Today was Jackie Robinson day in baseball and everyone wore a shirt with the number “42” emblazoned on it. Now, I’m enough of a baseball nerd to know that Jack Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball was a big deal. A huge deal. It was the true beginning of the break from segregation to whatever we are doing these days.
We watched the movie “42” again. And loved it. Again. You can read the review hereand it is one of the best reviews I’ve ever written, along with Garry, the total complete baseball nerd.
The thing is, I’m also a total science fiction nerd — and, speaking of freaky coincidence — Douglas Adams shares my birthday. And we ALL know what he thought of forty-two. It was the number that made the world … well … the world. 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It is the answer.
Sadly, the question remains unknown.
So how could Jackie Robinson and the answer to the question “what is the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” be the same number?
Synchronicity of course. History rhymes and so do numbers. Phone numbers and house numbers and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I’m absolutely sure that Douglas Adams knew exactly what he was doing when he picked that number. He knew.
Jackie Robinson and his number, 42, IS the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. It is. Think about it. He broke the world open and it will never, ever go back to the way it was before he did it.
The subject has been on our minds lately, probably because it’s almost baseball season and the slugger the Sox need has refused to sign a contract.
“It’s not about the money,” he assured everyone. The current offer is at $125 million for 6 years, but he wants to play outfield rather than designated hitter — which is what we need. The Sox have three brilliant outfielders who can also hit, so that’s not happening. Martinez isn’t getting more money and he is definitely not getting third base.
Since no one else has made him a better offer, there’s a possibility this great player is going to wind up sitting out the season or going to Japan because he won’t sign a contract. There aren’t many teams with this kind of money to offer. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox are pretty much the big three for big money and this guy has said no to all of them.
No contract? No baseball.
Meanwhile, we are also watching reruns of “Blue Bloods.” Danny the cop with PTSD and his lovely wife Linda are going through a variety of marital issues. He says “You have to quit doing that.”
And she says “Or yeah? Or what? Eh? Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?”
And I say: “Until the new contract season comes up.” This is a rerun, so I can see the future. I know she’s going to die at the beginning of next season – belatedly — because she can’t renegotiate her contract.
That made me think about how life would be if our marriages were based on contracts and negotiations. With agents and lawyers. Lists of requirements and assurances from the medical team that we’re okay to play five more seasons. All the things we are required to do or no renewal for upcoming seasons.
Sorry buddy. Empty out your locker and good luck in your next endeavor.
This might result in all of us getting better terms for our relationships or maybe not. More likely, a lot of lawyers and agents get richer. We get poorer, and a bunch of married people discover they have not been renewed for the upcoming season. I can see us negotiating for a five-year contract, with someone saying “Of course, this contract is based on a doctor’s assurance that you are in good health.”
Poor people would have to work month-to-month because they can’t afford an agent. We’d be lucky to even make the team. On a more positive note, there would be no need for divorce. It would be simple, matter-of-fact business arrangement.
Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it. It was a day given over to sports. Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper. Watched some on television. He even made time for high school or college games in the area. In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen. Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.
On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game. It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance. Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team. The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.
The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before. He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park. It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this. It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.
Neither team was very good that year. In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything. The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs. It had been that way since 1908. Still, Harold had an inexplicable affection for the team, so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.
He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away. There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows. He put up the sun shield in the front window and then added another for the back. It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sun shield or not. With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets. He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.
“Harold? Harold, is that you?” It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha. Whenever he heard their names together it reminded him of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.
George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play. Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.
“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them. “What brings you down here this time of year? People normally visit in the winter.” At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.
“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared. “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets. I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.” Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat. When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”
But when George got to the window, he had other ideas. He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”
“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats. Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.
“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner. The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan. They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.
When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played. George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired. Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.
Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view. Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.
The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching. It did not look major league. At precisely three hours after the start of the game, the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.
“Go?” George shouted in horror. “It is only the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs could have a rally. See, I have my rally cap.” At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.
“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”
Martha protested, “You’re retired. Where do you have to go? Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.” The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene. Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down. It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner. The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team. The threesome filed out with all the others. When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold. The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as planned by Harold, master planner of retirement time.
A friend took me to a Red Sox Game at Fenway Park. It was the middle of April, so there was a chill in the wind. I layered up and topped it off with my retro Brooklyn Dodgers tee-shirt. It was Jackie Robinson day. Everyone was wearing the fabled #42.
April is the beginning of the new baseball season, when hope springs eternal. Anything could happen. The haves and have-nots are equally in the race. For me, it’s also when I open the cookie jar of memories, mentally racing around the bases to those days when I listened to our boys of summer on the radio.
Vin Scully was a 20-something rookie broadcaster, calling his first season of Brooklyn Dodgers games.
The Korean “conflict” dominated the radio news, which preceded the important stuff, baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers were “America’s Team” in 1950. Vin Scully was a new breed of sports broadcaster. He mixed in stories about President Truman’s desegregation of our Armed Forces and “discontent” about the integrated Dodgers’ team.
Scully used phrases like “Goodnight, sweet Prince”, after Jackie Robinson turned in another memorable game amid jeers from rabble-rousers. It was curious to this young fan who dreamed of becoming a team-mate of Jackie Robinson, Peewee Reese, and Duke Snider. I’d wear Dodger Blue with pride, I promised myself.
I thought it would be wonderful if they played baseball all year round and the stories would always be about the Bums and the dreaded New York Yankees. Heck, it would be terrific to listen to Vin Scully and not those other people talking about grown up stuff. Scully even mentioned things we were studying in school and made them sound exciting. I’ll never forget his referring to April as “the cruelest month.” I’d steal that line a zillion times.
A couple of decades later, opportunity opened the door to meetings with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and other fabled Boys of Summer. Campy was friendly and outgoing, eager to share stories with a newbie reporter. He would say, “Life is good, young fella. You gotta appreciate it.”
Jackie Robinson would glare at Campy as he wove the stories of good times with the Dodgers. Sometimes, he would interrupt Campanella with a sharp, “Enough, Roy. Enough of that fiction.”
Robinson would turn to me, his eyes blazing, seemingly angry. “Life isn’t a ball game, young man,” he once said. Then, he gently patted me on the shoulder, noting that I was a good conversationalist and listener. It was a bit confusing. It happened that way several times.
People like Campy, Peewee Reese and even a reluctant Duke Snider would share that Jackie Robinson was a very complicated man on a mission.
PBS is again running Ken Burns’ two part portrait of Jackie Robinson. It goes beyond myth and legend to examine Robinson, the man. The man from Cairo, Georgia was so much more than the athlete who broke baseball’s racial barrier. The inner turmoil, anger, frustration, and multiple health issues took Robinson from us way too early, at age 53.
1950. So long ago. A time of innocence for many young boys like me.
Another year has rolled to its finale. It’s the middle of December. In a few weeks, it will be 2018.
Vin Scully retired. Though the world is not running short of baseball commentators, no one can match his style, his class, his understanding of the game, or the poetry he added to his commentary.
In baseball, the winter meetings are in progress. Are we going to make a deal? We need a slugger. We picked up someone, but he’s the kind of slugger who is no kind of fielder and misses the ball a lot. I suppose as a DH, maybe. I guess we’ll see. Before I look around, spring training will begin. Maybe the world will seem all fresh and new in the spring.
Roy Moore lost in Alabama. For the first time in 25 years. A Democrat for the Senate. I guess they decided to not elect a pedophile after all. Even in Alabama, there are limits and a glimmer of decency. Doug Jones — one more vote against the horrors of Trumpism.
Baseball has been a saving grace for me during this otherwise disgraceful year of political ugliness and international ill-will. I wonder if a World Series win would fix it? Somehow, I doubt it. We need more than a ballpark win this year.
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 — for I think the third or fourth time since it premiered on PBS in 1998, I thought … “Gee, why not publish it where someone might actually read it?” And 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, an 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 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.“
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 associate producer.”
Luck may have played a part in her first collaboration with Ken Burns, but talent earned her the co-producer’s 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.
Her 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 any 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 ‘post partum’ 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 stream Baseballon 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.
As the World Series is closing in, it’s time to remember a little bit.
Does anyone remember Grantland Rice? He authored quite a few books about sports. And he is the guy who said:
“It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.”
That’s how we used to feel about our national pastime.
Ebbets Field, over looking Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, was my field of dreams. Harry Truman, then Dwight Eisenhower would issue special remarks about the significance of each new baseball season. It was bi-partisan stuff and it pulled Americans together in the love of that greatest pastime.
Each spring, hope sprung eternal.
Growing up as a kid from Brooklyn, there were my beloved Dodgers. The Bums, one of 16 teams in the Major Leagues. Eight teams in each league playing a 154 games during the regular season. We could identify the players on all the teams, including the batting orders. We respected opposing players, like Stan “The Man” Musial, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Bob Feller. Rivalry wasn’t war. It was part of the game and you cheered the winners, even when it wasn’t your team.
A young Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Harry Caray, and Jack Buck were prominent voices carrying the games across the country. St. Louis was the west coast. Virtues — not vices — were extolled. The pennant winners went directly to a September World Series.
Most games were played during the day, giving kids a chance to follow everything. World Series champions were special guests on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Too often, they were the dreaded New York Yankees, but we still applauded. They were heroes. We respected them for their prowess. That was baseball when our world was young.
Everything has changed. Nowadays, there are too many teams and many more games. The season is like a Eugene O’Neill play, a long day’s journey into night.
Tracy’s candidate would just be shaking his head now. It has all come true. Truer than true and worse than we imagined possible.
There’s the monumentally long regular beisbol season. You do everything you can to reach the post season. Lots of players are injured or burned out by the time the season’s winding up (or down, depending on which teams you are following) to the big finale.
The Post Season is the General Election race.
The World Series are the final campaign days. The hottest team of the moment will win it all with the best strategy — and a little luck.
Dwight David Eisenhower, president and previously, Allied Commander for WW2 (and the only U.S. President to also have won an Oscar) wanted to be a baseball player. Another time, another world.
JFK was a game changer.
Obama was Jackie Robinson.
Orange Head — Ty Cobb wins it all!!
In beisbol jargon, next year is 2020.
Grantland Rice is turning over in his grave.
Let’s sign some good free agents. Maybe next season we’ll get a win!!
Today ought to be the fourth game of the World Series. The actuality of this event will depend on the weather in New York and Boston. It is supposed to rain in both cities, so I suppose it’s a matter of exactly how much rain. It will have to be a real deluge before they will call a game of this magnitude … but players get seriously hurt on wet fields, so the possibility is up there.
Assuming the games go forth, those of us who have continued to believe throughout the long season are also pleasantly bemused.
Both the Red Sox and the Yankees were two games to nothing when they got to this coast. That’s bad in a five-game playoff series. If you want to be realistic about it, it’s probably fatal and your team is about to be washed out to sea. Again.
Instead, both Sox and Yankees pulled game 3 out of the bag. We won.
Now the standings are two-to-one for both teams. Everyone, including us, had assumed the American League playoff would be the “real” series this year. Houston and Cleveland are powerhouse teams. They’ve got it all — pitching, hitting, fielding. As far as hitting goes, the Sox are wildly out-gunned. If David Price hadn’t come into the game yesterday and shut down Houston, there would be no game today. Ditto for the Yankees.
Mind you, we aren’t so deep in the denial and belief bag that we are sure we are going to win the whole thing. In any case, we have to remind ourselves that only one team from each league team will go to the series — and only one will win in the end. Everyone else, no matter how terrific they were all season, goes home and dreams of summers to come.
But this is the time for belief. Maybe it won’t happen but it is nice to have this spark of hope and a little glow of wonderment. There hasn’t been a lot to believe in — or much we could see as wonderful this year — or last year, either.
We need this. Even if it’s just for a game or two.