DODGER BLUE

To borrow a famous line from Dodgers icon, Tommy Lasorda, “I bleed Dodger Blue.”   I have been a fanatic Dodgers fan since 1955 when the team was still in Brooklyn seeking its first World Series Championship.

Organized baseball in Brooklyn can be traced back to the 1850s.  At that time various baseball clubs, first amateur, then later, professional, began to play in organized leagues.  The City of Brooklyn (It was not yet part of NYC.) fielded a team in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, beginning in 1871.   When the National League supplanted the NAPBB in 1876 Brooklyn was one of the eight cities to be awarded a franchise.

Apparently, teams and leagues came and went quickly in those days.  The actual team that was to evolve into the Dodgers was formed in 1883 as a member of the American Association.  It was named the Brooklyn Grays and played in Washington Park.  It joined the National League in 1890.

In its formative years the team had various nicknames, such as “Grays,” “Robins,” “Superbas,” “Grooms,” and “Bridegrooms.”  Eventually, it became known as the “Trolley Dodgers,” which was later shortened to “Dodgers.”  The name ”Trolley Dodgers” was derived from the fact that in Brooklyn pedestrians were continually having to dodge the many trollies that ran on the newly installed tracks that seemed to be everywhere.  Until the 1930s many fans and even newspapers continued, on occasion, to refer to the team under one of the old names.  For all intents and purposes the matter was finally settled in 1932 when the team put “Dodgers” on its jerseys.

In 1913 the Dodgers moved into the newly constructed Ebbets Field, named after the team’s owner, Charles Ebbets.  As was typical in that era the ballpark was located in a neighborhood, in this case, Flatbush, and was constructed to fit in the available space.  Hence, Ebbets Field was relatively small with a seating capacity of 32,000 and a short “porch” in right field.   Stores located on Bedford Avenue, which ran behind the right field screen, frequently suffered a broken window or two from the many balls hit over the wall.  (I suppose the owners didn’t mind so much as long as the homer was hit by a Dodgers player.)  Ebbets Field was a very intimate place.  Fans felt like they were part of the game. If a fan yelled something the player or umpire would often hear it, and fans would often “interact” with the game in this manner.  The team was always exciting and very popular, even in the early years when it wasn’t very good, much like the early NY Mets teams.  It was not unusual for a player to live in the neighborhood and to mingle with ordinary people in the off-season.  In the late 1920s one group of players became known as the”Daffiness Boys” because of their silly antics on the field.  Their signature moment occurred when three players somehow ended up at third base on one play.

After WWII the team became very good indeed, with players such as Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Captain, Jackie Robinson, the first black player to play in the major leagues since the 19th century, Roy Campanella, and my hero, centerfielder Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider.   Snider was such a big star that he was often compared to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, the centerfield stars of the NY Giants and Yankees, respectively.  Fans would argue incessantly as to whom was the best player.  There was even a popular song, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”  The Dodgers dominated the National League from 1947 – 1956 winning six pennants and one World Series with two near-misses in 1950 and 1951.

It was preordained that I would be a Dodger fan.  I was born in Brooklyn.  We lived about a block away from Ebbets Field.  You could hear the game from our apartment.  My father was a big fan.  No way would I become a fan of any other team.

Family lore is that my when my father took me to my first Dodgers game at probably too early an age I basically ignored the game in favor of the food.  Whatever any particular vendor was offering – hot dogs, peanuts, crackerjacks, soda – I wanted.   I’m sure anyone who knows me will not be surprised.   In 1955, however, at the age of ten, I became a big fan.  I began following the team on tv, radio and in the newspapers.  I remember racing home from school to catch the last inning of Game 7 of the 1955 WS.

In 1956 my father surprised me by inviting me to go with him to Game 2 of the World Series at Ebbets Field against, who else, the Yankees.  As I have blogged previously, I have a more vivid recall of that game than of games I saw last week.  The starting pitchers were Don Newcombe for the Dodgers and Don Larsen for the Yankees.  We sat in the leftfield stands, but, so what; I was too excited to care.  I would have sat on top of the scoreboard if I had to.  I remember the Dodgers fell behind 6-0 but came from behind to win, and my hero, Duke Snider, hit a key homer.  And maybe the best part to an eleven year-old was that the original game had been postponed to the next day on account of rain, so I got to miss TWO days of school!

When the team left for LA after the 1957 season, like all other kids, I was devastated.  I didn’t understand the political or economic issues, and I didn’t care.  I just wanted to continue to follow the team.   I was not interested in any other team.  Anyway, for four years the only team left in NY was the hated Yankees.   I remained a Dodgers fan from afar.

In those pre-internet, pre-ESPN days it was not easy to follow an out-of-town team, especially one in California.   Watching the games on tv was out of the question.  Following the scores in-game was virtually impossible as the games started at 11:00 pm.  Even finding the box scores in the newspapers required some hunting.   Sometimes they would appear two days afterwards, or, perhaps,not at all.  Sometimes, if they were playing the Phillies, Pirates or Cardinals I could pick up a signal at night on my radio.   Often, I would Iisten to a game in bed when I was supposed to be asleep.  I can remember many times falling asleep only to wake up at 3:00 am or so with the radio squealing loudly in my ear.  For some unfathomable reason, when the Mets were formed I stayed a Dodgers fan, even though most fans shifted over eventually.

CONCLUSION

In those pre-Super Bowl years, baseball was truly the National Pastime.  There were only 16 teams, and my friends and I would know the names and statistics of every player on every team.  Now, perhaps only really hard-core fans are that knowledgeable.

Over the years the Dodgers have provided me with many thrills, including:

  1. winning their five World Series, particularly the three over the hated Yankees in 1955 (their first), 1963 (a four game sweep), and 1981 (winning four straight after trailing 2-0),
  2. visiting “Dodgertown” in Vero Beach, FL, where the Dodgers trained for over 50 years, and
  3. Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 WS (“I don’t believe what I just saw!”).

There have been many agonizing moments as well, which I have tried to forget (blowing pennants in 1961 and 1962 come to mind).

One footnote on the 1981 WS:  My son, Matt, was watching the games with me.  He was six.  He began the Series rooting for the Yankees, but as the Dodgers won their four straight games to win it he switched to rooting for the Dodgers.  Undue influence?  Perhaps.

I hope this trip down Memory Lane has not bored you, but this was a story I just had to let out.

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POP CULTURE QUIZ

Many of you have requested another quiz.  Well, be careful what you wish for!  This one will test your knowledge of Pop Culture.  You know the drill.  No peeking at the internet.

1.  Who wrote the theme song for “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson?

a.  Paul Anka

b. Bert Bacharach

c. Barry Manilow

d. Marvin Hamlich

2. Which rapper co-stars in the tv show “NCIS LA?

a.  Vanilla Ice

b.  Fifty Cent

c.  Ice T

d.  LL Cool J

3. Which popular tv comedy in the1970s starred Carroll O’Connor?

a.  Good Times

b.  All in the Family

c.  The Wonder Years

d.  MASH

4.  According to “People Magazine, who is currently the most beautiful woman?

a.  Jennifer Lawrence

b.  Jennifer Lopez

c.  Charlize Theron

d.  Sandra Bullock

5.  Which actor did NOT play James Bond in the movies?

a.  David Niven

b.  Sean Connery

c.  Peter O’Toole

d.  Pierce Brosnan

6.  The Broadway show “Beautiful” depicts the story of:

a.  Carole King

b.  Beyoncé

c.  Whitney Houston

d.  Diana Ross

7.  Who has been the most successful American Idol winner?

a.  David Coke

b.  Carrie Underwood

c.  Jennifer Hudson

d.  Taylor Hicks

8.  Who played “The Fonz?”

a.  John Travolta

b.  Will Smith

c.  Henry Winkler

d.  Jerry Mathers

9.  Who was NOT a member of the “Rat Pack?”

a.  Dean Martin

b.  Corbett Monica

c.  Peter Lawford

d.  Don Rickels

10.  Which of the following tv reality shows was aired first in the US?

a.  Survivor

b.  The Amazing Race

c.  American Idol

d.  Dancing with the Stars

11.  Who played the role of Trixie on the “Honeymooners?”

a.  Jane Meadows

b.  Gail Storm

c.  Joyce Randolph

d.  Jean Stapelton

12.   Which famous actor was born Marion Mitchell Morrison?

a.  Tony Curtis

b.  Burt Lancaster

c.  Steve McQueen

d.  John Wayne

13.   Which future President of the US hosted the 1950s tv show “Death Valley Days?”

a.  Richard Nixon

b.  Ronald Reagan

c.  George Bush (41)

d.  Dwight Eisenhower

14.  Who played the title role in the tv series “Dr. Quinn?”

a.  James Brolin

b.  Jane Seymour

c.  Lorne Greene

d.  Melissa Gilbert

15.  Who ushered in New Year’s Eve on radio and tv for over 30 years?

a.  Liberace

b.  Dick Clark

c.  Ed McMahon

d.  Guy Lombardo

16.  Who was the original host of the game show “Jeopardy?”

a.  Groucho Marx

b.  Alex Trebek

c.  Art Fleming

d.  Bob Barker

17.  Who played the original “Lone Ranger on tv?

a.  Randolph Scott

b.  Clayton Moore

c.  Hoot Gibson

d.  Chuck Connors

18.  According to “Forbes,” who was the top earning musician in 2014?

a.  Bon Jovi

b.  Beyoncé

c.  Taylor Swift

d.  Dr. Dre

19.  In which city did the tv show “American Bandstand” originate?

a.  LA

b.  NY

c.  Philadelphia

d.  Chicago

20.  Who starred in the tv show “The Wonder Years?”

a.  Fred Savage

b.  Ron Howard

c.  John Travolta

d.  Richard Thoma

CONCLUSION

Answers:  1) a; 2) d; 3) b; 4) d; 5) c; 6) a; 7) b; 8) c; 9) d; 10) a; 11) c; 12) d; 13) b; 14) b; 15) d; 16) c; 17) b; 18) d; 19) c; 20) a

Well, how did you do?  Please let me know.

MEMORIAL DAY IN ISRAEL

This blog is about a different kind of Memorial Day.  In the US although many of us take time out to remember those who have given their lives in war, most of us treat MD as a festive occasion – a day off from work, a mini-vacation as part of a three-day weekend, family gatherings, barbecues, or a day at the beach.  In addition, Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer.

Not so in Israel.  In Israel MD is treated as a solemn occasion.   It honors the memory of the approximately 23,000 soldiers who have died in service of Israel beginning in 1860, well before Israel was even a country.  It used to be celebrated in conjunction with Independence Day, but many felt that the solemn remembrance of fallen soldiers merited its own day separate and distinct from the festive nature of Independence Day.  So, in 1951 MD was established to be celebrated on the day before Independence Day.  This year it is being celebrated on April 22.

The basic manner of observance is as follows:

  1. MD begins at 8:00 pm the preceding evening (April 21 this year) with a one-minute siren blast that can be heard all over the country.
  2. During the siren blast all activity ceases. Even drivers stop their vehicles wherever they may be (good for traffic congestion), and Israelis stand in a moment of silence.
  3. Religious Jews pray for the souls of the fallen.
  4. There is a ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
  5. Flags are lowered to half-staff.
  6. At precisely 11:00 am the following morning (April 22 this year) a two-minute siren is sounded, which signals the commencement of memorial ceremonies at every cemetery at which soldiers are buried.
  7. It is customary for mourners to visit gravesites of their loved ones during the day.
  8. Throughout the day, one of the government-owned tv stations shows the names, ranks, and dates of death (both secular and Hebrew) of all the fallen in chronological order.
  9. The day ends at 8:00 pm with the official ceremony marking Israeli Independence Day at the national military cemetery at Mount Herzl.
  10. At that time, the flag is returned to full staff.

CONCLUSION

As a side note, yesterday, the New York Times published a poignant story about a deceased Israeli soldier named Gil’ad, who perished in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.  While it is customary for relatives, friends and acquaintances to name their children after deceased soldiers this one soldier has had 23 babies on three continents, both male and female, named for him.   (The name, Gil’ad refers to a biblical mountain range.)  Each year many of them and their families journey to Israel to attend a special memorial hosted by Gil’ad’s mother.

How did this happen?  According to Gil’ad’s mother, soon after his death was confirmed an acquaintance called from the hospital where she had just given birth and asked if it would be okay to name her son “Gilad?”  She said “yes,” and that was the beginning.  Over the next 40 years many other babies have been named “Gil’ad or Gilad.   In some cases, one or more of the parents didn’t even know the original Gil’ad.

To us, April 22, 2015 is just another day.  But, if you’re Jewish or a supporter of Israel, I suggest you stop for a minute and reflect on those 23,000 soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for continued freedom.

TOMI REICHENTAL – HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR

Most likely, you have never heard of Tomi Reichental.  Who is he?  Why is he important in the context of history, and, more precisely, Jewish history?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Read on.

Tomi Reichental is a Holocaust survivor, one of only two currently living in Ireland, but he is not your “run of the mill” Holocaust survivor, if there is such a thing.   Most Holocaust survivors, understandably, have sought to try to forget the horrors they experienced and just live their lives quietly.  They try to avoid talking about them, even to close family members.  To do so is to relive the horrors.  Sometimes, these family members only discover them when they go through the person’s effects after his or her death.  (This is not unlike military veterans who try to avoid discussing their combat experiences.  I am not saying the two are equivalent.  I don’t believe they are even remotely comparable, but many of us know combat veterans and can relate to that situation better.)

The significance of Tomi Reichental is that he has elected to talk about his experiences, often to children.  To add authenticity, he often appears wearing a sweater with a yellow Jewish star affixed. To most of these children the Holocaust was just something they learned about from a history book or, perhaps, a movie.  Books and movies, regardless of how authentic and descriptive they may be, do not begin to convey the extent of the horrors and degradations suffered by the victims, even those who survived.  On the other hand, a personal account, which Tomi can provide,… now, that is something else again.

Furthermore, as time passes and the few survivors pass away, it becomes increasingly imperative to keep the memories alive, to make sure succeeding generations are aware, especially with all the “Holocaust deniers” out there).  Tomi has said that the children are so overwhelmed by his story that they (and he) are often left in tears.

Tomi relates his story to the children, in detail, so vividly that they must see it as he did as a frightened nine-year old.  He was born in 1935 in Slovakia, now Czechoslovakia.   His earliest memories were of an idyllic childhood.   Then, Germany annexed Slovakia.  The maltreatment of Jews began soon after.  First, he was just subjected to harassment and bullying by the other children in school.   That was just a warm-up for what was to follow.  Next, the Nazis began transporting the Jews to the death camps.  For a while he and his family were able to evade capture, but one day, when he was nine, the Nazis arrested him along with 30 or so members of his extended family.  He describes a freezing day in November, the unheated cattle cars with cracks that let in the frigid air, the vicious dogs, scavenging for scraps of food, the sight and smell of the decaying dead, and, last but not least, the sight of his grandmother’s corpse being tossed into a cart filled with other corpses like so much trash.  No wonder, he leaves his audiences in tears.

After the War, Tomi was reunited with the few members of his family that had also survived.  He was no longer welcome in his home country, so in 1949 he emigrated to Israel.  In 1959 he emigrated to Ireland.  He started a small zipper factory, raised a family and lived his life for 60 years.  Then, one day his whole life changed.  His 12 year-old grandson mentioned in school that his grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.  His teacher invited him to relate his experiences to the class, and, as they say, the rest is history.   To date, he has spoken at nearly 600 schools before over 70,000 children.

He is fully booked into the forseeable future; his experiences have been made into a memoir – “I Was a Boy in Belsen,” a movie – “Close to Evil,” and he has been honored as “International Person of the Year.”  Furthermore, he has met the granddaughter of one of the Nazis who arrested and transported his family back in 1944. Tomi holds no ill will toward her, and she, in turn, is very supportive of Tomi and his activities.  For example, she was present at his award ceremony, which, if you’re interested, can be found on the internet.

This is not the case with respect to a former Bergen-Belsen prison guard, 93 year-old Hilde Michnia, who now lives in Hamburg.   When contacted by the producer of “Close to Evil” to be interviewed for the film Ms. Michnia declined, citing illness.  Fair enough, however, it should be denoted that in a 2004 interview she had expressed no remorse for her actions as a prison guard.  Furthermore, she denied that prisoners had been maltreated and could “not recall” any smells from rotting corpses.

CONCLUSION

I can personally vouch for how powerful a first-person account can be.  Years ago while my wife and I were in Denmark on vacation we heard a powerful and dramatic first-person account from a man in which he described how, during WWII, he witnessed people from his village, including his father, hide Jews from the Nazis and ferry them at night to safety in Sweden.  He was describing this through the frightened eyes of a nine-year old boy who, night after night, never knew if his father would return alive.  According to this man, the people knew it was extremely dangerous, but they did it anyway because it was the “right thing.”  That story moved us in ways that books and movies never have.

At the age of 80 when most people are content to live quietly with their spouses, children and grandchildren, Tomi spends his days travelling extensively around Ireland spreading the word to the young generation.  Why?  He has a story to tell, and he feels it is imperative that as many people as possible hear it, first-hand.

I heartily applaud his actions.  As we know, those who are unaware of history are doomed to repeat it.

The Warsaw Ghetto

April 19 will mark a very significant anniversary in Jewish history.   It was on that date in 1943 that the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto commenced.  A small band of Jewish men, women, and boys fought a brave, but hopeless, life or death battle against a sizable Nazi force.  They fought to the death rather than submit.

In 1943 Warsaw, the capital of Poland, had a total population of about 1.3 million, of which approximately 375,000 were Jews.  Nazi persecution of Warsaw’s Jews began in September 1939 after Poland surrendered, mere weeks after the September 1 invasion. (For various reasons, Poland did not put up much of a fight.)  At first, such persecution consisted of the usual, such as harassment, beatings, economic sanctions and being forced to wear armbands for identification.  However, in October the Nazis went one step further.  They established a ghetto, and by November 16 virtually all Jews in the city plus some refugees from surrounding areas had been confined to it.  On that date, the Nazis sealed off the ghetto from the outside world with ten foot walls.  It was intended to be a prison from which there was no escape.  Any Jew found outside the walls was shot on sight.  At one point, the total population of the ghetto reached 450,000.

In addition to the daily threat of violence and random shootings with little or no provocation the living conditions in the ghetto were deplorable.

1.  It was extremely overcrowded. Even though it housed 1/3 of the city’s population it encompassed only 2.4% of its area. In many cases, as many as six or seven persons would be crowded into a single room

2. Finding enough food to eat was a constant challenge. Rations provided by the Nazis were below starvation level – perhaps as little as a single bowl of soup per person per day. Estimated calories provided were under 200 per day compared to 700 or so consumed by gentile Poles and 2,600 by the average German. Hundreds died every day from starvation. Obviously, people had to supplement those rations by smuggling in food, which they did quite ingeniously.

3.  People, often children as young as four years old, would sneak in and out of the ghetto to buy or steal food and other necessities. These people would make several “food runs” each day. Children would often transport back the equivalent of their body weight or more in food.

4.  Disease was rampant, particularly typhus. Estimates vary, but as many as 100,000 persons may have died from disease and starvation alone.

Jews kept up their spirits by trying to retain as many aspects of normalcy in their lives as possible.  For example:

  1. They established schools for both secular and religious instruction.
  2. They enjoyed cultural activities, such as libraries, the theatre, and a symphony orchestra.
  3. They maintained hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens and refugee centers.

All of these activities were forbidden, but they managed to hide them from the Nazis.  Perhaps, more importantly, the Jews had managed to chronicle events and hide them in the form of photographs, writings and films, which were preserved in make-shift time capsules, and to smuggle information to the outside world.  This was crucial in order to refute Nazi propaganda claims.

On July 22, 1942 the Nazis began transporting Jews to “work camps” at the rate of 6,000 per day. They called it “resettlement,” but before long the Jews figured out that “resettlement” meant “extermination.”

By January 1943, only 60,000 Jews remained in the ghetto.  On January 18, 1943 the remaining Jews began to fight.  This surprised the Nazis, who were used to docile compliance.  But, the Jews had been smuggling in weapons and stockpiling them under the Nazis’ noses for months, and they gave a good account of themselves.

The ultimate battle commenced on April 19, 1943, Passover Eve.  By then, the remaining resistance consisted of only 500-600 men, boys and women.  Initially, they managed to hold off a force of several thousand Nazis, but the Nazis eventually prevailed by systematically burning and blowing up the ghetto block by block.  The battle culminated on May 16 when the Nazis blew up the Great Synagogue of Warsaw.  Polish sources estimated German casualties for the battle at 300 killed and 1,000 wounded.

The bravery and determination of the Jews is illustrated by this excerpt from the report filed by the Nazi Commandant to the German High Command: “The Jews stayed in the burning buildings until because of the fear of being burned alive they jumped down from the upper stories…. With their bones broken, they still tried to crawl across the street into buildings, which had not yet been set on fire… Despite the danger of being burned alive the Jews and bandits often preferred to return to the flames rather than risk being caught by us.”

CONCLUSION

The Nazis virtually destroyed the entire ghetto, except for a few streets, buildings and wall fragments.  The Nozyk Synagogue survived the war.  The Germans used it as a horse stable.  It has been restored, and today, it is an active synagogue.  Two Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monuments have been built near where the Germans entered the ghetto on April 19, 1943.  They were unveiled in 1946 and 1948, respectively.  In 2008 and 2010 Warsaw Ghetto boundary markers were built along where the ghetto gates had stood.  Finally, there is a small monument at Mila 18 to commemorate the address of the headquarters of the Jewish underground.

For those of you who want to learn more about the Warsaw Ghetto and the final, decisive battle I would suggest reading “Mila 18” by Leon Uris.  “Mila 18” was a best seller published in 1965.  It chronicles this story in meticulous and fascinating detail.  It is a sad story, but, as a Jew, it will make you proud.

Opening Day

Opening Day. Mention those words to any sports fan, and, immediately, he knows what it means and to which sport it pertains. Not football, not basketball, not hockey. OD means that another season of Major League Baseball is beginning. Baseball fans look forward to OD every year. Local newspapers step up their coverage of the local team in anticipation. Many of them even print a daily countdown of the number of days remaining until OD. In addition, OD occurs in the Spring, a season that symbolizes a new beginning and one which most people anticipate every year.

This is not to say that baseball is still the most popular sport. In fact, according to TV ratings, betting interest and most fan polls, football has superseded baseball. However, baseball, which has been played in the US in some form since the 1840s, is part of the social fabric of America. Most men remember their first game of “catch” with their father or their first baseball game. In fact, I have a more detailed recall of a World Series game I saw with my father in 1956 than I do of ballgames I saw last year.

Every fan is optimistic on OD. Every team starts with the same 0-0 record. No one has lost a game yet. Every team still has a chance to make the playoffs. Many fans and even some reporters place undue emphasis on the opener forgetting or ignoring the fact that the season consists of 162 games. Over the course of a baseball season even the best teams will lose approximately 60-70 games. To many fans, a win OD means the season will be outstanding; a loss means the team “stinks.”

Traditionally, MLB has scheduled the very first game of the season in Cincinnati, usually on the first Monday in April. This is in recognition of the fact that the Reds were the first professional baseball team. The team was formed in 1869 as the Red Stockings. Incidentally, they went 65-0 that year, the only perfect season in baseball history. In recent years, however, ESPN has scheduled a Sunday night game in prime time the night before the “official” OD.

Down through the years, OD has produced some memorable events, such as:

1. In 1907, the NY Giants, forerunner of the San Francisco Giants, forfeited the opener after rowdy fans began throwing snowballs at the players and umpires. There were not enough police on hand to restore order, so the umpires forfeited the game to the visiting Phillies.
2. In 1910 President Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball.” In 1950 President Truman threw out the “first pitch” twice, as a righty and a lefty. In total, twelve Presidents have thrown out the “first pitch.”
3. In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, known as “Rapid Robert” because of his high velocity, threw the only OD day no-hitter in baseball history. As an aside, there were no radar guns in Feller’s day, so one day some officials attempted to “time” his fastball by having him throw a pitch against a speeding motor cycle.
4. In 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on OD becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 19th Century.
5. In 1975 Frank Robinson became the first African American to manage in the Major Leagues.
6. In 1996, John McSherry, an umpire, suffered a fatal heart attack near home plate.
7. Early in the 20th Century teams would, on occasion, open with a doubleheader. Doubleheaders used to be quite common, particularly on Sundays and holidays. Now, they are rare, and when they do occur it is usually the result of adding an extra game to make up game a rain-out.
8. Tom Seaver started the most openers – 16. Walter Johnson pitched the most OD shutouts – nine.

CONCLUSION

This year, OD was today, Monday, April 6. As that noted philosopher, Yogi Berra, is reputed to have said: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

PLAY BALL!

Masada

Masada is located in southern Israel at the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. It is a rhombus-shaped, rocky plateau situated atop a 1,300 foot mountain. It has various meanings and uses to various people.

Originally, it was a fortress. Although the dates are somewhat murky, it is believed that it was constructed by the Hasmoneans, an ancient people who ruled Judea and the surrounding region in the Second Century BCE. Later, around 35 BCE, King Herod had it fortified as his sanctuary of last resort in the event of an insurrection by the Jews under his rule. The surrounding terrain makes an approach by ground extremely difficult and renders it almost impregnable (more on that later). For example, the only approach is along a winding, narrow pathway, aptly named “the snake.” In fact, it is so narrow that an invading force using it to approach the summit would have to do so single file, which would make it extremely vulnerable to the defenders at the top. However, as we shall see, the Romans were able to capture it after a long siege through an ingenious feat of engineering.

Secondly, the Israeli military uses it as a venue for swearing-in new troops after they have completed their basic training. As part of the ceremony, the soldiers climb up the mountain at night by foot along the aptly named “snake road” and are sworn in by torchlight.

Thirdly, it is a popular venue for tourists, who flock there despite the intense heat most of the year to commemorate their heroic ancestors’ last stand and experience a sense of Jewish history. Most visitors access it by cable car, although the hardy ones can still climb “the snake.”

Finally, for many Jews the very name “Masada” has become an inspirational symbol, roughly equivalent to the Alamo for Americans, of Jews who never gave up but, instead, fought to the “last man” against an overwhelming force. For example, many believe it provided inspiration to the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during their ill-fated uprising against the Nazis during WWII.

The Roman siege of Masada occurred from 73-74 CE at the culmination of the First Jewish-Roman War. Many of the events are in dispute, which is not unusual for an era in which stories were related verbally rather than in writing. Probably, the most reliable account is that of Flavius Josephus, a former Jewish rebel leader who had defected to the Romans and become a Roman citizen. Josephus was also a friend of Roman Emporers Vespasian and Titus, which no doubt kept him in favor. He became a renowned scholar and historian who chronicled events of the first century on behalf of the Romans. His chronicle of Masada is based on the testimony of two female survivors. Their story is also related in the novel and TV movie, “The Dovekeepers.”

1. In 66 CE, during the First Jewish-Roman War (aka the Great Jewish Revolt), a little fewer than 1,000 Jewish extremists, aka Sicariis, overpowered the Roman soldiers in Masada and took refuge there.
2. In 72 CE the Roman Governor of Judea, Flavius Silva, arrived with approximately 15,000 Roman troops, plus an untold number of slaves, and laid siege to Masada.
3. After several months, they broke the siege due to a brilliant feat of engineering. First, they constructed a circumvallation wall (a wall commonly constructed by besiegers to protect them from attacks by the defenders) and a siege ramp along the Western Wall. They constructed a massive battering ram which they managed to slide up the ramp to the wall after which they used the ram to batter down the wall.
4. Once the Romans breached the wall on April 16, 73 CE it was all over quickly. However, to their surprise and dismay they found that virtually all of the defenders were dead. They had chosen death over surrender. However, this was not a mass suicide. In order to avoid suicide, which is forbidden in the Jewish religion, their leader Eleazar ben Ya’ir, had arranged for them to kill each other voluntarily. He ordered two women to remain alive to tell the story, which they did. (Some historical accounts state that a few others ignored the agreement to allow themselves to be killed and were also found by the Romans.)
5. The siege was over, but the legend had begun.

CONCLUSION

Masada. For most Jews, the very name conjures up powerful emotions – courage, pride, valor, fight for what you believe in, never give up even against seemingly hopeless odds. Some historians dismiss Masada as merely a case of extreme Jewish radicals choosing death over compromise and surrender. For most Israelis and Jews around the world, however, the siege of Masada and its aftermath are viewed as an inspiration and a symbol of extreme heroism and willingness to fight to the “last man.” Not only has it become a rallying cry, like “Remember the Alamo” in the Mexican War, “Remember the Maine” in the Spanish-American War, and “Remember Pearl Harbor” in WWII for Americans, it has come to symbolize the national identity of Israel, itself.