I hope the New Year brings you, dear readers, good health and some serenity in a very turbulent time
of history. Personally, I'm looking forward to the April publication of my book BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES: INSIDE THE CRAFT OF SCOUTING BY THOSE WHO LIVED IT (U of Nebraska Press that published my Branch Rickey bio and the third edition of my labor history THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND.)
I remain convinced that no organization can win without a good supply of eyes-and-ears scouting augmented but not enslaved to the endless modern technology and its search for certainty in a sport that defies it. I'm glad I'm giving props in my book to the people who deserve to be remembered for their largely selfless contributions of bringing good players and good people into the game.
The year 2022 ended with sadness for me with the loss of three dear friends, one of them being White Sox scout John Tumminia. He died at the age of 70 on December 4, 2022, after a long battle with auto-immune encephalitis, a form of brain cancer.
I met John not long after he started his scouting career in 1987. We were huddling from the rain in a shed back of home plate that disrupted batting practice before what may have been a minor league game of the Albany-Colonie Yankees. So began a friendship based on a love of the game in all its charms and mysteries.
John was named White Sox scout of the year in 2001 and was instrumental in giving the heads up
to many of the World Series winning 2005 team. John scouted Cuban baseball in its amateur heyday and at one time gave a positive recommendation to its entire national team. Former Yankee champions Jose Contreras and "El Duque" Orlando Hernandez were part of the 2005 Chisox pitching staff.
A native of Brooklyn, John was a graduate of the local St. Francis College where he made their baseball Hall of Fame. How disappointed he was when many years ago his alma mater gave up the sport.
He played pro ball in Italy in 1975 before returning to NY where for a while he taught theology at a high school in West Islip, NY. From the mid-1980s through 2008, he was recreation director at the Shawangunk maximum security prison in Wallkill, near Newburgh.
It was quite an experience to walk New York City streets or sit in a restaurant with John Tumminia. His ears and eyes were so attuned to the nuances of people's behavior that he picked up words and movements that I was oblivious to.
John was a practicing non-evangelical Christian who meditated every day and cared deeply about all of God's human beings. His compassion for the underprivileged led him to form the Baseball Miracles project to which he devoted his last years.
He and his staff of volunteers sponsored baseball clinics and brought equpment to underserved youngsters all over the world, including Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, and Argentina. But he once told me that the worst poverty he ever saw was on a reservation in the Dakotas.
In a touching piece that Scott Merkin wrote for MLB.com in December 2016, he described John as "a
thin version of Santa". He told the writer that "the expression on the kids' faces is like a light bulb."
Another loss last year was the passing of the superb writer and memoir teacher, Jean Hastings Ardell, who left us Oct 7 at the age of 79 after a courageous battle against multiple myeloma and long Covid.
Jean and I met early this century at one of the NINE baseball magazine annual conferences in Arizona.
She had already written an absorbing and informative book about women in our game, BREAKING INTO BASEBALL. The baseball bond and our shared New York City roots quickly led to us becoming fast friends.
Unlike yours truly who returned in 1976 to NYC after some years in Wisconsin and Baltimore, Jean left our "home town" for college at Butler in Indianapolis and never came back except to visit. By 1965 she settled in southern California where she lived a vibrant life that included once playing bridge with John Wayne.
I never found out more details about that experience or about her first job in SoCal as an assistant to the
renowned architect William Pereira. She returned to college to get her BA at UC-Irvine in 1988 and
later got her master's in non-fiction writing at USC.
Jean's last book was a collaboration with Ila Borders. MAKING MY PITCH, the story of the first
woman to pitch college baseball. Ila was the first speaker at the early December memorial that was attended by almost 300 people at Newport Beach St. Mark's Presbyterian Church.
I was among the many that tuned in via Zoom to hear Ila thank Jean for her gentle guidance as she worked towards the difficult process of coming out as a gay person.
A deeply committed liberal, Jean was never dogmatic. Phil Lance, one of the friends of Jean and her husband Dan Ardell, noted that she taught us "how to open spaces where friendships can grow."
Annie Quinn, a writer that Jean mentored, summed up best our aching loss when she quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: "Only true friends leave footprints in your heart."
I quote Jean in the title of this post. I will always remember her saying, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape."
I end in memory of another loss from 2022, Fred Herschowitz who died on August 24 two days before his 80th birthday. Fred was the WBAI-Pacifica Radio broadcaster that brought me to the airwaves early in 1980 to discuss the first edition of my book, THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND.
I became a co-host with him on "Seventh Inning Stretch", the only long-running sports show that highly political leftist station ever scheduled. I took over the show in late 1982 and remained for most of the decade.
Fred was the organizer of the WBAI softball team he aptly dubbed the Turtles. I will always be
grateful to him for giving me the chance to play third base.
What I lacked in arm and at the plate I tried to make up for with a chest willing to block a smash or two and having "just enough" arm to sling the ball to first base.
Fred's enthusiasm and competitiveness on the softball field at times was overzealous. I'll never forget before a game against WQXR the classical music station, Fred took out a clipping of a violin and burned it.
He was a big Mets fan and I have a feeling that he wouldn't be too thrilled with the team's
seemingly relentless pursuit of free agent shortstop Carlos Correa. Nor am I.
Yet Fred was a Queens native and very loyal to the Mets' orange and blue. He was my neighbor on the Upper West Side and I will always feel the void when I walk up West End Avenue.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it, stay positive test negative, and in this time of loss, the words of art and social critic John Ruskin resound more than ever: "There is no wealth but life."