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.

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.

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.”

THE AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was out in LA, our friends took us to an amazing museum – The Autry Museum of the West.

It included artifacts of the real west of America’s past, as well as the movie and TV versions of that same history. In fact, the museum is named after the famous “Singing Cowboy” of the early television days, Gene Autry, also the former owner of the Los Angeles/California/ Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.

Outside of the beautiful structure that houses the museum

Sculpture outside the museum of Gene Autry with his guitar and his horse, Champion.

I took so many photos, I’m going to divide them up into three separate posts. This one will be devoted to clothing – a fascinating aspect of history.

Woman’s two-piece outfit from around 1885

Indian woman’s outfit

What real cowboys wore.

Bodice and skirt from 1865-1885 worn by Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of George Armstrong Custer of Custer’s last stand fame

Stagecoach driver’s gloves

Annie Oakley movie costume based on a painting of Annie Oakley

Beautiful dress in a soda ad

SPORTS: NOT NECESSARILY THE HEALTHIEST ACTIVITY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Sunday–Gridiron

Unlike baseball, which I enjoy regardless of who is playing, though I admit I prefer seeing our team play when they let us, we aren’t going to discuss how MLB has made it nearly impossible to see one’s home-team without buying a mega cable package or owning season tickets to the sport. That’s another issue which gets a separate cover.

Today is Super Bowl day when the winners of the National and American leagues in football play each other for unbelievably expensive rings and the option of being the talking heads for who knows how many products on television. At least we can still see football on the regular network and not have to pay hundreds of dollars extra to watch our own teams play.

Although most non-football-addicted American think that football is like it used to be 20 years ago, it isn’t. Excessive roughness is a call made constantly on the field. The giant pile-ups of huge guys to destroy the quarter or running back are illegal now. It isn’t like it used to be which I think is very much for the good of the game.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

If you have been not watching football because the last time you saw it was the Disney cartoon starring Goofy, you have missed a lot of the changes that have come to the game. It’s still a rough game because sports are rough. All sports are rough, even the ones that don’t look particularly rough.

Take, for example, baseball. Do you know what pitching hundreds of balls over the course of 160 season game does to an arm? Or even the sliding and running … or that crouching the catcher does … do to a human body?

How about horseback riding? Do you know how many jockeys end their lives in wheelchairs? And how many are killed from falls that no helmet will fix?

Sports are hard on humans. All sports are hard on humans. Even sitting at a computer all day long is rough on parts of your body.

So if your reason for not watching football is that it’s too rough for a mortal humanoid, consider warfare and many of the “easy” sports we all are required to learn in school. Volleyball (tore my ankle up on that one), running (how many knees needed rebuilding after that?), shot-putting, pole vaulting, tennis (does your elbow still work?) … all of which take a serious toll on the person playing it.

English style riding and jumping

I know that we all think it’s healthy that our kids get up and go out in the world enjoy physical activity because that’s healthy, right?  Healthy activity comes at a price. Knees and backs are destroyed and many are never repaired.

Some folks are stronger than others and can withstand the battering better than others. Some can simply take more abuse, but others can take a lot less and don’t know it until it’s too late.

Like me, for example. I fell off a few horses. I didn’t even fall very hard, but I fell right on my butt. Or more to the point, I feel on the base of my spine. After a while — not a long while, either — I couldn’t walk properly anymore. I didn’t stop riding, even after the surgery which should have stopped me.

How about downhill skiers? And hockey and figure skaters?

There IS no sport that does not take a serious and potentially life-threatening toll on the body performing it.

Players have multiple surgeries on shoulders and elbows and spines and knees and get clobbered badly enough to end their life with sports-induced Alzheimer’s disease.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Don’t be fooled by thinking if something “looks easy” that it is easy. Ballerinas destroy their feet while male dancers crush their spines. The life of a professional dancer is shorter than that of an NFL player. And that’s not even sports. That’s ART.

BOSTON, MA – October 24: Boston Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi catches a fly ball hit by Los Angeles Dodger’s Brian Dozier during the fifth inning of Game Two of Major League Baseball’s World Series at Fenway Park on October 24, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Christopher Evans)

Does any of this mean we should all stop doing anything risky? Of course not. But we should also be aware that when our kids complain that something is hurting them, to make sure that there’s no serious damage and to get that possible hurting checked by a doctor who actually knows the difference between bruising and serious damage.

I do not even know how many people are twisted into wrecks by middle age from sports they played when they were teenagers.

MY BEST YEAR – 1969

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world spun faster on its axis. Everything changed. We had the best music and the most fun we’d ever have again. It was before AIDS, too. Sex was fun — and the worst disease you could get was something a doctor could fix with a shot of antibiotics.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it unfold. I was a new mother with a 2-month old baby boy. I wasn’t working yet and was finished with college. I was at home with the baby, not working, no studying. I had time to see the world unroll.

We were going to make the world a better place, end war. End bigotry, race prejudice, inequality. Turns out, it didn’t quite work out the way we planned, but our hearts were pure, even if we were also stoned.

Marilyn and the kid

It was a great time to get work, too because the world was opening up. You could still get an interview with a live person who might actually hire you. We had hope and we believed.

I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. We saw it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion.

The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic broadcast. Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero.

Apollo 11 – 1969

How I envied him his trip to the moon. Maybe the Mother Ship will come for us. If they could fix the old folks on Cocoon, maybe there’s room for Garry and me. Off to the stars? Sounds like a good deal. Earth, these days, is a total bummer.

On the moon, 1969

Woodstock was that summer. There were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert that was going to happen upstate. I had friends who had tickets and were going. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in Haight-Ashbury, but I didn’t envy them. Because I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and in some ways, happier than at anytime since.

I was young, still healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war, make the world a better place. I still thought the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another and join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we were sure it would end any day … and though we found out how terribly wrong we were, for a while we saw the future bright and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now” which I first heard sung by the Holy Modal Rounders at a local folk music club. They were the most stoned group of musicians I’d ever met, but the song was also a great lullaby. It made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We could do anything, or so we thought.

We were going to end THE war and right every wrong. As we found the peak, we would almost immediately drop back into a dark valley. For a year, though, one great year, the stars aligned and everything was as it should be.

Decades passed. Being young was a long time ago. We use lots of drugs, but they control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They are no fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is the age I was then.

I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.

THE FENWAY WALL – SQUARELY PINK – Marilyn Armstrong

The Wall at Fenway Park

So today was lovely. Friends and food and too many desserts. Laughter and the joy of good friends. And now, it’s another day, a perfect day for a lovely square pink photograph.

What a crazy week it has been. Flooding and typhoons and tornadoes and insane politicians saying the most godawful idiotic things.

Here, at home, other than a few dozen homes in Andover, South Andover, and Lawrence blowing up because the gas company was inept, it has been peaceful.

Best we think of baseball. One, two, three strikes you’re out and there’s no arguing with the umpire!

Painted on the old brick walls at Fenway Park

 

A SPIRAL OF CHANGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Ragtime Daily Prompt #67 – SPIRAL


Last night, I found myself staying up very late — much too late — to watch the end of the final game in the Yankees-Red Sox 4-game matchup. Garry had gone to bed.

When he went to bed, the Yankees were winning 4 – 1 and it looked like they were going to win at least that final game in the series. I wasn’t so sure. I figured I would get to the bedroom and Garry would be watching it.

Wrong. He was sound asleep.

What happened to us? He’s asleep … and I’m up way later than I should have been watching baseball? When did we switch roles?

The Sox and the Yankees are one of those classic sports rivalries that always brings out the crowds. This year, our Red Sox are playing brilliantly which no one expected, least of all, us. They just keep winning.

Andrew Benintendi after hitting the winning single for the Red Sox at Fenway Park early Monday. Credit Adam Glanzman-Getty Images

When Garry went to bed after the end of the 7th inning. For you non-baseball types, a standard game is nine innings and typically lasts three to four hours. Since games can’t end in a tie, occasionally, they go on a lot longer by which time the stadium is empty and the announcers are asleep.

A 1908 recording of “Take me out to the ball game” just to get your spirits up!

In the bottom of the ninth — final inning — the Sox knocked in three runs and the score was tied. The game went to the 10th inning, overtime.

We won. I actually had to wake Garry up and tell him “We won.”

“We won?” he mumbled.

“Bottom of the ninth, the Sox knocked in three runs and then one more in the tenth.”

“Damn,” he said and went back to sleep.

Is this a spiral of change? Or a full reverse?

WHO’S GOT THE BIGGEST EGO? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Ego

“MAGA, MAGA, MAGA” screamed the audience.

“Whatever happened to ‘God bless America’ and ‘Land of the Free?’ ” I commented.

Garry changed the channel. The whole thing was making him feel ill. It’s why we watch baseball. Game after game.

Lucky for us, the Red Sox are doing unbelievably well. Hard to believe our ragtag team is now 8-1/2 games ahead of the almighty Yankees, especially since they’ve assembled a team that would have seemed impossible to beat.

But sometimes, luck turns your way. Our pitchers are out-pitching themselves. Our hitters are whacking the ball out of the park. Moreover, they are doing it day-after-day.

Red Sox final score yesterday against Yankees

They did an interview with J.D. Martinez, a new guy this year. He is doing better than he has ever done before. In fact, everyone is doing better than they ever did before. We weren’t expecting this.

Alex Rodriguez commented that the Red Sox sluggers — Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez — are better than Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. I’m not sure that’s really true. I think that the Yankees haven’t quite gotten it together as a team, yet. About half the Red Sox are new to the team, but pretty much all the Yankees are new and a whole bunch of them are rookies. They are good. Very good. But they are also young and inexperienced an I suspect it will take them time to pull their act together.

That’s why a careful lack of bloated ego in the Sox’ bullpen is a wise choice. The season is half over with more than 50 games remaining to be played. We’ve all watched our Red Sox flounder through August and collapse in September. We don’t want to jinx them so we are cautious, careful, and judicious when we talk about them, though Garry watched not only the entire game on Fox, and then re-watched it (reruns have their place, even in sports) on MLB.com just to hear the Yankee crew eat crow.

It’s nice to win, but that big ole’ fat lady has yet to sing. Until those note come forth, we need to be careful. Bloated egos are bad for team spirit.

Somebody should tell El Presidente that huge egos can more easily pull a team down than help it move up. He should find some humility. Put his head down and shut his fat trap. I’m not sure he has fifty more games to play.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing that could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?

Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing. He wanted to find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears next week.
What happened to Harold? The previous story: “Missing Monday

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME – Rich Paschall

To The Ball Park We Go, by Rich Paschall

If you live in the continental United States and do not have Major League Baseball in your city, you are probably just a short road trip away from a stadium.  For some you may need one over night stay, for a few locations it may mean longer travel plans.

The thirty MLB ball parks are spread across the country.  If you count the 248 minor league teams, then I guess you can find professional baseball just about everywhere.

Center Field scoreboard from Sheffield Avenue

Fenway Park, Boston – Photo: Garry Armstrong

For our purposes, we will stick with the Major Leagues.  Three cities are lucky enough to have two teams, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Only one has a third team close at hand.  People in and around Chicago can also make the quick trip to Milwaukee to catch a game without needing an over night stay.

You might tell me that people in New York or Philadelphia can visit the other city with a quick trip since it is only a little farther than Chicago to Milwaukee.

Okay, start in New York City. Head down the New Jersey Turnpike, and get to Philadelphia. Then come back and tell us how long it took.  What time did you have to leave NYC to get to a 7 PM game in Philly.  Sorry, I digressed.

Game time 7:10 pm

Closest to home for those of us on the north side of Chicago is Wrigley Field, Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark.  Built in 1914, the park tries to maintain its old-fashioned charm despite some major upgrades. Only Boston’s Fenway park is older.

The neighborhood ballpark still lacks parking, however.   But who drives to the park?  The busy “Wrigleyville” is well served by the Clark and Addison bus lines.  The Chicago Transit Authority “Red Line” is just a few doors east of the ballpark, so you can take the “L” train.

After the game, buses are lined up all along Addison and leave in a “load and go” fashion.  When the bus is full, it takes off and the next one pulls up to the bus stop.  Years of anguish taught us how to get 40 thousand people in and out of a neighborhood with little parking.  In fact, Wrigley Field gave up its tiny lot along side the park on Clark Street for one of its renovation projects.  More seats, less parking!

By the way, people here bristle at any suggestion that naming rights should be sold for the park.  The park was originally Weeghman Park.  From 1920 to 1926 it was Cubs Park.  After that the Cubs owner, chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr.,  named it Wrigley Field.  Legend has it he wanted to popularize the name to help give gum sales a boost.  And we are against naming rights?

On the south side of Chicago fans can visit Guaranteed Rate Field.  Built in 1991, it originally carried the name of the stadium it replaced, Comiskey Park, which was located just across the street.  In 2003 it was named US Cellular Field.  This year it got another new name.

US Cellular Field

When it was first built, before the wave of “retro-style” ball barks, it was massively criticized by just about everyone in town.  There were lots of things to dislike.  Starting in 2001 the park has undergone renovation every year since, except 2015.

The South Side structure had the highest upper deck of any stadium in baseball, and loomed large above the old park before that was torn down. Few wanted to sit in the top rows of the steep upper deck.  There was no roof and only a wind break at the top.  In 2004 the top 8 rows and 6600 seats of the park were removed and a roof added, covering what became the top 13 rows.  It now has a smaller capacity than its north side rival.

Baseball on the South Side

Unlike Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field has copious parking.  Located right off the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 90/94), it is easy to find.  It is well served by Public Transportation by train and by bus.  The Red Line train runs close to the ballpark, the same line that runs past Wrigley Field.  If the Cubs have a day game, followed by a White Sox night game, you can grab the Red Line and easily go from one ballpark to the other.  If you have to go to Soldier Field for a football game, just get off at Roosevelt and take the bus.

From the north side of Chicago, we made it to Miller Park in Milwaukee in 90 minutes.  We got on the Interstate close to home and did not get off until we spotted Miller Park.

Home of the Brewers

Fortunately for us, the park has a retractable dome which can open and close in 10 minutes time.   There were intermittent showers the day we went. A roof that opens in good weather and glass panels allow for a natural grass field.  It is the best a domed stadium can offer.

The park was scheduled to open in 2000, but was delayed a year due to a construction accident.  A large crane collapsed while lifting one of the massive roof sections.  The park was built behind the old County Stadium, one time home of the now Atlanta Braves.

Domed stadium, natural grass

If you like bratwurst, pretzels and cheese curds, this is your stadium.  There is no shortage of concession stands featuring the typical Wisconsin fare.  Of course, Miller beer is easily located as well.

With all of the renovations since the new Comiskey park opened, it may be the best of the group.  It can be the least expensive.  Wrigley Field continues its historic attraction, despite the many changes in recent years.  Miller Park is the newest and will have baseball rain or shine.

I LIKE BASEBALL – Marilyn Armstrong

I enjoy baseball. I used to enjoy it because Garry is such a passionate 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 television.

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 hit 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 — sorry for the pun — 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.

So now we get do why is it dumber to play baseball then 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?

Mostly, what we do for a living depends on what we are good at. It’s nice when it’s something thoughtful where you can make a difference, whatever that means these days. But most of us just do the best we can with whatever talents we have. Maybe it makes a difference — sometimes — and then again, maybe it doesn’t.

So why is running around during a ball game sillier than sitting in front of a computer writing code for computer games? What is the difference except that ball players make a lot more money (because it’s easier to find a coder than a pitcher or a guy who can hit 50 home runs)?

So much of what we do in life is pretty dumb. We don’t do what we do to be smart. We do it because it earns our living and we need a paycheck. We do it because it’s enjoyable. It makes us smile, laugh, cheer and feel good about something that isn’t politics or money. Our life is not on the line. It’s just fun.

If you are one of the intensely annoying people who despises sports because they are stupid, ask yourself a question: What do you do in your life which is so much smarter? And how well do you get paid to do it?

Who is smarter, really?