Okay, I'll add one thing: given how he does on the quiz, it fits that he is a former Met.
The guest contestant on this week's 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is former major league baseball player Keith Hernandez. I'm not going to say any more about him or his interview with host Peter Sagal because he played for Satan's Team, the New York Mets. If anyone thinks that's petty, then a) just know that I thought about not even posting this at all, and b) you clearly don't follow baseball. If you're a Mets fan, that disqualifies your opinion. The fact that he played the first half of his career with the hated St. Louis Cardinals only serves to solidify my thinking on all this. I wouldn't have considered not posting this because of that, but it made the decision to post it all the harder...
Okay, I'll add one thing: given how he does on the quiz, it fits that he is a former Met.
First, the disclaimer: this is about baseball.
Now, the admonition: don't give up on this yet. After I tell you about it, if you still don't want to watch the video, fair enough. But this is mainly about Bob Costas, so give it a chance.
I love Bob Costas. He's not only a terrific baseball announcer, he's a terrific announcer for any sport he does. He has a sense of history and perspective, and brings to it whatever he's announcing. And he may be at his peak when he's the anchor of some sporting event, like the Olympics. He is an impeccable storyteller and has a sense of great decency, but is laser-like pointed when discussing difficult issues and in his interviewing. Indeed, he's had interview shows that have nothing to do with sports.
I crossed paths with him briefly, during my dark days of publicity, when I worked on the movie, BASEketball, in which he appeared, with a bunch of other sportscasters, though he was the main one. Before production, I had get to biographical information from him, so I called his office, which was at his home in St. Louis. As it happened, he answered the phone. His secretary was out, and he didn't get a replacement to fill in, he just handled what was needed. Well, as best he could -- he admitted being a total techno-luddite. We had a very enjoyable conversation, but when it came to faxing me his bio, he didn't have a clue how to do it, and he'd need to have his secretary do it when she got back. Keep in mind, this is a guy who has won 20 Emmy Awards! He lives in the world of technology and its pinnacle. And he didn't know how to fax. (Put paper in slot. Dial phone number. Tap send.)
We got to spend more time on the movie set, and it was a pleasure talking with him. Smart, personable and very approachable. He's also very religious, and said he wasn't sure he'd be okay with his young kids seeing the R-rated movie. But he willingly did any of the odd, occasionally raunchy things the filmmakers had him do. He didn't try to impose his views on anyone. The only request he made -- and it was a request -- was about a joke that would have a personal impact on one of his family members, and he wondered if the filmmakers could address it differently. They happily just took it out.
That brings us to now. Bob Costas finally was elected into the Broadcast Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving the Ford C. Frick Award. Why it took him this long is beyond me, he should have gotten the honor a decade ago. But no matter. He was elected and he made no bones about being the greatest honor of all he's received -- which are a great many, including eight Sportscaster of the Year Awards.
The short version of my rant.
As you might imagine, I really wanted to see Costas’s induction speech but it got buried, and I missed it. (They held his induction the day before the player inductions this year -- I think they're usually at the same ceremony, but since there were six ballplayers elected this year, it was probably deemed too many for the same day.) And the MLB Network hasn’t repeated the broadcast. And (worse) the Baseball Hall of Fame website doesn’t have ANY of the speeches on their site. (Not just from this year, but any from the past, either. Which is an idiot decision, since it would drive traffic to their site). And I could find none of the speeches on YouTube.
I’ve searched online and nothing, but fortunately, I did find ONE place that has the audio of it. But then, much to my pleasure, the inveterate Chris Dunn -- he of many talents, several of them very usual, the remainder mostly intriguing -- actually tracked the video down.
You will also not be shocked to know – 1) being the impeccable storyteller I noted above that he is, it’s 33 minutes, 2) it’s absolutely tremendous, and 3) it’s seems like about 12 minutes. And being Costas, he mostly talks about other people.
While it's about baseball, it's as much about personalities, and about what is important in sport and life. If you don't like baseball, fine, I get it. But this is Bob Costas. The Hall of Fame. It's really wonderful.
[NOTE: This video seems to automatically repeat, and I can't find a way to pause it. But you can stop it by reloading the page, or if you want to stay on the page, at least hit the Mute button.]
In all the years that the PBS show American Masters has been on the air, they have never featured a male athlete. They've had a couple of women athletes -- both tennis players, Althea Gibson and Billie Jean King. But zero men in sports. That finally changed on this past Monday. That's when they aired, "Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived."
It was wonderful.
Clearly it will be of more interest to people who follow baseball. But keep in mind, this is American Masters, they understand what they're doing. They're presenting stories about people, their lives and why they were so important to American culture. So, I think there's a great deal here of interest to people who aren't baseball fans. But yes, certainly, it will be particularly impactful if you are.
Ted Williams (who had numerous nicknames -- (Teddy Ballgame, The Kid and The Splendid Splinter, among them) was a fascinating person -- indeed between him and Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest hitter ever in baseball. And for all his amazing career statistics, he lost five years to the sport fighting in World War II and then the Korean War. In many ways he was profoundly independent, almost a loner -- which suited him perfectly as a world-class fisherman -- who was a prima donna and carried long grudges, but also with a fascinating, warm personal side within his circle. (A great story is when he was actively fundraising for a charity and a former ballplayer kept putting off his pushy requests until finally telling Williams, "I'm all tapped out." Yet Williams didn't give up and got the guy to send $10 to him for the charity. Then, getting the check, he marked down the bank code number, tracked down the account and put $1,000 in it.)
I found out about the show last week, when the inveterate Chris Dunn sent me an article about some remarkable footage that was found of Williams' famous last game. That was when he hit a home run in his last-ever at bat. Black-and-white footage exists of the at bat, but it turned out that a young man (at the time) took a color home movie of the entire game, and it sat in his attack for 50 years. He finally tried to interest people in it, but could get nowhere. Finally, he found out about this American Masters documentary, and asked the filmmaker if he was interested in it -- just a day or two before he "locked" the film. The footage is crisp and in great condition.
PBS doesn't make its shows available for On Demand. But they do post them online for a while -- maybe a month or so. And therefore I'm able to embed the hour-long program below. At some point, it will expire, but for now, here 'tis --
I was watching the Tour de France today -- yes, I know, I'm one of those. I don't have a clue how the rules of the sport actually work, but I find it great fun, unique, and utterly beautiful as the event takes place through the mountains and gorgeous countryside. It was Stage 16.
I don't watch it for the crashes. They make me cringe, not only for the speed of the accidents, but after riding so long and hard, it can knock a person out of the race. But every once in a while, a crash comes along that is SO spectacular, yet no one is badly hurt -- and can even continue. Today, there was one of those.
This is Philippe Gilbert, from Belgium. As you'll see, without giving it away, this is about a classic a bicycle crash as you can find. In fact it's almost something you'd expect to find in a cartoon. As it happens, the drop-off wasn't into a valley (fortunately...), but "just" into a bank of a few feet. But still, remember he's going awfully fast. But remember too, as you see at the 3-minute mark, he only has some scratches (and bumps) and actually is able to continue the race.
See! If you also watched the Tour de France, you too could see stuff like this, for hours. Well, okay, not for hours, but it's fun seeing them cruise along throughout rural France. Well, okay, I find it fun...
The other day, I posted a video of the wonderful presentation at last week's ESPY Awards on ESPN for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. It was given to the over 300 young women who, as little girls, had been abused Olympic gymnastic doctor at Michigan State University, Larry Nasser, and spoke up to help get him convicted for life.
Emotional as the presentation was, with dozens of women after women walking out on stage, I knew something was missing because the video only began moments before the women appeared. I saw that the ESPYs were going to be repeated last night, so I recorded the broadcast and fast-forwarded to that moment. Indeed, there was more. Much more.
It was a 9-minute film that was powerful, moving, horrifying, and yet ultimately uplifting for the women's survival. Wonderfully done. And here is that short film, missing only the impactful, live introduction by presenter Jennifer Garner.
And to complete the story, here again is what followed, as the stage filled up with a great many of those women, along with the three excellent, brief speeches.
This is a lovely, moving moment on ESPN's "ESPY" awards last night. More than just a moment, in fact, but 10 minutes. They gave the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to all the young women who came forward to finally get U.S. Olympic doctor Larry Nasser, of Michigan State University, arrested and convicted on decades of sexual abuse, after 30 years of trying to get someone, anyone to listen.
Dozens and dozens of women walked onstage, and this is only part of those who were involved. Three of the women were selected to speak, and each give a wonderful and personal speech that deals with the others and the larger issue, as well.
As I've written in the past, back during the 1973-74 season, the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL began a tradition where they played the renowned recording of Kate Smith performing her legendary version of "God Bless America" before their home hockey games. They went 36-3 with her recording leading the way (along with one tie).
When the team made the Stanley Cup finals that year, they pulled out all the stops -- and to the total surprise of the crowd, on May 19, 1974, brought Kate Smith herself out onto the ice to sing the song...live.
Here's that rousing rendition and perhaps even-more rousing response. And please note (especially those called on to ever sing this), Kate Smith -- who introduced the song in 1938, and therefore knows a thing or two about the number, performs it as an exuberant anthem, not a hymn --
With the World Cup starting over the weekend, and watching England's exciting opening match against Tunisia (that was tied 1-1 through regulation and then England scored during the four minutes of Extra Time to win the game), I was reminded of an article I wrote here four years ago To the Day, June 18, 2014. It told the story of perhaps the greatest sports miracle that I ever witnessed -- and concerned not only the World Cup, but England. I thought it only appropriate to re-tell the story.
One of the Greatest Sports Miracles Ever
Now that the World Cup has started, and the United States has come up with a miracle victory, I thought this would be a good time to tell the story of not only one of the greatest, unknown World Cup miracles, but one of the all-time great sports miracles, period.
It's how my family and I got to see the World Cup in London, 1966,
And I'm serious.
Okay, no, it's not the upstart United States hockey team beating the Soviet steamrollers. Or the unknown Roulon Gardner defeating the unbeaten, invincible legend Alexander Karelin. It's not Kirk Gibson hitting a home run on one leg, or Doug Flutie's Hail Mary. But those are more remarkable physical achievements by talented athletic. This was an act of otherworldly intervention.
When I was but a wee kidling, my family took a summer trip to Europe. One of our stops was London, where as fate would have it, the British were hosting the World Cup that year. As maniacal as we know the rest of the world is over soccer, England might be the home of soccer insanity. In a land known for tradition, soccer riots are de rigeur there. If you're not rioting, you're not trying.
Nonetheless, my dad thought it would fun to see a World Cup match. (Note: The concept of it being "fun" to see a World Cup match is not relatable for most soccer fans, most especially those who are the aforementioned British. "Fun" is a nice get together for tea, or taking your dog for walkies. Being able to see a World Cup match in England is closer to being life-affirming.) And so, uncaring of the obstacles, my dad found out how to apply to the world lottery being held to get tickets He sent in his form and enclosed his check, and then went on with his life. Meanwhile, throughout England there was national prayer held nightly in homes throughout the country, if only the Almighty would grant them a ticket.
We got four tickets.
But that's not the story, it's not even close to the miracle. It's just the heavens warming up. Because, you see, we just get four tickets to the World Cup, we got them for...the Opening Match! Which would be filled with grand celebration and royalty. But thing is -- that's not the story, either. Because, again you see, featured in the Opening Match of World Cup 1968 was a team that it was likely British fans -- so knowledgeable of all the great teams in the world -- would dearly would love to see.
That team was England.
Yes, that's right. By just randomly sending in to the worldwide lottery, we got four tickets to the Opening Match of the World Cup between England and Uruguay, held in London at Wembley Stadium. And here's the thing: no, that's not the sports miracle, either.
I should note that we were very happy to get the tickets. Not "mad-crazy-happy, my life has been made whole" like anyone in England would have been to get those four tickets, but certainly happy. But happy as in, boy, this will be fun. I mean, to be honest, one has to put this in perspective. Wembley Stadium is huge, after all. It seats 90.000 people, which is 80,000 more than the town, Glencoe, we lived in. So, the chances of seeing the match very well were small. And not being mad-crazy soccer fanatics, not being able to see the game very well in the nosebleed section would certainly lessen the majesty of the moment. But still, that didn't matter all that much, since I was pretty young and didn't know the rules of soccer all that well. (I can't speak for the rest of my family, though I suspect I knew more than my mother. You kick the ball and hope it goes in the net.) But just being there in the massive crowd, somewhere, anywhere, amid all the excitement, that would be cool. Just to be able to say we were there. Wherever "there" was.
Where "there" was turned out to be -- okay, are you ready: mid-field, center line, halfway up, directly across the field from where the Queen of England was sitting in the Royal Box.
Okay, that's the sports miracle.
Let me repeat. With the entire world of sports fanatics converging on London, England, for the World Cup, we got four tickets to the Opening Match in which the host country England was playing, seated at midfield halfway up Wembley Stadium across from the Queen of England.
And to be clear, this isn't the fuzzy memory of a little kid recalling things far better than they actually were. Exaggerating for posterity. No, I have photographic evidence.
I took pictures.
(Sorry for the guy's head. I wasn't great at composition at that age.)
Look directly across the field. Do you see that "box" just below the horizontal white line, marking the upper level? That's where the Royal Family is sitting. Directly opposite us. If you look closely, I believe that Queen Elizabeth is waving at you.
I told you I wasn't lying.
It was pretty remarkable. As I said to my dad just a couple days ago, reminding of the story, if he had decided to sell these tickets it would have paid for the entire trip. "And," he added, "your college education. And your brother's."
The crowd, the ceremony, the excitement, the game, it was great. Memorable to one's bones. Absolutely wonderful, historic. There was only one disappointing thing about the match. Ever since I knew we had the tickets, one of the things I was looking forward to seeing was England score a goal amid that maniacal crowd going soul-bursting wild for the home team. (Even at that age, I grasped the concept of such drama.) And the final score of the game between England and Uruguay was...0-0.
Zippo. Or as the soccer folks like to say, "Nil." Or more accurately, nil to nil.
(More action photos from the collection of photo-journalist Robert J. Elisberg. Notice the compositional improvement after many minutes of experience represented here by the lack of heads getting at least completely in the way. Hey, when you're a little kid, people are bigger than you are.)
So, no bursting of massive cheers by the heart-loyal English crowd at the site of the goal for their beloved home team. No cheers over a goal from anyone. On the good side, at least we weren't there to see England lose. In fact, just so you know, the zero goals were not the result of a mediocre team. Indeed, host England went on to win the world championship. They just didn't choose to get any goals that particular day.
Hey, that's the way some miracles go. Sometimes, the fates decide to put the miracle in perspective. After all, you shouldn't take the good and miracle for granted.
But a dozen years before Al Michaels asked the question of sports fans at the Lake Placid Olympics, I had already been able to answer the sports question. Yes, I do believe in miracles.
When I next get together with the Queen, I'm sure we'll swap tales of that day. No doubt it wasn't as much a sports miracle for her -- I'm sure she had an in, or went to a scalper -- but it was nonetheless quite a day of national pomp and circumstance, so I'm sure she had to have written about it in her journal. For all I know, she's got snapshots of me in return.
When talking with my dad about this the other day, he noted one other thing. "How did I get those seats??"
It was a miracle, dad. The greatest sports miracle ever. At least to some people.
Okay, it took a while for me to track down the source here, but it is Nick Wright who co-hosts a show "First Things First" on the Fox Sports channel, FS1. It begins a bit overly sanctimonious, but after getting that out of the way, he gets down to his point. And it is an eloquent, thoughtful 90-seconds looking at the "kneeling issue" in the NFL.
That said, I don't think it's the "argument that ends all arguments" on the issue that many people commenting on it do. It is a very thoughtful position, but I think that some or even many people would still be upset at the kneeling if they answered his question, although I also think it would give many others some pause if they fairly answered what he was asking.
This is the annual reprint of a column originally written on The Huffington Post in 2009. And this year is the 14th anniversary of the actual event itself, Some stories simply demand repeating. Or better put, demand not being forgotten. This is one of them. And so, once again, here 'tis.
One additional word. happily Maurice Cheeks is still in the NBA. He's currently the assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in the playoffs...
April 25, 2009
Oh, Say Can You Sing? A National Anthem to Remember
As I prepared to write about an act of uncommon decency by a professional athlete, I realized that calling it that was unfair, that it diminishes what happened, because this was simply an act of uncommon decency, period. That it happened on such a high level and under such a bright microscope might likely stir the heart more, but it's the act itself that is ultimately what stirs us to begin with. Who it was and when it took place simply moves it up the pedestal.
Today is the sixth anniversary of Maurice Cheek's moment on the pedestal.
There is in the American consciousness for notable performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. Jose Feliciano's evocative singing at the 1968 World Series in Detroit was the first to interpret the "Star Spangled Banner" before a national audience. Because 1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, many at the time were so outraged that it took his career years to recover. Today, the rendition not only seems tame, but one of the most tender and beautiful. (And among the least known. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor and click here to listen.)
Whitney Houston gets mentioned often for her rousing rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the Gulf War. For many, Marvin Gaye's deeply soulful performance at the 1983 NBA All Star is the most memorable.
But for sheer emotional joy, it's hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs between the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks.
Context only adds to the story. So, once again:
This was the playoffs. This is what all professional athletes live for, what their year is about. The regular season is a prelude, an effort to get into the post-season and be in place to win the league championship, to become a part of your sport's history. Everything centers on this. As the start of each playoff game nears, as the roaring crowd is at its highest pitch, as players put on their proverbial "game faces" and the battle is moments from beginning, all external thoughts get filtered out, and focus is completely, solely on their task ahead.
The National Anthem, for most athletes, must be one of those external influences. More than most of us, who hear the "Star Spangled Banner" largely on special occasions, professional athletes have heard the National Anthem played before every single competitive game they've played. Game after game repeatedly each season, and season after season, for decades. Relentlessly. As meaningful as the song is, it is also just part of the ritual for a professional athlete, focused on the game, geared up for the game, anxious to start the game. Silent, not singing, maybe not even hearing the music. Waiting for the National Anthem to be played, and finished, so that they can finally start what they're there for. It's likely as much background noise as it is patriotic uplift.
And so it must have been as the Trailblazers and Mavericks prepared for their playoff game to start.
Stepping out onto the court was Natalie Gilbert, a 13-year-old girl. Just another National Anthem, just another youngster who won a contest, just another two minutes the crowd wanted to get past for the game they were there to see, to start. And she started fine. A little hesitant, since it's a frightening occasion for a child, with a national audience, flashing lights and a military guard. But in her wavering voice, she was prepared.
Except that a few lines in, the high pageantry of the moment got her, and something went very wrong. She totally, thoroughly forgot the words. A young 13-year-old child, standing in front of over 10,000 people, lost. Alone.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was.
Maurice Cheeks had had a very good NBA career as a player. He played for 15 years and was selected to four All Star games. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in steals and fifth in assists. He averaged over 11 points a game. And then he later became a coach, the position he was currently in for the Portland Trailblazers. It was Cheeks who was responsible for his team, responsible for keeping them focused on the game, responsible for guiding them. But he saw a 13-year-old girl in trouble.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was. Immediately.
Cheeks always had a reputation in the NBA as a good guy. But he was about to prove it on a national stage. And what happened next - not just with Maurice Cheeks, but eventually with all the jaded players whose minds had been previously-focused on their game, an entire stadium of basketball fans there to see basketball, even the opposing white-haired coach Don Nelson - is just enthralling.
The moment is wonderful, but how it builds and surprises is even better.
And at the end, this tiny girl looking up at the giant of a man - who stayed around, refusing to leave her side and return to his team - with her face awash with relief, a huge hug, and the clear words mouthed, "Thank you," is all you need to see to why it's hard to top what happened on April 25, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs for sheer emotional joy. Six years ago today.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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