John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

An Incident at Stalag IX A

The following is a true story of raw and complete heroic unity by 1,292 malnourished and frostbitten American non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who were prisoners of war (POWs) in the Nazi prison camp, Stalag IX A on the morning of January 27, 1945.*

These men had been captured during the opening days of the last great Nazi offensive in the Ardennes Forest in Mid-December 1944, commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. These soldiers had been transported to Stalag IX A, a massive prison that housed thousands of British, French, Dutch and Belgian soldiers, many captured in 1940.

Every one of these American soldiers was a NCO separated from their officers to whom they reported and everyday GIs who reported to them. The Nazis deliberately separated POWs to break their morale. Concentrating the NCOs was advantageous for these sergeants and corporals who were used to to taking command when necessary. They were well-disciplined and they knew how to organize. The senior NCO in the group in Stalag IX A, Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds, had joined the Tennessee National Guard in 1941. He had spent most of the war training raw recruits for combat. Well suited for command, Sargent Edmonds rapidly, yet  methodically created a chain of command that began with the senior sergeant from each of the barracks.

Edmonds’ command arrived at Stalag IX A on January 25th, and it didn’t take long for the Nazis to demonstrate their cruelty and ethnic hatred. Late in the afternoon of the next ay the following order was broadcast from the camp’s public address system:

Achtung! Tomorrow morning at roll call, all Jewish –  Americans must assemble in the Appelplatz,  (the place where roll call is performed) – only the Jews – no one else. All who disobey this order will be shot. 

“Roddie (Edmonds)  listened closely along with Frankie, Lester and the others in the barracks.

“Without hesitation Roddie turned to his men and said, ‘We’re not doing that. Tomorrow, we fall out just as we do every morning.”

Sergeant Edmonds called for an urgent meeting of his senior barracks commanders  to gather by his bunk. Edmonds made it clear from the outset, “We’re not doing it.”

“Every infantryman,’ he told them, ‘would assemble in strict military formation at the Appleplatz at the next morning’s roll call. Every soldier…would tell the Germans that they were Jewish.’ Roddie made it clear that everyone must follow his order. He stressed that even the men too sick and weak to walk could not be left behind in the barracks. He ordered all the barracks leaders to make sure that every man in the camp understood his plan.”

At precisely 0600 the following morning, the PA system came alive with shouts of “Raus! Raus!”

“The men assembled as planned. Even those too sick to walk were doing their best to

stand up straight in formation. A few were having trouble, leaning heavily on other POWs’ shoulders – but they were forming up in ranks.

“Nazi Major Siegmann approached the Appleplatz. On seeing the formation, he shouted: ‘Vas es los? Ist das ein Witz?’

“ Siegmann stormed directly toward Roddie and shouted in English, ‘What is this?’

“Roddie held his strict posture, jaw fixed, looking straight ahead. ‘Under Article Seventeen of the Geneva Convention,’ he told Siegmann, ‘Prisoners of war are only required to provide name, rank and serial number.’

“Only the Jews!’ Siegmann shouted. ‘They cannot all be Jews.’

“Roddie turned to stare the major directly in the eyes, ‘We are all Jews here.’

“Not a single soldier broke ranks, faltered or flinched.”’

“ Siegmann drew his Luger from his holster and pressed the barrel hard against Roddie’s forehead, ‘One last chance!’

“Roddie replied calmly, ‘Major, you can shoot me, but you’ll have to kill all of us – because we know who you are  – and you will be tried for war crimes when we win this war. And you will pay.’

“The major’s face blanched, his arm trembled.

“The Luger was still pressed against Roddie’s head – his finger still on the trigger.

“Then quickly – enraged – Siegmann snapped the pistol back to his side, holstered it, turned on his boot heel, and fled the compound.” 

A day or two after I first read these passages, a thought hit me like a slap to my face, “Why on earth hasn’t Roddie Edmonds ben awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor?”

I sincerely hope that this slight will be corrected one day.

*The complete story of these POWs is the central theme of “No Surrender,” by Chris Edmonds that tells the story of his father, Roddie, and his fellow captives from capture to liberation and repatriation back home in America.

Yet, We’re Still Here

Wednesday, March 25, 2020, I was reading the morning paper when the telephone rang. My old buddy, Ted Laborde, was on the line, calling me from his home in New Orleans, asking how bad the COVID virus was in New York City?

Governor Andrew Cuomo  had essentially put the state into lockdown beginning on March 22th.

“Let’s take a look,” I told Ted as I switched on TV and found a local news station that had a camera  aimed up Sixth Avenue to Central Park from their perch on the corner of Forty-Eighth St. I took in the view in disbelief. Finally, I spoke, “Ted, I am looking at a scene I thought I’d never see. On this ordinary Wednesday, the sidewalks and the streets are empty. There are no people, there are no cars. New York is deserted from Rock Center to Central Park!”

I thought to myself: “And now, let us pray.”

Each of us can think back and recall the moment when we realized that all the panic and all the shouts of, “the sky is falling,” were real and this cockamamie “China virus,” as President Trump, called it, was real with a good chance that it could kill us!

As we approach the second anniversary of COVID 19’s arrival in force and its devastating assault on our Homeland, an assault that changed our lives forever, I am taking stock of what it has done to me and my family and I invite you to do the same.

Early in February of 2020. Before I understood the enormity of what was in the wind, I found myself  leaving our local post office. A chap coming towards me stopped me on the steps. He was wearing what we came to know as an N-95 face mask. He looked at me with intensity as he stepped closer to me and said, “If you don’t mask up immediately, old man, you are going to die.”

March First witnessed the first reported case of COVID 19 in New York. The first two deaths came on March 14.

Our last meals in restaurants with family and friends all had a sense of impending doom. Dread joined us at our tables. In each instance, the number of patrons was sparse, the tables were quiet, and the atmosphere was grim. My cousin, Bob joined Mary Ann and me for lunch with his sister, Helen, on March 4 at Savini, an Italian trattoria in Allendale, NJ. Helen, who lives in a nursing home was oblivious, but the three of us correctly realized that this could be the last lunch we would have with her for a long time.

Mike Scott and I had lunch at Foley’s NY the following day, our favorite Manhattan watering hole “where everybody knew our names”. Again, the atmosphere reeked of dread. The owner, Shaun Clancy, was absent. Steffi, our waitress and friend, revealed that Shaun had whisked  away his ailing father, affectionately known as “Papa John” home to Ireland. She explained that Papa John was suffering from a bad case of the flu. Mike and I looked at each other and pondered if it was something worse. We feared that this would be our last lunch at Foley’s until the pandemic passed. Sadly, it turned out to be our last meal at Foley’s ever. Foley’s NY ceased to exist three months later, another victim of the virus.

St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Monday in 2020 and the parade and other festivities were cancelled during the week leading up to March 17. Five days later, life, as we knew it, ceased.

The shutdown was complete and unavoidable. Exceptions were few and far between. Supermarkets and other stores that sold food or alcohol could remain open. Many eateries from the famous to the obscure called it quits. Malls were victims, but the biggest losers were travel, leisure, hospitality and entertainment entities.

We settled into our new locked-down reality. Thank God for our two very best friends, Max and Tessie who were always up for a walk. For a time, we seemed to meet up with a young dog named Bean who loved to torture our two old timers. As the weather warmed, new COVID dogs, mostly Labradoodles, made their appearance in our neighborhood and on our walks.

Dog walks also gave us relief from the TV pontifications by our fearless leaders, Andy Cuomo, then a superstar in mid-morning, Comrade Mayor DeBlasio in the late afternoon and The Donald XLV at supper time. Our life centered around the proclamations of the diminutive Dr. Anthony Fauci and later, Dr. Deborah Brix, she of her daily scarf.

Our driving was limited to running errands, grocery and alcohol shopping and picking up take-out meals. The good news was these restaurants still in business could sell take-out drinks that for me would include a split of chianti with my meal from DiMaggio’s Trattoria and a bloody Mary from Sullivan’s Quay.  I always included a tip of 20% with my order to help the staff.

Since then, we have witnessed improvement, setbacks, and finally, successful vaccines. Mary Ann and I received our two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in Westchester County in February of 2021and March and our booster shots at St. Francis Hospital that September.

Our joy and hopes for immunity were cut short by the Delta and Omicron strains. Several  confusing and conflicting health warnings, prevention measures and restrictions followed in the wake of each variant making sure we remained on edge.

This month, we reached the two-year anniversary of the start of the COVID 19 pandemic. As if by magic, The CDC and our fearless leaders are releasing us from restrictions. Is it real? Is it over? Is it really, really over? Hard to accept and even harder to believe.

As of March 6, over 950,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID 19. That’s a fact and the death toll is projected to reach one million later this year.

Yet, we’re still here.    

Passport Adventures

In my time as an active business traveler, I have suffered through self-inflicted difficulties due to my inability to concentrate on properly preparing for my trips. I flew hundreds of times from 1974 to 2000 and it was always a crap shoot that everything was in order. Most of the time it was, but when things went wrong, I developed a knack for overcoming my mistakes and never missing a flight. Here are two examples that involved my passports:

Mary Ann’s Passport

It is 1980, I am waiting in line to check in at British Airways JFK terminal on a Saturday morning. My flight, BA 178 to London doesn’t leave until 10 AM, but I am here two hours early to calm my flying anxieties.

I am as relaxed as possible as I wait on a short check-in line. I extract my travel documents for the agent to examine when I notice I am about to hand her a blue Bicentennial passport. My panic alarm ignites. I don’t have a blue Bicentennial passport! I have a plain old green passport. Mary Ann has a blue Bicentennial passport! “Oh shit, here I am at JFK with my wife’s passport.”

Upon reaching the counter, I tell the agent, “I have my wife’s passport. May I use your telephone?

Fortunately, Mary Ann is at home and answers my call. I don’t remember what expletive I used. Mary Ann agrees to drive to JFK and deliver my passport. The BA Agent lets me check-in, but sets my luggage aside until I had the right passport. She warns me: “I want you to know that I cannot hold the flight.”

“Understood, but I believe my wife will make it in time.”

Somehow, I pass the time. After 9:30, I begin to worry, but there on the approach road to the terminal at 9:45, I spot our baby blue Ford Escort. Mary Ann has made it! We trade passports, I kiss her, say, “thank you, I love you.”  As I turn away, I hear her parting remark, “You owe me,”  I sprint back to the BA counter, passport in hand.

Bermuda Debacle

In the old days, lack of proper ID was not always a deal breaker. Witness my adventure on a business trip on Eastern Airlines in 1982. Granted, I had two measures of VIP status with Eastern. First off, I was a member of their Ionosphere Club their private lounge where I checked in whenever possible. More importantly, I was a member of Eastern’s Executive Traveler group, one of the first frequent flyer clubs when they really mattered.

I knew Miss Jacobs, the receptionist at the Ionosphere Club at Eastern’s JFK Terminal since I regularly fly to Bermuda on Flight 807, Eastern’s morning flight.

She asks, “What form of ID are you using today?

Once again, that sinking feeling. I reply, “I have forgotten my passport.”

She tries to give me a break by asking if I have my voter registration card?

“All I have is my driver’s license and my Marsh & McLennan ID.”

“Do you think they will be enough to get you into Bermuda?

“I think so, My company has an office in Hamilton, and I believe the authorities will recognize that.”

“Okay,” she replied.

So far so good. Still, I have to get my story straight so I can make the case that my excuse is legitimate, and the immigration agent will buy it. I use the flight to perfect my story and calm my nerves.

Luggage and Bermuda forms in hand, I bravely approach the agent. I pass them to him together with my Marsh photo ID. He looks at my submission, picks up the ID and shows it to me without comment putting the ball in my court.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I left home this morning without my passport or any other form of identification. If you need proof of who I am, my firm has an office in Hamilton. Please feel free to call them and ask for Fiona  Luck, our head of office. She will confirm who I am.”

The agent gives me a curious look that says that he knows who Fiona is and clears me to go.

My return is even easier as nobody could ever think I’m not an American. The US Customs Agent stationed in Bermuda basically let me slide through, but with this admonition: “You know, Mr. Delach, that sooner or later, if you continue to subvert the rules, some SOB will really break your balls and give you a shit load of misery! Repent, my brother, repent.”

I simply nodded to him as I walked away knowing his advice was bang on.

Still, that didn’t prevent me from ordering a bloody Mary at the departure lounge bar in celebration of my successful coup.

The USFL vs. thw NFL: The Judgement

You may notice TV commercials or advertisements on social media announcing a new spring professional football league known as the United States Football League or USFL. This venture is named after a previous attempt to compete with the NFL during the mid-1980s that died in the court room after a nasty lawsuit.

That USFL played two seasons in the spring. Although the league signed a TV contract with ABC, they lost nearly $200 million during this period. After welcoming Donald Trump into their midst as the owner of the NJ Generals, the other owners caved into his demand that they switch to a fall schedule and compete head on head against the NFL during the 1986 season. Unable to secure a network television contract, the league suspended activities then sued the NFL for monopolizing access to ABC, CBS and NBC. Depending on a successful outcome, the USFL anticipated playing a full season with all eight teams beginning on September 13.

The trial opened on May 12, 1986, in the Federal Courthouse on Foley Square in lower Manhattan, Judge Peter K. Leisure presiding. It was a marathon and a slugfest that lasted ten weeks thanks to the chief plaintiff’s attorney, Harvey Myerson, an associate of Roy Cohn and Trump’s own choice for lead counsel.

NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle, was the first witness to testify and his performance on Day 1 left much to be desired. Following that debacle, Rozelle was cajoled, coached and bullied that night by the NFL’s legal team. He returned to the stand. with his act together and made a good showing for the remainder of his time giving testimony.

Myerson called Al Davis, the recalcitrant owner of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to testify in favor of the USFL Davis, who had an eternal blood-feud with Rozelle didn’t have a problem with sticking it to his fellow owners. Myerson also called an over-the-hill Howard Cosell who was somewhat inebriated and gave a rambling address against his old boss at ABC’s, Roone Arledge.   

Frank Rothman, the NFL’s lead attorney methodically examined Chet Simmons, the former USFL’s Commissioner who Trump had removed and, Harry Usher, the current Commissioner. Usher was inept and testified that the only reason that the USFL switched from a spring league to a fall league was to position itself for a merger with the NFL.

Rothman’s special victim and his best witness for the NFL was their chief protagonist, Donald Trump! Richard Hoffer of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Rothman’s cross-examination was a breathtaking ode to knowing your subject and taking him apart, piece by piece.” 

By the time the testimony wrapped up and closing arguments were made, it became obvious that Rothman had successfully demonstrated that the NFL was innocent of all charges. Myerson’s attack strategy was to paint the NFL as Big Business and his USFL as the little guy shut out from a path to success.

The jury debated the case for five days deadlocked three to three. One faction favored the USFL and wanted a judgement of between $300 million and $500 million. With triple damages the judgement would have ranged from $900 million to $1.5 billion.

The other faction wanted to find in favor of the NFL without any damages. After seemingly endless and fruitless debate, it seemed that they finally reached a compromise based on the judge’s instructions to the jury that included a statement that they could award as little as $1.00 in damages if they could not distinguish the amount of the USFL’s losses that were due to its own poor management as opposed to the amount caused by the NFL’s monopolistic practices.

The jury reached a curious verdict in the pressure cooker of a packed jury room. They deemed that the NFL violated Section 2 if the Sherman Anti-trust Act by monopolizing the three television networks but found the NFL not guilty of the other eight charges.

The jury foreman handed Judge Leisure their verdict. After he absorbed it, he asked her how did the jury find on Count One? She replied: “Guilty.”

The court room erupted in joy and excitement for all supporting the USFL. After, order was restored, he asked the foreman how the jury found on the other eight counts and the foreman repeated, “Not Guilty” eight times.

Then Leisure asked the foreman the amount of the damages the jury had agreed upon and she replied, “One dollar.”

A quieter, but just as intensive reaction erupted from those supporting the NFL. The USFL legal team was devastated, the USFL as a league was done and Trump was an embarrassment to the public, the press and his fellow USFL owners.

Myerson was livid. He moved for a mistrial, a motion that Judge Leisure rejected. (The USFL’s subsequent appeal to higher courts were also rejected.) 

Ayoung John Mara, eldest son of the New York Football Giants President, Wellington Mara, and future president of the team, was in the courtroom  monitoring the proceedings. On hearing the words one dollar, he pulled a dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to The Donald. Trump’s sunken expression was worth the price.    

On the Outside Looking In

This Wednesday’s Blog will be delayed one week due to issues beyond my control. God willing and the Creek don’t rise, publication will resume on Wednesday, February 23.

Question: Why is Creek capitalized?

Once Upon a Time at Madison Square Garden

If you were a basketball or a hockey fan during the 1990’s, you’d understand that Madison Square Garden (MSG) was the place to be. This was particularly true for my son, Michael, who was fresh out of college, single, living at home and with money in his pocket thanks to a real job with an insurance company in Downtown Manhattan.

I was a Managing Director at Marsh & Mc Lennan, a premier insurance broker when times were good for the company, its officers and employees.  Frankly, I always considered my managing director title to be a bit of hyperbole where the more common, senior vice president, would have sufficed. But it did give me access to certain perks one being the corporate box at Madison Square Garden. Michael loved all sports, but it was the box at MSG that he found irresistible!

Curiously, the box went unused more times than not for the Knicks and Rangers. My only dilemma to securing tickets for my son was not to pester the gate keeper too often. The gate keeper was a senior executive assistant (aka secretary) to a high-ranking executive. I developed a good relationship with this gal and did favors for her whenever she asked, especially to protect her boss or by fending off unwanted interlopers. My being known as an avid sports fan didn’t hurt either.

Michael’s finest playoff era setched from 1993 until 1997 when he ceased to be a single guy. During this time frame, the Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Knicks lost the NBA Championship to the Houston Rockets in seven games. The Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup run was magical. Demand for tickets didn’t heat up for the quarterfinals against the Islanders nor for the semifinal series against the Capitals allowing me to get him tickets to every home game in each series.  It was only when the Rangers faced the NJ Devils in the Conference Final that I had to back off.

My success rate of securing playoff tickets for the Knicks was less successful, but Mike did go to a couple of their early playoff games.

 Michael’s magical run continued throughout the 1994-1995 seasons. The Knicks made it into the Eastern Division Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

On May 18th, a Thursday night, Michael took me aside to ask if I could secure tickets for Game 7 scheduled for Sunday, May 21? “ Hold on there, cowboy,” I began my reply, “You and I both know that securing tickets to Game Seven’s is almost impossible.”

Then a bulb lit in my brain: “The Knicks are down two games to three., if they beat the Pacers on Friday night, Game Seven will be in MSG on Sunday night,”

“Son of a bitch! Our Managing Director’s meeting begins this coming Monday, and we are all preoccupied in getting there. Damn, you are good! Nobody can know if there will be a game on Sunday night until after Friday night’s game is over and the Knicks are victorious. That won’t happen until after 11 pm tomorrow night. Nobody will even think of requesting tickets for Sunday until it’s too late.

I waited until just after 3 pm on Friday afternoon to call Miss X, the gatekeeper, “Hey, Miss X,  I need tickets to the box for Sunday’s game. Are there any available?”

“John, actually, you are my first call asking for those tickets. How many do you want?”

Quickly, I blurted out: “Three.”

I let an ecstatic Michael know. That night, the Knicks beat the Pacers, 92 to 82 to force a Game Seven on Sunday night.

Three of my mates joined me to take Amtrak’s Cardinal to our meeting at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. We were still on the train around game time when I called our MSG box on my new cellular phone. When Mike answered: I asked him, “Mike, it’s me. What’s the crowd like?”

After he told me the Garden was full, he challenged me by asking how many people were in the Marsh box. I bit, “Okay, how many?”

“Noah, Anthony and me.”  

The boys witnessed an exciting game. With five seconds remaining in the game and the Pacers leading 97 – 95,  Patrick Ewing, the Knicks star player took an inbound pass and drove to the basket. Ewing had an open lane to the basket, but he began his jump a step too early.

He was too far away to dunk the ball and too close to float it into the basket, so he tried to finger roll the ball into the basket. His attempt was too long, and the ball bounced off the back iron as time expired.

Still, Mike, Anthony and Noah experienced an exciting playoff game in their own exclusive  corporate box. One for their memories.  

Eddie Basinski and Van Lingle Mungo

In 2011 I wrote the original version of “Van Lingle Mungo”, updating that edition after I discovered that Eddie Basinski had passed away.

It’s the musicality of his name that gives these lyrics legs. Say it slowly, let the syllables roll off your tongue: Van Lingle Mungo.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched in the major leagues from 1931 to 1945 mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A talented hurler trapped on a lousy team; he had his day in the sun before fading into baseball history until his unique name enabled him to gain a peculiar recognition when his name was prominently featured in a song about baseball.  

Roger Angell, one of our American literature’s treasures and a  and devoted baseball fan and historian described Van Lingle Mungo in his quasi-memoir, Let Me Finish:

When I exchanged baseball celebrities with pals at school, we used last names, to show a suave familiarity, but no one ever just said “Mungo” or even “Van Mungo.” When he came up in conversation, it was obligatory to roll out the full

            name, as if it were a royal title, and everyone in the group would join

            in at the end of the chorus: Van Lin-gle MUN-go!

In 1969, the songwriter, David Frishberg wrote a jazz ballard, (at that time referred to as; “a bossa nova ballard.”) The lyrics consisted entirely of the names of baseball players except for “big” and “and”. The title is “Van Lingle Mungo.” And every chorus ends with his name.

Mr. Frishberg sang Van Lingle Mungo’s name exactly as Angell sets it out in his 2006 copyrighted book.

 In 2011 when I first wrote this piece, I noted the following information:: For the record, the experts who keep track of this kind of trivia report that six players named in the song remain alive, today: Max Lanier, 92, Eddie Joost and Phil Cavaretta, both 91, Johnny Pesky, 88, John Antonelli, 76 and Eddie Basinski, 84.

Van Lingle Mungo. was born in 1911, died in 1985. He won 120 games and lost 115, was most prolific from 1932 to 1936 when he won 81 and lost 71. He had several problems both on and off the field. On the field, he felt the need to strike out every batter giving him a high pitch count that limited his ability to complete games.

 Curiously, if Van Lingle Mungo pitched in today’s game, nobody would have cared about this weakness as almost every starting pitcher is only good for a maximum of six innings. He hurt his arm in 1937, an injury that should have ended his career. Curiously, he hung in there pitching junk for another seven years.

Off the field, he enthusiastically pursued wine, women and late-night adventures. On a spring training trip to Havana, he barely escaped a machete being wielded by the outraged husband of a nightclub singer and his latest conquest. He was wild and mean and had a terrible temper. Several sources quoted Casey Stengel who managed him on the Dodgers:

Mungo and I get along fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I’d duck.

If you use Google or another internet search engine, you can find the complete lyrics, or actually hear Dave Frishberg sing his tune.

In January. Eddie Basinski’s obituary appeared in The New York Times. The headline read:

                  Eddie Basinski, 99, Infielder

                  And an Equally Elite Fiddler

Basinski had taken classical violin lessons since childhood and was a member of the University of Buffalo symphony orchestra when America declared war on Japan in 1941.

A marginal professional baseball player, his poor sight not only kept him out of the major leagues, it also prevented him from being drafted. But it did give him the opportunity to reach the major leagues as a replacement player for those starters who went to war. He played 39 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 and 108 in 1945. Sent back to the minors in 1946, he played in 56 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947.

He remained in the minor leagues until 1959 pitching for the Portland Beavers and five other teams including one in Venezuela. He told The Times about a violin recital that he performed between the two games of a doubleheader “I got a tremendous ovation and had a good doubleheader too.”

In January, in death, Eddie Basinski achieved a final milestone as he became the last baseball player named in Dave Frishberg;s salute to baseball  to pass away.

RIP Eddie Basinski.

Buster’s Florida Vacation

This January is too long and too cold for my creative juices to keep flowing. Therefore, in an attempt to warm both your and my soul, I offer you an encore presentation of this piece that I first wrote in 2011 and revised in 2018. 

“Call me Buster.” I am a seven-year-old mixed breed part Chow / part Border Collie with brown and black hair. I have pointy ears that I can turn 180 degrees that would make me a lousy poker player as how I set my ears gives away my mood. Let me tell you about my first trip to Florida.

Before we left, I had my hair cut. This was not my idea as it was January during a cold, wet winter. When they did this to me. I thought that Mary Ann and John, the people I live with, were trying to kill me, but the next day we set out in their truck on a road trip that would take us to a special place, called Florida, where the weather is nice and warm in January.

I didn’t always live with them. A girl named Jodie, who I adored, adopted me from the North Shore Animal’s League’s shelter. She took me home to Connecticut. Later, she married their son, Michael. It was not a bad life until they had this kid. Didn’t like him, but food became more plentiful once he arrived. Then he became mobile and interested in me. A couple of bites later, it was goodbye Fairfield, and hello Port Washington, Long Island.

My life in this new home would have been much better if they didn’t already have Maggie living with them too. She arrived a year before I did, in 1999, another reject.

 She was thrown out of her home because she was a crazy ten-month-old Golden Retriever. Now five, she’s still nuts, and she’s a pain in my ass. Stupid Golden Retrievers think they are so special and this one thinks she is “The Supreme Being.” The fools I live with, especially, John, treat her that way.

You don’t believe me? She uses toys as props, rubber footballs, a rubber ring, a rope and especially tennis balls. She obsesses over her toys and God forbid, I borrow one, the bitch takes it away. Now toys are not a big deal for me, but fair is fair.

She also hogs the window in the back seat. She stands there waiting for them to open it, so she can put her stupid head out. And they do! God forbid, I go over to it. She growls and snarls. It got so bad on this trip that I said the hell with it and found a spot in the back of the truck. Mary Ann was nice enough to find a mat for me to lie on while “her majesty” had the entire soft seat to herself.

Spending eight hours in a truck every day for three days is not as bad as you think. It isn’t as though I had other things to do and we stopped often enough to stretch and relieve ourselves. Sleeping in those little boxy rooms was another matter altogether. There are too many strangers, each one a potential assassin. I was ready to stay up all night and let them know I was on alert, but John stupidly closed the curtains.

When we arrived at the house in Florida, I had to learn a few things the hard way. Glass sliding doors are not always open and what happens when I walk across the plastic cover on top of the swimming pool. My only pleasure was watching her majesty do the same thing.

Each morning we hopped in the truck for a short ride to the beach. As soon as we began to move, Maggie began to act up. Her ears flailed back making her look like a bolting horse. Her eyes blinked rapidly as her tongue moved in and out of her mouth at the same speed. She whimpered and cried. When she saw the water, the Loony Tune’s barking and crying became so high-pitched that it went right through me. It was all I could do not to bite her so she’d shut up. This cacophony ended only after John let her out of the truck. And this happened every morning!

The beach was great. Not many people, a few new dogs to meet and greet. Most of the time we ran free and I had a grand time cataloging new and different smells, rolling on dead creatures and playing in the surf. On the other hand, “nutsy Fagin” had to have something to chase and carry in her big mouth. Each morning, John found a different coconut that he would throw into the water. Maggie mindlessly chased them.

Her nuttiness gave me the idea that if I chased them too, that might drive her off the deep end. After I grabbed the coconut first a couple of times, she freaked out and started ripping it out of my mouth. After that I decided to back off and let her have it.

 John threw the coconut like a football, but its weight and the wind made some throws fall short. It was my fondest hope that sooner or later one would hit her on the head and kill her. (Imagine John having to call his kids to tell them what happened.)

Don’t get in an uproar, it didn’t happen. Actually, it was an excellent vacation with no mishaps after the first day. Neither of us went swimming in the bayou behind the house because the bottom was too muddy, and our instincts sensed danger. Good thing too because we found out alligators liked to swim there.

 We also avoided fleas and I had to smile because last year Maggie acquired fleas on the trip I missed.

So, you can put me down to recommending Florida as a good place to go to leave winter behind, but it would be much better to go there as an Only Dog.

Meet the Mets: Renewal of the National League in New York City

Part Four

A barren spring devoid of National League baseball descended upon the Metropolitan area from Brooklyn to Fairfield, CT, to Garrison, NY, to Fair Haven, N J and to Port Washington, Long Island. Loyal Dodger and Giant fans could no longer live in denial by refusing to believe that the baseball loves of their lives had deserted them for California. The Dodgers and the Giants had sold out and were gone,  baby, gone; never to return.

Los Angeles and San Francisco celebrated the arrival of major league baseball with pride and joy, grand  parades down Sunset Boulevard and Market Street with their newly minted heroes and their families riding in the back of luxury convertibles to the cheers of the new faithful. Once their new heroes arrived in their temporary quarters, the air was filled by the sound of the umpires initiating West Coast Major League Baseball with shouts of:  “PLAY BALL!”

The Dodgers played their first three seasons in the LA Memorial Coliseum, a magnificent edifice constructed for the 1932 Olympics with a seating capacity of 101, 671 fans and not a good seat in the house. Because of its size, the baseball field had to be shoe-horned into a stadium with horrible sightlines for baseball. Still, these newbie and clueless aficionados flocked to opening day in unheard numbers. On April 4, 1958, 78,672 Dodgers fans filled this stadium to see their new hometown heroes defeat the rival Giants by a score of 6 to 5.  The Dodgers annual attendance for 1958 was 1,845,556.

It would be fair to write off this amazing attendance as a fluke, but in the summer of 1959, 93,105 fans came to honor retired Brooklyn Dodger great, Roy Campanella, who never played a game in LA.

When we add the attendance for the three World Series games of 90,000 each, in the Dodgers victory over the Chicago White Sox, we can imagine how happy this made Walter O’Malley. We had our joke, but he owned the baseball world.

O’Malley, always the trickster, set up Horace Stoneham and his Giants by convincing them to play their games in the Bay Area, a poor second to his Dodgers drawing power in LA with its vast metropolitan area connected by its infamous freeway system. Instead of having a capacity like vast seating area of  Coliseum, Stoneham’s only choice was Seal Stadium, the previous home of the SF Seals minor league ball club with a capacity of 22,900.

Despite this limited capacity the SF Giants inaugural opener on April 15 attracted 23,448 fans who delighted in watching their Giants trash their new, yet perpetual opponents, the LA Dodgers, 8-0.

The Giants finished the season in third place with a record of 80-74, but despite their so-so record and the limited confines of Seal Stadium, their total attendance for 1958 was !,272, 857. I doubt Stoneham regreted his move or gave a damn about O’Malley.

The Giants moved into their permanent home, Candlestick Stadium in 1960 and the Dodgers moved into O’Malley’s creation in 1962. Candlestick turned out to be a flawed ballpark. Designed for both baseball and football, it didn’t suit either and its location made it susceptible to dramatic wind and temperature changes on any given game day. The Giants solved their issues in 2000 when they moved to Pacific Bell, now ATT Stadium located right on the bay.

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 and was an instant success and has always had the look and feel of a place to watch a baseball game. It is now the third oldest ballpark in MLB with only ancient Wrigley Field and Fenway Park  outliving it. Unlike these two senior citizens, Dodger Stadium has been modernized several times to include corporate boxes, club seating and electronic scoreboards and message boards. Yet, all these features were added without destroying its magnificent sight-lines.

Meanwhile back in Gotham City, once the weeping and gnashing of teeth  ran its course, the National League fans who also happened to be power brokers in a city of power brokers began to formulate their attack on MLB and the National League in particular. Early rabblerousers included Joan Whitney Payson, heir to the family fortune and a great baseball aficionado and her toady, M. Donald Grant, both minority partners in the Giants who refused  to endorse Stoneham’s move to the promised land.

Once it became obvious that the National League’s presence was gone, Mayor Robert Wagner turned to William (Bill) Shea, a well-respected and extraordinary deal maker to bring a team back to New York. After the league refused to consider placing an expansion team in the Big Apple, Plan B was to steal a marginal team. Shea concentrated on the Cincinnati Reds, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates. None were interested.

Shea didn’t become a brilliant fixer by being timid. Since neither an expansion team or moving an existing team were in the cards, why not blow-up baseball’s existing structure. Ladies, and gentlemen, may I present Plan C: The Continental League (CL). Shea started by naming a commissioner: seventy-eight-year-old Branch Rickey. He then signed on Mrs. Payson as owner of the New York franchise and between the two of them and other power brokers, they signed up five other owners:

Washington DC                              Edward Bennett Williams

Toronto                                           Jack Kent Cooke

Denver                                             Bob Howsam

Dallas / Fort Worth                        Amon Carter

Twin Cities                                       Wheelock Whitney

Shea announced that this new CL would commence playing ball in the spring of 1961. Note, other than New York and DC, the other franchises all would play in cities devoid of a Major League teams. Shea also let it be known that he had also lined up owners in nine other cities.

As Shea expected, MLB, the NL and the AL were ready to go to war to prevent the (CL) from getting off the ground. Shea used Wagner’s political clout to have Congress intervene. He enlisted the help of Senator Estes Kefauver, Chairman of the powerful Special Committee on Organized Crime. Simply called,  The Kefauver Committee, it was famous for grilling gangsters and union leaders on its open televised hearings.  Kefauver let it be known that he would consider opening these hearings to include MLB.

Wagner’s clout also prompted Brooklyn Congressman, Emmanuel Cellers to become involved. The 70-year-old Brooklyn Democratic Congressman was Chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee and he intimated that he may wish to have hearings to review changes to MLB’s anti-trust exemption.

MLB realized that they were in a fight that would only bring suffering and pain to the business of baseball. On June 18, 1960, the NL voted to approve expanding that league by two teams for  total of ten and the AL concurred on August 30. The AL in 1961 and NL in 1962.

The NL teams became the Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros) and the NY Metropolitans, aka the NY Mets , aka The Amazins.  Joan Payson headed up the syndicate that owned the Mets who played all of their 1962 and 1963 games in the ancient Polo Grounds  before moving to that ballpark Moses had proposed for the Dodgers in Flushing, Queens in 1964. Appropriately, it was named for the man who made this happen, Bill Shea.     

When the National League Abandoned New York

Part Three

And so it came to pass that winning the 1954 World Series turned out to be the New York Giants last hurrah. After winning the National League pennant and defeating the Cleveland Indians in four games to take the World Series, they went into a tailspin. In 1955, the Giants finished in third place and dropped to sixth place in 1956 and 1957. Consequently, attendance at the Polo Grounds dropped from 1.2 million fans in 1954 to 653,000 by 1957, the lowest in the National League. The Giants were in big trouble and their owner, Horace Stoneham, efforts to convince New York City officials to build a new stadium for his Giants in Manhattan over the New York Central’s West Side freight yards fell on deaf ears.

Stoneham began the process of moving his franchise to Minneapolis where he owned a Triple A minor league team. Why not, Major League Baseball was on the move in the 1950s. America’s post World War II identity was overwhelmed by a tsunami of change driven by consumerism and the growth in population thanks to the Baby Boomers. Traditional population centers could no longer accommodate this growth and Americans began migrating west in large numbers. Eventually, this movement expanded to include the south and southwest as A/C became reliable and readily available.

Baseball hadn’t expanded in decades, but these migrations convinced owners of second-rate teams in multi-team cities   to realize the opportunities available if they moved their franchises to baseball hungry cities. This movement began with the Boston Braves, who moved to Milwaukee in 1952. The Braves achieved attendance records that forced other owners to give pause when they examined their own financial models. The Braves couldn’t match the Red Sox popularity, so they successfully escaped Beantown for the town that Schlitz made famous.

Two other franchises took note of the same message, the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. The Browns were up against the St. Louis Cardinals owned by the Anheuser-Bush family with their deep pockets. The Browns threw in their Missouri chips in 1954 and skedaddled to Baltimore where they re-invented themselves as the Baltimore Orioles.

The Philadelphia Athletics, once Connie Mack’s ship of state were in deep trouble, forced to play in a decrepit ballpark located in a lousy part of town. They lost the attendance battle to their National League rivals, the Phillies. Their owners  caved in after the 1954 season and sold the team to a Kansas City cabal who took the team to western Missouri for the 1955 season.

Stoneham wasn’t the only dissatisfied New York baseball owner. Walter O’Malley hated Ebbits Field, his small and obsolete ballpark in Crown Heights that opened way back in 1913 with a meager capacity of just under 32,000 fans. Granted, Dodger attendance remained at just over one million fans from 1954 though 1957, but O’Malley envied the Braves success in Milwaukee that averaged over two million fans during the same period.

I believe that despite O’Malley’s absolute dissatisfaction with Ebbits Field, his first instinct was to remain in Brooklyn. To this end, he proposed a spectacular state-of-the-art circular domed stadium with a capacity of 52,000 to be built above the Long Island Railroad yards at the junction of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.

One could say that Walter O’Malley was a visionary who could see into the future, but O’Malley’s vision didn’t materialize until almost sixty years later when the Barclay Center opened in 2012. This new home for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team has a capacity of 19,000 basketball fans. Barclay Stadium, named after the bank, otherwise known as The Bark, could only have become a reality after a lengthy process of gentrification that step-by-step rebuilt and renewed Brooklyn neighborhoods resurrecting them from being considered to be a collection of sub-standard slums into viable neighborhoods. 

The 1950s was a time of white flight from American cities to the suburbs and Brooklyn was no exception. Downtown Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Crown Heights were hemorrhaging white middle-class residents who were fleeing tenements and apartment houses for new affordable developments rising on former potato fields in Nassau and Suffolk counties. These new suburbanites came to depend on their automobiles as the car culture changed their lives.

O’Malley’s domed stadium could have ruined him as a stadium in Downtown Brooklyn would have had to depend on the subways and the Long Island Railroad to transport Dodger fans to and from the games. This deteriorating urban neighborhood was devoid of major highways or any concept of adequate parking.

Overshadowing these issues, O’Malley’s proposal conflicted with the future plans for Downtown Brooklyn as envisioned by the city’s chief planner, construction tsar and all-around powerbroker, Robert Moses (RM). O’Malley was in a fight that he couldn’t win.

RM countered with a proposal for the Dodgers to move to a new city-owned stadium that he would build for the Dodgers in Flushing Meadows, Queens. (This eventually became  the  location of Shea Stadium and its successor, Citi Field.) O’Malley refused to consider RM’s proposal, famously saying, “We are the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queens Dodgers.”

I suspect, that by this point, O’Malley was already deep into his negotiations with the Los Angeles city fathers. and had come to realize the extent of the incentives and treasures these-baseball starved leaders were willing to grant him if he brought his Major League team to their city.

My suspicions are based on the fact that O’Malley approached Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner, sometime before the next owners’ meetings scheduled for Chicago in late May of 1957. On May 28, Commissioner Frick confirmed that the National League owners had agreed to allow the Dodgers and the Giants to move to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectfully so long as both teams made the move.

Two weeks prior to these owners’ meetings, O’Malley entered into a contract with the City of Los Angeles called “The Arnebergh Memorandum” whereby he committed to moving the Dodgers to LA for the 1958 season. In return the city agreed to acquire 350 acres of land in Chavez Ravine for the construction of the Dodgers new stadium. In addition, the city would help O’Malley arrange financing and construct the parking lots and all access roads needed to reach the stadium. It was only after O’Malley signed this agreement that he approached the commissioner and his fellow owners.

Stoneham had also been busy negotiating with the mayor of San Francisco, George  Christopher. Stoneham too, had been offered a package that included a new baseball stadium that became Candlestick Park and enough other incentives that convinced Stoneham to move west and trade in his team’s interlocking orange “NY” for and orange interlocking “SF.”

Stoneham confirmed the Giants were moving to San Francisco for the 1958 season on August 19, 1957. For reasons unknown only to himself, O’Malley let the story leak out starting with Stoneham’s announcement, but the Dodgers didn’t get around to a formal announcement until October 8, 1957.

O’Malley’s treacherous and disgraceful behavior made him the central villain of a sarcastic joke popular with all Brooklyn Dodger fans:

If you were stuck in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley and you had a gun with only two bullets who would shoot?

You’d shoot O’Malley twice in case the first bullet didn’t kill him.

(To be continued)   .