The Cubs have all those good young players, a really cool manager, and No. 14 on their jerseys.
This is Ernie Banks’ team.
He died in January. (See Rich Goldstein’s lovely obituary.)
This is where I came in, boy reporter for Newsday, first swing into Chicago in 1962. It was cold.
During batting practice, Ernie Banks wandered over to greet the Youngs and Langs and Kremenkos he knew from the old eight-team National League.
He spotted some new boys and launched the old soft-shoe:
“Welcome to Wrigley Field, the friendly confines, the only ball park in the majors with no night games. This evening on the six o’clock news, they’ll say, ‘In the only game in the majors this afternoon….’ Look at the ivy on the wall. Baseball. It’s a lovely day for a ball game. Let’s play two.”
I can recall it pretty much verbatim because I would hear it many times in that decade. It was Ernie’s brand. He came out of the Negro Leagues, helped blaze the trail, learned to live in this crazy world -- warm smile, informed patter, who knew what behind the alert survivor eyes.
He remembered names and faces. Every time I landed a Wrigley run – day games, evenings on Rush Street – he would wander over and I would request a helping of “Let’s Play Two.” He would never fail. I cannot imagine prodding any other major-leaguer to perform shtick for me.
The Mets and Cubs were joined at the hip, one an expansion franchise, one a bumbler by habit.
The Mets would win 40 and lose 120, the Worst Team in the History of Baseball.
The Cubs could screw up anything. That kid Brock in left field would never make it.
One night in the rusty old Polo Grounds, the Cubs and Mets were staggering into extra innings. I heard a fan announce to his friends, “I hate to go – but I hate to stay.” That pretty much sums up both teams.
In 1964, on a glorious afternoon in Wrigley, the young reporters were taking the sun behind the Mets’ dugout. (There was no freaking tweeting in those Good Old Days; you watched a game and you wrote about it.)
My buddy Joe Christopher – we’re still in touch -- spotted us in the stands and wiggled his ears prodigiously every time he jogged in from right field.
Hot Rod Kanehl emerged from the dugout and spotted us. When the Mets went ahead, 13-1, in the seventh, we asked Rod if the game was a laugher. Not yet, Rod proclaimed.
However, when they scored six in the ninth, Rod popped out again and gave it the Casey Stengel wink and proclaimed, “It’s a laugher.”
After the game, reporters took the team bus back to the hotel. By some bizarre circumstance, Ernie Banks got stuck in traffic right next to me. I opened the window and posed the question: “Let’s play two?”
Ernie smiled and said – sweetly -- “Aw, shut up.” Traffic cleared. He drove on.
Bill Wakefield, who spent the afternoon taking the rays in the bullpen (Jack Fisher went nine) recalled the other day:
“At a restaurant afterwards. ‘We scored 19 runs in the sun today.’ Return question: ‘Did you win?’”
I don’t care about the Cubs’ complexes. Don’t care about no 1908 or weenie billy-goat curse or black cat or Durocher absence from the dugout or Durham bobble or Bartman interference. Mets’ fans have our own mishegoss. Then again, the Mets have won four pennants and two World Series. Just saying.
These Cubs are wearing Ernie Banks’s No. 14.
Let’s play two.
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.