WORLD JEWISH POPULATION

The worldwide Jewish population has been getting much attention lately following the release of a report issued by the Jewish People Policy Institute that shows it is approaching what it was before the Holocaust.   One can view this interesting revelation in one of two ways:

  1. It’s great that we have recouped nearly all that we lost during the Holocaust; or
  2. It’s unfortunate that it took 75 years to do so.

Some salient points:

  1. The last ten years have been characterized by the largest Jewish population increase since the end of WWII.  In early 2015 the worldwide “core” Jewish population was estimated to be 14.2 million compared to 16.6 million in 1939.  Please note that the core population includes only those who, when surveyed, identify themselves solely as Jews. Those are the numbers I am discussing in this blog.  (On the other hand, the “enlarged” Jewish population, which is also used sometimes, basically includes core Jews plus, for example, those with Jewish parentage who have “opted out” of Judaism and/or adopted another religion.
  2. Approximately, 82% of the world’s Jews are concentrated in just two countries – Israel (6.1 million) and the US (just under 6 million). (For some reason, in different surveys the US population has ranged from 5.4 million to 6.8 million, so I split the difference.)
  3. The total population comparison cannot be viewed in a vacuum as in 1939 the world’s population was only 1/3 of what it is now (2.3 billion compared to 7 billion). Therefore, on a percentage basis we are far below what we were in 1939.
  4. In recent years, only five countries have exhibited a net positive migration of Jews. Four of them – Israel, US, Australia and Canada make sense. The fifth one – Germany – will be a surprise to most people, but I believe a major part of the reason is economic opportunity.
  5. In many countries, notably the UK, France and Sweden, the negative migration trends have been accelerating as a result of recent, well-publicized anti-Semitic instances. The biggest beneficiary of this has been Israel.
  6. Historically sizeable Jewish populations in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (other than Israel) have declined significantly, or virtually disappeared.

CONCLUSION

So, why has it taken 75 years to recoup the Holocaust population loss?  In my opinion, there are three reasons:  low birthrate, secularism and assimilation.

With respect to birthrate, the good news is that Israeli Jewish families have been averaging approximately 3 children per family.  Even better, the age distribution of the population has been stable and consistent.  On the other hand, in the diaspora countries the birthrate in Jewish households is at virtually zero growth with a disproportionately and increasingly larger elderly composition.

Moreover, the Jewish population, like that of other religions, has been victimized by the recent trend toward secularism.  Increasingly, more and more people have become indifferent or negative toward religion, in general.

Finally, increasingly large numbers of Jews have been marrying non-Jews, and, thus, assimilating into the general populace.  These final two factors have a multiplier effect as both the person and his offspring are lost to Judaism.

My expectation is that these factors will continue prospectively.  Therefore, although the absolute Jewish population will continue to grow slowly, the percentage will continue to decline.

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THE UNKNOWN, UNHERALDED PATRIOT

This blog is about a person most of you have never heard of, yet he played a crucial role in the colonies’ successful fight for independence from England.  In fact, I believe he was more responsible for the colonies winning the Revolutionary War than anyone else other than George Washington and a very few others.  His name was Haym Salomon, and if you are not cognizant of whom he was and what he did, read on.

Conventional wisdom says an army travels on its stomach, meaning it needs basic supplies, such as food, clothing, weapons, etc., to be able to function effectively.  It is axiomatic that if an army overextends its supply lines, it is in dire trouble.  There have been many examples of this throughout history, Napoleon’s Russian campaign being one of the more egregious ones.  True enough, but it also travels on its pocketbook, as it needs financing to buy those supplies and pay its soldiers to maintain morale.

Much of the Revolutionary Army consisted of volunteers; there was no draft.  The soldiers had left their farms and jobs to join up.  After a year or two as the losses were piling up and it looked as though defeat was inevitable, many of them had become disillusioned and dispirited.  Morale was low.  They were not being paid and needed to be.  If the soldiers were not paid, many of them would simply go home.  Whether or not that constituted “desertion” or “mutiny” would depend on your point of view, but the situation was certainly dire.

The Continental Congress had no ability to raise money through taxes.  It was relying on the largesse of the individual States some of which could not or would not provide funds.  It did print currency, but the currency became worthless as everyone came to realize the CC was broke.  Furthermore, foreign governments, such as France and Holland were only willing or able to extend just so much credit.

Enter Haym Salomon.   He was born in 1740 in Lissa, Poland.  He was a descendant of Ashkenazi Jews who had fled there to escape the Spanish Inquisition.  In his early life he lived in various Western European countries where he became fluent in several languages.  This would serve him well later.  He emigrated to NY in 1772 where he quickly established himself as a successful merchant and financial broker and dealer specializing in foreign securities.

At some point he became friends with the leader of the NY Branch of the Sons of Liberty, Alexander MacDougall.  When war broke out he became very active on the side of the Patriots.  He became a major supplier to the Continental Army.  The British arrested him, but due to his proficiency in foreign languages they freed him hoping he would serve them as a liaison with their Hessian mercenaries.  Instead, Salomon worked covertly against the British by trying to convince the Hessians to desert.   He was arrested again, and all his property was confiscated.  The Sons of Liberty helped break him out, whereupon he fled to Philadelphia, free but penniless.

In Philadelphia he resumed his financial brokering activities.  Again, his language skills came in handy.  The French designated him as paymaster general of their forces fighting in the colonies.  Moreover, both the Dutch and the Spanish utilized him to sell the securities that were financing their loans to the CC.

In 1781 when the CC established the Office of Finance to run fiscal matters for the colonies Salomon befriended the Superintendent, William Morris.  Salomon not only became the most proficient broker of securities to raise funds for the office but also personally loaned money to members of the CC and other federal officers.  One of the above was James Madison, who was quoted as saying “I have for some time…been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon…”

One time when the situation was particularly acute Washington is said to have told Morris “send for Haym Salomon,” as if Salomon was the panacea for any and all financial ills.  One of Salomon’s accomplishments was to raise money needed to finance the campaign for the decisive Battle of Yorktown, which effectively ended the Revolutionary War.

CONCLUSION

Within five years of arriving in Philadelphia Salomon went from penniless to wealthy and respected businessman and philanthropist.  There is no doubt that he played a crucial role in providing financing for the revolution.  He donated his fortune and pledged his personal credit to the patriotic cause.  All this came at a time when the CC had no money, no credit, and little credibility among foreign governments, without whose support the Revolution would have failed.  (Eventually, France and Holland did provide financing.)   One historical footnote:  America never fully repaid its debt to France, which some historians maintain was an underlying cause of the French Revolution.

Salomon was never repaid.  He died in 1785, penniless, leaving behind a wife and four young children.   Many times his descendants have attempted to collect those debts, to no avail.  The government has claimed the documentation supporting the loans has been lost.

However, Salomon has not been forgotten entirely:

  1. His gravesite, though unmarked, has two plaque memorials – one of marble and another of granite. The memorials were donated by William Salomon, a great-grandson and former Managing Partner of the investment firm, Salomon Brothers.
  2. There is a monument to him in Chicago.
  3. California is home to an organization named “The American Jewish Patriots and Friends of Haym Salomon.”
  4. In 1939 Warner Brothers released a film called “Sons of Liberty,” which featured Claude Rains as Salomon.
  5. During WWII the US Navy commissioned a ship in his honor, the “SS Haym Salomon.”
  6. In 1975 the US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp citing him as a “Financial Hero” of the American Revolution.

FAMOUS FATHER-SON DUOS

Being that today is Fathers’ Day I thought it would be appropriate to mark the occasion by profiling various famous and successful father-son duos.  As you might imagine there are many, many examples from which to choose.  I have selected the following from the worlds of politics, entertainment and sports:

Politics

  • John Adams and John Quincy AdamsThe Adams’ were one of only two father-son duos to become Presidents of the US. Political preferences aside, you have to respect that achievement. John was not only the second President (1797-1801) he also served as Vice President for eight years under George Washington. Prior to that, he was a strong advocate of independence, one of the Founding Fathers, and assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence. Quincy was the sixth President (1825-1829). In addition, he had a long career as a diplomat, a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. He was one of the architects of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, and of treaties with Britain, over the Canadian border, and Spain, over Florida. As Secretary of State he helped draft the Monroe Doctrine.
  • George H. W. and George W. Bush – The Bushes were the other father-son duo to become President. Again, even if you don’t agree with their politics you have to respect their achievement. HW was the 41st President (1989-1993). Prior to that he served with distinction in the USN during WWII, ran the CIA, was an ambassador, and served in Congress. Since leaving the Presidency, he has been heavily engaged in humanitarian activities. W was the 43rd President ( 2001-2009). Prior to that, he was Governor of Texas. His Presidency was marked by controversy, but he did lead us successfully through the trying period after “9/11.”

Entertainment

  • Mike and Chris Wallace – Mike had a long and varied career. He began on radio in 1939 when he was still in college. After a stint in the navy during WWII he starred in a short-lived police drama (“Standby for Crime”), hosted game shows and interview shows, did commercials for Parliament cigarettes, and anchored various news shows. However, he is best known for his long-time stint on “60 Minutes” (1968-2006). Chris has spent 40 years as a well-respected network journalist for NBC, ABC and Fox. The highlights of his career include “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Nightline,” and “Fox News Sunday.”
  • Berry Gordy and “Redfoo” – Berry Gordy is a record producer and songwriter, but he is best known as the founder and prime mover of the Motown record label. He has discovered and/or developed numerous music stars, such as the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Mary Wells, and Smokey Robinson. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Stefan Kendal Gordy, aka “Redfoo,” is a renowned rapper, dancer, record producer, and DJ, however, he is best-known as the founder of the electro-pop band LMAO.
  • Kirk and Michael Douglas – Kirk is a classic American success story. Born Issur Danielovich to Russian immigrant parents, he became a successful actor, producer, director and author. He was a leading box office star during the 1950s and 1960s specializing in dramas, war movies and westerns. Perhaps, his finest role was as Vincent Van Gogh in the movie “Lust for Life.”  He has received three Oscar nominations, one Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, authored ten novels and memoirs and is #17 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest male screen legends. Michael is a successful actor and producer both on tv and in the movies. He has won two Oscars, four Golden Globes, one Emmy and the AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sports – I could write a book just on the countless father-son-duos in sports.  Due to time and space limitations I will only profile a few.

1.   Ray, Bob, Bret and Aaron BooneRay was an infielder during the 1940s and 1950s for various teams, mostly the Indians. Bob was a catcher in the 1970s and 1980s for the Phillies. He won the World Series in 1980. Bret and Aaron played the infield for various teams during the 1990s and 2000s.

2.   Felipe and Moises Alou – Felipe played the outfield from 1958-1974, mostly for the Giants. He was voted onto three all-Star teams. Moises was a six-time all-Star and won the World Series in 1997 with the Marlins. Felipe also had two brothers, Matty and Jesus, who played in the Majors. On at least one occasion, all three appeared in the same outfield at the same time.

3.  Clay Matthews, Jr and III – Both Clay Matthews have been Pro Bowl linebackers in the NFL, and they are the only father-son duo to have won the Defensive Player of the Week award.

4.  Bobby and Bret Hull – Both Hulls were Hall-of-Fame NHL players, the only father-son duo to have been so-honored.  Bobby is considered to be one of the best ever.  He won the Hart Trophy twice, the Art Ross Trophy three times and was a ten-time All-Star. Bret was third all-time in goals scored and tied for first (with Wayne Gretsky) for most game-winning playoff goals.

5.  Man o’ War and War Admiral – Man o’ War was an outstanding thoroughbred, winning 20 of 21 races. War Admiral won the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing.

6.  Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning – Archie was a two-time Pro Bowl NFL quarterback and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Peyton has won four MVPs, one Super Bowl and been to twelve Pro Bowls. He is considered to be one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks. Eli, though not as accomplished, has won two Super Bowls and was voted MVP both times.

CONCLUSION

Well, there you have it.  Obviously, due to time and space constraints I was forced to omit many other worthy duos.  Did I omit one of your favorites?  Let me know.

US OPEN GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

This year’s US Open Golf Championship is the 115th.  The Open is one of the four major championships in golf.  The others are the Masters, which is held in April, the British Open (July), and the PGA (August).   As in tennis, the majors are considered to be so important that players’ legacies are determined, in large part, by the number they have won.

Originally, the majors were generally considered to include the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateurs.  Those were the tournaments that Bobby Jones won for his Grand Slam.  However, concurrent with the rise of professional golf in the US in the 1940s and 1950s the Masters and the PGA replaced the two amateur tournaments in importance.  After all, it no longer made much sense to include amateur tournaments as majors when most of the best golfers could no longer qualify to compete in them.  The watershed year was 1960.  That year Arnold Palmer, who was the best and most influential golfer at the time, won the Masters and the US Open.  He observed that if he could add the British Open and the PGA he would have completed a “grand slam” equal to that of Mr. Jones.   He failed to do so, but the notion of those four tournaments as the four majors “stuck.”

The Open is always scheduled for mid-June with the final on Father’s Day.  The 2015 tournament is underway right now.  The Open field includes 156 players.  There are four rounds of stroke play over four days.  If a playoff is required a full 18 holes are played on Monday.  If there is still a tie the winner is decided by sudden death.  Do you recall the name of last year’s winner?  See below.

Only about half of the players in the field are required to actually qualify.  The remainder gain entry by one of many exemptions.  Some of the exemption categories include:

  1. Winners of the past ten US Opens.
  2. Winner and runner-up of the previous year’s US Amateur Championship.
  3. Winners of the past five Masters, British Opens or PGA Championships.
  4. Winner of the previous year’s Senior Open
  5. Top 60 ranked golfers.
  6. Special exemptions granted by the USGA. These are usually former top-ranked players who, though past their prime, are deemed worthy. Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus are examples.

There are other exemption categories, but I think you get the idea.  Those who are required to qualify must survive two stages – Local and Sectional.  There is no age requirement, so it not unusual to find a teenager in the field.  The youngest qualifier ever was 14 (Andy Zhang of China).

CONCLUSION

Some interesting facts about the Open that only the most knowledgeable golf fans would know:

  1. The winner of the inaugural tournament in 1895 was Horace Rawlins, an Englishman.
  2. Last year’s winner was Martin Kaymer.
  3. The record score is 268 by Rory McIlroy in 2011.
  4. The record for most Open Championships is four and is held by four men. Three of them will be familiar to you – Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. If you know the fourth, you are either a golf historian or a trivia buff, and my hat’s off to you (even though I don’t wear one). His name is Willie Anderson. Anderson was an interesting and tragic story. He was born in Scotland and emigrated to the US at the age of sixteen. He was one of the outstanding golfers of his time. He won the tournament in 1901,1903, 1904 and 1905. He was an original member of the PGA Hall of fame and an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975. Tragically, he died at the age of 31 from epilepsy.
  5. The inaugural Open was contested on a nine-hole course at the Newport Country Club. Only ten professionals and one amateur bothered to enter. They played 36 holes in one day. The winner received $150 out of a total purse of $335 plus a gold medal. By contrast, last year’s winner received $1.62 million out of a total purse of $9 million. I think we can say the tournament and the sport have grown considerably.

SUMMER SOLSTICE

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice will occur on June 21.  As most of us know, the ss is the date with the longest period of daylight, and when the sun’s shadow is its shortest.  Furthermore, in most of the US it is the date on which the sun appears to be at its highest point in the sky.   In extreme northern locales the sun will be “out” the entire day.

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin “sol,” meaning “sun” and “sistere,” meaning “to stand still.”  As the seasons progress from winter to summer in the northern hemisphere, the sun appears to move north in the sky.  On the date of the ss it has progressed as far north as it will get, and it momentarily “stands still” before it appears to begin to slide southward toward the point of its winter solstice.

In most cultures and countries the summer and winter solstices are intertwined with the seasons.  For example, in the US and many other countries the ss marks the commencement of summer.  On the other hand, in extreme northern and southern locations the solstices mark the midpoint of summer or winter.

For many ancient cultures the ss was a festive time.  Most of them were sun worshippers anyway, and the longest day of the year was a reason to celebrate the renewal of life. The recurrent themes, in various forms, were life, light, femininity, marriage and fertility.  (Perhaps, this concept was the derivation of the custom of having weddings in June.)

For example:

  1. The pagan holiday, Litha, which is a celebration of light and life, was celebrated on that date.
  2. Many archaeologists maintain that the ancient culture that constructed Stonehenge intended it to be a crude calendar. The stones do seem to have been placed to align with the sunrise on the date of the ss.
  3. The ancient Chinese marked the date with celebrations of the femininity, the “Yin” forces, and the Earth. Itself. This served as a counterpoint to the winter solstice, which was a celebration of the heavens, masculinity, and the “Yang” forces.
  4. Typically, Native Americans held festivals featuring body paint and ritualistic dances.
  5. In ancient Gaul (modern-day France) the celebration was called the Feast of Epona after a mare goddess that protected horses and personified fertility.
  6. Slavic and Germanic cultures celebrated with huge bonfires.

CONCLUSION

In modern times the ss is a time to celebrate the arrival of summer.  In many extreme northern areas, where the people maybe haven’t seen the sun for months, such as northern Sweden, Finland and Norway, people spend the entire day outside.  Many of them decorate their homes, light bonfires, and dance around Maypoles.

I have always enjoyed a warm summer day as much as the next guy.  But, truthfully, to me June 21 is just another day.  Depending on the weather I will play golf, play outside with the kids (or grandkids), go to the beach, or, if it’s inclement, just stay inside.  One final thought on the date, it has always seemed counterintuitive to me that the beginning of summer also marked the time when the days started to get shorter, and I view shorter days as a harbinger of winter.

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

Once again, US soccer is enjoying its time in the sports spotlight.  The seventh FIFA Women’s World Cup championship tournament began on June 6 and will continue through July 5.  The host team is Canada.  It is Canada’s initial turn as host, and only the third time the tournament will be played in North America.   (The US was the host in 1999 and 2003, the only occasions in which a country has hosted tournaments consecutively.)   The venues for the matches are Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.  You will note the absence of Toronto, which, incredibly, had to decline the honor due to a scheduling conflict it could not resolve.

Although soccer, or football as it known throughout the rest of the world, is the most popular sport in the world, its popularity in the US is spotty and inconsistent.  American boys and girls play it in youth leagues, high schools and colleges, but serious professionals normally have to journey overseas to compete at the highest levels.  For the most part, the US media and the general public only focus on the sport during the Olympics and World Cups.

The field for this tournament was expanded from 16 teams to 24.  134 teams competed in various qualifying tournaments to earn one of 23 spots.  Canada, as host, automatically qualified.  The field is divided into six groups of four each, who play each other round-robin.  The top two teams in each group plus the four best third place finishers qualify for the knockout round.  In the knockout round teams are seeded based upon their records, so it would behoove one to win its bracket.   As I write this, the US is first in its bracket. .

North Korea was not permitted to compete.  After several of its players tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the 2011 tournament, it was banned from participating in 2015, the first such time for a women’s soccer team.

This will be the first tournament to be played on artificial turf.  Predictably this has sparked a concern over the greater potential for injuries.   American football fans will be familiar with this issue.  This is not without merit, as experience has demonstrated that artificial turf has caused some severe injuries in that sport.

Down through the years, the US team has been very successful and has done its part to “grow” the sport in the US.  It has won two World Cups, four Olympic gold medals and ten Algarve Cups, including nine of the last 13.   Perhaps, the team’s signature moment came in the final match of the 1999 World Cup when it defeated China in a shootout.   The game was watched by over 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl , the largest crowd ever for a women’s sporting event, as well as countless more worldwide.  What a boost for the sport!  Anyone who saw it will never forget Brandi Chastain’s “unique” celebration after scoring the winning goal.  The famous image of her celebrating exultantly while on her knees stripped down to a sports bra was featured on newspapers, magazines and television programs all around the world.  Apparently, Brandi was not a disciple of former NFL football head coach, Tom Landry’s, who was not a fan of what he felt were excessive celebrations.  He would admonish his players to “act like you’ve been there before.”   Can you imagine if twitter and U-Tube had existed back then?

Incidentally, for the benefit of you more casual soccer fans, the Algarve Cup is a major annual invitational tournament hosted by the Portuguese Football Federation.  Its name is derived from the Algarve region of the country where the tournament is played.

The US team has twice been selected as the US Olympic Committee’s “Team of the Year” (1997 and 1999).   In 1999 “Sports Illustrated” named the team the “Sportsman of the Year.”   FIFA has ranked the team #1 or 2 in the world every year since 2008.  Currently, it is #2.  Two of its long-time stars, Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, have been included on the list of the 125 greatest living soccer players.

CONCLUSION

This year’s team includes some familiar stars, such as Hope Solo, the goalie, Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and Abbey Wambeth, who are veterans of past Olympic gold medal teams.  Some observers have criticized the team as being too old as nine of the 23 players are 30 or older, but I would call it a nice blend of youth and experience.  Most observers have designated the team as one of the co-favorites, along with Japan and Germany.   Hopefully, they will come through once again.

TRIPLE CROWN

The Triple Crown of thoroughbred horseracing includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.  Originally, owners began to send their colts to run in these races simply because they offered the biggest purses.  There was no concept of a Triple Crown.  Indeed, when Sir Barton won all three in 1919, he was not known as the “Triple Crown Winner.”  That designation gained traction in 1930 when Gallant Fox won all three.  It is believed that a sports writer, Charles Hatton, popularized the term.

Winning the TC is quite a feat.  The three races are run over a five week period, in different cities, and at different distances.  The TC winner must have the speed to win the Preakness, which is only 1 3/16 miles and the stamina to win the Belmont, which, at 1 ½ miles, is one of the longest races anywhere.   In addition, the horse must beat competitors that, having bypassed one or both of the other races, are fresher.

At long last, this past Saturday, June 6, American horseracing got its twelfth Triple Crown Winner as American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes.  AP’s victory ended the longest drought between TC winners – 37 years.   The TC winners, whose names are very familiar to horseracing fans and to many general sports fans as well, are as follows:

Sir Barton – 1919

Gallant Fox – 1930

Omaha – 1935

War Admiral – 1937

Whirlaway – 1941

Count Fleet – 1943

Assault – 1946

Citation – 1948

Secretariat – 1973

Seattle Slew – 1977

Affirmed – 1978

American Pharoah – 2015

The current order of the three races was not fixed until 1932.  Prior to then, the Preakness was sometimes run before the Derby.  On a couple of occasions the Derby and the Preakness were run on the same day.  No TC winner those years!

Below please find a brief profile of each of the races.

Kentucky Derby (aka “The Run for the Roses”)

  1. The Derby, as it is frequently called, was first run in 1875. The winner was a colt named Aristedes.
  2. It is run on the first Saturday in May.
  3. The driving force behind establishing the race was Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark. History buffs will recognize the name. Clark was the grandson of William Clark who, along with Meriwether Lewis, led the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to Oregon in 1804-06.  Clark got the idea for the race during a trip to Europe when he observed The Derby in England and the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp.
  4. Churchill Downs derived its name from John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack.
  5. Originally, the distance was 1 ½ miles, but it has been run at its current 1 ¼ miles since 1896.
  6. Traditions:

a. Drinking a mint julep, which is an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. One may drink it either in an ice-frosted julep cup or a souvenir cup.

b. A popular food is “burgoo,” which is a thick stew consisting of chicken, pork and vegetables. I hope it tastes better than it sounds.

c. Women wear lavish outfits accessorized by outlandish hats.

d. The band plays “My Old Kentucky Home” during the post parade.

e. The vast infield is utilized primarily for partying as not much of the actual race can be seen from it.

f. The stakes record is held by Secretariat at 1:59.40.

g. The most wins by a jockey is five by Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hardtack.

The Preakness Stakes

  1. The race was named after a horse who won the featured stakes race on the day the track at Pimlico opened.
  2. The race is run on the third Saturday in May.
  3. Attendance ranks second behind the Derby and ahead of the Belmont Stakes.
  4. The race is limited to 14 horses, probably due to space limitations.
  5. Traditions:

a. The band plays “Maryland, My Maryland” during the post parade.

b. Prior to 1940, the winner received a Woodlawn Vase. Subsequently, the winner has been bedecked with black-eyed Susans, the Maryland State Flower.

c. The official cocktail is the “Black-eyed Susan,” which consists of vodka, St. Germain liqueur and pineapple, orange and lime juices.

d. The infield is for partying, not necessarily viewing the race. The gathering there is called the InfieldFest.

e. The record of 1:53 is held by Secretariat.

f. Eddie Arcaro has won the most times – six.

The Belmont Stakes (aka “The Test of the Champion”)

  1. It is the oldest of the TC races, dating to 1868.
  2. It is the longest of the races – 1 ½ miles.
  3. It is held five weeks after the Derby and three weeks after the Preakness.
  4. It is named for August Belmont, Sr., who financed the first race in 1866.
  5. The original location was Jerome Park Racetrack in The Bronx, NY. The race was moved to Belmont Park in 1905.
  6. The winner receives the prestigious August Belmont Trophy.
  7. Traditions –

a. The traditional post parade song was “Sidewalks of NY” until 1996. Now, it is “The Theme from New York, New York.”

b. The official drink has also changed over the years, from the “White Carnation” to the “Belmont Breeze” to the “Belmont Jewel.”

c. The winner is draped with a blanket of white carnations.

d. The stakes record is held by (who else?) Secretariat, who won in 2:24 by an astounding 31 lengths.

e. The jockeys with the most wins are Eddie Arcaro and Jim McLaughlin with six each.

CONCLUSION

So, which horse was the best of the best?  Obviously, it is impossible to compare the relative merits of the twelve TC winners as they competed in different eras.  That said, I believe it is impossible to ignore the accomplishments of Secretariat who thoroughly dominated his rivals (winning by 31 lengths?!  Really?!) and holds the stakes record at all three tracks.  I would rate him as the best, although I welcome other opinions.

STANLEY CUP

June is a busy sports month.  For baseball fans, the MLB season is in full swing.  June is the month when the better teams normally begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.  For basketball fans, there is “The Finals,” although this year’s matchup might be one-sided, and the upcoming college draft.  In thoroughbred horseracing, this year, there is the excitement of a possible Triple Crown winner.   Tennis fans have the French Open.  Golf fans have the US Open.  Football is always in the news, even during the off-season.  But, for hockey fans, the Stanley Cup playoffs dominate the scene.  American boys grow up dreaming of becoming the next Bryce Harper, Peyton Manning or LeBron James.  Canadian boys want to become the next Sid Crosby.  Even better, they want to win an NHL championship and get their name inscribed on the Cup.  Once your name is on the Cup, it is there forever.

The Stanley Cup, aka “The Cup,” is the oldest championship in North America.  It is named after Lord Stanley of Preston.   Stanley, who was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888 by Queen Victoria, was a rabid hockey fan.  During that period organized hockey in Canada was in its infancy.  There were no organized leagues as such, just a collection of amateur teams who would play against each other (similar to the state of baseball in the US in the mid-19th Century).

Stanley conceived of the idea of awarding a trophy to the top amateur team annually.  The Cup was first awarded in 1893 (to Montreal).  It became the de facto championship trophy to the NHL champion in 1926.  It has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions – 1915 due to the Spanish Flu Pandemic and 2005 due to the NHL “lockout.”

Some little-known facts, traditions and anecdotes regarding The Cup:

  1. Unlike trophies in other sports, such as baseball, football and basketball, the same Cup is awarded every year. In addition, the names of the players, coaches, staff and executives are engraved on it, which gives them a sports immortality of sorts. When all available space has been used, a new band is added. Old bands are detached and retained in the HOF.
  2. There are actually three Cups. The Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup is the original Cup, which Stanley purchased in 1892 for the dollar equivalent of $50. It was awarded until 1970, but it has been retired, and is now on display permanently in the Vault Room at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Presentation Cup is the one that is actually presented to the champions and is paraded around in public. The Replica Cup is maintained at the Hall of Fame as a stand-in for the Dominion Cup, when needed, a “spare,” if you will.
  3. Occasionally, engraving errors have been made. Thus, we have 1971 “Bqstqn” Bruins and the 1981 NY “Ilanders.” Also, many players’ names have been misspelled, for example, “Glin” Hall and Alex “Belvecchio.” Such errors have not been corrected and have become part of Cup lore.
  4. Twelve women’s names have been inscribed on the Cup primarily as management or owners, not players.
  5. The team with the most Cup victories is Montreal with 24.
  6. The player who appears on the Cup most often is Henri Richard, aka the “Pocket Rocket,” eleven times. Old time fans, such as me, will recall him from the powerhouse Montreal teams of the 1950s.
  7. The coach with the most appearances is Scotty Bowman with nine.
  8. The tradition of drinking champagne from the Cup commenced in 1896.
  9. Prior to 1930s the Cup was not presented to the winner on the ice. Also, the tradition of the captain of the winning team parading the Cup around the ice dates from the 1950s.
  10. The Cup winner is allowed 100 days to pass it around among its team members. It is always supposed to be accompanied by a representative of the HOF. Occasionally players have maltreated the Cup, usually due to excess celebration. For example, once, it was drop-kicked into a canal and left there over night; once it was left on the side of the road for a few hours after players removed it while changing a flat tire; two players have allowed their dogs to eat out of the Cup; and on three occasions it has been tossed into players’ pools. These are merely the G Rated stories; I’m sure there are more colorful ones that have never seen the light of day.
  11. And, last but not least, in 1940 when the Rangers won, coincidentally the mortgage on MSG was paid off.  So, management decided to symbolically burn the mortgage in the Cup. Then, some inebriated players urinated in the Cup to put out the fire. Supposedly this fostered a “curse” on the team winning the Cup prospectively.   Sounds ridiculous, but the Rangers did go 54 years before winning again.

CONCLUSION

This year’s matchup is between Tampa and Chicago.   Hopefully, it will go seven games.  There is nothing more exciting in all of sports than overtime of a seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals.  The viewer cannot look away for a second, lest he miss the championship-winning goal.  Scoring plays can and do develop instantly.  That is truly “sudden death.”

By the way, I have always been curious as to the origin of the traditional hockey post-game handshake, which is unique in professional sports.  As best as I have been able to determine, it originated with a memorial all-star game in 1908 that was played to benefit a player who had died in a tragic diving accident.  If anyone has more information regarding this tradition please let me know.

LEBRON JAMES

LeBron James is one of a select few persons, like Cher, Prince, Kobe, Shaq or Magic, who can be identified by one name.  Mention “LeBron,” and most people, even non-basketball fans, will know to whom you are referring.  He is generally considered by fans, the media, and, most significantly, other players to be the best active player in the NBA and the face of the sport.  Furthermore, he is on the “short list” of the greatest basketball players ever with Michael (Jordan), Magic (Johnson), Wilt (Chamberlain) and Oscar (Robertson), among others.  However, the purpose of this blog is not to opine on where James ranks among these all-time greats but, rather, to explore why he has been the subject of so much undue criticism and controversy during his career.

LeBron Raymone James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio.  His mother was just 16.  He grew up in abject poverty without a father, not exactly a formula for success.   Fortunately, he had a talent for basketball and was guided by a local coach who served as male role model and mentor.  He became famous in high school where he led his team to three state championships in four years.  In addition, he won various individual awards, such as “Ohio’s Mr. Basketball” and “Gatorade National Player of the Year.” Oh, and in his spare time he was a first team all-state tight end on the football team.  Probably, he could have succeeded in the NFL if the basketball thing hadn’t worked out.  Following high school he went directly to the NBA.   The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the first pick of the 2003 draft.

LeBron is different from most other superstars both personally and professionally.  For example:

  1. He has led a clean personal life, devoid of any criminal or civil problems. He has not been linked to drug or alcohol abuse, gotten into any fights at clubs, attacked women, nor abused animals. He is still married to his high school sweetheart and has three children. By all accounts, he has been a fine family man.
  2. On the court he is very unselfish. Unlike many other superstars, he actually passes the ball. If you are open, he will get you the ball and in a position to score. He makes both other players and his team better. This is critical in basketball, where the most successful teams are normally better than the sum of their parts. (See the NY Knicks of the late 1960s/early 1970s and the recent San Antonio Spurs teams.)  Most players want to play with him.  His teams overachieve.  In 2007 he took an otherwise nondescript Cavs team to the finals where they lost to a superior Spurs team with three likely future Hall of Famers. This year he has carried an undermanned Cavs team, which missed the playoffs last year without him and whose next two best players have been injured, to The Finals again.  In Miami he sublimated his skills to blend in with his teammates for the benefit of the team and won two championships.
  3. He is always working to improve his game. For example, early in his career he was not a great defensive player. Now, he is one of the best and most versatile. He can, and has, guarded every position on the court well. No other player has ever been able to do that.  He has improved his outside shooting and his post play, which were once weaknesses.

So, why the criticism and controversy?  In my opinion, it all stems from “The Decision.”   After the 2009-10 season, LeBron became a free agent.   Obviously, many teams wanted to sign him.  In July he held a press conference televised on ESPN to announce he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.”   He was widely and bitterly criticized on all fronts.

  1. The entire city of Cleveland, it seemed, led by the owner, was irate. The owner criticized him vehemently in an open letter to the fans. Some fans publicly burned their LeBron jerseys.
  2. Much of the media and many players criticized him for leaving the Cavs, even though he had given them seven seasons and was entitled to do so under the rules of free agency.
  3. The other teams that had courted him were very unhappy he didn’t sign with them.
  4. Most of all, it seemed everyone was denouncing the announcement, itself.  “Unprofessional” was one of the more benign descriptions.  Later, LeBron admitted he didn’t handle it well, but we all make mistakes.  Lost in the furor was the fact that the telecast raised $6 million for various charities.

CONCLUSION

At this point, LeBron has rehabilitated himself in the eyes of most of his detractors.  However, there are still those that criticize him for any or all of the things mentioned above.   Some critics have even turned his unselfish play against him saying that he prefers to pass the ball rather than take the clutch shot with the game on the line.  They add that his track record for hitting the clutch shot is poor.  Personally, I don’t agree, and according to Henry Abbott, NBA analyst for TruHoop and ESPN, his shooting percentage with the game on the line exceeds that of such renowned clutch shooters as Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant.  (Many of those same people criticize other superstars for “forcing” shots through double-teams when teammates are wide open.)

Another common criticism is that LeBron has only won two titles, compared to Jordan’s six.   This has more validity in basketball, a sport in which one player can have a strong influence on the outcome of a game, than in other sports, such as baseball or football.  But, Jordan had a better supporting cast, notably Scottie Pippin, another all-time great, and one of the best coaches ever in Phil Jackson.  In any case, LeBron is still only 30 with 5 or so years of peak performance left, barring injury.  That is plenty of time to win more titles and add to his legacy.