U.S. Soccer Not Quite Ready
The Dutch players were technically strong, physically strong, mentally strong, as they beat the United States, 3-1, Saturday in the World Cup.
In recent years, American players have run into Dutch players, sometimes literally. They know how sound the Dutch are.
Virgil Van Dijk, 6-5, 203 pounds.
Denzel (!) Dumfries 6-2, 174.
Cody Gakpo, 6-4, 172.
Memphis Depay, 5-10, 168, and solid.
And that keeper, Andries Noppert, all 6-8, 205 pounds of him.
Welcome to the knockout round of the World Cup. Americans may be wringing their hands – looking for scapegoats, blaming the coach--for losing in the Round of 16 but they need to remember: the U.S. produces great athletes in so many sports, and the progress in recent decades is encouraging, but this time the U.S. ran into a top-ten soccer nation.
The Americans came out smoking, and Christian Pulisic had an early shot on goal, but it was swatted away. his velocity appearing to be 75 percent of normal. This told me his pelvic injury last Tuesday was still hampering him. Fans may grumble that manager Gregg Berhalter kept Pulisic in for the full match, a tribute to Pulisic’s skill and his drive, but Pulisic was not up to his own level.
(Did Berhalter miss the chance to sub for a subpar Pulisic? Did he not react to the Dutch offense aiming at the flanks? Did he fail to control the huge Welsh sub who dominated the middle in the first match? Fans are making a list.)
The big Dutch people took a lot out of the Americans. The U.S. was trailing, 1-0, in the final minute of the first half, clearly dragging, as they urged themselves to one more attack. I saw Sergiño Dest shaking his wrists, as if trying to prod himself to keep moving, as the Americans pressed for a late goal, but the Dutch scored against the weary Yanks just before the first half ended and the Americans never caught up.
Dest was born to a Dutch mother and American father, and grew up near Amsterdam, but was not funneled into the Dutch academies where prospects are taught.
The Netherlands is known as the best soccer nation to never win a World Cup, even as they modernized soccer with a smart geometric tiktok-passing style. When Dest had to choose whether to play under a Dutch passport or an American passport, he went for the better chance to play for a national team, in a World Cup.
The U.S. is trying to catch up, producing admirable teams that reached the knockout round in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014 and now 2022. A musty mom-and-pop organization in the early 1980s, the federation has been seeking U.S.-based Latino players learning the game from their elders, and African-American players who take to the sport.
The best example is DaMarcus Beasley, who could dunk a basketball from his adult height of 5-8. He was teased in his neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Ind., because he preferred soccer, but he became one of the great American players in the past generation.
When the U.S. World Cup team visited the 9-11 memorial in New York City or the DMZ between North and South Korea, Beasley gave the most thoughtful insights. And in the 2010 match with Algeria, he was a sub in the 81st minute, his speed opening up the field for the game-winning fast-break goal.
The U.S. continues to attract players of color – Cobi Jones, with his 164 caps, and Earnie Stewart, another Dutch import, plus Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, just off the top of my head. But other great sports – football, basketball and even baseball, growing more white -- also attract Black athletes.
As American soccer players continue to move to Europe, with its lucrative salaries, and as the World Cup blasts over the tv in the U.S., the point will not be lost: This is a great sport, attracting Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic and all the other charismatic U.S, athletes.
But for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will have to raise its game to confront world powers like the Netherlands.
Okay, People, Group Play Is Over
On the 12th anniversary of the Great Soccer Scam, the World Cup ended Group Play, which sounds like something in kindergarten.
However, FIFA ain’t no child’s play.
The reason this World Cup is in Qatar (and was based in Russia in 2018) is because Sepp Blatter, the head goniff of the time, presided over a fixed election – based on packets of $100 bills being distributed to delegates-on-the-take, on Dec. 2, 2010.
As a result, we have just had two weeks of group play in stadiums plopped up all over Qatar—not exactly a scenic and historic World Cup where stadiums are based in, let’s say, Rome-Florence-Milan-Turin-Naples-Cagliari-Genoa-Bari-Udine-Verona-Bologna-Palermo, as in 1990.
One match Friday was held in Stadium 974 –sounds like some ticking desert once used for atomic testing.
That said, Group Play in Qatar had its moments, and now the U.S, is playing the Netherlands at 10 AM Saturday in some stadium. The Yanks have a chance to win, according to Jaap DeGroot, famous Dutch sports columnist. (Jaap once fixed me up with an interview in Genoa with Ruud Gullit, magical Dutch player, so I say he knows his stuff.)
The hopes of the U.S. depend on Christian Pulisic recovering from a pelvic bone bruise (this hurts even to type) suffered Tuesday in a goal-line collision after he had nudged in a crucial goal.
The progress of the U.S. might be one of the major themes of change in the World Cup, even though the U.S. has not been overly impressive – Eleven Players in Search of a Striker.
One of the best results in Group Play is the total of seven victories by African teams; the previous total was four. Senegal and Morocco made it into group play and Cameroon, Tunisia and Ghana all had their moments. Cameroon beat Brazil, 1-0, on a late goal Friday but it was not enough to move into the knockout round.
Overall, African fans made this World Cup buzz with their upbeat rooting and bright costumes.
I loved every view of Senegal’s coach, Aliou Cisse, (he’s got Richard Pryor eyes), the star of the 2002 surprise team, and Cameroon’s coach, Rigobert Song, with his long black sport coat on the sidelines, looked like a latter-day Johnny Cash (“The Man in Black.”)
Another high point has been the pair of JP Dellacamera, longtime American broadcaster, and Cobi Jones, the all-time American leader in caps (international matches). Other pairs talked too loud and too much, with overkill of professorial intonations – TMI -- but JP and Cobi maintained conversational level and did not overload with details.
Cobi never, never, brought up his 164 caps, but he could pick up subtle changes on the field – how Luka Modric, field leader of Croatia, shifted gears, moved the ball around, played offense and defense.
One favorite moment: Among the cast of thousands in the Fox broadcast team was Carli Lloyd, recently retired star of Women’s World Cups and Olympic Games. In a halftime blather-fest, the screen showed a player totally missing a wide-open goal, and Lloyd blurted, “I’d knock that in.” Her male counterparts howled at her proud-jock comment, but nobody disputed her.
After a while, the games tended to blur. Germany and Belgium both seemed to be running in quicksand, and are gone. Japan and South Korea showed game poise and heart. Our esteemed regional neighbors, Mexico and Costa Rica, were way past it, and Canada did not look anything like the squad that cuffed the U.S. around during qualifying.
Brazil and Argentina, France and Spain are still around.
I miss the Azzurri and the Italian anthem. Is it really a World Cup without Italy?
Then again, maybe they’ll qualify in four more years. Heck, everybody qualifies. The current boss of FIFA, the shifty Gianni Infantino, has engineered a change from 32 qualifying teams to 48 teams in North America in 2026. Y’all come.
As I type this, 16 hours before match time, the United States is still in the World Cup.
Captain America Saves the Day
In the modest World Cup history of American men’s soccer*, there is always room for something new.
This year’s memory may very well be how Christian Pulisic propelled (a) the ball and (b) himself into the goal for what became the only score as the U.S. beat Iran and advanced to the knockout round.
Pulisic was hurt, barely hobbling off the field and going to the hospital rather than playing in the second half. The overnight word was that he had X-rays of the abdomen – no speculation about whether he would play again in this World Cup.
For now, Pulisic’s turning himself into a human bowling ball could become the stuff of legends – Willis Reed hobbling onto the court just before the final game as the Knicks beat the Lakers in the 1970 NBA finals and Kirk Gibson limping up to pinch-hit a homer for the LA Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.
Pulisic had been wearing a serene smile in the minutes before the match, as the American and Iran teams marched out for the ceremonial playing of the anthems.
I have a theory about the new look on Pulisic, who has often been the captain, based on his many vital goals. Instead, Coach Gregg Berhalter chose Tyler Adams to be the captain in this World Cup.
Adams, an active midfielder, has been the core of the team in these three games, showing up everywhere, a man on a mission. He also displayed a maturity worthy of a diplomat when lectured by an Iranian reporter in a press conference the other day, after some knuckleheads in the U.S. federation had altered a version of the Iranian flag, just what was needed in dicey times.)
(The poor Iranian players had a hollow look to them, because of the political overtones back home, rumors that Iranian women were being photographed by their government for wearing western fan outfits in the stands. And later there were concerns the Iran loss could be turned into more unrest, perhaps even scapegoating the players.)
By contrast, Pulisic’s relaxed demeanor was noticeable on tv – a major difference from the twitchy look he carries around with Chelsea, where he rarely gets to play much.
In the first two games in Qatar, in his first World Cup, Pulisic set up the only American goal in the first game, but his play was spotty, and his corner kicks were ineffective.
Had people been over-rating him? I began to wonder that myself.
But in Tuesday' third game, Pulisic seemed more centered, getting in the right position to score the goal before crashing into the keeper and the ground.
Pulisic’s goal came in the 38th minute, with 52 official minutes left, and an agonizing 9 more of extra time, with the TV reminding us, basically every minute, that the U.S. could advance only with a victory, not with a draw.
In a simultaneous match, England was on its way to beating Wales, 3-0, which meant Iran could have advanced with a draw, whereas the U.S. could only advance with 3 points from a victory.
The other American players saved the day in the steam bath in Qatar, with players on both sides limping from cramps as well as the normal knocks.
The World Cup did not always hold simultaneous third games in each group. In the first World Cup I covered, 1982, West Germany and Austria played in Gijón, Spain, after Algeria’s match was over, and they knew a 1-0 victory by West Germany would allow both teams to advance, so they waltzed and they waltzed, thereby screwing Algeria. That 1-0 result is now known as the Disgrace of Gijón.
The U.S. has had other operatic third matches in World Cup play. In 2002 in South Korea, they were drubbed, 3-1, by Poland but at the same time in another city, a referee doled out two red cards to Portugal, making it possible for the host team to advance, along with the Americans.
"This is a very good day for U.S. soccer," said Brad Friedel, the American goalkeeper, who added: "This was also a very lucky day for U.S. soccer.”
In 2010, the last of the eight World Cups I covered, the U.S. teetered into the third match with Algeria, needing a victory to advance.
In the first minute of extra time, the U.S. staged a full-court break, with keeper Tim Howard heaving an outlet pass to Landon Donovan, who advanced the ball to Jozy Altidore who centered the ball to Clint Dempsey who banged a shot off the keeper, but Donovan followed the ball and scored the goal. Instant history.
Now there is a new landmark – Christian Pulisic’s tumble into goalmouth, and into history, or at least into a match with the Netherlands on Saturday.
(*--the American women won their championships early and often, and now other nations have caught up, and good for them.)
(Below: Tyler Adams, U.S. Captain. Could be secretary of state. Check out his thoughtful longer version online.)
This Is Sportsmanship
Keylor Navas has probably never had a day as bad as Wednesday, in the World Cup, when he played goalkeeper for Costa Rica against Spain, and lost, 7-0.
Not much of it was Navas’ fault -- the ball kept coming at him from many angles – but a keeper always takes these things personally.
Navas is no stranger to Spanish soccer. From 2010 to 2019, he played goalkeeper in Spain, most of it for Real Madrid, the perennial champ. Then he moved to Paris St-Germain, the powerhouse of France.
Any soccer player in Spain knows Navas, or knows of him – a modest-looking bloke, with a silvery thatch of hair, who does not appear to be 6 feet, 1 inch tall, as listed.
Near the end of the one-sided match, I hoped the tv camera would stay with Navas.
I often think of the second World Cup I covered, in 1986, in Mexico, when Argentina and Italy met in the first round in Cuauhtemōc Stadium in Puebla – a nasty game between two masters of infighting.
Yet at the end of a 1-1 draw, Diego Maradona of Argentina was hugged by many of the Italian players – a salute to his impact on the Napoli team in the Italian league. I witnessed a tactile camaraderie among highly-paid players on the two squads, who had been booting each other around all afternoon, and rolling around in gestures of mortal pain.
On Wednesday, a knot of Spanish players immediately jogged over to the Costa Rica goal and hugged Navas or patted him. What they said was among them. But the body language showed their respect for his long career on European clubs and with the Costa Rica national team.
It’s a lesson to fans in the stadium and watching on television. Athletes play hard, and sometimes it gets nasty, but when the whistle blows, quite often the respect is tangible.
The Wales Draw -- And Looking Forward
(Please see testy analysis by George Wilson and John McDermott, below)
Soccer is a cruel sport.
Always was, still is.
One team can plan well and play well and take a lead that has its
fans dreaming of the old soccer cliché, “a just result.”
Then one mistake can nullify much of the careful work.
That is what happened with the United States in the World Cup on Monday – or rather, that is what the U.S. did to itself. One sloppy tackle turned a victory into a 1-1 draw, setting up the next week of apprehension and doubt and maybe even fear.
Could it happen again? Athletes have to fight off that feeling, but it is not easy, knowing how easily a lead can vanish, with the flourish of a pair of soccer boots.
I was sitting in front of the tube, watching the U.S. play its best
soccer in many months, and I was trying to put together the reasons this was happening.
I was giving some credit to the coach, Gregg Berhalter, who has not won over hard-core fans yet -- judging from some of the snide remarks on the Elon Musk Daily Blatt -- despite Berhalter's lifer pedigree as a stalwart on the 2002 quarterfinalist team.
Berhalter had a huge hand in choosing the squad, and the starting lineup. I learned this around 2010 when I spent a few days with Bob Bradley as he prepared for the 2010 World Cup. I saw how he and his assistants (Jesse Marsch, now of Leeds United), had daily contact and tapes from scouts and spies and American players overseas. Coaches know who is on a roll, and who is not, and very often why.
Listening to the grapevine, Berhalter recalled Tim Ream, a defender who seemed to have fallen out of favor with the national staff. However, Ream, 35, was being reborn on the Fulham team in the Premier League of England, playing alongside the outside left back, Antonee Robinson, 25 and lanky and ambitious, with his American passport and his Everton roots. Robinson likes to take off downfield, sometimes winding up near the goal, assured that Ream likes to stay at home.
The pair of Ream and Robinson is not exactly Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, the great back-line engine of the AC Milan team and the Italian national team of the 1980s-1990s, but it’s an honor to pop up in the same conversation.
Coaches make other decisions, the way Berhalter did in naming Tyler Adams captain -- a tribute to Adams and also a favor to Christian Pulisic, who labors under the terrible injustice of being labeled the face of the current U.S. generation. Pulisic is too flightly, too moody, to be a leader.
The decision by Berhalter helped both players. Adams played a 360-degree sheriff in midfield while Pulisic free-lanced, slipping an elegant little forward pass to Tim Weah, who found a corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Decisions like this made the U.S. dominate well into second half, with . Gareth Bale, 33, playing in his first World Cup, seemed to be puffing hard with every breath. But Bale did not excel this long without inner resources. In the 80th minute, Bale materialized in front of the U.S. goal and defender Walker Zimmerman, knowing not to give him space, slid recklessly into Bale’s feet – certainly worth a penalty kick at that spot, at that time.
Bale, with the poise of a long-time star, waited for the keeper to commit, and then put the ball high and to the right.
The sizeable red-clad Welsh section began to sing. Well, of course they sang. Take it from a long-time visitor to Wales, everybody in Wales sings, whether Bryn Terfel from Pant Glas or Tom Jones from PontyPridd, or Shirley Bassey from Cardiff or Bonnie Tyler from Skewen, near Swansea, whether in a church chorus or an eisteddfod, a regional session of music and poetry.
Every Welsh person in Qatar or far-away Wales no doubt sang, as Wales drew 1-1, pretty much ruining the start by the U.S., as U.S. fans yelp at Berhalter: where was Gio Reyna?
Now both squads have to take on rebuilt England and unimpressive Iran -- no guarantee of advancing to the second round, no promises of a "just result."
* * *
(Guest Commentary by George Wilson (our grandson)
To start I think that Wales bringing on Kieffer Moore changed the game and allowed them to hold the ball up the field, something they failed to do in the first half. This completely bewildered Berhalter and he didn’t seem to have an answer to it, which shows from the second-half stats. We were outplayed and probably deserved a draw.
It’s frustrating to see a coach whose only experience comes from the Swedish Division and at the Columbus Crew get out-coached by the opposition simply putting a big guy up top. Another indictment of the Berhalter system is that our only shot on goal yielded a goal -- this is not sustainable for any sort of success.
We will not win anything if we cannot create chances and test the keeper. Playing the ball wide to Pulisic for him to cut inside and play a ball in simply cannot be our only avenue of attack. On that note -- why is Pulisic taking our corners? His delivery really leaves a lot to be desired and I just can’t imagine he’s the best choice for them.
In a lot of ways, Berhalter is emblematic of the USA - he’s flashy, knows the right people and can sell a big idea but upon delivery it is immediately clear something is off. He’s the McKinsey consultant of soccer with a fun shoe collection. His focus on positive reinforcement places him closer to BF Skinner than to Joachim Löw.
So now, with England looming on Friday the question is what tweaks will Berhalter make? I expect an over-correction on his part. The only thing that gives me the slightest glimmer of hope is that Southgate is nearly as inept as Berhalter. I’d predict a loss to England barring several moments of divine intervention.
Let the World Cup Begin
The World Cup may take our minds off the scandal of FIFA and Qatar. Momentarily.
Before the first game began Sunday, I put out a call to one of my best soccer advisors to get his thoughts about this World Cup.
That would be my grandson, George Wilson. He’s a college graduate now, with a good job near home in Pennsylvania, but back in the day his dad and I went out on the lawn and tried to teach him the game.
I gave the pre-schooler the hip, and sent him tumbling to the grass, and when he protested, I said that was the point of the game, knocking the guy off his stride, and if you go down, go down like an Italian – I demonstrated with flailing arms and legs, and facial gestures of extreme pain, just like my favorites on the Azzurri. George seemed intrigued by the concept of faking pain.
Welcome to calcio.
As a tyke, George challenged me to play one of those early FIFA electronic games.
As soccer spread through the younger generations (much to the horror of my aging cadre of sportswriter buddies), George knew all the players and all the uniforms and all the stadiums depicted on the screen – but more importantly, his reactions were so much faster than mine, that it was a mismatch.
“Pop, you’re not even trying,” he said. But I was.
Nowadays, I rely on George (and his dad) for split-second on-line reactions to real games on their screens and mine. His dad roots for Christian Pulisic, from nearby Hershey. George roots for Liverpool and their totemic player Mo Salah.
Alas, Mo’s Egyptian team was eliminated by Senegal in the African playoffs.
On Saturday evening I asked George for his current thoughts about this World Cup before the U.S. opens with Wales on Monday.
(By George Wilson)
“I want the US to do well but I really don’t have too much faith in Berhalter. I think he was a nepotism hire and that with the players he has at his disposal he will continue to underperform. I think the core group of young guys can still get results but I fear they will be out-coached by more flexible teams.
“ If I had to name teams I think could be surprise performers or ones that are good to keep an eye on, they would be both Uruguay and Ecuador. Uruguay is pretty easy to explain, a young core of solid players and a few really exciting talents among them.
“Ecuador is in a similar position, they have some really solid players who could easily pull some upsets. The likes of Estupinian, Caicedo and Hincapie are all top talents and will likely be on some of the larger European teams in the coming seasons.
“I also think Brazil or Argentina will win -- barring a major collapse they appear to be in the best shape at this point. If France hadn’t been decimated by injuries, I’d have them in contention, too
“I’d add that my dark horse winner call would be Uruguay. They have a shockingly accomplished team. In goal, defense, midfield and attack they have an amazing team and with a few moments of inspiration, I don’t see why they couldn’t do it.”
(I noted George's choices for outsider teams but also said I had more confidence in Gregg Berhalter, the manager and former World Cup stalwart.)
In a few hours after I typed this, Ecuador would play Qatar in the opening match. I will root for Qatar to hold a safe and exciting set of games.
For the moment, maybe we can put aside the scandal of how Qatar (and Russia) came to host the World Cup (packets of American $100 bills, handed out in lobbies of FIFA meetings.)
But let's never forget Saturday's self-pitying bleat of FIFA overlord Gianni Infantino, who portrayed himself as a beleaguered victim, bleating that he had nothing to do with the scandal.
Sounded familiar. . We have one of those over here.
In the meantime, I’m monitoring the World Cup.
I welcome any comments on any game or any player -- on this site -- from some former players and current fans. Best, GV
New Soccer Glory Days for U.S?
(Above: One of the greatest goals ever by the U.S., vs. Algeria, 2010, South Africa -- involving four epic players -- Howard, Donovan, Altidore and Dempsey.)
The American men’s soccer team will play Wales on Monday in the World Cup, which comes around every four years.
(The four-year gap is part of the charm of soccer, although the assorted reprobates who run world soccer hallucinate about a more frequent World Cup.)
For the fast-growing multitude of Americans who love and understand soccer, the common wisdom used to be that as more young American prospects gravitated to the fast leagues of Europe, the U.S. national team would become a powerhouse.
But right now, I’m not sure about 2022.
As a witness to the great goal by Paul Caligiuri in Trinidad in 1989 that put the U.S. in the 1990 World Cup to the bravo defense by goalkeeper Tim Howard in the gallant loss to powerful Belgium in 2014, I saw a quarter century of mostly progress.
National soccer teams are essentially all-star teams, recalled from clubs that provide large salaries and top-level experience. The best players are called up to the national squads, trying to shrug off jet lag and over-exertion in brutal club schedules. (Think of world soccer as an incessant giant hamster wheel.)
The evidence of the past two years of qualifying matches is that the young American male players have been banged up in club play, and when put together they do not display enough stamina, cohesion and smarts.
This was evident in the qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup, when all that American effort and money and talent came to a screaming halt. After six straight qualifications in the main World Cup, the U.S. was reduced to a raggle-taggle group of boy soldiers, sent into battle over their heads against regional opponents, ultimately pounding the scruffy turf in frustration after the loss in Trinidad.
(Stuff happens. Italy – the Azzurri – four-time champions – will not be in Qatar, much to the mortification of the Italian tifosi including me.)
The Americans did get through this time, but with a revolving roster of flashes and hopefuls, riddled by injuries, without a scintilla of consistency during the qualifying. Canada had a better cohesive team during qualifying.
I don’t necessarily think any of this is the fault of Gregg Berhalter, the American coach, a fit and modern lifer who was almost a hero in the 2002 World Cup, except that a German defender managed to drop his arm in position to stop Berhalter’s up-close shot.
Berhalter knows the game but he is banking on players who should be nearing the peak of their careers, like Christian Pulisic, who has not been getting enough time, on a fast Chelsea team.
This accumulation of injuries and benchings and transfers lead to my conclusion that the best days of American soccer just might be – I hate to say this -- In the past.
This nostalgia may sound familiar to New Yorkers, in particular -- Mets fans talking about Ron Swoboda’s catch in 1969 or Mookie Wilson’s glorious little dribbler in 1986, or Jets’ fans living off legends of Broadway Joe Namath winning the third Super Bowl back in, for goodness’ sakes, Super Bowl III in 1969.
Soccer glory days include the goal by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian national in looser eligibility times, helping the U.S. beat England – England! – in the 1950 World Cup.
Then, after nine straight absences from the World Cup, the U.S. began a string of success, starting with a thumping shot by Caligiuri, one of the first Americans to get experience in Europe. But from 1989 through 2014, there were glorious moments.
1990, Italy - The U.S. played two stinkers, but in Rome, they almost beat Italy, except that Peter Vermes’ shot plunked off the Italian keeper’s posterior.
1994, USA – The Yanks qualified for the shootout round, but Tab Ramos had his eye socket fractured by a cheap-shot elbow, during a loss to Brazil.
1998, France– A total stinker, from coach to players. Don’t ask.
2002, South Korea – In the shootout round, the Yanks took apart Mexico -- dos a cero, now a legendary score in that rivalry – engineered by Manager Bruce Arena and wily midfielder Claudio Reyna.
2006, Germany -- Blood and three red cards and one of the best games ever by keeper Kasey Keller, in a draw with Italy.
2010, South Africa – Maybe the best single play ever in the U.S, modern era: Needing a goal to get past wily Algeria, the U.S. launched a desperate fast break, by some of the greatest players ever to represent the U.S. – keeper Tim Howard pitching out to Landon Donovan who dribbled and release a Maradona-esque pass to Jozy Altidore who centered the ball to Clint Dempsey, who banged a shot to the keeper, who deflected the shot to Donovan, who put in the rebound and set off the raucous dogpile on the field.
2014--- Tim Howard nearly beat Germany and Belgium, two of the best teams in the world.
However, in 2018, the Yanks were clueless in the qualifying round, and happy talk commenced about the future.
With all due respect, nobody on this team has done anything on the scope of a couple of dozen American stars of the golden quarter century, like Cobi Jones or Brian McBride or Eddie Pope, just to drop a few more stalwarts.
One strength of the glory years was goalkeeping, a position dependent on athletic prowess, size and wingspan. Tony Meola had baseball offers, Kasey Keller had the fluid swagger of a shortstop or a tennis champ, Brad Friedel had an open offer to walk on to the great UCLA basketball squads, and Tim Howard was a known dunker in high school hoops in New Jersey. This year’s trio does not remind me of any of them.
The field players are full of brilliance – but more potential than current. Pulisic carves up regional foes in qualifying but has been shunted in the best league in the world. Gio Reyna, injured much of this past season, has the most exquisite moves on the squad, a bit flashier than his dad, Claudio, who held the glory generation together. Another son-of is Tim Weah, whose father is George Weah, the greatest Liberian player, who never got to the World Cup, now the president of Liberia.
Two top midfielders are Weston McKennie (Juventus, Italy) and Tyler Adams (Leeds, England). I enjoy watching Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England) a left back who was born and raised in Everton, England, and knows how to romp downfield. I also like Walker Zimmerman, from Major League Soccer, as a tall, rugged enforcer in the back.
Two more names -- Brenden Aaronsen, a midfielder from Leeds, arms flying like a human windmill, a born disrupter, and in the midfield, and Kellyn Acosta, a veteran midfielder from the MLS, with a feel for unobtrusive aggression.
Many players on the current American squad have more potential than the median of past U.S. World Cup squads. But as for the demands of this quadrennial spectacle, the most popular sports event in the world, this team has not done anything, yet.
* * *
FOOTNOTE FROM THE GREAT ROGER BENNETT, OF "MEN IN BLAZERS:"
One quick note: There is a lot of discussion about how we should not worry about this tournament because our squad is designed to peak in 2026. I want to go on the record and say just how much I hate that. World Cups come every four years. They are all too rare to waste. This is not an NFL team where you control draft picks, player development, and salary cap room. World Football is unpredictable. Injuries and form are uncontrollable. The World Cup is a gift. All of us are only gifted a handful of them in our lives. You go hard. You go now. Or you go home. Never write one off. Make memories while you can. Take nothing for granted. Savor every bloody second.
(ALWAYS LISTEN TO ROGER--GV)
While some of us were dozing off, and others were gaping at the tube, and Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy were sleepwalking through their own personal nightmares, a bit of America resurfaced Tuesday night and well into Wednesday.
A portion of the United States asserted itself, remembered its manners and its civic lessons and the old movies, maybe overdone, when Americans tried to act like good guys and not ignorant bullies.
One example was Tim Ryan conceding his senate race to J.D. Vance in Ohio, emphasizing that this is the American way, to accept defeat, honorably.
The final results will take care of themselves in the new Congress, but despite the threat of Trumpian storm troopers, voters spoke overwhelmingly for the right of women to have a say about their own bodies, and kicked out a few bad actors, and pretty much ignored the grotesque bully lurching around some somber ballroom.
Now it is time for Americans to echo the words of Gene Wilder, playing a Polish rabbi out in the American west in “The Frisco Kid,” who declines the chance for vengeance on a murderous bad guy, and urges his congregation, (in a thick Yiddish accent), “Would somebody please show this poor asshole the way out of town.”
(Not to gloat, of course, but while Trump lumbers off the stage to face all those inquiries, he could take Kevin McCarthy with him – the “leader” who let Trump stage an insurrection and then crawled down to Florida to kiss his…ring.)
I feel particularly bad for a few Democrats who were voted out Tuesday night – Ryan in Ohio plus former Navy commander Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, who so impressed during the Jan. 6 hearings, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York State.
Also, Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who were already gone, having left an image of conscience. Others will surface. Voters have asserted themselves.
The country has two years to put on the brakes and carefully move into a more rational lane.
President Biden has had a better election than anybody could have imagined. However, from reading Peter Baker’s nuanced and knowing article on President Biden a few days ago, we need a new look two years from now.
Right now, on very little sleep, now that some bullies and know-nothings have been exposed, I’m working on a ticket for 2024.
At the moment, I’ve got Tim Ryan and Stacey Abrams or Val Demings. Or vice versa.
The Things a Reporter Can Discover
(Laura Vecsey was a terrific news reporter in upstate New York even before she became a sports columnist. She liked to tell me about the stuff a town clerk told her, or a farmer knew. She is revisiting her old reporting grounds as part of her new site, "You Know What I Mean?" )
By Laura Vecsey
A Whole World In Your Own Backyard
The Town of Malta seems a pretty boring place, until ...
The world, we all pretty much know, is a big place. Lots of continents, hundreds of countries, seas and oceans, mountains and deserts, billions of people. The enormity of the world makes it exotic — a feast too big to eat even for the most insatiable explorers and travelers.
So why then I am talking about Malta, a nondescript town on a sandy patch of land in upstate New York’s Saratoga County?
Ask my friend Lisa Smith.
Last week, from her Japanese-Zen influenced home that fronts Willapa Bay in serene Seaside, Washington, Lisa Smith read a post I had written here about buying your first home. It was there, buried in the comments section, that the ever-curious Lisa Smith noted that my spouse, Diane, noted that the first home she ever bought more than 35 years ago was a townhouse in Malta.
If that name stirs any sense of excitement, maybe it’s because the town of Malta carries the same name as the country of Malta, that archipelago between “Sicily and the North African coast — a nation known for historic sites related to a succession of rulers including the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and British.”
That Malta, set in shimmering green-blue waters, does conjure centuries of world history and human migration. So the name “Malta” rightfully triggers the imagination, especially for curious people like Lisa Smith, an inveterate world traveler who lived in Abu Dhabi and scaled an NYU program there.
Lisa has also toured India, graduated from Harvard, ran public TV radio and stations in Seattle and Oregon. She’s also been long paired with the award-winning journalist and book writer Buzz Bissinger. In other words, Lisa Smith has a nose for stories, as much as she possesses a delicious little streak of sarcasm.
So what was I to make of Lisa Smith’s quip about the apparently insignificant town of Malta?
More important, what was I going to do about Lisa’s pithy remark? I decided that I would take it as an invitation.
The Saratoga County, New York town of Malta, it turns out that, is just like all other places in the world: Just another name on a map and yet also a place where there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
In fact, the seemingly nondescript town of Malta can make the case that any named place on Earth is its own world. Even more strange, it’s one of the places that taught me, as a newspaper reporter and writer, to look harder and longer and you’ll be surprised what you find.
In addition to Malta being the town where Diane bought her first home, Malta was a town I covered for the Albany Times Union. In the late 1980’s, Malta was a part of my news beat in Saratoga County. My job to know what was going on there, and to dig out stories, and to monitor Malta’s local government.
This is a townhouse in Malta’s Luther Forest just like Diane first bought.
For me, covering Malta served as a primer on how America planned, regulated and protected its citizens and natural resources. I saw how conventional and orderly local governmental bodies carried out their duties. How town budgets were negotiated and passed. How water quality, fire station grants, street plowing and extensions were managed.
In Malta, I saw how developers had to demonstrate the impact new housing developments would have; how commercial development was cautiously promoted, how senior citizens would get access to services.
And based on what I heard about in the town board meetings, I’d go out and explore for further background or news feature stories that the Times Union would run to show how suburban America was being built out.
That included writing about Luther Forest, a section of Malta that was the site for a new housing development where Diane — who I didn’t know at the time — had bought her first house!
In 1945, rocket testing was done at the Malta site hidden deep in Luther Forest.
The Luther Forest housing development was a planned community, which meant it had a homeowner’s association and a general manager to keep the place running tip top. The manager’s name was Barney Granger, a lanky and taciturn man I spent a lot of time trying to chase down for information or a quote.
It wasn’t easy. Barney Granger was always hellbent on riding away from me in a golf cart or his green Ford Ranger pickup. But this quirky memory of Barney Granger in his Ford Ranger is just a little sliver of the real story of Luther Forest.
Like a lot of places that seem to have no true personality or any easily identifiable points of interest, Malta’s Luther Forest is riddled with intrigue — not that you could easily tell without doing a little digging, or sky gazing.
But the acres of towering pine trees, and the fenced-off areas that warned about criminal trespassing, were a clue. It turns out that the “boring little town of Malta” is actually a nexus of American history from World War II to the Baby Boom era of suburban sprawl to today’s Tech Age of semiconductors and massive retail warehouses.
The center of the Malta story is how the 7,000 acres of pine forest started in 1898 by a man named Thomas C. Luther turned into a rocket test site for the U.S. government in the 1940s, after Luther gave some of the land to the U.S. government to serve as a site to test rockets and rocket fuel. That’s when things got really interesting.
After WWII, the U.S. started a secret military intelligence program called Operation Paperclip in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from Germany to the United States. That included Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, plus former members, and some were former leaders, of the Nazi Party. The goal of the Operation Paperclip was to gain military advantage during the Cold War and during the Space Race.
In 1945, Luther Forest became the home of the Hermes Project Rocket Test site. Von Braun’s team and 400 General Electric scientists worked at the Malta Rocket Test Station to help the U.S government improve upon Germany's expertise in missiles. That lasted until the 1960.
Von Braun, who eventually became the director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and was the chief architect of the super-booster that launched American astronauts to the moon, came to Malta for weeks at a time. When he came to Malta, locals were said to hear the ground rumble and smoke plumes filled the air.
It’s said that Von Braun enjoyed his time in Malta, because Luther Forest reminded him of Bavaria.
In the 30+ years since I first covered Malta and learned about Operation Paperclip, Malta has further enhanced its standing as the nondescript little town where big things happen.
Chip manufacturer Global Foundries’ 1,400-acre campus in Malta, New York.
The Luther Forest Technology Campus is a $3.5 billion development that spans 1,400 acres. It is home to Global Foundries, a multinational semiconductor contract manufacturing and design company incorporated in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Malta. “The company manufactures silicon chips designed for markets such as mobility, automotive, computing and wired connectivity, consumer internet of things (IoT) and industrial.”
Global Foundries has brought hundreds of jobs and boosted the development of more suburban housing in Saratoga County. It’s also opened the doors for Amazon to propose a new million-square-foot warehouse on 235 acres south of the Global Foundries headquarters.
That plan for an Amazon warehouse was scrapped this year, but not before the little town of Malta and its local planning board had once again flexed its muscle against the big boys from a multi-national company.
In other words.
Malta? There must be a story there.
Right, Lisa Smith?
Here’s a photo of the curious Lisa Smith reading in her beautiful home on the coast of Washington State. It was taken by the Daily Astorian (Oregon) newspaper for a story about how people were coping during the pandemic.
If you liked this post from You Know What I Mean?, why not share it?
Photos Galore online:
(Laura Vecsey, former sports columnist and political writer, still writing after all these years, now often about real estate. Laura has written about the disparity of homes for young people starting out. That touched my wife and I who had jobs and our own home in our early 20s, because it was possible. Please read Laura's piece and and make comments on her site. GV.)
The odds are unfairly stacked against the next generation of our kids
NOV 3, 2022
I keep running the numbers, and looking at the markets, and taking into consideration the reality of being 60 with a 24-year-old daughter who makes minimum wage and is likely to never earn much more on top of that, and it only further confirms that nothing adds up, and nor will it ever.
I don’t think I’m alone. Hardly.
All around us, we see 20-something and even 30-something offspring whose jobs options, pay scales and housing needs keep them living at home, or bouncing back home when a roommate flames out or rental costs balloon beyond affordability.
It’s not news, yet it continues to be startling. The Federal Reserve is trying to cool home prices with its fourth consecutive jumbo rate hike. More listings are taking price reductions, fewer homeowners are opting to sell now that mortgage rates are over 7 percent.
A $300,000 home — which is now below the national median price! — is out of reach for first-time buyers, or any buyers with fixed incomes. That in turn pushes rents higher as more people compete for fewer options, which then pushes a lot of young people back home.
That makes what’s taking place a societal buzz kill as much as a financial wack job. Young people are stuck! Parents are stuck, or worried, or frustrated, or racking their brains trying to understand why kids these days talk about van life. If they haven’t exactly given up, they can see they’re being squeezed and left to hold the bag.
While there’s been great talk about the flexibility the pandemic caused since workers could go remote and relocate from affluent coastal cities for bigger homes in less pricey environs, I get the feeling that what we read about generally only scratches the surface of the repercussions we’re experiencing from so many cataclysmic events so close together.
Today, a real estate article in The New York Times makes plain what we already see.
“Historically, first-time buyers made up about 40 percent of the market. But the share of first-time buyers fell to 26 percent during the 12-month survey period, from July 2021 through June 2022, plummeting to the lowest level since the trade association began tracking such data in 1981,’’ reports Ronda Kaysen.
The headline was a little bracing, especially since it underscored the way the wealth of white Americans, particularly those around my age, is accelerating the inequity:
“Older, White and Wealthy Home Buyers Are Pushing Others Out of the Market”
I think I’ve been part of that equation, which is another startling thing to consider. In using our knowledge of real estate, and capitalizing on some ability to invest, and our willingness to move or act on good opportunities, Diane and I have been in markets where housing prices have risen 20 to 50 percent in a matter of three to five years.
Seattle. Baltimore. Long Island. Saratoga Springs. The past 20 years has been an explosion of housing wealth, the results of which are finally and dramatically squeezing the American Dream.
We considered it our good fortune to be able to use these “tools for wealth” if only to make sure we don’t have to eat cat food G-d willing we live to our actuarial table destination. But it’s all coming home to roost, so to speak.
We look out and see the devastating impact high housing costs has had on the lives of a lot of people, including the kids of our friends and families, including the increasing number of homeless people begging for food money on the corners of downtown Saratoga Springs.
Meanwhile, this small city continues to attract second and third home buyers who recognize it as a pocket of affluence. That reality only further compels people who can afford good things to aggregate here. Housing has always been a way to self-select your neighborhood, but the impact now is far more exclusionary.
That’s sad. That has an impact down to the way the next generations can be part of a community. Having your own home, regardless of how modest or grand it is, really is such an important part of separating from your parents; establishing yourself as an individual; setting up a nest for your own new tribe.
It’s the place where you embrace your own life, where you run it and pay for it and agonize over it and fix it and mow the lawn or change a lightbulb or learn how to cook better or …. everything! I can’t imagine my life being the same without the experience I had buying my first home.
My first home: A $73,500 Dutch colonial at 731 Hampton Ave. in Schenectady.
In 1988 or so, five years after graduating from college, I had moved to Albany and worked at the Times Union newspaper. After two years of renting up here, my partner and I decided to start looking at what we could afford, and where we wanted to be. Not the suburbs. Not in Albany. Not in Troy. We wanted urban but safe and walkable to stuff. Within weeks, we found a Dutch colonial house in the Upper Union section of Schenectady.
The house was two blocks to restaurants and shops, and right across the street from Central Park — a huge and lovely public park with a swimming pool, hiking trails, cookout grills, hills and paths and a rose garden. There were hardwoods and a formal dining room, a sunroom and a bright rear den behind French doors.
Three bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, a level lot and detached garage. It was $75,000, and we paid $73,500, having borrowed $5,000 or $7,000 from my parents and using whatever cash I had to put down.
Over the few years we owned the place and lived there, I had such an incredible sense of security, of peace, not because things were smooth-sailing 100 percent of the time but I could always sit on my porch and read a book. I could go in the yard and rake the leaves. I could walk to the park or the library or the deli for lunch.
Mortgage rates were over 10 percent back then, so it’s not like the payment was “cheap.” But getting to own something as substantial as a handsome single-family home, and to have such a place to run my life … it was the demarcation point in my life that let me know: I was on my way.
To where? That is another question!
There have been many houses along the way. We were the kind of high-flying Americans riding the gravy train of the Web 2.0 wave and tech surge to this place we’re all at now — a place where there’s scant little middle ground left between wealth, or at least financial stability, and the cliff people are either falling off or can never climb.
It all seems to have pitted us into another division. People who can have their own home, or homes. And people who never will. Unaffordable. Unfair.
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© 2022 laura vecsey
548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104
Who Sent the Guy With the Hammer?
You sent him.
You sent him in 2016 if you somberly assured that Trump was "good for the economy."
I know people with money who wanted more money and they saw Trump as a guy who would preserve their kind of order.
Money guys. Republican guys. I don't talk politics, or anything, with people like that, these days.
The evidence was clear in February of 2016: Trump was a guy who would stand up in a rally and whip up the boosters by whining how people like him couldn't get a break any more.
Had to hide their psychic white gowns and mental peaked hats.
Trump and his money guys unleased the mob on Feb. 16, 2016.
Violence was in the air, in Trump's sneering lament that life was tough for guys like him.
He prepared his mob to rush to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and somehow he encouraged the guy with the hammer to rush to the Pelosi household on Thursday evening, looking for the Speaker of the House or her husband or anybody.
Who set up the vigilantes preparing to swarm to the voting stations between now and Election Day? The mobs plan to intimidate people who want to vote, and officials who want to give an honest count of the ballots.
You did, many preachers of America, who told their flocks that Trump was a true soldier of Christ, who would fight against abortion, who would approve of Texans to run around with a gun, without even a license to carry it.
Who put a target on Nancy Pelosi and her family? The same candidate who put nicknames on the Speaker of the House, using venom he frequently shows toward women. He has sought a reputation for seeking sex with many women, but behind that is a contempt for the entire gender. He cannot tolerate a political opponent, particularly somebody smart and entitled and female.
Just the way Trump put a mark on the heckler early in 2016, he encouraged the mob to rush the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 -- making Nancy Pelosi a leading enemy.
But people who voted for Trump should remember, as the mob picks up its weapons: Trump is good for the economy.
I have not watched an inning, an out, a pitch, since the Mets disintegrated what seems like months and months ago.
I just can’t watch. I gave so much to the Mets all season, probably 125 parts of 162 games. Got nothing left.
Philadelphia is playing Houston in the World Series – now the coda to a long and lucrative process, four separate rounds as northern weather gets more iffy.
(I know, I know, last year I railed against baseball adopting the basketball/hockey endless playoffs, but this year I give up. The World Series has become "The Finals."
Baseball needs to make money so badly that, in the era of Rob Manfred, they play forever, pimping for gambling sites, encouraging people with a gambling jones to put money on each pitch, each swing.
After a year of Mets melodrama, I need a break – reading good books, watching the tube with my wife, puttering around the house, seeing our family, at least until the pandemic clamps down again.
(Well, not exactly. In the spirit of conscientious bloggery, I must admit I will be watching the World Cup of soccer, in Qatar, beginning on Nov. 20, with the United States meeting Wales the next day. The World Cup only comes around once every four years, which is part of the mystique of the event, although the masters of world soccer keep twitching to run the event more frequently. The dopes.)
Only one more thing about this World Series: Nothing against the Phillies, who staged a gallant rally late in the season, when they had been dead meat under Joe Girardi. Good for them. My Pennsylvania relatives report loud noise from Philly. Enjoy.
However, I am rooting for Houston for one reason only – Dusty Baker. He was a friend of my late pal, Bob Welch, with the Dodgers, and he runs in the same circles as some other friends in the Bay Area, and he has had some memorable managing gigs. Only thing he hasn’t done is win a World Series. Go Dusty.
I did consult a few good friends of mine from Jamaica High in Queens, back in the day, to see how they feel about the "World Series."
By Walter Schwartz
For much of the past season, the Yankees were, or at least thought they were, the best team in the world, or the pre-determined champions of the world. But that was before they won their division and were given a bye in the first round.
Soon after mid-season, it began to come tumbling down and the deficiencies became apparent: a straggling bullpen, a struggling bench and a stultifying manager.
A lot has already been said about the uncertainty of their relief pitchers and reserve players, but a major part of the issue is the guy in the dugout, a sullen, unapologetic, inconsistent handler who begrudgingly dodged post-game questions (many of them softball) from the media and walked off without ever thanking any member of them.
Every one of the post-game commentators (including Michael Kay and David Cone) rebuked the manager for his pitching and lineup tactical decisions during the Astros series. Anyone who thinks the vociferous shouts we heard were only for Donaldson, Carpenter and, sadly, Judge, is mistaken. The way I saw and heard it, the loudest of the fans were booing, “Boooooone”.
So where does this go or should go? I know the present manager remains under contract (as was Joe Girardi who was let go by the Phillies and look what happened afterwards!), but if I were a gambler I’d place a bet on whether Boone was invited back, although the odds would be changing from batter to batter and inning to inning.
(I might suggest to the Commissioner doing just that during the Houston-Philly series.) That’s how ridiculous and greedy it is for baseball to allow between-inning, and at other times, betting commercials to infiltrate the “national pastime” and particularly the children who watch them.
And that’s my take how the Yankees got yanked.
(Walter Schwartz was once upon a time the editor of the Hilltopper, the newspaper of Jamaica High School, long since put out of existence by New York "leaders" who, of course, knew best.)
By Jean White Grenning
(Jean is our Class-President-for-Life. As the pandemic abated for the warm months, she and Phyllis Rosenthal were known to take in a ballgame here and there, in our home borough.)
We are “The Ballpark Twins.” Loyal Mets fans to the end.
It may be an old saying but “Wait til next year!!”
George, I have no great love for Yankees but they are a New York team so I was hoping they would win. They are like the rich kid whose father can buy him everything but he can’t buy him a winning team.
That’s it from me. Jean
By Alan Levine
So now we get to the World Series, with the best team in the American League facing a National League team that finished a fairly distant third in its division. I consider this a ludicrous state of affairs, fueled by television networks and greedy owners and players. That three teams who had won more than one hundred games each were eliminated in a hodge-podge of short, jerry-built, sudden-death series tarnishes a game meant to reward hard work and season-long persistence.
Here is my proposal for restoring the big leagues to a semblance of sanity, which probably illustrates nothing more than how old I am.
1. Add one team to each league.
2. Divide each league into two, strictly geographical, divisions.
3. Eliminate all regular season interleague play.
4. Have each team play fourteen games against each of the teams in its division and eight games against each of the teams in its league's other division.
5. At the end of the 162-game season, each league has a best-of-seven playoff between the two division champions.
6. The World Series will be between the winners of each league's playoff.
7. Everyone goes home by Columbus Day.
8. We'll discuss the designated hitter some other time. As for the ghost runner, there is no discussion. Keep him in the dugout.
(Alan Levine is my friend from junior high school. He is still working.)
Cowboy Photos by John McDermott
My ode to Thomas McGuane's short story in the New Yorker was followed by these photos from my good friend and master photographer John McDermott, long-time soccer presence, now riding the range (on his bicycle) in northern Italy.
John wrote: "One of my favorite assignments ever was to go to Colorado for a German magazine and shoot a story on contemporary cowboys. I had a great time, but ended up with a sore butt and back, not being used to riding a horse up and down steep trails. The deal with the cowboys was, “We'll give you a horse but then you need to help us with the cattle when we need you. So I got to play cowboy a little too."
John added: "The shoot took place at a ranch and in the mountains outside of Crested Butte, Colorado. The rodeo was the Cattleman’s Day event held annually in nearby Gunnison. One of the best assignments ever. The Germans were good for that. I did a lot of lengthy photo reportage assignments for Focus-on mega-churches in Texas, on the medical marijuana industry in California, on earthquake preparation in SF, on writer Isabel Allende and many others. They tended to give more space to good photography than most American magazines did. Of course, now most of the American magazines are either greatly diminished, online only, or just gone."
Well, cowboys are supposed to be gone, too, but John McDermott's photo essay -- and Thomas McGuane's short story in the New Yorker -- prove that cowboys endure.
GV adds: Several people couldn't open the Thomas McGuane short story, so I took the liberty of downloading it here:
Cowboy Talk -- In the New Yorker!
Cowboys used to be part of our daily mythology. I’m old enough to remember when television came along, cowboys galloping across our screen, Hopalong Cassidy, Matt Dillon, Gene Autry, some of them singing, most of them shooting and slinging a lariat and speaking terse truisms about right and wrong, what defines a cowboy.
The leading presenter of modern cowboys is Thomas McGuane, whose books and films keep up with the times. Imagine my delight at opening the current New Yorker and finding a lush short story by McGuane, about two childhood friends who sign on for summer work crews.
Rufus and Grant, he with some credits from community college, both try to define their “occupation.” Their summer employer describes the folkways of former frontier – “the old grazing law, ‘Take half, leave half, and leave the big half.’”
The preoccupation with how things are done seems charmingly old-fashioned these days, when nothing quite seems moral.
As they talk on the phone before meeting for their summer job on the range, Rufus says: “Cowboys fix fence, Grant. They don’t build fence. No no no no no. If some rancher tells you he’s got a little fence to build, you just ease on.”
Who thinks about rules and morals these days? People who would have been cowboys in an earlier century now sport automatic weapons and make up new rules.
But somehow cowboy truths survive. I think that’s why I love old-fashioned cowboy songs, dressed up in modern examples, in one of my favorite CDs tucked into my iPod – “Cowboy Songs,” circa 1990, with Michael Martin Murphey singing old favorites with gruff male talent singing and playing, and Tammy Wynette providing darling backup.
In Murphey's CD, some of the cowboy truisms seem smoothed over by modern niceties – “them was the days” when cowboys got drunk on payday, or a cowboy gets into “a foolish” gambling fight. In a new version of “Home on the Range,” Murphey laments how Indigenous Americans have been forced to move on, but in another song, 16 Texas Rangers are buried with arrows in their chests.
As I read McGuane’s short story in the New Yorker, I can hear Murphey singing the catechism of the old West: In “Cowboy Logic,” an old cowhand quizzes a young recruit about how to spot the real cowboy among three guys squeezed into the front of a pickup.
Then there is Ian Tyson’s song, “Cowboy Pride:”
Cowboy pride will always get a man through
Cowboy pride will make a fool of you
In his short story, McGuane points out the dangers but also the thrills of cowboy life apparently a decade or two before this belligerent time. The rough-hewn Rufus tells his pal about a romance that has just broken up:
“I met her when I was delivering oxygen. I stopped by to pick up the equipment after her dad died. She was so beautiful I told her how much I wanted her. She pointed to the couch and said, ‘Over there O.K.?’”
McGuane’s shop talk of the Montana range is sometimes blunt, sometimes complicated, with the feel of a master composer laying out the chords and themes that sound like, feel like, danger. This is the old west, right?
I was reminded of another Michael Martin Murphey rendition of the traditional song, “When the Work’s All Done This Fall” – about a cowboy who can’t wait to see his mother, back East, as soon as the herd is delivered and so is the pay.
Rufus and Grant, long-time friends, one defined by scruffy old shirts, one by rock-band t-shirts, find themselves goading their horses up a steep hill
In the work of a frontier master, there is no foreboding of buffoon reality TV hosts and deluded gun-carrying thugs with no moral compass.
McGuane makes the young cowboys so appealing, as they try to define their calling, so quaint, so noble, so dangerous.
The Oct. 10 issue of the New Yorker can sometimes be read in its entirety, unless you’ve gone beyond the monthly ration. Wait: you don’t subscribe to this great magazine?
Love Story: RIP, Mets
(Sept. 6: When the glorious season went downhill)
What can you say about a baseball team that died?
That it was talented and spirited. That it played with vestiges of old-timey baseball. That it had Edwin Diaz jogging in from the bullpen, accompanied by Timmy Trumpet.
That it ran out of gas in the final month.*
From spring training to Labor Day, the Mets found ways to win, sometimes with power, sometimes with guile and bunts, sometimes despite two iconic pitchers showing signs of mortality.
Mets fans reassured each other that this was one of those rare seasons in the team’s torturous history. Buck Showalter, glowering in the dugout, had all the information in his meticulous, finicky mind, in his little black notepad.
In the second half of the season, the Atlanta Braves asserted themselves (“They are the World Champions,” Good Old Howie Rose said on the radio recently.)
There are theories about why the Mets fell apart. The pitchers caught up with Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor. Not enough power from the two catchers. The late-season acquisitions were exposed. (Tired of watching Daniel Vogelbach take third strikes?) DeGrom and Scherzer could not pitch late into games. The “organization” showed mixed messages in bringing up three callow prospects late in the season, without time to adjust to the majors.
But I’ll tell you the worst thing to happen to the Mets in 2022:, when a record-setting 122 Mets hitters were hit by pitches.
The worst was when Starling Marte was whacked on his right hand on Sept. 6.
Marte was the soul of the Mets, a refugee from the lower depths of the majors, with an athletic strut, a knowing smile, the ability to steal a base, hit a homer, bounce against the wall to make a catch. I always liked him with the Pirates. With the swagger of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, the late heavyweight champion, Marte was always on the move, connecting with fans, perpetual motion.
But Marte did not play until the wild-card series, a full month later -- stealing a base or bouncing into the outfield wall, with a splint on his aching right middle finger. By the time Marte got back, the Mets’ fire was gone.
The final month was sour, particularly in the three wild-card games.
---When Max Scherzer was bombarded for four homers in the opening game, a lot of Mets fans -- so colorful, so verbal, so passionate -- took the low road with yowls and boos for Scherzer. Shame on them. I bet St. Louis fans didn’t boo anybody as the Cardinals went down and out, at home.
--- In the Mets' third and final game with the Padres, while Joe Musgrove was mowing down the Mets, Showalter asked the umpires to check him for a foreign substance on face or uniform. The umpires poked at Musgrove’s ears, which only made Musgrove even more resolute, as he pitched seven innings, giving up one hit. I’ve known Showalter since his first days as Yankee manager, and I get a kick out of him and his old-school game tactics. But Showalter’s ploy against Musgrove looked cheesy.
So the Mets’ season is over. No point in looking ahead. The three lead pitchers were wobbly in crucial series. Some contracts are up. The “prospects” never did get enough experience to show what they might do next year.
But Mets fans have their memories – Nimmo’s catch, Escobar’s torrid September, McNeil’s batting title, gallant slides home, swarms on game-ending hits, and most of all, the trumpets for Edwin Diaz, now echoing in the Mets' empty ball park.
With all due respect to the other baseball team in New York, and the classy slugger, Aaron Judge,
for this worn-down Mets fan, it is now time for the old Brooklyn saying: "Wait til next year."
* With homage to Erich Segal, author of "Love Story"
Talking and Writing About Loretta
Our friend Loretta Lynn died Tuesday morning.
So many people have written about her, and one of the very best tributes is by Laura Vecsey, former sports and political columnist in major newspapers.
This is from Laura's website:
By Laura Vecsey
Loretta Lynn was 90 when she passed away today. But she will always be 13, which is how old she was said to be when she married Doolittle Lynn and left Butcher Hollow, Kentucky for Washington State, 4 babies in 4 years and singing at grange halls en route to American originalism stardom. In fact, Loretta Lynn was 15 when she got married, and that was the only small deceit ever in her entirely genuine life.
By sheer good fortune to be the daughter of George Vecsey, who was deemed the right person to write Loretta's biography, I was able to spend a good deal of time around Loretta Lynn for a few years. I can safely say that among the many celebrities and stars and powerful people I have been able to rub elbows with in my life, I'm not sure anyone will measure to Loretta's light.
There is a reason some people are stars, icons, once-in-a-lifetimes. Loretta made me understand that. An incredible combination of spirit, light, beauty, talent, work ethic, righteousness and humor.
As my father worked recording taped interviews with Loretta, I got to go along on some of trips to wherever she was performing. My father met Loretta after a mine blew up in Hyden, Kentucky, close to where Loretta had grown up. She performed a benefit for the families and, as my father was the New York Times correspondent for the Midwest based in Louisville, he was there for the coal mine catastrophe and her performance.
They got along, and her Nashville agent knew Loretta's story had to be written, and my father was the absolute right man for the job. An incredible listener, thoughtful interviewer, my pops says Loretta wrote the book herself and surely she knew how to create a narrative arc and fill it with detail and emotion, but this was a good pairing my father and Loretta.
As my father would get time with Loretta, I would be allowed on her tour bus as it sat parked outside of concert halls or country music festivals. The cast of characters in and out of the bus was a sight to behold for a young teenager.
Her son Ernest Ray was touring with her one year, and really it was all so he could snag as many groupies as he could between sets. I'd watch her seasoned band perform all sorts of side jobs -- drive the bus, hawk merchandise, set up autograph lines -- and then hit the stage and every note from pedal guitar to drums and fiddle perfectly.
Loretta would sit at the table in the bus, full of quips and comebacks, as many questions as answers. "I may be ignorant, but I'm not stupid," she'd say. She was self-aware and curious and had perfected the ability to run a tour and be a star and care about her fans and her music and fellow musicians and her hair and costumes in a way that took a toll on her physically and mentally.
Still, I remember watching the scene from Robert Altman's "Nashville" in which Ronee Blakely plays a Loretta Lynn-esque character whose grueling life on the road and marital issues sends her to a hospital for exhaustion. I remember thinking ... as compelling as Ronee Blakely was and vulnerable and beautiful, she couldn't quite capture the true originality of Loretta, the fire and the determination and the ability to confront and yet sidestep pain and bad times.
Loretta was a star that no amount of time or deterioration could blunt the light. Levon Helm knew it. Jack White knew it, bringing Loretta back to the studio for Van Lear Rose to cast the American icon into a new modern light. But even Jack White trying to put his spin on Loretta could never best the best of Loretta.
I was really lucky to have known her.
My undying memory of Loretta Lynn brings me such a sense of good fortune and joy. It was around 1975 or '76, and my father took us all to meet up with Loretta in Massachusetts where she was playing at a festival in Cohasset MA -- south of Boston near Plymouth. She either had a day off or time off between sets and we all agreed it would be a fun trip to go see Plymouth Rock.
With Cherokee on her mother Clara's side, Loretta was long proud of her Native heritage, so she was particularly curious about the Wampanaug Chief Massasoit, whose peaceful nature helped keep the Pilgrims alive. It was a sunny but windy day, I recall, and Loretta was a slight thing wearing jeans and some kind of denim jacket, her long dark hair blowing all around. As we walked through the streets down to the state park, we stopped at an ice cream stand and all got a cone.
Loretta got black walnut, and went to town licking it so to keep it from dripping all over. She was in good spirits, pulling her hair out of the cone, until we finally arrived at the place where Plymouth Rock sat in its confined station near the shores of Plymouth Bay.
Loretta straightened her head up, took a look over the iron rail to the ground below.
"That's Plymouth Rock?'' she said: "Why I've got bigger rocks in my driveway!" And she went on to talk more about the gorgeous Chief Massasoit and I knew that she had taken some pleasure in knowing the Chief was the better man in the deal, same as she sang about having too many babies, and how The Pill was the freedom women needed, and how cheating men deserved Fist City, and that being home with family was in the end the right place to be, even for the Coal Miner's Daughter whose gift and starshine will let her live forever.
(Below: My father walking with Loretta and her agent, David Skepner, outside the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.)
GV: Two good friends, now both gone. David Skepner died on 9-11. See this.
I have a piece on the NYT website, Wednesday, with thanks to the Culture editors who asked me to write about helping Loretta with her book.
(The NYT link does not seem to be opening here, for some reason, but try looking up nytimes.com and loretta lynn and vecsey.) I understand it will also run in the Thursday paper.)
Here is the NYT obituary by Bill Friskics-Warren, who writes so well about Nashville:
And here is the NYT appraisal by the always-astute Jon Pareles:
A few words about Loretta's Cherokee heritage (via her mother, Clara.)
She was always proud of her roots, before it was cool. Laura Vecsey remembers our sojourn to Plymouth Rock, how Loretta was intensely fascinated by the Wampanoags and their chief, Massasoit.
When she and Mooney bought their ranch west of Nashville, she started to learn more about how the Cherokees were forced from their homes (just a little bit of American history the country never taught us, back in the day.) The Duck River is about 10 miles to the west of the Lynn ranch at Hurricane Mills. Loretta said she could hear the Cherokees crying as they marched along the Trail of Tears.
She brought her pride with her on the stage.
On Page 16 of the original hard-cover book, Loretta has a few words about Andrew Jackson and other Tennessee people who sent the Cherokees away.
The Johnson sisters were part Native Americans -- Loretta Johnson, most strikingly -- and in 1968, the four women delivered a load of clothing and supplies to the Red Cloud school in South Dakota, and later Loretta and her band played a benefit up there. I thank our Laura for reminding us about that side of Loretta Lynn.
Please Don’t Blame Queens for Trump
Oy, it’s back – the theme of Donald Trump as prototypical Queens lout.
I gather this from this Sunday’s NYT, a review by Joe Klein of a new book by Maggie Haberman, both of whom I admire greatly. But somehow the lumpen masses of Queens County are still being connected with the disturbed, amoral thug who has terrorized the U.S. and the world since 2016.
As it happens, I grew up on a busy street, about half a mile from the Trumps to the west and the Cuomos to the east. Many of my friends went to grade school with Freddie Trump, older brother of Donald, and say good things about him.
But in the big picture, nobody is typical of Queens, which ranged from ethnic western Queens to the remaining open spaces of eastern Queens. In the middle was Jamaica High, one of the best schools in the city. (Nasty little Donald was sent off to private schools, where, theoretically, money would buy protection if not character uplifting.)
Was central Queens to blame for the criminal tendencies of Donald J. Trump?
That premise annoys me because I could name dozens of friends and acquaintances who worked for success in more socially-acceptable ways.
I will name only a few – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who grew up a block of so from the Trumps, who came through a hard childhood to become a major voice in feminism and journalism (Letty has a new book), and Steven Jay Gould, a grade or two younger than me, who became a major scientist.
Nowadays, I follow the very public activity of two other Jamaica grads -- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from Yale, representing an urban ward in Houston, and Jelani Cobb from Howard, a bad right fielder for Jamaica (he says) but a terrific journalist and professor.
I submit that the striving ethos of Queens produced those four above, and thousands more, beyond the larcenous Trumps.
From our little chunk of Queens in mid-to-late-‘50s: the professor and NASA scientist, two civic activists from Jamaica Estates, our Class President-for-Life who has been air-lifted into Alaska in the winter to serve as teacher and community volunteer, and several judges, including one long settled in Washington State.
I could tell you about my Black pal in the Jamaica chorus who had to lobby against being stereotyped into vocational classes, and now has a doctorate and a career in a government agency. (We sang the school song at his recent Significant Birthday celebration.)
I could tell you about the Cleftones, who sang under-the-streetlights doo-wop harmony for decades.
Then there was the Holocaust survivor who played soccer at Jamaica and became a doctor out west. We had five doctors on the Jamaica soccer team. One could also sing. One became a med-school dean. One has been working at a Queens hospital in the worst of the Covid pandemic.
And speaking of doctors, one of the wittiest and smartest kids in Jamaica Estates graduated from college and then realized she could have become a doctor – and she did, years later, and has had an admirable career.
Two guys in the same radio-journalism class with me turned out to be well-known political activists for decades.
And another teammate (a doctor) and his kid sister (an academic) lived next door to the Trumps for a while. She remembers how her ball would bounce into the Trump yard and Terrible Little Donald, 4 or 5, would pounce on it and say, “It’s in my yard. It belongs to me.” Kind of like classified government papers, you might say.
By the way, the drive to excellence was not just a Jamaica High phenomenon. At nearby Forest Hills High, the star jump-shooter, Stephen Dunn, played at Hofstra and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. At Van Buren High, which sprung up in our eastern neighborhoods, a future lawyer, Alan Taxerman (the late and lamented Big Al to readers of this site), was sure he was the smartest kid in the universe, until he noticed that Frank Wilczek actually was. (Wilczek later won the Nobel Prize in physics – see Van Buren’s hall of fame.)
And then there were Central-Queens people who went into business, education, government, law, library work. Was there something in the air or the water of Central Queens that led thousands of us to socially-acceptable lives?
Joe Klein – again, a long-admired colleague – mentions elders making snide references to other ethnic groups.
Were we all Archie Bunkers?
I ask this because my household was a meeting place of the Discussion Group, organized by two upwardly-bound subway motormen, one white, one Black, kept at 50-50 ratio, comprised, by definition, of Queens bootstrappers with ideals.
My brother Peter recalls being a little kid, sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to loud voices and loud opinions -- but then refreshments would be served and voices would soften, laughter would commence. It was a lesson for the next generation. You could care – and you could get along.
What was the motivation for we rustics out there in Queens? Were we different from kids in “The City” A friend of mine was running with a fast little group from Manhattan, and I tagged along, impressed by how they knew the music clubs and museums and parks of Manhattan. (One of our new friends, a very nice girl named Gloria, actually lived on Park Avenue, facing the new Lever Building, and went to the very elite and public Bronx Science. I often wonder what became of her.)
As I look back, going into The City (by subway) reminds me of the John Travolta character in “Saturday Night Fever,” when he visits his dancing partner, who has moved up in the world. She shames him into losing a brutish edge to his Bay Ridge behavior. But that, remember, was just a movie.
We in Central Queens were pushed by post-war ideals and ambitions, many of our teachers setting examples of inclusivity. (By the way: New York City could not run Jamaica High in the 21st Century, so the city closed it down, history and potential be damned. See Jelani Cobb’s article: https://www.georgevecsey.com/home/the-new-yorker-analyzes-the-end-of-jamaica-high)
I tend to avoid all books about Trump. Just the journalism and the copious glimpses of Trump on the tube plus half a dozen meetings with Trump in less horrible times are quite enough for me.
I love the reporting by Maggie Haberman, and the many insightful works of Joe Klein. But being caught up in a Trumpian caricature makes my Central-Queens skin crawl.
Homage to Maury Wills, Terrance Gore
This is why I love baseball:
No matter how hard the new analytics types try to invent a new sport, the ashes of the old game, the real game, spark into flames again.
On the day before Maury Wills passed, a current major-league player performed some derring-do worthy of the old master.
Terrance Jamar Gore is not dashing into the Hall of Fame or even a steady spot on a major-league roster. But when a contending team needs what sports broadcasters like to call “foot speed,” plus “smarts,” Gore is often hailed from the minor leagues to bedevil pitchers, catchers and whoever is supposed to be covering the next base.
Maury Wills did the bedeviling on a daily basis for 14 major-league seasons, winning three World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His life – the ups, the downs – was described by Rich Goldstein in the NYT on Tuesday.
Before I get to Terrance Gore, Wills’ spiritual descendant, I will share two visions of Wills:
---At the peak of his career as brilliant leadoff man for the light-hitting but championship Dodgers, Wills threw his smallish body at the next base and its surrounding dirt paths – enough to incur red abrasions, known in the trade as “strawberries,” on his hips. The off-season was not long enough to heal them, so by the following March Wills would be grinding his skin all over again. (Some old-timers wore sliding pads inside their uniforms but Wills and other players preferred uniforms tailored for their slight builds, hence perpetual strawberries.)
---Wills did not merely steal bases. He borrowed baseball wisdom from ancients like Casey Stengel, when the Old Man managed the new team in New York in 1962. I cannot pin down when and where this happened, but I heard about it since 1962:
Casey was giving a pre-game sermon to some Mets about the value of the “butcher boy” – slashing the ball downward, better than a bunt. The Mets seemed bored by the lecture but Casey noted one astute pair of eyes belonging to Maurice Morning Wills, the Dodgers’ shortstop, at the edge of the circle. The Old Professor was happy to have one student.
So that was Maury Wills. Baseball has since evolved into a perpetual home-run derby, with would-be sluggers armed by details like “launch angles” and “exit speed.”
Speaking of home runs, both New York teams had long-ball frolics Tuesday evening—Aaron Judge hitting No. 60 and Giancarlo Stanton hitting a walk-off grand-slam homer for, yes, you got it, the Bronx Bombers, and the Mets coming back from a 4-0 deficit on a 3-run blast by Pete Alonso and a grand-slam by Francisco Lindor.
Quite a night for “exit speed.”
Before that, the Mets won a game last Sunday on the legs and wits of Terrance Gore, all 5 feet, 7 inches and 160 pounds of him.
Gore is 31 and with a ball cap on his head he looks half that age. He has a .217 major-league batting average, higher than that of some lugs lunging at every pitch. He is a stolen-base specialist, used in vital circumstances in big games, and already has three World Series rings and would not mind running and sliding the Mets into this year’s Series.
The Mets picked him up from the minors in August, and he got into the tie game when Tomas Nido led off the eighth inning with a single. Everybody knew why Gore was out there. The pitcher threw several times to first base to keep him close, but Gore confidently edged back onto the dirt basepath, busting for second as soon as the pitcher threw home. The catcher’s throw flew into center field and Gore scrambled up and darted to third, and he scored the tie-breaking run on a single by Brandon Nimmo.
Home runs are fine. But even with the gigantic pitching staffs of today, the game should have room for a running specialist.
And if you are not yet charmed by the concept of the running specialist, ladies and gentlemen, the professional pride and knowledge of Mr. Terrance Jamar Gore:
Random Glimpses of Royals
There’s a story to the larger-than-life cutout.
Our friend Rachel had it made up for her commercial work in New York.
She also had cutouts of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
When Rachel passed way too young, her sister Miriam offered them to us.
Mostly they reside peacefully in our house, but they get brought front and center on occasion, which this most certainly is.
The Royals have a hold on people. This is apparent from the respectful mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, since she passed last Thursday.
Americans seem to be taking stock of how they feel about a monarchy,
The Revolution to get rid of monarchy seems like ancient history.
My wife points out that in recent years, American television has been full of dramas and documentaries about England, almost as if America were longing for a bit of structure and, dare one say it, manners, after four years of being savaged by rabid Trumpian jackals.
Then again, England has a veneer of "royal" manners but they did not stave off the ruinous Brexit or the odious Boris Johnson.
The most interesting evaluation of Elizabeth II comes from Bonnie Greer, an African-American writer who has lived in England since 1986 and now has dual citizenship. Greer said Black “church ladies” in America actively respect and imitate Queen Elizabeth’s poise and dress, her purses and her hats, her image of holding things together.
Both Marianne and I have roots in England that are traceable back to….well, my wife-the-genealogist finds links back to William the Conqueror.
Her family traces back many centuries to the Manchester area. Her mother’s father -- born in Massachusetts -- was a gentle, curious little chap you could envision toddling down to the greengrocer or the chemist, in Rochdale or Bury or Salford or Oldham, where his people came from.
My wife can trace a chain of her family names, all over the world.
My mother was born in England – in Liverpool -- but she would always, always, say, “We were really from Southampton,” where her father was usually posted with the White Star Line, except for a short stint in Liverpool before World War One. Liverpool is known for its scousers – a mix including Irish from just across the sea.
I never heard me mum take credit or pride in Liverpool – not even the Beatles. My kid brother Chris confirms my impressions that our mother, who cried when FDR died, admired Winston Churchill, whose middle name was Spencer. That was also my mother's maiden name, and Princess Diana's maiden name, and a frequent middle name in our sprawling family.
Our mom was very proud of being British; when an Australian relative came to visit, Mom broke out the best English china -- but Chris doesn't think she was very interested in the royals.
My wife and I have both been lucky to visit England, sometimes for weeks at a time.
It is impossible to visit England without being aware of the monarchy – sometimes in person.
My wife once spent 15 muddy, drizzly minutes in the presence of Princess Anne, quite long enough to form an impression. This happened via our friend, a Sloane Square solicitor, whose firm did work for the royal family.
We stayed with him a couple of years when I was covering Wimbledon, which coincided with the rowing races at Henley. (I believe our friend had been a coxswain at one of the colleges of Oxford, but he is gone now, so I cannot check.)
He was a gallant old bachelor who enjoyed squiring Marianne about Henley, on a classically dreadful summer day. They were at a prime reserved table with other connected people – one of them a physician for the Royal Family. As the rain fell, Princess Anne was walking past their table, and she recognized them. They stood up, of course, but with a casual wave she motioned them to sit back down, while she chatted with them.
“She had a white hat and a white brocade dress, covered with mud, and she was wearing Wellies,” my wife recalls, using the common British term for the universal mud boots. She was informal and poised, at the same time, my wife says.
(This sighting matches my impressions of Princess Anne from my years covering the International Olympic Committee. Princess Anne, once an equestrian competitor, later a member of the I.O.C., had a good reputation as an activist against performance-enhancing drugs.)
In England, the Royals are on the telly, in the papers and the magazines, always on the brain. My friend Logan thinks he once saw Queen Elizabeth, a mile or so from Buckingham Palace.
“I was jogging down Jermyn Street one early Sunday morning,” he recalled in an e-mail on Sunday. “No one around. It’s ‘one way.’ A limo passed by me and through the window I got this very regal wave. I waved back. Am sure it was Her Majesty. Spring of 1987, I think.”
I could wonder, wouldn’t the queen have a companion car, smoked windows, bristling security?
But what’s with the wave? My theory is, on a quiet street near the palace, early on a Sunday morning, only queens wave.
I had a royal sighting once, in one of my early assignments to Wimbledon, when the press tribune was directly alongside the Royal Box. Princess Diana was on the guest list that day; we reporters checked her out early and often.
Later, I noticed her looking back at us, perhaps wondering about that raffish lot, as we chattered and gestured our way through the afternoon – a fitting Shakespearean upstairs/downstairs balance to the swells in the Royal Box.
She should have heard some of the Brit reporters, the Beastie Boys with their lurid commentary, imitating plummy royal accents. I’d like to think she would have laughed.
Her two little boys were scuttling around the box, watched by helpers. Their mom was looking around. Her blue eyes were piercing.
I’ve never observed the new King Charles. Our friend Alastair did a wicked imitation of him, making him sound mopey. (Then again, Alastair lived in Wales and referred to England as “them.”)
I read a book that quoted Emma Thompson, a good friend of Charles, about his complexities; she also said he was a good dancer and a good human being.
Another Old-Timer Back in the Ball Park
Not all the old-timers wore uniforms at the grand celebration of antiquity.
The old players, legends all, visited Queens on Saturday as the tradition of Old-Timers’
Day was honored after a gaping absence of 28 years.
How wonderful it was to sit in my home cave and watch Frank Thomas, Jay Hook, Ken McKenzie and Craig Anderson from the first team in1962. They were good people then, helping Casey Stengel create the lovable myth of the Amazin’ Mets.
Now, in the very young and very promising era of the new owner, Steven Cohen, the Mets brought back 60 old-timers to stand in for the Richie Ashburns and Alvin Jacksons who toiled so honorably in 1962.
Wonderful touch: room on the field for family members representing Gil Hodges, Tommie Agee, Willie Mays and my departed friend, 1986 coach, Bill Robinson.
Mingling with the old-timers was my friend Steve Jacobson who helped cover the first season for Newsday and starred as columnist for decades. Steve, going on 89, was welcomed by Jay Horwitz, the haimish maestro of Mets alumni affairs, who also invited me as a surviving veteran of 1962. But I’m still ducking public gatherings during the pandemic, so I stayed home and waited for Steve to call me with the gossip.
Steve said he wished he could have chatted with all of them, but there was such a crush, everywhere. He could have talked to Frank Thomas about hitting 34 homers and driving in 94 runs, and Ken McKenzie, who had the only winning record (5-4), and Craig Anderson, who won both ends of a May doubleheader over the Milwaukee Braves to raise the Mets’ record to 12-19 and cause manager Bobby Bragan to call the Polo Grounds a “chamber of horrors.”
Oh, yeah. The Mets promptly lost 17 straight, en route to a 40-120 record.
Steve also could have talked to Jay Hook, with his engineering degree, who won a game one day and told the writers it was like eating sour cherries but then tasting a sweet cherry. (All three 1962 pitchers present Saturday were part of Casey’s respected “University Men” – McKenzie from Yale, Anderson from Lehigh and Hook from Northwestern.)
Steve did have time to mingle on the field, wearing a Newsday ball cap, with his wife, Anita, snapping photos of him with epic Mets including Ron Swoboda and Mookie Wilson (who later would gambol in the outfield in the old-timers’ game, along with another sleek alum, Endy Chavez.)
The part that Steve treasured most was having a few old Mets tell him he had been one of those sportswriters who did not throw them under the bus when they had a bad hour on the field. We were reporters, we were critics, but we were not rippers.
Now the Mets are in a new era. Steven Cohen, a grown-up Mets fan, used his money to hire Billy Eppler, Buck Showalter, Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer. Who knows if the Mets will hold off the Braves and go far in the post-season? But gestures like the recent Keith Hernandez number-retirement and Willie Mays number retirement (honoring the jolly first owner, Joan Whitney Payson, indicate a generosity of pocketbook and heart.
(Speaking of not throwing people under the bus: a few old players and writers and fans have blasted the previous ownership of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz for not putting enough money into the franchise. I have a friend who ran a center called Abilities, Inc., on Long Island, which helps people function better in work and social life. I am told that the Wilpon-Katz family was generous with money and energy.)
Let's just say: the Mets are in a new era. I was happy to hear my friend Steve Jacobson bubble about his hours back at the ball park with similarly elderly Mets who once upon a time gave the fans so many memories -- some of them even good.
The other day I was writing about Dominic DiSaia, and his photo of Vin Scully, and I mentioned photographers I ran around with, back in the day.
One of them is John McDermott, who bonded with me on the soccer beat and also at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. Speaking Italian fluently, John charmed our way into the Italian hospitality tent up on an icy mountain plateau, by offering some of my NYT souvenir pins (“distintivi”) -- pure gold at the Olympics.
The food was great, as one might expect, and so was the scene when Alberto Tomba, three-time Olympic gold medal ski racer, slowly checked out every table, like an entitled don in one of the Coppola masterpieces.
(Oh, yes, that was Roberto Baggio's voice on John’s cellphone.)
John McDermott – originally from Philadelphia -- gets around; he loved San Francisco for decades, riding his bike and hanging around with locals like Dusty Baker, but six years ago he moved to Italy with his wife, Claudia Brose, originally from Cologne.
They live in Appiano, in the northeast corner of Italy, where German and Italian intermingle, but lately the couple has been making forays to Naples for the ambiance.
Claudia has a business conducting photography seminars, and John demonstrates the art of street photography in one of the most vital cities on earth.
In Naples – Napoli --- English or northern RAI broadcast Italian only go so far, but in Napule life is often conducted in Neapolitan, not so much a dialect of Italian as a Romance language, endangered, to be sure, descended from Latin.
John enclosed a link to a video he put together, using his photographs, backed up by the song by Pino Daniele raised in the Spaccanapoli district, who died in 2015.
What draws John and Claudia back to Naples?
"The warmth, energy and openness of the people, the chaos and the way everything just works out," John wrote the other day.
I get it. My first foray to Naples was in 1970 when my wife and I took our three young children around Italy, the most child-friendly country I know.
I went back in 1989 to work on a Times magazine feature on Diego Maradona, the Argentina soccer star who played for the Napoli club – a perfect spot for the flawed athlete. Maradona defied the club’s attempt to set up an interview, even when the club driver took my to Maradona’s villa at the top of the old Greek hill area, Posillipo.
I called the number I had for him and somebody messed with my mind, leaping from Spanish to Italian and back. And when I went to a club practice Maradona did not show up that day, leaving his coach sputtering and fuming.
Tough town. I realized this at the Napoli club match that Sunday. As I made my way to the press tribune, my guide nudged me under the overhang – just before a wadded cannonball of wet tissue splatted against the wall, like a baseball, where I had been standing. The “ultras” in the stands surely had good aim.
Next time I visited Naples was at the 1990 World Cup when Argentina was defending its 1986 title.
While I was working, my wife meandered down to the harbor, with life pulsing in the shops – at least until a couple of older ladies wagged index fingers and warned, “Signora, Signora,” and motioned for her to hide the bracelet on her wrist. The local lads were quite adept at snatching jewelry from tourists, they signalled.
The pre-teens of Naples are known as “scugnizzi” – urchins – a matter of civic pride. Sit at an outdoor café and a scugnizzo will try to sell a few loose cigarettes, as a way of getting closer. Oh, yes, tough town.
Maradona, local hero, played to the Napolitani by urging them to root for his Argentina team when it played Italy in the semifinal.
His words, as John McDermott recalls them, were, “364 days a year they call you “terroni” -- an Italian pejorative term for southerners. “Today they want you to be Italian. Don’t be fooled by them. We are your team! You belong with us!”
Maradona’s brazen appeal was rewarded with a victory over Italy, but Argentina lost the final to West Germany.
He’s gone, now, a victim of his excesses, but Diego Armando Maradona is the flawed patron saint of Naples. As John and Claudia wander through the tangled, pungent streets, they see his likeness everywhere -- the man who found his spiritual home.
“It’s dirty and chaotic and sometimes nerve-wracking,” McDermott wrote me. “But it is also a constant, vibrant, non-stop show of real life lived out in public.”
John expands on his love for Naples in this link:
As I work my way through John’s photos, I can hear, can smell, and surely can see the pulsing life in the alleyways of Naples.
Long live the photographers who take us to these places.
The NYT – the former gray lady – now lavishes color photos on its subscribers.
Did you see this recent masterpiece on Budapest?
When Vince Scully died, I was honored to get a call from the Times, asking me to write a column from the perspective of my youth as a Brooklyn Dodger fan.
When the paper arrived in the driveway the next morning, my column was accompanied by a lovely photo of Vin Scully, from behind, as he called a night game at Dodger Stadium. (The bizarre thing is that the photo was not included in the copious spread on Scully in the great nytimes.com obit spread on the website.)
The photo by Dominic DiSaia perfectly demonstrated the link between Scully and his fans since the Dodgers moved to LA in 1958. (I’ve gotten over it; oh, yes, I’ve gotten over it.)
The photo in the glowing night demonstrated the link between a grand franchise and the mellow, knowing, professional voice of Vince Scully. The fans in Dodger Stadium are one thing, but the audience “out there” is also tangible.
We saw the stadium and sensed what was beyond, from the back of Scully’s fertile head.
So that left me with a question: who is Dominic DiSaia and how did he take the photo of Vin Scully from behind?
Let me pause and say that I have a career’s worth of partnership with the many great NYT staff photographers as well as free-lancers, stringers, most notably Ken Murray, an artist who roamed Appalachia with me in the early ‘70s. I got to know the work habits and minds of photographers.
Dominic DiSaia, I learned, is an independent photographer, 47, raised in Southern California, based in LA. He does commercial and advertising photography with a major in sports.
In 2013, he proposed a project for ESPN about a day in the life of Vin Scully. He got approval but in a limited way – no photos at home, only at Dodger Stadium, and nothing during the game.
“He wasn’t too thrilled about it,” DiSaia told me over the phone, a note of admiration in his voice. “He was a very private man.” DiSaia did learn that Scully would call his wife now and then from the booth, also off limits to the photographer.
DiSaia snapped away, when he could, and then he got lucky. One of the aides in the broadcasting booth area told him that the seventh-inning stretch was a bit longer than normal breaks, and he let DiSaia slip into the aisle behind the broadcasters.
There he learned something I have never heard about any broadcaster before: Scully kept a Jolly Rancher candy on his desk and would suck on it – the same one -- between innings – to keep his mouth moist. But he would not drink anything during the game so he could not feel the need to use the men’s room. Vin Scully was, along with all his other traits, disciplined.
With only a few seconds of access, and not wanting to get in Scully’s field of vision, DiSaia stood behind Scully and saw the big picture – the broadcaster and his audience, in the stadium and wherever that broadcast went. As the Dodgers began batting in the home half, DiSaia snapped away, and then slipped out into the corridor.
As it turned out, this was an epic night at Dodger Stadium. Yasiel Puig, from Cuba, hit his first two homers, and DiSaia happened to be in the photographers’ well alongside the dugout, and another photographer caught DiSaia a few feet from the new hero, as the crowd cheered. Later, DiSaia learned, Vin Scully, always alert, said: “Viva Cuba! Viva Puig!” Terse and perfect.
After the game, DiSaia caught up with Scully for the promised wrapup photo, in the parking lot – but true to his private bent, Scully did not want a glimpse of his actual ride home – a hired driver, because by that time Scully was not driving at night. So Scully went off into the night, and DiSaia polished his photo essay for ESPN.
Scully must have liked the photos because he signed a copy and included it in a cache of souvenirs that he sold to bulk up the college fund for grandchildren.
DiSaia does retain rights to the photo, and has a print available at:
He also has a website:
After that night in 2013, DiSaia continued to work in sports around LA, but as for Vin Scully:
“I never saw him again in person.”
How often do journalists say that about the epic person they met on a memorable assignment, and never again.
DiSaia retains a respect for Vince Scully that matches the worldwide impression – a master artist who knew his audience and himself, as he faced out into the night, and into the ears and hearts of ball fans everywhere.
We all need a momentary diversion from the 10 or 12 top terrors loose in the world.
The Mets do it for me -- playing a brand of ball I thought had gone out of style. As of Monday morning, they were tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball.
Nothing like big-market money.
I think of all the years when I worked at appearing professionally neutral. Now that I am retired, I am free to watch the Mets – with two separate Met-centric smartphone message dialogues going at the same time.
The Mets are so much fun to watch because they are defying the launch-angle, exit-velocity analytics trend that has rendered contemporary baseball so stultifying.
It can be done. The Mets of recent years had the same bad habits of other teams – trying to put the ball over the fence and get their moon shots on TV and social media. Managers came and went – good grief, one general manager was a reforming player agent -- but New York money-guy Steve Cohen bought the team and brought in Billy Eppler as general manager and hired Buck Showalter as manager and now the Mets hitters are humbling teams with their lopsided shifts, hitting it where they ain’t, in the immortal phrase of Wee Willie Keeler.
Jeff McNeil once was lost but now he’s found – propelling a home run now and then, when it comes naturally, with his good swing.
Showalter is doing one of the most noticeably great managing jobs I have seen in a long time.
I’m happy for him. Met him the winter before he took over the Yankees, a boy manager who had impressed Billy Martin with his knowledge as a fringe coach during spring training. Now he was getting his chance. I flew into Pensacola one morning in mid-February of 1992 and he drove me to his old neighborhood, more Alabama than Florida, introduced me to his pals at the gas station, in a town where his late father, a former Little All-American fullback and a high school principal-coach, was a legend, and then we stopped off to meet his mom.
Ever after, when I was around his team, Buck he would point to me and say, “There’s George, he’s been to my hometown, he understands.” I wasn’t always sure what I understood, but, sure, Buck, sure.
These days, he is a master at work in his dugout, intense, obsessive, usually with bench coach Glenn Sherlock at his side, as a sounding board. Have you ever seen coaches more alert, more pro-active, than Wayne Kirby (social director at first base), Joey Cora (performing acrobatics at third base), Eric Chavez (hitting coach, smiling reassuringly in the dugout) and Jeremy Hefner, (pitching coach, foxlike, alert to every nuance of his charges?)
During the game, Showalter conducts little seminars with lifers like Max Scherzer and Francisco Lindor, while popping sunflower seeds into his mouth and making snarky comments to the umpires. Old school.
Buck neglects nobody. He gets players into the lineup, before they get too rusty. He benched Mark Canha for a few days after the Mets spent more of Steve Cohen’s money for Tyler Naquin, and on Sunday Buck put Canha back in the lineup, and of course the pro responded.
And for those hard-core fans, who spend their hot summer days and nights peering at the tube, it’s been a pleasure to watch the pitchers holding the Mets together when Scherzer was hurt, when Jacob deGrom was recuperating.
The past week, those two aces have been back, as good as ever. Buck tried to nurse deGrom through the sixth inning on Sunday until Dansby Swanson broke up the no-hitter with a two-run homer and Buck nodded and gave deGrom the rest of the day off.
It is a memorable season for Edwin Diaz, reviled in his first season in town, now having the best relief season ever seen – entering to the stirring trumpet music. On Friday Showalter recognized this was August, and they were playing the Braves, so he asked Diaz to pitch two innings and received six outs of Koufaxian brilliance.
Luis Guillorme – once known primarily for having caught a wayward bat (the baseball kind) in the dugout – has been so good that Buck uses him in most days. day. Along with the Diaz entrance, the best show on the Mets is Guillorme and Lindor playing Marquis Haynes and Goose Tatum (ask your grandfather) with the ball as they trot off the field at the end of an inning.
And I haven’t even mentioned Pete Alonso…or Starling Marte….or Brandon Nimmo…the other pitchers. (I am also taken with Carlos Carrasco, and his El Greco-painting serenity.)
Entire odes could be written about the Mets -- and sometimes are, on our smartphone links-- during this compelling season that gives us a rest from all the other stuff.
Things Get Worse in Kentucky Flood
When I covered Appalachia from a home base in Louisville, some of the grand leaders of Appalachia had a suggestion for me: why not live in Whitesburg, the center of the universe?
They had a point – “they” being Harry Caudill, lawyer and writer, and Tom and Pat Gish, who put out the great weekly newspaper, The Mountain Eagle (“It Screams.”)
Those grand figures of the Kentucky mountains both lived in Whitesburg, in Letcher County, current population 2,200.
Also in Whitesburg was Appalshop an invaluable repository of the images and words and sounds of mountain people, mountain culture, mountain history. (See Randolph Fiery's tribute to Appalshop, Comment No. 9.)
Now Whitesburg, and Appalachian history, have been crushed by the floods that have marauded through Eastern Kentucky in the past week. The floods have spread mud over every inch of the treasures of Appalshop.
I am sick.
Here's the NYT article. Fifty years ago, that might have been me writing it.
I have already written about the stricken counties and given three general funds. (below)
How can I tell anybody to prioritize a center of history against hospitals and food drives and housing centers?
I only know that Appalshop is special, representative of the world that is being washed away because most elected public officials and industry (Here’s looking at you, Commodore Manchin) pay no attention to the region they helped dig up.
Here’s a link for Appalshop.
Now back to our previous disasters:
In my first month on a new job covering Appalachia, I happened to be nearby when the mine blew up on Dec. 30, 1970. I drove until I found the narrow road leading to the site where 38 miners had been killed in the dog-hole Finley mine at Hyden, Ky.
Around 8 or 9 PM, I noticed a Red Cross truck, with long lines, and I waited my turn for, as I recall, a cheese sandwich and a coffee, for which I was extremely grateful.
The Red Cross was there at other disasters, like the one at Buffalo Creek, W. Va., on Feb. 26, 1972. People have to eat, in all those isolated towns, most of them on bottom land, inundated by the downpour and the disintegrated hillsides of Appalachia.
In the latest horror story, good people and good organizations, are feeding the flooded mountain hamlets of Eastern Kentucky.
The Red Cross is there, because it always is.
Kentucky is lucky enough to have a thinking, feeling governor named Andy Beshear. Only last December, a tornado hit Western Ky, and he set up a special relief mission. This week Gov, Beshear set up another relief mission in the eastern part of the state:
Also present is the World Central Kitchen, run by the Washington, D.C. chef, José Andrés. It seems he is everywhere – most recently in Ukraine – and I am not surprised that within hours workers and volunteers were somehow getting to the inundated towns, preparing hot food, good food.
I would urge a contribution to any of these funds.
I take this disaster personally because this flood has brought up the same towns (Hazard, Troublesome Creek, Isom, Viper, Cutshin, Fisty…) and the same family names I saw on mailboxes in clusters along the highway (Amburgey, Webb, Sturgill, Stamper, Estep).
Death and disaster introduced me to Appalachia, and now death and disaster focus my attention, again. The climate continues to grow worse and so have the senators from Kentucky -- people like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Neighboring West Virginia has the coal-dealer, Commodore Joe Manchin, doing something for the good of others only when it profits him.
(The Senate? Have you seen the list of 41 Republican scoundrels who have banded together to deprive military veterans of medical benefits for a burn-pit plague?)
So what chance do regular Appalachia people have, trying to survive alongside the creeks and rivers in the region known as the “dark and bloody ground” to the Shawnees and Cherokees who were there before Daniel Boone and his kind.
Appalachia has been messed over by government and by industry. The least we can do for the flooded people of Kentucky is help feed them.
Homage to Waldman and Russo…and Radio
Suzyn Waldman speaks Bostonese.
Chris Russo speaks Rabid Canine.
Congratulations to both icons of the New York ear (and head, and heart) who have just been voted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Their endurance has demonstrated the power of the spoken (or sung) word, for people driving a car or working out or just lazing in a chair. Radio lives. And Suzyn Waldman and Chris Russo have endured for decades, from their early days on WFAN.
Waldman is the radio compañera of John Sterling, the long-time play-by-play mainstay of Yankee games. Sterling, bless his heart, provides shtick and nicknames and operatic exaggeration to back up his long career of calling games.
Suzyn Waldman (from Newton, Mass., and Simmons College; but you could hear that) had an earlier career in musicals – most notably playing Dulcinea in “Man of La Mancha.” Then she gravitated to talking about sports and was hired by WFAN.
Was she a novelty act? She blew up that stereotype by doing what the best reporters do, on any beat. She hung out. She asked questions. And she won the respect of players, managers, coaches and the informed beat writers.
From her time in the clubhouse, she knew what player was favoring a sore leg, or was in the doghouse, or had a weakness for a slider. The listener came to rely on her commentary, always politely but authoritatively following Sterling’s calls. Plus, she can follow the fickle bounces in distant corners of a stadium.
Yankee fans soon realized: Suzyn Waldman knows her stuff.
Not only that, but Waldman became such a moral force that she brokered a reunion between George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra, who rightfully harbored a grudge against The Boss for having fired him. Blessed are the peacemakers, like Suzyn Waldman.
Christopher Russo materialized as a sports reporter on the radio spectacle called “Imus in the Morning” – dominated by the equally brilliant and vicious Don Imus.
Your ear could not miss Russo’s babbling patter that resembled Daffy Duck in the cartoons.
When the station morphed into all-sports WFAN, he was paired with the opinionated Mike Francesa. (Imus called Francesa and Russo “Fatso and Froot Loops.”) In 1991, I wrote a column about Russo in which I unearthed his secret life: his mom came from England and was reportedly horrified by his diction; he had attended colleges in three different countries – England, Australia and the U.S., and before that he had attended a private school in New York State.
Away from the live microphone, I detected a pleasant, centered, educated and ambitious kid who had taken speech therapy and did not mind admitting it.
My headline (columnists got to write their own headlines in those days) was: “Mad Dog Is a Preppie.”
He and Francesa were wired, babbling about game strategies the night before or pending trades or players who had popped off; I will admit there were times when I needed to see if the odd couple could flush out an owner or a commissioner or an agent. Nobody wanted to be hectored by Mike and the Mad Dog.
It was compelling radio, in its way, as long as they lasted together. These days Russo is on Sirius. Sorry, a lot of new things like Sirius and podcasts are outer space to me. I’m a child of radio.
I can still remember Edward R. Murrow scaring the hell out of me with his war dispatches from London when I was 4 and 5, and when we managed to survive that war, I found Arthur Godfrey’s jovial variety shows and Red Barber’s erudite calls of the sainted Brooklyn Dodgers.
I discovered music on the radio – from Crosby and Sinatra to Aretha and Bob Marley and The Band and Dolly Parton, disk jockeys from the long-ago Jack Lacy on WINS-AM to William B. Williams on WNEW-AM (until I heard him destroying a vinyl record, live, on the air, by some new shaggy-haired kids from Liverpool.)
Radio: Garrison Keillor, NPR, Jonathan Schwartz and Peter Fornatale on WNEW-FM, the doomed classical station WNCN, and nowadays an upgraded WQXR-FM particularly Terrance McKnight from Morehouse, 7-11 PM weeknights, the eclectic John Schaefer on WNYC and the great interviewer Brian Lehrer, WNYC, both AM and FM.
Baseball? It was invented for the radio, or vice versa, never more than when the grubby forces of Major League Baseball condemn Mets or Yankee games to other networks.
Radio is a vibrant medium, all on its own – and Suzyn Waldman and Chris Russo are deservedly in the Radio Hall of Fame.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.