Maybe it’s the pandemic, but people seem to be forgetting the dangers of alcohol and gambling.
I base this on the recent approval of gambling outlets in New York State plus the avalanche of gambling advertisements on baseball broadcasts in the reign of Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Um, does the name Pete Rose strike a familiar chord? Last I looked, that sick puppy is still banned for doing what the alluring TV ads urge people to do – bet the rent or the grocery budget on the wayward bounce of a baseball with Rob Manfred's signature on it.,
And the dangers of alcoholism seem to be minimized by a new movie directed (not produced, as I originally wrote) by, of all people, George Clooney, for whom I have high respect.
Clooney has sent forward a movie, “The Tender Bar,” adapted from a fine book by J.R. Moehringer about his exposure to alcohol as a very young man, admiring his bartender uncle and missing his absentee father, leading to his eventual admission of powerlessness toward alcohol as an endangered adult.
“The Tender Bar” movie is being hawked every couple of paragraphs on my incoming Web glut. I get the point. Little kid, hanging out in a pub, gets pulled into the life. I was tempted to push the button to watch the movie on my laptop, but then I read two rather different reviews of the movie in The New York Times.
Critic A.O. Scott suggested the movie is lightweight, skipping from episode to episode: “Ít’s a generous pour and a mellow buzz.” But free-lance critic Chris Vognar takes a more critical look at the dangerous slide of a young man, made clear in the original book. Vognar writes: “…for a film with the word ‘bar’ in its title, it contains remarkably little insight about alcohol, where it’s consumed, and what it does.”
The two critics talked me out of watching.
Why, you ask, do I take gambling and drinking so seriously?
I’ve seen gambling up close and have great respect for people who seek out Gamblers Anonymous and reinforce themselves, regularly.
I have also seen alcoholism up close, having helped Bob Welch write his book, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” about how he was having blackouts in his early 20s, jeopardizing his pitching career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, to say nothing of his life.
By the time I signed on for his book, Bob was already sober from a hard month at a rehab center, and he was an advocate of daily reminders to stay sober.
I later spent a family week at the center, and took a great deal from the process, from seeing endangered lives be turned around. Bob knew the dangers, and he verbalized them – part of the process. “I choose to be sober today.”
As far as I know, he stayed sober for the rest of his life, which ended tragically young, 57, from an accident.
Now I have a close friend who reminds himself daily how he, and Alcoholics Anonymous, saved his life.
Why do these reviews of “The Tender Bar” strike close to home? As it happens, I live close to Moehringer’s home town, and have spent too many long minutes waiting for a red light to change, staring into the silhouettes in Moehringer’s pub. Plus, I have known several relatives of Moehringer, and have been apprised that he was not exaggerating his childhood.
His book was great; I’ll skip the movie.
Now, back to gambling. We all know how much money is gambled on sports, every day, everywhere. (The first college game I ever saw in the old Madison Square Garden was a dump, Kentucky stunningly losing to Loyola of Chicago.) I consider “Eight Men Out,” about the Chicago White Sox players who dumped the 1919 World Series, to be the best sports movie I know.
Gambling did not go away when Pete Rose got busted for betting on baseball, including games in which he participated as manager (and, I am sure, as player.)
I remember how the late baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti, adamantly criticized all gambling --- including government-run lotteries. For Major League Baseball to permit gambling ads is dangerous; for New York State to permit gambling sites is also dangerous.
(For that matter, I see that The New York Times, that great newspaper, is spending a ton of money to acquire a website, “The Athletic,” that is heavy into gambling odds. How does that impact the parent company when gamblers make or lose money via odds listed in that outlet?)
We have a social brain fog that accepts drinking as a mellow haze that can be controlled, that encourages people to bet on capricious games.
Then again, we see dopes like Novak Djokovic and Kyrie Irving and Aaron Rodgers misleading and blustering about vaccinations.
Plus, an entire political party is going along with thugs invading the Capitol.
Can we blame the pandemic for all this?
Slightly less than two years ago, my wife and I were at one of our favorite restaurants near our home, and she was talking about a virus, emerging overseas.
She was sensitive to infections, having had a dangerous bout with something she picked up years earlier, probably in South Asia.
This is bad, she said. We’re not going out for a while.
Safely ensconced in our TV room a year ago, we watched another virulent invader swarm all over the capitol of the United States.
We were stunned to watch thousands of apparitions materialize with weapons and costumes and banners that proclaimed a war – dare I say a Crusade – against the established order of voting and succession. Democracy.
It was not hard to figure out these creatures meant harm, as they hurled objects at police and smashed doors and windows, and twisted peacekeepers’ faces at close order.
We saw familiar lawmakers huddle below their seats, and scurry to possible sanctuaries below.
We saw the Vice President being rushed downstairs, to avoid a crowd lusting to hang him, or so they proclaimed.
And those of us in front of televisions saw ghouls and zombies like Mark Meadows and Donald Trump, Jr., yucking it up at a rally closer to the White House, and we saw President Bone Spur urge his personal Brown Shirts to take the Capital, to “fight like hell.” He said he'd be right with them, just another lie.
That memory does not go away. My wife is struck by the good teeth of the invaders – paid by corporate America or government (even the military) to prepare these louts for closeups. The costumes and banners and even the shaggy hair styles suggest they are starring in the video of their own life, offspring of the social-media age. Look, I’m a star. They’ve made it onto TV, like the fool with the suit and the office who posed as a business savant for the reality show.
Today, we are still hiding out from the variants at home, watching what is left of the government we knew poke around in the copious evidence of evil.
There is tangible proof that people with access to Trump were beseeching him to call off the beasts, but he would not listen. Whose fault is that? (Somebody we know has pored over the list of businesses that accepted stimulants, well into six figures, and, look here, two are people we know, with theoretically good educations, who are staunch Trumpites – “he’s good for business” -- but not too proud to take a Biden handout for the needy.)
The investigation has uncovered plenty of evidence that shows which Fuhrer the shaggy Brown Shirts were obeying last Jan. 6. Now, the pace and tenor of the government “investigation” reminds me, alas, of vile attorney general William Barr eviscerating poor old Robert Mueller.
The Republicans are killing time with smirks on their faces, empowered by a frightening swath of the country that knows exactly what is going on.
We will watch these sad shenanigans while we are cowering at home, hiding from the latest variation. We know of sons who refused vaccination and endangered their loved ones. We know people who journeyed forth into crowds and proclaimed themselves “safe.” We know people who were extremely careful but somehow tested positive anyway.
We have survived. My wife’s alert has kept us safe, thank God. Our heads are busy, we read and we listen to music and watch good stuff (mostly on PBS) and my wife makes great meals, and we keep in touch with many, many loved ones. We are blessed with security as we try to ride out the double pandemic.
Now we will watch the one-year anniversary of that evil day, when the thugs and the monsters got a pat on the back from their hero, and lumbered forward, to try to take down a democracy, a crusade still very much in process.
Henry Aaron. Tommy Lasorda. Jim (Mudcat) Grant.
Poring over the magnificent two-page spread in the Times, honoring prominent people who passed in 2021, I realized I could write reams about stars I knew from the locker rooms.
I could also recall famous people I met here and there – Colin Powell, streetwise New Yorker ---- Vartan Gregorian, kind Armenian wise man -- and Larry Flynt, seedy champion of pornography, who happened to be a hilarious and incisive interview.
But my heart, at year’s end, is remembering relatives and friends I got to know up close, who have left a personal gap. As Arthur Miller wrote: Attention must be paid.
Aunt Lila. She was my wife’s aunt – helped raise her -- but she also became my aunt, jolly and chubby with a beautiful smile and a generous hug, over the decades, sidling up to me and asking about our children, our work (she had an admirable curiosity), and whether I knew the Lord. Her children and grandchildren cared for her in old age, shuttling her from northeast Connecticut to suburban Long Island, keeping her going, medically and socially. At a reunion last summer at a daughter’s home, Aunt Lila was wan, low on energy, and Marianne sat by her all afternoon, sensing this might be the last time, which it turned out to be. But Aunt Lila’s smiles and hugs and kind acceptance linger on.
Captain Curt. Once a point guard on very good basketball teams at Hofstra, Curt Block became a publicist at NBC and had other memorable gigs. (As a young reporter, he interviewed young Cassius Clay, and had the presence of mind to keep the rudimentary tape, re-discovering it in old age.) When aging baseball and basketball players (and one scribe, me) began to meet periodically at Shaun Clancy’s great place, Foley’s, Curt took the slow train up from Philadelphia and became the greeter, the treasurer, the captain, sitting in the middle, enjoying everybody else’s stories, moving the ball around, as he had against Hofstra’s opponents, back in the day. He quietly alluded to impending heart surgery, and last summer he went to sleep and did not get up. Because of the pandemic, the old boys have not been able to meet since, to uniformly mourn our quiet leader.
Neighbor and Nurse. Ann Schroeder was a nurse in the Bath-Brunswick area of Maine. She got to know my wife’s Uncle Harold (older brother of Aunt Lila) and she became a volunteer guide to his old-age miseries. We got to know her through her detailed emails, explaining Harold’s health problems, what was being done, so we could assure his relatives that he was surrounded by skilled, loving friends in that wonderful area that has become our own sentimental home. After Harold passed, we stayed in touch – via health newsletters Ann sent. She casually alluded to her own breathing issues, and last summer she noted that she was now on hospice, and then the e-mails stopped. In keeping with this understated woman, her service was private.
Mentor to Surly Luddites. Howard Angione was a reporter who somehow wandered into the emerging technology age at The New York Times, in the mid-1970s. With the reserved air of a theologian, he had to introduce temperamental reporters to the bulky Harris terminals now placed around the City Room. Sometimes these terminals would swallow articles whole, provoking profane tantrums from cranky news reporters like, well, like me. Howard’s motto was: “If I can teach Vecsey, I can teach anybody.” Which he could. After his missionary work in the City Room, Howard went to law school and specialized in elder law, until he became an elder himself. The NYT did not note the passing of the tutor who helped modernize the paper, but the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald did.
Zone-Buster Poet. Stephen Dunn was a rather shy jump shooter who could beat down a zone defense. On one road trip, he heard two older Hofstra teammates discussing a novel, and he realized jocks could also be scholars – and later he began to write poetry, ultimately gaining a Pulitzer Prize. His later years were spent fighting Parkinson’s disease, which got so bad that he could not recite his own work. Our friend, once known as “Radar,” was deservedly included in the NYT’s gallery of notables in Friday’s year-end necrology.
My Cousin Artie. From my earliest memories, I admired Art Spencer, my oldest cousin. He was so cool – riding a two-wheeler, driving a car one summer in rural Pennsylvania, with friends who had musty, mysterious barns amid lush corn fields, going to college, going into the military, marrying, starting a family. At family gatherings – some joyous, some sad – I had to practically pry out of him that he and Shirley had a flourishing crafts business, designing house signs – staples at weekend crafts exhibits near Ocala, Fla. The women in his family cared for him lovingly in his final months, and then staged – sign of the times – a Zoom service to honor an understated and artistic life.
Agent and Friend. Philip Spitzer was my agent who negotiated a durable contract with a publisher and the manager of Loretta Lynn – a project in 1974 that turned out to be the book and the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” I can still see Philip -- suave, part French, athletic, sitting on Berney Geis’s rooftop patio in Manhattan, holding his own, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, with two legalistic sharpshooters. We became family friends, his three children, my three children, good memories, even if the guy would never, ever, let me win a tennis set or a basketball game. Even after we did not work together, we stayed in touch, and as his health deteriorated, he passed the Loretta project to his capable oldest child, Anne-Lise Spitzer.
This magnificent seven stands in for all the people in my life who passed in 2021. As far as I know, Covid did not figure in any of their passing – just the inevitable erosion of time, long and good lives, now ended.
Our best wishes to all who read this tribute.
As one often hears in corners of New York: Be Well.
Best wishes to all the nice people who read My Little Therapy Website, and those who add their comments, making this a community of sorts.
We give thanks for our blessings in the middle of all this. We know some people who are not well right now, and we wish for health.
I am planning a little holiday pause, no words, no pictures, no opinions, just wishes for peace and health for all.
(Painting by Marianne Vecsey; card crafted by David Vecsey.)
You could do worse.
Instead of watching buffoons and insurrectionists on the tube, hook into the Web for vintage episodes of “Sesame Street.”
We’re in for the long haul, anyway. Get prepared.
I was reminded of “Sesame Street” recently when Sen. Ted Cruz, that vicious sack of goo, declared “Sesame Street” a public enemy for talking up vaccinations against Covid.
Imagine trying to indoctrinate the kiddies (and their adult caretakers) about needles carrying life-protecting medication.
I hadn’t thought of “Sesame Street” in a while, what with our grown grandchildren no longer needing our care.
But the Cruz diatribe against Big Bird revived our love of early “Sesame Street,” when our children were young.
Classic episodes came flooding back -- as real in my mind as scenes from “M*A*S*H” or “All in the Family” or "The Carol Burnett Show."
One daughter – known as “Zingara” (Gypsy) to our Italian-American baby-sitter – would come back from kindergarten at mid-day (my wife was at work, teaching) and I would fix a plate of cheese and salami and we would watch “Sesame Street” together.
I will never forget the spoof of a game show, in which floppy-haired host Guy Smiley offered a choice of prizes to the winners, Ralph and Trudy Monster – either a paid trip to Hawaii, with a new house, a new car, and ten thousand dollars in cash, or the second prize, a cookie.
That sent Ralph Monster into an early-radio Jack Benny-esque cheapskate holdup dilemma. (“Your money – or your life?” “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”)
In the version I remember, Trudy Monster stood by her man.
“I know you like cookies,” she said. What a wife. So he joyfully chose the cookie
I will bet that episode was as graphic a view into the capricious heart of humankind as anything from Shakespeare or Toni Morrison.
Wasn't that a time: Vintage “Sesame Street,” when Jim Henson and his furry friends were inventing a genre and public television.
At some point in the early days, there appeared a Rubenesque blonde who appeared to be another jovial member of the gang but in her actions and her statements she soon revealed herself as always, always, out for Number One. Miss Piggy.
Another classic I remember involves one member of the cast blowing into a banana and producing a jazz trumpet sound.
At that point, Gordon, the Black male presence on those early shows, turned toward the camera and, sotto voce, proclaimed, “a regular Miles Davis.” Something for the older folks.
As the decades went by, “Sesame Street” produced an electronic trove of masterpieces, many of them on Youtube. Look at the one I found, with young Wynton Marsalis having a trumpet duel with a pure-soul feathery artist named Hoots the Owl.
Playing for an audience of adorable kiddies, Marsalis is having a great time emitting his versatility. However, Hoots the Owl has one trick that even Wynton Marsalis cannot emulate.
Dude can fly.
Classic public television.
I’m sure Ted Cruz, dead-soul schlub, hates it.
A month ago, during reports of turbulent weather on Long Island, I looked out the west side of our house and saw leaves being twirled in a cone shape, by a brute force.
Not long after, three distinct tornados hit ground east of us—a calling card from the future.
We are receiving predictions of global warming, but we don’t do enough. Wouldn’t want to upset the federal budget, would we?
The weather is getting worse everywhere. One tornado tore through Middle America on Friday, killing hundreds, tearing up Mayfield, in western Kentucky.
The destruction touched home with me, coming at this time of year, when darkness falls early, and people try to light up the night with holiday decorations. A December tragedy reminds me of 1970, when a mine blew up in eastern Kentucky, killing 38 miners one day before New Year’s Eve, and as a regional news reporter for the NYT, I happened to be in the area, and rushed to the scene of the disaster.
Whenever something like this happens nowadays, I think I have a journalist’s version of PTSD, viscerally recalling the gloom of long nights, people gathering, at the mine, at the funeral parlor, at the little country churches.
My family got to know Tornado Alley from 1970 to 1972, when we lived in Louisville, getting acclimated to another part of the world, including its weather.
My wife knew about tornados. She had lived just west of Dallas as a kid and remembered what people did when they saw funnel clouds. If the car radio brought tornado watches, and the sky looked ominous, she would pull off the road and look for the lowest dip in the ground.
One day, I had to rush to a town about an hour southeast of us, where a tornado had struck without warning, killing a little boy who been sleeping upstairs – blowing him into the branches of a tree just outside his window. By the time I got there, it was a lovely morning.
Tornados are lethal. My wife kept saying one was going to come blasting up the Ohio River, to the sweet little suburb where we lived. On April 3, 1974, about 18 months after we chose to move back home to Long Island, a tornado came right up Brownsboro Rd., blowing down the garden apartments at the corner, taking off the roof of the school our two girls had attended.
That same tornado soon decimated Xenia, in Ohio, to the north, killing 38 and dislodging thousands.
My wife had called the 1974 tornado, just as she heard about a virus on the loose early in 2020, and predicted the pandemic that will not abate, given the arrogant people who will not get vaccinated.
Now we have Mayfield, essentially leveled to the ground, and parts of six states grievously broken.
What can we do? Our so-called leaders, political and commercial, hear the science of global warming, but they cannot move as fast as a tornado, roaring across the countryside.
The best we can do right now is give some money, to care for the current victims.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, wisely led by Gov. Andy Beshear (whose grandparents’ house is in stricken Mayfield) has a disaster fund:
And, thank goodness, there is always the Red Cross, on the site, in minutes. (I remember the Red Cross quickly at the scene in 1970, passing out sandwiches and blankets and first aid outside the Hyden mine.)
I started calling him “The Prophet” in 2008 during a tense Congressional hearing about the drug epidemic in Major League Baseball.
With Biblical emphasis, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings scolded the stewards of baseball for tolerating the widespread usage of performance-enhancing drugs during the home-run frolics in the recent generation.
His powerful figure and righteous stance was befitting the prophet who is honored by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“This scandal happened under your watch,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said in “Field of Dreams” gravity to Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr of the players union during the Congressional hearing last Tuesday. “I want that to sink in. It did.”
That’s what I wrote back then, and I followed him from afar as he dominated Congressional hearings during the disgraceful time of Donald J. Trump, trying to motivate see-no-evil Republican representatives with a Biblical exhortation: “We’re better than this.” Amen.
I was horrified to see how weary he appeared during those hearings early in 2019, and I was not surprised when he passed months later. He gave it all he had.
Now Elijah Cummings is returning to Congress, in the form of a portrait by a young Black artist from Baltimore, Jerrell Gibbs. The story of the artist and the work is in the Sunday New York Times and, I am sure, elsewhere.
But are “we” better than this? And who is “we?”
I ask this as Elijah Cummings’ nation seems to be degrading itself, day by day. Just a few examples:
--- A thick swath of adults are refusing to take Covid vaccinations that would protect themselves and their loved ones and other human beings – virus droplets as lethal as, well, bullets.
-- Politicians in many states are conniving to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote.
-- And people are scooping up all forms of rapid-fire guns to prepare for, well, for what?
“I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Bob Dylan, 1963. (Talk about prophecy.)
Let us swerve to 2021 – in the wake of the Rittenhouse decision in Wisconsin -- when parents in Michigan bought a very lethal pistol for their 15-year-old son.
The boy (“in the hands of young children”) gives off appeals for help, and is ignored by his parents.
His obsession with the weapon is noticed by school officials who, at the very least, notify the mother, whose reaction is to send her son a snarky (sign-of-the-times) text message:
“LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”
The next day, her son killed four classmates and wounded many others in the high school.
Then she and her husband went on the lam and were flushed out in downtown Detroit.
Now it appears that Mrs. Crumbley wrote a letter to none other than President-elect Trump in 2016, praising his stance on freedom to carry a gun.
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” she wrote, according to The Daily Beast. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
In her own way, Jennifer Crumbley was prophetic. When I read her screed, I began to think of others - young guns, so to speak -- who scorn the country they allegedly serve.
The sneer on the young man’s face reminds me of members of Congress named Gaetz, Hawley, Cawthorn, and the unleashed aggression in the mother’s “LOL” text reminds me of sneering warrior-representatives Greene and Boebert.
Are “we” better than this?
Soon the august presence of Rep. Elijah Cummings will take its place in the Halls of Congress.
I hope his ideals will grace those who walk past.
I was trying to figure how to express thankfulness, and fortunately others have done it for me.
On Wednesday’s editorial page of the New York Times is a lovely essay by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest. (“This Year, Exercise Your Thankfulness Muscles”) Her fifth and last suggestion was “Take a gratitude walk,” about her young daughter who “invented something called the Beautiful Game,” finding sights that touch the heart. My responses to her essay:
SIGHT 1: Fall Colors: I lifted my eyes off the printed page and saw the northern sky outside our home, with autumnal trees. Even though some people are figuring out that trees are vital in the struggle to save the planet, trees nevertheless are under attack in traditionally leafy suburbs like ours. The Town of North Hempstead, which pretty much allows leaf blowers and tree choppers to spew gas fumes and dust, making our suburb feel like an airport runway, is fretting over trees getting lopped off. These privacy-giving autumnal colors above are on our property, and we are grateful.
SIGHT 2: A Young Nurse: The other day I had a common procedure as an outpatient at Glen Cove (Northwell) Hospital. The young nurse who prepped me was getting married – three days later. When they shooed me out a few hours later, I could still remember, over her mask, the glow of her eyes. I was thankful for skill, and youth, and hope.
SIGHT 3: A Crowded Restaurant: The other evening, I took a walk around our town and slowed down outside Gino’s on Main Street. Since my wife sussed out the pandemic early in 2020, in our caution, we have not eaten out – not a terrible loss because she is such a good cook – but there are familiar places we miss in our town: Diwan on Shore Rd. and DiMaggio’s on Port Blvd. and Gino’s. I peeped in a side window at Gino’s and saw every table and every booth filled, the staff moving fast, and I hallucinated about a Gaby’s salad and a daily special and those hot chewy rolls and the cheesecake a la nonna for dessert. We’ll be back soon, I keep saying, but in the meantime I am thankful for the bustle at Gino’s.
SIGHT 4: Books About Thanksgiving. I am currently reading “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” by David Hackett Fischer, about very different strains of English immigration in the New World. I never fully understood what it meant for settlers to call their new home New England – but as I watch a very divided country display major stress faults, I am more thankful than ever for the “New England” emphasis on education, producing a high level of literacy and study. May it prevail.
As the U.S. Thanksgiving loomed, I took another book off our shelves, “Mayflower,” by Nathan Philbrick, who tries to re-create the fall of 1621:
We do not know the exact date of the celebration we now call the First Thanksgiving, but it was probably in late September or early October, soon after their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested. It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, and Bradford ordered four men to go out “fowling.” It took only a few hours for Plymouth’s hunters to kill enough ducks and geese to feed the settlement for a week. Now that they had “gathered the fruit of our labors,” Bradford declared it time to “rejoice together…after a more special manner.” The term Thanksgiving, first applied in the nineteenth century, was not used by the Pilgrims themselves. For the Pilgrims a thanksgiving was a time of spiritual devotion. Since just about everything the Pilgrims did had religious overtones, there was certainly much about the gathering in the fall of 1621 that would have made it a proper Puritan thanksgiving. But as Winslow’s description makes clear, there was also much about the gathering that was similar to a traditional English harvest festival—a secular celebration that dated back to the Middle Ages in which villagers ate, drank, and played games. Countless Victorian-era engravings notwithstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other’s hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on. Instead of an English affair, the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebration when Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets (more than twice the entire English population of Plymouth) arrived at the settlement and soon provided five freshly killed deer. Even if all the Pilgrims’ furniture was brought out into the sunshine, most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages—stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown—simmered invitingly. In addition to ducks and deer, there was, according to Bradford, a “good store of wild turkeys” in the fall of 1621… The Pilgrims may have also added fish to their meal of birds and deer. In fall, striped bass, bluefish, and cod were abundant. Perhaps most important to the Pilgrims was that with a recently harvested barley crop, it was now possible to brew beer. Alas, the Pilgrims were without pumpkin pies or cranberry sauce. There were also no forks, which did not appear at Plymouth until the last decades of the seventeenth century. The Pilgrims ate with their fingers and their knives (117-118).
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I am also thankful for readers of My Little Therapy Site, who contribute so much.
Coming soon after Diwali, and with Chanukkah and its celebration of life following so closely, can you share any thoughts about thankfulness?
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(With thanks to the website Reformation 21, Lancaster, Pa., for the excerpt from the Philbrick book:
With thanks for the essay by Tish Harrison Warren:
He did the crime and now he has done the time. The crime was exaggerating – embellishing – even inventing – a few moments in an otherwise admirable career. In telling and re-telling, he put himself in more dangerous positions covering war than he had actually been – not a good thing for an anchor, a correspondent, a star.
Brian Williams’ punishment was a work-release program. Instead of appearing on the main network of NBC, for the past five years he toiled at 11 PM on MSNBC, the cable version of the network, where he provided gravitas, experience, even grace.
Now Williams has announced he is leaving the network,. He has been a pro, listening to his guests, reacting to what they were saying, or what they were not saying. He presided over a recap of the day’s news and also the latest “breaking news” that never seems to stop. And when their segment was over, he thanked his guests, often with a turn of a phrase. (Wish I could come up with a few right now, but they were unfailingly witty and gracious.)
Some Friday nights, Williams’ handsome face has seemed drawn, his hair more gray, at 61, from dog years on the air. I feel the same way from watching MSNBC -- the same commercials for old-people ailments, plus a parade of hosts, some of whom have lost their charm, who natter on, before finally prodding the guests, who can’t always deduce the question, much less the answer.
And for four years, the whole process was polluted by a president who did not know truth or reality, only what he could stuff in his gunnysack.
It’s not all bad, of course. Andrea Mitchell, the noon anchor, has been there, done that, for decades.
Nicolle Wallace and Lawrence O’Donnell have worked inside government; Steve Kornacki can name every county seat in this huge county. Chris Hayes is best in front of an audience. And the younger correspondents out in the field – too many of them to list -- are darn good reporters,
I remember when Rachel Maddow would go out in the field to report and editorialize about states polluting their own rivers, states doing their darndest to make Black college students dare to vote in some obscure outback. She was wonderful, and urgent. Now she talks. A lot.
Brian Williams, doing his time, pulled the whole day together in the final 60 minutes.
I don’t know whether Williams is looking to rest and spend time with his family (the standard departure goal for politicians, or come up with a fresh gig in a better time in front of much larger network audiences. That’s up to him. I only know that Brian Williams has been a ray of experience and poise. Thanks, man.
As soon as the final out settled in Freddie Freeman’s glove, I felt a surge – not quite the relief I felt when the Covid vaccine arrived in my arm but rather the excitement of a great swath of free time, suddenly arriving.
I wasn’t reading hard-covered books during the warm months, but I kept taking notes about books I wanted to read. Now, no more long evenings obsessively watching the hapless Mets organization fall apart, in the person of Jacob deGrom’s pitching arm.
Now, World Series over, free at last.
The first book has been “The Taking of Jemima Boone,” by Matthew Pearl, about the kidnapping of Daniel Boone’s most spirited child, on July 14, 1776.
I was drawn to the subject because Daniel Boone was all over Kentucky when I lived in Louisville for two years, as the Appalachian news correspondent for the NYT, wandering the region.
Boone's statue and name were all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky, as I drove on twisting roads that had been paths for him to explore, to hunt, to escape. But somehow I never wrote about him in all the time I roamed around Kentucky.
Now Matthew Pearl, a novelist by trade, has written a taut drama, with a thick index in the back, assuring me that he was using source material and not only his novelist’s imagination.
It’s a tricky time to be catching up on an American icon, most known for barging into Native American territory, often fighting for land, as well as for his life. The U.S. is re-evaluating its memorials to slave-owning Confederate generals, as well as explorers like Columbus. What to do about Daniel Boone?
The reason Jemima Boone and two other girls in their early teens became prisoners is that Daniel Boone could not, would not, stay in coastal towns but pushed west through the Cumberland Gap and on, losing a son, driven by a tropism for space and land and “freedom.”
This American icon was taking other people’s land -- at gunpoint – but his relationship to the people of the land was more complicated than that. He became part “Indian” in style and spirit. He was captured by a complex chief, Blackfish, who adopted Boone as a son, and recognized him as a kindred soul, with skills and courage. Boone, of course, was planning his escape.
The actual “taking of Jemima Boone” occupies the taut first 75 pages of this book – how she tried to fight off the men who surrounded their canoe, how she left signals for the man she knew would come looking for her, and how she bonded, in a way, with the son of Blackfish, who treated her with respect, by all versions. Pearl, the novelist, resists going too far in suggesting a romance between captor and captive.
In fact, one of the things I have learned from recent reading about New England settlement is that Indian males almost never raped, although some did “marry” their captives. It never came to that in this Kentucky encounter, but the details seem to have survived (with revisions, with exaggerations, surely) into the 19th Century, and then the 20th, and now the 21st. Matthew Pearl makes it real.
Daniel Boone kept going, all the way to Missouri, where he and his wife Rebecca and Jemima Boone all died – of old age. He has two graves, one in Missouri, one in Frankfort, the Kentucky capitol.
I recommend “The Taking of Jemima Boone” as a well-written and well-researched visit to a distant time, leaving complexities in a nation now re-examining (at long last) its myths and heroes.
I rarely read fiction these days; so much to learn from non-fiction. In spurts of reading, I have belatedly learned about Neanderthals and evolution and DNA, as well as the earliest “settlers” of New England. This has been spurred by my wife’s vast personal research in the genealogy of her family, from England and Scotland.
Next in my reading list: “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” by David Hackett Fischer
I was drawn to the book by a review by Joe Klein in The New York Times, with this overview:
“Albion’s Seed” makes the brazen case that the tangled roots of America’s restless and contentious spirit can be found in the interplay of the distinctive societies and value systems brought by the British emigrations — the Puritans from East Anglia to New England; the Cavaliers (and their indentured servants) from Sussex and Wessex to Virginia; the Quakers from north-central England to the Delaware River valley; and the Scots-Irish from the borderlands to the Southern hill country.
I consulted the index and found this one reference: “When backcountrymen moved west in search of that condition of natural freedom which Daniel Boone called ‘elbow room…’”
Do these four separate waves of emigration explain why the United States, perhaps more than ever, seems to be several different countries, with rival impulses and outlooks? Does it explain Red and Blue states or regions? I look forward to learning what Fischer has to say.
Is this the World Series that is going to take baseball down?
I ask this as a certified Old Guy who has been following the World Series since 1946 (I was quite young) when Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, a wiry lefty, pitched 20 innings and won three games for the Cardinals.
Pitchers were epic back then and remained so until the past decade when almost all of them became spear carriers in an opera that drones on, too long, every night.
(And it’s not totally the fault of Joe Buck and Fox, either.)
In the formerly showcase season-ending event that once saw Deacon Phillippe of Pittsburgh pitch 44 innings and win three games in 1903….and Bob Gibson of St. Louis pitch 27 innings and win three games in 1967 ….and, as recently as 2014, Madison Bumgarner of San Francisco pitched 21 innings and won two games.
Seven years later, pitchers are interchangeable, and mostly forgettable, used by managers and coaches who burn to win, and know their game and their players, but are under the un-calloused thumb of mysterious analytics wizards, chained in the laboratory, coming up with numbers that general managers (and club owners) pay for and force upon their managers.
The result is two pitching staffs of spare parts, not a commanding figure among them.
To be fair, I love some players on both teams -- the miniature second basemen, Altuve and Albies, the Old Reliables, Brantley and Freeman. As good as it gets. But gone is the epic figure on the mound , the center of the action.
After five games – the shuttle resumes Tuesday night in Houston, with the Braves up, three games to two – the pitching staffs are mutually anonymous.
The most innings by a Braves pitcher is 5.1 by Kyle Wright who pitched most of the season for the Gwinnett farm team in the Atlanta region.
The most innings by an Astros pitcher has been tossed by Jose (Hombre de Acero) Urquidy – a massive total of 6. Urquidy also has 2 victories – but may not be remembered along with Bob Gibson, who on the final weekend of the 1964 season pitched eight innings (and lost to the Mets) and then gutted his way through 4 innings on Sunday to help the Cardinals nail down their first pennant since 1946.
I remember. I was there. I can still see Gibson on the stairs to the players-only loft. “Hoot, how’s your arm?” a reporter asked. “Horseshit!” Gibson bellowed. After that game, kindly Manager Keane was asked why he went so often with a fatigued pitcher. “I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane said softly – one of the most touching answers I have heard in decades of sports interviews.
Gibson then started the second game of the Series and pitched 8 innings and lost, and won the fifth game in 10 innings) and then won the seventh game in 9 innings to ice the World Series. He had pitched 56 innings in 22 days
Is this sort of super-human out of stock these days? Have the hitters become so bulked-up, so fearsome, that statisticians dictate pitching changes, while a rank smell of fear permeates the ball parks?
Is this the reason baseball has the feel of an ancient ritual, that appeals mostly to geezers with memories, like me?
Part of the problem is the glut of commercials and other baseball promos between every inning.
And the television production is numbing, with statistics for “post-season” accomplishments being flung at the viewers with no context and no compelling narrative. Joe Buck is plastic and John Smoltz, while he surely knows the game, is humorless.
I’m an early person anyway, and I dozed here and there, but for the fifth game I switched to radio,with the TV on blessed mute.
The ESPN crew of Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Eduardo Pérez was vastly better – more interplay and humor and even disagreement, plus expertise (Mendoza was an Olympic softball star, Pérez played over a decade in the majors.
Vastly better. ESPN is 98.7 on the FM radio in the New York area.
Nevertheless, the World Series lacks star pitchers who command attention. No Christy Mathewson, no Smoky Joe Wood, no Mickey Lolich, no Randy Johnson.
You want a plot? You want drama? Go watch baseball, in the international spotlight, throttle itself.
Let’s get this straight. Think of the Houston-Atlanta matchup as the World Series – an event unto itself -- not the end of a long and grueling tournament.
Think of the World Series when it stood alone as a treat, a dessert right after the regular season, in sunshine – bright or hazy – rather than a late-night marathon with people on the East Coast dozing off. (Me! It’s all about me!)
The recent games, as good as some of them were, have been bloated with post-season statistics, most of them irrelevant. For the next four to seven games, everything that happens should be compared to derring-do performed by players like Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Frankie Frisch, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle.
While we’re talking about wretched trends, have you noticed the commercials for gambling dens, gambling sites? I mean, how could you not?
At least, the commercials for Caesars gambling world are interesting, with a cool latter-day Caesar giving the people a spectacle.
The gambling commercials play into the weaknesses of thousands, millions, of people who come to life only when their money, their lives, are tied into the action – pitch by pitch, by dancing roulette balls or actual pitches thrown by Major League Baseball.
The commercials do not show the after-effects of people betting the rent money, the food money, school tuition money, and skulking around, unable to admit they have a gambling jones.
The last time I looked, Pete Rose is still banned from baseball for gambling on games (including ones in which he may have managed or played.) Rose, the dope, also stonewalled Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who seethed with anger and died of a heart attack a few days later.
Under Rob Manfred’s “leadership,” baseball is sanctimonious about gambling because it needs the TV commercial money because baseball is falling behind other sports.
(When I am watching Liverpool-Man City on the tube, I can tell my wife it will be over in two hours.)
Baseball is also falling behind other sports because it has become bloated with pitching changes and rituals like adjusting wristbands (and private parts), plus the ball is in play less and less. The new analytics dictate “strategy” involving shuttling pitchers in and out of games, batters swinging for “exit velocity.” However, a good sign is that the better teams – the ones we are seeing in October – seem to remember old-timey tactics –the occasional hit-and-run, the professional sacrifice fly, the stolen base.
My friend Jerry Rosenthal is enamored with the Atlanta Braves, for good reason. Jerry played two years in the old Milwaukee Braves farm system, with mentors like Dixie Walker, Andy Pafko and Jim Fanning, and he played against Bobby Cox in the minors, and decades later he chatted with Cox at the Mets’ ballpark. He says the Braves and Manager Brian Snitker have never stopped inculcating players with traditional skills and tactics.
“Snitker is a clone of Bobby!” Jerry wrote in an email. “He has the fine human qualities that a great manager must have! I think the whole process comes naturally to this ‘old salt’ who learned his trade by managing in the minor leagues for many years, just the way it was when I played!”
Jerry added: “If this series with the Dodgers doesn’t teach these new-age numbers savants that the game is played on the field, nothing will! The consistency of the Braves defense is remarkable! Everyone does their jobs in a workman-like fashion. No outsized egos in sight!
“The concept of ‘picking-up’ the guy who didn’t get it done is evident in the Braves’ approach! Put the ball in play, move that runner to third base, steal a base, etc.! I love it!”
The Astros have stayed mostly intact as fans haunted them with reminders of the sign-stealing scandal four years ago. I can’t help enjoying that team that was so much fun a few years ago, although I miss George Springer.
To get to the point, how does a neutral fan, like me, choose between the Braves or the Astros?
When I was working, I rooted for the cities of San Francisco and Oakland mainly for the ambience of the Bay Area, or Boston, for the October walks. But now, my standards are different.
The Dodgers have been gone from Brooklyn since after the 1957 season so during this year’s wild-card playoff I immediately rooted for the Giants because of one player, Wilmer Flores, known affectionately as Weeping Wilmer for the way his emotions flowed the night he heard rumors the Mets had traded him. (It was subsequently called off.)
This year, Wilmer was at the plate with two outs in the ninth, and Ron Darling (who made the TBS broadcasts so good) told the audience that Wilmer was a clutch hitter with the Mets. Just then, Wilmer was called out on strikes while trying to check his swing. After seeing the replays, I think Wilmer and the Giants were screwed, but we have moved on, haven't we.
I had no problem with Mookie Betts and the Dodgers, or the team representing the great city of Boston, and as a Mets fan I liked the Braves of Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox, and I like this team, with Freddie Freeman schmoozing with everybody who reaches first base, plus unglamorous old school manager Snitker.
But now we’re in the World Series; remember, it’s a separate entity, no matter how many "post-season" stats Fox shovels at us.
I find myself gravitating to Houston – that very contemporary American multi-cultural city -- because of the manager, Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
Dusty was mentored by Henry Aaron and later was like a big brother to my late friend Bob Welch, a star pitcher with the Dodgers in the early 80s. Now he has been a good manager with five different clubs.
Baker was profiled by Tyler Kepner, the Mister October baseball columnist of the NYT, who pointed out that Baker now holds the record for most games (1987) won by a manager without winning a World Series. Baker, true to himself, acknowledges that he was aware of that “distinction” during the league series, and he will surely be asked about it during the World Series. He can handle it.
I’ve been around Dusty during part of his managing odyssey with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and the Astros, and I also heard about him through my pal John McDermott, master photographer, now living in Italy, who knew him in the Bay Area.
“Dusty has a great family,” McDermott reports. “His son Darren plays on the baseball team at UC Berkeley” – a reference to the son-of-manager junior batboy who wandered too close to home plate during the 2002 World Series. “He has a wine company, Baker Family Wines: and an energy company, and is good company.”
John knows Dusty via a fellow Bay Area photographer, Terry Heffernan, a fishing buddy of the manager.
"Dusty is many things: smart, wise, emphatic, loyal, fierce, a giver, consistent, quick to smile, a lover of life… a true friend, the real deal!" Terry emailed me. He added:
"Its easy to talk about Johnnie B Baker Jr. If we all rolled like he does, our world would look very different!
"GO ASTROS… and hopefully Mr Baker will break the managerial Hall of Fame color barrier!"
I’m retired. I don’t have to profess neutrality. All due respect to Atlanta, I’m rooting for Houston, mainly because of Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
(Laura Vecsey is a terrific news reporter; she proved it in two capitals of major states. She once almost bought a bit of land in a scenic portion of northern West Virginia that George Washington had surveyed. The other day Laura offered some friendly advice to her father, who was thinking about writing about the baseball post-season: “You know West Virginia; write about that.” So here goes.)
Joe Manchin was not in the spotlight when I was covering Appalachia in the early 70s.
The governor of West Virginia back then was Arch A. Moore, who later did 32 months for campaign corruption.
Manchin later became governor and is now a senator. Nominally a Democrat, he is doing his best to blow up bills that would protect the ecology and the people. He says his stance has nothing to do with the energy stock he divested. “It’s in a blind trust,” he often says.
The governor now is Jim Justice, allegedly the richest man in the state. Some governors might be concerned about the water supply or the bleak future of the coal industry, but Jim Justice spends much of his psychic energy coaching the girls’ basketball team in East Greenbrier, W.Va., far from the capital of Charleston. He also wants to coach the boys’ team in East Greenbrier, but school officials are thwarting that little whim of his. Stay tuned.
* * *
West Virginia is not all grim coal camps and refuse from hilltop strip mining; the coal seams run out below the northernmost sector. One of my best friends recently spent a long weekend with three of her long-time girl friends in a remote cabin in the woods – had a great time, even though the fall colors had not yet arrived. She talks with great affection of her first couple of years in a West Virginia college.
* * *
The reason I love old-timey country music is from a few summers as a kid, spent in upstate New York, where you could tune in Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, the Carter family – clear as a bell, through the mountains, straight from WWVA in Wheeling.
* * *
One of my first trips to coal country was to report on Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen, who carried around slides of dead miners’ lungs – ravaged from years of work underground, inhaling coal dust. Some coal-company doctors used to tell miners that coal dust would cure the common cold, but. Dr Rasmussen displayed the grisly slides at public hearings or outside the headquarters of coal companies.
* * *
I also got to meet a member of the House of Representatives who cared – Ken Hechler, a World War Two vet, a New Yorker, and a writer, who settled in West Virginia and became an advocate of the miners, the poor, and ran for office – living to be 102.
Hechler had a protégé, Arnold Ray Miller, a working miner who had absorbed the inequities of the business. In 1972, Miller – backed up by volunteers, those dreaded out-of-state college students, ran for president of the corrupt United Mine Workers. I traveled around with Miller’s cadre during the campaign; after the 1970 murder of the Yablonski family in western Pennsylvania, the campaign was under close protection – insurgent watchmen outside hotel rooms, everybody armed.
Miller won the election in 1972, but nothing much improved.
* * *
In March of 1972, I rushed from Kentucky to West Virginia to cover the flooding of a valley, when a coal-mine refuse pond gave way in heavy rain, killing 125 people alongside Buffalo Creek, early on a Saturday morning. I interviewed next-of-kin and neighbors and learned that the company had sent a worker named Steve to bulldoze more earth onto the failing dam, high in the hills. That is to say, the company knew the danger but did not bother to warn the families downstream. My reporting helped inform a successful class-action suit, that did not bring back the dead.
* * *
The coal-mine carnage and the current conflict of interest by public servants would have been no surprise to one of the greatest figures in West Virginia history-- Mother Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland (home of strong women, I believe) Mary Jones left the potato famine for Toronto, lost her husband and four children, and became an advocate of organized labor in the U.S. – particularly West Virginia. (She often praised the valor of Black laborers.) To know more about her:
The people of West Virginia deserve better. In 2016, they voted, 68 to 26 per cent for Donald Trump, who soon abolished as many pro-ecology bills as he could. Many miners understand theirs is a dying industry. But guess who bellied up to Trump in the swarm after one of Trump’s first speeches? None other than Blind-Trust Manchin.
Where is Mother Jones when West Virginia needs her?
(Note from GV: My friend Jerry Rosenthal was an all-conference shortstop at Hofstra. He is a Brooklyn kid, Madison High, the school of RBG, and suffered on Oct. 3, 1951, as did George Hirsch and Ed Martin and other aging fans of The Brooklyn Dodgers. Jerry says he cried for two days. This week’s Bobby Thomson and Bucky Dent anniversaries sent Jerry to the keyboard to send me this message:)
By Jerry Rosenthal:
George, kudos for your fine piece, “Red Sox- Yankees: As Good As It Gets!”
I’m glad you mentioned George Hirsch’s fine article, “70 Years Later, Thomson’s Homer Still Hurts” ( Sunday, 10/3/21 edition of the Times)!
Mr. Hirsch’s vivid description of cutting his high school classes, with a few of his buddies, to see what turned out to be the greatest playoff game in baseball history, resonated with all Brooklyn Dodgers’ fans, including me!
As a minor league infielder in the Milwaukee Braves organization in the early sixties, I would often chat with my spring training hitting coach, Andy Pafko about his major league playing days, especially the two seasons he played with the Dodgers (1951-2 ).
Knowing that I was from Brooklyn, Andy told me that his two years in Brooklyn were the most enjoyable of his career! He loved playing in Ebbetts Field in front of the great Brooklyn fans.
Andy said the saddest day of his career was when the Dodgers traded him to the Braves.
He thought he would be the Dodgers’ left fielder for years to come, but that wasn’t to be. However, he had some very good years with the Braves.
My conversations with Andy usually took place after dinner. We sat on a couch in the “rec room.” He wanted to talk more about Brooklyn than Chicago!
I finally worked-up the courage to ask Andy about that fateful October day in 1951 when Thomson hit his pennant-winning homer into the lower deck of the left field stands in the Polo Grounds.
Andy said: “I played left field with the Cubs for many seasons. As a visiting player, I knew that right-handed pull hitters, who made good contact had a good chance of hitting a homer run over that short left-field wall. Well, that’s just what Bobby did!! That’s about all Andy wanted to say about that devastating day.
It’s ironic that Pafko and Thomson became teammates on the Milwaukee Braves later in their careers. They played together for four seasons with the Braves and were roommates on the road.
Just think of the conversations they must have had!
(GV: Jerry Rosenthal is a retired teacher who lives in New York.)
(FROM PETER VECSEY, long-time basketball columnist and commentator, still writing, listening, and learning. From memory, my brother just reconstructed conversations he had with two great athletes -- Don Newcombe, who pitched into the ninth inning on that fateful day, and also with Bill Sharman, better remembered as basketball player and coach, who was on the Dodgers' bench for the final game, but never did play in a major-league game. )
Peter Vecsey: Shortly before Obama was elected president, Newk and I sat for almost 4 hours at a hotel near LAX. No camera. No recorder. He said numerous people had approached him to tell his story in book or movie/doc form, but declined all overtures.
Newk was furious after the game that (Manager Charlie) Dressen had removed him. Considering all the innings he pitched down the stretch, he felt he deserved to determine the outcome. Additionally, as I recall, Newk knew Branca had not been successful against Thompson.
Bottom line: almost 60 years later, Don Newcombe remained furious.
Sharman described the thoroughly depressed, mostly silent (except for the cursing) locker room and its emotions. What stands out, he said Jackie Robinson tried to console the inconsolable Branca. That’s what I remember off the top.
On the morning after, what are your reactions to the wild-card game Tuesday evening? (I notice one of our regulars, in the Comments section, is celebrating the 6-2 loss by the Brooklyn Dodgers' old tormentors.)
* * *
"Red Sox-Yankees: As good as it gets."
I heard myself – steadfast Brooklyn/ Mets/National League fan – uttering those words when the Red Sox and Yankees wound up in Tuesday’s wild-card game.
It really is baseball’s classic matchup -- between two teams that have never been mine.
I’m old enough to remember being at Jones Beach, middle of last century, and hearing stereophonic portable radios blaring Joe DiMaggio drubbing Ted Williams, over and over again, an endless summer of Mel Allen, blaring from blanket to blanket.
When I became a sportswriter, I rooted (unofficially, of course) for the underdog Red Sox but there was always a Bucky Dent or an Aaron Boone.
I have never been a Red Sox fan, per se, but I loved the city of Boston from my first trip there in 1962, and I used to think maybe someday we’d live there.
And Fenway Park – the wall, the deep right-field stands, the skyline, the immediacy of that great city.
A ball park, a city, worth rooting for.
I was rooting for the Red Sox on Oct. 5, 1978, when the two historic teams met in a one-game playoff.
We had driven our oldest child to visit a college in the Northeast, and while she and my wife were taking a tour, I sat in the car and listened to Russell Earl Dent morph into Bucky Freaking Dent.
Who doesn’t remember those autumnal mood swings that baseball does so well?
This past week has aggravated the angst for aging fans of the Boys of Summer.
We remember Oct. 3, 1951, when Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants drilled a home run into the left-field stands of the Polo Grounds and into collective memory of Brooklyn Dodger fans.
I remember coming home from junior high and hearing the terrible deed—and wandered outside to pick a fight with a much larger Yankee fan in the neighborhood. A friend asks: why fight Bluto? That was the point. Being a Brooklyn Dodger fan was masochistic, by definition.
My pal Jerry Rosenthal was a Brooklyn kid. When Thomson smote Ralph Branca, Jerry recalls, he cried for two days. (When Jerry played ball in the minors, his hitting coach was Pafko-at-the-Wall. They talked lovingly about Brooklyn.)
Talk about memory. George Hirsch, one of the founders of the New York City Marathon, wrote about his memories – how he and some buddies came down from suburban New Rochelle to watch the game. Hirsch wrote about it for the New York Times last Sunday, and he also appeared on CBS Saturday morning:
The Dodgers and Giants formed the great baseball rivalry, but that was then, in a different New York. Those two teams moved to California and broke a lot of hearts, including mine.
To be sure, they remained rivals. I was in the press box in Candlestick Park in 1965, when Juan Marichal clubbed John Roseboro over the head at home plate – as ugly as it gets.
Then there's this: the Yankees and Red Sox never left town. Gotta give them that.
In 2004, the Yankees drubbed the Sox, 19-8, for a third straight victory in the AL series. I will never forget being in that tiny Red Sox clubhouse and hearing Johnny Damon say (and I am writing from recall): “If I am not mistaken, we won four straight games eight times this season.”
His point was: they could do it again. And they did, beating the Yankees four straight and then the Cardinals four straight in the World Series for their first championship since Babe Ruth and 1918.
The Red Sox’ four straight victories over the Yankees in 2004 is now part of their rivalry – payback, as good as it gets.
There, I said it again.
One of my favorite scenes in all the Sopranos episodes -- plus, nobody dies.
There is a terrific article about the enduring appeal of the Sopranos’ series, in this Sunday’s magazine section of The New York Times, already online.
The writer Willy Staley, an editor of the NYT magazine, claims the series is extremely popular with younger people who were too young to watch it during its heyday.
Why? The Sopranos are trying to hold on to their thuggish edge in an apocalyptic world where all the rules are gone, even for gangsters.
Until I read this article, I had never seen the broader picture – I had laughed at the funny lines even when my stomach was churning, knowing what was going to happen to characters like Big Pussy or Adriana, in over her head. Who knew this was actually about America?
But then the magazine article popped up online, describing Tony’s world of expensive suburbs, with everybody emulating gangster architecture, until the palaces met in the middle.
No taste, no privacy, even for a gang lord.
Then on the very day of the magazine article, I was watching the televised Congressional budget death dance, and there was Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, ostensibly a Democrat, jutting out his jaw in a narrow corridor, being pestered by a reporter.
The pesty reporter, Ari Natter of Bloomberg News, asked Manchin if his view on protecting the dying coal industry was colored by the fact that his son ran a coal company and Manchin received profits from it.
“I’ve been in a blind trust for 20 years,” Manchin said, hard-faced. “I have no idea what they’re doing.”
“You’re still getting dividends,” the reporter persisted.
“You got a problem?” Manchin asked.
When the reporter asked another question, Manchin snapped: "You'd do best to change the subject."
(Published reports say Manchin has made $500,000 in coal dividends. The family is busy. Daughter Heather Bresch once presided over a drug company, Mylan, when the price of EpiPens soared to $600 a shot. And Gayle Conelly Manchin, wife of the senator, is now the federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, no doubt taking care of the poor folks in the hollers. That's the way it works in Appalachia.)
Seeing Joe Manchin in action, I thought immediately of how Tony Soprano’s face would darken as he menaced somebody.
I thought of how Furio, Tony’s muscle man, nudged the uncooperative doctor into the golf-course water hole, up to his ankles.
* * *
I know there is a prequel about the Sopranos coming out, but I think I’ll skip it. For me, that world, that series, ended – quite appropriately – with no resolution about what happened to Tony and his family.
I usually postulate that the evening in the restaurant ended prosaically, and Tony and Carmela found a way to get out of the business, changed their fingerprints and moved to Boca Raton. (I bet Tony even plays golf.)
Maybe, in their new lives, Tony and Carmela watch TV as Joe Manchin struts down a Congressional corridor, pretty much saying he doesn’t care what happens to all those people. He’s got his.
Tony: “That used to be me.”
* * *
Read the great NYT magazine article for yourself:
During Angela Merkel’s final weeks as German chancellor, a stirring fact came out in The New York Times: immigrants have been naming their daughters Angela, and sometimes their sons also received a male version of her name.
I have been delighted to learn this about Chancellor Merkel because she has been a familiar figure in my consciousness since the 2006 World Cup, as my wife and I had a glorious time taking trains to games in bustling cities all over the modern nation.
The chancellor showed up for her country’s games, her bright jackets making her findable among the staid politicians in the VIP tribunes of the stadiums. Her soft, thoughtful face was always findable, right above the lime and yellow and red jackets, comfortable with herself. As she endured in office, I came to think of her as one of the most stable forces in a world getting meaner by the hour.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is being appraised by experts who know her best: slow to act on climate change and aggression in Europe, plus Jeopardizing her country by encouraging immigration.
But I always thought of her as the pastor’s daughter, growing up in an East Germany crawling – and I use the word advisedly – with cold-eyed officers from the old Soviet Union, like Vladimir Putin, whom she would meet again, later.
The tolerance for immigrants reflects Merkel’s open attitude toward the poor, the desperate of the world. Some countries turned immigrants away – even viciously separated parents and children, as if to punish them for their dire straits.
But there were fewer barricades for millions who came to Germany, and began, as immigrants do, to work, to make life better for their families, to fit in.
Perhaps she had heard her Lutheran pastor father, Rev. Horst Kasner, referring to the Biblical passage (Matthew 19:14): "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" (The word "suffer" means to allow something or tolerate an action, in earlier forms of English.)
Without preaching, she lived the words. (The other great religions surely stress compassion for the poor.)
A recent article in the Washington Post traced the stance of the Chancellor to her father:
“Germany and even its churches are dominated by economic thinking,” Pastor Kasner said in 1991. “But the Bible’s message calls on us to judge political and economic systems from the perspective of their victims.”
Perhaps in retirement, Mrs. Merkel will elaborate on the sources of her views.
For now, she is the kind face of world politics.
I also think of the published photos of her with some of the male “leaders” she met.
In tribute to Angela Merkel, I have borrowed a few from the world’s archives.
I never had to use a word of German, not one, in a month of trains, hotels, stadiums and restaurants during the World Cup of 2006, so, may I say:
Danke, Kanzlerin Merkel
Here's my NYT column from a stay in Essen during the 2006 World Cup, when I tried to trace the last steps of my Belgian-Irish aunt in 1944; and realized how carefully Germany acknowledges those days:
Hoping you can open these fine strories:
A current appraisal of the Merkel regime:
There’s a new TV series with Jeff Daniels playing a sheriff with tangled loyalties, in a faded steel town in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania.
As soon as I heard about it, I said, “Hey, wait, I know that place.”
I came to know it, and root for it, in 2009-10, when I was working on the biography of Stan Musial, the great star of the St. Louis Cardinals, who grew up where the Monongahela River twists between the hills and fading towns and dormant steel mills.
Humankind has since screwed up a lot more places, probably irrevocably.
The Mon Valley was a signpost, a warning, of what we were doing. After the steel mills and coal mines were played out, some people were still living in, essentially, the ruins.
That is the site of the new series, “American Rust,” from the book of the same name, by Philipp Meyer, which had just come out in 2009, when I began my research on Musial and his roots. Musial’s dad had migrated from Poland to work in the mills, joined by immigrants from Europe and Africa and the east coast.
I read that the new series was filmed in studios in modern high-tech Pittsburgh, but some of the exteriors were shot in Monessen, just across the Stan Musial Bridge from Donora, where Musial grew up. He played basketball and baseball for Donora High, but his first baseball tryout was conducted in Monessen, where the St. Louis Cardinals had one of their many farm teams.
From what I read, Daniels’ TV town is as gray as the smoke-filled skies from the 1948 Halloween killer smoke cloud, known as “The Donora Smog.” (Stan Musial’s dad, Lukasz, breathed too much of that smog, trapped under an inversion on that October night, and was dead two months later – too much American rust in his lungs.)
Musial was no longer capable of giving interviews when I worked on the book – he would die in 2013 -- but other people took me around the valley.
One of my tour guides was a local hero named Bimbo Cecconi, a former Pitt football star and coach, now living up near Pittsburgh, who walked the hills of Donora and told me about the athletes from his hometown – Deacon Dan Towler of the Los Angeles Rams and Arnold Galiffa who played at West Point, and three generations of ball-playing Griffeys – Buddy and Ken and Ken Junior.
Bimbo escorted me to the Donora Public Library where Donnis Headley became a helpful source. When the Donora microfilm machine was out of commission, she directed me across the river to the Monessen library, where I read old clips about Musial and the two towns.
My other guide was Dr. Charles Stacey, who had been the superintendent of schools, and still lives on the main street, McKean Ave. Dr. Stacey gave me a black T-shirt with the legend Donora Smog Museum, which he had opened in the shell of a former Chinese restaurant.
Dr. Stacey was also a mentor to Reggie B. Walton, once a football star on the verge of gang trouble, who willed himself to a historically Black college and a federal judgeship in Washington, D.C. Judge Walton is a Republican who has delivered decisive and apolitical rulings.
As I walked around with Dr. Stacey, I expressed interest in talking to Judge Walton A week later, my home phone rang and a man said, “This is Reggie Walton….” He said Charles Stacey had asked him to call me – one of the honors of my working life. I wonder if this new series will take note of this accomplished judge who came out of the American Rust.
I learned other things from my days in the Mon Valley.
-- “Monongahela” is of Native American origin, meaning “river with the sliding banks” or “high banks that break off and fall down.”
--A young surveyor from Virginia, George Washington, was an aide to Gen. Edwin Braddock who was killed in action further downstream in the French and Indian War in 1755.
-- The names of Monessen and Donora are both amalgamations.
--- Monessen’s name is a salute to the German emigrées, from the industrial town of Essen.
-- Donora was named by industrialist Andrew Mellon of Pittsburgh, who built a new steel town at the end of a freight line. Mellon honored W.H, Donner, an executive who had made a lot of money for him, and also honored Mellon’s young wife, whom he had brought over from Europe -- Nora McMullen. The Mellon marriage did not last long but the odd mixture of names survives in a gritty town with memories.
I came away from my visits to Donora and Monessen with the same rooting interest I have for Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, further down the Appalachian chain, where I used to work. I cringe when I hear about the rampant use of opioids, the crime statistics, the dropouts, in Appalachia, and I gather that is the backdrop to this new series.
I’ve seen a few of Jeff Daniels’ interviews on TV, and he always stresses that while he works in Hollywood or Broadway, he always goes home, to Michigan – “Fly-Over Country,” I heard him say, using the ironic term midwestern people use for their part of the country.
Maybe I’ll catch some of “American Rust” sometime; (I don’t have Showtime on my cable package.) Some of the reviews I’ve read are not ecstatic, but I wonder: is Appalachia just not sexy enough for Americans?
After all, “The Sopranos,” in tense urban New Jersey, was the best TV series I have ever seen, and “The Wire” made people pay attention to inner-city Baltimore.
I just hope the writers – and the viewers -- do right by the Mon Valley.
(In a world of Kabul, Covid and Ida, the following is totally irrelevant. But this is what I know.)
* * *
(The Thumbs Guys "apologized" and the Mets won a doubleheader on Tuesday, the first with a stunning rally. But the basics remain. My friend, once a prospect with the old Milwaukee Braves' franchise, keeps up with the business, and gives his view of the Mets' problems:)
From Jerry Rosenthal:
George, your fine piece should resonate with angry Mets’ fans! This latest debacle was inevitable! The toxic duo of Lindor and Baez split the Mets’ clubhouse that was once led effectively by Jacob deGrom!
Steve Cohen made a huge mistake in signing Lindor for over $300 million! However, picking up Baez, a known malingerer and “all about me”ball player is Sandy Alderson’s mistake! The imperious Mets’ executive never seems to get criticized by the press for the poor construction of this Mets roster and senseless trades. The Mets gave up a top outfield prospect to get Baez just for a “short-term rental.” Alderson went for a home run hitter like Baez, ignoring the fact that he could easily strike out four or five times in a game!
Obtaining Baez brings to light the fallacy of the “money ball” philosophy! All season, the Mets were waiting for that home run that never came at the right time! It was all about the long ball! Putting the ball in play with two strikes was not in the Mets’ playbook in 2021.
Alderson fired respected batting coach, Chili Davis who was an advocate of using the wide expanse of Citi Field to the hitter’s advantage! Chili emphasized the importance of trying to hit the ball in the alleys and using the fundamentally sound hitting approach of “hitting through” the ball and making solid contact, rather than trying to “lift” the ball in the air!
Chili’s smart hitting advice was abandoned under the new “hitting gurus” Alderson brought in to replace him! ! They are more intent on tweaking the launch angles of Mets hitters. The subpar offensive performances of Conforto Lindor, McNeil , McCann, Davis and Smith proves this experiment has been a colossal failure!
The Mets offensive numbers are among the lowest in the major leagues! Alderson has yet to step up and take responsibility for these disastrous decisions!
The Mets must make many moves in the off season, but it will not do any good if the same decision makers stay in place. It remains to be seen if Steve Cohen recognizes that his organization is dysfunctional from the top to bottom!
Steve Cohen should be looking at the Atlanta Braves as a model of how a major league franchise should be run! We never hear of turmoil or scandal in the Braves’ organization. If an executive or player is not in-sync with the “team first” philosophy of the Braves’ organization, they are gone!
Continuity has always been important to the Braves. The long tenure of managers Bobby Cox and Brian Snitker shows that stability is highly valued by the organization. It’s the same with many of the Braves’ coaches and front office personnel.
Baseball fans recognize that the Braves fine young players- Jose’ Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley were all developed in the Braves minor league system, along with their great veteran team leader-Freddie Freeman. They were steeped in the Braves’ tradition of doing the right thing on the field and off the field!
That’s the way it was when I played in the Braves’ organization in the earlier 60’s, when John McHale was the Braves’ GM. That’s the way it is today with Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves’ GM.
* * *
(George Vecsey's earlier critique, before the "apology."
Well, Javier Baez made it easy for the Mets to let him go in a month.
The Mets’ rent-a-dud and his pal Francisco Lindor – the team leader by self-proclamation – showed their contempt for the Mets fans in recent days, flashing thumbs downward, like a couple of imperial Caesars.
This is not a good career move for two stars from other teams in other towns, who arrived separately this season and, a lot of the time, have stunk out the joint.
We all know that Mets fans are warm-hearted folks. They cheered every time Wilmer Flores appeared in the Giants’ lineup last week, because they remember how Wilmer wept when it seemed he had been traded one melodramatic night back in 2015. Wilmer cared…he showed his heart….and so did the denizens of the Mets’ ballpark, then and forever.
Mets fans are as nice as they are mean. Somehow Baez and Lindor never got that message when they were playing very good baseball in Chicago and Cleveland, respectively.
Lindor was an effervescent star, but quite possibly on a downward trajectory when the Mets’ committed to a franchise record 10-year, $341 million contract before this season.
He then decided he was the team leader, before he ever played a game, and spent the first few months posturing and smiling and interrupting pitcher-catcher confabs on the mound.
In the meantime, he struggled to get above the dreaded .200 border, but not by much -- .224 currently, including a big insurance hit on Sunday. As Lindor often tells the press, his fielding and running have been good. Fine. So nickname him “Leather” and let him play spot duty, for all those dollars from Steve Cohen’s hedge fund.
In addition to his on-the-field “leadership,” Lindor seems to have a side job of advising Cohen and whoever else makes decisions. He assured the Mets that his pal Javier Baez was just what the Mets needed to stay in the division race, so the Mets imported Baez for the rest of this season.
Baez arrived with a reputation in the arcane art of making the tag at second base, and also for having prodigious power, but also for striking out. The front office shrugged off that he leads the National League with 153 strikeouts – 22 since the Mets got him.
In this new world of analytics, apparently striking out is not the flaw older fans had always assumed it was. Baez does not make contact when a single or a sacrifice fly or even a grounder to the right side might lead to a vital run.
Did Cubs fans not boo him for being such a glaringly incomplete and self-centered player? Mets fans quickly figured this out, and booed Baez and also Lindor, and on the weekend the two pals flashed their thumbs.
“Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance,” the Mets’ president, Sandy Alderson, said in a statement Sunday afternoon.”The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.”
Alderson added: “Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.”
There has been precious little booing most of this season, as a rag-tag assortment of Mets stayed in first place. For me, it was the season Jacob deGrom looked like a latter-day Sandy Koufax, but also with the physical vulnerability that may doom his brilliant career. And fans appreciated gamers like Villar and Pillar, plus the most consistent Met, Nimmo, and bit players who won games, like Nido, Mazeika, Drury. Strangers ran into walls, and then were gone.
Manager Luis Rojas held things together until he removed Taijuan Walker – apparently because the computer people in the basement bunker found some statistic to justify it -- and the fans lost patience, as did Walker.
The Mets' front office showed its confusion early in the season when it fired hitting coach Chili Davis, a major-leaguer with a great reputation, and replaced him with two nonenties and, presumably, a link to the analytics lab.
Probably not by accident Messrs. McNeil, Smith, Conforto and Davis are all screwed up, four hitters in search of a major-league coach.
The front office seems to need a total house-cleaning. I hear the name of Theo Epstein, who might be worth his price, given his success with the Red Sox and Cubs. But Cohen should -- must! -- also hire Curtis Granderson, one of the smartest and best people I have met, who, for some inexplicable reason, does not have a serious job in baseball.
Meantime, the Mets are stuck with Lindor’s contract for nine years -- count them, nine. That is on the owner.
With any spec of wisdom in the front office, Baez is just passing through, looking for his next contract elsewhere. And taking his strikeouts and his thumbs with him.
Tom T Hall passed on Friday, He was a country songwriter who informed my work, telling stories about people. He observed every-day life, regular people, and made them real, with a large dollop of insight and sympathy and wit.
I read the lovely obituary in the Sunday NYT by Bill Friskics-Warren and I tried to remember when I first heard Tom T Hall.
I think it was after I had been one of the first reporters on the scene for the terrible mine explosion in Hyden, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1970. I came back many times, met a lot of survivors – “the widders,” as they say.
Turned out, Tom T. Hall was there soon after. He and a buddy drove a pickup from his home in Olive Hill, Ky., not far from the coal region, and he observed with a storyteller’s eye, including the sheriff and the undertaker whom I had met. Maybe he had read my stories, maybe not. Didn’t matter. He put it to music, got it perfect.
(The “pretty lady from the Grand Ole Opry” is Loretta Lynn, who had come off the road to play a charity concert in Louisville in 1971, for the survivors. That’s how I got to know Loretta, and later helped her write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”)
In the next years, I collected cassettes of Tom T Hall’s best albums and songs and would play them as I drove around Appalachia. .
Some of his best songs were about lost or unrequited love:
“Tulsa Telephone Book” --
Readin' that Tulsa telephone book, can drive a guy insane
Especially if that girl you're lookin' for has no last name.
“The Little Lady Preacher” --
(A picker remembers the gospel singer he backed up every Sunday morning: “She’d punctuate the prophecies with movements of her hips.”)
We never met, but I took my young family to see him in New York in the mid-70s. I learned that he had settled in the lush outskirts of Nashville with his wife, Miss Dixie, herself a fixture in Music City, who passed a few years back.
I owe Tom T Hall a great debt because he helped me recognize the best parts of people, as flawed as we all are. Only he put it to music and he sang it.
In honor of Tom T Hall – a requiem for the older friend who taught him to pick, and other stuff.
I have heard agitation to drop the name of Mario Cuomo from the bridge spanning the Hudson River – the one most New Yorkers stubbornly call The Tappan Zee Bridge.
Just because the son is resigning as governor – and not a moment too soon – does not mean the father should be obliterated from the elegant new bridge that was officially named for Mario Cuomo, who served three full terms as governor, which is more than the grabby son will ever serve.
Besides, we New Yorkers don’t follow every order we hear.
For example, we jaywalk.
Most New Yorkers never stopped calling it the “Tappan Zee” – “Tappan,” in homage to the Lenape tribe that lived there peacefully for many centuries before whites invaded, and “Zee,” the Dutch word for “sea,” connotating the wide point in the river.
It was “Tappan Zee Bridge” while we braced for rear-end collisions on the Sunday night southbound backup and it was “Tappan Zee Bridge” when we hit axel-threatening holes in the archaic pavement. And that name still resonates with New Yorkers, after the son had the power to bring about the naming of the new bridge for his father, a good human being.
Plus, we can save millions of dollars by not changing all those signs for the new span that opened during the tempestuous reign of Cuomo II.
New Yorkers do not change our minds or speech patterns easily, particularly regarding our bridges and tunnels and thoroughfares. Just a few examples:
As much as we (I) admire the late Robert F. Kennedy, the spans connecting Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx are still known as the Triboro Bridge.
Same thing with the low span between Manhattan and Queens, technically named for the late mayor, Ed Koch. I can still hear Koch’s petulant question: “How’m I doing?” but as a fellow Queens kid I can hear Simon and Garfunkel singing, “Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last,” in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy.)”
I can still smell the Silvercup Bread being baked in the evening in Long Island City as we drove home from “The City” – that is, Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is technically named after former governor Hugh Carey, but, you know…
When my father took me around the city, teaching me to love it, he told me no New Yorker ever calls Sixth Ave. by that grandiose name, “Avenue of the Americas.”
As an aside, I have never typed or spoken the name of the bank connected with the Mets’ current ballpark, which I call “New Shea” or “The Mets ballpark.” I hate naming rights. (Bless the NYT copyeditors who went along with my little affectation.)
Then there is this: A few minutes off Interstate 84, in Vernon, Conn., is Rein’s New York Style Deli. (Our friend Cookie, who lives nearby, introduced us to it and we sat right below a New York subway sign.) One of the deli’s featured sandwiches includes roast beef, turkey and pastrami on three slices of rye bread, and is named for the Tappan Zee Bridge. “We must have ridden the Tappan Zee a million times,” owner Greg Rein has said.
To prove my point: I love the heritage of Jackie Robinson, our blazing pioneer with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But that dangerous narrow parkway – now officially re-named for No. 42 -- that wriggles on the glacial spine of Queens to the Brooklyn border will always be The Interboro – or, as we New Yorkers pronounce it, “Duh Intaboro.”
Finally, a little personal Queens history. The Cuomo family moved into a bucolic neighborhood right behind my family house on a busy street, after I had grown up and moved out. The Cuomos voted at the same polling station as my parents – “Nice people,” said my parents.
(Word from others was that the three Cuomo girls were terrific, young Chris was a sweetie, and Andrew was…well…difficult.)
In time, I got to chat with Gov. Mario Cuomo about his loyalty to his Coach for Life, a leprechaun named Joe Austin who coached youth baseball and basketball teams for the St. Monica’s parish in South Jamaica. For his inaugurations as governor, Mario made sure Joe Austin was front and center, and addressed him as “Coach.”
(I wrote about Mario, combative Queens jock, when he passed in 2015.)
One time, a mutual friend brought Matilda Cuomo to our house while they were out for a ride, and they stayed a few hours for lunch. My wife and I have lasting memories of Mrs. Cuomo: she is a lady.
Leave Mario Cuomo’s name on the bridge. The Tappan Zee Bridge.
* * *
I should add: In the past five years, an assortment of rickety, glittery, pretentious, over-priced buildings have had a certain odious name scraped or painted or sandblasted from the façades, after outcries by the residents.
We New Yorkers do have our standards.
Watching over the East River like a benevolent gargoyle. I'm betting that even Mayor Koch would call it the 59th Street Bridge or The Queensboro Bridge. (Version by the Harpers Bizarre.)
I just read a great new book: “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” by Clint Smith.
Smith’s main point is that people, northerners and southerners, are now learning things about slavery they were not told in school -- the depths of depravity by which a female slave could be labelled a “good breeder” by her owners, and other aspects of good old-fashioned American enterprise.
Many people in this country still see slavery through a sentimental haze: slaves were better off here than they would have been in Africa; they were handled benevolently at the plantations.
You know, good people on all sides.
Nowadays mayors and school boards and governors are trying to forbid controversial or academic critiques of America.
(Some of these moronic governors are aiding Covid by not mandating vaccinations and masks at work and school.)
Smith’s book about slavery lies is a companion to the so-called “Big Lie” about alleged election fraud and the merry tourists who flocked to the Capitol last Jan. 6.
For all the chicanery and cowardice in high places, the worst parts of slavery are impossible to hide as Smith makes his rounds. As a one-time news reporter, I respect his shoe-leather approach -- visiting hot spots of the slave trade. A staff writer for the Atlantic – and a poet – Smith interviewed tour guides and museum directors as well as tourists, plus participants in Confederate commemorations.
The new cadre of historians and guides make it clear that that people, white people, mostly male, not only performed violent deeds but also knew what was being done, mostly in rural and southern states.
Smith begins where, in a sense, the country began – Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, where he "owned" slaves while preparing to write the Declaration of Independence. While he put pen to paper, his white staff put whips to the backs of Black slaves. Background music for Jefferson.
At Monticello, Smith chats with two visitors -- white, Fox-watching, Republican-leaning women, who hear a guide talk about Jefferson’s long association with a female slave.
Speaking to Smith, who is Black, the two women seem aghast. Smith quotes one of them:
“’Here he uses all of these people and then he marries a lady and then they have children,’ she said, letting out a heavy sigh. (A reference to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, who bore at least six of Jefferson’s children. The two were never married.) ‘Jefferson is not the man I thought he was.’”
That is the theme of the book – many Americans in position of responsibility and knowledge deliberately deflected what was known about slavery. And not just in the South. I know somebody who did college research on commerce in New England, and never came across the mention of slaves in Yankee states.
Then again, in a 2020 farewell to the great John Thompson, I praised a recent book about Frederick Douglass and noted that in all my school years in New York (with many history electives in college), I never heard the name "Frederick Douglass." (To be clear, I did know his name, just not from school. Our parents were part of a Black/white discussion group, and they extolled heroes like Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, and all of the children have learned from our parents.)
Smith points out that the Dutch and English, who pushed out the Lenape natives, welcomed slaves on the oyster-laden shores of lower Manhattan, and used them for labor, and shipped thousands to farms and other towns. New York was the second largest entry port, distributing slaves culled from Africa. Those who died were tossed, unmarked, into a pit near Wall Street.
One chapter in this book about slavery jarred me because I did not see it coming – a visit to the dreaded Angola Prison in Louisiana.
Smith explains his visit to Angola by pointing out that Black prisoners worked for free or for pennies, at the penal equivalent of plantations. In fact, Angola had a big house, where the warden and his family were served by trusted Black prisoners.
Prisons as plantations: As it happens, I have heard the metallic clank of the heavy door slammed behind me in three different prisons – and all three stories involved Black men. (See the links below.)
Smith’s itinerary includes: Monticello Plantation, Va.; the Whitney Plantation, La.; Angola Prison, La..
Blandford Cemetery, Va., Galveston Island, Tex, where emancipation was belatedly revealed to Blacks, leading to the recent proclamation of a new national holiday -- Juneteenth; New York City; and Gorée Island, Senegal, the legendary focus for the African slave trade.
In a moving Epilogue, Smith interviews his own elders for stories of prejudice, slavery and downright brutality they experienced or heard from their own elders.
Clint Smith’s book makes it clear that white America knew more about slavery than it discussed -- just as many of our "public servants" like to talk about sight-seers who had a fun day in the Capitol last Jan. 6, brandishing flagpoles, gouging eyeballs and shouting racial epithets.
It never went away.
It’s who we are.
* * *
Two book reviews in the NYT:
Three of my stories from prisons, when I was a news reporter:
* After writing this piece, and reading the thoughtful comments, I discovered a new book: “Land,” by Simon Winchester, a writer with great and varied interests. (We met in 1973 when he was posted to Washington by The Guardian.) Now living in the U.S., Winchester is writing about the creation and development of land.
An early paragraph about the original inhabitants of this continent fits right in with the tone of this discussion: (Page 17)
“The serenity of the Mohicans suffered, terminally. The villagers first began to fall fatally ill – victims of smallpox, measles, influenza, all outsider-borne ailments to which they had no natural immunity. And those who survived began to be ordered to abandon their lands and their possessions, and leave. To leave countryside that they had occupied and farmed for thousands of years – and ordered to do so by white-skinned visitors who had no knowledge of the land and its needs, and who regarded it only for its potential for reward. The area was ideal for colonization, said the European arrivistes: the natives, now seen more as wildlife than as brothers, more kine than kin, could go elsewhere.”
Winchester’s newest book then goes in many directions. I look forward to reading the rest.
Fifty-seven years go fast.
I was listening to the Mets’ game the other night, when a sturdy young pitcher named Tylor Megill gave up a grand-slam homer to the fourth batter in the first inning. Four up, four in.
Suddenly, the Mets’ broadcaster was talking about first-inning grand-slam homers, and I heard the name of Bill Wakefield, now an email pal, but in 1964 a rookie pitcher out of Stanford, enjoying the heck out of the one year he would have in the major leagues.
That year, Wakefield also gave up a grand-slam -- to Ed Bailey of the Milwaukee Braves.
I told my (long-suffering) wife that a friend of mine just had his name called out on the Mets’ radio broadcast – 57 years after the deed was done.
“What is it like for a ball player to be remembered for something, that long ago?” my wife asked.
Well, I said, there was Ralph Branca, a good guy who gave up a homer to Bobby Thomson,also a good guy, in 1951.
And I thought of other ball players who had one really bad moment that never went away.
But Bailey’s grand-slam off Wakefield was hardly historic – just rare enough to pop up 57 years later.
I shipped off an email to Wakefield, out in the Bay Area.
How did he take being back “in the news” again?
“I'll have a glass of Chardonnay,” he replied, “and/but, yes I remember it well.
“I always admired the guys who answered the tough questions -- and didn't duck out early.
“Sure go ahead,” Wakefield answered in two separate emails. “The only downside to telling the old stories is the rolling of the eyes and the ‘Dad, you think you've milked a modest career about long enough?’” from son Ed, 33, D1 pitcher at Portland Pilots and daughter Laura, 31, softball at Boise State!”
Then Bill Wakefield, just turned 80, successful businessman, frequent e-mail correspondent, pulled out all the details that many athletes store in their competitive brains.(I’ve heard Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova discuss their epic matches, stroke by stroke.)
For Bill Wakefield, it was yesterday:
“ 1964 -- We're flying to Milwaukee last road trip of the year. I'm feeling pretty good for a rookie -- lot of games -- 60++++ - pretty good ERA (low 3's!!!) -- 3 – 4, not bad for Mets of that era. On the plane, Mel Harder comes to me – ‘Hey Billy - I know you've been in a lot of games but....’.”
(Mel Harder, then nearly 55, had pitched 20 seasons with one team, Cleveland, and was a respected pitching coach with the Mets that year.)
“Casey wants to save our starters for the Cardinals in St Louis, ‘cause they‘re in a pennant race," Wakefield recalled Harder telling him. “We're gonna start you on Thursday in Milwaukee! OK?”
“Me ---What am I gonna say -- ‘Hey Mel the arm’s a little on the tired side?’ Tell Casey no?
“So I say, ‘I'll be ready.’”
The game was on Oct. 1, 1964. Wakefield recalls Hot Rod Kanehl, the utility player who shepherded him around the majors for one memorable season, coming up to him: “‘Hey, they're not playing Aaron today.’ So it turns out -- so what !!!! the other guys did pretty well"!!!!
Wakefield added: “Hot Rod sees there are 3,000 people in the stands - at best -- and tells me - "Well kid at least a big crowd won't make you nervous.!"
Ball-player gallows humor.
Nervous or just arm-weary, Wakefield gave up singles to Rico Carty and Lee Maye. Felipe Alou was up next.
“In that era, first inning, no outs, runners on first and second, 99% of the time the guy bunts the runners over to second and third. I'm thinking, cover third base line, field the bunt, throw to Charlie Smith at third and get the force. Get the out.
“Alou hits the first pitch, one-hopper back to me - the obvious play is double play -- throw to second. I throw to third for the force -- Charlie Smith is standing, looking at second with his hands on his hips -- almost hit him between the eyes -- he drops the ball, bases drunk, I'm in trouble!!!
“Rookies get in trouble and they try to throw a fast ball harder and get an out. Veterans throw softer and get a ground ball. Bailey -- first pitch -- I'm thinking two-seam fastball outside, he tries to pull it, ground ball to McMillan, and out of trouble.
“It catches too much of the plate -- he goes to opposite field and hits a home run.”
Wakefield fast-forwarded to the third inning. “Still a rookie. I'm still in there having trouble -- Walk Carty -- Casey comes out - Rookie question from me – ‘You taking me out because I walked Carty?’ Casey kind of has a quizzical look on his face -- and a smile and says ‘No, I'm taking you out because you've given up 7 runs!!!”
Mets lost. “No excuses -- they hit the ball.”
“I'm shaving after the game -- cut my chin - baseball humor -- Jack Fisher: ‘Did you try to cut your throat?’ I laughed." Then Wakefield recalled Joe Gallagher, the Mets’ TV producer, on the Mets’ charter flight that night, to St. Louis: “I said, did you lose some of your audience after the first three innings?”
The Mets scared the Cardinals on that last chilly weekend, and Wakefield’s memories come pouring out:
“On to St Louis -- Chase hotel -- Gaslight Square ( Hot Rod and I didn't know it -- but it would be our last visit to Gaslight Square!!) Hotel swimming pool stories - old classic hotel. Harry Caray's hang-out hotel. Casey late night in the lobby entertaining!! Westrum laughing at Casey's stories. Lou Niss smoking and watching. Whiskey-slick players file into the single lobby elevator!”
My memories jog totally with Wakefield’s. The Chase-Park Plaza was also my favorite hotel on the road.
The games were epic, too. “Give 'em a scare,” Wakefield recalled. The gallant original Met, Alvin Jackson, beat Bob Gibson on Friday, and the Mets won again on Saturday. Wakefield pitched in relief on Sunday and so did Gibson, to save the Cardinals’ season.
The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. Kanehl and Wakefield, Butch and Sundance, never played in the majors again, and remained pals until Hot Rod’s death in 2004.
“I could have used a few more pitches to be a starter!! Relief -- sinker/slider, OK. Starter needs 4-5 pitches. “
He can pull up the memories of his short career: “The Milwaukee game -- I would paint a different picture if I could. There were 60 other games I would rather recall!! But that's the way it is!”
Then Wakefield added: “As long as we're telling stories from 57 years ago -- who's gonna correct me??? -- make sure you also point out that I got Yogi Berra to ground into a double play in the Mayor' s Trophy Game in front of 55,000. Big deal in the era of no interleague play!!”
As I told my wife, Bill Wakefield pitched a season in the major leagues, and that is something,
My thanks to Marianne Vecsey for jogging some grand old memories.
The grand-slam game, courtesy of the great website, retrosheet.org:
Bill Wakefield’s career, courtesy of the other great website:
It was impossible to miss the sense of triumphalism in the Mets’ ballpark Saturday night, when Javy Baez made his debut – and clubbed a two-run homer that eventually helped the Mets win.
We deserve this – so New York.
The Mets’ fans celebrated this show of Steve Cohen’s money as the flashy rent-a-star for our times -- swing for the seats, strike out every-hour-on-the-hour, all condoned by the new analytics.
But woven into the new math of baseball is the wholesale transfers of stars – the Cubs’ absolute gutting of players who won the World Series just the other day, or maybe it was 2016. The Nats' dispersal of players who won a World Series in 2019.
Is there no loyalty, no sense of continuity, that lets stars grow old gracefully with their teams?
Of course not. The players deserve their freedom. Curt Flood suffered for all of them, fighting for free agency, whether they know who he was, or not.
You think the Brooklyn Boys of Summer would have stayed together if they had free agency? Imagine Duke Snider going for the big bucks and aiming for the right-field seats in Yankee Stadium before Roger Maris could.
Word has just come to me that the Yankees have done it again -- bringing in Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. It's an old habit: In 2012, I did a riff on late-season Yankee acquisitions over the years, with copious help and taunting from the late-great Yankee fan, Big Al, RIP.
As a Mets’ fan – finally outed after decades of trying to disguise it as a sports columnist – I am queasy about the Mets’ move because I have been enjoying the Mets’ rickety hold on first place this season.
I never believed the U.S. was getting back to “normal” with the murderous Covid, because I had a sour faith in the grits-for-brains mentality of the Red State no-vaccination crowd. (Did you see the Florida governor who scorns masks for school children because he wants to see the smile on his own child? Where do we get these people?)
So, if you have to hunker at home, the Mets have been a nervous pleasure, with a shifting roster of office temps.
Who will ever forget Patrick Mazeika, with his ZZ Top beard, a fill-in catcher, specializing in game-winning squibbers, getting his shirt ripped off in the new walk-off celebration?
Who will forget Kevin Pillar surviving a pitch in the face, coming back quickly to patch holes in the Mets’ lineup?
Patchwork players like Villar and Guillorme and Peraza and Drury helped the Mets stay in first place for roughly three months.
The least of it has been the expensive addition of Francisco Lindor, with his .228 batting average, who appointed himself Leader-for-Life, interrupting pitcher-catcher confabs on the mound, inserting himself into every photo op, and now, upgrading his job status, apparently urging the Mets’ fill-in general manager that his pal Javy Baez would be a great addition.
Maybe this is Lindor's best contribution to the Mets. But there is a school of thought that the Mets’ brain trust would have been better off finding a front-line pitcher to temporarily replace Jacob deGrom, who now has an endangered Koufaxian aura to him. But they went for the pyrotechnics.
One Mets wing of my family paid for seats in Queens Saturday night and watched Baez (a) whack a home run and (b) do his on-the-field post-game interview with apparent joy at being in New York for the day and maybe even the long term.
Is Baez a rent-a-star for this season, or will Steve Cohen pay the freight for a long-term contract, like Mike Piazza, who came…and stayed….and became a Mets icon? Or could Baez be like the magnificent Cespedes infusion in 2015? That was fun, too.
I fret because Baez imperils my particular favorite Met player, Jeff McNeil, who seems terminally undervalued by the Mets’ front office.
McNeil seemed to drink the Analytic Kool-Aid early this season, trying to launch Alonso-style homers, but lately McNeil has gone back to hitting the ball to all fields, with game-winning hits and a recent 16-game hitting streak – oh, and some flashy plays at second base in recent days.
When Lindor’s oblique injury heals, he will claim shortstop and his pal Baez will apparently get second base. This leaves Jeff McNeil exactly where? Displacing the slumping Michael Conforto in right field (from which he unleashed a game-saving throw the other night?)
What I’m saying is: old fans like me like old-style ball players, particularly the earnest Mets who have been a lot of fun this summer. But Baez certainly made a good debut Saturday night.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have already begun -- a year late and quite unwisely.
The American women soccer team got blasted by Sweden, 3-0, on Wednesday in Japan, in some early tournament action, before the Opening Ceremony Friday night.
So now the Games are official – gritting their way toward the finish line, in the face of a worldwide pandemic that humans of all nationalities and political systems have been too stupid to control.
This has been evident as the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese organizers willed the Games to begin, despite another surge taking place.
Athletes are already testing positive – and this is before they were shoe-horned into a dense city, into Olympic hideaways where athletes are theoretically sequestered.
But why should the IOC and the hosts show sense when most of the world is giddy on the concept that we are back to “normal?”
I already agree with the skepticism collected by the great reporter, John Branch, in the NYT this week. Branch talked to observors around the world, who wondered if it is time to end the Olympic Games.
After covering seven Summer Games and four Winter Games, from 1984 into 2010, I was veering toward the position that the Games existed mostly because of television money, blaring commercials around the world, but costing far more than they generate for the host countries and victimized host cities – all in the name of a faux ideal.
I know I became disenchanted with the Olympics when I saw cities and entire countries disrupted by the demand for specialized Olympic facilities. After the two-week festival, the traveling circus packed its tents and moved on, it mostly left the detritus and debt behind, as documented in John Branch’s article.
My first Games were in 1984, when Los Angeles and top executive Peter Ueberroth used existing facilities in the region, producing a profit for amateur sports groups, not debts for the host region. Some other host cities tried to think of leaving a lasting upgrade – Barcelona, in 1992, for example, and to my surprise, Atlanta's downtown was upgraded by the Olympic presence -- but others just spent and spent for a 17-day jamboree.
Having said that, I must add that some parts of the Olympics were wonderful to cover – great events intriguing personalities, in special places all over the world. I always tried to keep my perspective of whether these Games had lasting value for the cities that lusted to be the host, but I do have memories of events and competitors:
In Los Angeles in 1984, I had the good luck of watching a charismatic American volleyball team, with a lanky, thoughtful star named Flo Hyman, lose the tense gold-medal match to China. For me, that one tournament was as good as any sports playoff or tournament I have covered.
My first Winter Games – Calgary, 1988 – reminded me that I don’t like being cold, so I gravitated to events with a roof over them, like figure skating….and hockey…and speed skating, with rocking music and gaudy costumes as powerful athletes whizzed around the oval track.
The Olympic ceremonies often had the air of ersatz royalty – coronations! knighthoods! weddings! – but once in a while they touched the heart, as in 1996, in Atlanta: the final carrier of the Olympic torch, on a runway high above the stadium, turned out to be Muhammad Ali, already suffering from the Parkinson’s disease that would kill him way too young. We held our breath and prayed for him, as Ali willed himself to complete his mission.
In those same Atlanta Games, in the first Olympic soccer tournament for women, epic Americans like Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm won the gold medal.
In 2002, in Salt Lake City, Sarah Hughes, not yet 17, blended talent and will in her stunning gold-medal figure-skating routine. I had written about her family, John and Amy Hughes and their five other children, good people, who lived near me on Long Island. Sarah Hughes is now a lawyer in New York City; her dad, John Hughes, a great hockey player from Cornell, passed in August of 2020.
I admit, I often slipped out of the Olympic bubble, to see how real life was going on in the host nation. At the 1998 Winter Games in the modest Japanese mountain town -- Almost Heaven, West Nagano, as I called it – I watched residents sweep overnight fluffy snow off the sidewalks. In Athens in 2004, my wife and I played hooky one day, taking the slow ferry to Hydra and swimming off the rocks. In Beijing, Chris Clarey and Jennifer 8 Lee and I visited one of the old neighborhoods – a hutong – and ate in a restaurant run by Uighurs, the persecuted ethnic minority.
But maybe my best “Olympian” moment came in 2004 when the shot-put competition was held on the grounds of the very first Olympic games in 776 BC, in the Olympia region west of Athens. To inhale that dust was a grand honor.
Since I retired at the end of 2011, I admit, I have never watched a minute of Olympics Games, Winter or Summer – too much babble, too many commercials, too much else going on. In the next few weeks, I will rely on the NYT’s great staff to provide the words and pictures --- and I hope everybody gets through without calamity.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.