THOSE AMAZIN’ METS, “THE OLE’ PERFESSER,” AND THE PASSING OF TOM “TERRIFIC” – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I remember Tom Terrific before and after he became the fuzzy-cheeked ace topping a rotation including Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Nolan “Wild Thing” Ryan, and closer, “Tug “Ya Gotta believe!” McGraw. The Mets blossomed before our unbelieving eyes. Those were great days at Shea Stadium. Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman would retrieve his ‘passed balls’ and throw wildly to Elio Chacon who would drop the toss, retrieve and throw erratically into the outfield. Ol’ Case would sit there fuming. I forgot to mention the best part. The Choo-Choo comment was his answer when Casey was asked what was Coleman’s best quality.

The time I spent with the Ole’ Perfesser — Charles Dillon Stengel — was wonderful. He was a kindly gentleman to a young reporter. I noticed how Stengel toyed or played with beat reporters and the big time magazine writers. You could tell that many of them felt they were slumming in 1962 when the Mets were the new kids in town. Many of them felt the Mets didn’t belong in the same sports section as the gawd almighty Yankees. Casey humored them but often cast knowing winks at me as he entertained in classic “Stengalese” style.  I remembered the question posed while ten minutes later, the reporters were confused, laughing to cover their confusion.

The old man beat those guys like a drum. They were so arrogant they didn’t realize he had used them. They wrote columns — mean-spirited pieces cloaked in school boy humor. These were the big boys at the Daily News, The Mirror, The Herald-Tribune, The Post, The New York Times (Red Smith was an exception — he was cool with Casey), The Sporting News, Street and Smith, and so on. Casey would pull some of these guys aside and in quiet, confidential tones give them ‘exclusives’ — which were usually bogus.

I was inevitably at the end of the line after “the big boys” had their shot. Casey would wipe his brow with a checkered bandanna and confide in me: “Edna says I should grow up and not treat these fellas so shabbily. Young fella, Edna doesn’t understand how stupid these guys are. I keep tryin’ to tell ’em how it is. Been this way since I was a player in the old days when we played real baseball. Before your time, young fella. Did I tell you the one about the bird that flew out of my hat?  That thing has 99 lives and so much of it is — well, you know, some stuff just gets made up and you lose track of what was and what wasn’t. You get me, young fella?”

I always just nodded. My old reliable Butoba tape recorder was spinning its heart out, capturing all of this Stengalese gold. When we were done, Casey would smile at me. It was a Gramps smile. Then he’d pat me on the head and show me the bandanna. It had a little picture of young Casey and Edna encircled by a heart. He did that many times. I was always touched when he did that.

Tom Seaver wit young Mets organization

Little did I know but Casey Stengel thought I might have some untapped “scouting blood” in my genes. I used to swap stats derived from my old APBA board game with Casey. He was impressed with my affection for “contact” or slap hitters who could use the whole field. I didn’t have the youthful swoon for home run hitters who often struck out and left many runners stranded. This was also one of Casey’s pet peeves. He fumed at young players, including one teen phenom from the Bronx (Mets fans will know who the player was) who had a sweet left-handed swing but missed the ball more often than he connected. Casey and I would discuss the merits of “table setter” hitters like Ferris Fain, Billy Goodman, and Richie Ashburn.

“Why can’t we get hitters like that, young fella”, Casey would ask. It was a rhetorical question but I chose to believe Casey was asking me. The Mets eventually acquired Ashburn in the twilight of his career. Casey Stengel rarely scolded these wannabee sluggers in public. He always felt it would hurt their psyche. Casey often would use Mickey Mantle as an example of a young player who worked through his early struggles to become a legendary slugger who could get that dependable single or double.

“Mantle was clutch”, Casey would recall with an affectionate smile.

There came a point in Mets’ history when their farm system began to produce quality pitchers. It would be a blatant lie to say those of us on the regular watch were instantly aware. We were so used to being let down by “can’t fail” rookies that cynicism pervaded our vision as we watched a bunch of young pitchers in the spring.

At the Baseball Hall of Fame

There was an apple-cheeked young right hander named Seaver who was always impressive. He threw hard with impressive control. Casey Stengel was pleased with the young right-hander who would soon evolve into one of the games’ best pitchers. Unfortunately, time and health caught up with Casey who would not be on the scene as Tom Seaver ultimately headed up a rotation that included Jerry Koosman, Garry Gentry, Nolan “Wild Thing” Ryan and an eccentric closer, Tug “Ya Gotta Believe” MacGraw. The “Let’s Go Mets” chant soon had legitimacy coined by Seaver and company. The success of the “new” Mets never clouded my appreciation of the those early, error prone days at the ancient Polo Grounds and then, at newly minted Shea Stadium. Gil Hodges, the former Brooklyn Dodgers hero, would occupy Casey Stengel’s old perch as the Mets gave us that improbable 1969 season wrapped in a World Series championship for the ages.

Tom Seaver evolved into Tom Terrific, the breakfast of Champions idol. Even in that champagne soaked ’69 autumn I’d never forget those earlier days with Casey Stengel. I would always remember the long afternoons and twilights when a kid reporter sat alone with one of baseball’s genuine treasures.

Sometimes, I got to sit in the dugout with Casey as he watched his “Amazins” go through their pre game drills. They were gawd awful. Fumbled grounders, botched pick off attempts, clueless relay throws. Casey would mumble, grumble, suck on some sunflower seeds (the salty ones) and frequently hum old tunes like “Genevieve,” “Apple Blossom Time,” “There’s A Goldmine In The Sky,” and more.  He was somewhere else, anywhere else. He often would stop humming, wink at me and resume humming. Sometimes I hummed along with him which gave the Ole’ Perfesser much pleasure.

Ah, Charles Dillon Stengel and a fond farewell to Tom Terrific. You were both terrific and will live forever in my memories.

DO YOU MISS SPORTS? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Fandango’s Provocative Question #79


Mookie Betts signed a $390 million contract with the Dodgers today. This ups the ante from $360 million and extends the contract to 12-years. I’m sure he’s explaining that it isn’t about the money. It’s about pride and honor. Personally, I think anyone who is earning $32,500,000 every year for the next 12-years will probably be able to put food on the table. It really is about the money. I don’t mind it being about the money because how many people are so good at anything that they would possibly be offered that kind of money? I’m just pissed that the Red Sox didn’t come up with the bucks and keep him here. We always come up short and then we have these terrible years with no pitchers, no fielding, no nothing.

The reason we have YouTubeTV which is the most expensive (but not by much) of all the streaming packages is that they have all sports — including the entire MLB baseball package. football, basketball, hockey, and who knows what else. It’s very heavy on sports. Garry is insane about baseball ⚾ beyond mere fandom. Even when the Sox are doing really badly as they surely will this year — we’re expecting them to be the bottom or next to the bottom of the Eastern Division — he will still watch at least one and often two or three games through the summer. So yeah, we missed sports.

I like baseball, too, though I’m not quite as fanatical as Garry, but I enjoy it. It’s a relatively peaceful game especially compared to football and hockey. And unlike football where I never can figure out what that calls mean, I actually know where the strike zone is and can call the pitch and know who is safe or out. I have a pretty good selection of Sox-wear.

Baseball is summertime for us. It’s what we watch through the warm, humid days and into the snappy days of Autumn. On a great year, it might be the only thing we watch from spring to fall. We also watch football, but now that Brady has moved on, I’m not sure we’ll be quite as jazzed as we were. We watched Brady from when they called him up from the bench until he moved out of town. I don’t even know why he’s still playing. He’s good-looking, well spoken, and I’m sure he could get any contract he wanted from ESPN. I thought he should have quit a couple of years ago so he could go be a broadcaster without waiting to get seriously broken. I still think he should retire while he’s healthy.

Especially during this incredibly intense and painful year, sports would have been a nice release from the pressure. But of course, when everything went to hell in a handbasket, why not sports too?

This isn’t going to be a “real” season. Just as well because we don’t have a single functional pitcher and our glorious outfield was bought by other teams who were willing to pay the big bucks which we should have paid. Never mind. We’ll bottom out this year and be much better next year and with a little luck, in one more year we’ll be heading for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, “opening day” is Friday for the Sox and Thursday for everyone else. Even with empty stands, it’s better than nothing.

THE NBA REACH – RICH PASCHALL

Kobe Bean Bryant

There probably is no need to explain to you who Kobe Bryant was. You probably knew before the tragic helicopter accident last Sunday that took his life and that of 8 others, including his 13-year-old daughter. Even if you did not follow the NBA or the Los Angeles Lakers, you likely knew his name. He is the 4th all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

He played 20 seasons with the same team. He was an 18-time all-star and had 5 championship rings. He had two Olympic gold medals. He won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, Dear Basketball, in 2018.  His accomplishments will now be a thing of a great legend. He was only 41 years old.

Kobe Bryant

On Sunday I was on Facebook when I noticed on my newsfeed that my friend in France had posted an article about the death of Kobe Bryant from SPORT24.LEFIGARO.FR. “This can not be true,” I thought. “It must be a hoax or something.”

More notices started popping up. Some were from well known and reputable sources. I finally went to the Los Angeles outlet of one of the major networks and watched for a while. It was clear the anchors at the news desk were unsure what to say. They brought in their sports reporter to say something, anything that made sense. It was hard to speak.

How did my friends in France know this before I did? I was online and even stopped on my news page before hitting social media. Of course, social media was all a-buzz before long. It was the trending story and had quickly traveled around the world. The next day my French buddy wrote to me on Messenger, “I heard Kobe passed away. It’s sad.”

On Sunday night the annual Grammy Awards were held at the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. The pre-show, red carpet events included words of condolence for the Bryant family. The opening honored Kobe and many of the artists mentioned him. LA was shaken by the news that they had lost one of their most famous residents.

My friend from France was a big basketball fan. He worked in Chicago for a year and has a Bulls jersey, of course. His older brother had worked in Los Angeles and was a Lakers fan. In fact, he had been to many games while working in LA. Both friends appreciated the play of Kobe Bryant. Basketball is big in France, as well as many places in the world. Superstars like Bryant are iconic heroes to many people. NBA popularity is almost universal.

On my many visits to France, my friend and I often spent evenings in front of the television watching NBA basketball replays. On the weekends, my friends might stay up late to watch an afternoon game at night their time. It did not bother me that the commentary was in French. I knew the games well enough and if something really interesting was said, my friend would translate. NBA was big and Bryant was bigger, particularly for the younger generations. You were likely to see a lot of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tony Parker jerseys and t-shirts around town.

The NBA reach extends beyond Europe and in fact, can be seen around the globe. The marketing is fierce and Kobe had long been one of the premier faces of the NBA. I am sure his passing was trending on social media everywhere it is allowed.

In St. Petersburg, Russia I have a young friend. He “likes” two sports teams on Facebook. One is the Los Angeles Lakers. He wrote to me on Skype the next morning his time. It was still Sunday night here. “G** damn, Rich. Kobe is dead. I just can’t believe.” I was still up so I wrote back about how sad it was.  “I wanna cry, I was grown on this man, on his games. I remember how I woke up at 4-5am to watch NBA games.”

That is how it was for many around the world. They would get up early or stay up late to watch Kobe and NBA games live. Some would have to settle for replays, but the games were everywhere. And everyone around the world who was a basketball fan knew Kobe.

All week the talk on ESPN radio and various sports radio and television programs included segments on Kobe and what he meant to the game. Many athletes shared how Kobe had inspired them. Some told of personal interactions with the NBA star. Highlights of his play were often seen. Talking and sharing was a way to move through the tragic news.

This month the NBA All-Star game will come to Chicago and the night will be filled with tributes. It will be hard for some of the players to go on. Later in the year, Bryant will go into the Basketball Hall of Fame posthumously. It will be yet another emotional day.

If you have traveled outside the US and have friends in many countries, you are aware of the reach of the NBA. You know how the players, especially those of great skill, have reached hero status,  for young and older fans alike. This tragic passing of Bryant has brought tears to Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Strasbourg, St. Petersburg and many places even farther away from here. Such is the reach of Bryant and the NBA.

LYNN NOVICK: “BASEBALL” – Marilyn Armstrong

This piece was published in Planet Vineyard in September 1998. It was a short-lived magazine. Long on great writing, short on paid advertising. I realized that hardly anyone ever saw this piece. It is based on my interview with Lynn Novick who was the co-producer of “Baseball” with Ken Burns. Since we are watching the series again, I thought, “Gee, why not publish it where someone might actually read it?”

So, here it is. Because before I was a blogger, I was a writer.


Lynn Novick Profile

by Marilyn Armstrong


Take a passion for American history and mix it with a handful of Hollywood star-dust. Add a generous pinch of altruism. Spice the batter with a measure of luck. Bake for three and a half years in the oven of hard work. Voilà, meet Lynn Novick, co-producer (with Ken Burns of Civil War fame) of the upcoming 18-1/2 hour PBS mini-series, Baseball.

It’s a breezy, crystal clear day on Martha’s Vineyard. As she unwinds with her husband Robert and daughter Eliza in their summer home overlooking the sea, Lynn Novick emits bursts of energy you can virtually see as well as feel. The enthusiasm is contagious, even if you think that baseball has nothing to do with you. Though Baseball is “in the can and ready to go,” she remains a passionate advocate of America’s Pastime and what it means to the people of this nation. Making this mini-series was arduous, but it was a labor of love.

It’s difficult to get Lynn to talk about herself. She wants to talk about Baseball. She wants to tell you how the game encapsulates America’s history and cultural development. She wants you to know how well it illustrates our changing values and shows as we really are, both good and bad.

“Baseball,” she says, “is our link to a collective past. It connects all of us, no matter where we come from, to the American experience. It’s our common ground, a historic thread woven into the fabric of our culture. The history of baseball is our history.”

Strong words, you think. She must have grown up a dedicated baseball fan.

“Actually,” confesses Lynn. “I was just a casual fan. My parents enjoyed baseball. My father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan … he never quite got over the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. I grew up believing that Ebbets Field was sacred ground. My dad taught me to throw and catch, but I wasn’t a little league player or even a committed fan. I started out with an affection for baseball and a belief that the Yankees are the enemy. Everything else I picked up in progress. Now, I could go head-to-head with any baseball expert. Just try me.”

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns
Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn has had a total immersion baseball experience. Since 1990, she has lived Baseball. She dreamed it, planned it, read about it. She met heroes out of legend. The editing process alone consumed two and a half years. She was the architect of all sixty-five interviews and conducted more than half of these herself. She spent endless days and weeks on research, filming, and organizing every detail of the production.

Baseball has given Lynn Novick an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

“It’s had some interesting side effects,” she muses. “Baseball has turned out to be the key to the men’s room, so to speak. I find myself having serious discussions with all kinds of men, all ages, all professions. When they realize that I know my stuff, it’s instant acceptance. It’s a misconception that sports are a ‘guy’ thing, though. I’ve met plenty of women and girls who are serious fans, too.”

Lynn did not grow up yearning to be a film-maker. She never thought of herself as especially visual and had no pretensions of becoming the next John Ford. Until the day she decided she wanted to make documentaries, Lynn Novick never considered film-making as a career. From Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she grew up, she earned a bachelor’s in American Studies at Yale in 1983. The child of two academics, Lynn intended to follow in their footsteps. Her first job was at the Smithsonian Institute. But museum work didn’t “do it” for her.

“I needed something more hands-on, more engaging. Academia was too theoretical, too out of touch. I’m not sure how I decided I wanted to make documentary films. I think it was a combination of things. I’ve always loved the movies. I study history. I need my work to have social value. Making documentary films brings all the strands together. I can bring history to life.“

With the Giants in San Francisco
With the Giants in San Francisco

Once she decided what she wanted, she didn’t waste any time. She moved back to New York, interviewed at PBS. Shortly thereafter she began working on the Joseph Campbell series.

“That’s where I learned the basics of production,” she says. “How did I move on from there? Fate. Luck. Both probably. I knew someone who was working with Ken Burns on the Civil War project. She wanted to quit but didn’t want to leave him in the lurch. So she introduced me to him, told him she was leaving and said. “but look, here’s someone to take my place.” Ken was in the middle of the project. He didn’t have time to go looking for someone else, so he hired me as an associate producer.”

Luck may have played a part in her first collaboration with Ken Burns, but talent earned her the co-producers slot on Baseball. Tapping into her extraordinarily high energy level, she worked flat-out for the duration of the project. She supervised a million details. She viewed hundreds of hours of film over and over again throughout the seemingly endless editing process.

In the middle of the project, Lynn became pregnant. She continued working throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth to Eliza, she took four months leave.

baseball-boxed-setHer personal choices made the transition from new mother to film producer less stressful. Rather than give Eliza over to caretakers, Lynn chose to bring the little one to work with her. Eliza made a delightful addition to the Baseball staff. If early environment is an indicator of future development, look for Eliza among the next generation of filmdom’s luminaries.

Right now, Lynn Novick and family are enjoying a well-earned time-out on a Chilmark hilltop. The home originally belonged to her husband Robert’s parents and is now owned jointly by Robert and his sister. The two families share the premises with ease.

“I’ve been coming here for eleven summers,” says Lynn. “Even though the place belonged to Robert’s family, it’s a very special place for me. I can’t imagine summer anywhere else. Even more than Robert, this is where I want to be. There’s something about the air here,” she smiles.

What’s next? “I don’t know yet,” says Lynn. “This is my time to get to know my daughter, reconnect with my husband and myself. There’s a kind of ‘postpartum’ down period after a production finishes. One day you’re working full tilt, the next day, suddenly, there’s free time. It’s quite a shock.”


You can often stream Baseball on Amazon Prime. You can buy the series on DVD from PBS and other places. The Major League Baseball Channel is running it right now and it shows up reasonably often on various cable channels.

If you have not seen it, whether or not you are a baseball fan or any kind of sports fan, this series so beautifully written and produced, it’s worth your time.

OUR PASSING HEROES – Rich Paschall

Deaths Of Our Sports Icons, 2019, by Rich Paschall

For many of us, we grow up idolizing our sports heroes. It is an important part of our youth. These people are more significant to us than the movie or television heroes because they are real icons. They are athletes we can watch on television, or, if we are lucky, go to see in person. They mean a lot to us in our youth and when they pass away, it is a reminder of the passage of time. We mourn for them and for ourselves, because we have lost a part of our youth. They have passed into our aging  memories.

For this “In Memoriam” I will mention ten that hold substantial memories to me for the sports I watched and listened to when I was young. They passed away in 2019. This is not a ranking and the order is totally random. There is no way I could place a number on the life of these accomplished figures.

First, there are a few that deserve to be mentioned for their notable lives. You may not know the name Pete Frates, 34. The Boston College baseball star never made it to “the bigs.” He was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehring’s’s Disease) in 2012. Frates along with his friend Pat Quinn are credited with creating the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised apprpoximately 200 million dollars for ALS research. In 2015 the Boston Red Sox gave Frates a lifetime contract.

Jack Whitaker, 95, was a longtime sports broadcaster. The Emmy award winner called the first Super Bowl in 1966. He was at countless sporting events for many decades for CBS, then ABC.

You may never have heard of Julia Ruth Stevens, 102. I had not heard of her either until now. She was the last living daughter of baseball great, Babe Ruth. Later in life, she was a Boston Red Sox fan.

Cliff Branch, 71. The wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders (1972-1986) won three Super Bowls.

Jim Bouton, 80. The longtime major league baseball pitcher spent the first seven years in the “Bigs” with the New York Yankees. He became well know after baseball as a broadcaster, and for writing the babseball book, ‘Ball Four.”

Bill Buckner, 69. One of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball history became best known for just one error with the Bost Red Sox. He played 22 years in “the show,” including 8 with our Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field
Center Field scoreboard from Sheffield Avenue

Bart Starr, 85. Even though he played for the rival Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears fans could still appreciate the accomplishments of this HOF quarterback. He won the first two Super Bowls.

John “Hondo” Havlicek, 79. The basketball Hall of Famer played 16 seasons for the Boston Celtics. For some reason we hated to see the ball in his hands. He was an outstanding ball handler.

Forrest Gregg, 85. The NFL Hall of Fame lineman played with Bart Starr on the Green Bay packers. Like Starr, he later went on to coach the Packers.

Scott Sanderson, 62. The long time MLB pitcher played on both the Chicago Cubs (1984-89) and Chicago White Sox (1994). His career spanned 18 seasons.

Frank Robinson, 83.  The longtime baseball player, then manager is in the MLB Hall of Fame.

Mel Stottlemyre, 77. He pitched 11 seasons for the NY Yankees, winning 5 World Series. He later went into coaching including 10 more years with the Yankees.

Zeke Bratkowski, 88. He played for the Chicago Bears and LA rams before becoming the “Super-sub” and backup to HOF QB Bart Starr. Legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi picked up Bratkowski off waivers at the beginning of the Green Bay dynasty.

These athletes may not be known by some, and may be forgotten by others, but they remain there through the foggy mist of my memories. They cling to those precious spots of youth from which we are reluctant to let go. “Requiescat in pace.”

Sources include: “Pete Frates,” Alchetron.com
Too much loss: A look back at the notable sports deaths in 2019,”  The Detroit News, detroitnews.com  December 31, 2019.
Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s Daughter, Dies at 102,” The New York Times, nytimes.com March 9, ,2019.

DAD WAS *MORE* THAN A CONTENDER – Garry Armstrong

A friend emailed me info about a popular boxer who just improved on his very impressive record. I had to admit knowing nothing about the prizefighter. I’m a self-proclaimed baseball maven but know nothing about professional boxing these days.   I’m not a fan.

I don’t get my jollies watching two people bashing out each other’s brains. This is no ethical line in the sand.  I enjoy football but never have fantasized about tossing a final second ‘hail mary’ pass to win the Superbowl for the home town team. I flinch when I see the guys grinding each other into the dirt just to pick up a few yards.


My Dad wouldn’t agree with me. He was the boxing maven in our family. We used to watch the old Friday Night Gillette boxing matches. It was our one Father-Son bonding event.

We used to watch the likes of Kid Gavilan, Chico Vejar, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong (no relation), Rocky Graziano,  Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Floyd Patterson, Jersey Joe Walcott,  Ezzard Charles, Ingmar Johansson, and the young Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali.

Joe Louis was Dad’s hero.  Unfortunately, I only remember seeing Louis in the declining years of his memorable career.  Dad used to describe listening to his fights on the radio when “The Brown Bomber” was in his prime.

My father is on the left and Marvin Hagler is on the right.

I remember seeing Louis’ pictures in the homes of many Black families.  He was more than a boxer, more than the heavyweight champion of the world. He was a folk hero and legend to people of color.  Louis was a sport and cultural icon before Jackie Robinson. My Dad could recite, chapter and verse, round by round, of many of Joe Louis’ fights.

As a young boy, I looked at pictures of my Dad in his boxing prime.  I was always awed. Dad was  6-feet plus a few inches. A tall, matinee-idol handsome man. This isn’t fog of memory sentiment.  My Dad never lost those strikingly good looks – even in the autumn of his years.  My girlfriends visited, they would stare at my father with jaw-dropping admiration, then glance at me with a, “What happened to YOU?”  look. It always deflated my ego.

When we had visitors, it was like living with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, or Denzel Washington as my Dad.  All three of the Armstrong boys addressed our parents as “Mommy and Daddy” even when we were adults, well into our professional lives.  It may seem bit old-fashioned now but it felt normal for the 50-year-old Garry Armstrong, noted TV News Reporter to talk about his “Mommy and Daddy”.  My friends always smiled with appreciation,  maybe a little envy.

I am drifting here.  Typical Garry.  William Armstrong, Sr, the pride of Antigua and World War 2. Decorated Army Veteran  ( The EAME Service Medal, The WWII Victory Medal and the American Service Medal),  did a lot of amateur boxing during the war where he saw lots of active duty and action, including the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Vineland, and Central Europe.

I don’t recall Dad’s boxing record.  He said it was recreational.   An avocation. Something to do between combat.  I suspect it was Dad’s way of getting respect during a period when our Armed Services were still segregated.  When asked, he begrudgingly said boxing was relaxing for him and his opponents were usually friends or Army peers.  As I write,  I don’t remember if Dad ever fought a White opponent.  I never thought to ask that question as a kid.

Dad taught his 3 sons some basics about self-defense but never made it a big deal. He never tried to force boxing on us.  I’m not sure he shared our passion for baseball.

Dad showed rare outward passion when “nice guy” Floyd Patterson suffered boxing defeats.  He always thought Patterson should’ve been a little tougher but the one-time heavyweight champ had a very sensitive outward demeanor that rankled some old school boxing fans.

Rocky Marciano’s undefeated career record was always appreciated by my Dad.  I wanted to say my Dad commented “Good stuff for a White Guy” but, no, my Father wasn’t given to such acerbic comments.  Leave it to his oldest son with a slightly bent sense of humor.

During my Boston TV News career, I met Marvin Hagler, the pride of Brockton, Ma. and a champion pugilist. We struck up a friendship beyond reporter-prizefighter when I talked about my Dad and his love of boxing.

I managed to score a painting that showed Mavin Hagler and “Bill” Armstrong, head to head, in a boxing match.  An artist friend did the painting and Hagler was kind enough to add a personal sentiment to ” a fellow boxer” for my Dad.  It was an emotional TKO for me.

When I presented the painting to my Dad, he gave me the biggest smile he’d ever shown me in my life. I felt a deep tug in my heart and barely held back the tears. My Father really LIKED the gift.  It’s hard for me to explain how important that was for me.

Me and my father at our wedding.

Years later, after my parents had passed and we were on the verge of putting the family house up for sale,  my two brothers and I were deciding who would get what. It surprised me when they said I should get most of Dad’s boxing stuff.  I didn’t expect it because my two brothers were closer to Mommy and Daddy in their final years while I was busy with my career in Boston.  I didn’t forget them but my visits were fewer.  Yes, I felt a little guilty because I was so focused on my job.

When I started going through Dad’s stuff, a flood of memories came back. All those Friday evenings watching boxing matches.  Dad’s expert take on the state of professional boxing (he didn’t like where it was going).  Dad’s own recollections when he sifted through his equipment.  The gloves, the shoes, the pictures.  I could see my Father reaching into his own past when he was the boxer, master of his own moments in the ring, and maybe a magic moment in Madison Square Garden — standing beside his boxing heroes.

Top of the World,  Dad!   You made it!

MORPHEUS, YOU HAVE CLAIMED ME – Marilyn Armstrong

Bonnie barked all morning and I fell back into total exhaustion fast. I got up, poured coffee, and promptly fell asleep with the computer in my lap. I woke up eventually believing the patriots were winning their game 287 to 3 (it was just 13 to nothing).

Garry brought me a coke and went off to shower.

I said the only way you’d get me to shower was to drag me down the hall into the shower and hose me down with the hand shower.

So much for losing a single night of sleep. The sleeping wave is back.

Sorry folks. I don’t think this is going to be a lively Sunday! Now that I’m technically awake, don’t think it’ll last long. I feel the soft hands of Morpheus tugging at me, gently luring me into the soft fold of coma.

WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR – Garry Armstrong

If you’re reading this today, it’s the 29th of September. It’s the end of the regular major league baseball season. Two-thirds of the 30 big-league teams, who had April dreams of grandeur, head home to ponder what went wrong.

It’s “Wait Till Next Year” for the dispirited fans of the disappointed teams. “Wait Till Next Year” was also the fabled slogan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers who, until 1955, never won a World Championship, usually losing to the damn New York Yankees.

“Wait Till Next Year” also was blues anthem for the Boston Red Sox who went without a world championship from 1918 until 2004 — almost 9 decades — usually losing to those same damn Yankees.

This year, the World Champion Red Sox are again wailing the blues, unable to repeat last year’s phenomenal success, their season for the ages.

The suits for the 20 teams who failed to make it to the postseason, will soon be in “spin mode.” We’ll all hear about how great things will happen next year. You can believe the jibber jabber of their hot stove league rhetoric. How they’ve solved all their team’s problems.  You can believe it as you’re shelling out big money for season tickets to see your team reach the promised land.  (“See the rabbits, Lenny?”)

Wait until next year is also the slogan for the myriad Democratic presidential wannabees trying to unseat the current squatter in the Oval Office. We’ll have a better sense by this time next year who’s the top gun meeting the incumbent in the ultimate political showdown.

It’s hard to handicap who’s the best political gunslinger right now for the Democrats.

The top three players

We certainly have plenty of diversity from which to choose, but there’s no one with the certainty of Paladin’s “Have Gun-Will Travel” assurance to clean up Dodge which is slowly sinking into a swamp bigger than any seen since the Earps cleaned up Tombstone.

And as of this moment, Warren has the lead — which is fine with us!

The boss of the White House gang is shiftier than Liberty Valance. No one seems to be able to get an upper hand.  It would seem appropriate for the political farmers and cattlemen to put differences aside and band together to deal with Donzo and his Desperados.

Wait until next year is also the unofficial slogan here at the Kachingerosa. Next year, Marilyn and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I hope it’s a memorable shindig.  In 1990, the handicappers weren’t sure the newlyweds had the stamina, trust or fortitude to go the distance.  We looked good but the external youth would undergo changes over the next 3 decades.

External and internal.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Garry and me – Thank you Rich!

Our furry children think the world of us. They’ll vouch for our love and steady hands doling out the treats. I’m not sure what Las Vegas is saying about us. All I can say is we’ve got a good track record, pretty good breeding, and we’ve overcome more than enough adversity.

So place your bets, go with your guts, put a little money on us – and “Wait Till Next Year”! And hold your breath because these are battles we need to win.

LINING THEM UP – FENWAY AND BEACON HILL – Marilyn Armstrong

Photo Challenge: The Line-Up

I’ve always loved the way entryways to brownstones line up in old parts of the city. These pictures were taken on Beacon Hill, so these are very classy and tidy brownstones. Some of them pay more for parking spaces that Garry and I ever earned in a year of full-time work.

Beacon Hill

 

This one shows the pennants all lined up on Fenway Park in Boston. There are two more not in the picture: 2013 and 2018.

Pennants on Fenway Park

CASEY AT THE BAT – Marilyn Armstrong

On the last day of trade-making, much to the shock and dismay of Red Sox fans, we didn’t make a single deal and we needed one or two bullpen guys.

How badly did we need a closer? Bad enough so that the moment we call up the bullpen, we just know — no matter how many runs ahead we may be, we know there’s a good chance we are somehow going to find a way to lose.

It’s not that we always lose. We don’t. We’ve got good hitters and our starters are sometimes great, sometimes not so great. But openers aren’t what they used to be. They almost never pitch a complete game. I can’t remember the last time a pitcher threw past the fifth or sixth inning.

Overused because there are too many teams and not against quality openers. And they are now literally openers, not aces. They throw a few of the opening innings, but then they get pulled and it’s all up to the bullpen.

The Yankees have a great bullpen — but a rather weak (and injured) group of starters. They didn’t make a deal either.

It’s not just about how much it cost to “buy” the pitcher. It’s what the trading team wants in exchange other than money. And whether or not your team is willing to give up those guys or prospects. It’s easy to just blame it on the General Manager or owners, but it’s complicated. As fans, we don’t know exactly what happened. Who we tried to get, what the teams wanted in exchange.

So, we’ve got what we’ve got. I think we should have hung onto at least one of our bullpen-closers from last season … but that’s done and over. We either get to the post-season with the team we have or not. We could do it, but I have a feeling we won’t. There are just too many things going wrong. Sale hasn’t been pitching consistently well. Sometimes he’s great and the rest of the time, not so great. David Price is good and sometimes fantastic … but when he leaves the game and the bullpen takes over, oy vay.

But that’s baseball, right?


Casey at the Bat

by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more, there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

TO CAMP OR NOT TO CAMP – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Camp

I always wanted to go camping. All my friends went camping. My brother and sister went camping. I so envied them.

I stayed home. My mother felt camp was where you sent a child that needed “the experience” of “being away” from home (like my clingy sister), or who had a troubled home life (like my brother). Since I didn’t seem to need those experiences and always managed to find something to do, I didn’t need camping.

Garry’s horse

But I wanted to go. I wanted to swim and be out in the country. All through August, every kid was gone for weeks at a time. It was lonely.

Many years later, I tried to explain it to my mother and I think she finally understood that “camp” wasn’t where you sent psychologically deficient children, but a place for normal kids to have fun. Play games. Learn to swim.

She had never considered that.

I suppose it was a compliment, but if ever I experienced a truly back-handed compliment, that was it.

I sent Owen to camp because I didn’t go. Not only did I send him to camp, but I sent him to the camp to which I would have given an arm and both legs to go. It was a horseback riding camp. He didn’t like it. Too rough and tumble.

We always try to give our kids what we wanted and it almost never works the way we intended it. You just can’t win.

We try so hard and somehow, we manage to get it at least a little wrong. Maybe that’s the way parenthood is. You never stop learning. I still haven’t stopped learning. I don’t think I could stop if I tried.

The dock at River Bend

As a child, I wanted freedom. The less adult interference in my life, the happier I was. The fewer parents around, the more I learned. If you gave me a heap of books and as many horses as I could wrap my legs around, I was in heaven.

That wasn’t what Owen wanted. By the time Kaity was growing up, I didn’t have the money to send her anywhere. And she was more like Owen insofar as she didn’t want to leave home and the idea of being with a bunch of kids she didn’t know was not appealing.

Lucky for her I didn’t have the money to send her anywhere!

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME – Marilyn Armstrong

I enjoy baseball. I used to enjoy it because Garry is such a fan of the sport, I was either going to learn to like it or spend half the year having no one to talk to because there was a game on TV.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Gradually, I got to really like the game for its own sake. Its complexity. The slow, careful way it unfolds. The subtleties of how the ball is thrown, how the pitcher finds the seams and throws so the ball dips or rises. How it is caught and by whom. The way the field is set up, depending on who is hitting. All those decisions about running and stealing.

Errors.

Was it a mental or physical error? What other sport takes the time to figure out whether the subject thought wrongly or just did the wrong thing? Imagine a football announcer discussing whether that was a mental or physical error? No one talks “mental” in football, despite the enormous complexity of the game. Baseball is relatively simple compared to football.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist, sharing old Dodger baseball memories

Stop and think about all the things that must go through the mind of the quarterback and his team to make a play. It is mind-boggling.

The point is, I like baseball and I sort of like football, though I’m less familiar with its finer points than baseball. Football makes me say “OUCH! That really had to hurt!” while watching. I’m amazed anyone has a brain after it gets whacked during the game.

Gate D – Fenway Park

People who don’t like sports don’t get it. They don’t see the point. Why bother? It’s just a bunch of guys running around a square before when a ball gets whacked by a batter.

Can you whack that ball? If you can do it regularly, you can get paid as much as $250 million for — I’m not sure — maybe 10 years? Does whatever you do pay that well? So, however dumb you may think it is, if they would pay you that much money, you think you might run around the bases? Yeah, I think so too.

Baseball season!

So now we get do why is it dumber to play baseball than do something else? Is working in a bank smarter? For that matter, is writing manuals for software inherently more intelligent? Or is it just something I do well enough to get paid?

I can’t play baseball for money because I can’t play. If someone offered me millions of dollars? I’d run around that field with joy in my heart and probably, so would you. Even if you don’t know what the game is about, if the pay is high enough, you’ll play.

Mostly, what we do for a living depends on what we do well. It’s nice when it’s something meaningful, something in which you can make a difference. Whatever that means these days. Most of us do the best we can with whatever talents we have.

So I ask you: why is running around during a ball game sillier than sitting in front of a computer writing code for computer games? Or any other software? What is the difference except that ballplayers earn a lot more money?

It is a whole lot easier to find a coder than any kind of pitcher or a guy who can hit home runs. If it was harder to find a coder than a pitcher, I’m pretty sure the coder would earn better money. People who play sports brilliantly are rare … and that’s why they earn the big bucks.

So much of what we do in life is dumb. We don’t work because it’s smart. We do it or did it because we needed a paycheck. If we also enjoyed it, we got lucky.

If you are one of the annoying people who despises sports because they are stupid, ask yourself what you do which is so much smarter? And how well do you get paid to do it? And if they offered you millions to run around bases and whack a ball with a bat, would you do it?

You bet you would. I know I would.