Thursday, July 24, 2014

I'm On a "Columbo" Kick

I have been on a kick of watching old episodes of "Columbo" lately, and today I watched on called "√Čtude in Black" that first aired in September 1972.  The guest star, ie, the killer, in this episode was John Cassavetes, who pretty much over-acted his way through this one, but there were several other interesting things about this episode.

  • Another guest star was Blythe Danner, who was 29 years old at the time.  Of you think her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow looks like her mother, you should see how much she looks like her when they were the same age (although Miss Paltrow is now 41 years old).
  • The episode was directed by Nicholas Colasanto, who later played Coach on "Cheers".
  • The episode was written by Steven Bocchco, who would later write and produce the great "Hill Street Blues".
But most amazingly, another guest in this episode was the great Myrna Loy.  

Now Myrna Loy is one of those actress way before my time, but for whom I have developed a great appreciation, thanks in large part to Turner Classic Movies.  Her roles as Nora Charles in the Thin Man Movies, as well as numerous other movies with William Powell, as Mrs. Blandings picking out paint colors, as the wife in "Best Years of Our Lives", she was wonderful.  IMDB lists 139 acting credits for Miss Loy, dating back to the silent era, but by 1972, she was 67 years old and pretty much reduced to guest spots on TV shows, like "Columbo".

She was fine in her role in"Columbo", but I wish I could tell you that it was like seeing Nora Charles sparring with Lt. Columbo, but, alas, it was not.  Oh, well.

One thing that did surprise me was that she had red hair.  I think that this was the forts time I had ever seen Myrna Loy in other than black and white!

Anyway, this is what's fun about watching forty year old TV shows.  You never know who you might see in a guest role or a bit part.

Monday, July 21, 2014

To Absent Friends - James Garner

It is old news by now, but actor James Garner died this past weekend at the age of 86.

Where do you even start with James Garner?  IMDB lists 95 acting credits for Garner.  He began in television, as a star of the series "Maverick", transitioned nicely to leading man roles in the movies, and then back again to TV with the long-running "Rockford Files".  He was likable in just about everything he did.  Have you ever heard something bad  about James Garner?

I remember watching the 1963 movie "The Great Escape" a year or so ago, and being tremendously impressed with Garner's work in it.  That movie will always be remembered for Steve McQueen and his motorcycle, but for my money, Garner was the best guy in the movie.

Marilyn and I are also partial to 1985's "Murphy's Romance" a delightful romantic comedy/drama with Sally Field, and for which Garner received his only Oscar nomination.

He hadn't been real active in these later years. I recall seeing him in a "My Fellow Americans" (1996), a comedy in which he and Jack Lemmon played a couple of former Presidents, and in 2000's "Space Cowboys" wherein he, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Southerland played a group of aging astronauts.  The last time I actually watched a Garner movie was when 1969's "Marlowe" aired on TCM a few months ago.  Based upon the Raymond Chandler stories, Garner played the iconic private eye, Phillip Marlowe.  The movie wasn't so hot, but Garner, not unexpectedly, rose above the material, and was fun to watch.

One of the Internet headlines I saw about Garner's death said "James Garner, Hollywood 'Good Guy', Dead at 86". That summed it up pretty nicely.

RIP James Garner.

The "Champion Golfer"

I haven't watched a whole lot of golf on TV this year because, face it, without Tiger Woods (more on him later) in the mix, and with Phil Mickelson now in his early forties, and throw in the fact that the US Open turned out to be a pretty boring cakewalk for Martin Kaymer last month, there hasn't been any compelling reason to watch every weekend.

The British Open, or excuse me, The Open Championship, was looking to be more of the same with Rory McIlroy opening up big leads through each of the first three rounds, but I tuned in yesterday morning anyway and was surprised to see that McIlroy, who started the final round with a six shot lead, had come back to the field a bit, and that after seven holes, Sergio Garcia was three back and Ricky Fowler was four back, so maybe this was going to be interesting after all.

At one point early on the back nine, Garcia had gotten to within two of McIlroy, and the tournament ended with Garcia and Fowler tied for second, two shots behind McIlroy, but in point of fact, it never really was all that close, and when all was said and done, Rory had laid a fairly methodical beat-down on both Sergio, Ricky, and the entire field.

Very impressive, and at age 25, McIlroy now finds himself only one green jacket short of a career Grand Slam.  Very impressive indeed. 

One disappointment was the weather.  I like watching the British Open when the conditions are wretched - wind, rain, sleet - but it was beautiful for all four days in Liverpool.  Oh, well, maybe next year in St. Andrews.

Oh, yeah. Tiger Woods.  He finished six over par, twenty-tree shots behind McIlroy, and only four spots from the bottom of the scoreboard.  He had major back surgery on March 31.  I,  myself, have had two major back surgeries in my life, and they take a long time from which to recover, and I am not someone who relies on his physicality in my life as does Woods, or any other professional athlete.  Anyone who expected Woods to contend at the Open this week, much less win it, was severely deluding themselves.

That said, Tiger is now 38 years old, and his body is breaking down on him.  When he is fully recovered physically, he will win again on the Tour, he may even win another Major sometime, but Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 Majors is safe. Tiger isn't going to win four or five more Majors.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Roger Angell on Being a Fan

Later this month, writer Roger Angell will be honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award that recognizes excellence in sports writing, specifically, baseball writing.

Angell has covered baseball for the New Yorker magazine for over fifty years by writing long and very literate essays on the topic several times each year.  Over the years, many of those essays have been gathered together in book form and have become huge best sellers.  If you are a baseball fan and enjoy great writing, you need to visit the library, bookstore, or Amazon and start reading Mr. Angell's works.

Anyway, to celebrate Angell being given the Spink Award, Sports Illustrated has a lengthy story about him in the week's issue.  In the story, writer Tom Verducci quotes a passage from one of Angell's essays that I think perfectly summarizes why people are sports fans. It references baseball, of course, but I think it applies to all sports.  This is taken from the New Yorker piece that Angell wrote in 1975 about that year's Reds - Red Sox World Series and makes reference to Carlton Fisk's famous 12th inning home run in the sixth game of that epic Series.

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know the look - I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring - caring deeply and passionately, really caring - which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.  And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or how foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete - the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the hap-hazardous flight of a distant ball - seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

Yeah, that's what being a fan is all about!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review - "Where Nobody Knows Your Name"

Okay, baseball fans, put his one on your "Must Read" list, and do it sooner, rather than later.

John Feinstein has written about a million books about sports, all different sports, basketball, football, golf, baseball, and they are all good.  He even wrote one about professional tennis several years back that was terrific, and I could pretty much not care less about professional tennis.

Anyway, this one, as the sub-title tells you, is about "Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball". Feinstein spent the 2012 baseball season following the International League (IL) and focusing on the fortunes of nine individuals....six players, two managers, and an umpire.  

For you Pirates fans out there, one of the players he follows is former Bucco Nate McClouth.    McClouth's story is one of the more successful ones.  You may recall that the Pirates released McClouth in early May of that year.  He was unemployed for a few weeks, was able to sign a minor league deal with the Orioles, and ended up being a starter and a post-season hero for the O's that year.

Two of the pitchers he follows, Brett Tomko and Scott Elarton, were guys who had had pretty old success in the majors, but were now in their late thirties and struggling to try for "one more shot" in the big leagues.  So was 2005 World Series hero Scott Podsednik.

Along the way, Feinstein also give you what e calls "Slices of life" about other people he ran into during his year in the IL.  One of these slices is about Dean Treanor, manager of the Pirates Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis.  There is a terrific story about how Treanor was able to deliver the news to his star player that year, Starling Marte, that he was getting "the call" to  Pittsburgh.   In fact, there are several stories in the book about managers who get to tell players that they are going to the Big Club.  It is the best part of their jobs.

I found the stories of the managers really interesting.  Like the players, they, too, long for their shot at the Majors, but winning and losing are not important in running a minor league ball club.  The needs of the major league team are paramount.  For example, Matt Hague's and Jaff Decker's brief stays in Pittsburgh don't add much more than warm bodies to the Pirates for the few days they were here, but their absence in Indianapolis makes a world of difference to how Dean Treanor's Indy team fares on the field.  

Another example.  When Pawtucket won the IL championship at the end of the '12 season, 63 different players had passed through their roster that season, and of the players that were there when the IL Championship was won, only seven had been on the roster  on Opening Day.

We all think that the life of a major league ballplayer is pretty cushy, but one lesson that this book brings home, time and again, is that for every Andrew McCutchen and his multi-year, multi-millions contract, there are 50 or 100 Matt Hagues out there who are struggling to achieve their lifelong dream of a major league career, a career that most of them will never have.

If you are a baseball fan, you really need to read this book.

To Absent Friends - Red Klotz

Red Klotz passed way earlier this week at the age of 93.  

Who is Red Klotz, you might ask?  Well, Red is most famous for being the player-coach of the Washington Generals, the team that toured with and played against the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Generals, under Klotz' leadership, lost to the Globetrotters over 14,000 times.

In reading about Klotz, you find that there was more to him than that.  He was a Philadelphia high school basketball whiz in in 1939 and 1940.  He attended Villanova University, served in World War II, and had a brief, 11 game career in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets in 1947-48.  At 5'7", he is the shortest man to ever play in an NBA playoff game.  He is the only non-Globie to be inducted into the Harlem Globetrotters "Legends Ring".

I remember once reading a great story about Red Klotz.  I can't remember the exact source, but it was probably in either a Wilt Chamberlain biography or the Connie Hawkins biography.  Anyway, as the story goes, one night, either the Trotters heart wasn't in it, or the Generals just decided to play for real for a change, and, all of a sudden, for once the Globetrotters were in a competitive game with the Generals.  The Globies found themselves having to play real basketball, and, more importantly, the paying customers weren't happy because they weren't  getting what they paid to see.  Player-coach Klotz called time out and started screaming "What in the hell are you guys doing?" at his players.  He them put herself in the game (he was probably in his fifties at the time) and started heaving up 30 and 40 foot shots to allow the Globies to get back in the game and restore order in the world. 

RIP Red Klotz.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rick Sebak's "Things That Aren't Here Anymore"

One of the small treasures of being a Pittsburgher are the various Pittsburgh history documentaries that Rick Sebak produces for WQED and Public Broadcasting.  Lucky for us, these programs run almost constantly on one of WQED's digital sub-channels. Officially, it is the "WQED Neighborhood Channel", but in our house, Verizon FiOS channel 473 is known as the "Rick Sebak Channel".

Anyway, last night what should be playing but his show from 1990, "Things That Aren't Here Anymore".  Of all of the many shows Sebak has done, this ranks among my favorites, and I have probably watched it literally dozens of times over the years.  However, it was in viewing it last night that I discovered why these shows are so special and, essentially, timeless.

The climactic clip in this particular show was a segment about Forbes Field, which, as we all know, hasn't been here since 1970.  In setting up the segment, Sebak interviews several people who were connected to Forbes Field and the Oakland neighborhood that surrounded it.  One of these people was Ruth LeVallee of Kunst's Bakery in Oakland.

Now, as I said, I have seen this episode and segment dozens of times over the years, but last night it struck a new note for me.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth Le Vallee this past winter when I helped make a campaign video for her grandson, Dan Le Vallee, who is currently running for United States Congress in Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District.  I got to know Ruth's son, and Dan's father,  Charlie Le Vallee when I worked at Blue Cross.  Charlie founded the what is now the Highmark Caring Foundation back in the mid-1980's, and it is the Caring Foundation that started the Highmark Caring Place for Grieving Children, where Marilyn and I volunteer.  In fact, I met and worked with Dan Le Vallee when he became a fellow Caring Place Volunteer.

So, it was quite exciting to see Mrs. Le Vallee in watching "Things That Aren't Here Any More" once again.  These "old" shows of Rick's have an amazing capacity to become "new" again with each viewing.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bucs at the Break

The All-Star Break, the figurative, if not the literal, half-way point of the season is upon us.

If someone asked you on Opening Day that the Pirates would be 3.5 games out of first place at the Break, you'd have probably said, "Not perfect, but okay, I'll take it."

However, if someone had said that there would be not one, not two, but three teams in front of them at that point, that would probably have given you some cause for concern.

The Pirates now sit at 49-46, a pace that will get them 84 wins on the season.  Not going to get you into the post-season.

Against every team except Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, the Pirates are 36-20, a pace that would get you 104 wins over a 162 game season.  Terrific!!!

Against the Brewers (3-10), Cardinals (6-7), and Reds (4-9), they are 13-26, a pace that would get you 108 losses over 162 games.  Terrible!!!!

The old baseball aphorism is "break even against the good teams, beat up on the bad teams".  The Pirates are doing half of that equation, but it seems that the three teams ahead of them in the Central are just better than them.  Maybe not by much, but a .333 winning percentage says a lot.

Does that mean it's over for the Pirates?  Certainly not, but it's not going to be easy.  Andrew McCutchen is going to need help, and the starting pitching needs to improve.  It's hard to be confident in them, the pitching staff, as a whole based on the first 95 games.  And what will the front office due to bolster the team come July 31?

I believe that there are 18 games left with the Brewers, Cards, and Reds.  Is it possible that they go 12-6 in those games?  They are pretty much going to have to do that, because I am not sure that they can maintain a 104 win pace against the rest of the schedule.

Just my quick & dirty thoughts.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Movie Review - "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

Those of you who know me know that I am no big fan of the science fiction genre.  I saw the original "Star Wars" - once - when it came out in 1977, and have yet to see any of the couple of dozen sequels/prequels that have been made since, and I have yet to see a Star Trek movie, and that streak will no doubt remain in tact for me going forward.  However, I have to say that ever since I saw Charlton Heston tell those damn dirty apes to get their stinkin' paws of of him, and then sink to his knees at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, I have taken a liking to all of the sequels, remakes, and reboots of the Planet of the Apes movie franchise.

So, with that in mind, I took myself out to the multi-plex to see the latest installment, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", and I was not disappointed.  At the heart of the story, it's not much different than movies we have seen before involving conflict between Cowboys vs. Indians, Ranchers vs. Sodbusters, North vs. South, or Alien vs. Humans.  In this one, human survivors of a deadly "Simian Flu", which wiped out most of mankind ten years earlier, struggle to regain a power source deep in the Muir Woods north of San Francisco that is now controlled a vast colony of apes.

What is so good about this movie is the "acting" of the apes, both the human actors in ape make-up and costume, particular Andy Serkis as Caesar, and the thousand of CGI apes that fill the screen.  Simply an amazing bit of movie making.  Not a lot of recognizable actors in this one with the exception of Jason Clarke, who was in the terrific "Zero Dark Thirty", Keri Russell, once the teen sweetheart of TV's "Felicity" and now a murderous KGB
 Agent in "The Americans", and Gary Oldham, who once played Lee Harvey Oswald.  I will say this - the movie does sort of telegraph very quickly who the "good guys" and "bad guys", both human and ape, will be, but what the hell, it's still a fun movie to see.

Oh, and when this one ended, there is no doubt that there will be yet another sequel to this one, probably in 2016, and, yes, I will no doubt be there on opening weekend.

If you pay attention to such things, the Summer. 2014 movie releases have generated weak box office results for the movie studios, and Hollywood is banking big time on "Dawn..." to be a big winner this weekend and beyond to pull in the big bucks from the ticket buyers.  It is the only major release of this weekend, so it virtually has the field all to itself.  It will be interesting to see how the receipts are when all the dough is counted.

Also of interest is a trailer that was shown prior to the movie today.  It is for a movie called "The Judge" that stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duval, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton.  It is scheduled to open in October, and it looks very promising based on the previews.  Then again, every movie looks promising based on the trailer, but I am going to be watching for this one.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Jim Brosnan Follow-up

A few days ago, I wrote in this blog of the death of baseball player turned author Jim Brosnan.

As a result, I received an email from a friend of mine, Nick Frankart, a former Pittsburgher who lives in Long Beach, California.  Nick recounted a story about writing a letter to Brosnan in 2007 wherein he asked Brosnan to relate any special "remembrances about the Bucs, either baseball related or otherwise".

Nick scanned a copy of the hand written note he received from Brosnan.  The handwriting is difficult to read, so I will just transcribe it here:

"Dear Nick,

"Thanks for your letter of August 7.  Sorry to be tardy in reply.  Hope you enjoy the books.

"As to memories of Forbes field, I treasure the time DICK STUART hit a home run over the left field scoreboard that cleared the tall trees behind it and landed in Schenley Park beyond it.  

"Two pilots landing a plane claim to have seen the ball pass by the cockpit window. Later that night at Danny's Restaurant downtown, they told the bartender the story.  Danny bought a round all around."

Thanks to Nick for sharing this with me, and I know that he will have no problem with me sharing it with you.  

The letter brought to mind memories of my Dad, who would often visit Danny's (now long gone from the Pittsburgh scene, but which I believe was on Grant Street near the old Carlton House Hotel, where visiting baseball teams often stayed while visiting Pittsburgh) on his lunch hour.  He would tell us stories over the diner table about what visiting National League ballplayers he had seen that day at lunch.

Book Review - "The Skin Collector" by Jeffery Deaver (No Spoilers)

Two weeks ago, Pirates fans were lamenting the fact that the team had traded relief pitcher and fan favorite Jason Grilli, and many of the comments were along the lines of "it's hard to watch when a favorite athlete ages and can no longer perform at his previous high level".

Well, the same can be said of just about anybody in any profession - actor, singer, Highmark Client Manager, and author.  

Which brings us to Jeffery Deaver and his series of mystery/thriller novels featuring quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme.  I have read all of Deaver's Rhyme novels, and enjoyed them.  They were gripping to read, and always featured a twist at the end that surprised you.

A couple of books back in the series, I thought that the tone of the stories was slipping into formula and that the characters were becoming really annoying.  I wrote it off, figuring that anyone is entitled to an off-day, but with this most recent novel in the series, "The Skin Collector", I have to say that if Lincoln Rhyme were baseball player, it would be time designate him for assignment.

Rhyme's acerbic reactions to just about everybody, Amelia Sachs' fearlessness in the face of EVERYTHING, including how she drives her muscle car, and Rhyme's ability to be able to  just pull his solutions out of the air based upon his analysis of evidence have all reached the point where I am just pretty much tired of it.  Rhyme studies evidence, and the evidence in this story is presented in such minute and scientific detail, that I just want to say "enough, already!"

Also, the criminal protagonist in this book, does his dirty work by tattooing his victims.  I didn't do an actual count, but it seems like Deaver went into SO MUCH detail about the art, history, and significance of tattoos in different cultures, that I am thinking the book could have been reduced by about thirty pages if he edited himself just a little bit.  It all came across to me as a bunch of self-indulgent "look how smart I am" kind of writing.

I will say this, though.  Deaver did come through with the twist ending.  As with all of these books, it appears to be all wrapped up, when you realize that there are still about 75 pages left in the story, and the twist that you didn't see coming is delivered.  Trouble is, by that point in "The Skin Collector", I had ceased caring and was just plowing through it to get to the end. 

Deaver will no doubt continue to churn out the Rhyme novels (as a cliff hanger ending to this one assures us), but I am not so sure I'll be all that anxious to read them.  Too bad that one of my favorite authors and characters have come to this.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Let's Hear It For The Boys....

Congratulations go out to the following Pittsburgh Pirates selected to play in the All-Star game in Minneapolis next week.

First, the incomparable Andrew McCutchen, who by virtue of being the leading vote getter among all NL outfielders, becomes the first Pirate to start an All-Star Game since Jason Bay in 2005.

 McCutchen is having a superb season as a followup to last year's MVP season.  In fact, this is the fourth consecutive All-Star team to which McCutchen has been named.  You know what other Pirates were selected to play in four straight All-Star Games?  

Ralph Kiner and Roberto Clemente. 

That's it.  That's the list.

Pitcher Tony Watson, he of the 5-0 W/L, and 0.89 ERA has also been deservedly named to the squad.  There was a time when middle relievers never would have been considered for a spot on an All-Star team, but with the way the game has evolved, and the major role played by "set up men", then there can be no question as to Watson's qualifications.

But the real "feel good" story of the make up of this All-Star team is the inclusion of Josh Harrison, the J-Hey Kid, on the team.

Derided by many, including Yours Truly, as the quintessential "25th guy" on the roster, there can be no denying the important role that Harrison has played for the Pirates in 2014.  While Jose Tababta and Travis Snider struggled in right field (before the Polanco call up), Clint Hurdle, in a seemingly desperate move, put Harrison in right and both he and the team took off from there.  He is currently at .298 on the season with 5 HR, 25 RBI, 33 Runs, and a .788 OPS, and the Pirates can't keep him out of the line-up in one of four different positions.

He has been a real spark plug for the team.  Will water eventually seek it's own level with Harrison?  Maybe,  but until then, the Pirates need to keep riding him, and he has most definitely earned something that can never be taken away from him: He is a Major League All-Star.

One down note is that Neil Walker did not make the All-Star team. I am guessing that the stint on the DL hurt Walker's chances.  Too bad, because he is having a year worthy of being in Minneapolis for the game.

Way to go, Cutch, Tony, and J-Hey!!

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Sports Illustrated "Special Issue"

No, the title of this post is NOT referring to the annual soft-core porn swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, but rather the "Where Are They Now" issue published each summer and which arrived in the mailbox yesterday.

I have spent most of this morning reading some of the stories in the issue including ones on Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, the 1976 (0-14) Tampa Bay Bucs,  and Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the screenplays for "Hoosiers" and "Rudy", and there are at least three more stories I want to read.

The cover story about Banks is terrific.  What a guy!

The Aaron story is not so much about Aaron himself as it is about some of the peripheral people who were around Aaron forty years ago when he hit that famous 715th home run.  One of them is ex-Pirate announcer Milo Hamilton!   The best quote in the story, however, belongs to Al Downing, whom baseball fans will recall as the pitcher who gave up that historic dinger.  It notes that Downing does not regret the fact that his 17 year, all-star career has been reduced to a trivia question to many, and he says that he was dismayed when pitchers a few years back talked about being willing to walk Barry Bonds to avoid being the guy who would serve the pitch to Bonds that would break Aaron's record, and here is the money quote from Downing:

"If you don't want to give up home runs, don't pitch."

Love it.

There are many weeks when I can glance through SI and be done with it in about 20-30 minutes, but then there are the half dozen or so times each year when they serve up stories that make the cost of an annual subscription worth every penny you pay, and this issue is one of them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

To Absent Friemds - Jim Brosnan and Louis Zamperini

Two notable deaths to talk about this morning, Jim Brosnan, 84, and Louis Zamperini, 97.

Jim Brosnan had what can be described at best as a journeyman career as a pitcher in the major leagues - nine seasons from 1954 to 1963 with four teams and a record of 55-47, 3.54.  However, Brosnan proved to be a bit more erudite than the average major leaguer at the time when, in 1960, he published a book called "The Long Season".

The book was written in diary form and it covered the 1959 baseball season that Brosnan spent with the Cardinals and Reds.  In it, Brosnan told about the life of a major league ballplayer during the course of a baseball season.  It was not the typical baseball book that the public had been used to reading.  It talked about the insecurities of being a ball player, what it's like to get traded, what it was like to negotiate a contract in what was then a completely one-sided system, the highs and lows, and what guys talked about while sitting in the bullpen.  

"The Long Season" didn't dwell on all behaviors of professional ballplayers.  Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", published ten years later, would do that, but it was a trail-blazing book in terms of sports journalism.  

I remember reading "The Long Season" back when it came out, when I would have been 11 or 12 years old.  I reread it again about five years ago, and I recall that it held up very well some 50 years after it was published.  Brosnan also wrote a second book, "Pennant Race", about the Reds drive to the National League pennant in 1961, but it is "The Long Season" for which he will be forever remembered.


The story of Louis Zamperini was told compellingly in Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book, "Unbroken".

This is what I wrote in The Grandstander on February 22, 2011, and it will serve as my remembrance of this extraordinary man:

Let's start with a book, Laura Hillenbrand's #1 bestseller, "Unbroken." I just finished reading the incredible story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a young member of the 1936 American Olympic track team in Berlin, who was looking to be right on track, no pun intended, to win a gold medal for the USA in the 1500 Meter race in the 1940 Olympics that were scheduled to be in Tokyo.

Of course, WWII intervened and those Olympics never took place. Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps and therein lies an amazing story. In 1943, Louie's plane crashed over the Pacific, he survived for 47 days floating in a raft in the ocean, was captured by the Japanese and then spent two and one-half years in several POW camps.

It is a most compelling story of perseverance and the triumph of the human spirit, and an incredibly sad and depressing story of man's inhumanity to man. At times while reading the book, I felt like I couldn't take much more of this story, but in the end, you are in awe of what Zamperini and his fellow POW's withstood.

Not to give too much away, but here is one statistic that will give you some idea of this. In WWII, 1 in 100 American POW's held in Germany and Italy died. Of the Americans held as POW's in Japanese camps, 1 in 3 died.

No doubt, this is an important and worthwhile book, but Hillenbrand's book of a few years back, "Seabiscuit", was a lot more fun to read.

RIP Jim Brosnan and Louis Zamperini.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

To Absent Friends - A Watergate Trio

Regular readers know of my penchant for scouring the news obituaries to put together "Absent Friends" posts on people, some famous, some obscure, who have played an important or semi-important role in history, sports or popular culture, or that simply just grab my attention for one reason or another.

In recent weeks, there have been a convergence of deaths involving people surrounding that period in our history that is known simply as "Watergate", when Richard Nixon and All the President's Men laid waste to the Constitution.  (I can remember Johnny Carson during that summer often saying "What's really scary is that someday, THESE will be the 'good old days.' ") So, let us return to that summer of 1973 when the Ervin Committee Hearings captivated American television viewers, and remember....

Jeb Stuart Magruder, who died in May at the age of 79.  Magruder was Deputy Director of the the Committee to Re-Elect the President who fessed up to all sorts of improprieties and crimes on behalf of the President, plead guilty, and ended up doing seven months in a federal penitentiary.  Like others, Magruder found God while in the slammer, and became an ordained Presbyterian minister upon his release.

Howard Baker was US Senator from Tennessee and was the minority leader on the Ervin Senate Committee.   Baker had a long a distinguished career in the US Senate, served as Republican leader in the Senate, served as White House Chief of Staff under President Reagan, and a US Ambassador to Japan.  He will forever be remembered, however, for the question that he asked during the Watergate hearings, a question that has fallen into such common use, that it has almost become a cliche: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"  The question pretty much crystallized the entire Watergate Affair.  Baker died last month at the age of 88.  

And Sunday's paper posted the obit of one Johnnie Waters, 94, who died last week.  Who was Waters?  Well, he was the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service from 1971-73.  He left that office when he refused to use his office to audit the tax returns and generally harass those considered political "enemies" of President Nixon.  I suppose that made him a bit of a minor hero in the whole sordid mess.

Observe the deaths of these men by pulling out and watching your DVD of "All the President's Men".

RIP Jeb Magruder, Howard Baker, and Johnnie Waters.