Yankees Suck, Reason #83
On July 27 Arthur “Red” Patterson, the popular Yankees public relations director who the year before had gained nationwide fame by taking a tape measure to determine the distance of Mickey Mantle's tremendous home run hit out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, announced his resignation from the team, citing a clash of personalities with the Yankees general manager [George Weiss]. Patterson had become disgruntled when Weiss passed him over for the assistant general manager's job in April, and the final straw for him was when Weiss castigated him for giving a couple of free passes to a game to the elevator operator at the Yankees' Fifth Avenue offices.
Quote of the Day
“As many of you probably know, I'm a Democrat. And as you may have seen, I've also been a fan of Bernie Sanders. Much of what he stood for and helped bring to the forefront in this primary are things I too have fought for. ... But having been through many bruising primaries in my life, I'm also a realist. From where I sit, the math is clear. Hillary will likely win, and she will be our nominee. But that doesn't mean Bernie didn't also win. He won in a myriad of ways, none more so than energizing the Democratic base in a way no one expected. Young people in particular have become so passionate about this election. Because they recognize the historic importance at stake is nothing less than the very soul of our nation. So I'm asking Democrats out there to take a pledge, along with me: #Vote Blue No Matter Who.”
-- George Takei in a mesage to progressives.
The Better Pee Wee Reese Story
The myth, as portrayed in “42.”
Some part of me thinks Ken Burns needed to see this “New Rules” bit from Bill Maher before he finished (or started) his Jackie Robinson documentary, which ran on PBS a few weeks ago. Maher goes off on liberals who dump on their own whiteness to make themselves feel better, and, based on the doc, I think Burns is suffering from some version of this. Maybe he feels guilty that, in his seminal “Baseball” doc 20 years ago, he bought into the Pee Wee Reese myth—that the Dodgers captain put his arm around Jackie Robinson at Crosley Field in Cincinnati to quiet his hometown racist crowd—so now he has to dump all over that narrative. Before, it happened. Now, it didn't. Unequivocally. Both times.
Here's Burns in Mother Jones:
Pee Wee is supposed to have walked across the diamond from shortstop to first base, which would've never happened, and put his arm around him. ... It didn't happen. There's no mention in Jackie's autobiography. There's no mention in the white press, and more importantly, there was no mention of it in the black press, which would've run 25 stories related to this.
It's the certainty that bugs me. It feels off. But who has time to double-check?
Joe Posnanski, it turns out, in a piece for NBC Sports called “The Embrace.” It's worth reading the whole thing.
Of the hand-on-shoulder story, Pos writes:
There is a compelling absence of evidence here. There isn't a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines. This is enough for [author Jonathan] Eig, for Miller and particularly for Burns to conclude that the story, at least as popularly told, is a myth.
I would add that while primary sources are well and good, journalists, even good journalists, can often not only bury the lede but miss the story. Bill Madden talks this up in his book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever.” The first time both World Series teams fielded African-American players (1954, Game 1), most sportswriters didn't even comment upon it. And a shortstop talking to, or putting his arm around, a first baseman prior to a game? I wouldn't be surprise that that didn't make the cut. What was the score? That's what fans wanted to know.
Posnanski then goes into the “why” of the myth. As in: Why do we need it? And from where did it spring?
The answer to the second question is interesting. A baseball historian, Craig R. Wright, of whom no less a figure than Bill James says, “I would trust Craig's opinion a great deal more than Ken Burns,” has researched the matter and believes that it did happen in some form. And he points Posnanski to a 10-part series that Jackie Robinson did with the Brooklyn Eagle's Ed Reid in 1949, where Jackie says the following:
I'll never forget the day when a few loud-mouthed guys on the other team began to take off on Pee Wee Reese. They were joshing him very viciously because he was playing on the team with me and was on the field nearby. Mind you, there were not yelling at me; I suppose they did not have the nerve to do that, but they were calling him some very vile names and every one bounced off of Pee Wee and hit me like a machine-gun bullet.
Pee Wee kind of sensed the hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn't say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me through him and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that.
Slowly the jibes died down like when you kill a snake an inch at a time, and then there was nothing but quiet from them. It was wonderful the way this little guy did it. I will never forget it.
Not fans; not necessarily Crosley Field; not hand on shoulder; but otherwise, there it is.
It's actually a better story. It's less paternal and feels truer. It comes straight from Jackie within two years of breaking the color barrier. And Jackie's widow, Rachel, corroborates, according to Posnanski.
So why didn't Burns pivot to this, the more interesting story, in his doc? Why was he so insistent about denying Pee Wee Reese completely? How did he manage to get it wrong twice?
Moments of grace are rare in this world. Why not celebrate them?
Movie Review: Concussion (2015)
There’s a good story here but this isn’t it.
A man of science discovers something horrible about a powerful American business and tries to push past PR and corporate lawyers to get word out. In the process he’s harassed, belittled, besmirched. He’s an ordinary man under extraordinary pressure, but ultimately, through perseverance, and sacrifice, and the good works of a few others, the word gets out. And the world changes a little for the better.
That’s a good story. It’s “The Insider,” after all. So why doesn’t it work here?
It should actually work better here, since, in “The Insider,” Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) battles Big Tobacco, an institution many rely upon but nobody loves. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is going up against football. He’s a foreigner telling America that their favorite sport is killing their favorite sons—and maybe their own sons. He’s going up against a corporation that “owns a day of the week,” as his boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), tells him. He should have half the country against him. He should have every goombah on every street corner getting in his face. He, and we, should feel immense pressure.
Nope. The movie blows it from the beginning.
Seven degrees of Will Smith
We’re introduced to Dr. Omalu when he’s an expert witness in a nondescript trial and he’s asked to state his credentials. First, he mentions a degree from Nigeria. Suspect, right? Like an email from a Nigerian prince. But then he mentions another degree, and another, each more impressive than the last. Many are from America, one is from the UK. He has to keep interrupting the (opposing?) counsel to, in effect, toot his own horn. Then he looks at the jury with a self-satisfied smile.
Wow, is that wrong. Have him be slightly embarrassed at least. Or have someone else mention the degrees. It’s such a tone-deaf scene that our hero, who is supposed to be modest and circumspect, comes off as annoying.
Omalu makes his living as a quirky Pittsburgh coroner who listens to R&B while dissecting the dead; he talks to the dead to find out their secrets. He’s got the respect of the head of the department, Dr. Wecht, but not so much from his immediate superior, Sullivan (Mike O’Malley), who fumes meaninglessly on the sidelines. Is Sullivan racist? Just an asshole? Who knows? He’s a straw man.
Then one of Pittsburgh’s favorite sons, former Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse wearing a Frankenstein forehead), winds up on Omalu’s table after killing himself at the age of 50, and Omalu, through extensive research, including using $20,000 of his own money for tests, discovers a new form of brain trauma. He names it “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,” or CTE, and his findings are subsequently published in a medical journal. That’s when the harassment from the NFL begins.
How is this harassment dramatized? Well, Omalu gets a few angry phone calls. He’s yelled at by an NFL official. His wife, Prema (the impossibly beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw), pregnant with his child, is followed in her car—maybe—and then has a miscarriage. The harassment should be menacing, all-encompassing, but it feels like wisps of nothing.
Mostly, the NFL just doesn’t listen to him. This exchange is indicative:
Wecht: Did you think the NFL would thank you?
Wecht: What for?
Omalu: For knowing.
I like that, but it’s not exactly dramatic. In “The Insider,” Wigand actually suffered. He lost his job, his wife, his home, his self-esteem. The FBI harasses him. His journalistic counterpart, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), wonders over this. He makes accusations in the form of questions—maybe Brown & Williamson has former agents on its payroll, and maybe current agents have been promised cushy jobs, and maybe he should start investigating—and he gets them to back off. Here, the FBI harasses ... Dr. Wecht. They indict him on 84 counts. A title card at the end tells us he was ultimately exonerated but ... did he do it? Is it bullshit? Is Omalu so clean they can’t touch him?
Seriously, if the government is in cahoots with the NFL, as implied, why doesn’t immigration go after him? He’s not even a citizen until 2015. Instead, he and his impossibly beautiful wife simply leave Pittsburgh for So Cal—but not before the well-mannered Omalu takes an axe to a wall at his home in frustration. And in poignant slow-motion.
Are you ready for some football?
Is writer-director Peter Landesman (the underrated “Parkland”) not director enough for this? Is Smith not actor enough? Did Sony’s corporate hand get too involved?
I liked the scene at the University of Pittsburgh where Dr. Steve DeKosky (excellent cameo by Eddie Marsan) realizes the validity of Omalu’s findings—and their repercussions. I liked Brooks throughout. I liked looking at Mbatha-Raw.
But the movie is heavy-handed in all the wrong places, and goes out of its way not to alienate football fans and the NFL. Every other character has to talk about how beautiful football is. Every other scene contains some take on America—mostly how great we are. The story is about a horrifying way that American football and American business is fucked up, and the movie keeps patting these villains on the back.
Ethel Merman by Arthur Laurents
“In the Gypsy company, she was famous for a sexual joke she didn't get. When she asked Jack Klugman, her leading man, whether Tab Hunter was gay, Jack replied, 'Is the Pope Catholic?' 'Yes,' said Ethel, still waiting for the answer. Not bright, no, but endearing and despite a life spent in saloons, childlike.”
'SI is Part of a Giant Plan to Flaunt All Decency'
The following are letters sent to the relatively new Sports Illustrated magazine about their spring 1955 baseball issue, which featured New York Giants superstar Willie Mays, Giants manager Leo Durocher, and his wife, actress Lorraine Day, on the cover:
Up until now, I have not found anything in particularly bad taste in SI, but by golly, you print a picture on the cover in full color, of a white woman embracing a negro (with a small letter) man, you make it evident that even in a magazine supposedly devoted to healthful and innocent sports, you have to engage in South-bating [sic]. . . . I care nothing about these three people, but I care a heck of a lot about the proof this picture gives that SI is part of a giant plan to flaunt all decency, so long as the conquered of 1865 can be reminded of their eternal defeat. —Shreveport, La.
To tell you that I was shocked at SI’s cover would be putting it mildly. . . . The informative note inside that this Mrs. Leo Durocher, a white woman, with her arm affectionately around the neck of Willie Mays, a Negro ballplayer. . . . Let me say to you, Sir, the most appalling blow ever struck at this country, the most disastrous thing that ever happened to the people of America, was the recent decision of the Supreme Court, declaring segregation unconstitutional. —Nashville, Tenn.
Please cancel my subscription to SI immediately. . . . This is an insult to every decent white woman everywhere. —Fort Worth, Tex.
Such disgusting racial propaganda is not fit for people who are trying to build a stronger nation based on racial integrity. —New Orleans, La.
They're recounted in Bill Madden's book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever,” and are a reminder of how far we've come. Also not, since the arguments, and the anger, and the combination of Southern defensiveness and entitlement, feel familiar on another level: a level of class, or immigrant status, or religious affiliation, or sexual preference. It doesn't go away; it just shifts.
Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016)
The extent to which Prince and I grew up in the same city (Minneapolis), but didn’t (north/south, black/white), is reflected in how I first came across him: on the cover of a national music magazine touting “The Minneapolis Sound” while visiting family and friends on the east coast in, I believe, the summer of 1981. I was vaguely insulted by the headline. I was dismissive. “I’m from Minneapolis. How do I not know the Minneapolis sound?” But I didn’t. Or I didn’t know that Minneapolis sound. It’s this kind of dichotomy—north/side, black/white—that Prince spent his life bridging.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, another fellow Minnesotan, once wrote the following:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Prince held two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retained the ability to funk. He was black/white, male/female, gay/straight, lustful/spiritual. He sang of dichotomies: “Girls & Boys,” “Elephants & Flowers.” He played with the opposites. He named a bouncy ditty “Jack U Off,” and a pair of beautiful love ballads “Do Me, Baby” and “Damn U.” He kept imagining places where we could be whole. Just take Alphabet St. across Graffiti Bridge and wind up at Paisley Park.
First Avenue is the downtown Minneapolis venue where much of “Purple Rain” was filmed, and in the movie Prince imagined it a lot more integrated, and a lot more stylish, than it actually was. I know because I used to go there all the time. Flash? Glam? Sexy? I didn’t even have a raspberry beret.
To be honest, I thought he was a weirdo. That pullout poster from “Controversy”? Showering, with the water dripping off his thong? What was he doing? The inside art for “1999” in his small neon bedroom, playing with watercolors, with the sheet pulled back enough to reveal his naked ass? But he became a soundtrack of my life. I wore out the first disc to “1999” and only ventured to the second when a friend told me she’d dealt with the suicide of her friend by listening to “Free” over and over again. I was at a pool party when one of our sexiest friends came up to me in the shallow end, flirting, and lip-syncing to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” I actually picked up a girl—or she picked up me—after we danced to “Erotic City” on the First Avenue dance floor.
In truth I needed more of what he was preaching. I was too uptight, too worried about what other people thought. I played the safe, dishonest middle. He went long on honesty, sexuality, spirituality. He loved God, wished u heaven, but girl you got an ass like he’d never seen. The opening of “D.M.S.R.” should be tattooed on all of us:
Get on the floor
What the hell’d you come here for?
In the winter of ’83/’84, I remember standing on the second level at First Ave, watching people on the first level dance, and someone walked up next to me and did the same. I looked over and froze. Prince. Six months later, with “Purple Rain,” he was everywhere.
For some reason, when I first heard “When Doves Cry,” I thought it was older Prince. The same with “Kiss” two years later. Both seemed familiar and a jolt at the same time. “Purple Rain,” the movie, astonished me by ousting “Ghostbusters’ for the No. 1 slot at the box office; it wound up grossing the equivalent of $174 million today. It was the 11th biggest hit of the year and it made Roger Ebert’s top 10 movies of 1984, but it’s got its faults. The glaring one is the notion that the Kid is too selfish, that “the only one who digs your music is yourself,” and that he’s only able to become successful when he collaborates with Wendy and Lisa on “Purple Rain.” Pardon me, but what song does he open with? Right, “Let’s Go Crazy.” That’s the music no one digs but himself? One of the greatest, balls out, rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written? Not to mention a beautiful opening sermon. In the ‘90s, I got a rejection notice from a small journal about some crap story I’d written so I sent it to someone bigger, I believe The New Yorker, and in the cover letter quoted Prince:
If the elevator tries to bring you down
Punch a higher floor
Another sentiment to tattoo on all of us.
If I was surprised by the success of “Purple Rain” I was more surprised by the relative quiet that greeted “Around the World in a Day.” I remember hearing “Raspberry Beret” blaring from a convertible in Dinkytown on a warm spring ’85 day, and I thought, “This will be huge.” It wasn’t, quite. He kept disappearing. Didn’t he announce he was retiring or something to look for the ladder? Instead, he directed and starred in “Under the Cherry Moon.” Oops. I loved “Sign O’ the Times” and “LoveSexy” (“Alphabet St.” is another song that hit me immediately), ignored the “Batman” stuff, stayed with him through “Graffiti Bridge,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and the “Love Symbol” album. I kept expecting another resurgence, a popular breakthrough. Instead, the glyph jokes, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince jokes. But whenever the discussion came up, I laid down my three musical geniuses in the rock era: Beatles, Dylan, Prince.
I first saw Prince in concert during the “Purple Rain” tour in '84 and the last during “Musicology” in '04. I went with Patricia and about half a dozen of her co-workers—all women, of course. This is a bit late, guys, but a Prince concert was the best pick-up joint in the world. The ratio was something like 12-1, and the 12 were going crazy. It was Erotic City.
Last week, when I heard the news, I was on vacation in Utah, of all places, and was surprised by how much it hurt, and was surprised again by how much it hurt everyone. The world turned purple in mourning and celebration. It cried and partied like it was 1999. I so wanted to be in Minneapolis that day, and the days that followed, but social media helped me for once. My friend Adam in particular kept posting and posting and posting. All of us shared stories, memories, links, and songs. We tried to talk ourselves through it. We tried to put the right letters together and make a better day.
Rest in peace, you sexy motherfucker.
Reader: Quit Bloviating
This arrived in my inbox while I was on vacation in Utah last week:
Please, quit bloviating about movies you haven't seen (Finest Hours) and pontificating about the box office of movies that don't deserve so much discussion (Batman v. Superman), get into the theater, and start writing insightful review essays, which is why I go to your blog.
Love bloviating/pontificating. And he got the “v” in “Batman v Superman” right. I've passed a few movie theaters where they added the “s.”