"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What’s the Vig?


Some of my favorite magazine pieces by Pat Jordan are about his past–his failed baseball career, and his childhood growing up with a father who was a professional grifter.  Here’s a fine example of the latter, from the SI swimsuit issue in February, 1987.

Bittersweet Memories of My Father, The Gambler:

I remember the day I first became aware of the pervasiveness of my father’s gambling in our lives. I was eight years old and just beginning my love affair with baseball, which was encouraged by my parents. We were Italian-Americans and my mother loved the Yankees—DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Crosetti, Lazzeri, Berra, Raschi. She hated only Eddie Lopat and, later, Whitey Ford (my secret idol) with their pink, freckled Irish faces. (Today, approaching 80, my mother has a photograph of Dave Righetti taped to the mirror in her kitchen.)

My father was a Yankee fan, too. Only for him they were less a team he could point to with ethnic pride than one he could confidently lay 9 to 5 on.

One Sunday afternoon in July, my father invited three of my “aunts” and “uncles” to the backyard of our suburban house for a cookout. None of them was, in fact, my real aunt or uncle—they were my father’s gambling cronies—and, even more significantly, my father was not a cookout kind of guy. He took no pleasure in neatly mowed suburban lawns, especially if he had to mow them.

…The afternoon of my father’s cookout was hot and sunny. My “uncles” stood around the barbecue fireplace under the shade of a maple tree and sipped Scotch. They made nervous small talk while simultaneously listening to a Yankee-Red Sox game coming from a radio propped on the kitchen windowsill. My father was bent over the barbecue, lighting match after match and cursing the briquettes he was unable to ignite. He was a dapper little man who dressed conservatively—gray flannel slacks, navy blazer—and he always wore a tie, even around the house. He was very handsome, too, in spite of his baldness. He had pinkish skin, youthful eyes and a neatly trimmed silver mustache. He truly fit the part, at least in his dress, of a suburbanite entertaining guests. Even if those guests did look as if they had just stepped out of the cast of Guys and Dolls.

…My mother, a dark, fierce little birdlike woman, and my “aunts” sat around a circular lawn table that was shaded by a fringed umbrella. They were sipping Scotch, as well, while playing penny-ante poker—deuces and one-eyed jacks wild—and chatting. I stood behind them and followed their play of cards.

Soon I got bored with the adults and I lost myself in the baseball game. When DiMaggio hit a home run for the Yankees, I shouted, “Yaa!” and clapped my hands. Suddenly, I was aware that everyone was looking at me. My father’s face was flushed. I caught my mother’s eye. Her lips were pursed in a threatening smile. She called out sweetly, “We musn’t root for the Yankees today, Sweetheart! Uncle Freddie is down 50 times on the Red Sox.”

For those of you who are so inclined, I hope you took the Jets and the over today.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Pat Jordan  Sportswriting  Writers

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1 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 9, 2008 8:58 pm

Great stuff...and that photo HAS to be from Brooklyn at some point in the 70s, Donnie Brasco-style.

2 cqmurphy   ~  Nov 10, 2008 1:32 pm

correct me if i am wrong, alex, but that is an ACTUAL photo from the Donnie Brasco book.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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