Over at Deadspin, here’s Jim Windolf on how Daily News writer Frank Isola became the most hated man at MSG.
Here’s Glenn Stout on Race, Jackie Robinson and the Red Sox:
At approximately 10:30 in the morning on Monday, April 16, 1945, Boston city Councilman Isadore Muchnick and sportswriter Wendell Smith and three African-American baseball players from the Negro leagues arrived at Boston’s Fenway Park. One month earlier the Red Sox reluctantly agreed to hold a tryout for African American ballplayers. Shortstop Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs, second baseman Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars and outfielder Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes came to Boston nearly a week earlier in anticipation of the tryout.
The audition of the three players took a little over one year to arrange and lasted only ninety minutes. Yet the fallout from that day echoes through Red Sox history almost to the present as an example of the institutional racism practiced by the ballclub under the tenure of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Only in the last few seasons, at the conclusion of the Yawkey era, did the ballclub begin to shed a reputation for racism that many trace to that April morning.
Still shrouded by significant misconceptions and errors of fact, that day deserves examination. Not only do the facts of the tryout deserve explication, but the manner in which both the press and the ballclub reacted to the episode and portrayed it since then is telling. By calling into question the details of the event the defenders of Yawkey and the Red Sox attempted to use it to absolve the ballclub, the owner, and by extension, the city of Boston for any racial liability, perverting the significance of the tryout.
The Boston Phoenix, the once-great alternative newspaper is gone. Over at Grantland, Charlie Pierce remembers the old days:
I mean. Jesus Mary, where do you start with the newspaper at which you grew so much, and learned so much, and came to respect the craft of journalism with a fervor that edged pretty damn close to the religious? What memories have pride of place now? The fact that T.A. Frail, now at Smithsonian, suggested you might just like Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy and it wound up changing your life? The day that Doug Simmons, now at Bloomberg News, snuck up behind you and stuck a pair of earphones on your head, cranked Black Flag’s “Six Pack” up to 11, and taught you that rock and roll had not calcified when you graduated from college? What’s the song that plays when you realize that you’re young when you thought you were growing old? What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.
God, it was a carnival. I saw the publisher twice get into punch-ups, once with a staffer and the next time with a janitor. And, in both cases, it was at a Christmas party. We never got paid much, but we did get paid, and we were able to write about what we wanted to write the way we wanted to write it. We were a legitimate institution of Boston eccentricity, and we were proud of the fact that we were recognized for being that very thing. In 1982, when the 76ers beat the Celtics, and the Garden erupted into a chant of “Beat L.A.!,” the great Bob Ryan interviewed Darryl Dawkins and found Michael Gee, then covering the game for us. You have to have this quote, Ryan told him, because we can’t use it. Ryan had asked Dawkins what he felt like when he heard that chant from a Boston crowd.
“Man,” Dawkins said, “when I heard that, my dick got stiff.”
If I recall correctly, that was Gee’s lead.
When Merchant was 50 years younger, he was sports editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. He was taking names and kicking ass, surrounded by a posse he had hired, hard-driving guys with similar inclinations.
He’d yanked me out of San Bernardino, Calif., and told me where to park near Connie Mack Stadium so I’d find my hubcaps intact after games. And then he told me what we owed our readers.
“Inform ‘em, entertain ‘em, and every so often surprise ‘em,” Merchant said. He wrote incisive essays about pro football. He called his column “Fun and Games” as a stark contrast to life and death. And he’d open his occasional notes columns with “Some questions answered, some answers questioned.”
Merchant informed, entertained, shocked. We were tabloid and proud of it. Not that everyone loved our swagger, our persistence.
There was that night in 1962 on the Phillies’ charter flight, Merchant in an aisle seat, typing away. The catcher, Sammy White, peered over Larry’s shoulder, unhappy with what he read.
“He yanked at the copy paper,” Merchant recalled, “and it stuck. He wound up throwing my Olivetti [typewriter] down the aisle. I went to get it and some of the keys were twisted and some vital parts scattered.
“That night, I dictated a story that said it was the best throw he’d made all season. About a month later, the Phillies sent me an invoice, paying for a replacement and indicating it had been deducted from White’s salary.”
Here’s another sure shot from our pal Dexter.
This one is from August 16, 2002 when he remembered his mentor and friend, Jack McKinney. (The piece appears here with the author’s permission.)
“Pete Dexter Recalls Jack McKinney”
By Pete Dexter
There are a thousand stories about Jack McKinney, and as it happens I was there for a few of them, enough at least to know that the rest are probably true.
I will tell you one no one has ever heard before in a minute, but first let me just make the observation that when you think of the people Jack McKinney knew over the years, the things he saw and did, the chances he took, you realize that even if you were McKinney’s friend, you probably never glimpsed a tenth of the whole picture.
A trusted friend of Sonny Liston, attacked physically by Norman Mailer for ironing Mailer’s wife’s hair in the kitchen during a party–what boundaries could there be?
He was also for years the best boxing writer in America and the loudest tenor in the history of late-night Center City. He fought for his cause in Northern Ireland, at least helped to invent modern talk radio, read four and five newspapers a day, and often ate a gallon of ice cream at a sitting. I could go on like this for an hour. The legend is endless.
But let me push all that aside for the moment and start with this: Jack McKinney, it seems to me, was led his whole life by three driving, and occasionally competing, forces. His intellect, his compassion and, of course, testosterone. These were not whims, blowing him gently from one place to another, they were gales. Huge impulses that he seemed helpless to resist, even when he knew there would be consequences. Jackpots, he called them.
The last time I spoke to him, I’d been sitting around thinking about one of my own jackpots, the very public thumping I took in Devil’s Pocket 20 years ago, something that I suppose I will always find myself sitting around thinking about. In the aftermath I was lying in the hospital when McKinney walked in and stood for a while at the end of the bed, looking me over.
“Well,” he said, “the first thing is, it was stupid to go over there.”
I guess that I ought to explain that when I came to Philadelphia I didn’t know anything or anybody, and Jack took me under his arm as much as anyone ever has and educated me in the ways of night life and the city. For a long time, I considered myself Jack’s apprentice.
I was lying on my pillow that day, trying not to move anything, 150 stitches in my head, a broken femur, a broken vertebra, nerve damage and half my teeth sheared to the gum line by a crowbar.
I said, “You think so, Jack?”
He closed the door and had a seat and talked to me for most of an hour, lecturing, I guess, but not scolding, just someone who had been in a few spots of his own, who had also been hurt. He told me that what had happened was going to follow me around a long time, which it did, and that I was in the process of finding out some things I needed to know. Which I was. He said these things in a kind way, somehow acknowledging that I was still someone he took seriously. It was always important to me, what Jack thought.
So the last time I spoke to him, it was a spur of the moment thing, I wanted to thank him for that hospital visit 20 years ago, for that kindness, to say that I didn’t think he ever knew how much it meant to me when he did it. And once the awkward silence that declaration provoked was out of the way, we talked about our families and kids. About the old days, the Daily News and the jackpots we got into, about the night he lent a company car to a woman with tattoos who told him she had to go buy baby formula. The woman, as I remember, did not return the car. Another night, the police stopped us at 2 o’clock on Walnut Street because Jack was singing too loud, and Jack spent 20 minutes trying to explain the beauty and passion of opera to these two very patient officers, making them promise finally that they would give it a try. Earlier that same night a drunk had pulled a knife on us and Jack, enjoying it hugely, told me to fan out, and I did everything but crawl into his back pocket.
The night I want to tell you about, though, never came up between us. I never talked about it to anybody. We’d been at the Pen and Pencil Club until 3 o’clock in the morning, Jack ranking all the tenors since Caruso between rounds of head-butting with an infamous Irish burglar who had a head the size of a mailbox. Jack was losing his toupee, and so he took it off – something he would never do in public – and handed it to me each time he went back to butt heads again. He also wanted me to stand in back of him in case the infamous Irish burglar butted him unconscious. “Just don’t let me drop,” he said. “Just stand there and catch me if I drop.”
I woke up the next morning still hearing the deep, hollow sound of heads colliding, wondering how McKinney’s was feeling. My own head wasn’t anything to brag about, and things did not improve when I got in the car to drive into work. How do I put this? There was a dead squirrel in the front seat. At least I thought so for a long moment, and then I leaned over and saw it more clearly, and in that same instant saw the complications lying out there ahead of me like 200 hundred miles of Mexican Highway.
First of all, I could not imagine myself walking into the office holding Jack McKinney’s hair. I could also not imagine sticking it in my pocket. I couldn’t imagine calling him at home, telling him I’d found it in my front seat. I couldn’t imagine approaching him with it in the office. I didn’t even know to a certainty–and still don’t–that it was Jack’s hair. The color seemed a little off, and stranger things than finding a toupee in the company car happened in those days on a fairly regular basis.
So I put it off, sticking the hair in the glove compartment, waiting for the right place and time to give it back, but it never came. I could never pull the trigger. And I could never quite throw it away. Jack was sensitive about his hair. The next time I saw him, up in the office, he was sitting beneath some hair that looked like his regular hair, working on his column. So, who knows?
But even if I can’t say definitively that it was Jack’s hair in my glove compartment, I can tell you the reason I never offered to give it back. I could never figure out how to do it without embarrassing him.
The truth is, this man who climbed in the ring as Bobo McKinney and knocked out a professional middleweight boxer, who would get into screaming political arguments and didn’t care who was there to hear it; this iconoclast, this idealist, this very bad tenor and legendary brawler, this friend of mine, I wouldn’t have hurt his feelings for the world.
It’s hard to imagine Jack’s candle burned out so fast, it feels like a whole species went extinct overnight. I stagger to think of the archives he took with him.
Then, there is the case of ESPN’s “Sports Guy,” Bill Simmons. The two have been mutual admirers for some time. In a fawning 2006 column Simmons called Mike and the Mad Dog “my favorite radio show ever.” Francesa, in turn, views Simmons as incredibly witty and when Russo left the show in 2008, he even called Simmons to gauge his interest in co-hosting. Since then, Francesa has watched Simmons’s role at ESPN expand from writer and editor to serving as host of his own podcast – The BS Report – and appearing on ESPN’s NBA pregame show, NBA Shootaround. Francesa does not seem to approve.
“When you find something you’re good at, stick with it,” Francesa says – voicing a personal philosophy that runs counter to Simmons’s recent career developments.
“I think what happens in our business is that people get to a certain level, and then they’re like, ‘OK. I have to go prove I can do this now.’ Why? Why can’t you just stay there and do it really well? When you do something well, why can’t you stay there, and perfect it, and prove that you can do it really well?”
In response to a direct question about Simmons, Francesa shares an experience from his own career, illustrating a fundamental difference between the two iconic personalities. “A year-and-a-half into Mike and the Mad Dog, I got offered an enormous TV deal to leave, and I turned it down. It was the best decision I ever made. I could’ve left. But understanding where you belong, and understanding where you’re supposed to be and what you’re good at – I never entertained another serious offer. But I had a very serious offer that was wide in scope, and was a very big opportunity. And I turned it down.”
[Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle, Newsday]
The Marvelous One returns to Brooklyn. Over at Grantland, Bryan Curtis has the story.
Head on over to Sports on Earth and check out my Q&A with Mickey Herskowitz about Jock, his short-lived but wonderful magazine.
Here’s Mickey talking about Woody Allen and Paul Simon:
Q: I like the non-sports-writing celebrities you featured in the magazine, like William F. Buckley and Woody Allen.
A: I called Woody Allen’s agent, [Jack] Rollins and [Charles] Joffe. I don’t know whether I talked to Rollins or Joffe. I told him I was running a magazine called Jock and wanted to know if Woody would be available to write a piece about what it was like growing up playing stickball in New York. He said, “I doubt it, but I promise you I’ll mention it to him.” An hour later I got a call from Rollins or Joffe, and he said, “Yeah, Woody would love to do it. He’s doing a play, ‘Play it Again, Sam,’ and does two shows on Sunday. Come between the matinee and the evening performance, bring a photographer and you can get your story and your pictures.”
Q: So it was ghostwritten by you?
A: No. I went there and Woody dictated it to me, it wasn’t ghostwritten. And he said, “What are you doing to do for photographs?” I told him I thought we’d just take a couple of shots of him there in his dressing room. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, “not if you’re doing a story on stickball. I know a perfect brownstone about four or five blocks away, let’s go down there.” So about six of us walked down past Eighth Avenue to this brownstone. I had two of my kids with me, they were like 10 and 11, and two of their friends, and they were the rest of the teams. Woody had a stick and a ball, and one of the kids pitched to him and the others played in the field. And that’s where we got the pictures.
A: Now, we did this shoot before the Mets had won the pennant, and after they won I get a call from one of Woody’s managers. He said, “Woody wanted to know if he could ask you a big favor?” I said, “Sure.” “Can you get him four tickets to the World Series?” Honest to God I had to bite my tongue. Are you kidding me? You don’t think that Woody Allen would mean more to the Mets than Mickey Herskowitz from Houston, Texas? For some reason that didn’t occur to him. So I called the Mets PR guy and got him tickets to every home game. Next week I got a handwritten “thank you” note from Woody.
Q: You also had an encounter with Paul Simon, right?
A: I sure did. I was thinking of stories, and it dawned on me that Rollins and Joffe also managed Paul Simon. “The Graduate” had come out, and the song “Mrs. Robinson” was everywhere. So I called up and asked if they thought Paul would be willing to do a story for me on what it was like growing up as a Yankee fan. And Rollins or Joffe said, “Well, I don’t know. I didn’t think Woody would do a story and he did. We’ll ask Paul.” The next day I’m sitting in my office … the secretary put a call through and the voice said, “Mickey?” I said, “Yeah.”
“This is Paul.”
I was stunned that Paul Simon called. I said: “Paul, jeez, terrific of you to call, and call back so quickly. And to call back yourself. Everybody usually goes through three or four layers of gatekeepers, I’m really impressed.” He said, “Well don’t be. It’s an everyday courtesy.” He talked about what I had pitched and said, “I think it’s a groovy idea and I’d love to do it.” And so I explained what I wanted but also said I’d love it if he could talk about the Joe DiMaggio line, which everyone was so touched by. It took everybody back to nostalgia in their lives.
Q: What did he say about it?
A: He said the line just came to him. He hadn’t had DiMaggio in mind, but his name came to him; he had to have a long enough name to fit the melody. It was funny because he told me that a month or so after the song hit big he was on a TV show with Mickey Mantle and Mantle said, “How come you used DiMaggio’s name in your song and not mine?” Simon said he had to explain to him that it had to do with the melody and not the name.
Q: That’s funny that Mantle asked him. Because he was also a player of Simon’s generation more than DiMaggio.
A: That’s right. Anyhow, we didn’t talk long, maybe about 10 minutes. I was out of things to say. But I was so flattered and grateful for the call, I felt like I had to say something. So I told him that “Mrs. Robinson” was my favorite song. I made it up; it was such a dumb, bulls— thing to say, but I felt I had to say something complimentary to him for calling. There was a pause on the other line. And the next thing he said was: “You didn’t like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’?” You talk about the insecurity of an artist?
Q: He was straight, he wasn’t joking?
A: I said, “Oh, no, no, no. ‘Mrs. Robinson’ was my favorite sports song. I love ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’” And the truth is, I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had been hearing it for weeks but didn’t know the name of it.
Here’s more on how Jock came to be.
Bronx Banter: Before we get to Jock magazine, let’s talk about your early career in Houston.
Mickey Herskowitz: I don’t need to exaggerate what a sports-nuts state Texas is. In fact, the most famous line I ever wrote was when one of the Super Bowl’s came here, I tried to explain Houston and one of my stories started, “We never knew how important Religion was in Texas until people started comparing it to high school football.”
And so way back, I was with the Houston Post.
BB: This was before Wells Twombly, right?
MH: Well before Wells, about ten years before he came along and then he was at the Houston Chronicle. The funny thing is I hired Wells to write for Jock and then had to renege when we started running out of money. He was really hurt. I couldn’t tell him that we were going broke at the time so I had to make up some sleazy excuse. Years later, he asked me about it and I told him the truth. So anyway, I was at the Houston Post and a couple of guys came to me and wanted to have a magazine about sports in Texas. This was the year Elvin Hayes was leading the University of Houston to prominence in college basketball. So a couple of advertising guys came to me and they had a little bit of money.
BB: You were a columnist at this time for the Post, right?
MH: I was in my twenties but a columnist.
BB: You’re younger than Dan Jenkins then.
MH: I was the next generation. Blackie [Sherrod], Dan, a wonderful writer in Fort-Worth named Jim Trinkle, Orville Henry in Fayetteville and Dave Campbell in Waco, Dan Cook in San Antonio, a named Jack Gallagher in Houston, those were the top-rated writers in the state as far as sports went. Bud Shrake came a little later. Gary Cartwright came after that. I don’t know if I was their mascot but they all looked after me.
BB: And you grew up in Houston?
MH: I was born there in the late 1930s. I remember Blackie never missing a chance to pay me a compliment. And years later when Dan was at Sports Illustrated he actually referred to me in print as the best baseball writer in America. Dan told me that on Mondays or Tuesdays when the out of state newspapers came into the office there’d be a scramble to get the Houston Post to see what my ledes were on the Astros ballgames. He really told me that. They brought me up there and offered me a job and I reluctantly turned it down because I was doing a TV show and a radio show in Houston along with the column and the money couldn’t match the three jobs I had back home. The three jobs in Houston were probably easier to handle than one in New York because of the cost of living.
BB: This was before Jock?
MH: Yes, and getting back to Jock, I had these advertising guys come to me about doing a magazine about sports in Texas and if it made sense to do something about sports anywhere that’s where you would start. It was called Sport Folio. I didn’t have any literary figures but I had all the top sports writers in Houston and Dallas, Austin. It was a monthly.
BB: Did you model it after Sport magazine?
MH: No. I stayed at the Post, this was a part-time job. Truth is, I modeled it after Esquire, which is what I did with Jock, as well. Sport Folio lasted about a year. Par for the course, ran out of money the second year. Then about a year after that I got a call from Chris Schenkel. Some money people out of Dallas were going to put out a magazine out called Chris Schenkel’s Sport Scene. Chris was the Bob Costas of his day, the go-to-anchor of his time. Did the Olympics forever, a lot of golf, was a terrific football play-by-play announcer, basketball too. SI did a great cover story on him. At one time he was the biggest name in sports broadcasting. He was the anti-Cosell. Totally factual, understated, non-dramatic. And a golden voice. So Chris called and asked if I would commute to Dallas an edit the magazine. And I did. I had Blackie and Jenkins and Steve Perkins who was a fine writer from Dallas and been in New Orleans.
BB: SI would let Jenkins moonlight for you?
MH: I say I had Jenkins, he maybe did one story for me on TCU but he did it under the radar. He wasn’t freelancing for anyone else.
BB: Did you have Gary Cartwright?
MH: No. I want to put this the right way so it doesn’t seem like a criticism but at that time Gary was still young and he was fourth or fifth in line behind Dan, Blackie and Bud Shrake. Thing about Gary is that he just got better and better and he’s still around of course. But we only had four or five big stories per issue so I didn’t have a big line up. Sports Scene was in mind a success because it was really classy. The people who owned it put a lot of money into it. It was glossy. We could go anywhere and write about anything. I covered the Olympics for that magazine in ’68. And what happened was an advertising guy in New York saw Sports Scene. Keep in mind New York magazine had just made a big splash and was a big success. There may have been city magazines at the time but they were small. In Houston, you had one that strong-armed ads for dentists and doctors and lawyers. Had little fashion stories, luncheons.
BB: They were provincial.
MH: Right. They were not for reading. They were beautiful and glossy but no content. New York was the first real city magazine unless I’m overlooking something in Boston of Philadelphia. So this advertising guy saw Sport Scene and compared it to New York, which was showing a profit after three years, which if you know magazines, is rare. You are lucky to show a profit after three years, hell, you are lucky to still be in business after three years. The stock market had had a real go-go run from about ’66-’68 and he thought he could take the model of Sport Folio and Sport Scene and get a Wall Street company to back it. And that’s exactly what we did.
BB: Did you move to New York?
MH: I did. Had an apartment in the same building with the mayor though he didn’t live there. John Lindsay played tennis with Hank Greenburg outside my window on Sundays. I was at Sutton Place. Cost me about $295 a month to park my car and a luxury apartment in Houston at the time cost about $350.
BB: Did the deal happen quickly?
MH: I flew to New York and met with their key sales people. It was like Alice in Wonderland. I’m almost embarrassed. It was so easy because so many people love sports. The only people they invited to the business meeting were the ones that were nuts about sports. Why wouldn’t they want to take this company public? I called coach Paul Bear Bryant, Jimmy Demerit, AJ Foyt, Cosell, Curt Gowdy, that was my role.
BB: You wanted them to invest in the magazine?
MH: No, no, they agreed to be on the board of directors and each got 10,000 shares. They did it as a favor, nobody asked for anything. But it was a marquee lineup. We went public in June of 1969, just as the recession began. In July, the Mets were 9 games out of first place. I came up with the idea for the first cover. It would be 4 or 5 Met players raising the flag on Iwo Jima except it was on the pitcher’s mound. That was on the inaugural issue, must be worth a pretty penny today. Cleon Jones, Tom Seaver, Ed Kranepool and those guys.
BB: This was after the Jets had already won the Super Bowl.
MH: The same year. And the Knicks had lost to the Bullets in the playoffs but they won the championship the following season, in June of 1970.
BB: New York hasn’t seen a banner year like that since.
Stayed tuned. All week, we’ll be featuring a different article from Jock.
I take no pleasure in being the schmuck writer who points out that TV sports documentaries — also called “vérité sports” — have gotten really good. And not just good, but observant. TV is recording the small, telling details of an athlete’s life, capturing noisy moments and quiet moments, doing the delicate labor that sportswriters — if properly motivated — pride themselves on doing. So on behalf of writerdom, I ask: What the hell is going on?
[Photo Credit: Trent Park via Black Book]
Over at Sports on Earth, Emma Span considers what’s turned into a misbegotten chapter in the career of one Bobby V.
[Featured Illustration: Justin Peele]
My profile of the late George Kimball appeared on Deadspin last December. I worked long and hard on that piece and was proud of the effort. And now some nice personal news I’d like to share with you…
It’s been selected to The Best American Sports Writing 2012 (Edited by Mike Wilbon).
Derek Jeter fist pump.
[Photo Credit: Fiftyfootshadows]