The New York Met family and its legion of fans were saddened last week by the news of the passing of Bud Harrelson, 79, on Jan 11 at an hospice house after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
He was the starting shortstop on the 1969 Miracle Mets and the 1973 NL champs that lost a hard-fought 7-game World Series to the Oakland A's (who were in the middle of their three-peat of world championships.) Harrelson became a national figure when during the championship series against the Reds, he and the much sturdier Pete Rose had a skirmish when Rose slid too hard into him at second base.
I was watching on TV when the incident happened. I will never forget the peace contingent including manager Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver and Rusty Staub walking to the left field wall to plead with upper deck fans to stop littering the field lest the umpires call a forfeit in favor of the Reds.
Harrelson also was the third base coach for the victorious 1986 Mets, becoming the only Met to wear the team's uniform for both Met world championships. In the famous video of Ray Knight scoring the winning run in Game 6 of the World Series after first baseman Bill Buckner's error, it is Harrelson running towards home plate side by side with Knight. Bud later quipped that he made sure he didn't beat Ray to the plate.
He also managed the 1990 Mets to 91 wins, but in another example of impetuousness in the agonizing history of the franchise, he was fired in the middle of the 1991 season, still finishing his MLB managerial career with an overall 145-129 record. He made Long Island his permanent home and became an original and continuous part-owner of the independent Long Island Ducks whom he managed to an Atlantic League championship in 2004.
Harrelson was born on D-Day June 6, 1944 in the East San Francisco Bay town of Niles but he grew up a little south in Hayward. Despite his small frame - his listed 5' 11" 160 pounds was an exaggeration - he was a great all-around athlete and attended San Francisco State on a basketball scholarship. But he only played baseball there. According to Bill Nowlin's characteristically informative SABR Bioproject essay, Mets scout Roy Partee signed Harrelson after his 1963 college season.
It was two years before the introduction of the amateur free agent draft and Partee, a former Red Sox catcher who wasn't much bigger than Harrelson, won Harrelson's services over the Yankees and a few other teams with an offer of probably a little over $10,000. Harrelson arrived in Queens in 1965 and when Seaver arrived in 1967, two key pieces were in place for the 1969 triumph.
My guess is that scout Roy Partee probably came to work for the expansion Mets with Johnny Murphy, the former great Yankees relief pitcher who worked for over a decade in the Red Sox player development system and became the Mets first scouting director and later general manager.
For those of you so drunk on analytics that you don't think pitching and defense are important, the 1969 Mets scored only 15 more runs than the sad sack 1962 Mets. Though Harrelson's career BA was only .236, all but the last three seasons with the Mets, he was a 1970-71 NL All-Star and solid defensive shortstop.
My most vivid personal memory of Harrelson is when he spoke in Babylon, Long Island in 2010 at the dedication of a cornerstone to mark where the Cuban Giants first played in 1885. The team consisted of African-American waiters at the nearby Argyle Hotel who, given the virulent racial segregation of the time, could not openly admit their slave ancestry so posed as "Cubans".
Harrelson told the gathering that he knew about the Negro Leagues of the twentieth century, but the story of the Cuban Giants as the first organized black baseball team was new to him and he was glad to learn the story. He told me afterward that his own family roots were in Minnesota but they were "Grapes of Wrath" people who moved to California to find a better life.
Bud's father worked as an auto mechanic and never had a chance to pursue an athletic career. He passed on his love of the game to his son and Bud Harrelson wound up serving it very well. He became one of baseball's good guys and his quiet passion and level-headedness will surely be missed.
Too often in blogs and other publications errata are buried at the end. So let me mention here a couple of changes from my last post. The recently-retired Astros outfielder is Michael Brantley. Mickey Brantley was his father who also played in the big leagues.
And Columbia's women's basketball great senior guard is Abbey Hsu, not Abby. The Lions keep on rolling and are 3-0 in Ivy League and 12-3 overall, riding a 10-game winning streak into formidable Princeton on Sat aft Jan 20 for a 4p matchup that will be broadcast on ESPN News.
My other favorite basketball team, the Wisconsin Badger men, lost at Penn State on Tu Jan 16), suffering their first Big Ten loss game of the season.87-83. They simply could not contain the swift Nittany Lion guards, Kanye Clary and Ace Baldwin, Jr. who led virtually all the way in a 87-83 win. Max Klesmit, a recent breakout scorer for Wisconsin, was plagued with foul trouble and scored only 10 points. His defense was sorely missed this night but
then again it was the speed of the Penn State guards that caused his lack of playing time.
As I mentioned last post, the 20-game Big Ten schedule is a severe test of skill and endurance. I guess you can say that about most conference play but there is a special intensity in the Big Ten - which of course is now the Big 14 and soon will be the Big 18. Maybe it comes from dealing with the ferocious weather at the height of the season.
On the movie front, "American Fiction" blew me away with its amazing ability to move from hilarity to tenderness without missing a beat. Cord Jefferson, who used to write for "USA Today" and was an editor of the defunct "Gawker" e-zine, both wrote and directed the movie based on the 2001 Percival Everett novel, "Erasure". Jeffrey Wright leads an impressive cast with Leslie Uggams as his mother. Yes, that Leslie Uggams still bringing it at age 80.
My best experiences seeing films have always come with low or no expectations. I had seen the trailer for "American Fiction" but had read nothing else about the puckish story of an English professor frustrated that his high class novels don't sell while other dumbed-down books are best sellers so he decides to do somethng about it.
I really hadn't read that much about "Oppenheimer" either, but had high hopes for it because I lived through the Red Scare and the civil defense craze of the 1950s and knew that Robert Oppenheimer had been instrumental in developing the atomic bomb. I must say though I left the film mainly disappointed because the sound track was far too intrusive. It even overwhelms the dialogue at times. I saw it at an IMAX theater and it is not a film made for IMAX. The acting is fine but three hours without intermission was too much for me.
On the other hand, my first opera of the season, Verdi's "Nabucco", thrilled me to the marrow. It is considered Verdi's first major opera, debuting in 1842. The early first act trio featuring the rival Babylonian half-sisters Fenene (sung by Maria Barakova from Kemerova, Russia) and Abigaille (sung by Liudmyla Monastryska from Kiev, Ukraine) and Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem (sung by SeokJong Baek from Seoul, Korea), matches in power and beauty anything I've heard in a long time.
Like most operas, the libretto strains credulity. Unlike most operas, this one ends with the death of only one of the protagonists although plenty of common people do get wiped out off stage in the incessant wars around the Babylonian Captivity of the Israelites in 600 B.C.E.
The famous third act chorus, "Va, pensiero," sung by the lost Israelites, always brings the house down. It was moving to read in the program that when Verdi died in 1901, there was a public memorial in which thousands sung this famous chorus conducted by the future lion of American conducting, Arturo Toscanini.
There are three more chances to hear this "Nabucco" all with the same cast conducted by Daniele Callegari (from Milan).
Thursday Jan 18 8p; Su Jan 21 3p; and F Sep 26 at 8p.
The set for "Nabucco" is 20 years old and some people have tired of it. A new production of "Carmen" can be seen F Jan 19 and Tu Jan 23 at 730p.
It is worth noting that there will be no performances at the Met from Jan 28 thru Feb 25.
Rush seats from as low as $20-$25 are often available if you were willing to wait on line before the Met box office opens at 10AM. More info available
One TCM tip - Tu Jan 23 at 1130A - Joe E Brown as a swimmer vying for young Ginger Rogers in "You Said A Mouthful" with Preston Foster.
And fond retirement wishes to Clayelle Dalfares who broadcast her last WQXR radio programs last weekend. She is also a great baseball fan who around this time or a little later would make reference to the coming arrival of pitchers and catchers in spring training.
Time is on our side. The equipment trucks will be heading to Florida and Arizona before my next post and just remember when the Super Bowl is over Feb 11 the next week the camps will open.
Re: the Super Bowl, I'd love to see the Lions make it after all the suffering of their fans for decades. And I'm torn between rooting for long-suffering Buffalo Bills and Baltimore's Ravens.
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson seems to be a maturing star with enormous talent and a very admirable off-field profile - he is his own
agent. A story worth exploring in an upcoming blog.
For now, always remember: Take it easy but take it and stay positive, test negative.