Boxing metaphors are easy to come by when the Yanks play the Sox and I had boxing on the brain today for a couple of reasons: the writer Budd Schulberg died, and Muhammad Ali was honored before the game at Yankee Stadium.
My grandfather the head of public relations at the Anti-Defamantion League from 1946-71 (the year I was born), and helped prepare Schulberg’s statement before HUAC during the communist witch hunt after World War II–he also helped the actor John Garfield with his statement.
I remember seeing a worn copy of Schulberg’s The Disenchanted on my grandfather’s bookshelf; I think my aunt has his signed copy of Waterfront, the book that was the basis of On The Waterfront. Schulberg’s most enduring work is What Makes Sammy Run? a cynical novel about show biz.
He straddled the worlds of literature and pugilism throughout his life, but unlike some of his more boastful contemporaries he was not a dilettante when it came to either. He sparred regularly with Mushy Callahan well beyond middle age. The night of the Frazier-Ali fight of the century Budd started to the arena in Muhammad Ali’s limousine, and then when the traffic got heavy, got out and walked to Madison Square Garden with Ali. A year before Jose Torres died, Budd and Betsy flew to Puerto Rico and spent several days with Jose and Ramona at their home in Ponce. Art Aragon was the best man at his wedding. And when push came to shove, he put on the gloves with both Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer and kicked both of their asses, though not, as some would now claim, on the same night.
No writer has ever been closer to Muhammad Ali. Schulberg travelled in Ali’s car on the way to fights, sat in his dressing-room even after defeats, and was at the epicentre of some of the bizarre social situations the Louisville fighter liked to engineer. He was at the Hotel Concord in upstate New York when Ali was training for his third fight against Ken Norton. Schulberg was with his third wife, the actress Geraldine Brooks. “Ali,” Schulberg recalls, “asked Geraldine for an acting lesson. She improvised a scene in which he’d be provoked into anger.” After two unconvincing attempts, “She whispered in his ear, with utter conviction: ‘I hate to tell you this, but everybody here except you appears to know that your wife is having an affair with one of your sparring partners.’ I watched Ali’s eyes. Rage.”
Then, he recalls, Ali had another idea. “‘Let’s go to the middle of the hotel lobby. You turn on me and, in a loud voice, call me ‘nigger’.” Once in the foyer, crowded with Ali’s entourage, “Gerry dropped it on him. ‘You know what you are? You’re just a goddamn lying nigger.’ Schulberg recalls how Ali waited, restraining his advancing minders at the very last minute; a characteristic sense of timing that allowed his white guests, if only for a moment, to experience the emotions generated by the prospect of imminent lynching, yet live to tell the story.
The stars were out at the Stadium to see Ali and the Yanks: Bruce Willis, Paul Simon, Kate Hudson, and Hall of Famer, Eddie Murray. Ali was wearing a powder blue shirt and dark sunglasses; he slumped forward, a hulking man, surrounded by young, fit athletes and middle-aged executives. The moon was yellow and almost full. The stands were packed (49,005, the biggest crowd all year) as this was the most talked-about game to date in the new park.
Joba Chamerlain got into trouble in the first and in the second but worked his way out of it, but he got touched for two cheapie Yankee Stadium dingers in the third and fourth (Dustin Pedrioa and Casey Kochman).
In the bottom of the second, the Yanks put runners on first and second with one out when Nick Swisher singled to center. Jorge Posada, a notoriously bad base-runner, rounded third and headed for home. Elsbury’s throw wasn’t great; Dustin Pedrioa cut it off and fired to the plate. Posada cruised in standing up. He didn’t think the ball was coming home. Melky Cabrera, the on-deck hitter stood next to the plate, and waved his hand meakly for Posada to get down. Posada did not and was thrown out as he bumbed into Victor Martinez. It was an embarrassing moment, made worse still when Cabrera lined out softly to second.
The next inning, Jeter flew out deep to center to lead off. Elsbury made a nice catch and knocked into the wall. Then Damon homered, another cheap shot, and Mark Teixeira hit a bomb to the area formerly known as Death Valley in the old place, good for a double. Alex Rodriguez hacked at the first pitch he saw, a breaking ball, and skied another fly ball, this one in the park, to Kevin Youkilis in left. Hideki Matsui whiffed to end it but the crowd was rowdy, the swings were good, the ball jumping, and John Smoltz looked cooked.
Posada doubled to start the fourth and scored without a throw on Robinson Cano’s single to center. Swisher walked on four pitches and Melky Cabrea kicked in the door wavin’ the fo-fo with a three run dinger to right–this one had some life to it. The Yanks scored another run before Posada crushed a three-run bomb to straight-away center against reliever Billy Traber and the base-running gaffe was forgiven. The half-inning took more than thirty minutes (eight hits and eight runs) and the game wasn’t halfway over.
Once again, this was going to be a long night. Chamerlain and a host of Yankee relievers made sure of it. Chamberlain walked the bases loaded in the top of the fifth and then gave up an RBI single to Mike Lowell. He struck out Kochman and Nick Green, who replaced Lowrie at short, to end the inning and yelled. This time, he was undoubtedly screaming at himself. That was it for him and he left with a career-high seven walks.
The Red Sox would draw a dozen base on balls in all (the Yanks had six)–each of the five Yankee pitchers walking at least one. Mark Melancon drilled Pedrioa in the eighth and the Yankee announcers said, “Why don’t you just let sleeping dogs lie?” Why would Melancon drill him on purpose? Hard to say but he also threw one over Pedrioa’s head earlier in the at-bat.
David Ortiz got booed loudly in his first at bat; after that, the crowd went easy on him. And he floundered, looking weak going 0-5.
Three-hundred-and-seventy-five pitches, just under four hours. Final Score: Yanks 13, Red Sox 6.
And so the Yanks got a big win against the Red Sox though the game itself was agonizing to watch. I can’t imagine how upset Red Sox fans were. For Yankee fans, it is almost hard to enjoy simply because the pitching was so brutal. (“Why does it feel like the Yankees are losing 11-4?” e-mailed a friend at one point.) Almost.
It was ugly alright, but who are we to complain? They won the game, and we’ll take it.