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.

WHEN IT WAS ALL SMALL BALL – Garry Armstrong

I loved what they now call “small ball.”

The leadoff guy gets on with a single. The second guy (PeeWee Reese), choking up on the bat, moves the leadoff guy to third with an opposite-field hit. The third guy (Duke Snider) takes a couple of pitches and PeeWee steals second on the third pitch.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers before the game

Duke hits the next pitch off the right-field wall — the one with the Robert Hall sign — and scores leadoff hitter Junior Gilliam and PeeWee.

Ebbets Field

The pitcher sighs, looking at the rest of the lineup. It’s Campy, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, and Sandy Amoros.

Now, the pitcher starts crying and in the dugout, the manager is sobbing.

Sandy Koufax is pitching for the Dodgers.

SUMMERTIME, SUMMERTIME, SUM SUM SUMMERTIME – Marilyn Armstrong

Summertime! When all the leaves and trees are green … and the red bird sings, I’ll be blue …

The Jamies were an American singing group
Single Released in 1958
Chart : Peaked at No.26 on The Billboard Hot 100 in 1958

There’s a long, interesting history of “Summertime” and its historic relationship to Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. Possibly the oldest tradition in baseball! 

Sherm Feller, who wrote Summertime, Summertime was an old pal of Garry’s as well as the public address announcer at Fenway Park for many years. He was known for playing the song regularly over the speakers at the park.

Read all about Sherm Feller and his song …

72-Fenway-Sox_14

Summertime, Summertime Lyrics


It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime summertime…

Well shut them books and throw em away
Say goodbye to dull school days
So come on and change your ways
It’s summertime…

Well no more studying history
And no more reading geography
And no more dull geometry
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all

Well are you comin or are you ain’t
You slow-pokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
It’s summertime

Well I’m so happy that I could flip
Oh how I’d love to take a trip
I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free for all

Well we’ll go swimmin every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say,
It’s summertime

And every night we’ll have a dance
Cause what’s a vacation without romance
Oh man this jive has me in a trance
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball A regular free for all
It’s summertime

It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime

It’s summertime!

NO SPORTS, POLITICS, OR RELIGION – Rich Paschall

Some Old World Wisdom, by Rich Paschall

When thinking of blog topics, there is no shortage of subject matter. Some general areas offer a lot of topics.  With a bit of extra thought, there’s an endless supply. Consider well how many areas you can pursue if you are willing to delve into sports, politics, or religion. Each is bound to set some readers ablaze.  They would surely bring lots of comments. You do want lively discussion, don’t you?

How lively do you want it?

conversation1

Venture into a sports bar well into the evening and you are likely to find plenty of spirited discussions regarding sports.  These ideas should help you out:  Will the Cubs win another pennant?  Will the White Sox ever get the love the Cubs get?  Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?  Will the Bears get back to the Super Bowl?  Will the Bulls beat the hated ____________ (fill in New York team here)?  There is little reason get into crosstown rivalries. Dissing out-of-town teams works, but only locally.

DeflatedBallsThumb2

We could always take off after the Bronx Bombers, the Patriots and _______ (name your alleged scandal here), or Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. But why alienate readers in New York, Boston or Dallas? Perhaps we should just write about the ridiculous BCS Bowl series or the commissioner of _________ (name your least favorite here).

A good informational, yet rather neutral article might find favor. Others might conclude that you are trying to make a point, like promoting someone’s stats for the hall of fame.

A discussion of gays in sports or an Olympic diver coming out of the closet might get you into politics so we may have to think carefully about those.  Yes, we will leave the political area of sports alone.

politics-1800s

Speaking of your politics (or mine), perhaps we can find common ground. I could write short stories with a political theme, or write about a run for office that brings victory, but no win for the candidate. Too improbable?

How about the death of democracy through campaign spending?

Imagine buying an election. Maybe this hits too close to home … or do you think it merely fiction or satire?

Political satire is sure to get people discussing or fighting, especially if you throw in climate change as the kicker. Then again, maybe no one will bother to read this stuff. Maybe not such a great idea after all?

How about hitting the topics head-on in a nice well-researched article? We can talk about Democrats, Republicans, capitalists, or socialists. On second thought, that could split the audience from the get-go. Better to look at the subjects of the debates and write a well-reasoned essay.

women's suffrage-2

Where to begin?

Abortion? Immigration? Gay Rights? Civil Rights? Gun Control? Campaign reform? Welfare Reform?  Any reform?

National defense?

Can we all consider any of that without alienating people? There’s always alienating the aliens. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe not.

If politics is too risky, how about the world’s great religions? They’re all rooted in love, are they not? We could discuss the philosophies that ignite the passions behind our beliefs and thus find common ground. Peace and harmony at last.

Except that so many people believe their god is the only one. Some believe their god is telling them to kill others — which sets religion against religion. Alas, there’s nothing new about that. Belief is supposed to bring hope and joy, not war. Yet religion has been the cause of many wars. They are all about religion or land. Check it out.

God is on every side of every war, or so they say. Who goes into battle without the blessing of their particular deity? How can I expect to have a civil discussion in such an emotionally-charged arena?  I have innocently had to extract my foot from my mouth before. Maybe I should let the Dalai Lama write on this topic.

Soon, there won’t be a Dalai Lama because the Chinese won’t allow one. Oops.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, and Neal Brown.

Years ago, when one of my favorite innkeepers was alive, we used to drop by his establishment.  It was a great place for lively discussions. If anyone got a little over-heated, the owner walked over with a wink to say, “No sports, no politics, no religion!”

Seemingly a strange thing to say when a sports channel was almost always playing nearby, but he meant “No arguments, no heated discussions.” If arguments got out of hand, he’d say “No sports, no politics, no religion — or you’re out of here!”

That seemed a good approach to barroom politics because these were the areas of discussion that often ended with unpleasantness. Especially when dialogue was fueled by alcohol. Maybe his attitude probably short-circuited a few lively discussions, but he definitely cut off some brawls, too.

Let’s avoid them in the blog-o-sphere and cyberspace too. If Facebook is any indicator, that sounds like a plan!

FAME: TO BE THE GREATEST EVER – Garry Armstrong

RDP Thursday – FAME

“Someday, I’m gonna walk down the street. People will look at me and say, “There he goes, the greatest there ever was!'”

It’s a familiar line. We’ve heard it from would be wonder boys across generations. It’s a line we hear now, used in admiration and derision, to describe the New England Patriots’ 41-year-old quarterback Tom Brady.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his former backup Jimmy Garoppolo

Sports radio and television yakkers beat the controversy drums every day. Is Brady better than Joe Montana? Peyton Manning? Steve Young? Is he the greatest there ever was? Audiences foam at the mouth during the debate. It’s the stuff media executives dream about. Drives up ratings which in turn drives up prices for those who buy radio and TV time.

The greatest there ever was.

Robert Redford echoed the line as a young Roy Hobbs in the classic baseball film, “The Natural.” Hobbs was the young everyman who dreamed of greatness. Many of us pursued the same dream.

I grew up in a generation when there were still many doors to be opened. Many challenges to be faced and answered. The social divide was still very evident in the United States. Overt racism was on display for all to see, even in so-called cradles-of-liberty cities.

Women were seen, but not heard. Ogled and groped, but not respected. It’s the way we were — back in the day.  It’s also why so many of us were inspired to succeed.  We wanted to show our worth, our value. We wanted more than respect.

We seem to have regressed back to those days but I hope not permanently.

It was a clear road we walked — to be the greatest there ever was.

Garry – College days at WVHC (1963)

I remember a hot, muggy, September 1959 afternoon at the Parris Island U.S. Marine Corps training base. The base commander stopped to chat up a group of new Marines, just returned from a double-time forced march near the swamp infested grounds that lay outside the base.

The young Gyrenes were clearly tuckered out,  cursing the sandflies who nestled in their bodies. The commander zeroed in one group, singling out a young recruit of color who had attitude written on his face. “Private, how do you like the Marines, now?”

The young man broadened his smile. “Sir, permission to speak freely, sir?

The commander nodded. Red-faced drill instructors familiar with the young man stiffened in their nearby posts braced for the worst. The recruit eyed the DI’s, smiled at them and responded to the commander. “Sir, Private Armstrong is PROUD to be a marine, sir.”

The commander smiled.

The D.I.’s seemed relieved as the recruit continued talking to the commander who could make stripes disappear quickly off a sergeant’s shoulder.

“Sir, I love the Marines. I want to be the greatest there ever was, sir”.

The commander’s stoicism was replaced with a big smile. The D.I’s chuckled softly while glaring at Private Armstrong.

Garry at Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame induction

I did want to be the greatest Marine ever. This wasn’t any John Wayne fanboy stuff. My brief stint had fueled aspirations for a career in the Marine Corps, perhaps in the communications division.  My hearing difficulties would soon end my life as a Marine, but it was a time I still remember with pride. It also helped me plot the course for the rest of my professional life.

In the decades that followed, I never lost the fire in the belly from my Marine Corps days. Some thought the “glamour” of TV news kept me happy and satisfied over the years.

I remember catching up with old friends over the years. They would tell me how successful they were. I heard about how much money they were making. The fancy cars they were driving. Vacation homes, country clubs, and so on.

I couldn’t, wouldn’t play that game. I inevitably wound up repeating how much I enjoyed my work. I talked about excitement, interesting people, dramatic stories — and the chance to make a difference.

There usually was a pause from the friend. I would then tell them I still wasn’t satisfied. Yes, I had awards, celebrity but there was something else.

I still wanted to be the best there ever was. Best replaced greatest somewhere over the years. No matter. The concept had not changed, just the wording.

I’ve been retired for more than 18 years after banking 40 plus years on the job. I think I’m satisfied with my body of work. Satisfied doesn’t do it.

Part of me still wants to be the greatest there ever was.

STICKBALL SEASON IS COMING – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.

It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallThis got me thinking about stickball.

These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?

We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.

The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.

The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.

The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

MY AMAZING CAREER: THE UNNATURAL – Garry Armstrong

I’ve written numerous pieces about my love of baseball. I’ve shared memories of the teams I’ve followed as a diehard fan.

From the Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s to Casey’s inept, Amazin’ Mets in the early ’60s.

1969 The Amazing Mets!

To the sons of Teddy Ballgame who, in 2004, broke generations of hearts before smashing the curse of the Bambino and 87 years of futility. I’ve told you about meeting many baseball legends including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams.

Our kitchen wall includes tributes to my personal baseball hero, Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. I met “The Duke” back when he played briefly with the Mets. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.

2004 Red Sox Series Win

Like many New York youngsters of a certain era, I was in the middle of the argument about who was the best center fielder — Willie, Mickey, or The Duke.  We were blessed by having three major league teams in Gotham back in those days. On any given day or night you could listen to Hall of Fame voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, or Russ Hodges describing the fortunes of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.

On the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – and, later, Long Island, ragtag teams of boys — identified by their block — played softball, stickball and, if lucky, baseball.  The games began after school and continued, in my case, until the familiar chorus of “Garry, your mother is callin’ you. You gotta go home —now!”

Duke Snider

Sulking, I’d drop the bat, pick up my glove and slowly, slowly walk home. I never heard the guys laughing as I left. In retrospect, I guess they were always laughing as I left the games.

Why?

I was “that kid.”

The last one picked to play on the street team. The kid they played in deep right field and prayed no ball was hit to him. I mimicked Duke Snider’s sweet left-handed batting stance. I set up in the batter’s box just like Duke so I could rip the ball to right field.

I never ripped or hit — and rarely made any contact — with the ball. I looked good. I had style.

In the field, I couldn’t catch routine fly balls or cleanly field hits and hold the runner to one base. I still had Duke Snider’s style, though. I jogged, swinging my arms up and down — in Duke’s regal manner. I was sure I had class even if I couldn’t hit or field.

My misfortune continued as a teenager when I played with the church baseball team. The Luther League.

The coaches probably felt compelled to play me because we were one of only three families of color at our church. Not to play me probably would’ve caused unrest as the predominantly German Church was trying to be progressive in the mid-1950s. No one ever said this, but, deep down, I knew

I was something of an albatross.

The Black kid with no athletic ability. I wanted to be good but I wasn’t. I was sure I’d find my niche as I grew older. I also labored under the illusion that I would gain five or six inches of height, miraculously, one night in my teenage dreams of glory.  My Dad stood six feet plus, My two younger brothers already were taller than me. I always really believed I’d gain those inches when I turned 20. It had to happen. I believed.

By the early ’70s, I was a rising TV news reporter in Boston. My celebrity may have been rising but not my height.  My USMC ID card read 5 feet 5 and a half inches. I’d been the shortest kid as a Marine recruit at the Parris Island Training base back in 1959. (That’s another story.)

In the early 1970’s Boston, only a handful of minority TV News Reporters existed. I was “it” on Channel 7.

When it came to the celebrity/media softball games, I could only hope to shed my athletic ineptitude. I think it was assumed — oblivious to my past — that I would be an asset to Channel 7’s team. I looked fast, had that classic Duke Snider swing and had an elegant gait. It didn’t take long for the truth to emerge.

The color of my skin didn’t guarantee athletic prowess.  Still, there was some hype to my appearance on the baseball field on Boston Common. Adding to my dilemma, the minority reporters on the other teams were good players. They had achieved their bonafides. I was the new “phenom.”

It was awful. The first game I played seemed to last an eternity. I was the leadoff hitter. Big mistake.

I did manage a weak single in 3 or 4 at bats. I botched most of the balls hit to me in right field. I blamed it on the glare from the lights.  They believed me and gave me “attaboys”.  The rest of my Boston baseball/softball career was, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, “terr’ble.”  I remember some of my Channel 7 colleagues shaking their heads when I showed up for games. One of them, a legendary cameraman, used to giggle and laugh “Oh, Geerey … no … no.”

One of my early show-cased appearances on Channel 7 featured me in a Walter Mitty-like series. One of the Mittyish assignments had me working out, in full uniform, with the Boston Red Sox. I believe a young Pudge Fisk was catching as I dug in with my Duke Snider stance. The Towering figure on the mound supposedly tossing easy “BP” stuff to me was former fireballing right-hander, Bob Veale.

Veale was now a Sox pitching coach. I figured he’d take it easy on me. As I leveled my Duke Snider stance, I glanced out to the mound. Big Bob Veale seemed 8 feet tall. He had an evil grin on his face.

Baseball season!

The first pitch was by me and in Fisk’s glove before I could begin my swing. Pudge giggled louder. Veale’s grin grew bigger. Remember, cameras were rolling on me for this ballyhooed TV feature.

I think I ticked the second pitch which only incensed Mr. Bob Veale. He reared back and fired what Dennis Eckersley now calls “Hot, high cheese”  to me. I swung, probably 5 seconds after the ball was caught by Pudge Fisk who was now laughing.

At Fenway

Most of the Sox players were smiling or laughing quietly except for Johnny Pesky who offered me solace. Pesky and I would be friends until he passed away. For some reason, he took a liking to me even though I clearly had no athletic skills.  Class act — Johnny Pesky.

It remained for Teddy Ballgame to put everything in perspective. We were chatting about stuff. I’d hit it off with Ted Williams who rarely bonded with the media. I suspect Mr. Pesky was my liaison.

Johnny Pesky

Williams asked me to show him my swing. I did. He tossed a few pitches to me. I missed all of them. Teddy Ballgame tapped me on the shoulder, smiling, “Garry. You need to see the ball before you hit it or try to hit it.  Forget it, Pal”.

I still have fantasies about being a 70-something “Roy Hobbs.”