Exit Sandman

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Willie Mays, the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of cleats, was a shell of himself when he said goodbye to America. He was wearing a Mets uniform by then, and all you could do was celebrate the career of a man whose time had long since passed.

No so Mariano Rivera.

It’s so rare to see an athlete go out on top, especially a star baseball player, who will play until he’s 40-something and won’t take off the uniform until his final team tells him he can’t wear it anymore. Time’s up. You’re done.

Dodgers_Sandy_Koufax_2013-300x237The only other ballplayer I can remember leaving at the top was Sandy Koufax, who won 27 games for the Dodgers in 1966 and led the league in everything (his ERA was a ridiculous 1.73 and he struck out 317). Sandy collected his unprecedented third Cy Young Award that fall and walked away from the game. He was 30-years-old.

But Sandy retired because his doctors told him his gifted left arm was seriously arthritic, and it would become essentially useless if he continued pitching.

I reckon these days he’d have Tommy John surgery, or something, and come back and win 30 games two years later. But that wasn’t possible in 1966.

So Sandy called it quits.

But Sandy was the only one. All the other greats saw their skills erode before they retired.

All but Mo.

I’m a Mets fan, so I’m genetically wired to root for the Yankees lose 162 games every season.

But when Mo took the mound, even I had to root for him. You have to admire greatness.

The greatest closer in history — and one of the greatest pitchers ever — threw his last pitch in Yankee Stadium yesterday. And he did it in a Yankee uniform, the only one he ever wore. And his teammates through all those years, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, took him out of the game.

The Yanks have three more games to play, and they will be meaningless — the Pinstripes are gloriously out of the postseason. So I hope they don’t use Mo in any of them, unless they want to let him play centerfield for an inning.

He went out last night on top, where he belongs. Click the picture below and see for yourself.

— 30 —

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Say it ain’t so, dad

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This is back in 1995, when my younger son, Ben, was 10 years old, and we sent him down to Florida to visit his grandparents.

His grandpa took him to a spring training game in Fort Myers — either the Twins or Red Sox vs. the visiting Yankees — and Ben did what all 10-year-olds do in those circumstances. He got as close as he could and begged for autographs.

One player in a Yankees uniform complied.

Ben came home with the autographed ball a week later and showed it to me.

I regarded the signature and said:

“Ben, I’ve never heard of him. He’s a minor leaguer. The ball isn’t worth anything.

And Ben sighed, and he decided the ball WAS worth something. It was worth what all baseballs are worth.

And he took it outside and played with it. And played with it. And we played catch and we hit it and it scuffed in the grass and it went in the mud and it scraped the pavement and before you knew it, the stitches were ripping and the signature was gone.

And that’s why Ben no longer has a baseball autographed by Andy Pettitte in his rookie year.

Today, 18 years later, Andy Pettitte announced his retirement.

My friend Zach swears he’s a future Hall of Famer. I don’t agree, but I’ll concede he comes close.

And Ben has no autographed baseball.

Sorry, son. My fault.

— 30 —

Bronx cheer, 09/20/13

Stupid just can’t seem to stop. The idjits just keep on coming out of the woodwork. Here’s a week’s worth of dumb and dumber.

Let’s start with this guy:

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John (Hey, I Thought It Was Funny) Whitbeck

Johnnie Boy is the Republican Party chairman in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and he knows a good Jewish joke when he hears one. See, there’s this “leader of the Jewish faith” who meets the new pope and hands him a piece of paper, and the pope decides he needs to know what it is, and he finds out it’s the bill for the Last Supper hahahahahaha.

So now everyone in the Virginia GOP, especially gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, whom Whitbeck was introducing to the crowd when he told the joke, is distancing himself from this clown, for obvious reasons.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, Cuccinelli said:

“I wasn’t there, but I heard about it that night. And obviously I think it was inappropriate and certainly unfortunate – something if I had heard it at the time, I would have spoken to right there. It’s certainly not an appropriate thing to carry into public discussion we’re having.”

But I think Whitbeck is getting a bad rap. He’s being called an anti-Semite for telling an anti-Semitic joke, and I’m not sure that’s fair. I have no idea whether he actually hates Jews. Sure, the joke portrays an ugly, hateful stereotype, but I don’t think Whitbeck even realized that. I don’t think he’s bright enough to realize that.

Consider his explanation why the joke WASN’T anti-Semitic. again from the Free Beacon:

“At yesterday’s rally, I told a joke. I did not tell an anti-Semitic joke. I told a joke I heard from a priest at a church service.” 

Oh. I guess that made it OK.

Let’s end this segment with a word from my friend, Elliot, who seems to know the only joke of this sort that is acceptable:

A rabbi, an Indian and a midget walk into a bar…the bartender says, “Hey, what is this, a joke?”

__________

And then there’s this guy . . .

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Lora (Family Guy) Reinbold

Our gal Lora is a state rep in Alaska who hasn’t heard of the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that gay couples are entitled to the same state benefits as straight couples, despite the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage

Nonetheless, Lora thinks the world will go to hell in a handbasket if employees in gay relationships are allowed to do family things like taking leave to care for an ailing partner. Such an arrangement would give “special privileges to individuals who have in fact made a Life-Style Choice,” Lora wrote, adding that calling gay couples “family” is “not in keeping with my interpretation of statue or the legislative intent.”

I’m happy to report that the dinosaur lost this fight.

__________

And then there are the guys who did this . . .

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That, kids, is the decapitated head of a statue of Jesus, one of eight statue heads that were decapitated by one or more cretins at St. Mary’s Church in Malaga, N.J., early Thursday morning.

Here’s another look:

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Nuf said.

__________

And then there’s these guys . . .

The Randolph County, N.C., Board of Education

When it comes to education, you can’t beat these guys. They know all about what’s best for the kids in their county. That’s why they took this book . . .

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. . . off their summer reading list and banned it from the school libraries.

According to The Courier-Tribune in Asheville, N.C.:

By a 5-2 margin, the Randolph County Board of Education voted Monday night, at its regular meeting held at Eastern Randolph High School, to remove all copies of the book from school libraries.

The action stems from a Randleman High School parent’s complaint about the book. Committees at both the school and district levels recommended it not be removed.

Voting in favor of the ban were Board Chair Tommy McDonald and members Tracy Boyles, Gary Cook, Matthew Lambeth and Gary Mason. Voting against the action were Board Vice Chair Emily Coltrane and member Todd Cutler who both first introduced a motion to keep the book in the schools. This first motion was defeated by a 2-5 vote.

The book, originally published in 1952, addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans in the first half of the 20th century….

McDonald asked if everyone had read the book, stating, “It was a hard read.”

Mason said, “I didn’t find any literary value.” He also objected to the language in the book. “I’m for not allowing it to be available.”

This is where we note, per Wikipedia:

Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.[1] In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Invisible Man nineteenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th centuryTime magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[2]

Thank god those kids in Randolph County won’t have to read this trash.

__________

And finally, there’s this guy . . .

House Immigration Reform CaucusGeorgia Rep. Phil (Let Them Eat Nothing) Gingrey

Gingrey, who introduced the fine-sounding “No Special Treatment for Congress Act,” said during a hearing this week:

[Capitol Hill] aides “may be 33 years old now and not making a lot of money. But in a few years they can just go to K Street and make $500,000 a year. Meanwhile I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.”

Yeah, the poor guy, whose net worth is reported to be $3 million, is STUCK in Congress making $172,000 a year.

Which probably explains why he voted on Thursday to cut about $39 billion in funding for food stamps over the next decade. Because, you know . . . He’s working real hard for his $172,000 a year, unlike those freeloaders who need food stamps.

This time next week, we’ll be on the brink of a government shutdown. Should be lots of stupid between now and then.

— 30 —

The day I made a 14-year-old kid the happiest Jew in New York

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the day I made a 14-year-old stranger the happiest Jewish boy in New York.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and it brings back memories of something that happened back in 1973 or so, when I was a kid on the sports desk of the New York Post.

The Post was a very different newspaper back then, a few years before Murdoch bought it and turned the steering wheel hard to the right. It was a leftist newspaper, owned by a woman named Dorothy Schiff, and it was very much the favored tabloid of New York’s liberal Jewish population. The popular joke was that on the day the world ended, The Post’s wood would read:

WORLD ENDS
Jews suffer most

The sports department had a list of bylines that was not only awe-inspiring, but coincidentally upheld the reputation. Ike Gellis. Sid Friedlander. Milton Gross. Maury Allen. Vic Ziegel. Paul Zimmerman. Larry Merchant. Leonard Lewin. Leonard Cohen. Gene Roswell. Dick Klayman.

Need a minyan? Call Post Sports.

And that clearly was what the woman on the other end of the line had in mind when the phone rang in the office late one afternoon, a few days before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. (I don’t remember which, but the rules are generally the same. A “good” Jew puts on a tie and jacket and goes to shul.)

It was late afternoon, and I was all alone in the office. Ike, Sid, Jack, Dick, Bob and Jerry had all gone home. My job, as the kid, was to stick around until the last race at Aqueduct was over, edit the wire report and take it to the composing room. First one in, last one out. What a job!

The phone rang. What follows is pretty much how it went down.

Me: Post Sports.

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmm . . . What was that? (WTF???)

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmmm, OK, what the hell. Yes. (I expect to be hanging up the phone in a couple of seconds.)

Her: You’re Jewish.

Me: Yes. (Here it comes.)

Her: Great. We’re having a problem and we need you to solve it.

Me: OK. (WTF???)

Her: We have a 14-year-old son and he wants to go to Forest Hills (where they played the U.S. Open back then, before they built the tennis complex at Flushing Meadows) on Friday. But it’s Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Kippur, I don’t remember) and his father and I say he belongs in temple. But he says he doesn’t want to go to temple, he wants to go see the tennis. We need a referee. We’ve agreed to let you make the decision.

(This woman is an idiot.)

Now, I’m sure her son read the New York Post sports pages religiously (ahem), and that she figured she was being a really cool mom letting someone in the sports department make this monumental decision, and that since the sports department had a gazillion Jews, the Jewish person on the phone would make the “right” decision, and her son would do what the guy in the sports department said.

But the Jew she got was me.

Me: Let me get this straight. You want me to decide whether your kid goes to Forest Hills or to shul on Friday?

Her: Yes.

Me: (Lady, you’re crazy.) OK. First of all, I need to make something very clear. I am speaking for me, not for the management of The New York Post or the sports department of The New York Post. In no way does my decision represent that of anyone other than myself. Is that understood?

Her: Yes.

Me: OK. Here’s my answer. You can force your son to go to shul, but you can’t force him to want to be there, and he’ll most definitely resent it, because he wants to go to Forest Hills. My decision is that HE’S OLD ENOUGH TO MAKE UP HIS OWN MIND about these things. I hope he enjoys the tennis.

That poor woman. She got the wrong Jew.

— 30 —

Buffalo, Wyoming, at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night

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That’s me, in the spring of 1971, back when I could grow hair on my head and not on my face, about two months and another inch of hair before Hank, Jan, Kenny, Mike and I embarked on our Kerouacian trip across America.

(Because we always give credit where credit’s due, we pause to note that the photo was shot, unbeknownst to me, on the Quad at Hobart College by a William Smith freshman named Karen Platt, who one year later would take me up in a two-seat Cessna and perform several maneuvers designed to make me throw up, her way of saying thank you for being very demanding of her in the offices of our college newspaper, The Herald, of which I was editor-in-chief.) (And, thinking back on it now . . . What kind of idiot climbs into a small plane and goes on an aerial joyride with a 19-year-old novice pilot? My god, I did some really stupid stuff in college.)

But I digress. Let’s return to the photo . . .

Note that I’m playing an A-7th, capoed up a fret. That’s me, kids, playing 12-bar blues, the music of my soul.

Also note the cutoff jeans, which went in the laundry every few weeks.

But most importantly, note the Tonto headband, which almost got me killed at a truckstop in Buffalo, Wyoming, at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night.

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about my night in Buffalo, and my encounter with an 8-foot-tall hulk of a man who, for a brief moment, had me certain that my life was going to end at the tender age of 20.

It’s a Saturday in late July or early August, and Mike has gotten up ridiculously early in the morning in New York to fly to Rapid City, South Dakota, where he will join what just the day before became a four-man, two-car caravan, a story we’ll explain on another day. Mike is fairly exhausted when we meet him at the airport, so, naturally, we toss his three-man tent onto the roof rack of my 1970 Ford Maverick, color Thanks Vermillion, and, along with Kenny’s blue Mercury Cougar, begin a 517-mile trip westward. Destination: Yellowstone Park, with a brief detour to see Devil’s Tower.

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Our route should take about nine hours, according to Google Maps (which, of course, doesn’t exist yet), plus a couple of hours to walk the two-and-a-half miles or so around Devil’s Tower. But we expect it to take even less than that, because we’re college guys and we know that speed limits, like the “Don’t Walk” signs in New York, are mere guidelines, not laws. They are meant to be exceeded. Or flat-out disobeyed. We figure we’ll be traveling at 100 mph, or thereabouts.

But we soon discover that the Ford Maverick, color Thanks Vermillion, with a three-gear column shift and packed with three people and lots of heavy camping gear, and 105 horses of power under the hood, simply can’t go uphill in third. And uphill pretty much describes the entire trip from Rapid City to Yellowstone.

So the next thing we know, we’re doing most of the trip at 33 mph, with the engine revving in second. And we have to stop to let a herd of buffalo cross the road in the Black Hills. And then Hank’s suitcase will go flying off the roof rack of the Ford Maverick, color Thanks Vermillion, somewhere along a two-lane highway in the dark, and we won’t discover it’s missing until the sun comes up, and we’ll have to go back a hundred miles or so looking for it, and that’s why a nine-hour trip will last more than 24 hours, an arduous adventure for all of us, but especially Mike, who woke up in Brooklyn, New York.

Which just goes to explain why, instead of driving THROUGH Buffalo, Wyoming, at around 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, we found ourselves stopping at 2 in the morning for some sustenance — and lots of coffee.

Now, for all I know, Buffalo, Wyoming, is a chic town these days with a multiplex theater, a Starbucks and a Banana Republic.

But that most definitely was not the case at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night in 1971, when it had a couple of stoplights, a truckstop restaurant and a serious dearth of long-haired college kids from the Northeast.

Buffalo did, however, offer a wide variety of enjoyable activities and diversions for the local population, the most popular of which appeared to be whiskey and beer. And it quickly became apparent that everyone in town was partaking in those activities and diversions.

And so it was that when Mike, Kenny, Hank, Jan and I stepped out of our cars, we immediately increased the number of sober people in Buffalo, Wyoming, at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night from zero to five.

We walked into the truckstop, found a table and sat down.

And every bloodshot eye in the place was trained right on us.

The waitress, a dyed redhead straight out of Rosie’s Diner, came over and asked, “One check or separate checks?”

She then added: “You better say one check.”

We said one check.

And then we ordered whatever she ordered us to order, because everyone in the truckstop was staring at us and this clearly was not a good time to request whole wheat or say hold the mayo.

Rosie walked off with our orders, and we sat there, quietly, staying as inconspicuous as five long-haired, grubby Northeast college kids can in a truckstop full of cowboys and Indians in Buffalo, Wyoming, at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night.

And that’s when the giant came around to pour our coffee.

We didn’t see many Native Americans — we called them American Indians back then — in New York, but there sure were a lot of them in this truckstop. In fact, pretty much everyone who wasn’t a cowboy was an Indian, and the most noticeable one of them was the giant pouring coffee. He was roughly 8 feet tall, and he was weaving unsteadily. He’d clearly been partaking in Buffalo’s favorite pastime, though I was not about to ask whether it had been rye or bourbon, Bud or Coors. It sure as hell wasn’t Tab.

He staggered over to our table and poured our coffee, and when he poured mine, he bent way, way down, and in a very deep and loud voice, for everyone in the joint to hear, he asked . . .

“What’s the headband for, son?” (At least he didn’t inquire about my cutoff jeans.)

A lot of thoughts ran quickly through my mind. How, I wondered, would my parents bring my coffin back from Buffalo? Who would drive my car back to New York? Would this be fast or slow?

“Ummmmm,” I replied meekly, “it keeps the hair out of my eyes.”

At least I think that’s what I said, because, really, I couldn’t hear my own voice.

The giant snorted, harumphed, and said loudly, for everyone to hear . . .

“Keeps the hair out of his eyes.”

And then he staggered off to another table.

We scarfed down our burgers and sandwiches and left a very big tip on our single check and got the hell out of there.

But on the way back to our cars, we encountered three women who also had clearly been partaking in Buffalo’s favorite recreational activity, and whose pickup wouldn’t start because their battery had gone dead. So the five of us, being real Northeast gentlemen and all that, offered instructions on how to jumpstart a vehicle, got in back and pushed, and the exhaust sputtered and off they went, waving and shouting to no one in particular.

And then off we went, remarkably unscathed.

I owe my life to an 8-foot-tall Native American, who had the kindness and grace not to tear me limb from limb for wearing a Tonto headband in a truckstop in Buffalo, Wyoming, at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night.

It’s a nice place to visit.

— 30 —

The day I got thrown out of three casinos and one country

This isn’t in the Guinness Book of World Records, but, really, it should be. Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the day I got thrown out of three casinos and one country.

That’s right . . . three casinos and one country, all in a single day.

Let’s start at night and work our way back to the morning. It’s around 10 o’clock on an August night in 1971, and my four buddies and I are in the middle of our six-week, two-car, Kerouacian tour of America, and we’ve just arrived in Las Vegas, home of bright lights, blazing heat, short skirts and some serious age restrictions.

We are wearing our finest casino wear. I myself am dressed to the nines, having donned my cleanest pair of cutoff jeans and my least filthy T-shirt. I am, to be sure, a dead ringer for Sean Connery as James Bond.

Mike, Hank, Jan, Kenny and I stroll confidently into a casino and are happily pumping quarters into adjacent slot machines when a very large man approaches and demands to see our ID, like we’re a bunch of undesirables or something.

So out come our wallets. Mike is 21, and he can prove it. Likewise, Jan is 21 and Kenny is 21 and Hank is 21.

Now it’s my turn, and here we have a problem. My driver’s license states clearly that I am two months shy of my 21st birthday, and it doesn’t help any that I look 17. (At this stage of my life, I’m still aspiring to peachfuzz.) And the problem is that the gambling age in Vegas is 21. And I’m not even carrying a fake, because who needs a fake when the drinking age in my home state of New York is 18?

And this is when the very large man points to the door and advises me, nicely and politely, that I would be well advised to be walking out of his glitzy casino . . . NOW, KID! (Thank you, Arlo.)

OK, fine, no problem, man who can maim me with one arm tied behind his back. There are lots of casinos in this town. I’ll just wander off and try my luck in another.

So off I go to the casino next door, where, incredibly, the same thing happens. And then on to yet another, where it happens again.

And this is around when I figure there’s no point in trying further. Three casinos, yer out.

I resort to hanging out on the strip and looking at legs for an hour or two while my buddies play the slots.

But this is just the sad end to a very long day that started more than 12 hours and a few hundred miles away in San Diego.

There was a midday incident, somewhere between there and Vegas, when our two-car caravan got stopped by a Nevada state cop who wanted to know what we five longhairs were doing in his fine state. And I’m happy to say that he didn’t look in the glove compartment of the blue Cougar, in which one of us had placed a small baggie filled with some greenery, else I might never have made it to Vegas and probably would have had to make a very desperate call to my parents and most certainly would have failed to set my record of being thrown out of three casinos and one country.

Which brings us to the “thrown out of one country” part of this tale.

As I said, we started our day hours earlier in San Diego, and what’s the point of being five college guys in San Diego if you can’t pay a quick visit to Tijuana, that lovely Mexican border town where you can pick up, oh, pretty much anything your heart desires, including numerous communicable diseases?

This sounded awfully exciting, and since this was back in 1971, when you could cross a border without a passport, the five of us headed to Mexico, intending to make the easy walk to Tijuana on the other side.

We crossed the border – it’s very important here to note that WE DID, INDEED, CROSS THE BORDER – when we came upon a sign that said . . .

NO LONG HAIR PEOPLE IN MEXICO

Honest to god, that’s what the sign said.

This was more than a little interesting to me, since my hair at the time extended well below my shoulders. But I really wanted to see Tijuana, so I neatly tucked my tresses inside the full-brim tennis hat I was wearing and continued to march toward Tijuana with my pals.

Until a man in a uniform, carrying a gun, pointed directly at me and, without speaking a word, directed me toward a shack on the side of the road, to our right. I make it a habit not to argue with men carrying guns in foreign countries.

The other guys kept marching toward Tijuana and I trudged to the shack, where I sat down on a bench with a whole other bunch of miscreants.

It was a small, single room, and in the center of the room was a desk, and behind the desk was a very small man whose head barely cleared the desktop. But he was nonetheless clearly THE MAN.

And the man looked at me and, without speaking a word, pointed his forefinger in my direction and beckoned me to stand up and step forward. I did as directed, and then, again without speaking a word, the man pointed at my head and flicked the same forefinger upward, toward the ceiling, a couple of times, directing me to remove my cap.

And so I did, and my hair fell down to my shoulders.

And then, again, without a word, the same forefinger pointed to the left, in the direction of the United States of America, which is where I came from and was where I was about to return. Because, as the sign said . . .

NO LONG HAIR PEOPLE IN MEXICO. 

And not a word was spoken.

I walked back over the border, back to the U.S., picked up my guitar and played the blues – the I’ll Never Make It to Tijuana Blues – for a couple of hours until my buddies came back.

But hey . . . I WAS in Mexico, even if it was only 10 feet or so over the border, so it counts.

And about 12 hours later I got thrown out of three casinos.

And if that isn’t a single-day record, then I want to meet the guy who beat it.

— 30 —