As you can well imagine, yesterday was tough, and today feels even tougher. It feels so strange saying, “I watched my father die two days ago.” Here is the Death Notice from today’s Times:
Don Zvi Belth, 69, of the Upper West Side in Manhattan, died unexpectedly on Monday, January 15. Son of Helen and Nathan Caro Belth, loving husband of Kathy Neily, father of Alex, Samantha and Ben, father in law of Erin and Emily, grandfather of Lucas, brother of Bernice Belth, brother-in-law of Fred Garbers, nephew of Anita Fried, cousin of Don Fried, Paula Luzzi, Deborah and Mary Wallach, Rosanne Stein, and Stephen and Andrew Belth, uncle of Gordon Gray, Alexandra Pruner and Samantha Garbers. He will be remembered for his encompassing warmth, his humor, his intense loyalty and the vigor of his opinions. For the past 23 years Don has been an active and vital member of the Upper West Side recovery community. His passion for his beliefs and the way in which he shared them has been an ongoing gift to countless people and that voice is his legacy. His signature greeting, “Hello anyone,” is sadly now “Good-bye anyone.” The family will be receiving visitors at the home of Bernice Belth, 875 West End Avenue, on Wednesday and Thursday evening, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations can be made in his name to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pop wasn’t much of a sports fan as an adult, though he did admire the isolated great play if he happened to catch it on TV. He liked baseball best, and followed it casually in the Times. But growing up he was a passionate fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers–even though he was raised in Washington Heights, which was Giants or Yankee country. Dad liked to say that he was “second-to-none” as a fan of Jackie Robinson. He actually got Robinson to sign a copy of an early Jackie autobiography for him when he was a kid (Pop was ten-years old when Robinson broke the color barrier). Dad gave me the book when I was a teenager.
One thing was clear, though: Pop was a classic Yankee-hater. He hated them because the Bombers beat the Dodgers every year. Dad was 18 in ’55 when the Brooklyn finally defeated the Yanks in the Serious. That was a highlight for him for sure, but he seemed to have remembered the many defeats more than that one highlight. (He was riding in a car down the West Side highway with my grandparents when Bobby Thompson hit “the shot heard ’round the world.”) My grandfather was friends with a man who owned a company that printed the Yankees’ programs. This guy had box seats at The Stadium, just behind first base, and so my Dad went to see many of those World Series games in 47, 49, 52, 53, and 56.
Pop took me to see a handful of games as a kid–including an extra-inning affair in the early eighties where Bobby Murcer hit a game-winning dinger in extra innings against the Birds–and claimed to have never seen the Yankees lose in person. He stopped going to games, mostly because he wasn’t particularly interested in baseball, truth be told, but also because he felt he was a reverse jinx. If he went, the Yankees would win. And while Dad respected and even liked certain Yankees along the years–Reggie Jackson, Joe Torre, and Mariano Rivera come to mind–he absolutely loathed George Steinbrenner as a bully, and interloper.
One of Pop’s favorite Yankee moments when I was a kid involved Reggie. We were at a game where Jackson hit a game-winning bomb. I don’t have a clear memory of it, but according to Dad, it must have been in ’80, or ’81, maybe against the White Sox or the Brewers. Dad liked to tell me he called the shot, and I believe that he did. The following day, Pop was at Tiffany’s on Fifth avenue with his friend Jim Thurman. They spotted Jackson, wearing a fur coat, across the room looking at some jewelry. He was the toast of the town on that day. Thurman yelled out, “Hey Reg, good game last night. Who won?” Jackson, according to my dad, got a good laugh out of that, and my dad always laughed, deep and hard, whenever he told the story.
The language of baseball, the history and culture of baseball, is something that Dad and I used to communicate with each other, to remain connected. It was a safe topic when others seemed too uncomfortable or strained. It didn’t matter that he hated the Yanks. I could ask him about Cookie “Wookie” Lavagetto, and Pete Reiser over and again, as I would tell him about parts of the game I was writing about. He was proud of the book I wrote on Curt Flood, and we agreed that Marvin Miller was, and is, criminally underappreciated these days. It didn’t matter that we never shared great catches when I was a kid, baseball helped keep us together when we were adults. And for that, I am eternally grateful.