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Reflections on Getting My Pfizer Vaccine + In Memory of Sam Nader & Tom Konchalski (revised, 2-16 with late Feb TCM tips)

On Lincoln's Birthday Feb 12 - it also would have been my mother's 119th birthday - I received my second Pfizer vaccine.  I was in and out of Mount Sinai Morningside - the former St. Lukes near the Columbia campus - in less than 45 minutes, including the 15-minute waiting period after the shot to make certain there were no adverse reactions.  

 

I really feel for the enormous number of people that have had to travel tens to hundreds of miles for their shots. Let's hope that a more streamlined public health service can be created under our new national Biden administration.

 

The nurse who gave me the second shot was very business-like and helpful.  I didn't really expect the unexpected praise that I heard before my first shot - when the nurse, a newcomer to NYC from Albuquerque, thought I looked closer to 50 than 78. If only it were true.  If only. 

 

It was fitting that I received the Pfizer vaccine because it brought back memories of John L. Smith, the Pfizer president in the 1930s and 1940s who was also an actively involved chemist.   Smith was also the treasurer and the wealthiest partner of the Brooklyn Dodgers as the internal war between the other partners, Branch Rickey and Walter O'Malley, began to build. 

 

While working on experiments to develop penicillin, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming became a friend of Smith and fascinated by American baseball. Smith was reportedly first diagnosed with lung cancer in 1946 but evidently went into remission.  

 

Gifted NY "Herald Tribune" sportswriter Harold Rosenthal loved to discuss science and medicine with John L. Smith.  He thought it a tragedy that mass production of the miracle drug penicillin or perhaps some other new invention did not occur until it was too late to save the life of Smith whose cancer returned and he died during the AllStarGame break in July 1950.

   

When Smith's widow Mary Louise awarded her voting shares to O'Malley, Rickey's departure was foreordained and he left Brooklyn for Pittsburgh after the 1950 season.  The tragedy for Brooklyn Dodger fans occurred seven years later when O'Malley uprooted the franchise for the greener pasture$ of Los Angeles. 

 

I discuss the story in my essay, "The Two Titans and the Mystery Man," in the Joseph Dorinson/Joram Warmund edited volume, SPORT RACE AND THE AMERICAN DREAM (M.E.Sharpe), and in my biography, BRANCH RICKEY: BASEBALL'S FEROCIOUS GENTLEMAN

(U of Nebraska Press).  

 

(This is not the time or place to discuss whether Robert Moses was also a culprit in the Dodgers departure to Los Angeles. Sure he was, but I do firmly believe had Smith lived, that wound in the heart of Brooklyn might have been avoided.)    

 

I dearly hope that the Pfizer vaccine will take hold in the marrow of yours truly.  If it does,

I dedicate its healing graces to loyal Brooklynite John Lawrence Smith, who lived near Ebbets Field and was a great supporter of baseball, amateur sports, and local charities.   

 

He was a rare owner who wasn't into baseball to make money but to provide service to the local community. Rex Barney, Dodger pitcher and later Oriole public address announcer, told me that

Smith would come into the Sunday clubhouse waving pennants to lift up team spirits.  

 

Speaking of special owners, longtime Oneonta minor league owner Sam Nader passed away on Monday Feb 8 at the age of 101. In the 1980s, I fell in love with the New York-Penn League franchise located in the Otsego County seat scarcely a half-hour south of Cooperstown.  

 

When I first saw games in Oneonta, the staff of Sam Nader, previously a four-term mayor of the city, included his wife Alice and his three children, Suzanne, John, and Alice Adele.   Sam supervised the cooking of hot dogs, and "boy, they are good," I remember his justified praise.  

 

Oneonta was where Don Mattingly and Willie McGee broke into pro baseball.  Oneonta was where Buck Showalter first played and then managed.  I'll never forget Sam telling me at the time that Showalter one day would be Yankee manager.   

 

In 1982 John Elway hit .318 as a O-Yank right fielder, and led the team in every offensive category, including stolen bases.  Elway and his father Jack, a renowned West Coast football coach, were not happy that the Baltimore Colts had drafted John for football.

 

They did not like the methods of Colts coach Frank Kush when his Arizona State Sun Devils played against John Elway qb-ing Stanford. (In a fascinating aside, Jack Elway later coached Stanford with middling success but coaching San Jose State he beat his son's Stanford twice.)

 

If only the Colts had known about the Elways' antipathy towards Kush, a new coach could have been named, Elway signed, and no more Colts move to Indianapolis in the middle of the night early in 1984. Ah, "If" history yet again.

 

It was John Elway's only pro baseball experience but it was a memorable experience for him and the fans. There were few home runs evelr hit in Oneonta's spacious Damaschke Field but it was a great place to watch pitching and defense and savor the beauty of the restorative hill behind the left field fence.  Adding to Damaschke's charm, it was located within the picturesque public Neawha Park. 

 

Sam Nader was the youngest of six children of Elias Nader and Rose Rajah who emigrated from a mountain village near Beirut, Lebanon in 1909. As Mark Simonson noted in a long and moving article in the Oneonta "Daily Star," updated on Feb 13, Elias did not pass an American eye exam in France so the couple traveled to Brazil for two years where they had cousins.

 

Once he passed the exam, they settled in Oneonta where another cousin already lived. The Naders grew up not far from the railroad tracks, nicknamed the "lower deck" of the town. Through hard work and grit and an endearing love of people, Sam rose to become a pillar of the community.  An affordable housing complex, Nader Towers, honors him, and the Oneonta airport is named after him. 

 

Oneonta had been without minor league baseball since 1952 when Sam led the forces to bring the Red Sox to town in 1967.  In a time of social turmoil, Sam thought that baseball would be a unifying force for all ages.  

 

When the Yankees expressed interest in coming to town, Sam leaped at the chance because he was a longtime Yankee fan. He developed a close bond with George Steinbrenner once he bought the Yankees in 1973.

 

When Steinbrenner in 1998 as a favor to then-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani agreed to move the franchise to a brand new $70 million plus stadium on Staten Island in 1998, the Boss wanted Sam to come along.  No way lifelong Oneonta native Nader would leave.  

 

In its last years it became a Tigers franchise, aiding most famously in the development of future Yankee and Met outfielder Curtis Granderson. After 2009 the franchise was moved to Norwich, Connecticut on Long Island Sound. 

 

As Mark Simonson notes, Sam once expressed very beautifully his parting advice to Oneonta players:  "When you leave here, leave with a pleasant memory, and if you go on, always remember us because we'll always remember you."  

 

The likes of Sam Nader will sorely be missed.  Please don't forget him at a time when not only is Oneonta long gone from the minor leagues, but the whole New York-Penn League has been disbanded as well as several other leagues and forty teams discarded in all.    

 

The Staten Island Yankees are defunct and its stadium now lies vacant. It is hard to envision much commerce flocking to the new shopping mall adjacent to the stadium.  

 

The owners of the S. I. Yankees are suing MLB for its abandonment. So are the owners of the Trenton Thunder whose Double-A franchise was moved to the more lucrative suburban Bridgewater NJ area and will play in the Somerset Patriots independent league ballpark.

 

MORE SADNESS IN THE NEWS:

We lost another special person in the world of sports last week with the death of basketball scout Tom Konchalski, 74.  I never met Tom but I would see him after games in the area. He always sat in the top row away from scrutiny. 

 

He never learned to drive but his knowledge of players was so encyclopedic that writers loved to volunteer as chauffeurs to be able to pick his mind.  His typewritten High School Basketball Report was must reading for coaches at all levels of the game.

 

He was responsible for many players getting chances at Divsion II and III schools.  He appreciated Jay Wright as much for his career playing at Bucknell than his national titles coaching Villanova.

 

Like so many great scouts, he never denigrated a player's ability. His most severe criticism was: "He wasn't a genuine fit" for a program.  

 

A fine column by Roger Rubin in newsday.com quoted from some of his pithy reports:

On Jamal Mashburn, who went to Kentucky (and whose son now is a Minnesota reserve): 

He has "the body of a blacksmith and the touch of a surgeon."  

 

On Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway:  "Dishes like Julia, delivers like Dominos."  

 

Another loss in the basketball world recently was John Chaney, 89, who brought Temple in Philadelphia to national renown.  I'm tired of learning about these departures, but at least these men lived full and rewarding lives. May our memories of them always be a blessing.

 

Before I end this post, here are some of my TCM recommendations for late Feb: 

 

Fri Feb 19 8P a classic 1950 noir "Gun Crazy" followed at 945p by a classic in women's awakening - "Thelma and Louise" with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (shortly before her

memorable take on Dottie Hinson in "A League of Their Own")

 

Sat Feb 20 12M, repeated Sun at 10A "Native Son" (1950) starring author Richard Wright in title role as Bigger Thomas. Remastered by Eddie Muller who will intro and outro film as part of Noir Alley series.

 

Sun Feb 21 3:15p  Billy Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie" (1966) first pairing of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon with scenes shot on the Cleveland Browns football field at Municipal Stadium. Not vintage Wilder but hard to beat the Lemmon-Matthau timing. Matthau won Oscar for portrayal of shyster lawyer.  (I didn't have a vote - LOL.) 

 

Wed Feb 24 10A "Hollywood Canteen" 1944 USO film with soldiers returning on furlough to meet such movie stars as Bette Davis, John Garfield, Ida Lupino and Dane Clark.  Watch for Joe E Brown's dance and Jack Benny sparring on violin with Joseph Szigeti.   

 

Fri Feb 26 630A  Ernst Lubitsch's "Ninotchka" (1939) - Melvyn Douglas woos serious Russian comrade played by Greta Garbo.  Wonderful character actors Felix Bressart,  Sig Rumann add much to the flavor.  Billy Wilder worked on it and you can see how he learned from the master how to get comedy out of very serious material.

 

Later on Feb 26 at 5p Vincent Price in "The Mad Magician" (1954) - first time I will see it since it scared the hell out of me when I first saw on TV in the 1950s.

 

Sa Feb 27 12N  "Knute Rockne" (1940) Hollywood's take on the coaching legend starring Pat O'Brien with tramp athlete George "Win One For The Gipper" Gipp played by some actor named Ronald Reagan.

 

Sa Feb 27 12M repeated Sun at 10A - Robert Wise's "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1960) intro'd and outro'd again by Eddie Muller. One of the great NYC movies, jazz movies, and overall A-one movies.  Music composed by John Lewis of Modern Jazz Quartet. Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, genuine liberals off-screen, play bank robbers who hate each other for black-white reasons.  Ex-cop Ed Begley Sr. plays the mastermind. 

 

Su Feb 28  345p Blake Edwards's "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) with Lemmon and Lee Remick as the alcoholic lovers and Charles Bickford as her stern father

 

month ends at 10p Martin Ritt's "The Front" (1976) - one of the best if not the best movie about the blacklist. Woody Allen fronts for Zero Mostel. Cast also includes Andrea Marcovicci and Michael Murphy.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember: Take it easy but take it! 

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"Trouble Ahead, Trouble Ahead!': Reflections on An Upcoming Diamond Anniversary, August 28, 1945 - corrected version

[The following blog was posted before the shocking death on Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated on August 28 in 2020,  of Chadwick Boesman, 43, who starred as Robinson in "42" the acclaimed 2013 film that made Boseman a star. He had suffered from colon cancer for four years, a disease that he kept private all this time. His memory will be indelible.

 

Brooklyn Dodger fans have called to my attention that I missed one pennant-winning team prior to Robinson's rookie season of 1947, the first pennant of 1916. So have made the change in the tex below. Otherwise it stands as originally posted.]

 

 

This Friday August 28 marks the 75th anniversary - the diamond jubilee if you will - of the first meeting of Jack Roosevelt Robinson with Wesley Branch Rickey.  It was held in Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers office at 215 Montague Street not far from the Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

 
The encounter between these two Type-A personalities has been the subject of much historical writing as well as the impressive 2013 film "42" starring Harrison Ford as Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson.  

 
It is an evergreen story - how an unusual partnership was forged between the fiercely proud talented all-around Black athlete and the shrewd but genuinely religious and paternal White executive.  Together they vowed to break the poorly named "gentleman's agreement" that had blocked African-Americans from playing Major League Baseball since the late 19th century.

 
By 1947 Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger star on his way to a Rookie of the Year title and the Dodgers were headed to the World Series for only the fourth time in their history. Though they lost a tough seven-game Series to the Yankees, Robinson rose to stardom not only in the baseball world but throughout American national culture.  He was voted the second most popular entertainer after Bing Crosby. 

 
It is not coincidental that a year later President Harry Truman issued an executive order desegregating the Armed Forces. And in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision, ruling that public school segregation was unconstitutional.  

 
It is good that Malor League Baseball recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first prominent Negro league by the pioneer black baseball organizer Rube Foster.  But I think the courageous first move to integrate white baseball 25 years later needs remembrance as well. 

 
The road to Robinson's eventual success was not a smooth one.  But Rickey stood squarely behind "The Young Man from the West," as he was dubbed in secret front office code before the announcement of his signing was made public two months later.

 

In "My Own Story," Robinson's 1948 autobiography, he described what it was like to be analyzed and dissected by Branch Rickey. "His piercing eyes roared over me with such meticulous care, I almost felt naked." Once the battle for integration was joined, Robinson would describe Rickey as like "a piece of mobile armor," ready to defend him from any and all attacks.   

 
Rickey was both a spellbinding and folksy story-teller.  Robinson grew solace from one of Rickey's favorite tales about an old couple in rural Scioto County in southern Ohio where Rickey was born, regularly visited, and is buried..  

 
They were traveling for the first time on a railway car through the hills of their home county.   They looked out the window and as the train headed towards a steep curve, the husband cried, "Trouble ahead! Trouble ahead!"  

 
The couple thought the train would fall off the rails and crash.  But it didn't and life went on and the change to faster transportation was accepted. 

 

"Trouble ahead! Trouble ahead!" was a frequent mantra of Rickey's whenever a problem arose. The crisis was usually averted by good strategy and basic courage.

 
Rickey enjoyed Robinson in Brooklyn for only four seasons.  He lost a power struggle to co-owner Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, and he started at the bottom with the young Pittsburgh Pirates.   

 
I think that part of the reason that Rickey is not remembered for his successful integration strategy is that the subsequent years of his baseball career were not marked by success. 

Also once the black power movmenet erupted in the 1960s, Rickey's motivation was too often seen as mainly economic.

 

Rickey's Pirates finished in or near the basement in during his five years at the helm in Pittsburgh  But it should be noted that Rickey signed the core of the future 1960 World Series champions, including Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face, Dick Groat, and Bill Mazeroski. 

 
In the late 1950s, Rickey's attempt at leading the Continental League, a third major league, to compete with the existing two leagues also failed.  It did lead to expansion of each existing league to ten teams, but it was not the outcome Rickey desired.  He was old enough to remember the ten-team National League of the 1890s that only increased the number of second division teams. 

 
I do like to think that in the great beyond Rickey is smiling at the Toronto Blue Jays for this short season playing in Buffalo.   It is the only one of the eight original CL franchises - Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Minny-St.Paul, New York, and Toronto - never to get a team.  Unfortunately because of the huge role of TV markets in today's baseball, Buffalo is not likely to get a full season team.  

 

Although the Continental League folded in the summer of 1960, Rickey's comment to a reporter when he started the league a year earlier still resonates.  There he was at the age of 77 and plagued by a serious heart condition. Asked by a reporter to name his greatest thrill in baseball. he replied, "It hasn't happened yet." 

 
It's that kind of spirit of adventure and optimism about the future that drew Jackie Robinson and so many other players, friends, and family into his admiring orbit. It's the kind of spirit that we need desperately in all aspects of our society in the year 2020. 

 
So please think of the great adventure that Robinson and Rickey started upon 75 years ago this Friday August 28.  And as September nears and a fraught school year is upon us, it's especially wise to take it easy but take it!  

 

Next time more on the unfolding MLB baseball season and I hope I can write some praise of the Orioles' hitting prospect with the striking name of Ryan Mountcastle.  He made his MLB debut last weekend and held his own and looks like he could be an offensive presence of the future.   

 

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