A Tale of Two Willies

So, Mike and Judy were gone for a while recently which threw off my schedule. I don’t remember being asked if it was okay that he take a vacation (although he would say that it was in no way a vacation). I have managed to piece together where he went. It’s been a year since his mother died and they all went up to Minnesota for the dedication of her tombstone. They call it an unveiling. It’s a Jewish thing, I guess. He said he thinks his mother would have been pleased. Three of her six grandchildren came as well as several cousins and friends; and of course, Mike and Judy. It’s always good for family to get together to share memories and reinforce their bonds, especially people that rarely have a chance to be with each other. Mike’s family can be found all over the world. They all had the opportunity to stand there in the cemetery in a steady rain and 36° while the Rabbi delivered a eulogy. Then they all said the Kaddish. (See “The Kaddish, April 1, 2018.)  When Mike got back he was pretty tired and a little cranky for a few days but he seems to be back to himself now. He said that the turbulence was bad on the way back and they were sitting in the last row so the seats would not lean back, and they got to smell the disinfectant from the lavatory the entire trip, both ways. Air travel I guess is just getting better and better.

So, Mike saw in the sports page that Willie O’Ree is about to be inducted into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame. He was a black hockey player who was the first man of his color to play in the National Hockey League. He broke in with the Boston Bruins  in 1958. He had more time with them playing in 40 some games in 1961. His presence was not well received by the American fans who shouted out racist comments at him. Fans were much more welcoming north of the border. Mike heard he took quite a physical beating as well while he was on the ice. He was blind in one eye but kept that a secret fearing that he wouldn’t get a chance to play if people knew he could only see out of one eye. Mike spent some time in Seattle in 1966 and he went to a hockey game where he saw O’Ree playing for the Los Angeles Blades. Mike can’t remember the name of the Seattle team at that time. There was a team in Seattle that won the first Stanley Cup by a team south of the border in 1917. I think they were the Seattle Metropolitans. There is a piece of trivia for you. Speaking as a little black cat, I have to say that I’m glad to see O’Ree being honored by the league. He has received a great many honors through the years which were well deserved not only because of his skill as a hockey player but because of his courage in facing adversity and not backing down. He only died recently in March of this year at age 82 or 83. Interestingly, there is another hockey player who is said to have broken the color barrier years before O’Ree. His name was Larry Kwong, an ethnic Chinese man from Canada  who in 1948 got one minute of ice time with the New York Rangers. He went on to have a good career in both playing and coaching hockey in Canada and in Europe. Strictly speaking, I don’t know if this is the color barrier or not that he broke but it was certainly an ethnic barrier. Good for him.

Speaking of Willies, Mike saw very recently that Willie “Stretch” McCovey has died. He is a member of the baseball sports Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1986. He is on somebody’s list of the 100 greatest baseball players ever. He was a left-handed hitter whose brute power was legendary. Casey Stengel, while managing the New York Mets once made a visit to the mound and asked his pitcher “where do you want to pitch him, upper deck or lower deck?” McCovey was once asked how he wanted to be remembered. His answer was that he wanted to be remembered as the player who hit the line drive over Bobby Richardson’s head in the ninth inning of the 7th game of the 1962 World Series to win the World Series. Bobby Richardson was the New York Yankees second baseman. McCovey had come to bat with two outs in the ninth inning with the Yankees winning one to nothing. There were runners on second and third so a hit would have at least tied and probably won the game. McCovey hit a screaming line drive towards right field.  Richardson leaped and caught it, ending the game and securing the World Series for the Yankees. That winter Charles Schulz drew two “Peanuts” cartoons showing Charlie Brown wondering why McCovey could not have hit the line drive two or 3 feet higher.

By the way, Mike has some suggestions, with input from me, about how to improve the game of baseball. Mike finds it excruciatingly slow, and hard to tolerate for that reason. The Atlanta Brave’s new stadium is close by, but Mike hasn’t been there once in the 2 years that the Braves have been playing there; and, there is a good chance he will never go. Mike can get bored and restless fairly easily. He is well-known for getting shpilkes.  This is a Yiddish word which translates as “pins.” It’s the Yiddish equivalent of being on pins and needles. If he’s watching baseball on TV and he gets bored he can get up and do something else. At the stadium he is stuck. His worst experience was in 1993 when he took Michelle to a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They got there when the stadium opened at 5:30 in the afternoon. I think the game started at eight. They walked around, had hot dogs, and had a nice relaxing time until the game started. Then in the second inning, if Mike remembers correctly, Tom Glavine who was pitching for Atlanta gave up eight runs. Game over. Mike was just sitting there thinking that he wished he could be someplace else, doing something else. I think the Braves were still down eight runs when he and Michelle left around 10:30 in the fifth inning. That’s another thing about baseball in Atlanta. The day games are too hot and the night games are too late. It just doesn’t suit him and his old man schedule. And Mike isn’t the only one. Attendance at major league baseball games is slipping. The average game takes about 3 and 1/2 hours to play. It seems to Mike that when he was growing up an average game was a little over 2 hours. One thing that slows the game down is when there is a runner at first base who takes a lead off. The pitcher will throw the ball over to the first baseman with the idea of preventing the baserunner from taking too big of a lead. This can happen over and over again. Mike thinks that the pitcher should get 2 free chances to pick off or just hold the runner close.  If he doesn’t pick the runner off with the third toss the runner should automatically get second base. I like this idea. Another thing that slows the game down is when the batter steps out of the batter’s box between pitches. Some batters will do it every time to engage in some obsessive-compulsive ritual like unfastening and re-fastening the Velcro strap on their batter’s glove, ala Nomar Garciaparra. Obviously, if the batter is injured or if he has to dive out of the way of a pitch there should be no penalty. Otherwise, the umpire should not grant him a time out, and if he is not ready to hit the next pitch, too bad. They should also enforce the pitcher’s requirement to throw the next pitch within so many seconds, whatever the rule is. Mike would charge the pitcher with a ball if a pitch is not delivered on time. I like the idea. Another thing that I would do is make it illegal for anybody to spit during the game unless a tooth gets knocked out or something. Mike remembers years ago being at a baseball game in Milwaukee. He was panning around looking through his binoculars and looked into the Milwaukee dugout just in time to see Harvey Kuehn, the manager, spit a rope of tobacco-colored mucus that must’ve hung 2 feet down from his mouth before it fell. It was a totally charming sight. I think the penalty for spitting should be automatic ejection. That should put a stop to it immediately. I can’t believe they let this go on. It’s like when Mike first got to Atlanta and was director of the addiction treatment program.  They were still allowing the patients to smoke during group therapy. His first official act was to put a stop to that. When Mike was in medical school the medical students were allowed to smoke in the hospital and the hospitals had cigarette machines selling cigarettes for probably $.30 a pack. There’s certain things people just get used to and don’t think twice about it, but if you thought about it you would be horrified. Spitting is on my list. So is the burning of witches, and of black cats.

I can’t end without mentioning that today is Veterans Day. Or at least it would be if Veterans Day wasn’t tomorrow. What today is is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended the first world war, the war to end all wars. People all over the country are remembering our veterans and giving them the honor and respect that they deserve. Don’t forget, freedom isn’t free. Well that’s all from Happy Meadows for now. Be well, and  don’t take any called third strikes.

Author: Black Magic

Black Magic is a handsome, charming, and self-absorbed cat who lives with Mike and Judy Gordon in Marietta, Georgia. He is about 7 years old, and he will remind you at every opportunity that his grandfather was Black Jack, that famous cat who wrote his own autobiography. Black Magic has a great many opinions, and despite his natural feline arrogance, he seems to be genuinely spiritual. But the reader can decide for him/herself.

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