Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

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Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

The catcher was a spy

I caught a movie on Showtime whose title intrigued me, “The catcher was a spy.” The movie is based on tne true story of a major league catcher named Moe Berg who played for the Boston Red Sox before World War II. While an average pro, he became an exceptional spy for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

His path to being a spy is not so strange, as Berg was also a professor of history who spoke seven languages, four of them fluently. Since three of those languages were German, Italian and French, he became a rather useful spy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for confirming the Nazis were not as close to developing a nuclear bomb as the US was. It is still debated whether the lead physicist Werner Heisenberg was purposefully moving slowly or it was a resource issue.

Berg is played believably by Paul Rudd. Mark Strong does justice to Heisenberg. The movie has other high caliber actiors: Jeff Daniels. Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Guy Pearce, Giancarlo Giannini, Hitoyuki Sanada and Connie Nielson.

If you get a chance to see this excellent movie, please take it. For those who don’t like baseball, don’t worry as it is very light on that part of his career. It is also seasoned by the relationship between Berg and his girl friend Estella Huni, played by Miller. Berg is a close-to-the-vest person, so he is not sufficiently effusive for a relationshlp, yet he does have a depth of feeling.

What is amazing is how Berg’s story is not better known. Yes, he was a spy, but a major league catcher and honored spy? To make him even more mysterious, he did not accept the medal.

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Note, the movie is directed by Ben Lewin and is based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff. Robert Rodat wrote the screenplay. I enjoyed the movies better than the critics. I think it is do to the movie focusing on the complex person Berg was, rather than overplaying his heroics,

 

When memories of loved ones pop up unexpectedly

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories.

Baseball, Kangaroos and Mr. Robinson

What, you might ask? One of best baseball players passed away earlier this week. Frank Robinson is the only major leaguer to win the Most Valuable Player award in the American and National Leagues. Even though others got more notoriety, Robinson was an excellent player and a born leader.

He was also outspoken which leads me to the kangaroo thing. He held a Kangaroo Court in the locker room after games, complete with a judge’s wig. The purpose was to tease players with small fines when they failed to sacrifice for the team. For the non-baseball fans, the failures focused on not bunting a player over, hitting to right field to let a runner go from first to third base, not running out hit balls that looked like outs, overthrowing the cut off man, etc.

Although, he had individual success, his teams succeeded. The Baltimore Orioles won two championships and played in four World Series, while his Cincinnati Reds played in one. That is what mattered most. He helped his team focus on what made them win.

He was an obvious choice to be the Major League’s first African-American manager. Since he was outspoken, he said a black manager won’t truly be treated fairly until he is fired like all other managers. In other words, if he did not succeed, his race should not stand in the way of his firing. That is a very profound thought.

So, let’s toast the life of Mr. Robinson. He hit many homers, more than only a few players, but he played and coaxed his team to win. And, that is the true goal, for the team to win, not just achieve personal success. There is a reason he became a manager. Kanga would be proud of this Roo named Mr. Robinson.

Friday funnies

Earlier this week, attending a funeral of a good friend’s mother allowed us to catch up with many high school and college friends. Stories abounded, so here are a few to get a smile, a laugh or a surprise. No one was harmed during these stories or their retelling.

When a couple of friends visited me in Atlanta, one forgot his walking shoes. I lent him my brand new pair which molded to his feet, not mine. It took several wearings a to remold them to my feet.

While taking baseball batting practice, the pitcher wondered why I was laughing at the plate. Behind him in the outfield were two friends who knew I liked hard rock music. They were hopping toward each other doing air guitars as some guitarists would do on stage.

Three friends roomed together as young adults. One observed the birdlike first names of the girlfriends of the other two. He noted, one is dating Robin, the other is dating Lark. It looks like I will need to find a girl named CON-dor, emphasizing the first syllable.

I mentioned we often hung out at the house of my friend’s motherĀ (who just passed away). Late one evening, she told her son to remember to take out the garbage. But, he soon was out like a light. Since my ride home was now asleep and I lived just a 1/2 mile away cutting through yards, I locked up, took the trash out to the curb and walked home. He called me the next day to ask how the trash got out.

This same friend worked briefly at a bank branch. While on the phone with a customer, the branch was held up at gunpoint. The robber told everyone to hit the floor. My friend slowly starting to get down without hanging up. The robber shouted at him “Mo..erfu..er, I said hit the floor!” He said he was grabbing some carpet. Ironically, the person on the phone heard this and called the police, who arrested them outside.

One of the two classmates who rides herd over our high school reunion was ragging a friend who has only been to one early on. She teased him that he vaguely resembles our classmate. The real reason he does not attend is his wife teased him unmercifully about his ex-girlfriends fawning over him.

One set of friends got married and adopted a Korean boy as they had troubling conceiving. When he was a toddler, he was pitching a fit in a grocery checkout line with his red-haired mother. My blond haired friend had left the line to get a forgotten item. As he hustled back, other patrons expected to see an Asian-American husband. As they looked puzzled, the father said to all, “he is adopted.”

Finally, the funeral mass was in the church where we attended Midnight Mass. The contemporary folk choir inspired us high schoolers so much, we would go out and sing carols at 1 am waking up friends. Some did not appreciate our holiday spirit.

There are so many more stories, but I hoped you enjoyed these few. Have a great weekend.

Win or lose with class

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.