John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

An Ordinary Man Facing a Great Challenge

There are no great men, there are only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstance to meet.

Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.

Jonathon Tennant, known as JT, made his way to the “Georgia docks” in Fancy Bluff Creek just outside of port of Brunswick, Georgia late on the night of September 7, 2019. His mission,  to pilot the MV Golden Ray to the open sea. His charge that night was a car carrier, also known as a ro-ro, that featured vast open internal spaces and ramps that allowed for the rapid loading and discharge of vehicles by “car jockeys” who drove them Grand Prix style on and off the ship. (A young man’s dream.) Ugly by design, car carriers resemble upside down bathtubs.

Car carriers are also not inherently seaworthy as the weight of most of those vehicles is above the waterline. To stabilize the ship, the correct amount of water ballast must be carried in tanks below the waterline. While docked in Brunswick, the car jockeys had unloaded and loaded enough vehicles to require new ballast calculations.

But one report I read stated someone in authority decided that the re-calculation could be put off until the Golden Ray reached its next port, Baltimore. 

JT had dreamed of being a harbor pilot since he first saw the big ships negotiating the St. Simons Channel on their passages between Brunswick and the Atlantic Ocean. The port of Brunswick is relatively unknown to outsiders as it is overshadowed by Savannah to the north and Jacksonville, to the south. But because of its excellent rail connections, by 2019, it had become the sixth largest port in the USA for importing and exporting cars, SUVs and light trucks.

JT graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1997 and became an apprentice for the Brunswick Bar Pilots Association in 1998.

Over time, his skills and experience let him achieve the rank of a master pilot. He superseded the captain in navigating the ship until reaches the open sea. JT would then leave his position and descend to a waiting pilot boat that would return him to shore.

That morning, he navigated the twists and turns along the St Simon Channel as he had done hundreds of times before as he proceeded on his outbound journey, He remained in contact with fellow pilot and good friend, Jamie Kavanaugh, who was piloting the inbound MV Emerald Ace, another ro-ro, car carrier.

As JT took the Golden Ray through a hard turn to starboard, (right) the ship assumed a serious list to port (left). Tennant adjusted the turn that seemed to correct the Golden Ray, but only momentarily as the list to port became overwhelming. JT advised Jamie not to pass the Golden Ray. “I‘m losing her,”

Time had run out as the pilot’s training and instinct kicked in; the Golden Ray was rolling over. Tennant turned his charge to starboard (right) taking the ship out of the channel and onto a sand bar, grounding the ship as the Golden Ray quickly capsized.

As the ship went over, JT braced his legs around the vertical compass pedestal, braced his upper body against the windshield and managed to grab a life vest skidding off a shelf in his direction. Later, JT would testify that snagging the vest was Divine Providence, not because it saved him, but rather because it had a radio.

His cries of Mayday, Mayday, were immediately picked-up by a Coast Guard monitoring station in Charleston, South Carolina. That call, together with fellow pilot, Jamie’s calls for help, initiated a rapid response.

JT held fast to his perch on the bridge; once horizontal, now vertical.

Captain Skylar Dionne, skipper of the tug Anne Moran, on station in the harbor awaiting the arrival of the Emerald Ace, understood, Jamie’s urgent message and sped out across the sound “at best possible speed” to reach the Golden Ray. On arrival, he braced his tug against the bottom of wreck and applied the tug’s horsepower to prevent the wreck from slipping back into the channel.

If the Golden Ray had slipped into the shipping channel, it would have been blocked for months, but, more importantly, most of the crew would have drowned in that deeper water.

JT held onto his perch until nearly daylight when the rescue flotilla confirmed that they had picked up 19 of the 23 members of the crew. ( The last four were trapped below deck in an engine room. They were rescued a day and a half later after a hole was bored into the overturned hull.)

Finally, JT made his way to one of the fire hoses the crew had previously lowered to escape and  slid down to safety.

Like most ordinary men, Jonathan Tennant was reluctant to accept the credit he deserved for having the instinct and training to make a split-second decision that carried the day. A religious man, JT summed up that night’s experience:

“Above all, I would like to recognize that each of these individuals, the weather, the capsizing location, the capsizing direction that skid my survival vest with the radio to me (not away); and the successful rescue of every crew member comes down to our merciful God, our Creator.”

And this I know to be true: Captain Jonathon Tennant, Brunswick Bar Pilot No. 6 crossed over that line in the early morning of September 8, 2019 and achieved that thing we call greatness!    

The Snowball Game

Written: May2016, re-edited: January 2021

Mary Ann and I traveled to Connecticut on Christmas Eve morning to spend a COVID 19 socially distanced gathering to exchange Christmas gifts with our son’s family. At one point, Michael asked me: “Hey Dad, do you know what this coming Sunday is?’

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s the 25th anniversary of the snowball game played on December 27, 1995.”

Being a writer of a weekly blog, I am always searching for my next piece and, thanks to Mike, here’s this week’s piece.     

The NFL decided to award the 2014 edition of the Super Bowl to East Rutherford, NJ to be played at Met Life Stadium, the new home of the Giants and Jets, then called New Meadowlands Stadium. To be sure, there is considerable speculation about the wisdom of such a decision given that the game will be subjected to the North East’s winter weather conditions.

Among the cries of doom and gloom, the May 27, 2010 Sports Section of The New York Times carried a tongue-in-cheek article by N.R. Kleinfield entitled: “Meadowlands in February? It’s Not the Cold, It’s the Snowballs.”

Mr. Kleinfield’s piece resurrected my memories from the last game of the 1995 season against the San Diego Chargers. We Giants fans inundated the field with snowballs, ice balls and chunks of ice.

 Now that the statute of limitations has run out on this incident, I feel that I no longer am compelled to reply to any questions like: “Were you involved in throwing snowballs?”

With: “On the advice of counsel, I cannot either confirm or deny that allegation.”

As usual, the NY Times got it wrong. While I have no evidence to prove exactly what precipitated the snowball assault, I am quite certain I know how it began. My son and I sat side by side in our Row 3 seats at old Giants Stadium, our home from 1976 to 2009. Those seats gave us great sight lines, especially when the teams were inside the 30 yard-line at our end of the field. Unfortunately, certain television networks insisted on using a side-line camera that traveled along the sidelines just off the field that was re-positioned as needed to be close to the line-of-scrimmage. If the offense reached the five-yard-line, the camera stopped so that the camera man or woman literally blocked our line-of-sight   reducing our view of the field from spectacular to having an obstructed view of the action.

This had bugged me for a long time, but letters to the Giants and the NFL all went unanswered.

When we arrived inside the stadium on that Sunday afternoon, we encountered several inches of snow beneath our seats as the team or the stadium authority didn’t have the where-with-all to dispatch crews to shovel the snow out of the stands prior to game time.

The Times reported that the Giants took a 17-0 lead in the first half. I am confident that at least one touchdown was scored at our end because it was at that point that my frustration with the obstructed view reached the breaking point. I directed my son, then twenty-four, to throw a snowball at the cameraman. Now Michael had been a fairly good pitcher in his younger days, and he complied, putting a snowball so close to that chap’s ear that it must have sounded like a jet going past.

That was enough for Mister Cameraman who directed his crew to lower him as he declared a personal force majeur and abandoned his post. A cheer arose from the faithful. After that, the Giants game went to hell and, as San Diego overwhelmed the home team. The disgruntled fans took out their boredom and frustration on the field, the teams, officials and other fans.

But that all came later. Let the record show, General Pershing had Sergeant York; I had Michael      

Remembering Our Roots

I got to thinking about this horrible year, 2020. Could I compose a story to describe what we had to endure? Not yet, and maybe never. Our ordeal remains too close to home. The battle is not yet won, we have no choice but to endure, retreat, seek shelter and protect ourselves from this second wave of the virus, a wave that seems relentless in its ferocity.

The promise of a hoped-for vaccine is now a reality. We know there is light at the end of the tunnel, but that light is still in the distance, even for us, the prioritized “so called,” elderly. And so, we wait for our turn, wait and worry. Each of us has our own demons: “Are you safe enough? Are you risking yourself? Is the vaccine safe? When will I qualify for the vaccine?”   

That is why Port Poetry and Prose is so special for us. It is our weekly two-hour window that allows us to escape those bad thoughts and present proof of our creativity, a creativity that confirms our commitment to living and our hope for better times.

This I believe to be true.     

If it had not been for Max Wheat and Taproot, we would never have happened. In thinking about Max, I realize that many of our group never enjoyed the opportunity for Max to be their mentor.

Ria, John B and I are the last writers remaining from the Port Washington Taproot group. John B is the senior member having joined in 1999.

We lost Max as our teacher in 2014 when he took a bad fall. I took it upon myself to keep Max  involved by taking copies of our pieces to his rehab home in Freeport. Sadly, Max couldn’t return as teacher and moved to California to live with his daughter. He communicated with us by mail, critiquing the pieces that I sent to him.

Teacher contracted cancer and left us in the winter of 2015 / 2016.This was my tribute to Maxwell C Wheat, Jr.:               

A Death in the Family

June 2016

Last Saturday afternoon, the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society honored my teacher by presenting members of his family with personal tributes by poets and writers. This is my interpretation of the man who taught me how to write. 

Maxwell C. Wheat Jr., poet, parent, preacher and a man of peace.

Activist, protester, man of passion, letters, understanding, but always a poet.

Teacher, facilitator, critic, editor, advisor, arbiter, encourager, friend.

Witness this excerpt from his eulogy to Pete Seeger’s genius saving the Hudson:

Now Pete Seeger belongs to his Hudson

His outreach of rousing songs

Are the frisky breezes, tall winds coming off the hills,

Touching, stroking the waved back of this 315-mile

Pleistocene invertebrate of a stream

He concluded his poem:

Pete Seeger’s song now parcel of the river’s song:

listen for his voice in the rustling of its autumn leaves,

listen for his voice in the rock slashing of the white capped waves.

Max often referred to his beginnings: reporter, New York Geneva Times Daily.

Assigned obits, his editor explained: “Human interest.”

Max never forgot. This from his poem about 9/11 he called, “Everybody Has a Story,”

Eamon McEneaney 46 in the first attack, 1992,

Led sixty-three people down one hundred flights of stairs.

Senior vice president, brokerage firm, Cantor Fitzgerald.

(On 9/11) Calling his wife at her office, shouting “Is Bonnie there?

I love her and I love the kids…”

Eamon was also a poet. Max ended “Everybody Has a Story” with Eamon’s poem dedicated to his wife, Bonnie: 

“…The end

is a bend in the road

That we’ll never find

A death I will always

Defend

You from.”

Maxwell Wheat a man of peace who served his nation in the USMC,

Did his duty and yet espoused Whitman and Melville: Do no harm.

First Poet Laureate of Nassau County, a national treasure:

Adios my teacher, my friend: Via con Dios!

Closing the Deal

Part Three of “A Foot in the Door”

Recapping last week’s piece, The Art of Making the Deal: Steve Beslity, Bill Boyle, Frank Hayes and I found ourselves at our firm’s annual Managing Directors meeting at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV when Monster Defense Corporation’s (MDC) risk manager, Bucky Bartlett congratulated Frank on successfully completing the insurance program for his firm’s MPS fleet. Typically, for Bucky’s ego, it came with the directive that he wanted to present the Broker of Record at a ceremony in his office in Tysons Corner the next day. He expected all four of us to be there.

After we finished grumbling, Steve remarked: “Hey, he’s now our client. It’s time for us to put our best foot forward.”

“So be it,” I chimed in. “Frank, tell him we will be there, but I also want Martin McCluney to join us. After all, he did one hell of a job getting this done.”  

I am not certain how it fell on me, but I was chosen to make the arrangements. First off, I called Martin who agreed to fly down on a shuttle flight the next morning and meet us at MDC’s office.

Next, I called Jack Sinnott, our president, to give him the good news and explain that the four of us would be AWOL the next day. Jack laughed and wished us well. While I had him on the phone I asked: “Jack, do you have any idea how I can arrange our flights?”

“Simple, call the Greenbrier Travel Service and have them do it.”

Smart Man, No wonder why he’s president! I called their travel service to explain our dilemma: “Four of us have to be in Tysons Corner by 10 AM tomorrow.”

Enid, the hotel’s travel specialist asked several pertinent questions and said she’d get back to me shortly. In less than a half-hour, she returned my call.  “Do you have pen and paper handy?” I did and Enid proceeded to give me the time our car would leave the hotel for the White Sulphur Springs airport and all the other details. We’d be flying to Dulles International on a two-engine, four-seater. Another car would take us to MDC’s HQ, wait for us and return us to Dulles for our return flight. Damn! I was impressed!

I gave her my partner’s names and she promised to have a written itinerary delivered to each our rooms and make sure we would all be alerted to arrange a wake-up call for the next morning.

Cups of coffee in hand, we introduced ourselves to Rob Kropeck, our pilot who explained, “The airplane has two bench seats, one facing forward and the other facing backwards.” He also pleased us by saying, “Guys, you picked a great day to fly.”

We agreed to rotate the seats for the flight out and back. Frank and I occupied the forward-facing seats for the flight to Dulles that allowed us to witness an amusing happening. Looking past Bill and Steve, we noticed that Rob had opened a road map on the un-occupied co-pilot’s seat. He kept checking it and finally, Frank couldn’t resist the temptation any longer- Frank: “ Not to worry, Rob, I know exactly where we are. Just take a left at the next mountain.”

Slightly flustered, Rob explained he loved to check the actual geography as opposed to how it was depicted on maps. Unfortunately, Frank’s ribbing backfired for me. I kept it to myself, but concentrating on that empty co-pilots seat reminded me of what our fate would be if anything happened to pilot Rob!

A limo met us on the tarmac for the short ride to Tysons Corner where we met Martin.

“Good flight in your puddle jumper?” Martin asked. We joked, composed ourselves and made our way to Bucky’s office. Give the man credit for consistency, short and somewhat sweet. “So, who will I go to when things go wrong?”

We were well rehearsed. Frank took the lead. “I’m your account executive. You can always come to me. Steve is the marine manager and Martin’s your man on the ground troubleshooter.”

“And you?” he asked as he pointed to me? “Mr. Bartlett, you have my card. This team will be there for you, but if not, as I said, you have my card.”

That was that. Broker of Record in hand, we said goodbye to Martin, piled into the limo and made our way back to Dulles. Rob surprised us with a Playmate cooler containing eight Bud Lites. “I figured you’d want to celebrate.” Needless to say, Rob received a healthy tip.

The last act:    

I didn’t include my favorite part of this story until now so as not to interrupt the narrative and give me my perfect ending.

Just before  Enid, the Greenbrier travel specialist, finished her call she asked me, “Mr. Delach, how do you wish to pay for the flight and the limos?”

“Of course, what are my choices”?

“Well, sir, you can either use a credit card or you can put it on your room bill.”

My reply was instantaneous: ‘Enid, please put it on my room bill.”

Later, when people asked me why I happily put it on my room bill, I’d explain: “Because once you put an airplane on your room, nobody will ever bother to check your mini-bar tab!

The Art of Making the Deal:

Part Two of “A Foot in the Door”

Frank and I continued our conversation on the drive back to National. “Frank, I will never take this business for granted. You never know when an opportunity will come along and you never know if it will be real or a mirage.”

“True enough,” Frank replied. “I was almost ready to give up on Monster Defense Corporation and Bucky Bartlett. Bartlett kept jerking my chain whenever I asked about getting a shot at MDC’s property and casualty programs. If it hadn’t been for MDC’s latest annual report, I would have called it quits.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well John, when I opened it up, I was staring at a page featuring a large photo of a ship. ‘Does MDC have ships?’ I said out loud. So that’s what made me make the call and here we are.      

After Frank dropped me off, I called Martin McCluney from the shuttle terminal to brief him on our meeting and ask him to call Frank Hayes: “Martin, prepare a full list of all the insurance particulars, including claims that we will need to obtain market quotations for the MDC’s fleet. Also, Steve Beslity is in London. He should be at Bowring’s office as we speak. Let him alert Bill Boyle and our other British friends to start gathering whatever information they can on a hush-hush basis. I’ll check in with you as soon as I reach home.”

As my flight ascended over the Potomac River, I thought about all the things that can go right and go wrong when going after new business. Estimating the realistic cost of insurance is anything but a sure thing. The extent of what a broker can achieve for the client is based on a combination of that brokers knowledge, experience, guts and fears. It is also based on his / her  instinct and intuition of how far that broker can push, cajole, convince or otherwise exploit underwriters to accept the risk we are offering at the price we promised to our client.

Sometimes it can border on the bizarre. I once found myself in a dicey situation where my team had to convince an underwriter to accept certain coverage wording that he found less than satisfactory. This happened in a country where alcohol is heavily taxed. I insisted that each team member buy two liters of Johnny Walker Black, the duty-free limit, on their way into the country. I reserved a suite in one of the best hotels to have a sitting room for us to use as our conference room. I ordered a continental breakfast and lined up those eight liters of Johnny Walker Black on the mantlepiece.

When the underwriter arrived, I explained: “Viktor, each time we reach an agreement for one of the disputed clauses, you can help yourself to one bottle.”

Viktor, didn’t object and the meeting went remarkably well. We reached complete agreement. In return, we were out eight liters of Johnny Walker Black.

There is rarely a slam dunk placement especially if you are the new broker in town. I have led and participated in insurance proposals where we blew the perspective client away only to have them turn our presentation over to the existing broker without apology. Other times, we connect with our prospect who likes us enough that they provide us with short-cuts to reach our goal.

One time, after winning a hard-fought battle to secure a new account, the buyer, who was a tough veteran of many a fight with regulators and unions, (I was told he was once on the receiving end of a bullet that missed), confessed to me: “Want to know why I gave you our business?”

“Absolutely, Jack”

“I decided that I trusted you enough that I’d buy a used car from you. I didn’t trust the other guy to do the same.”

A backhanded compliment for sure, but I gladly took it. You never knew how it would go.

But I digress. We all knew securing the MDC would be difficult. We had to work up solid cost estimates and be ready to get into the market as soon as Bucky Bartlett gave us permission to do so. My intuition was correct, Bartlett alerted his current broker, Jackson & Poor, (J&P) to what was going on turning the MDC competition into a dog fight. Fortunately, we opened the contest in the lead and our team worked diligently to keep us there. We made several improvements to our proposal to meet challenges that J&P made to Bucky Bartlett. For a while, it seemed that they would arm Bucky with another hand grenade to roll down the table just as we disarmed the last one.

Nearing the end of the contest, Bucky had one more card to play. He told Frank: “Your numbers are good, but frankly, my confidence level is low that you can actually do this. Therefore, I am giving you provisional approval to find the lead insurers who will agree to your proposal and you must complete at least 75% of the placement in ten working days.”

Bless, Frank’s heart, he jumped at it, accepting the challenge. What Bucky didn’t realize is that his mandate forced J&P to cease their obstructionist activity for those ten days. Using our broking techniques; arm twisting, playing one market against the other, the strength of the MDC fleet, our knowledge of those similar fleets and our clout in the insurance market,  we met Bucky’s deadline forcing him to allow us to complete our placing which we did several days later. 

Interestingly, Frank’s confirmation to Bartlett that the placement was complete coincided with the start of our firm’s annual Managing Directors Conference scheduled for the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Four of us, Steve Beslity, Bill Boyle, Frank Hayes and I were all scheduled to be there. Fortunately, we were able to maintain a war room in a vacant conference room to communicate with our colleagues in London and New York.

The next day, Bucky called Frank to inform him that we had won the contest. Frank gathered us in the war room to celebrate. He ordered two bottles of champaign and we toasted each other. “Okay, guys, and now the bad news. Ole Bucky is insisting that he wants to hand us his Broker of Record appointment in person tomorrow morning in a little ceremony at his office in Tysons Corner. He doesn’t want to have lunch he doesn’t drink so all he wants is for us to be there.”

(To be continued)

A Foot in the Door

At about 5:30 in the evening on an ordinary workday in 1989, I was sitting  in my office tying up some loose ends before leaving for home when the phone rang. “John Delach speaking.”

“Hey, Delach, it’s Hayes. What the earliest time you can get here tomorrow morning?”

“Good evening to you too, Frank. Let me check the OAG book, (Official Airline Guide,) to see which shuttle gets into National first, Pan Am or Trump.” The guide revealed that the Trump Shuttle had the earliest departure from LaGuardia at 6 am with an ETA into National of 7:25.

“Great, I’ll pick you up at the airport. We’re going to Tysons Corner for an 8:45 meeting with the risk manager from Monster Defense Corporation, (MDC). He’s given me 15 minutes to pitch him for a shot at their marine operation.”

“Frank, hold on one second, I’m aware that MDC operates five pre-positioned transports, (MPS) for the navy. Do you think this is what he’s talking about?”

“Right you are, big guy. Do you need anything else? Oh yeah, before I forget, his name is Bucky Bartlett. He’s a Red Sox fan and he has the shortest attention span of any person I’ve ever met.”

I gathered up pertinent material, but before I left, I walked over to Martin McCluney’s office. Fortunately, Martin was still there. “I am going down to DC early tomorrow morning and we may have a shot at MDC’s MPS fleet. I think they are similar to the MPS fleet you place for Sea Force. Can you check for any significant differences and be here tomorrow morning by 8:30 to give me a bold cost estimate?”

“Of course, I can, John, if you can give me their values and tonnages. That’s all I need to give you a ballpark number of how much their insurance should cost.”

“Understood, thanks and, God willing, we’ll talk tomorrow.”

I left my house ahead of the morning rush hour, made my way to LaGuardia, parked and entered the terminal by 5:15. The vending machine charged my AMEX card $150 for a round trip ticket. I grabbed a bagel and coffee, cleared security and walked to the Trump Shuttle Lounge where I helped myself to complimentary copies of The Wall Street Journal and the National Review.

Frank was waiting at the curb when I exited the terminal: “Good morning, John. Good flight?”

“Indeed, a good day for flying. Hopefully, the rest of the day will be as good.” Frank gave me the skinny on Bartlett: “I have been pursuing him for months now. It was only yesterday when I pestered him one more time. Surprisingly, he gave me this narrow window if only to get me out of his hair. I meant what I said about his attention span. I’m convinced he’s playing me and this will be a waste of time if we can’t blow his socks off in those first fifteen minutes.”

“Frank, I feel good about getting our feet in the door. There are three separate MPS fleets each operated by a different contractor and we already place the insurances for two of them. McCluney handles one and Steve Beslity is the broker for the other. Steve is out of town, but Martin is only a phone call away to give us an aggressive cost estimate for Bartlett..

Frank drove to the Tysons Corner complex that included a Marriott Hotel. “We have 45 minutes to kill, John. Let me buy you breakfast at the Marriott’s buffet.”

This provided us with an excellent rehearsal and by 8:40, we were seated in Bartlett’s reception area. His assistant led us to his office.

Frank introduced me to Bucky Bartlett explaining who I was and why I was there. “ Mr. Bartlett,” I began, “ Our marine department is familiar with the MPS fleets and I can give you a realistic estimate of accurate insurance costs if you can tell me each ship’s value and gross tonnage.”

He looked in his file before replying then said: “Okay they all have the same value which is ‘X’ and gross tonnage which is ‘Y.”

I asked him if I could call our New York office. Martin answered on the first ring and I waited for his calculations. A few minutes later he produced his estimates. “ John, I am confident we can place their fleet at this price. Their values and tonnages are almost identical to the Sea Force fleet.”

I wrote down the cost estimate, thanked Martin and hung up. I passed the estimate to Bartlett and enjoyed the surprised look on his face. He pondered the estimate for a moment then looked up at Frank: “Interesting, very interesting. Please put this in writing and I will take it up with our treasurer.”

He shook our hands gesturing that the meeting was over.

“Talk about ‘slam, bam and thank you ma’am!” Frank exclaimed after we exited their building. “The S.O.B. didn’t even ask us any questions! John, he’s going to turn our estimate over to his existing broker, Jackson & Poor as soon as I give it to him in writing.”

“Frank, my guess is that our estimate is so much les than he’s paying now that his head is on fire. Jackson & Poor will have a hard time explaining away the differences and when they react, we can go lower. When we do and ole Bucky goes nuts, blame it on me. I’ll put a team together to work with you. Beslity will lead it, McCluney will be our marine expert and you will be our account executive. As for me, I’ll fade into the background. Frank, Bucky walked into a trap of his own making and we can do this”

Frank looked at me, smiled and replied: “Let the games begin.” (To be continued.)

If the NFL 2020 Season Ended Today…

As of today, Wednesday, December 2, 2020, the National Football League, our Nation’s preeminent sports monopoly has been able to complete eleven weeks of their 2020 season  despite the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Incredible! Last September, when the season started, I was convinced that because football is the ultimate team close contact sport, the players interaction in practice and during games would spread infection at such an alarming rate that the season would be ruined by Week Six at the latest of the NFL’s 17-week season.

Instead, the NFL’s big brains managed to keep the schedule alive. Frankly, I am amazed that so few players and staff have tested positive resulting in the small number of games that have had to be postponed or shifted around. I expected that these disruptions would cascade into a free for all as more and more teams would be affected. Instead the disruptions have been minimal.

Unfortunately, currently there is an exception that could throw a monkey wrench into the works. This crisis involves a contest between the Pittsburg Steelers, the leaders of their division with a record of 11 wins and no losses and their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens with a record of six wins and four losses. (Note, to date, the Ravens have only played ten games meaning they are already one game in arears.)

Because of multiple infections on both teams, but mostly on the Ravens, this game was originally postponed from Thanksgiving, November 26 to Sunday, November 29, then to Tuesday night, December 1 and now to this afternoon, Wednesday, December 2nd. If this game is ultimately cancelled, it may become the trigger that causes the season to unravel. If that happened, it would force the league to determine how the playoffs will be structured.

Trust me, regardless of what happens to the regular season, including shutting it down, the NFL powers will do anything that they must do to protect and even expand a complete playoff schedule. Their goal will be to maximize playoff revenue from network television and from  satellite and streaming services too. 

This brings me to my NFL cliché: “If the season ended today…”

“If the season ended today my Football Giants would be the Eastern Conference Champions who would host a wild-card team in our home stadium.”

To explain the insanity of this statement, you must understand that as of today, the Giants’ record is four wins and seven losses. Obviously, that is not a good record. But the Giants play in the NFC East with three other teams, the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Football Team formerly known as the Redskins. The division is so weak that the press often refers to it as, “the NFC Least.”

As of today, this is the standings and the team records in the NFL East are as follows:

Football Giants: 4-7

The Washington Football Club (formerly known as the Redskins):4-7: (Giants win tie breaker)

Eagles:               3-7-1 (Tie)

Cowboys:           3-8

The entire division is pathetic, a fraud, a grifter, a Fuquay, the fat shuffle, chicanery, a con, a hustle, a sting, a hoax a scam or, my favorite, bamboozlement.

Use whatever football cliché you like to explain this distortion in the NFL’s universe like: “That’s why they play the game,” or “On any given Sunday, any given team can beat any other given team,” to establish the justification you need to explain this extraordinary phenomenon.

Even if the Ravens vs Steelers game is finally played as now scheduled the odds against completing the season will grow greater and greater as winter looms ahead. Of course, this precludes the thought that the big bad NFL will obtain enough of the vaccinations to immunize every team.  Now, I’m not naïve enough not to believe the NFL could pull this off. They could, but the hue and cry from the masses would be so loud and intense, that even Commissioner Roger Goodell, would wilt under that assault.

But regardless of how much of the season is completed, “the least from the East” will produce a division winner that will not have a winning record.

Three of the four teams have lost their starting quarterback and the remaining team, the Eagles, are so unhappy with their starter that they plan to bench him. Nobody, I say nobody can predict who will be the last team standing as king of the NFC East!

With six games remaining in the regular season, I predict the best record that one of the un-fabulous four can produce will be 7 wins and 9 losses and it may only be 6 and 10.

Two words: Pathetic and ludicrous.

Phil Brown’s War Experience

Introduction:

My Texas friend, Phil Brown, was a “plank owner” of LSM 317 being part of the original crew who took delivery of this landing craft from the Pullman Co. shipyard in Illinois. He served on this ship until it returned to Long Beach for decommissioning after hostilities ended.

Phil and I became friends when he was the Manager of Marsh & McLennan’s Dallas office and I worked with them on an unsuccessful attempt to produce a  new marine client. Phil enjoyed commenting on my blog and this is what led me to prompt Phil to write about his World War II experiences that I originally published in 2016. His story begins when the original crew of LSM 317 took delivery of this landing ship at the Pullman – Standard shipyard on Lake Calumet, Chicago. Phil died on November 1, 2020 and this is his story. Phil Brown: RIP.

Crash Divers

Phil Brown

Our crew stood at attention on 28 July 1944 as LSM 317 was commissioned. The ensign was raised, and the first watches were set. We cast off into the Calumet River and sailed along the Chicago, Des Plaines and Illinois River making our way to the Mississippi River. We only navigated the Mississippi during day light making stops at Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge.

One of our pilots was an old-timer who quit commercial piloting to serve his country. He was really pissed off at his fellow pilots who continued to work on commercial traffic earning big bucks. He frequently flipped them the bird as we passed their tows. Using professional river pilots was a good thing as none of our five officers had ever been to sea and the Skipper, Lt. Warren Ayers had previously been a professional musician.

The guns were installed when we reached New Orleans and, from there we sailed to Galveston where we underwent two or three weeks of intensive training and shakedown.  From Galveston we sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to the Panama Canal where we made a short stop for minor repairs and equipment replacement before transiting to the Pacific side.

Next stop, Bora Bora, which appeared after a 19-day cruise. I thought of paradise; it looked just like what I always though a South Seas island should look like and the locals were friendly, trading shell jewelry for canned goods and other ordinary items. From there we headed to New Caledonia, the Admiralty Islands and stops in New Guinea before reaching our ultimate destination…the Philippines.

Kamikaze was not a word that we knew when we witnessed our first such attack on December 10, 1944. It found us loading supplies to be taken around Leyte to Ormoc on the opposite side of Leyte Gulf. MacArthur planned to circle behind the Japanese who were stubbornly defending the mountains keeping us from punching through to the other side. The Japanese were also using the Ormoc beaches to reinforce and resupply their troops.

We had finished taking on supplies from the Liberty Ship, William S. Ladd, anchored well offshore…As I recall, mostly miscellaneous gear including some artillery shells. We had moved back to the Red Beach area where we grounded 317 to take on an infantry unit that had been pulled out of the lines to be reinserted for the back door attack…About that time General Quarters (GQ) sounded: a squawking klaxon horn followed by the command: “THIS IS NO DRILL; ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS.”

Our rather primitive radar showed three bogeys approaching. Some of the larger ships opened up with what we thought were 5-inch guns… but the planes were too high for our 40mm and 20mm guns. Two or three planes were all we saw. They made their way toward the main concentration of ships where one started down in a steep dive right into and through the number two hatch of the William S. Ladd, where we had taken on supplies! The Ladd exploded and sank in a few minutes; we were thunderstruck; had never seen anything like that and didn’t want to ever see anything like it again!! We’d been so close minutes before!

My GQ station was on top of the conning tower as the Captain’s talker. Several of us discussed what we had just seen and thought it would not happen again…WRONG!!!

On the runs to attack and later resupply Ormoc Beachhead I think we encountered suicide planes every time. We came to refer to the attacks as “crash divers” or “suicide” attacks. Do not remember hearing the term Kamikaze until the invasion of Okinawa.

They were scary and intimidating. On December 11, we were part of a convoy of eight LSMs and four LCIs escorted by six destroyers, supported by four F4U Corsairs. We were ordered to GQ and within minutes several low-flying planes came in front to back attacking our little convoy. They were so low we were unable to lower our field of fire for fear of hitting our own ships. One plane flew so low right over us we could easily see the pilot before he crashed into the destroyer, USS Reid, right behind us striking the torpedo tubes. The Reid blew in half and sank within two minutes. I never forgot what that looked like. Several of us began to pull back to pick up survivors but were ordered to continue our run. Only one LSM was designated to stay to attempt rescues and less than half of Reid’s crew was saved.

We were scared!!! At least I was scared!!! About that time the Corsairs covering our convoy chased off the remaining Japanese aircraft. We reached Ormoc that night but waited until about 3 or 4 am to beach. Out behind us, our escorts were in a serious fire fight with some Japanese destroyers attempting a last-ditch resupply of troops and supplies. Everyone was shooting everywhere, and I am sure some damage was caused by our own fire…I hate the term, “friendly fire” as it did not seem friendly. Our own radar and early daylight told us we were landing on the same beach only ¾ mile from the enemy. It was difficult getting off the beach and on our way home across Leyte Gulf, more air attacks but no crash dives.

Going on the beach to land supplies and troops was not much fun but the crash divers added a scary element as we felt there was no way to stop them. Granted we were small and insignificant; targets of last resort but on one trip a LSM was hit, the aircraft engine went right through the ship.

LSM 317 had damage that prevented us from being sent to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Those were much worse. Okinawa was the real climax of the Kamikaze.

As an ironic twist, after the Japanese surrendered, we were ordered to Korea to take the surrender of several of their installations. One turned out to be a rather large Kamikaze base. As I remember the island was off the tip of Korea and named Sasha To. The remaining troops had been ordered to stack their arms, rifles in one stack, side arms in another, machine guns in a third, etc. Troops lined up and their officers delivered the bowing and surrendering.

The best thing about this spot was that we liberated a Japanese motorcycle with a sidecar. One of our mechanics fixed it and we had a great time with it along with a jeep we had liberated before the war ended. When the tires finally blew out on the motorcycle, we used a fire hose to wrap around the wheels and wired it on. We took it down onto the land whenever we beached the LSM, opened the bow doors, lowered the ramp and zoomed off; great fun!!!

I had accumulated enough points for discharge once the ship arrived in Long Beach. I knew LSM 317’s sailing days were over. She was completely worn out and would be sold for scrap. I decided to keep the commissioning ensign and our “lucky” flag, the one we ran up during hot landings. So tattered, it was not much more than a star square, but I packed both in mothballs and years later, I mounted and framed the ensign and the flag  in two cases that are still proudly displayed.

Looking back at so much confusion when I left 317, I still regret not taking a pair of good binoculars and the ship’s navigation clock.     

Foley’s NY: Part 5

Paradise Lost

Over the years our visits to Foley’s followed a certain rhythm that began with our rendezvous in dreary Penn Station. My Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train arrived on the half-hour meaning I would arrive first just before 11:30 am. On a good day, Mike’s Jersey Transit train arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. On a bad day, its actual arrival was anybody’s guess. Fortunately, the good days outnumbered the bad. We’d meet at one of the columns just outside the LIRR waiting room that we called “the pole.” From there, we’d stroll the three blocks to 18 West 33rd Street.

The bartender, hostess and waiters would warmly greet us and lead or follow us to our table located in the right-hand corner of the dining room. Without our having to ask, the bartender would hold up two imperial pint glasses* as we’d pass by. We would nod slightly signaling her to draw two Guinness’s from the tap.

*An imperial pint is 568 ml while a US pint is 475 ml.

Our golden period was our time with Alish, Deidra and Kathy. It continued when Shaun hired two younger waitresses, Kira and Steffi. These two youngsters exuded Irish wit and charm making sure Mike and I always enjoyed good craic when they were working the floor.

But such is life that relationships end. Deidra was the first to leave. Then we lost Kathy and eventually, both Kira and  Steffi at the same time.

Still, good times continued as staff came and left. Foley’s  remained our luncheon home where life was good and never disappointed. In time, Steffi returned as Shaun’s assistant manager.

Mike Scott’s went through two extended rough periods health-wise. He suffered a serious fall in 2016 that put him on the injured reserve list for several months. I arranged for Shaun, Papa John and me to visit Mike once he was recuperating.

His second crisis began at the end of 2018, a crisis that was exacerbated by a mistaken diagnosis. This mistake gave free rein for the actual problem, a failing heart valve, that continued to wreck his health during 2019. This led to several hospital and nursing home / rehab stays all to no avail. Finally, the real culprit was found! Long story: short, after receiving the far less invasive TAVR valve replacement procedure at NYU in Manhattan  he recovered  in relatively short order. Thank God!

Still, he remained fragile. I had kept Shaun abreast of all of Mike’s progress and setbacks and he volunteered to visit Mike with me. We drove down together to Red Bank, NJ on December 18, 2019 and had a lively lunch at a pizza trattoria on the beach.

During our return ride, Shaun voluntarily alerted me that Foley’s 33rd Street location would eventually be gone. “The owners’ agent informed me they aren’t going to renew the lease.” (I believe it had two or three more years to run.)

Shaun spelled out several alternative scenarios, “I might look for a new location around Tampa, Florida. Vegas is an option, or I might just rent out my collections to other sports bars. I know an attorney who specializes in those kind of leases and he thinks I have enough to outfit four or five bars.”

I asked questions, but decided not to ask, “Why not another Manhattan location?” Shaun was a proud saloon keeper and, if he didn’t raise that as a realistic alternative, neither would I.

Mike gained sufficient strength and confidence to meet me at the pole for what turned out to be our last lunch at Foley’s on March 5, 2020.

Our place was quiet that day. Shaun had shipped Papa John back to Cavan in February after John had been whipsawed by the flu with a case so bad that he had to be briefly hospitalized.

Shaun was in Florida and Tom Cahill couldn’t make it that day. We knew Covid 19 was spreading but I don’t recall a sense of imposing doom. Steffi greeted Mike as her long-lost friend. We had out typical Foley’s lunch, gossiping about our former Marsh adventures and colleagues, living and dead, the state of the world, this and that and so it goes.    .

Nine days later, the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York announced a quarantine. A complete closure dropped down on all of us like an iron curtain, this time, not one of ideology, but rather, one caused by an extreme health crisis.

I knew things were bad and it would be hard for Foley’s to survive, but it wasn’t until Shaun’s May 28 phone call that I knew the game was over.

Near the end of October, Shaun Clancy posted a selfie on his Facebook Account. The photo showed him standing on the southside of 33rd Street with the façade of  number 8 West 33rd Street visible over his left shoulder. The red doorway and glass doors remained but the top sign That proclaimed FOLEY’S NY  in gold letters placed on a black background had been covered with a crude sign that announced:

FOR RENT: Tony Park, 917-843-5622, Text Only

Sadly, the photograph reminded me of a line from my favorite baseball novel, Bang the Drum Slowly: “Sad, it makes you want to laugh; sad, it makes you want to cry.”

Frank Sinatra included a song in his repertoire, There Used to be a Ballpark Here, in memory of Ebbets Field:

And there used to be a ballpark

Where the field was warm and green

With a joy I’ve never seen

And the air was such a wonder

From hot-dogs and beer

Yes, there used to be a ballpark here.

It will be all too soon when few, if any, will recall that there used to be an outstanding sports bar called, Foley’s NY, at 18 West 33rd Street where “everything was six, two and even.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Foley’s NY Part 4 B

The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame (Continued)

Shaun truly valued his Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame (IAB HOF.) In 2011, when Nolan Ryan explained to Shaun how much he regretted not being able to attend his induction ceremony, Shaun was so moved by his call that he travelled to Arlington, Texas to personally present Ryan with his plaque.

Shaun and his Dad, Papa John, also made the trip to California to present Vince Scully with his plaque.

But Shaun also injected Irish wit and humor into the process. He went to great ends to identify a possible nominee’s Irish roots so that they could qualify for inclusion. Despite his attempts at accommodations, valued baseball friends remained excluded. A correction being in order, Shaun announced an unusual path to honor those without any identifiable Irish roots:

“In 2018, The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame will also present its annual Pete Caldera-Duke Castiglione ‘I Didn’t Know You Were Irish Award,’ which goes to an honoree whose Irish roots are not widely known. This year’s honoree is Tyler Tumminia, senior vice president of the Goldklanng Group, which owns several professional baseball teams.”

Pete Caldera is a former sports reporter who covered the Yankees. He is also a local Metropolitan area entertainer, a Frank Sinatra cover singer and Shaun’s good friend.

Duke Castiglione is also Shaun’s good friend, a sports reporter and talk show host based in Boston. Duke’s father, Joe, has been a Red Sox radio broadcaster since 1983 and by 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since God invented dirt in1918, Joe was Boston’s lead play by play announcer.

On one of our lunch visits, we found Shaun sitting with a group of guys at the Red Sox table in the opposite corner from our table. Shortly after we arrived, Shaun stood up and walked over to us. “Mister Scott,” he commanded, “Put out your hand and open your palm.” Mike did as he was told, and Shaun dropped Joe’s 2004 World Series ring into it. “Come over and meet Joe Castiglione. I know you’ve listened to him enough times over the radio. Now it’s time to meet the man.”

Mike followed  while I watched from our table. They greeted each other warmly, Mike gave Joe a brief explanation of his father’s love for the Sox that he and his brother, Kevin, inherited and uphold. “Try it on,” Joe suggested and proudly, Mike slipped it onto his ring finger to both of their delight.

The IAB HOF class of 2013 included Joe McEwing who continues to be a coach with the Chicago White Sox. Shaun engineered the date for the induction ceremony so that it coincided with the dates that the Sox would be in town to play the Bronx bombers up at Yankee Stadium. Joe has a splendid reputation and is well-liked by his fellow coaches and players. The entire White Sox coaching staff and their manager, Robin Ventura, attended his induction. So too did the Mets star and team leader, David Wright. Albeit it was a cameo appearance, but Wright didn’t want to miss this honor. Shaun later explained to Mike and me that when David Wright was a rookie and Super Joe was nearing the end of his playing career, Joe introduced Wright to Foley’s.

Mike was too ill to attend the 2019 induction ceremony, but I attended with my son Michael. The inductees were two time National League MVP, Dale Murphy, Phillies broadcaster, Tom McCarthy, Atlanta Braves manager, Brian Snitker, documentary film producer, John Fitzgerald, The Emerald Diamond (about the first Irish national baseball team) and former Red Sox CEO, John Harrington.

We were disappointed that Murphy didn’t attend, but the other inductees put on a good show.

When Shaun introduced  John Fitzgerald, he pointed out that Fitz was also the founder of the Irish American Baseball Society (IABS) dedicated to supporting…”the game of baseball in Ireland and celebrates the contributions of Irish Americans to baseball in America.”

Shaun took the opportunity to explain that he and Fitz would be cooperating with each other to achieve these goals. As part of this effort, Fitz would play a role in the IAB HOF.

Unfortunately, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Ironically, we knew nothing about the virus we would come to know as “Covid 19,” a virus that would change everything that we took for granted in ways unimaginable in that summer of 2019.