YOGI BERRA DIES AT 90

Yesterday, Yogi Berra, lovable “King of the Malaprop,” passed away of “natural causes” at the age of 90.  Although he initially built his reputation as a superb baseball player he also achieved much notoriety for his “Yogisms.”  They sounded funny and weird, but, in a convoluted way, they actually made sense.

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was born on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis.  His parents were poor first generation Italian immigrants.  They believed in hard work and saw little value in their children playing sports.  Supposedly, Yogi’s older brothers had to work really hard to convince them to let him pursue a baseball career.  Thank God they did.

Two other soon-to-be famous boys lived on the same block – Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck.  Garagiola was actually widely considered to be the better baseball prospect, and the hometown St. Louis Cardinals chose to sign him instead of Yogi.  Garagiola became a journeyman major league catcher and had better success as a broadcaster and entertainer, demonstrating that scouting is an inexact science.  Buck became one of the most accomplished baseball announcers of his generation and was the “Voice of the Cardinals” for many years.  (Younger readers will be more familiar with his son, Joe, who has followed in his footsteps.)   As a result of their success the name of the street on which they lived was later changed to “Hall of Fame Place.”  There is a story that Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Cardinals, actually liked Yogi. Supposedly, he purposely didn’t sign him because he was leaving to go to the Dodgers.  He was hoping to save him for the Dodgers.  In any event, before Rickey could pull off that coup the Yankees signed Yogi for the bargain price of $500.  I would say they got their money’s worth.

After serving in the US Navy during WWII as a gunner’s mate and a brief stint in the minor leagues Yogi made his major league debut on September 22, 1946.  As they say, the rest was history.  Supposedly, Yogi’s nickname is derived from his habit of sitting with his arms and legs crossed like a Hindu yogi.  Sounds good to me.

Yogi is widely regarded as one of the best catchers in baseball history. In particular, he was a fabulous “clutch” hitter.  Consequently, many opposing pitchers actually feared to face him in a big spot more than any other Yankee, even the more famous Mickey Mantle.  In addition, he was one of the best “bad ball ” hitters of his time.  He had the facility to hit a pitch up by his eyes or down by his ankles.  Yogi often said “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”

Below please find a few of Yogi’s professional accomplishments:

  1. He was an All-Star for 15 years and played in 18 such games.
  2. He won three AL MVP awards (1951, 1954 and 1955).
  3. He holds numerous World Series records, including most games, at-bats, hits, doubles, catcher put-outs, games caught, Series appearances (18 as a player, coach and manager), and, most importantly, Series won (ten).
  4. After retiring as a player, he managed or coached the Yankees, Mets and Astros.
  5. He caught the only perfect game in World Series history (by Don Larsen in 1956).
  6. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.  That same year, the Yankees “retired” his number 8.
  7. “The Sporting News” included him on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players.”
  8. The fans voted him onto the “MLB All-Century Team.”

CONCLUSION

This piece would not be complete without discussing Yogi’s unique way of “turning a phrase.”  His famous “malapropos” obscured the fact that he was a superb baseball player and an underrated manager.  Below please find, in no particular order, a list of my favorites:

  1.  “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”
  2. “It’s like ‘deja vu’ all over again.”
  3. Referring to a popular Italian restaurant, “no one goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”
  4. “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”
  5. “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”
  6. “You better cut the pizza into four slices.  I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
  7. “How can you think and hit at the same time?”
  8. Referring to the Yankees penchant for “comeback ” victories: “It gets late early out here.”
  9. “Pair up in threes.”
  10. Referring to Sandy Koufax after the he led a Dodgers sweep of the Yankees in 1963: “I can see how he won 25 games.  What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”
  11. “So, I’m ugly.  I saw anyone hit with his face.”
  12. “I never said most of the things I said” (probably true).  For example, golfers often attribute to Yogi the saying “90% of short putts don’t go in.”  If he didn’t say it, he should have.
  13. And my personal favorite, while commenting on the Mets seemingly insurmountable deficit during the 1973 pennant race:  “It ain’t over till it’s over” (turned out to be accurate).

What’s your favorite “Yogism?”  I’d like to know.

Finally, as a lifelong Dodgers fan and Yankees hater, I rooted against Yogi, but I respected and feared him, especially with the game on the line.  Yogi, you were one of a kind.  Rest in peace.  We will miss you.

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AMERICAN HEROES

Finally, some good news! Nowadays, it seems that all the news we hear is dire. North Korea, which is run by an unpredictable mad man, has nuclear weapons capacity; Iran will likely have it in due course; Russia stalks Eastern Europe with impunity with no fear of retribution from a timid world; ISIS and other radical Islamic Jihadists have formed a Caliphate in the Middle East and threaten to annihilate Israel and the US; the economy is static, at best; there is racial and political conflict reminiscent of the 1960s; the Federal government seems to be ineffective; and we have been hit with one political scandal after another seemingly without end. I may have omitted one or two issues, but you get the idea.

Amid all of the foregoing, however, we finally got some good news last month, something to make us feel good about ourselves, even if only for a few days. Three normal, everyday Americans – Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone – were able to foil an Islamic terrorist on a passenger train in France. These three men had grown up together in the Sacramento area and were lifetime friends. They had gone their separate ways. Skarlatos is a member of the National Guard; Sadler is a college student; and Stone is a member of the Air Force. They were on vacation together and were enjoying a quiet, relaxing train ride to Paris. By now, you’re all familiar with the story. An Islamic terrorist, armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a box cutter, began to fire randomly on other passengers. There was no one to stop the man – no security guards or even railroad employees in sight. This had the potential to turn into a significant terror attack like many others we have seen in recent years. But, the heroes foiled the attack. They bravely took it upon themselves to subdue the gunman. According to the heroes they didn’t think; they just reacted. Furthermore, they stated not only were the railroad employees no help, one of them was actually an impediment during the struggle for the terrorist’s weapons. Mr. Stone was the first to charge the terrorist, but he was joined quickly by the other two. Mr. Stone was stabbed in the melee.

Afterwards, the President of France, Francois Hollande, presented them with the country’s highest civilian honor, the Legion of Honor. Back in the US they became celebrities appearing on various news programs and talk shows. Their home town honored them with a parade. One trivia point: the Mayor of Sacramento is one Kevin Johnson, former star NBA guard known as “KJ” during his playing days. Mr. Skarlatos is appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” and best of all, they were invited to the White House where they met President Obama. (Regardless of one’s political leanings it has to be a tremendous honor to actually meet the President.)

Incidentally, France’s state-run railroad company, SNCF, conducted an internal investigation, which, to no one’s surprise absolved its employees of any malfeasance. It said that one of the guards “confronted” the gunman, and the actions of two of the conductors caused him to “lose enough time” to enable the Americans to subdue him. Despite this “spin,” it is significant to note that the company has implemented enhanced security procedures and employee training.

CONCLUSION

It should be noted that despite the military background of two of the heroes they were not trained in counterterrorism, nor was it their responsibility to intercede. They were just brave men who saw a developing situation and reacted without regard for their safety. Most of us would like to think we would have reacted similarly, but who knows.

QUIZ

It’s been a while since I published a quiz, so here it is.  This one is on American history and geography.  Test your knowledge.  Are you smarter than a fifth grader?  No peeking at the internet.

  1.  The only US President to serve two terms non-consecutively was:

(a)  Theodore Roosevelt; (b) James Madison; (c) James Monroe; (d) Grover Cleveland

2.  The first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War was:

(a)  South Carolina;  (b)  Georgia;  (c)   Alabama;  (d) Florida

3.  Mount Rushmore is located in which state?

(a) North Dakota;  (b) Montana;  (c)  Idaho;  (d) South Dakota

4.  All of the following facts about Abraham Lincoln are true EXCEPT:

(a)  He did not graduate from college; (b) he did not have a middle name; (c) he was a lawyer; (d) he served in the US Senate.

5.     The first state to ratify the US Constitution was:

(a)  Georgia; (b) Virginia; (c) Delaware; (d) Massachusetts

6.  Fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence.  The most from any one state was nine.  Which one was it?

(a)  Virginia; (b) Pennsylvania; (c) Massachusetts; (d) New York

7.  During the War of 1812 the hero of the Battle of New Orleans was:

(a)  Andrew Jackson; (b) John Paul Jones; (c) Davy Crockett; (d) Daniel Boone

8.  Of the states listed below, which is the most populous?

(a)  New York; (b) Florida; (c) Texas; (d) Illinois

9  Which is the eastern-most state?

(a) Florida; (b) Maine; (c) Alaska; (d) Virginia

10.  Which is the western-most state?

(a)  Alaska; (b) Hawaii; (c) California; (d) Washington

11.  Which is the southern-most state?

(a)  Florida; (b) Texas; (c) Mississippi; (d) Hawaii

12.  Which war started with an assassination?

(a)  Crimean; (b) Revolutionary; (c) WWI; (d) WWII

13.   Which of the following was NOT President during the Vietnam War?

(a)  Truman; (b)  Eisenhower;  (c)  Ford;  (d) Nixon

14.  WWII began on 9/1/39 when Germany invaded which country?

(a)  Austria;  (b) Czechoslovakia; France; (d) Poland

15.  What year was “9/11?”

(a)  2000; (b) 2001; (c) 2002; (d) 2003

16.  The state in which the highest number of Presidents were born was:

(a)  Virginia; (b)  Ohio; (c) Missouri; (d) California

17.  The first signer of the Declaration of Independence to become President was:

(a)  George Washington; (b) John Adams; (c) Thomas Jefferson; (d) Benjamin Franklyn

18.  The President of the US during WWI was:

(a)  Taft; (b) Hoover; (c) Wilson; (d) Teddy Roosevelt

19.  The last of the 48 contiguous states to join the Union was:

(a)  Hawaii; (b) Utah; (c) Arizona; (d) Wyoming

20.   During WWI which of the following was NOT one of the Central Powers?

(a)  Germany; (b) Bulgaria; (c) Ottoman Empire; (d) Italy

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

Please let know how you did.

ERIK WEIHENMAYER

This is an ultimate feel-good story. It is about a person who refused to be limited by his handicap. Indeed, he might insist that he is not handicapped at all, and in view of all that he has achieved in his life it would be hard to argue with him.

Erik Weihenmayer was born on September 23, 1968. At the age of five he was diagnosed with juvenile retinoschisis. Soon after, he went totally blind. To be clear, Erik is not merely legally blind; he is TOTALLY blind. He sees nothing.

Even as a child, Erik refused to make concessions to his blindness. For example, as his sight deteriorated he resisted using a cane and learning braille. Instead he held on to living like a person with normal sight as long as possible.

In High School, despite his blindness,he became a champion wrestler, competing in the National Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championships. Imagine, he would routinely defeat opponents he couldn’t even see. Later, he tried rock climbing. Incredibly, even though he couldn’t see the rock face he became proficient at using his hands and feet to locate the proper “holds.” He was a “natural.” He graduated from Boston College with a double major in English and Communications. He became a school teacher and wrestling coach.

But, Erik was not satisfied. He wanted more. So, again, refusing to acknowledge his physical limitations he began to challenge himself. Below please find some highlights of his achievements:

a. He started mountain climbing in 1995. His first conquest was Mt. McKinley. Since then, he has scaled many other noteworthy mountain peaks, including El Capitan in Yosemite, Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea, and the biggie, Mt. Everest, the only blind person to have done so. He has completed the famous Seven Summits, again, the only blind climber to have done so.

b. He has developed into an athlete, adventurer, author, activist and motivational speaker.

c. He was the subject of a Time Magazine cover story.

d. He is the author of “Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye Can See”and “The Adversity Advantage, Turning Everyday Struggles into Everyday Greatness.”

e. In 2005 he co-founded “No Barriers USA,” which assists and encourages those with special challenges to live more active and meaningful lives. The organization’s motto is “What’s Within You Is Stronger Than What’s In Your Way!” Injured soldiers are a major focus of the organization.

f. In 2011, his 3-person team competed on ABC’s Expedition Impossible, a race across the deserts and mountains of Morocco, finishing second.

g. He has completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, at elevations above 10,000 feet, and Primal Quest, an adventure race over 460 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation gains.

CONCLUSION

Erik’s accomplishments speak for themselves. They stand as an inspiration not only to other special needs individuals, but to all of us.

ALL LIVES MATTER

Long-time readers of my blogs realize that lately I have refrained from writing about controversial political issues.  The reason is that my experience has been that regardless of the topic or my opinion on it I have found that I end up offending some of you. Consequently, I have been blogging on “feel-good” stories, historical pieces, quizzes, humor or sports. However, this blog on the “Black Lives Matter” Movement will be an exception.  To paraphrase the late Lesley Gore: “It’s my blog, and I can write what I want to.”

The BLM Movement has been gaining traction. Many supporters, not just blacks, but other liberal-minded people as well, have expressed the opinion that the police routinely target blacks. Others feel just as strongly that the aforementioned opinion is based on a false narrative. They say the overwhelming majority of police are just trying to do a difficult job as best they can and that in very few of the police-on-black incidents have the police been at fault. I have been following this issue closely for many months as I’m sure many of you have, and my opinion is as follows:

  1. The overwhelming majority of police do not target blacks.  They are just trying to do their jobs as well as they can and go home to their families at the end of the day.  Yes, there are some bad cops, just like there are bad accountants, plumbers, and politicians.  But, it is ludicrous to think that the typical policeman goes to work with the attitude: “I’m going to kill me a black or Hispanic today.”
  2. The press and politicians have inflamed the situation. For example, whenever there has been an incident of police versus a black person the press has covered it extensively, both on television and in print.  Fair enough, but I don’t believe the coverage has been fair and balanced.   For example, in the Ferguson incident most of the press had prejudged that Officer Wilson was guilty. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became the famous mantra that still resonates. However, when the local and Federal investigations, including the one by Eric Holder’s Department of Justice, exonerated Wilson and debunked the story that Mr. Brown had ever even raised his hands, the press coverage was scant and the politicians were nowhere to be seen.
  3. Furthermore, the press underreported the extensive, massive looting in Ferguson. Businesses, most of them, minority-owned, were destroyed. Looters, most of them outsiders, merely used the protests as an excuse to steal, destroy and even murder.
  4. Many politicians, from the President on down to local officials, and even those now running for President took partisan positions that were not always based on fact, but rather were designed to appeal to their political supporters.
  5. Black leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have also inflamed the situation with their rhetoric and prejudgment.
  6. Most egregious of all have been the protest marches in which people chanted inflammatory anti-police statements such as “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now” and the descriptive “Pigs in a blanket.”  One could argue that the recent cop assassinations were a direct result of their actions.

CONCLUSION

The rhetoric on both sides has become overwhelmingly strident, and neither side has been in a mood to listen to the other. I would like to believe that the protest marchers, slogan-chanters, and looters represent a very small minority. They are just the ones getting the press coverage, which goes back to my earlier point. Furthermore, they are part of the problem, not the solution, because their actions, rather than garnering support, appall most Americans.

The only way we have a chance of resolving this issue is if we discuss it calmly and rationally. To paraphrase the late Vice President, Spiro Agnew, I believe there is a “silent majority” with respect to this issue that wants a peaceful resolution.

No one wants even to talk about the major underlying issues.

  1. The deterioration of the family structure in minority families. Approximately, 74% of blacks are born out-of-wedlock. It has been proven that a child, any child, in a single parent household has a significantly lesser chance at success in life. Typically, a single mother has to devote all her energy to earning a living wage; she has scant time and energy to address raising her children.  Thus, the cycle of poverty and violence is perpetuated from generation to generation.
  2. Children of single parents are more likely to drop out of school and fall under the influence of the streets. Again, it has been proven that lack of a good education is the biggest single indicator of economic success or failure in life. We all know the inevitable results of hanging out in the streets – death, prison or poverty.
  3. The overwhelming percentage of crime in the cities is black on black. Therefore, the supreme irony is that the same cops that are being vilified are actually protecting law-abiding blacks.

If Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today he would be appalled at the violence surrounding this issue. He was a great leader because he was able to address and resolve issues without violence. He was able to convince others that violence does not solve the problem; it exacerbates it by hardening the positions on both sides and it impedes progress.

I would welcome your comments on this issue. As I said, I know there are strong feelings and emotions on both sides. In particular, I would welcome comments from readers who reside outside the US.  What do you think of us when you see the strident rhetoric and violence?

ENTEBBE

Thirty-nine years ago this past July commandos of the Israeli Defense Forces pulled off a bold rescue mission that stunned the world.  Briefly, the background of the operation was as follows:

  1. On June 27, 1976 terrorists belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an Air France jetliner with 248 passengers on board.
  2. The stated objective was to trade the hostages for various Palestinians that were being held in jail in various countries.
  3. They forced the crew to fly the jet to Entebbe Airport in Uganda where they would be under the protection of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who was sympathetic to their cause.
  4. Over the ensuing couple of days the hijackers released the non-Jewish passengers and continued to hold the Jewish passengers.
  5. The French crew insisted on staying with the Jewish captives.
  6. The hijackers made it clear that if their demands were not met they would kill the hostages.
  7. To put this incident in perspective it was just four years after the terrorist group, Black September, had slaughtered eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Some of you may recall that the German police had botched a rescue attempt at the airport, which precipitated the carnage.
  8. In addition, it was less than three years after Israel had defeated a coalition of Arab States in the “Yom Kippur War.” Relations between Israel and the Arab World were “not so good,” to put it mildly.
  9. There seemed to be no way to resolve the situation satisfactorily, either by negotiation or rescue. No country was willing to help Israel overtly. It looked like another disaster in the making.
  10. But, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the Israelis had other ideas.

“Operation Thunderbolt” was conceived, planned and executed by the Israelis to rescue the hostages. Consider the audacity of the mission:

  1. The hostages were being held over 2,000 miles away from Israel.
  2. The Israelis had to fly through hostile territory, undetected, and carry out the mission in a hostile land.
  3. Refueling was an issue until Kenya finally gave permission to fly through its airspace and refuel at one of its airports.
  4. Reliable intelligence was very limited. For example, at one point the Israelis considered a plan whereby they would drop naval commandos into Lake Victoria, but they had to abandon that idea when they ascertained that the lake was infested with crocodiles.
  5. But, against all odds, they managed to pull the raid off successfully.

On July 4, 1976, while the attention of the rest of the world was focused elsewhere, for example, Americans were focused on their bi-centennial celebrations the Israelis successfully rescued the hostages and flight crew. Many of you will recall the shock of waking up on July 4 to hear about the successful raid. Only three of the hostages were killed (out of 106). All seven terrorists and some 40 Ugandan troops were killed. Unfortunately, one Israeli commando (Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister) was killed.  The Israelis went in and out fast.  The entire operation lasted 53 minutes, 30 minutes of which included the actual battle.

CONCLUSION

The daring rescue was a rousing success. The hostages were rescued; the terrorists were killed. Much of the world admired Israel’s audacity in pulling off the operation successfully. The US and the UK called the raid an “impossible operation.”  France and Switzerland also offered praise. West Germany went so far as to label it “an act of self-defense.”

Unfortunately, as always, some people had a different view. The Chairman of the Organization of African Unity filed a complaint with the UN accusing Israel of aggression. It took the UN Security Council all of five days to convene to consider it. (It’s not often that the UN takes such prompt action, is it?  But such was the degree of antipathy toward Israel in many countries.)   The Secretary General of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, called the raid “a serious violation of the sovereignty of a Member State of the United Nations.”   I’m not aware of any comment by Waldheim condemning the actual hijacking, but that was no surprise considering his well-documented antipathy toward Jews. The UK and the US sponsored a “wishy-washy” resolution that deplored the loss of life resulting from the hijacking while, at the same time, re-affirming the principle of territorial integrity of all States, and the matter faded away.

Various books have been written on the raid. In addition, Hollywood produced a movie “Raid on Entebbe,” starring Charles Bronson, Peter Finch and Martin Balsam, which was released in 1977.

I believe the main takeaway from the raid was Israel demonstrating to the world that it would not take aggression against its civilians lying down. Terrorists would be hunted down and punished. This point was hammered home as Israeli operatives eventually hunted down and killed all the surviving members of the Black September terrorist group that had been responsible for the Munich Massacre.