My friend and mentor Stan Isaacs died last Tuesday at 83. Selfishly, my first reaction is, now I can’t call him with questions about the early days of the Mets, or the old days of the Polo Grounds, or the pioneer days at Newsday when we were creating something.
(I say “we” the way ball players talk about their first team, where they learned to play the game.)
Stan has been eulogized as a leader in the so-called Chipmunk movement in the early ‘60’s –chattering young infidels, long on psychology, short on details. It’s easy to get stereotyped by time.
Stan Isaacs was so much more than a rumpled sportswriter who appropriated the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 championship banner from an alien site in Los Angeles, who watched a game with the sheep on the hill behind right field in Kansas City, who heard Ralph Terry’s wife was home feeding their new baby and blurted, “Breast or bottle?”
He came with a point of view advertised in the title of his column – Out of Left Field. That was a political statement, dudes. He was an old-fashioned share-the-wealth lefty out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a few generations back, before its recent yuppification. He brought a desperately-needed strain of Brooklyn to the Long Island suburbs, maintained his hearty mistrust of authority and establishment in politics, in business, and in sports, which was an extension of all of that.
As I was sitting at the lovely service for him in Haverford, Pa. on Saturday, a new friend from the retirement home alluded to Stan’s interest in college basketball – not the top-20 version but Swarthmore-Haverford, in his new back yard.
I thought, I’d love to hear Stan go off on the subject of Rutgers, which took way too long to notice a coach was mistreating his players. I could see Stan shake his head and mutter at the spectacle of college sports.
In the ‘60’s, the Newsday of Alicia Patterson was a great newspaper, looming to the east of the city, keeping a lot of other people honest. If Stan skewered a local team, or detected racism in the attitude of a manager or coach, or questioned the wisdom of using public money to build stadiums for rich owners (“socialism at the top,” he would sneer), it was a bit harder for the city’s columnists to go their formulaic ways.
I just found an email Stan sent a few years back when I asked about his career:
“I think I brought a mixture of idealism and tomfoolery to Newsday's sports section. I initiated Newsday's policy on official scoring. When it came my turn to be an official scorer I urged that we not do baseball's work for them. (Jack) Mann agreed wholeheartedly and Newsday was the first paper to refuse to allow our guys to work as official scorers.”
That was “us” - shaking things up.
One other thing I want to say about Stan – what a lovely family he has. We were reminded of that Saturday when his three daughters, Nancy, Ann and Ellen, and other family members graciously greeted visitors. Stan had not been himself since Bobbie died in January of 2012. I would call him and he would try to get off the phone. We all understood his grief: Bobbie was one of the wisest people I ever met. As one of Stan’s friends said at the service the other day, he died of a broken heart. His was a big heart, beating inside a very big-time sports columnist.
Note: Stan Isaacs continued writing for The Columnists. Please see:
Many colleagues have written lovely tributes to Stan. Well worth reading.
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.