Let me start by saying Babe Ruth is my favorite athlete, all-time.
Not just because I witnessed him, last game of 1947, clearly sick, addressing a crowd in Yankee Stadium.
Not just because he had coached for my Brooklyn Dodgers for a while.
Not just because I later met his daughter who talked about “Daddy.”
I consider him my favorite athlete because he could pitch and he could hit and he could entertain fans just by being “The Babe.”
Now I can say, I have also seen Shohei Ohtani pitch and hit in the same game, for the World Baseball Classic, holding off the Americans with skill and power and flair, just like the Babe.
Whatever else is wrong with the world at the moment – don’t get me started – there is this versatile champion from Japan, thrilling fans around the world.
By now, you undoubtedly know that Ohtani saved Japan’s victory over the United States late Tuesday evening (Eastern time), closing the game by striking out his Los Angeles Angels teammate, Mike Trout, with a hellacious slider that broke clear across the plate.
If there is anything you don’t already know about Tuesday’s championship, try to log on to Tyler Kepner’s column in the Times, written right after the game.
Tyler touched all the bases, with gusto and knowledge, writing: “ The tournament, it is safe to say, is no longer taking off. It is already in orbit.”
The Babe, it is said, saved baseball by hitting more home runs than anybody had ever done, 29, while still a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.
In the same year, some members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the so-called World Series, in a gambling plot, followed by sleazy legal maneuvers by the hangin’ jury of the baseball leadership. The Yankees purchased Ruth, who promptly hit 54 home runs and entertained the world (including Japan, on a barnstorming visit) for a decade and a half.
Now, Shohei Ohtani has pushed the baseball tournament toward the grand tournament for the world’s most popular sport, soccer/football, the World Cup. In its own quadrennial tournament last fall, Argentina’s elder superstar Lionel Messi held off France’s young superstar Kylian Mbappé in an exciting final.
Baseball still has a long way to go, around the world, but at least Ohtani has nudged his sport into the discussion of world events.
Ohtani made baseball a 24-hour spectacle. I confess, as a notorious early bird, that I have rarely caught a glimpse of Ohtani (or, for that matter, Mike Trout.) I’m a Mets guy, a National League guy. But now Ohtani, with one inning of smoke, has inserted himself into worldwide consciousness.
I woke up Wednesday morning and found an email from our friend Fumio, who used to live across the street on Long Island – such nice people, I think of him and Akie every day. back home in Japan.
I replied to Fumio that as a baseball fan and a journalist, I recognized that the “story” was this poised young superstar holding off his Angels teammate and the American all-stars.
It is now 105 years since Babe Ruth pitched and hit the Red Sox to a “world” championship.
Imagine. One hundred and five years. An accomplishment I can legitimately label “Ruthian.”
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
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.