Sunday, December 26, 2010

It was fifty years ago today...

Fifty years ago today a football game was played. It wasn’t any ordinary football game. No NFL championship game can ever be ordinary but when we look back at it now after a half-century of change in the way NFL football is played the 1960 NFL championship game takes on an antique quality; it becomes a black and white snapshot of an era of American society and sports history that we look back with an air of amused nostalgia.

By 1960 the NFL had finished its 40th season of operations. The league consisted of only thirteen teams (the season before there were only twelve but in 1960 the Dallas Cowboys had joined the NFL as an expansion team). The regular season was only twelve games long (that’s why the NFL championship game was played the day after Christmas). Indeed the following season the NFL would expand further—adding the Minnesota Vikings and increase the regular season schedule to fourteen games.

The NFL was expanding because it was facing a threat in the rival American Football League. Throughout the 1960s the two leagues would compete for talent before agreeing to merge in 1966 with the actual merger taking place in 1970. Pro football was growing up but in 1960 the game and the league still retained some of it antiquated aspects.

The 1960 NFL championship game was played in the afternoon like a regular season game instead of during primetime on TV which is where the Super Bowl is played now. If a team could not sell out it stadium on game day games could still be blacked out on local TV.

The NFL in 1960 was still predominately a white man’s game. The two teams that played that day: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles had about five or six African-American players on its 33-man roster (today’s NFL teams have 53 man rosters and the vast majority of its players are African-American). The Packers I believe had a few more African-American players. In 1960 the Washington Redskins were the only NFL team which didn’t have an African-American player on its roster. (The following season they would integrate under pressure from the Kennedy Administration).

Small rosters required that players do double duty on the playing field. Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin not only took the snaps he also did the punting. Eagles tight end Bobby Walston not only blocked and caught passes, he also did the place-kicking too. Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung scored a record 176 points during the 1960 season because not only was he was running and catching touchdowns he was also kicking field goals and extra-points. His teammate Max McGee not only caught passes he also punted as well.

Even place-kicking back in 1960 was not the specialized art it is today. There were no soccer-style kickers who could ram it through the uprights at fifty yards. Place-kicking was straight-ahead only and even then it was an inexact science. Some teams had two place-kickers: one for short-range field goals and extra-points and another for long-distance field goal kicking.

Another aspect of having only 33 men on a roster was that when players got hurt it meant that some players would have to play offense and defense.

The 1960 NFL championship game is famous because Chuck Bednarik was one of the last NFL players to do double-duty during a game. It began during the fifth week of the regular season when two Eagles linebackers were injured during a game with the Cleveland Browns. Eagles legend Chuck Bednarik who was only playing center at the time was called up by Eagles head coach Buck Shaw to play linebacker as well. Bednarik did so and, in so doing, helped improve the Eagles defense while taking on a mythological aura that would later earn him a berth in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame.

The Philadelphia Eagles team that played in the 1960 NFL championship game did not get there by a fluke. They were a talented team that balanced veteran stars with young quality players. Norm Van Brocklin and Chuck Bednarik were established All-Pros and future hall-of-famers. Football historian Sean Lahman ranks Van Brocklin the 14th greatest quarterback that ever played the game while Bednarik ranks 25th as a linebacker in Lahman’s ratings. Norm Van Brocklin was such a great quarterback that future NFL hall-of-fame quarterback Sonny Jurgenson was forced to sit on the bench for three years as Van Brocklin’s back-up.

The Eagles had a superb receiving corps. Split End Pete Retzlaff was Van Brocklin’s favorite target in short-yardage situations. Later in his career he would move to tight-end and become the fifth-greatest tight end according to Sean Lahman’s ratings. Flanker Tommy McDonald was a pint-sized speedster with rabbit-like moves. He was the Eagles deep-threat. In the 1960 NFL championship McDonald caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Van Brocklin that gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead in the second quarter.

The Eagles had a young running back named Ted Dean who had loads of potential but whose playing career was later cut short due to major injury but Dean made two key plays in the championship game. Late in the fourth quarter Ted Dean ran back a kickoff 58 yards and during the ensuing scoring drive would score the game-winning touchdown on a five yard run (with a key block thrown in by center Chuck Bednarik). Another fine running back was Timmy Brown who was one of the finest kick returners in the history of the game.

On defense linebacker Maxie Baughan was one of the smartest linebackers ever to play the game. The Eagles secondary had talented men like Tom Brookshier and Don Burroughs.

They were led by a wizened genial old man named Lawrence “Buck” Shaw. Shaw was a low-key father-figure whose worst oath was “Aw shucks!” and yet Shaw brilliantly mixed his veterans with his young players to make the Eagles contenders.

The team they face the Green Bay Packers were about to write a chapter in football history themselves. This was the first NFL post-season appearance for the Packers since 1944 and they were led by their relatively new head coach named Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi and the Packers would dominate the 1960s but on this day in 1960 that was all in the future. The Packers talent was already there: Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung in the backfield; Max McGee at wide receiver; Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, and Jim Ringo on the offensive line; Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, and Ray Nitschke, and Willie Wood on defense. Future legends and immortals all but this was their first ever taste of the pressure cooker atmosphere that is NFL championship football.

The game itself was a rather crude affair. The Eagles first offensive play from scrimmage results in a Green Bay interception. Four times the Packers drive deep into Eagle territory but the Eagles defense while bending never breaks. The Packers get only two field goals and twice fail to convert on fourth-down situations. (After the game Vince Lombardi blamed himself for the Packers defeat citing the two failed fourth-down conversions as the main reason. He told the press that if he had ordered Paul Hornung to kick instead going for it, the Packers would have had two more field goals—and the game).

The Eagles offense is inconsistent. Norm Van Brocklin only completes nine of twenty passes yet gains more yards passing than Bart Starr does. The touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald was the biggest pass of the day for Norm. Still the Eagles only get ninety-nine yards rushing and commit three turnovers.

Still it is the Eagles that make the big plays: the McDonald TD pass and the Ted Dean kick return. The Packers come up empty even though they have a potent running game. Early in the fourth quarter they regain the lead on a Max McGee touchdown pass but when Ted Dean scores in the offensive series that follows it the Eagles have a 17-13 lead when the Packers make their final drive.

When it all ended with Chuck Bednarik making an open-field tackle of Jim Taylor at the Eagles nine yard line with the clock running out the Eagles became NFL champions and the Green Bay Packers would suffer the only post-season loss during the coaching reign of the immortal Vince Lombardi. Lombardi and the Packers would learn vital lessons from this defeat and would emerge far stronger and far tougher in future post-season appearances to come.

For Buck Shaw and Norm Van Brocklin this was the last hurrah. Buck Shaw retired from coaching. Van Brocklin quit his playing career and hoped to succeed Shaw as Eagles head coach. He was not chosen and so he became the head coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings and later the Atlanta Falcons.

Bednarik kept playing for two more seasons and made it to the hall-of-fame as did Van Brocklin and McDonald and Retzlaff too. Tom Brookshier’s playing career ended the following season and he became an NFL broadcaster. Sonny Jurgenson took over as the Eagles starting quarterback before being traded to Washington in 1964 (a sad day for the Philadelphia bartenders).

And so that football game played on December 26, 1960 was not only a game it was also the final chapter of an era.

The game was never going to be the same again—and neither would America.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Secession then and the new Civil War now

One hundred and fifty years ago today the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union thus putting into motion a chain of events which culminated in four of the bloodiest years in American history. There was no debate at all among the 170 delegates who assembled in Charleston, South Carolina to discuss the matter. (The reason why the secession convention met in Charleston instead of the state capitol in Columbia was because of a smallpox outbreak was taking place there in Columbia at the time). The ordinance of secession passed unanimously and was immediately followed by great public celebrations.

If you visit Charleston, South Carolina today (and I recommend that you should because it is a very quaint and beautiful Southern city) you will find when you visit many of the historic homes and mansions there a copy of the ordinance of secession signed by an ancestor of the person who once owned the home. New Englanders liked to boast about how their ancestors signed the Mayflower Compact. South Carolinians like to boast about their ancestors signed the ordinance of secession.

In the months that followed ten other Southern states followed suit. Secession took on many forms. Some states held special conventions to secede. Most states were content to let their state legislatures do the work. A few others coupled state legislative action with plebiscites which allowed voters to add their voices to the question.

Still the act of secession was not without internal division. Just because eleven Southern states seceded didn’t mean every resident in those states wholeheartedly supported the act. There were dissenting voices. Historian Eric Foner in his landmark book on Reconstruction devotes a sub-chapter in his book in discussing Southern Unionism. Opposition to secession and the newly formed Confederate States of America flourished in Western Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, Northern Alabama and Georgia and in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas and Missouri. Even in Texas there were pockets of pro-Union sentiment. Every Confederate state except for South Carolina contributed volunteers to the Union cause.

My own maternal ancestors, the Heatherlys, were living examples of this. The Heatherlys of Eastern Tennessee fought in the Union Army (where they were called Tennessee Tories). Two members of the Heatherly family of Cullman County, Alabama fought in the Union Cavalry (where they were called Mossbacks). The younger brother of my maternal great-great-great-great grandfather Aaron Heatherly (Moses Heatherly) first joined the Confederate Army and fought with Jeb Stuart before deserting to join the Union army in 1864—Aaron who lost three sons in the Civil War never forgave his brother for what he did.

Secession had been percolating in the American crucible since the Revolution. The eternal question that vexed our Founding Fathers was: where did Federal power end and where did States Rights begin?

Up until 1860 there had been false starts. The Kentucky Resolutions of the late 1790s, the Nullification crisis of the 1830s, and the Compromises of 1820 and 1850 either ignited or tried to dowse the flames of secession.

When secession did come and with it Civil War the issue was decided not in legislative halls but on the battlefield. In many ways the Civil War was the second Constitutional Convention where the political future of our young country was written in the blood shed by 600,000 dead Americans.

What’s striking about the North’s reaction to secession was how passionate Unionists were about upholding the powers and forms of the government. In Ken Burns’ Civil War he quotes the famous Sullivan Ballou letter where Ballou wrote “I know how American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government…” and who could forget what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today we mock, damn, and demonize our government.

Were we more naïve back then or have we become more foolish and obdurate now?

When we contemplate this anniversary we must also be aware that there is a Civil War going on in American today. Even though there are no bullets flying there is an ideological war going on inside this country and with it—a form of symbolic secession from the Union.

The founding fathers of secession of 1860 damned the Federal Government for what they saw as attacks upon their property (i.e. their slaves) and the rights of the individual states. Today Americans damn the government on a more individual basis. Discontent is rampant and no solutions are in sight.

What’s sad is that America has become just as much an ideological tinderbox now as we were back in 1860. Even though we might not erupt into armed conflict our nation is being torn asunder in the name of ideologies that really do not resolve our problems or our conflicts. Instead we fight one another merely for the sake of fighting and our nation continues to implode from within.

And in this Civil War there are no winners….

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Katahdin Mountain Trip Report


In my thirteen years of high-pointing, I had bagged all the Northeastern states save for Maine. I had delayed going after Maine because I wanted to go after other highpoints but for this year, I decided to try my luck at the terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

My attempt was part of a larger trip which included visits to Acadia National Park and visiting some Maine lighthouses in and around the vicinity.

I got into Millinocket (which is base camp for many a hiker going along the Appalachian Trail) on Wednesday October 6 and made a quick trip to Baxter State Park to get info on how to reserve a slot in the Day Use Parking Lot at Katahdin Stream. The ranger at the gate gave me great info and when I returned to town, I went to Baxter State Park HQ to reserve my parking slot.

I didn’t go into this hike feeling very confident. My main concern was the weather. Reports throughout the week were not encouraging and I had only a two day window to climb the mountain. I was afraid I would not get a shot at the peak at all. The following day the 7th was dark, rainy, and depressing.

The weather for 8th (the day I would make my attempt) was only slightly better. It would be sunny in the morning but there was a threat of rain in the afternoon. I was determined to get as early a start as I could.

I woke up at 5:00AM on the 8th and quickly ate breakfast at the Appalachian Trail Café. Even at 5:00AM it was crowded, filled with truckers and hikers like me.

I was back at my hotel at 6:00AM and promptly suited up for the journey. In a few minutes I was on the road to the Togue Pond Entrance Gate at Baxter State Park. It’s a sixteen mile drive and it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the Togue Pond Entrance Gate. After clearing the gate it’s a 7.7 mile drive to Katahdin Stream campground. It’s all dirt roads when you go inside Baxter State Park and the speed limit ranges from 10-20 MPH so it’s slow going all the way. I didn’t reach Katahdin Stream Campground until 7:00AM

The ranger on duty there said it was Class 3 conditions on the trail—meaning the trail was open but it wasn’t recommended you go above the tree line. The summit of Katahdin itself was shrouded in fog. Somehow I knew I would be unsuccessful with this attempt but decided to go as far as I could and hope against hope.

It was 7:30AM when I signed in at the register at the start of the trail. I wasn’t alone. A team of three other hikers (two male and one female) were with me. They wanted me to break trail and I did but rather quickly I lost them somewhere (they later told me they had stopped for coffee).

The first mile of the Hunt Trail (which is part of the Appalachian Trail) is gentle on the legs. You are enshrouded by the peak colors of autumn in a narrow tunnel of yellows, reds, and oranges; your footfalls softened by the black, moist soil; the only sound effects being the bass roar of Katahdin Stream and, later, Katahdin Falls.

The air was bracingly cool and I was glad to be bundled up in my L.L. Bean equipment. I was wearing layers and felt quite secure in my Gore-Tex cocoon.

My pace was moderate and I was in no rush. I passed the first mile marker and quickly afterwards crossed below the Katahdin Falls. Once you do that is when the going gets tougher and you encounter the rocks. I thought Mt. Marcy in Upstate New York was onerous but Marcy is a walk in the park compared with Katahdin.

The granite boulders at Katahdin are something to behold and they get more ominous the higher up you go.

I took my first rest break at 8:25AM and munched on a candy bar atop this moss-covered boulder right in the middle of the trail. I was shaded by the dense stands of trees and content to commune with the silence.

When I resumed hiking the trail narrowed even further and for the first time in my high-pointing career I was forced to wade through a stream for quite a ways. Just before you reach the boulder fields at the midway part of the trail, the trail is subject to considerable run-off of water as you go up and down. The soil was a black viscous mud and the rocks were sunk into it. Water flowed over my boots and I silently thanked God for the Gore-Tex linings.

It was slow-going and hard on the legs. The higher I went the steeper it became. The other hikers who accompanied me had passed me by earlier but I had caught up with them. I thought I was doing well in terms of my pace but when I came to the boulder field at the 2.8 mile mark, I was wondering what was going to come next. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I was unprepared for the labyrinth which confronted me. I was thankful for the painted trail marks because if I had to blaze my own trail I would have failed miserably.

You spend your time looking for the paint marks and trying to find footholds and handholds. It requires hands free climbing. There are places where metal spikes are driven into the stone by necessity because without them you can neither go up or down. I had never done such technical climbing in my entire high-pointing career. Somehow though, I got through the tougher parts but I knew it would be tougher still when I would have to climb down. If I had had a helmet camera on me and my friends, relatives, and loved ones could see what I was doing, their collective hearts would have gone into their mouths.

It was in the boulder field that the hike swiftly went to hell.

The top of the mountain was shrouded in fog and the winds were blowing around 20-30 M.P.H. I had my balaclava on but there were times when the wind would blow the cloth over my eyes and I had to readjust it. A couple times I slightly bonked my head on the rocks but nothing serious. I never tripped or fell.

I took my second rest break near the bottom of the boulder field at 9:25AM. Removing my gloves to undo my pack was not easy. The temperature was definitely in the low 20’s at that elevation and I had to put my gloves back on or else risk them getting frozen.

It was during that second rest break that I got these weird thoughts in my head. I kept getting these visions of me falling to my death; of me slipping and breaking a leg or an arm or something else and being stranded on the trail, dying of exposure. I had never had such thoughts in my entire high-pointing career. It disturbed me. Once my break ended I resumed the ascent. The fog prevented me from gauging how much further I had to go before I reach the tablelands and the final approach to the summit.

If I had been very close I was determined to persevere regardless of the conditions but where was I? I wasn’t lost. I was on the trail and moving upward. It was the not knowing that was sapping my emotional strength. I was also worried about the descent because the boulder field would be infinitely tougher going down than going up. I would need lots of time to navigate this place. My prior calculation called for me to summit around 11:00AM and it was getting near to be 10:30AM. I had already passed the 3.2 mile mark painted on the rocks on the trail. By my calculation I had gone 3.3 or 3.4 miles on a 5.2 hike.

The wind was now really kicking up and it was blowing so loud you had to shout to be heard. The three hikers who had accompanied were ahead of me and on their way to the summit. Another man had passed me by as well.

At 3.4 miles I stopped and tried to discern how much further I had to go before reaching the tablelands. At times the fog would part and I could glimpse more and more boulders to be traversed and in a moment I realized I had a long, long way to go.

I was feeling at the end of my physical and emotional tether. My fears were magnifying.

At that moment, a voice inside my head said to me, “Are you ready to die?”

And before I could answer that devastating question, the voice asked me, “Is it worth your life?”

I stood amidst the boulders looked up at the dark rocky mass and realized that I would never ever climb Mt. Katahdin. I cried out, “I quit! I give up!”

I didn’t pause long. I knew I had a ton of work to do getting down this bloody mountain. It was 10:30AM when I decided to turn around.

For the next four hours I would be trying to descend.

Going down the boulder field took the longest time. I couldn’t make any mistakes. Any trip or fall could result in serious injury. I went at a tortoise like pace and paused frequently to eye up the footholds and handholds. When I got back to the parts of the boulder field which had the metal spikes, I did a lot of serious praying.

Amazingly while I was engrossed in my personal ordeal, there were hikers who were still going up the mountain despite the vile weather conditions. It was the worst example of summit fever I had ever seen. I told everyone and anyone who would listen that I was turning back. At least 3-4 hikers kept going up but four others agreed with me and started back down.

For me the hairiest part of the descent came at the bottom of the boulder field when you reach the last set of climbing spikes. I remember looking out over the ledge and seeing the sheer rock face and the narrow ledge below. I knew this was going to be scary and it was. I remember placing my feet carefully on both spikes and then shifting my body so I would descend downward like going down a ladder instead of sliding down on my butt. I remember hanging onto the bar for dear life while gingerly lowering my left foot onto the small stack of rocks within the cleft. When my left foot touched down, then I released my right foot from the climbing spike and lowered myself to the rocky ledge. I went only a small distance when I saw one of the hikers who were going down with me, trying to do what I did. I had to pause and coach her on where to place her feet. She did it like I did and got down safely.

Even after I cleared the boulder field, I could not relax. The rocky upper portions were fraught with danger. I couldn’t afford any slips or falls lest I suffer broken bones or other crippling injuries. Sometimes I eschewed dignity and slowly slid down the rocks on all fours to brace myself. It looked silly but it worked. I never slipped, tripped, or fell throughout the descent. Going down the stream bed on the trail was onerous because I was worried about my footing. Plus my boots were getting soaked and my feet were wet. Still I put one foot in front of the other and kept slogging downward.

I took rest breaks at 11:30 AM, 12:30PM and 1:45PM. The last rest break was the best one because I was below the storm clouds and the air was warmer and clearer. I could see the fall colors on the surrounding peaks and find peace amidst the madness above me.

I took pictures to preserve the experience.

After the last rest break, I crossed Katahdin Stream and the rocks gave way to soft earth. Every step brought me closer to safety and it was 2:30M when I signed out of the trail.

A lovely blonde-haired married woman was waiting anxiously by the register. Her husband was one of those who had gone up the trail and had passed me by on their way to the summit. I told her what happened to me and she became apprehensive when I told her how onerous the weather conditions were. I felt sorry for scaring her but I felt that I owed her the truth. There were others who were waiting for their loved ones to come down at Katahdin Stream campground. I spent twenty minutes at the parking lot discussing what happened to me. I left at 2:50 and cleared the Togue Gate at 3:15 and was back in Millinocket by 4:00PM.

When I look back at this hike I wonder to myself whether I could have made it if the weather conditions had been better.

I can’t answer that. In some roguish way I’m sort of grateful that the weather high up the mountain was bad because it gave me the perfect excuse to turn back.

This was my second high-pointing failure. My previous failure occurred in Nevada in September 2008 when during a reconnaissance of the Queen Mine approach to Boundary Peak, my SUV suffered a flat tire while descending down the gravel road which leads to the highway. I barely made it to the highway where I luckily was able to flag down a passing motorist who helped me change the flat and I was able to return to Bishop, California. That was not a real summit attempt but a reconnaissance.

Maine was my first failure during an actual summit attempt. In retrospect part of me feels I should have tried the Abol Trail instead of the Hunt Trail although later that night when I was having a drink at the Scootic Inn bar in Millinocket, a local told me that the Hunt Trail was the least technical climb of all the trails to Katahdin.

Will I return to Katahdin? I don’t know. It will be many years before I contemplate a return if ever.

Still I am grateful to God for delivering me from this ordeal. I am also grateful to my friends on Facebook who prayed for me during the hike itself. Your prayers were answered. Amen.

My next high-pointing journey will be easier (I hope). I will go after Driskill Mt. in Louisiana, all 535 feet of it in May 2011.

See you at the highpoints!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Contemplating our Greatest Day...and its aftermath

This day sixty-five years ago was the most powerful moment in American history. It was on this day, aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allied powers thus bringing World War Two to a close.

I call this the most powerful moment in American history because it was on that day we had the greatest army; the greatest navy; and the greatest air force the world had ever seen. Those forces consisted of men and women who were part of what we call now the Greatest Generation were commanded by some of the most stellar figures in American Military history: Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Curtis LeMay, Bill Halsey, Chester Nimitz, Raymond Spruance, Omar Bradley, and George Patton.

Not only were our armed forces superior in the quality of its personnel; it also had the finest weapons including the ultimate weapon which compelled the Japanese to surrender in the first place: the atomic bomb—which America was the sole possessor at that time.

Not only was our military might supreme, our home front too was at its peak in terms of power and productivity.

American industry was operating at full capacity. Unemployment was nil. Our moral authority was at its pinnacle. The American people had full faith in its President and its Congress.

Now, today, sixty-five years later our country can no longer make those claims.

Today, we struggle with financial, moral, and ethical bankruptcy. Unemployment is rampant. Faith in our elected leadership is nonexistent—and justifiably so in many places.

How did it happen?

It certainly didn’t come from the outside. One cannot blame the Russians, the Chinese, the North Vietnamese, the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda.

No, the decline came from within—just as it always does in the course of human events.

For all the wars America has fought since 1945 the greatest, costliest, and most damaging war our country has fought has been with itself. When you examine the course of American politics, economics, and ethics since 1945 the most apt metaphor to describe what has transpired since then is war.

When you look at our society today, we are a nation at war with itself; a war with no victory and no end; just the mindless and senseless continuation of our own self-defeating purpose. And as long as that self-defeating purpose exists in the fabric of American society then there is no hope of future progress—just the long tortoise-like crawl towards national self-destruction.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Requiem for Robin Roberts

The death of Philadelphia Phillies legend Robin Roberts is a sad loss to Phillies fans everywhere. He may have been the greatest right-handed pitcher in Phillies history (it’s either Roberts or Grover Cleveland Alexander). No other Phillies right-hander ever won more games than Roberts did.

Roberts was not only a stalwart pitcher for the Phillies but he was one of the best pitchers in the National League in the 1950s. He won twenty or more games in six consecutive seasons. In 1952 he won 28 games. No other National League pitcher has equaled that since. Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner said that Roberts was the toughest pitcher he ever faced.

Roberts won 286 games and lost 245. His winning percentage as a pitcher was .539% which was 33 points better than the teams he played for. That was the tragedy of Robin Roberts’ career. If Roberts had pitched for the New York Yankees or the Brooklyn Dodgers, he would definitely have won 300 games. Instead he toiled nineteen seasons for mediocre teams—a diamond in the rough. There are other great baseball pitchers who suffered the same fate. Nap Rucker for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1900s and 1910s; Washington Senators immortal Walter Johnson is another example.

Every fourth day the Phillies would give Roberts the ball and every fourth day he would take on the best pitchers of the other seven National League teams. (His head-to-head match-ups with Dodgers great Don Newcombe were epic battles). Sometimes Roberts didn’t pitch every fourth day. During the final week of the 1950 Season where the Phillies were vying with the Dodgers of the National League pennant, Roberts had to pitch three times in five days. Name a top pitcher today who would be willing to do that for his team?

Roberts was a class act on the mound. One of his flaws was that he gave up a lot of gopher balls. One reason for that was he never threw at batters. In an era where the purpose pitch was a vital tool in a major league’s pitcher’s arsenal, Roberts eschewed the bean-ball. That meant hitters could dig in on Roberts. Roberts was a class act off the field too. He was an ardent advocate for the Baseball Players’ Association and when baseball was integrating racially he was a positive presence to African-American players who became his teammates.

When we lose players like Robin Roberts we are losing something more. Roberts was the last vestige of an era of baseball where there were no steroids; no illegal drugs; no Astro-turf; no games interrupted so that a top rock and roll band can perform its newest hit single and other associated nonsense like that. We’re going to miss him.

Rest in peace.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Health Care: If You Can Keep It?

When contemplating the passage of the Obama Health Care Bill I am reminded of a story about the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The Convention had adjourned, the Constitution had been approved, the doors were opened and the delegates filed out into the streets of Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin was being carried out on his sedan chair when an anxious citizen ran up to him and asked, “Dr. Franklin, is it a republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin replied, “A republic, Sir, if you can keep it,” meaning that he and the other delegates had done the best they could to create a new form of government for the fledgling United States of America but it was now up to each and every American citizen to do the best they could by exercising the rights given unto them by this new constitution to ensure that the country remained a republic.

The same metaphor applies here to the Obama Health Care bill. The Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress worked long and hard to create legislation to augment and improve the health care system in America. After a year’s worth of negotiation, amending, deal-making, compromises, political infighting, vitriolic debate, and parliamentary wizardry, a bill was passed. Now it is up to the American people to do their part to either make this landmark legislation work by exercising the options and rights granted unto them by this legislation or else allow it to be tortured on the gibbet of American political obloquy.

Those who cry out that the bill is an example of tyranny or else complain about the methods used by Democratic congressional leaders to get the bill passed err. The fact that the bill was watered down, amended, and substantively changed from the original concept proposed by the Obama Administration; the fact that G.O.P. congressional members were granted time to debate the issue and say their piece about the legislation, and try their best at blocking the legislation exposes the lie that tyranny was afoot.

Tyranny is the absence of debate, amendments, negotiations, and offers to the opposition to have their input in the process. If the Obama Administration is a genuine dictatorship then Universal Health Care would have been passed in its original form without any subsequent amendments.

Was the bill flawed as many of its opponents said during the debate? Of course it was. Name any legislation that isn’t flawed? Even the Constitution when submitted to the states in 1787 was a flawed document that needed a lot of fine-tuning during the next two hundred and twenty-three years of its existence. The nice thing about legislation in a democracy is that it is never etched in stone. Democracy allows lawmakers to amend, add, and subtract at will. As one CNN observer recently noted, every year will see the new law being amended and changed (just as you see changes in Social Security, Medicare, and tax laws). Democracy at its absolute best is a supremely flawed form of government. Those who seek perfection will only find disappointment. If legislators were to await perfection then no real work would ever get done.

And what about those who cry out that this legislation will bankrupt the country? The fact is America is already bankrupt and has been since 1983 when the country became a debtor nation instead of a creditor nation—a dark day in American economic history. Our present state of bankruptcy has been perpetuated by both the Republicans and Democrats alike. Will the health care bill add to the deficit? Of course it will. Expanding national health care coverage is not cheap and as for the criticism that it is fiscally irresponsible? I would like to say this: where was any talk about fiscal responsibility when the Bush Administration insisted on conducting a bloody and expensive two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan while insisting on cutting taxes and deregulating America’s financial systems? Where was the fiscal sanity in that? Why weren’t the same politicians who cavil about the health care bill’s costs saying the same things when America was being bled white financially, politically, and emotionally during the past decade?

It’s all well and good to preach about fiscal responsibility but I have not seen any of the opposition practice those policies.

It is my personal theory that what frightens the bill’s opponents the most is that the Obama health care bill turns the political tables on them. If the new health care bill survives a court challenge and attains the same political untouchable status that Social Security and Medicare now possesses then it places severe constraints on future Republican fiscal practices. If the bill and its new systems take hold and prove to be effective then future Republican congresses and Presidents will be handcuffed politically. They will not be able to casually rape and gut funding for these new programs like they can with other liberal social programs. That means there will be less money available to distribute to conservative sacred cows in the future. In short if the Obama health care plan survives and takes hold then any attempt at destroying it will mean political suicide.

The bills opponents can talk about repeal in the legislature but that nothing but political hot air. Any repeal will require absolute two-third’s majorities in both houses in order to overcome a presidential veto. Right now the G.O.P. doesn’t have the votes and it remains to be seen whether they will be get those votes in the upcoming mid-term elections in November. (For the record the last time the G.O.P. achieved two-thirds majorities in both houses was during the 19th century). They’re only chance is in convincing enough Democrats to defect in both houses of Congress to achieve repeal and that will have to wait until next year when the next Congress goes into session.

Actually conservative invocation of the dreaded “S” word (i.e. socialism) in describing the bill is nothing new. They invoked it when Social Security was established and again when Medicare was created as well. Both times they vowed to overthrow it but failed to do so when the opportunities arose. President Dwight Eisenhower said it best when asked by conservatives in 1953 to overthrow the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. He said, “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

If conservatives have any hope of overturning the health care bill then their best avenue of attack is in the courts. In fact conservatives shouldn’t even waste time filing suit in the district or appellate courts but should take their case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court (which you can do legally. You can bypass the lower courts and appeal directly to the Supreme Court if time is of the essence—which it is for the bill’s opponents). In fact I would not be surprised if the Supreme Court decides to take a look at the bill and try to overturn it. One only needs four justices to grant cert, i.e. agree to hear a case. The Supreme Court’s conservative bloc (Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy) has already shown its willingness to tilt politically with President Obama; which means that there is far greater potential to overturn the health care bill by a Supreme Court ruling than there is by congressional repeal.

Is the health care bill apocalypse now? Is it the end of the world as we know it—and none of us are feeling fine? The answer is no. The bill is nothing more than a good old American compromise—just as the Declaration of Independence was…and the Constitution…and the Compromises of 1820 and 1850 were...and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as well (please read Robert Caro’s book Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate and you will see why).

When I look at what has happened I am reminded of words folk singer Leonard Cohen spoke onstage at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. Cohen was performing before a crowd of 600,000 and he said words to the effect that, “You’re a nation but you’re still weak. Still have a lot of growing up to do before you can stand on your own two legs as an adult.”

America (when compared with other countries) is still a young nation with a lot of growing pains; a nation still striving to achieve maturity (leaving death threats and smashing windows of legislators who voted for the bill is not mature behavior). We, as a People, still have a lot of growing up to do before we can proclaim ourselves a fully developed nation.

Yet the passage of the Obama health care bill represents a giant leap forward in the growing process and a proud moment in our democracy because the passage of the bill reveals that the democratic process has not been lost; compromise has not been abandoned; the Republic lives; God reigns; and the Constitution still works.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gilda Di Memmo: Cent Anni

Today marks the centennial of the birth of the late Gilda Di Marcello: the youngest child of Vincenzo Di Marcello and Maria Censoni—and their longest living child; a sister to Frank, Anna, and Sophie; the wife of Frank Di Memmo; mother of seven children: Mary, Rudy, Caesar, Joseph, Frank, Pasquale, and Jean; grandmother to twenty-two grandchildren; great-grandmother to at least forty-seven grandchildren; and a great-great grandmother to at least eleven great-great grandchildren when she died in October 2001.

She was also a beloved aunt to all her nephews and nieces; not only bestowing her love upon them but also to their children and grandchildren.

She was an amazing woman; a window to a world which now seems ancient and mysterious to the computerized techno-gadgetry of today’s Facebook world. She lived in simpler, sterner, more stoical times. She lived in an era which (at least in her eyes) must have possessed a greater clarity than the era we live in today where the truth seems ephemeral; right and wrong becomes mercurial and inter-changeable; and reality dissolves more easily into unreality.

She was a living witness to a tsunami of changes which boggle the imagination. She survived two World Wars and several lesser wars. She saw Lindbergh fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and Neil Armstrong walk on the moon; she also saw the atomic bomb blow up and the Twin Towers fall down. She saw women’s skirts and necklines go up and down; she saw people’s hair grow longer and shorter; she heard music get jazzier, funkier, louder and more outrageous. She saw TV in black and white; then color; and then in cable.

Through all this she remained herself always: soft-spoken, loving, loyal, eternal, doting, and quietly smiling.

My earliest memory of Gilda came when I was roughly six or seven years old. My parents took me and my brothers to visit her and her husband at their home in Ridley Park, PA. I believe my father was helping pour a slab of concrete in their backyard. I was left inside the house alone with Aunt Gilda. (When I was a little child, I was bewildered by her name. It sounded so weird to me. I remember my six year old brain would say to itself, ‘what’s an Aunt Gilda???’)

I remember in the parlor of the house Aunt Gilda had an organ. I remember being fascinated with that organ because when I used to attend SDA church at Laurel Springs I remember being fascinated with the organ that was used during the services. I always wanted to play with the keyboards but was never allowed to do so. Imagine my joy when Aunt Gilda, seeing my fascination with her organ, allowed me to sit in the chair and play with the keyboards?!?!

And so there I was a giggly, antsy kid goofing about on the keyboard, making Frankenstein and other horror movie noises and laughing hysterically at my own mischief; and all throughout my childish doodling I would look back at her and see her sitting there in a corner easy chair smiling silently and indulgently at me; a most loving and doting smile—as if to suggest that I was neither the first nor the last little child to goof about on her organ?

Gilda was a shy woman—by her own admission in letters she wrote to me while I was doing genealogical research on the Di Marcello, DiBiase, D’Ambrosio, and Di Memmo clans. But there was a spark there; a flame kindled from what George Washington called that inner celestial fire called conscience. She lacked a full-fledged education but she had a native intelligence and an artistic spirit which expressed itself in subtle and wonderful ways. One cannot help but wonder what she would have become if she were growing up in today’s world where young women have greater intellectual and professional opportunities than Gilda did back in the 1920s.

(In my first genealogical book there is a 1927 photograph of Gilda at age 17 posing with her brother Frank and her parents. She was wearing what a young teenage girl was supposed to wear during that era. In 1996 one of her grand-daughters would tell me that particular photo in my book was her favorite one. She told me, shrieking with laughter, “My grandmother the flapper!”)

She married young. She was only eighteen years old when she married Frank Di Memmo. She would devote the rest of her life to matrimony; motherhood; grandmotherhood; great-grandmotherhood; and great-great grandmotherhood—not a simple task.

(Gilda laughingly told me in a letter in the 1990s that it was hard for her to keep track of all the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren she had). Her progeny seems biblical in its scope. (That’s why in the dedication of my second genealogical book I quote Genesis 15:50 as a tribute to Aunt Gilda).

My relationship with her grew during the 1990s because my genealogical work. I still have her letters and I still savor the memory of the periodic phone calls I made to her during those years.

She was always encouraging, loving, positive, and uplifting. There was never a time when I saw her or spoke to her when she failed to make me feel better about myself. I assume she did that with everyone.

I remember in one letter I sent her I showed her a song I wrote called "I Can’t Find Myself (For Myself)". The song was a typical Matthew DiBiase lyric: introspective, self-deprecating, and a little bit crazy. In her response she sent me one of her lyrics and she gently admonished me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself in my lyrics—saying, “Remember we are all God’s children and if God is King then that makes you a prince.”

Even as I’m writing this I still chuckle at the sentiment but guess what? It worked. It had the desired effect of making me feel better. That was Gilda. She was always making you feel good; feel more alive; spreading love and watching it flow. When I visited her and we would sit together, she would always reach out and squeeze my hand, showing love and affection.

I remember one family reunion in April 1996. She had come to Central PA from Michigan and everyone came to see her. Aunt Gilda was sitting in the living room and her granddaughter Malissa Richardson was showing Gilda her brand new baby son Travis. While Travis remained cradled in her lap, Gilda kept patting his head and smiling at her newest great-grandchild.

Gilda in her final years struggled with deafness—though one of her grandchildren told me it was a selective deafness. When I saw her during those final years it always amused me that when the conversation bored her she would sit silent and unhearing but when the conversation interested her (or else when someone she loved or cared for or respected dearly was speaking) then she would cup her hand to ear and strain to catch every word that person was saying. I ought to know. She always did that when I was speaking during family conversations. It touched me. It made me feel good that a least one person was listening to what I had to say.

When she died in 2001, I mourned. Not only was our collective looking-glass to the ancient past taken away from us (as well as the last link to our Italian heritage) a dear, dear friend was lost to me; a wonderful transcendent human-being was no more; a loving presence and persona in a world which has now become increasingly ugly, brutal, savage, and cruel was taken from us—and the world was a less beautiful place because of it.

I went to her funeral (there was no way I was going to miss it. I owed it to her). I took off from work to do this. She was buried on a glorious autumnal day alongside her husband. Her memorial service was a glorious requiem to her memory. Whoever choreographed the service and planned it deserves a medal. Her funeral was everything a memorial service should be: her entire family was allowed a chance to make their contributions; all the generations of her descendants left their mark on the service. Gilda died with dignity and was laid to rest with the love, tears, and memories that she richly deserved. As funerals go this one was a fitting end to a magnificent woman.

I would like to end this tribute with a story of my own. In the days between her death and her funeral I wrote a poem in honor of her memory. The words fell into place rather quickly and I had a typescript ready to go when I arrived at the funeral hall. It was my intent to read it if there was an appropriate time to do so.

As it turned out there was ample opportunity for me to read the poem. People were allowed to come up and say their piece about Aunt Gilda. Many did so. I waited. When it seemed like the last person had said their piece and it felt like it was my turn, I fingered my typescript which was folded neatly in the inner pocket of my suit. I grasped it when I heard a little voice inside my head say quite clearly and distinctly, “Leave it be. Everything that needed to be said has been said.”

I didn’t move. I held my piece because the voice was right. Everything good that needed to be said about Gilda DiMemmo had been said. The poem remained in my suit pocket. To this day I do not regret not reading the poem. My inner voice was correct, my words would have been unnecessary.

The life of Gilda Di Memmo lives on in the memories of her descendants. That is as it should be. She was an amazing woman who gave life and light to so many.

May God rest her Soul.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merlin Olsen: Farewell to a Football Hero

You know you’re getting old when your favorite football players—the ones you remember watching on TV Sunday afternoons or Monday nights when you were a kid—start dying on you. The death of former Los Angeles Rams (that goes to show you how old I am, I lived in a time when the Rams were in Los Angeles and not St. Louis) defensive tackle Merlin Olsen is a sad loss to football fans everywhere.

Merlin Olsen was something we’re not used to seeing in today’s sports: a true hero. We live in an age where we’ve become accustomed to seeing great athletes behave badly and un-heroically. Olsen was a true hero. From 1967 to 1976 Olsen (along with Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, and Rosey Grier—later to be succeeded by Roger Brown) was a member of the Fearsome Foursome one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history. Olsen anchored the line thus allowing teammate and fellow Hall-of-Fame member Deacon Jones to do what he did best: sack quarterbacks. Olsen was magnificent in containing the run—leading all Rams players in tackles. His greatness as a defensive lineman was so manifest that football historian Sean Lahman in his book "The Pro Football Historical Abstract" ranked Olsen the third greatest defensive lineman of all time after Bruce Smith and the late Reggie White.

Green Bay Packer legend Jerry Kramer who played offensive guard opposite Olsen in many a tense match-up had this to say about Olsen in his best selling book "Instant Replay", “Merlin [Olsen] is simply a great football player. Merlin’s not as quick as Alex Karras, but he’s stronger. Both of them have great lateral movement. Merlin has tremendous hustle; he never quits. Alex sometimes will ease up if his club is far ahead or far behind, but Merlin never lets up. He’ll run right over you no matter what the score is. When I play against a guy like that there’s a lot of mutual respect, and there’s never any holding or kicking or clipping, just straight, clean, hard football.” Later on in the book when Kramer had to face Olsen in a playoff game Kramer would tell the press, “Merlin Olsen is very big, very strong, has great speed and great agility…gives at least 110 percent on every play, and these are his weak points.”

The fact that an opponent would say such things about Olsen speaks volumes about his overall impact on the game.

Sadly Olsen never played for an NFL champion. The Rams were either losing to the Green Bay Packers or the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs during those years.

Despite Merlin Olsen never stopped being a great player, a great human being, and a true football hero.

Rest in Peace, Merlin.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Song: Best of Me Now...and the story behind the song

When I've posted poetry and song lyrics in past blog entries, people have told me about how sad or angry some of my words are. They're right. Most of my material is moody, sad, and angry. (I usually write songs and poetry when I feel depressed or upset. If I didn't I probably would have ended up in prison or in my grave).

Anyway this song, I've posted below is a change-of-pace. It shows I can be sexy, romantic, and passionate when I compose.

When you read the lyrics imagine lots of percussion, flamenco guitars, a South American ambience to the music. When you reach the bridge ("Love in the streets...") imagine an over-the-top Brazilian rhythm section going crazy and everyone dancing like crazy.

When you read the last verse imagine a fuzz tone electic guitar soloing in the background.

Oh yes, the last verse which has the line about peppers being hung? I had that lyric in my mind for a long time and was looking for the right song to use it. It comes from my travels to New Mexico where I visited old haciendas in Taos and saw peppers being hung about the hacienda for later use for cooking.

And now here's the song....

Best of Me Now

I lust for the heat of your body
I dance to the beat of your heart
I march down the streets of your memory
I drink because we played the wrong parts
Your flesh is soft and quivering
I taste of the juice of your vine
The ocean breeze leaves you shivering
You’re the cup I fill with my wine
We learn about love from the movies
We learn about life when we die
We learn that war isn’t groovy
We learn about trust when we lie

That’s the best that I’ve got
You got the best of me now
That’s the best that I’ve got
You got the best of me now

Love in the streets
Runs like blood
And it’s warm to the touch
Blood in the sheets
Like rivers of love
And it sweeps us in its rush
Gotta get it on! Gotta get it on! Gotta get it on!

The shot when you pulled my trigger
The wound in my heart that it left
You should’ve read the warning sticker
The path between your legs that it cleft
The meals we prepared were delicious
The peppers we hung became hot
The moments of tenderness were precious
The spices we stirred in the pot

That’s the best that I’ve got
You got the best of me now
That’s the best that I’ve got
You got the best of me now

© 03/10/2008 by Matthew DiBiase

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obama and the Era of Impatience

We live in an era of great impatience. Things that once took a day to get done we now want done in an hour; things that once took a year to get done we now want done in a month; things that once took a decade to achieve we now want done in a year. That impatience fostered by the media, the internet, and both political parties has altered and distorted how we assess events in the American political landscape. The rules have changed and the game has gotten much tougher though definitely not better.

And so it is for President Barack Obama after finishing his first year in office. His post-mortems are already being written and we haven’t even reached the Congressional mid-terms elections yet.

If you take a deep breathe, relax, and look at recent events with a calm, detached eye the President’s situation is not as lost as many would like to see it.

What has gone wrong? The Democrats lost a Senate seat thus taking away their filibuster-proof majority. They still have fifty-nine seats in the Senate for the time being—a substantial number no matter how you slice it or dice it. All the Republicans can do is filibuster but can they roadblock every single initiative that comes from the White House? Would that be politically wise since the American economy and the job market remain in very bad shape and remedial action is still needed? Fiscal restraint is all well and good—when it is actually practiced which it hasn’t been since Dwight Eisenhower was President—but the essential problem still remains how do we get America working again. In reality all the G.O.P. can do is leaven the Obama Administration’s economic policies and put some brakes on the more liberal programs the President has in mind. They cannot stop it unless they gain significant defections from the Democratic ranks.

What about Health Care reform? Despite all the ideological mud wrestling, people forget that President Obama did a much better job in getting Health Care legislation passed than Bill Clinton did. Clinton’s health care initiatives were defeated in Congress. Obama got the House and the Senate to pass health care reform bills. Even though the House and Senate bills were not the same, Obama, with the help of the Democratic leadership, did get the bills passed. Whether those bills will actually provide the proper reforms needed for the American health care system is debatable. But Obama still deserves credit for showing greater political flexibility and patience in allowing Congress time to get the legislation passed. All that remains is for the two bills to be reconciled but with the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to the Republicans that reconciliation will have to wait.

Did President Obama go too far in pushing health care and risking his congressional base? I think not. If I’m not mistaken Obama is the first President to have filibuster proof majorities in both houses of Congress since Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Such opportunities to get major domestic legislation passed without gridlock cannot be wasted. President Obama saw the opportunity to tilt the political landscape and did what he could. He would have been a fool not to seize it. No President worth their salt—whether they are liberal or conservative—would dare pass up a political gift from God like that.

Lyndon Johnson once said words to the effect that a President has one year of maximum effectiveness; by the second year, Congress is more concerned about getting re-elected than passing the President’s initiatives; by the third year Congress is waiting to see whether the incumbent President will be re-elected or not.

Obama’s year of maximum effectiveness has ended. Now he faces the stern task of negotiating with a slightly stronger Republican base while seeking to preserve his majority. His reactions are revealing. After the Massachusetts defeat, he revamped his political advisory team; readjusted himself to the changing political winds; and has returned to the campaign trail.

How has Obama performed? Better than Clinton or Carter did in their first years as President. Obama’s domestic programs are much more ambitious and audacious in scope than Clinton’s or Carter’s were. He has proven more adroit in harnessing his Congressional majorities than Carter or Clinton did. He has been more lucky than skillful in the foreign policy sphere. He has dodged some bullets. Whether his luck can hold out remains to be seen?

As for the economic recovery effort, the maxim that time takes time is useful here. FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the Great Depression. America’s entry into World War Two did. What the New Deal did was to provide a wide variety of fiscal safety nets to the American people to keep them afloat until the economy did revive. More recently, it took two years before Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and fiscal re-structuring turned the American economy around. Until now, the recession of 1981-1982 was one of the worst in American history. President Reagan asked the American people to be patient and to “stay the course”. Although Reagan lost congressional seats to the Democrats in 1982, the American people stayed the course and the economy revived in 1983 and Reagan was re-elected in a landslide.

I feel that President Obama is entitled to the same consideration Reagan received.

It’s only fair.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Newest Inductee into the Hall of Infamy: Mark McGwire

Of all the disgusting aspects of Mark McGwire’s “confession” that he took steroids as a player, the one that is most disgusting (in my eyes at least) was the moment after he had “broken” the late Roger Maris’ home-run record when he walked over towards the stands and engaged in a group hug with Roger Maris’ widow and her children while the fireworks exploded and the camera flashes went off and the crowd was roaring, cheering, crying, and expending itself in a frenzy because they believed they were witnessing baseball history being made.

But right now? In retrospect, it degenerates into a moment of infamy—an insult to the late Roger Maris’ memory and an even more contemptible insult to the Maris family.

The late Roger Maris suffered greatly to break Babe Ruth’s mark of sixty home runs in a single season. He had to deal with a hyper-aggressive (and soon to become hostile) media blitz; a non-existent media contrived “feud” with teammate Mickey Mantle; the refusal of New York Yankees management to set ground rules for media access for Maris (in McGwire’s case there were definite ground rules in dealing with him); the hostility of certain fans who resented the idea of Maris breaking Ruth’s record (just as there was hostility towards Hank Aaron when he broke Ruth’s career record); and, of course, the bloody asterisk which dogged him to the day he died.

When Maris’ record was “broken” by McGwire we thought at the time that it was done with great respect and great dignity.

Now we know differently. Now, with McGwire’s “confession”, we know that it was all a lie; that McGwire was thumbing his nose not only towards baseball fans everywhere but at the Maris family and the late Roger Maris as well. It’s tragic that when Maris’ record was broken it was done with such callous cruelty and such a blatant, calculated disregard for fair play and honesty.

Roger Maris was a solid baseball player who played the game with great heart and integrity. He was a winner, a three-time World Series champion, and a team player. He deserved better than this. He broke Ruth’s record in a maelstrom of controversy. His record was “broken” in a covert web of lies and deception.

In a sense it’s good he was not alive to see McGwire’s disgusting, shameful, despicable little charade.

When the steroid scandal broke years ago, Roger Maris Junior made a statement to the effect that if there was proof that Mark McGwire was on steroids when he broke his late father’s record that an asterisk should be placed upon the mark or else be disallowed. I concur with Roger Junior’s desire. It will never happen though but I believe in the hearts and minds of millions of baseball fans a symbolic asterisk has already been entered into the record books.