"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Blog Archives

Older posts           

Step Up Front

The Yanks are headed back to the postseason as they clinched at least a wildcard berth yesterday with a tidy, 5-1 win. The pitching was superb and a 3-run dinger by Greg Bird was enough to lift our boys back to October.

Look, let me be the first to say that I am awfully nervous that the Twins, after being whipped by the Yanks so often in the playoffs, will finally get their revenge. But if the Yanks can win that game, they can give the Indians a pain in the ass.

Never mind the future, let’s stay in the moment.

This has been a weird but enjoyable season thus far.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

One More Pin, Rodney

Aaron Judge had a nice night—and there was some welcome and spirited banter in the game thread, which I’ll address separately—but that was about it as the Yanks took one on the chin in Toronto while the Red Sox won again. More today—a win gets our boys a ticket to the dance.

Never mind the blue birds:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

(p.s. And here is an update on the little girl who was hit by a foul ball earlier in the week.)

He Loves to Say Her Name

Here is our pal John Schulian’s 1980 column on Jake LaMotta, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.—AB

 

She keeps dabbing at her left eye with a hanky as soft as an angel’s breath—dabbing, then smiling and pretending nothing is wrong. Maybe this is way all beautiful women growing old protect themselves. When nature can’t be depended on anymore, they master the art of illusion and produce what Jake LaMotta sees before him now. She is no fading flower. She is, rather, the same long-legged honey blonde he met beside a Bronx swimming pool thirty-seven years ago.

“That’s the Vikki that’s in the picture,” LaMotta says.

The hanky comes away from her eye quickly.

“He loves to say my name,” she purrs.

Once they were man and wife. Now they are friends and business partners, reunited by Raging Bull, the movie of LaMotta’s star-crossed life. They may even be more, but time apparently has taught them the virtue of discretion. When they checked into the Continental Plaza, their request was simple: same floor, separate rooms. “All I’m gonna tell ya,” LaMotta says, “is that I don’t go for that brother and sister stuff.”

Under the scarred brows that were part of the price he paid for the world’s middleweight championship, his dark eyes twinkle roguishly. It is what you expect, but it is not the complete picture of Jake LaMotta’s crowding sixty.

There is no more of the fire, the savagery, the craziness that could have made this untamed street kid a murderer if he hadn’t discovered the joy of mayhem in the ring. In a deftly-tailored gray suit, with his chair adjusted so you can speak into his good ear, he seems totally incapable of destroying his championship belt or, worse yet, punching his beloved Vikki.

“Feelin’ any better,” he asks her.

“I’m gonna go see the doctor in just a little while,” she replies.

She turns to a visitor.

“Isn’t Jake cute?” she asks.

Vikki LaMotta used different adjectives for him that grim day when his jealousy boiled over and he accused her of rampant infidelity, garroted his brother on a hunch, and blackened her eye. It was the same one that is bothering her now, and the funny thing is, her latest injury can be blamed on Robert De Niro, the actor who plays Jake in the movie. Vikki was holding De Niro’s picture the other day, and when somebody tried to grab it, she pulled back and poked herself in the eye. Just like that, history had repeated itself.

If Jake LaMotta flinches at the thought, you need only see Raging Bull to understand why. He has sat through it twice, and twice may be all he can bear. “I come out a bad guy in the picture,” he says. “It’s the way I was, it’s the truth, but that don’t make it no easier on me. The first time I watched it, I didn’t know what happened; I didn’t know whether to like or dislike it. There was something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was until the next day: I was reliving my life.”

It was a life in which the good times were almost extraneous. Sure, LaMotta waged a glorious holy war with Sugar Ray Robinson for the better part of a decade. Sure, he pole-axed Marcel Cerdan to win the championship in 1949. Sure, he refused to concede that Laurent Dauthille had him beat and knocked the stubborn Frenchman stiff with just thirteen seconds standing between him and ignominy. But the bulk of LaMotta’s legacy is as sad as a cauliflower ear and as ugly as nose split down the middle.

The ruination of Jake LaMotta began with the fight he threw to Billy Fox in ’47. The mob may have been leaning on him and he may have had to play along to get a shot at the title, but he went in the tank all the same, and when he did, he stamped himself as a bum forever. No wonder people were saying it figured years later when LaMotta got run in for letting a teenaged hooker operate out of his Miami strip joint.

He wound up on a chain gang, did time in the rat hole dedicated to incorrigibles, and never heard a word of sympathy. Maybe it would have been different if the word had gotten out that he pried the diamonds out of his championship belt to pay for a defense attorney, but Hollywood wasn’t going to make Raging Bull for another twenty years.

“When I done that to my belt,” he says, “I was symbolically—is that the word?—destroying the thing that made me the way I was. See, I was like one of those dogs that go to war. They’re trained to be vicious, they’re rewarded for it. But when the war’s over, and they’re back with their civilian masters, they can’t understand why they’re punished when they attack people. That’s the way I was, and I had to figure it out myself. I couldn’t afford no psychiatrist. I had to adjust by myself. There’s the word. I had to adjust.”

Not until now, however, did LaMotta have the chance to prove that he has succeeded. With Raging Bull hitting theaters across the country, he gets paid to leave New York and hold court in fancy hotel rooms in the cities where he used to fight. He does Marlon Brando’s back-of-the-taxi speech from On the Waterfront, and when the telephone rings, he leaps from his chair and shouts, “What round is it?” And always there is Vikki, the second of his four wives, the mother of two of his six children. She is up from Miami, back into his life, and for just a while, Jake is young again.

“Ya know why she didn’t play herself in the movie, don’tcha?” he asks. “I didn’t want her kissin’ Robert De Niro.”

“You mean you didn’t want me to kiss Bobby’s booboo?” she teases.

“That’s the truth, Vikki.”

He loves to say her name.

 

Postscript

Thirty-seven years ago this December, Jake LaMotta Jr. ushered me into his father’s hotel suite and introduced me to the man himself, sitting there in a high-backed chair looking like a Mafia don. Then Jake Jr. turned to a beautiful blonde of a certain age who, if I hadn’t seen her in Playboy, I might have guessed had been kidnaped by these two characters. “This is my mother,” he said. “You believe it?”

He was balding and rumpled, in his 30s somewhere but the extra pounds he was carrying made him seem older. He’d probably asked the same question of every writer he’d met on this press tour, but he still tensed up as he waited for my answer.

“To tell you the truth,” I said, “no.”

His father laughed first. Vikki just smiled serenely even with her bothersome eye tearing up.

She didn’t say much beyond what I used in my column, but she turned out to be the salvation of that cold Monday morning anyway. Whatever humanity Jake LaMotta possessed, she coaxed to the surface with a look or a laugh or a few gently teasing words. The rest was part of the show he didn’t need much encouragement to put on. His On the Waterfront routine wasn’t bad, but it was still LaMotta imitating Brando, just as Raging Bull was an imitation of LaMotta’s life.

There really wasn’t enough meat on the bones of LaMotta’s life to sustain a movie. Martin Scorsese made one anyway. His infatuation with tough guys and wise guys blinded him to the lack of a dramatic arc in the story. As Barney Nagler, the vinegary columnist for the Daily Racing Form, once said of LaMotta: “He was a prick the day he was born and he’ll be a prick the day he dies.” Not that Raging Bull was without brilliance. Those brutally beautiful scenes depicting LaMotta’s war with Sugar Ray Robinson leap to mind every time I think of the movie. Unfortunately, Scorsese turned the violence into a cartoon that neither man would have survived for six fights. They might not have lasted six rounds.

It was Roger Ebert’s job to review the movie for the Chicago Sun-Times. I would write a column about LaMotta that would be paired with Roger’s review in the paper’s promos. The day before my audience with LaMotta, I’d damn near frozen to death in a press box in Minneapolis before racing to catch the last flight home so I could get up early and drive downtown. I wasn’t sure he was worth the trouble. Then Vikki said he liked to say her name and he was.

When Baseball Doesn’t Matter

The Yanks won and won big yesterday against the Twins but it all seemed trivial after a little girl was hit with a line drive off Todd Frazier’s bat. Just a devastating moment. So damn upsetting. I can’t stop thinking about the girl and her family and hope that she will be okay.

Yanks with the day off and are up in Toronto this weekend.

Picture by Bags

Night in the City

Some kind of onions win for the Yanks last night as they snuck by the Twins, 2-1. Dellin Betances walked the bases loaded in the 8th but he was rescued by Aroldis Chapman who struck out Joe Mauer on three pitches and then got Byron Buxton to fly out to right on the first pitch he saw. Chapman was dominant in the 9th as the Yanks got a big time win. Aaron Judge hit his 44th (word to Tino—20 years ago!).

Only drag was that the Red Sox won in extra innings…again. The O’s blew a big lead, no surprise there. That’s just the way it goes this summer.

Raining lightly in the Bronx but I hope they get this one in. Wonder if the Twins dare bunt against ol’ C.C.

Never mind the slickers:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Big Fun

Man, you got to figure the O’s will not be sorry to see the last of the Yanks, who park the Score Truck up on the curb and open a block party for all when they play Baltimore. Many more runs were scored by our gang yesterday as the Yanks routed the O’s 9-3 (never mind the soporific late-inning relief corps who prevented Paulie O from making his dinner reservation on time).

Once more today. With feeling.

Never mind the haze:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Indian Summer

Luis was sweet last night, gave up a 2-run homer early and then nothing else over 8 innings. The Score Truck did the rest, parking this one at 8-2.

More this afternoon with the late 4 p.m. start.

Never mind the shadows:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Boom Bap

Aaron Judge had a TBT performance last night, bringing back fond memories of the spring months, hitting 2 long home runs as the Yanks skipped to a 13-5 win. Indian Summer humid in the Bronx tonight as Luis Severino takes the hill.

Let’s hope the Score Truck stays double parked on the right side of the street.

Never mind the heat:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Boids

The Yanks took the series from the Rays out in Queens—dropping only the middle game. Tonight, they return home to face the O’s. It is muggy and gray in New York. But that won’t break our stride.

Never mind the forecast:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Queens Bound

Nice job by C.C. and the bullpen last night as the Yanks got a big knock from Todd Frazier (3-run homer) and grooved their way to a 5-1 win. Chased Rays starter Jake Odorizzi after he threw 51 pitches in the 4th inning. Brings them a full 3 games behind the Sox, 4 up in the Wildcard.

Happy?

Let’s hope for s’more good things from our dude—the modern day Coney!—Sonny Gray.

Never mind the airplanes overhead:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Air BnB

The Yankees played two seasons at Shea Stadium in the mid-’70s. For the next 3 days, they will play against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citfield but they will be the visitors. Certainly a strange turn of events but sensible considering everything that has happened in Florida with Irma.

Never mind the Shake Shacks:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Case Closed

One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is being friends with other writers and feeling an obligation to not only read their work but enjoy it. It can be tricky business.

I’ve known Jay Jaffe almost as long as the Banter has been around. While John Perricone (Only Baseball Matters) was the first baseball blogger I met online, Jay was the first one I met in person—lunch at Christine’s, an old Polish diner down on 2nd Avenue. This was back in 2002. As you probably know, Jay went on to write for Baseball Prospectus and SI.com where he has become the expert, the guru of all things involving the baseball Hall of Fame.

Jay wrote a book that was published this summer. It is called The Cooperstown Casebook. And I am pleased to report that I felt no awkwardness reading it, wondering how I could sugarcoat my response. Because it is everything you want a book like this to be—informative, challenging, irreverent, definitive. I didn’t lack faith in my old chum, but when you see what he delivered, well, it is hard not to be thrilled for him.

This book belongs on your bookshelf. Go get it.

Finger Lickin’ Good

The Yanks beat the snot out of the Rangers yesterday. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge homered twice and it was a happy day in Yankeeland—16-7 was the final.

Picture by Bags

Winning and Losing

The Yankees play like they’ve got a frog in their throat. We keep waiting for them to go on a run but it just hasn’t happened yet. They blew a game Friday night and then came back and swiped one yesterday.

Every day is a big one.

Never mind the brisket:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Our Guy

R.I.P. Stick Michael, Yankee utility infielder, Steinbrenner whipping boy, architect of a dynasty, lifer.

He will be missed.

Yanks and O’s this afternoon.

Never mind nuthin’:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Via: Baseball Hall of Fame]

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Um, breaking.

C.C. and the Yanks look to keep it going down in Baltimore after a rousing win last night.

Never mind the long ball (C.C. I’m looking at you):

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

 

Southbound

Well, that worked. The Yanks hit 3 solo home runs against Chris Sale (Matt Holliday, Chase Headley, Todd Frazier), who labored and didn’t make it out of the fifth. Gave one back the next inning thanks to a few errors and then scored 6 runs in the bottom of the sixth to put it away. That was the ballbreaker for the Sox, who got jobbed on balls and strikes, had a crucial third out at first base (correctly) overturned, and then saw Starlin Castro deliver a big bases loaded knock. Aaron Judge followed with a much-needed 2-run blast and the Stadium got good and loud.

The final was 9-2, bringing the Yanks 3.5 behind Boston. Nice job.

No time to gloat as a quick turnaround has our boys down in Baltimore against the surging O’s this afternoon, their stud Dylan Bundy on the bump. Nope, no time to get too happy at all.

Time for another win. Roll on, men.

Never mind the self-congratulations:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Step Up (to Get Your Rep Up)

After the old win one, lose one, here we are, Sunday night, and Chris Sale stands in the way of the Yanks winning the series. A split is the difference between trailing Boston by 3.5 or 5.5. So yeah, it’s a big deal, far as these things go. Chris Sale, oy.

Again, the Yanks turn to Luis Severino to step up.

C’mon, kid.

Go get them, guys!

Never mind the nerves:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

The Long and Short of It

A 6-1 lead turned into homina-homina-homina in the 9th inning when Dellin Betances was wobbly as Hell. C.C. pitched well and then threw a snit after the game. Touchy-touchy, Big Fella:

“It’s not that it’s out of bounds, I guess,” Sabathia said. “That’s just me. It doesn’t matter who is bunting or who I’m playing. I get pissed when people bunt, period. You’re going to get a reaction out of me. Everybody knows that. And they got the reaction. We could be playing a Little League game. If my son bunts on me, I’m going to cuss him out. That’s just me. So it is what it is. I’ve always been like that. This is nothing new, and I think a lot of people know that.”

Gary Sanchez homered and Greg Bird had a big knock, and the Yanks hung on for a big 6-2 win.

More tonight. It is bright and cool—playoff weather a month early.

Sonny Gray on the bump.

Never mind the standings:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

The End of Summer

The Red Sox arrive with the Yanks reeling. Our boys need to sweep this weekend and that is just unlikely. Let’s just hope Boston doesn’t bury ‘em with another series of beatdowns.

Never mind the other guys:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Older posts           
feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver