John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: September, 2014

The Poolhall and the Prizefight

I wrote this in April, 2012 but it was never published.


Dark, dank, dirty inhabited by two-bit hustlers, hangers-on, seedy boys and men of ill repute; the New Ridgewood Grove was a grimy, old-time pool hall located on St. Nicholas Avenue on the Brooklyn – Queens border. It smelled of smoke, old beer and decay. The glaring lights above each table illuminated only the green felt surface and the balls in play giving each table the appearance of being a bright island in a dark sea that consumed the players as they moved about to make their shots. Only their cue sticks and their fingers guiding the motion of the sticks were visible.


The pool room was located on the second floor of what had once been a fight arena, a place like Sunnyside Gardens and St. Nicholas Arena where club fighters, newbie’s and has-beens battled in obscurity. But overexposure to television during the 1950s killed this bottom end of the boxing trade and the arena gave way to a super market. The pool hall remained run by a just plain nasty manager who lived in a caged enclosure, took in the money and ordered the players about. A rummy bartender served up cheap rye whiskey, brands like Philadelphia, Wilson and Imperial or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in cold, brown, twelve ounce bottles.


Warm, charming, friendly? Hardly! Not this joint. Not a woman in sight and not a good place to find yourself alone or separated from your pack. But it was a thing to do on another dateless Saturday night, an alternative to a movie, bowling or the neighborhood bar. My friends and I, war babies all, were newly minted legal drinkers having reached the age of 18. We proudly carried Selective Service Cards, not to prove that we had registered for the draft, but as our passport to the drinking man’s world, a valid ID that let us in.


We knew our place, avoided the prime tables and accepted the older ones crowded together in the corners of the room, the ones with rough, worn and stained felt surfaces. The closeness of the tables forced us to patiently wait our turn while players at the table jammed next to ours took their shots. When it was your turn to buy four beers for the pack, the other three would keep a watchful eye until the gofer safely retuned.


On that fateful Saturday night, March 24, 1962, one of the guys returned from a beer mission to report on the progress of the third in a series of prizefights between Emile Griffin and Benny “the Kid” Paret for the welterweight title. The fight was broadcast on the black and white TV mounted on a wooden platform over the bar. I don’t remember much of the fight, but as the rounds progressed more and more players put down their cue sticks and made their way toward the bar to watch the fight unfold. We joined the men remaining a respectful distance from the center of attention. I do remember the twelfth and final round when Griffin beat the Kid senseless while the referee, Ruby Goldstein, did nothing to stop it. Trapping his prey in a corner of the ring, Griffin hit the defenseless Kid in the head again and again. Why didn’t the Kid go down? Why didn’t Goldstein stop the fight? Why? By the time the Kid’s manager threw in the towel, it was too late.


All noise in the pool hall ceased as the Kid lay motionless on the canvas. The broadcast didn’t show the attendants sliding a stretcher into the ring or Paret being carried away. The pool hall crowd sort of stood around waiting for something to happen and we felt their mood darken. Without speaking, we knew the night was over and it was time to go. We downed our beers and left. The next day, the papers reported that the Kid was in a coma. He died in the hospital ten days later.



The NFL Preempted

Timing is everything and mine couldn’t be worse. Modern surveillance strikes again. Thanks to an Atlantic City elevator camera, I inadvertently became part of Roger Goodell and his lieutenant’s three-ring circus at 345 Park Avenue. I joined the party watching the protectors of the NFL shield commit one PR blunder after another attracting the an army of wags, talking heads, scribes, self-serving special interest groups and well-compromised politicians, all going after Goodell’s $44 million ass. In the process, these fools, jokers and scalawags managed to waylay my little piece. A pox on them all, but I will persevere!


In Part 1, we left off with the creation of the greatest show on earth, the super bowl.


When the NFL and AFL merged creating the super bowl, television money flowed into the league’s coffers like never before. But wait a minute, wait a minute, “Ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages; you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Sure revenue soared but this was still chicken feed. It took the growth of cable and the NFL playing one network against the other to change the revenue landscape. The networks didn’t like it and CBS was the first to shout, “No mas!”


No mas? Not exactly. Adios CBS. Those games went to FOX, then the new kid on the block, at a price here-to-fore unimaginable. And what happened to CBS? Why their Sunday night ratings went straight down the toilet bowl; without pro football as a lead in they had nothing.


Next time the contracts came up, CBS bit down hard and outbid NBC for its games. Now, guess what happened to NBC’s Sunday night ratings; crapper city!


Finally the Commissioners, first in the guise of Paul Tagliabue and then Roger Goodell, decreed that each penitent would be able to contribute to the league as the commissioner saw fit. And so it came to pass that Fox was granted the National Football Conference (NFC) and, CBS, the American Football Conference (AFC). NBC earned the rights for Sunday nights, deemed “Football Night in America” and ESPN (representing their parent, ABC) was granted Monday Night Football.


“Further,” spoketh the Commissioner, “From this day forth, I shall establish a new and separate entity that I will use to keep you bastards honest and I shall call it ‘The NFL Network.’ And it shall take games away from thee as I see fit and you will like it.”


And the networks all replied “Amen,” because the Commissioner was great and his product was the bounty that they needed and he alone spread it across the wave lengths.


That is why the networks are shelling out $27.9 billion to broadcast the NFL games for eight years. But Goodell is on a quest to double the league’s revenue by 2027. As a first step, he signed up an eager CBS to co-broadcast Thursday night games for one year with the NFL Network at no cost to the league increasing his network’s revenue while CBS pays a price to broadcast these additional games. Hello, first he took the games away from the networks and now he sells them back? W.T.F!


Going forward, he plans to beat down the opposition from players and fans to add two more games to the regular season, increase the number of playoff games and take the NFL world-wide. Step right up…


And NFL owners love it. Witness the recent bidding war to buy the Buffalo Bills. Forbes had estimated the worth of the Bills at $875 million. The team sold for $1.2 billion!


But what of the fate of the unwashed, loyal season ticket holders and other fans who attend the games in person? Remember when every game began at 1 PM. Ah, those 1 PM starts, cool crisp autumn afternoons; the kind of day when you sniffed the air and declared it to be “Football weather?” Fuhgeddabouit!


The regular season can end on December 31st and most of the playoff games that occupy three weekends in January start in late afternoon or at night.


Still, television viewer ship continues to soar, as fans stay home to enjoy a plethora of games, in the warmth and comfort of their living rooms with a toilet nearby. They consume their own food and beer while viewing games on their HD and 3D televisions or watch that most wonderful of things, the NFL Red Zone, that shows every scoring play from every game.


How do you lure them to cold parking lots and stadiums where Canadian Clippers roar starting in late November? Why should they suffer traffic jams, $120 tickets, $20 parking and outrageous concession prices? Answer, the NFL is planning an electronic revolution, closed circuit apps, real time information on games in progress, fantasy league statistics and all kinds of interactive features. Just bring your smart phone and tablet and you too can be part of the elite.


What happened to watching the game? Me thinks there is a snake oil salesman in the house. Picture if you will the faithful flocking to Met Life Stadium in late December and January when that cold-cold zephyr we call the Hawk  makes his rounds, unimpeded, roars into the parking lots and the stands. Feet and ears go first so how will you go interactive with frozen fingers? Ah, welcome to the new NFL Experience.


But in the end, all of this is not what keeps the commish awake at night. A new demographic force is at work, a force that may end the absolute dominance that the NFL is in our culture. Trust me, it is not soccer, the long-time Progressives’ solution to the violence of football. Neither is it some alternative half-ass winter sport.


It is not the so-called Ray Rice cover-up, other domestic violence issues, perceived bullying, head injuries, thugs on and off the field, the “Redskins” name or homophobia. All of these are solvable distractions that are social media issues, not fan issues.


It has been said that professional football and television have the perfect marriage. But the pigskin has been on top of its electronic mate so long that TV is feeling blue. What if a sexy new kid arrived with growing revenue?  Could TV begin to lose its attraction for the game as it snuggles more closely to this latest sophisticated electronic lover? Oh, my, oh my. As it is, there is this curious phenomenon catching fire, “the E-sports generation.”


Witness, this from the NY Times: “Having already upended the entertainment world, global revenue for (electronic) games is $20 billion higher than the music industry and is chasing the movie business…” The same article reported that 73,000 “gamers”   attended a four-day tournament in Katowice, Poland in March. Last October, 8.5 million gamers streamed the championship of a tournament called, League of Legends. This is more people than watched the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. Granted, E-sports will have its growing pains and setbacks as gaming manufactures, systems and venues come and go. Sounds like professional football back in the day.


But, if TV executives believe gamers are the future, they will swarm to their sport and shower them with undivided attention. The future of the spigot that feeds the NFL’s growth will be reduced to a trickle forcing football to retrench, rejoining the ranks of baseball, basketball and hockey as just another game. And TV will think nothing more about the NFL than they did about other sports they cast by the wayside, sports like professional wrestling, boxing and horse racing.


O.M.G. could this be the end of Western Civilization as we know it is? Naw, but at least they won’t have Goodell to kick around any longer.







The NFL Blues: Part 1

The big, bad monster of the entertainment /sports complex is in trouble. O.M.G. THE NFL IS IN TROUBLE! Now I know you are thinking, Roger Goodell and the league’s hierarchy have been considerably less than stellar in their investigation and adjudication of Ray Rice. While the violent aspects of the game especially concussions are putting the league under the glare of an unfriendly spotlight, such violence off the field has been caught in the same glare. It is not the happiest of times at the NFL. The commish is on his heals defending his actions, lawsuits abound forcing the League to dig a bit into their coffers. Not only that, but even the Redskins’ name is an issue.


But frankly that is not what is troubling Goodell & Co. at their well-appointed Park Avenue HQ. What has them nervous and looking over their shoulders is: attendance is declining. “Not possible!” you say. Well, Batman, you are wrong. So sayeth the Wall Street Journal. Quote the WSJ: “Average game attendance is down 4.5% since 2007, while broadcast and online viewer ship is soaring.”


“Down only 4.5%; HA!” you exclaim, “B.F.D.”


Did you know Bob and Ray, that teams are driving down their own fan base? “No,” well take my beloved New York Football Giants as Exhibit 1. To finance Met Life Stadium, a.k.a., the new joint, they instituted personal seat licenses (PSLs) to the tune of from $2,000 to $10,000 per seat depending on its location. They raised a boat load of money, but in the process, the waiting list of fans hoping to acquire season tickets went from a reputed 60,000 to 0.0. Wait, there’s more; there can never again be a waiting list for tickets as the Giants no longer control who owns these season tickets. Each PSL owner controls his or her ticket and he or she can sell the PSL to whomever they please at a price equal to what the traffic will bear. Oops, I believe this is what is called an unintended consequence of a deliberate act, this time teams issuing PSLs. The Giants may sellout most games at Met Life Stadium but they no longer enjoy a 100% season ticket fan base!


How bad is this attendance thing? The WSJ article reported that it has forced the NFL to amend its most sacred of sacred policies, the TV blackout. Once the blackout rule was impenetrable: THOU SHALL NOT BROADCAST ANY GAMES TO THE HOME TEAM’S AREA. This rule was so inflexible that in the early 1960s during the Giants’ glory years that starred Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford and the great defense led by Sam Huff, fans without tickets wishing to see the games scrambled to motels on eastern Long Island or central Connecticut to pick up the CBS broadcast coming out of Hartford. Even the sold-out1962 NFL Championship game was blacked out in the Metropolitan area.


It was the Giants who were instrumental for the league finally amending this policy. In 1972, at about the same time that the City of New York agreed to re-build Yankee Stadium, Wellington Mara, the Giants owner announced that the Maramen would be moving across the Hudson to a new stadium to be built in that New Jersey swamp euphemistically called The Meadowlands. But it would not be ready until 1976 and his honor, John V. Lindsay, in a hissy fit, not only kicked the Giants out of Yankee Stadium as soon as the 1973 baseball season ended, he banned them from playing in the City owned Shea Stadium. Like vagabonds, Big Blue sought a temporary facility and finally settled into that dump in New Haven otherwise known as the Yale Bowl. New Haven, as far away as it seems to be from the Big Apple, remained inside the NYC blackout zone and all “home” games would be banned for the entire Metropolitan area. But the Commissioner of the NFL, Alvin “Pete” Rozelle rendered a one-time special exemption allowing the broadcast to go forth thereby pleasing most fans although depriving salivating Long Island and Connecticut motel owners of their anticipated new-found weekend income.


But one fan was displeased. Richard Millhouse Nixon, the 37th President of the United States cried “Foul!” “No you don’t, Commissioner Rozelle, I’m president of all of the cities and states and if you can do this for New York, you can do it nationwide.”


Congress was ready to act, rumblings of anti-trust actions were heard so a deal was made and the new blackout rule went into effect: Television broadcasts could be shown in the home town team’s area so long as the game was sold out at least 72 hours in advance of the game.


And so peace reigned across the land and the airwaves for forty years from 1972 to 2012. But now the Journal’s piece noted that in recognition of the decline in attendance, this most sacred of rules has been gutted. Instead of a hard and fast rule, the home team now decides at what point enough seats have been sold to televise the game subject to a minimum number of 85% of the seats being sold. Now 85% seems like a high enough number, but it begs the question, “Is this a moving target, a number that will be adjusted downward as needed?”


The point of all of this is the need for the NFL to broadcast as many games as possible to as many places as possible to satisfy the TV gods. And why is this so? Simply put CBS, NBC, ESPN and Direct TV (not to mention the NFL Network) are contractually obligated to pay the league $27.9 billon between 2014 and 2022: Say “Hallelujah, television is good, television is great; all hail television!”


Hell, aside from Uncle’s spending habits twenty seven point nine billion dollars is a lot of money!


It is time to ask the musical question: “How in hell did the NFL coerce the networks to ante up such an insane price of admission?”


It began in the 1950s when Bert Bell, then the commissioner of the NFL, began the march into its modern era by signing the first league contracts to televise games on the Dumont Television Network. (Memo to Bob Sylvester: You know you’re (getting?) old if you can remember the Dumont Network.)


Football and television were a natural fit and the game blossomed in viewer ship with the playing of the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts a game the Colts won in overtime. Still referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” it gave the NFL Lift-off. From then on, the NFL was blessed with continued though modest growth in TV revenue until it truly blossomed with the merger of the NFL with the American Football League (AFL) and the creation of the greatest show on earth: THE SUPER BOWL.


(To be continued)


Artie’s Bar and Cheap Whiskey

Once upon a time the drinking age in New York State was 18-years of age whereas the voting age was 21. Now the voting age is 18 and the drinking age is 21 but the age in which you can be killed while serving in the military remains 18; go figure.


In my youth, we could drink and die at 18. I grew up in an ideal location for drinking, Ridgewood, Queens populated by a German-American majority who brought with them the old customs that included neighborhood bars and grills. In Ridgewood this meant that practically every other corner was home to a saloon. (We had small neighborhoods.)


My house of sin was Artie’s, a watering hole located on Grandview Avenue between Harmon Street and Greene Avenue. (For the record, Harmon and Greene like other thoroughfares in Ridgewood were named after Revolutionary War heroes.)  Artie’s was a typical Ridgewood saloon with one important distinction for a neophyte under-age kid looking for a beer buzz. Artie, himself, made it known that he would never serve anyone under 18 unless they were quiet, behaved and, most importantly, they were accompanied by money.


We were brought up on beer and beer was all that we sought. Artie had all of the Brooklyn beers on tap, Piel’s, Reingold and Schaefer plus Ballantine. Beer cost fifteen cents for a seven ounce glass of one of these local brews. Every fourth round was on the house, but bar etiquette required that customer never left after a buy-back. Artie had other rules as well. We were responsible for other non-legals we brought in, never bother the regulars, never sit at the bar until we were legal, never sit at the owner’s table unless invited to do so and don’t violate any other rules; real or implicit. Transgressions resulted in expulsion but the guilty would be re-admitted the following Friday night so long as he was still accompanied by money.


There was a prank regulars would play on the unsuspecting. I admit I fell for it: “Hey kid, Ace, (the bartender on duty) is short of pennies. Can you pay for your next beer in pennies?”

I obliged only to watch Ace scoop them up and scatter them behind the bar making me the fool. Part of my education, I learned and at least it didn’t happen when Artie was tending the bar.


Friday nights were special. Ginny, Artie’s wife, made what they called, “bar pies,” small pizzas cut into four slices that were out of this world. If our stamina held up to face the 4 AM closing hour, Artie was not adverse to arming us with cardboard travelers that my mates and I carried to nearby Grover Cleveland Park where we could finish our fantasy while we barked at the moon and solved earth’s problems.


Once legal we were welcomed to sit at the bar as citizens and I did spend many Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in this environment. This afforded me a distinct insight into the hierarchy of the hooch Artie served to his faithful. Behind the bar were three shelves with a mirrored backdrop. There were remote areas for gin, vodka, cordials and the like, but most of the shelves were devoted to whiskey. On the top shelf were the real whiskies, the Canadians; Seagram’s Seven, Seagram’s V.O. and Canadian Club.


(No Scotch, no bourbon, it would be further into the 1960s when Artie introduced a first Scotch, J&B and Kentucky’s Old Grand-Dad, both to culled out spaces on the top shelf.)


Below were an assortment of what we then were told were Rye Whiskeys that I now know as “American Blended Whiskeys.” Here is a definition of American Blended Whiskey: “They’re a blend of cheap whiskey with grain alcohol which is then watered down for bottling.”


On the middle shelf at Artie’s were Schenely, Four Roses, Three Feathers and Fleischmann’s. Down on the bottom; first choice of serial drinkers; Wilson, Philadelphia and Imperial. The bottom three were usually consumed as a “bat and a ball,” “a depth charge” or, simply, “shot and a short round.” Each involved a shot of booze with a 5 oz. beer chaser.


Four Roses should not be confused with Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey of the same name that has been extremely popular in Europe and Asia for many years and has a growing fan base here. Sold to Seagram’s in 1941, this American Blended had the best reputation of the lot.


Wilson has been lost to history except for a photograph I found in the Duke University online library taken along US-1 (The Lincoln Highway) in Rahway, NJ in 1940. In the background is a billboard that has a raised bottle of whiskey and the copy: “No Better Whiskey in Any Bottle – Wilson Whiskey, ‘That’s All!”


Here are some reviews of the others that continue to exist:


Schenley from Schenley Distillers, Owensboro, KY / Bardstown, KY / Atlanta, GA. Tag Line: “America’s Finest.” “I detect hints of acetone and notes of toluene as well as other industrial solvents. I have never put anything this terrible in my mouth. ‘America’s Finest’ Paint Thinner, maybe.


Philadelphia Blended Whisky (sic) from The Medley Company, Bardstown, KY. Tag Line:”The Heritage Whisky.” “Mommy, it hurts when I swallow. This dreck is insulting to everyone’s heritage. According to the label this stuff is ‘a premium quality blended whisky famous since 1894 for its smooth taste and incomparable flavor.’ Drano also has an incomparable flavour.”(sic)


Imperial American Whiskey from Barton Brands, Bardstown, KY. Tag Line: “An Exceptional American Whiskey” The Urban Dictionary: “A cheap rotgut, bottom shelf booze that drunks love.” Or this: “Imperial is a whiskey one drinks to get drunk provided one can drink enough of it.”


Thank god we only drank beer back in the day and I never said the Ridgewood of my youth was a classy place.