersey to Connecticut to the Garden to get her to a game.
And when Michelle Musler passed in 2018, Harvey wrote a beautiful obit for the Times:
Ira Berkow’s book is also personal – about a talented, ambitious kid from Chicago who made his way to New York and became a fixture in the Times and also in books, not all about sports.
Ira has touched on most stars of the past half century – Muhammad Ali! Michael Jordan! He sized up O.J. Simpson, before and after! He had lunch with Katarina Witt! He shot baskets with Martina Navratilova! He also shot baskets with a retired Oscar Robertson! He schmoozed with Abel Kiviat, then America’s oldest living medalist! And he scrutinized a brash real-estate hustler named Donald Trump!
One of my favorite segments is about Jackie Robinson – who broke baseball’s disgraceful color barrier in 1947. Ira recalls being 15, a high-school athlete himself, watching the Dodgers take on the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
In 2018, with JR42 long gone, Ira was being interviewed on TV about Robinson and came up with a description of how Jackie Robinson had faked the Yankees’ Elston Howard -- a catcher playing left field -- into throwing the ball to second base while Robinson steamed into third.
Later, he remembered interviewing Robinson in 1968 about his thought processes in testing Howard, who was out of position because Yogi Berra was the catcher. Robinson seemed to deflect Ira’s analysis, but the audacious move remained in Ira’s fertile brain.
A few years ago, Ira looked it up in the official play-by-play for the 1955 Series: it confirmed that Robinson, by whatever logic, had victimized Howard into throwing behind Robinson.
This section confirms the instinctive genius of Jackie Robinson and also the enlightened journalistic observation powers of Ira Berkow.
* * *
Most of sports have been thrown off balance by the pandemic, but these very different books by Harvey Araton and Ira Berkow remind us how great sportswriters have enriched us by writing about the world, on and off the court.
Sunday 6 PM: Since this post began as a praise to baseball for keeping me sane, let's stick with this post through the end of the Series....even with peregrinations to college rivalries (?) and uniform numbers and love of La Belle Province. My dirty new little secret: I couldn't watch Games 3 and 4 because I cannot stand the two Fox guys. They display no wit, no change of pace. In the day hours, my baseball lunch companions have been conducting a web seminar in scoring, fielding, analytics pro and con. Anyway, I am on for Game 5 Sunday evening -- and any ramblings that may ensue. GV
While waiting to see if the United States can save itself on Election Day, I needed something to fill my socially-distanced time.
Once again, baseball has come through – with a 60-game mini-season that allowed me to have a familiar sense of angst and rage about the Mets.
Now there is about to be a World Series – with any luck, as taut as the two league series, seven games preferable to four – something to occupy house-bound fans like me.
My first hope is that the network types will stop bombarding us with “post-season” statistics. First of all, give the computer a rest. Enough with the arcane stats. Second, we are about to enter what used to be called the World Series but now seems to be morphing into “the finals,” like the other endless post-season “playoffs.”
True, the title “World Series” is a bit pretentious, even now with Latino and Asian players everywhere, but the title is baseball’s throwback to the days of two separate leagues that produced one champion each, to meet in early October.
The leagues were different. Starting in 1947, the National League got a head start with the majority of Black superstars, and the American League had the Yankees stomping on their supine league rivals. Then, more likely than not, the Yankees won the World Series.
Now baseball has blurred the rivalry between two leagues, but the separate identity of the World Series needs to be protected – including separate World Series statistics and achievements as homage to history, going back to 1903.
So much else has changed in baseball. The recent series confirmed that the age of great starting pitchers has been terminated. Pitchers are interchangeable parts, no longer expected to go long. As Tyler Kepner pointed out, a pitcher can have a 3-0 lead in only 66 pitches and still be replaced by the parade of relievers, as Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton was Saturday evening. That’s the way the Rays roll – right into the World Series.
Most managers seem wired into the dictates of the analytics hordes in some bat cave under the ballpark. Hitters are encouraged to swing for a launch arc, not putting the ball in play in some open sector of the field. Something’s been lost.
But I watched. And watched. As an alternative to endless sightings of a dangerous fool on the loose. And when the league finals came around, I found things to like about all four teams.
I fell in love with Houston a few years ago, because of their charismatic players, before we knew the organization was systematically stealing signals. Now the Astros have become the team people love to hate. Did you see James Wagner’s great piece about the fan who hectors the Astros at high decibels?
I get it -- the antipathy toward the Astros -- but Dusty Baker, age 71, a good human being who surpreisingly got to manage the Astros after the housecleaning, and I want him to win a World Series one of these years. Plus, I loved how Carlos Correa made clutch hits and showed leadership by lecturing his pitcher who was about to blow his top. I could not hate the Astros.
However, the Tampa Bay Rays played the Mets late in the regular season and I acquainted myself with a willful group of mostly interchangeable parts, managed by Kevin Cash. Some of them could even steal bases and hit for contact, not distance – a throwback to real baseball.
FAVORITE MOMENT AS SOME FANS WERE ALLOWED IN THE JUST-CONCLUDED SERIES: Justin Turner of the Dodgers picked up a foul ball -- and lobbed it to a fan in a distant seat. A sweet little custom, now revived
I couldn’t choose between the Dodgers or the Braves, either.
The Dodgers are the team of my youth, in Brooklyn. I love the uniforms and colors, although I have trouble seeing newcomers in blue Dodger trim. (Wait, why is Kiki Hernandez wearing Gil Hodges' No. 14?)
The Braves are the retooled power in the same division as my second-tier sad-sack Mets, and I am jealous about their talent and leadership.
The Dodgers had Mookie Betts making plays in the outfield. The Braves had Freddie Freeman, surviving an ominous case of Covid-19 and earning MVP honors – and chatting up any “opponent” who stopped at first base, including Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ star who would win the pennant with a home run late Sunday evening. (And dislocated his shoulder giving high-fives in the tumult.)
Now the two survivors are going to meet in what sportswriters used to call “the old autumnal classic.” (And I just did it again.)
Somebody, please tell the network yakkers: it’s the World Series.
Four superstars, overlapping.
I am referring to Rafa Nadal, one of the nicest people I have met in sports, who won his 13th French Open on Sunday. I am also referring to Chris Clarey and Karen Crouse of the NYT, who wrote about Nadal in the Monday paper. And I am also referring to Art Seitz, master tennis photographer, who has been snapping away, well, forever.
I loved reading about Nadal and seeing Art’s photos, having become a Nadal fan in 2011, the only time I met him. I had heard he was a good guy, a sportsman, and he lived up to his reputation on a miserable day, with the remnants of Hurricane Irene lashing New York much as the tail end of Hurricane Delta was drenching New York on Monday.
He had done his obligatory media conference and was eager to get back to Manhattan, but he was promoting his book and had promised me a few minutes for an interview. We got into a conversation, and I mentioned that I had covered eight World Cups by then, including my first, in his country, Spain.
I think it's fair to say that reporters do not expect their subjects to show much, or any, interest in them. But Nadal seemed intrigued that an American knew and loved soccer, even my modest dose of knowledge. I knew that his uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, had been a mainstay for Johan Cruyff at Barcelona in La Liga in the 90s, and I had covered Spain’s World Cup championship in 2010. So we talked soccer…as well as tennis….as well as his penchant for cooking for himself and entourage on the road.
He could have ducked out at any time, but he stayed and talked, and my impressions of him since have been confirmed – a centered person who has willed himself to the top of tennis, and can speak with compassion about the pandemic, knowing it is more important than tennis.
My pals Chris Clarey and Karen Crouse caught him perfectly in Monday’s paper – Chris concentrating on the match and the career, Karen focusing on his values and his acquired trilingual abilities. When I first saw Nadal nearly two decades ago, he could not speak any English in public. Now he is eloquent, from the heart.
My article in 2011:
For a sample of Art Seitz tennis photos, check out his Facebook page:
The first Yankee player I ever met was Whitey Ford, who died Friday at 91.
I was a kid at Newsday, the great Long Island paper, covering the high schools, and my mentors would occasionally take me to Yankee Stadium, the only New York ballpark open during what I call the Dark Ages.
Either Jack Mann, the sports editor, or Stan Isaacs, the columnist, introduced me to Ford, in a corner of the clubhouse.
Ford lived in Lake Success, just over the city line, and he was identified as “the crafty Long Island southpaw.” We wrote about him a lot because he was a great pitcher and because he was friendly. Not all the Yankee players were.
I was not disappointed in the introduction. Whitey Ford offered his hand and fixed his alert eyes on me – a Queens guy, with accent to match.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, and he made small talk, and I got the impression that I could talk to him, win or lose, and I was not wrong. For the rest of his career, Whitey Ford was available. He liked the coverage he got from his hometown paper, of course, but he also deserved it. For six of his first seven seasons, the Yankees won the pennant.
I’m sure the Times and other papers will give proper respect to Ford’s marvelous career. I’ll stick to personal memories of Edward Charles Ford:
--- When Ralph Houk replaced Casey Stengel in 1961, one of the first things he did was use Ford in 283 innings, the highest of his career. Perhaps Casey had been wary of Ford’s modest size, did not want to wear him out, but Ford became more of a workhorse through 1965. Houk rarely gave incisive answers to young reporters – known as Chipmunks because we chattered so much – but one day the manager visited Ford on the mound, as if to take him out, but instead he left him in, with good results.
When we asked Houk later, he said: Whitey always told him the truth. If he was out of gas, he said so. If he still had something left, he said so. Houk’s answer seemed to me the ultimate affirmation of Ford, as pitcher and competitor and team player.
-- Distinct memory of Whitey Ford from my first year or two: I cannot replicate it from the records, but I know I saw it: Two outs. Two strikes. A runner or two on base. My boss, Jack Mann, nudged me: “Watch this.” A hellacious curve broke in on the lefty batter, who lunged at the ball, as Elston Howard caught it – and sprinted to the dugout – as the visiting manager screamed bloody murder from the dugout steps. The manager said the ball had been doctored by Howard’s ultra-sharp belt buckle, but when asked later by intrepid reporters, Elston and Whitey knew nothing. Nothing. Ford's stuff and brain were enough on 99 percent of his pitches. He said it was Howard who named him "The Chairman of the Board."
--- Ford was a good friend of Mickey Mantle, at all hours and all seasons – the city boy and the country boy. They called each other “Slick.” Ford would never try to explain his moody pal, but sometimes he could joke with Mantle, get him into a mood to talk to reporters. Life was so much easier that way.
-- In those days, reporters traveled on the same charter flight as the Yankees – it made travel easier, and Newsday and the Times paid their own way, of course. The Yankee plane came back from Kansas City or Minnesota long, long after midnight, and at the baggage claim, I offered a ride home to Ford, and Hector Lopez, who lived on the way. I just needed to get my car in a nearby parking lot, while they guarded my suitcase. But when I got to my car, there was a flat tire – and my spare was shot – so I needed help. There were no cellphones in those days, kids, so I couldn’t notify Ford and Lopez that I was stuck. Needless to say, they – and my suitcase – were not at the terminal when I finally swung by. Okay. Next morning, at a reasonable hour, I got a call….from Whitey Ford….who said he had my suitcase at his house, and I could pick it up when convenient. That made him a major-league mensch in my book. May I just say that not every ball player would be as thoughtful.
-- Ford’s body fell apart in 1966 and ’67 and he was sanguine about it. One day, in New York smartass humor, I jokingly called him “the game southpaw.” He twinkled as he corrected me: “the gamey southpaw.” But his career stats and his Hall of Fame stature smell like roses.
-- Ford and Mantle were friendly with a chatty clubhouse attendant out of Fordham University named Thad Mumford, who was smarter and funnier than any ball player or any reporter, for that matter. Munford moved on, but at subsequent Old Timers Days, Mantle and Ford would spot him and the badinage would pick up, all over again. One year, Mantle drawled, “Hey, Thad, would you get me a beer?” Ford, with city-cat patronization, advised Mantle, “Hey, Slick, Thad writes for “M*A*S*H,” and Mantle blushed beet-red, as he sometimes did. Munford loved it – and went to get a beer for his old pals. Mumford would have occasional bouts of nostalgia out in California, and would call some old-time contacts. Thad passed two years ago; he counted Ford as one of his best Yankee friends.
Now the Chairman of the Board is gone, but his records remain, and so does the twinkle from a friendly corner of the long-vanished Yankee Stadium.
* * *
I did not make the connection when President Trump went to the hospital.
But Laura Vecsey was right on it, sending out the best Youtube I have ever seen.
In fact, I wrote about it in May. But that was before Trump actually went to the hospital the other day -- touching off the same panic and misinformation and danger that John Mulaney's horse does in the confines of a hospital.
Just as he does in the White House, Trump was screwing up everything -- his doctors giving out bad medical explanations, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, trying to be, how did the TV commentator put it, "a little less inaccurate."
There's a horse in the hospital. This one escaped Sunday afternoon to wave from a freaking motorcade of some sort -- at a huge cost and inconvenience to thousands of government workers. Then back in the hospital.
Since his self-destructive behavior in the debate debacle last Tuesday, I have been thinking Trump was doing it on purpose -- hastening his defeat through his erratic behavior. (From minus-8 to minus-14 in one poll, since his debacle.)
It also crossed my mind that he has been lurching around with no mask so he could pick up the Covid and get himself out of this nightmare -- plus, as revenge to society, passing it on to other people at that infamous reception who were talking to each other from inches away, with no masks on. (I'm talking about you, Kellyanne Conway and Bill Barr.)
There's a horse in a hospital. As of Sunday evening, the President was back, hooves flailing, nostrils flaring, a disruptive mammal out of control.
Take a bow, John Mulaney.
You had it, dude.
My first piece on Mulaney's masterpiece:
Bob Gibson passed Friday of pancreatic cancer.
He was one of the most competitive athletes I ever covered – a fierce, purposeful flame.
I wrote about Gibson (below) 26 months ago when he disclosed the fearsome diagnosis.
I would also recommend today’s obit in the NYT by my friend Rich Goldstein:
Also, you might want to see the piece I did in 2009 when Gibson and Reggie Jackson were promoting a book they had written (with Lonnie Wheeler) about the eternal struggle – that is, between pitchers and hitters.
I watched the rivalry play out over a power breakfast in New York, and when I asked a question Gibson considered cheeky, he verbally buzzed me, high and inside. I thought Reggie was going to choke on his oatmeal, or whatever he was eating. His look said: “And you writers think I’m a hard guy.”
I consider myself fortunate to have been around Gibson, in the tight little sanctums of the Cardinal clubhouse in the old, old ballpark. That kind of access to athletes is gone during the pandemic, with writers minimally getting sterile, mass interviews with a few principals, and I’m just guessing it never comes back. No writer today will see a star like Gibson, up close, the way I did in the tense last weeks of the 1964 season and World Series.
Finally, a word about superstars. My admired colleague Dave Kindred has a mythical mind game called “The Game to Save Humanity,” meaning “we” get to play Martians, or whatever, one game, Pick your team. My pitchers are Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, lefty and righty, even beyond numbers and longevity, but just, well, just because. I saw them.
RIP, Hoot. It was an honor to observe you.
From July, 2018:
Don’t Mess With Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson is fighting pancreatic cancer – “fighting” being the operative word.
Everybody knows Gibson’s combative pose as the best right-handed pitcher in the universe, starting in 1964.
I was lucky enough to be present when Gibson morphed from very good pitcher to legend, in 22 epic days at the end of that season.
He had been underestimated by his first manager, Solly Hemus, who had lost his black players by using a racial taunt to taunt an opponent in 1960. Gibson was still very much a work in progress after Hemus was canned in 1961, and replaced by Johnny Keane, who reminded me of the kindly commanding officer, Col., Potter, in the classic series, “M*A*S*H.”
After mid-season of 1964, Gibson pitched eight straight complete games – a statistic that probably would default the computers of today’s analytics gurus. Yes, really good pitchers really did finish a lot of games.
As the Phillies started to fold, the Cardinals and Reds put on a run.
On Sept. 24, Gibson lost a complete game in Pittsburgh. On Sept. 28, he beat the Phillies, going 8 innings. On Oct. 2, with the Cardinals in first place on the last Friday of the season, Gibson lost, 1-0, to the lowly Mets as Alvin Jackson pitched the game of his life.
Then on a very nervous Oct. 4, Gibson pitched 4 innings in relief, gave up two runs, but was the winning pitcher, as the Cardinals won their first pennant since 1946.
I can still see him on the stairs to the players-only loft.
“Hoot, how’s your arm?” a reporter asked.
“Horseshit!” Gibson said. Then he was gone, up the stairs.
When Manager Keane gave his pennant-winning media conference, somebody asked why he went so often with a certifiably fatigued pitcher.
“I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane said softly.
Those words gave me a chill as Keane spoke them; they remain one of the great tributes I have ever heard from a manager of coach about a player. Keane’s faith, his shrewd understanding of the man, helped Gibson demolish the stereotype that many black players had to overcome.
Gibson then started the second game (8 innings, lost to Jim Bouton), won the fifth game in 10 innings) and the seventh game in 9 innings to won the World Series.
He had pitched 56 innings in 22 days, become a superstar after some delay, just as Sandy Koufax had done earlier. In over 70 years as fan and reporter, I will take the two of them over any lefty-righty pair you want to pick.
Gibson never put away his testy edge. He was rough on rookies, rough on how own catchers and pitching who trudged out to the mound to counsel him. “You don’t know anything about pitching, except you can’t hit it,” he told Tim McCarver, who has relished that taunt ever since.)
He did not observe the fraternity of ball players, even chatty types like Ron Fairly of the Dodgers.
One time Fairly stroked a couple of hits off Gibson, who then hit a single of his own. But Fairly made the mistake of engaging Gibson in a collegial way. I always heard that Fairly praised Gibson for his base hit, but Gibson insisted that Fairly had raved about Gibson’s stuff and wondered how he had possibly made two hits off him. Either way, Gibson glared at Fairly. Didn’t say a word.
Next time up, Fairly observed Gibson, glowing on the mound, and mused to the catcher, Joe Torre, that he did not think he was going to enjoy this at-bat, was he? Torre wasn’t going to lie about it; he just smiled as Fairly took one in the ribs.
That is Gibson. Don’t mess with him. Torre later brought Gibson to the Mets as his “attitude coach,” as if you can coach attitude.
Gibson remains competitive. A decade or so ago, he and Reggie Jackson collaborated on a nice book about the age-old yin/yang of pitcher/hitter. They met me for a power breakfast in New York to discuss their book, and it went fine until near the end. Working on a book on Stan Musial, I asked Gibson if I could ask one question about Stan the Man.
“Absolutely not,” Gibson snapped. He and Musial had the same agent, and he knew that Musial had put out a fatwa against friends and family discussing him with writers.
Gibson’s abruptness caused Reggie to nearly choke on his bagel as he tried not to laugh.
This is the guy who is going to fight a formidable disease.
Knock it on its ass, Hoot.
* * *
(Below: video of Christopher Russo interviewing Gibson (Reggie in background) about the friendly little incident with Fairly, back in the day.)
(I've got nothing coherent to say at this moment about that "debate" or my sociopathic ex-neighbor from Queens. Perhaps you do. Please feel free to type away. The following was my open letter to Postmaster Louis Dejoy after I posted our ballots on Monday.)
Dear Postmaster General Louis Dejoy:
I just mailed our absentee ballots, both filled out correctly, to the county Board of Elections.
I could have driven to the board’s office, or even walked, or used certified mail, but I figured, that’s only 7.28 miles – that is, .2 miles per day. That shouldn’t be too hard for Louis Dejoy’s post office.
I know this is a stressful time for you, what with The New York Times’ blockbuster about your patron’s tax issues. He’s going to be looking for somebody to punish, and will not be happy if you let too many of those absentee ballots get through.
After all, you were hired to take a sledgehammer to the voting procedure, what with many millions expected to vote during the Pandemic. And from what I hear from USPS employees, you did a good job – slowing the mail down.
Where does he find people like you?
Just the other day, you said you could not use the sorting machines you took out of use. Either you demolished them, or you cannibalized them for parts -- sounds like the Louis DeJoy wrecking ball, either way.
As you may have been told, there are voters way out there in rural red states areas -- at the head of the holler in Mitch McConnell's state -- who depend on the USPS vehicle to bring checks and medicine. So either you serve the people of the country or you serve the anarchist Donald J. Trump.
Must be a stressful time for you.
Meantime, point-two miles a day.
You can do it, sir.
Comments? Please, You'll feel a bit better for a moment.
With absolutely no regrets, I faced the end of the “regular” baseball season, not that anything has been regular about it. The Mets lost Saturday afternoon, and were eliminated, but I have no complaints. . Baseball has done well enough by me this summer.
In a terrible time, baseball kept me reasonably sane, in a baseball-fan kind of way – that is, stomping upstairs at 10 PM, gritting the words, “It’s over. They stink.”
The “season” came at just the right time – when I figured out we weren’t going to take a drive or visit our grown children or hug our grandkids or go out for dinner or return to the city, my home town, until this poor bungled country figured it out.
For entertainment, for escapism, I would watch nearly 60 games’ worth of overmatched pitchers, erratic hitters, outfielders turning the wrong way on fly balls, base runners stumbling into outs, a catcher who couldn’t catch -- and that was only the Mets, the only team I follow.
I don’t watch the Yankees (nothing personal, I’ve gotten over my tormented youth, plus Aaron Judge is one of my favorite players), and I cannot stand network baseball, with its overload of gimmicks and just-learned drivel and bland “experts.” I watch only the Mets, or listen to them, and it got me through two months.
Besides, what were the alternatives?
--Following the smokescreens of a crooked and deranged President?
--Obsessing over a pandemic that remains unchecked in an inept "administration?"
--Keeping up with merciless hurricanes and fires?
I kept to the high road the first few months of the pandemic – reading good books, listening to classical music, watching National Theatre re-runs from London, keeping up with family and friends.
But when baseball gave it a try in mid-summer, I devoted myself to the Mets my team since 1962 (even if I had to feign neutrality while covering baseball.)
In a sick way, the Mets were fun this year, even as their pitching crumbled and Pete Alonso had a sophomore jinx for the ages.
As a fan, I enjoyed Jacob deGrom, the master, and somebody named David Peterson who finished with a 6-2 record Thursday night, as a rookie. I watched Jeff McNeil embarrass the analytics wizards who do not value a fiery throwback, a contact hitter who plays four positions.
It was a joy to watch Andrés Giménez, 22, show speed and savvy and great hands whenever they would let him play. Time is on his side.
It was also delightful to watch Dominic Smith blossom into a clutch hitter and get to use his glove at first base, and he learned to be a decent left fielder. But most of all, in a time of social awareness, as Blacks kept getting knocked off, Smith knelt to express his concerns, and wept with emotion.
. enjoyed watching the calm eyes above the mask of Luis Rojas, the accidental manager -- he's Felipe Alou’s son; that told me a lot.
I tried to ignore the counter philosophy that said we should avoid this goofus version of a season – 60 games, a tie-breaker gimmick in extra innings, 7-inning games in doubleheaders, no pitchers hitting in the National League, and, worst of all, no fans.
I heard baseball people say they are just beginning to appreciate the fans. Really? Just now?
The other day, I read an article by Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, the writer-commentator who knows the sport, lamenting a baseball season without “fun.” Tim is terrific, but I want to say that in my masochist world, “fun” involves suffering.
Fun? I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan in 1950 when Richie Ashburn threw out Cal Abrams at home, and in 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit the home run, and 1956 when Don Larsen no-hit the Dodgers. Was any of that fun? I missed it.
The real “fun” of baseball is thinking along with the participants and the commentators. I know more about the game since I retired and have been able to watch and listen to Gary and Keith and Ron, plus Howie on the radio, even though this year they did not travel with the team but made their calls, as well as possible, off the TV in an empty Mets’ ballpark. Hard for them and the audience, but it was still a game.
With the Mets not qualifying for the playoffs, I don’t plan to watch the long 16-team slog to a “World Series” but I might be a backslider I’m liable to catch the occasional soccer game in the winter months but I stopped watching football and basketball and hockey years ago. College football? I never had respect for the ugly alliance between colleges and football, and now the Pac-12 has joined the other major conferences in risking the health of the so-called students who will play during Trump's pandemic.
I think voters will get rid of this vile and ignorant President, and maybe more Americans will wise up about how to slow down this pandemic even before a legitimate vaccine arrives.
Speaking of change, prospective buyer Steve Cohen says he will bring back Sandy Alderson to run the Mets. This must mean Alderson's health is stable. But what does it mean for Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent who has been running the Mets the last two years?
In the meantime, the Mets got me through a long hot summer, and that is something.
Tim Kurkjian’s knowledgeable view of this weird season:
When Lou Brock passed more than a week ago, my friend Jerry Rosenthal flashed back to a summer evening in St. Cloud, Minn, in 1961.
Jerry was playing for the Eau Claire Braves, on a road trip to play the St. Cloud Rox, in the old Northern League.
Jerry was a college guy, all-conference shortstop at Hofstra, where I was a student publicist. I saw him take a fastball over the left eye in 1959 but he willed himself back for two more seasons before signing with the Milwaukee Braves.
Lou Brock was also a college guy, out of Southern University, academic scholarship, latecomer to baseball, and 1961 was his first season in the minors.
“Lou was a great guy!,” Jerry recalled in an e-mail the other day. “Very personable and smart! I ran into Lou after a night game near our hotel in St. Cloud. He was reading ‘The Long Season’ by Jim Brosnan. Lou was surprised that an active major leaguer would write such a controversial book."
Switched to second base in the Milwaukee Braves’ chain, Jerry got to see Brock up close in six games: “Not a big man, he was very muscular and had good power and blinding speed! Lou was at full speed on his second step, putting great pressure on infielders to getting rid of the ball as fast as possible! Needless to say, Brock turned singles into doubles and doubles into triples!”
The next year, Jerry moved up to Yakima in the Class B Northwest League. He recalls how warm and welcoming that town was, how fans would recognize him and ask for his autograph. He treasures his memories of teammates like Rico Carty and Bill Robinson who had so much talent it was clear they were heading for the major leagues. He says that Robinson, my late-blooming friend, “had the best arm I ever saw from right field" -- how he stung Jerry's glove hand when Jerry was the cutoff man.
Jerry also talks about his minor-league batting instructors, baseball lifers like Birdie Tebbetts, major-league catcher and manager, then a roving batting instructor at Wellsville. Tebbetts told him to go with the outside pitch to the opposite field -- and Jerry surprised himself with a game-winning home run to right, his second homer of the game.
Jerry also met major-league stalwarts who loved talking Brooklyn Dodger baseball with him -- Dixie Walker, once The Peepul's Cherce in Brooklyn, and Andy Pafko, the old Cub who was standing at the wall as Bobby Thomson's legendary homer soared over his head.
“In my rookie year at Eau Claire. I’m wearing uniform number 25, Bobby Thomson’s hand me down! How ironic is that? Pafko gave me his first-hand description of ‘the shot heard round the world’ and I was assigned to wear Bobby’s uniform! As a true-blue Dodgers fan, as a kid, that’s an occurrence that I could never have dreamt!”
At Yakima, Jerry was steamrollered by one Spencer Scott at second base and was on the bench a day later. But Rico Carty, the regular catcher, was hurt, and the backup catcher was injured during a game, so Jerry hit for him -- and slugged a homer. Jerry had never caught in his life, but he caught that game, and another, until the Braves could send another catcher.
The players were always competing against others in the Braves system. A brash kid from Missouri, Ron Hunt, informed Jerry in spring training that, as a former shortstop, Jerry did not know squat about the double play from second base, and Hunt, who loves the game as much as Jerry does, demonstrated the proper pivot steps -- then moved past Jerry in the chain.
By 1963, Hunt hustled himself into a regular job with the Mets, and a great career. By then, Jerry was out of baseball, teaching school, playing semi-pro ball and taking care of his Irish mom. However, he kept up with his old minor-league colleagues. In Shea Stadium, he said hello to Bobby Cox, who had played against him in the Northwest League and was now a successful manager with the Braves. Cox warmly greeted him and recalled the entire Yakima infield, including "Rosey."
Jerry never ran into Lou Brock until he went to a baseball dinner in New York many years later. In a crowd, he greeted Brock, who said he remembered him from the Northern League, but other people interrupted and they never got to chat.
Still, there is a bond between players who “made it” and those who did not: they all played the game. The backdrop is the minor leagues – the cruel classroom where a difficult sport is taught, where most dreams were destroyed.
Jerry, in retirement, lives in the city, is close to his sisters and many friends, catches good movies and knows restaurants all over town, reads a lot, and has traveled all over the world, usually by himself. He played in a senior hardball league, finally getting his Spencer Scott knee replaced. As a fan, Jerry adopted Jeff McNeil, the scrappy Everyman late bloomer who had fought to become a .300 hitter the Mets never expected.
Jerry is barely following this weird “season.” He has a raging contempt for the short-sighted proprietors of baseball and their still unproven commissioner, Rob Manfred, who are scheming to devour a number of minor leagues to save a few dollars. That rash move would be an insult to the history, the soul, of the sport -- fans who used to say they saw a rag-armed lefty named Musial pitching in the low minors, or fans in Trenton could say they saw a comet named Mays heading straight for the 1951 World Series.
That hallowed system allows old minor-leaguers like Jerry Rosenthal to display ancient box scores and mourn stars like Lou Brock, and sometimes able to say, with all due respect, "Back in 1961, I out-hit Lou in our six games."
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COMMENTS PREFERRED ON THIS SITE RATHER THAN MY EMAILS--THANKS, GV
COMMENT FROM JERRY:
George, here are my comments regarding your fine piece.
George, it was an honor being the subject of your great piece, “My Friend Out Hit Lou Brock....in Six Games.”
I will always treasure my minor league memories ; the highlights as well as the lowlights. Your superb writing brought out how important the institution of minor league baseball is to the development of young prospects and to the small towns they play in! For over one-hundred years, the minor leagues and major leagues have had a mutually beneficial relationship. Sadly, that relationship no longer exists!
MLB ‘s arbitrary decision to “contract” 42 minor league, owner-operated, clubs could be the “beginning of the end “of the minor leagues! Clearly, the commissioner and the thirty MLB owners are only interested in increasing revenue, not preserving the traditions of the game!
George, you were right on target when you described the minor leagues as -“ the cruel classroom where a difficult sport is taught, where most dreams were destroyed.”
I played for three great managers: Jim Fanning, Bill Steinecke and Buddy Hicks. These “baseball lifers” taught me facets of the game that I was completely unaware of coming out of college!
Just as important, these fine men told us to view “self-doubt” and “failure” as just part of the game! They all emphasized the idea that mental toughness was as important as physical skill! My managers were very aware of how you dealt with adversity!
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were being taught “ valuable “life lessons”!
I will never forget their words of support and encouragement! These are just the kind of mentors organized baseball needs today! I’m sure MLB’s
response to that idea would be: “We are going in a different direction”!
George, thanks again for this wonderful piece!
Thanks for being a good friend for these many years!
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Hansen Alexander passed on Dec, 22, 2020, and I just caught up.
He was a smart and passionate writer and lawyer, who often tried to educate and inform me. I am proud of his
interview with, of all people, me:
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV