Posts Tagged ‘Jackie Robinson’

The Jimmys: Murray, Cannon, Palmer

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

This column appeared first on Zest on Sept. 11, 2010. It is offered as a companion to Jeremiah Horrigan’s nostalgic piece on baseball, which also appears on Zest this week.

By Bob Gaydos

Jim Palmer ... handsome as ever

Jim Palmer … handsome as ever

At one point in my four-plus decades in newspapers, I was a sports editor. It was for a paper in Binghamton, but it was still a great job. I got to go to sports editor seminars where everybody talked sports, hung out, ate and drank. I got to cover some Yankee games. Jerry Izenberg, former columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger once lent me his typewriter (see Wikipedia) so I could file my story after a game because I had left my machine in Binghamton. I also once interviewed Baltimore Orioles ace pitcher Jim Palmer as he soothed his aching body in the whirlpool. Yes, au natural. And yes, the sonofagun was as handsome in person as he was on TV.

But the best part of being a sports editor was that I also got to write a column on whatever I pleased. The bosses preferred local topics, of course, but it was Binghamton so they let me wander off to professional sports. And when their travels brought them to the Southern Tier, I talked with the likes of Roger Staubach (polite, if dull), Rocky Graziano (the textbook image of a pug) and, too briefly, Jackie Robinson. All in all, it seemed like the best job in the world and I often wondered wistfully, as my career veered back to the hard news side, what life might have been like if I had pursued a career as a sports columnist.

Now I know and now I have no regrets. I found the answer in a discarded copy of Jim Murray’s autobiography, which I picked up for a buck at the Thrall Library used book store (still the best deal in town if you read without the aid of a Kindle). Murray, one of the founding fathers of Sports Illustrated, was also a nationally syndicated sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He covered everything from NASCAR to golf and his style was unique. Murray was not a numbers guy. He didn’t cover events so much as the people participating in them.

On Muhammad Ali: “He didn’t have fights, he gave recitals. The opponent was just the piano, the backdrop. All eyes were on Ali. He loved it. It was his stage, his life. He was like Bob Hope with a troop audience. Olivier at the Old Vic.”

And what of the column that won him a Pulitzer and made him famous? Murray: “(It) came into my life in 1961. And took it over. A column is more than a demanding mistress. It is a raging master. It consumes you. It is insatiable. It becomes more you than you. You are not a person, you are a publicly owned facility. Available on demand.

“It has a calamitous effect on family relations. It confuses the kids’ identities. It rearranges your priorities — and not for the better.

“Jimmy Cannon had the right idea. He apparently accepted the fact early that he was wedded to the column. And he lived alone in a midtown Manhattan hotel and devoted his whole life to it.”

Maybe it‘s just me, but it sounds like Jimmy Cannon (one of my other favorites) shortchanged himself on the whole “we only have one life to live” deal. I was thinking about the two Jimmys because I had just spent the weekend watching some of the most godawful professional football games that people were ever asked to fork over a couple of grand for. The kind of games that rekindle the romance of high school football Friday nights.

Take the Jets. “Please,” as Henny Youngman (whom I once met in an art gallery in Woodstock) famously said.

Maybe it’s just me, but if Mark Sanchez is ready for prime time, so is Jimmy Fallon. The Ravens’ best play was pass interference on third and long. But hey, don’t beat up on Sanchez too much. Tony Romo and Philip Rivers and Drew Brees and Bret Favre — established stars all — all stunk up the joint in their first games.

Maybe it’s just me, but when most opening games were comedies of errors and penalties (Washington vs. Dallas was almost unwatchable) and ex-con Michael Vick is your standout quarterback, if you’re the NFL you should think twice about cutting the preseason by two weeks and adding two games to the regular schedule.

And don’t get me started on Joe Girardi. He makes Keanu Reeves seem animated. Girardi doesn’t manage games so much as he scans actuarial reports. He has all the instincts of a computer. If he has the best job in baseball, how come he never smiles? Just asking.

One more thought before I get too carried away with this whole sports column thing: If, as some observers claim, Tiger Woods being unable to play golf at a high level is good for the game because it has opened the field to so many other unknown golfers to make their names, how come the golf writers keep writing only about Tiger’s struggles and we still don’t know the names of those other golfers?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the two Jims — Murray and Cannon — would have loved writing about Tiger. After all, he doesn’t just win in grand style, leaving the rest of the field in shambles, he loses in epic fashion, his life burning down around him like some tragic Greek hero out of Aeschylus. Win or lose, all eyes are on the Tiger. The score is secondary.

And I apologize for all the name-dropping.

(Editors note: For younger readers, a column is to newspapers what a blog is to a website.)

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Memorable Moments in Sports, for Me

Monday, February 9th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line in the first Orange Classic.

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line.

The Super Bowl has been lost, baseball has yet to begin. The basketball and hockey professionals are passing the time until June, when their championships will be decided. lt has snowed three Mondays in a row. It must be February, the time of year when a lot of sports fans turn their attention to another favorite pastime — talking about sports.

Forget the dropped passes and ground balls that rolled through an infielder’s legs; this is the time of year I like to remember the good stuff, the memorable stuff, the stuff that makes someone a sports fan in the first place.

I found myself wandering into such a conversation the other day. What was the best single athletic feat ever? The greatest athletic accomplishment? Too arbitrary and prone to record-book chasing, I decided. For my February reminiscence, I’m going with the moments in sports that left an indelible mark on me — the tImes when I experienced something in person or on TV and went, “Wow!,” if just to myself.

The hope here is that you readers will share your own special moments in sports so that we can have an old-fashioned Hot Stove League discussion. Mantle-Mays-Snider? Montana-Unitas-Brady? The “Immaculate Reception?” Willis Reed’s entrance? What special moments in sports are still with you?

  • I’m starting my list of most memorable moments with an effort I have often called the best single performance by any athlete — Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. In winning the Triple Crown and dominating the best of the rest of the three-year-olds, he set a world record time for the 1 1/2 miles distance – 2 minutes 24 seconds. Awesome. Check it out on YouTube.
  • Also in the category of “can you believe it?” was a more recent display of excellence in the moment — Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011. With all the baseball world waiting for the hit that would guarantee the Yankee captain a plaque in Cooperstown, Jeter just wanted it to not be an infield grounder that he beat out. No worry. He laced a home run into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, trotted around the bases with a big smile on his face and proceeded to go five-for-five, including hitting the game-winning single in the eighth inning. Then there were the dives and the flips, the final hit, etc. A memorable career in toto.
  • Willie Mays, another New Yorker, of earlier vintage, was also a player who rose to the moment. I have plenty of special memories of Willie, including a day at the Polo Grounds in the 1950s when the Giants’ center fielder hit three triples in a double-header (they used to play them for the price of one game). I can’t find anything on Google to confirm this, but that’s how I remember it and I’m sticking to my memory.
  • Since this is just my personal recounting of memorable sports moments, I have never seen anyone better than Mickey Mantle at dragging a bunt past the pitcher and getting to first base before the second baseman got to the ball. Every single time.
  • When it comes to pure excellence, for me the performance by 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal is in a class of its own. The tiny Romanian gymnast scored the first perfect 10 for a gymnastic event at the Olympics and added four more perfect scores that year while winning three gold medals and dazzling the world TV audience. Since the scoreboard makers didn’t think a 10 was possible, they only allowed for a 9.9. Four years later, there were updated scoreboards in Moscow.
  • The fastest I ever ran was in 1956, sprinting home six blocks from Bayonne High School, where we had been listening to the game on transistor radios, to see the final outs of the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. On our black and white TV. It’s the highest Yogi ever leapt, too, I think.
  • In 1981, the Times Herald-Record newspaper sponsored the first Orange Classic, a 10K race around the City of Middletown. It invited local hero Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic gold medal winner and 1976 silver medal winner, and his chief rival, Bill Rodgers, Boston and New York CIty marathon champion, to headline the event. They did not fail to deliver. The two turned the corner on the final stretch of the race well ahead of the field, running neck and neck for more than a quarter mile as the crowd cheered. Shorter edged Rodgers out at the end. It was as perfect a finish as the crowd could hope for and, no, I’ve never thought Rodgers held back because it was Shorter’s hometown. A truly classic moment.
  • The Miracle on Ice. I admit it. I was swept up with the rest of the crowd chanting, “USA! USA!” when a team of American college all-stars defeated a team of Russian professionals, 4-3, in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Winning the gold medal that year was almost an after-thought for the American team following that emotional upset. An unforgettable moment.
  • Finally, a purely personal moment that came far from any athletic venue. In 1973, while covering a sports-related conference in Binghamton, N.Y., I shook hands with Jackie Robinson and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. It was more than that. It was memorable.

***

That’s it. Just a few moments that have nourished my love of sports over the years. I’d really like to hear some of yours. C’mon, folks, it’s February. The Knicks are dismal, it’s snowing and the Stanley Cup final is months away. Reminisce with me.

 rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

A Baseball Lover’s Laments

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

Would video replay show that Yogi was right, that Jackie Robinson was out?

Would video replay show that Yogi was right, that Jackie Robinson was out?

Poor Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. The two radio announcers for the New York Mets have had their hands full, not to mention their mouths full of marbles, struggling their way through the copy for the new Wendy’s ad touting the fast-food chain’s new Tuscan chicken on ciabatta sandwich: “Go for the gusto with our lightly breaded chicken, rich garlic with roasted tomato aioli and sliced asiago cheese, on a toasted ciabatta bun. Available for a limited time only.” After stumbling on “aioli” and “asiago” the other night Lewin closed with, “Available for a limited time only at Wendy’s, home of hard-to-pronounce foods.” A couple of night later Rose, perhaps too focused on avoiding mispronouncing aioli and/or asiago, stumbled on “tomato.”

But I feel even sorrier for them—and for other baseball announcers who are in the same boat—each time they are forced to read endless inane copy that turns every available moment into advertising revenue.  A few days ago I heard an “injury report” informing listeners that no one on the team was injured at the time. That bit of silliness was sponsored by a law firm that specializes in injury suits.  How long will it be before they sell the advertising rights to the sunshine or the air we breathe?

And why, oh why, did the Mets agree to link the name of the ballclub to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity? How many times must we be reminded that WOR is the “new home” of those two bags of poison gas “and the New York Mets.” Eventually it occurred to me that there must now be others taking their place on WABC so I tuned in for a moment, only to hear the toxic intonations of Michael Savage, who used to be on WOR. A moment was more than enough: “Dr. Savage” (as he enjoys being addressed by callers) sounded like he was foaming at the mouth.

But the worst thing about the Mets switching radio stations is that the WOR signal is much weaker than that of WFAN, their former longtime home. WOR doesn’t carry as well to Orange County. I tune in a game when I’m driving and I often have to listen through static and high-pitched whistling noises that other family members find unbearable. This usually ends with my grumpily acceding to a passionate request to turn off the radio. It also reminds me of what it was like when I was 10 years old and begged in vain to be allowed to stay up later to hear the end of a game.  How did I end up with a wife as merciless as my parents? How can they not care that it’s the top of the ninth or extra innings? I used to be able to pick up WFAN and listen to Mets games when we went to New Hampshire during the summer. Good luck with that now that they are ensconced in their new home alongside Hannity and Limbaugh.

The thing that annoys me most, however, about baseball this season is not the overbearing advertising or the Mets changing radio stations. Rather, it is the increasing use of video replays to determine if an umpire has made the correct call.  Now, for example, if a manager believes the umpire made the wrong call of safe or out on a close play at home plate, he can calmly signal to the umpires that he’d like to challenge said call. The umpires will then trudge from the field via one of the dugouts to watch the replay. This may take a minute or two (affording previously untapped advertising opportunities). Upon their return to the field the umpires will either uphold the original decision or reverse it.

This is supposed to be wonderful for the game.  I find it more likely to induce sleep or a change in channels.  I prefer the occasional bad call (umpires are human after all) and the ensuing rhubarbs involving managers such as Earl Weaver, Leo Durocher, and Billy Martin.  Imagine if this rule had been in effect, say, during the first game of the 1955 World Series when Jackie Robinson stole home. Maybe Yogi was right. Maybe it was the wrong call. But so what? It’s so much better this way.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Jackie Robinson at Career’s End

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

I saw the movie “42” over the weekend and was stunned by its depiction of Jackie Robinson’s ordeal when he broke the color line and became the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. What’s needed now is a portrayal of the shabby way he was treated in 1956 as his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers came to an end.

Over his 10 seasons, Robinson mostly played second base and was one of the game’s most ferocious competitors. You didn’t want to be playing second base when Robinson got the sign to steal from first, and you didn’t want to be pitching with Jackie coming to bat in a clutch situation.

By the end of the 1956 season, Jackie Robinson had racked up a lifetime batting average of .311, had smacked 137 homeruns and stolen 197 bases. It would be instructive to count how many hits and runs his teammates made as a result of his ability to drive opposing pitchers crazy as he danced off the bases, threatening to steal, but I know of no such statistic.

He was an old 28 when he played his first game for Brooklyn and an ancient 37 when he played his last regular season game. Yet in that last game, even at 37, he went one for four at the plate, scored a run and drove in another as the Dodgers beat the Pirates at Ebbets Field.

We boys of Eastern Queens had watched Jackie Robinson for years. We loved his nerve, his talent, his determination, and maybe most of all, his courage to have survived the racist intimidation that major league baseball and some of its fans dished out so easily. We tried to run like him. We tried to stand at the plate like him. Soon, we knew he was slowing and wondered if he would wind up as a Dodger coach (maybe), the first black manager (was baseball ready for that?), maybe hold down a front office job in Brooklyn.

But no, none of the above.

In the highly skilled way that baseball club owners have of breaking their fans’ hearts, the Brooklyn front office had other ideas about Robinson and about the team. In the Dodgers’ case, the words “front office” meant only one man: Walter F. O’Malley, the team’s principal owner and a man who never understood the meaning of the word “loyalty.”

The Dodgers won the ’56 National League pennant and would again face the Yankees in the World Series. Admittedly, Robinson had a terrible post season, batting an anemic .174 in that seven-game series. Yet he also drew seven walks, stole two bases, scored four runs and drove in two more.

One month later, Walter F. O’Malley announced that Jackie’s days in Brooklyn were over. He had traded the great Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants. For Jackie, O’Malley got Dick Littlefield, a journeyman pitcher, and $10,000. Littlefield for Robinson? Was Walter F. O’Malley out of his mind?

Now I don’t pretend to know the nature of the discussions between Robinson and the Dodgers. Did he make unreasonable salary demands? Did he rub Walter F. O’Malley the wrong way? Was he demanding a long-term contract at age 37?

It didn’t matter. We were aghast to know that he wouldn’t be back. That he would be tantalizingly close uptown at the Polo Grounds. That we would root for him to get on base every time he faced a Dodgerpitcher. That, for better or worse, he was ours and we were his, and that’s the way it was supposed to be and the way it would have to be.

What is it about club owners? Remember when the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee and then from Milwaukee to Atlanta telling the fans along the way to go to hell?

Remember when the Yankees unceremoniously dumped Elston Howard? After 12 years in the Bronx, they sent Ellie Howard, a fine catcher with a .273 lifetime batting average, to the Red Sox. What could be worse than that?

Early in January of 1957, Jackie Robinson made his own announcement. He was retiring from baseball and would not be available to be toyed with by the likes of Walter F. O’Malley.

Later that year, as though to prove his perfidy was boundless, Walter F. O’Malley moved the Dodgers, a money-making team, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. It was a terrible time, and gave rise to the often reported colloquy between Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill.

Who were the three worst men in history? Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley.

What would you do if you had a gun with just two bullets and the three of them were together in a small room?

Shoot O’Malley twice of course.