WORLD SERIES

The NY Mets are in the World Series!  Roll that around in your mind a few times.  At the start of the season the Mets’ ownership and management were being criticized by their own fans as cheap, incompetent and dysfunctional.  Why wouldn’t they spend to bring in talented players?  Where were the highly touted minor leaguers fans had been promised for years?  Why should fans even bother going to Citifield.  You’re all familiar with the back story and with what happened.  Key minor leaguers, such as Syndergaard and Conforto, were brought up and have contributed.  Significant players, such as Cespedes, Johnson and Uribe were acquired at the trade deadline.  The team jelled beyond all but the most optimistic expectations to win the NL East Division, beat the Dodgers and the Cubs in the playoffs, and here they are in the World Series.  As they used to say in Brooklyn, “Who’d a thunk it!”

The WS will begin on Tuesday, October 27 in Kansas City.  If it goes the full seven games it will conclude on November 4.  KC last won in 1985, the Mets in 1986.  This will be the 111th edition of the “Fall Classic,” as it is sometimes called.  Some WS facts:

  1.  The first modern WS was played in 1903.  It was arranged by the owners of the two league champions.  Boston beat Pittsburgh to win the first world championship.
  2. There was no WS in 1904 as the owner of the NL champion Giants refused to play the champion of the “upstart,” “inferior” AL.
  3. Beginning in 1905 the two leagues arranged the WS, and it has been played every year since then, except for 1994 during the players’ strike.  Neither war nor earthquake has cancelled it.
  4.  The first night game was Game 4 of the 1971 WS in Three Rivers Stadium between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
  5. In 1989 Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the site of Game 3, was damaged by a massive earthquake before the game, which shook the Bay Area.  The Series was delayed for ten days, but not cancelled.
  6. The leagues used to alternate home field advantage, but beginning in 2003 the league that won that year’s All-Star Game has earned the odd home game.
  7. The AL has won 63 of the previous 110 Series (58%).
  8. The Yankees have made the most appearances (40) and won the most championships (27).
  9. The team with the highest regular season winning percentage has only won the WS 49% of the time.
  10. Only one WS MVP has been a member of the losing team (more on that later).

There have been many memorable WS.  All fans have their favorites.  Personally, I have six, which I will profile below.  These were not only exciting in their own right and featured a memorable play, but also had some significance to the sport in addition to the game itself.  So, in chronological order:

  1. 1955 – Brooklyn wins its first and only WS – Despite having tremendous teams featuring various future Hall-of-Famers, every time the Dodgers played the Yankees in the WS they lost.  A key hit here, a key error there, same result.  The Dodgers were living up to (or down to) their unofficial nickname – the “Bums.”  Year after year, the Dodger fans’ famous refrain was “Wait until next year.”  Well, this year it was the Dodgers that made the key play.  In the decisive Game 7 Sandy Amoros, an unheralded utility player who had been inserted into left field as part of a “double-switch,” made one of the most amazing catches in WS history to save the game, and the Dodgers won 2-0.  “Next year” had finally arrived, and a ten year old boy on Long Island became a Dodgers fan for life.  As one NY paper touted the next day “Who’s a Bum?!”
  2. 1960 –  Pirates Beat Yanks – This was an odd Series.  The Yankees were clearly the better team.  They outperformed the Bucs in every category.  They won their three games by a combined score of 38-3!  Bobby Richardson, the second baseman, was named MVP, the only time a player from a losing team has been so honored.  But, the Bucs won four close games and the Series.  The seventh game was, perhaps, the best of all WS games.  It doesn’t have the cache of other famous games, because it was played in the afternoon before a relatively small tv audience, rather then in prime time.  Not only was it close; it had several twists and turns and memorable plays.  Also, it was the deciding game and featured a “walk-off” homer by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski in the bottom of the 9th inning.  Ironically, Maz was a light hitter, known primarily for his fielding.  Many people believe that homer was responsible for his getting voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Another outcome was that the Yanks fired their manager, Casey Stengel, which made him available to become the first manager of the Mets two years later.
  3. 1969 – The Mets win their first title –  On paper this was a huge mismatch.  The AL champion Orioles had won 109 games and blown through the playoffs.  They were very strong in all three areas – pitching, hitting and defense.  The Mets, though sporting the best record in the NL, were still viewed by many as lovable losers.  Indeed, they had finished ninth the previous year.  Only the most optimistic fans gave them much of a chance.  Yet, they got the key hits and made the key plays in the field.  They not only won but did so in five games.  Many old-time Mets fans see some parallels between that team and this year’s.
  4. 1975 – Fisk “pushes” his home run fair, but Reds win – The Reds were considered to be the superior team.  Known as the “Big Red Machine” because of their powerful offense they had won 108 games during the regular season and swept the Pirates in the NL playoffs.  But, Boston was a popular and exciting underdog.  The Series became memorable because of Game 6.  The Reds led three games to two and 6-3 when the “Saux” tied the game with a pinch hit three-run homer.  Then, in the bottom of the 12th Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk led off with a drive down the left field line.  Clearly, it had the distance, but would it go fair or foul.  TV replays showed Fisk standing at home plate waving his hands to the right as if to “push” the ball fair.  It was fair winning the game.  That was a seminal WS and tv moment.  But, the Reds spoiled the Cinderella story by winning the next day 4-3.
  5. 1985 – KC wins with an “assist” from the umpire –  This was known as the I-70 or “Show-Me” Series because St Louis and KC were both in Missouri and were connected by Interstate 70.  St. Louis seemed to have the Series won.  They were ahead three games to two and 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning when disaster struck.  The first base umpire, Don Denkinger, missed an obvious call, ruling a KC runner safe when tv replays clearly showed him to be out.  But, this was before replay reviews, and the erroneous call stood.  Given the extra out KC went on to win the game and the next day as well winning the Series.  Tough break for the Cards, but they still had their chances to win.  All they had to do was get out of the inning or win Game 7.  Champions have to be resilient.
  6. 1986 – Mets win, barely –  On paper, the Mets were the better team and were big favorites.  But, they lost the first two games at home.  They won Games 3 and 4 to even the Series, but proceeded to lose Game 5 and were trailing in Game 6 by 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth with two out and none on.  Then, they staged the most unlikely of rallies.  Three straight singles with two strikes on the batters and a wild pitch tied the score.  Next Mookie Wilson hit a routine ground ball to first base, which, inexplicably, rolled between Bill Buckner’s legs and under his glove.  The winning run scored, and the Mets won Game 7 as well.  WHEW!  That rally proved the old baseball adage.  “The game is not over until the last out.”  Baseball is the only sport in which the clock does not run out on the trailing team.  Regardless, you get your “last licks.”  Many fans, especially Mets fans, consider that Game 6 to be the best WS ever.

CONCLUSION

This series will match the dominant Mets starting pitching against the equally-dominant KC bullpen.  No one knows what will happen, including the so-called “experts.”  Fans know that you play the game on the field, not on paper.  In a short series anything can happen.  History tells us that an unlikely hero or two will emerge to lead his team to victory.  Who will it be?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Enjoy the Series.

LETS GO METS!!

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“COLD WAR” PRISONER EXCHANGE

The “Cold War” prisoner exchange is the story of a prisoner exchange between the US and USSR in 1962, at the height of the “Cold War.”  Currently, it is being depicted in the movie “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Anyone over the age of 60 remembers the so-called “Cold War” between the US and the USSR – drills in schools where kids cowered under their desks (like that would do any good in the event of a nuclear attack), Russian missiles in Cuba, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on his desk while speaking at the UN.  Those were scary times, tense times.  Many people feared the world would end at any time in the fireball of a nuclear holocaust.  That was the historical context of the Cold War prisoner exchange.

There were a lot of intracacies and subplots to the situation, but basically, we had their spy, Rudolf Abel, and they had our U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers.  Each one possessed significant sensitive information.  Therefore, each country wanted its man back – badly.  An additional complication was that East Germany was detaining an American graduate student, Frederic Pryor, who was an innocent pawn in the drama.  Furthermore, the US could not be seen as negotiating with East Germany because, officially, it did not recognize East Germany as a “country.”  It needed the negotiations to be handled by a non-government person, in secret, without official sanction.  That is the essence of the back story.

Enter James Donovan.  Donovan was not a diplomat.  He was not an experienced negotiator per se.  He was not connected to the government in any way.  He was simply a partner in a NY-based law firm specializing in insurance cases.  There was nothing in his background that prepared him to negotiate an extremely delicate prisoner exchange with the Soviets and East Germans at the height of the Cold War in East Berlin without any official government sanction or protection.  He had defended Abel in 1957 as a favor to the Brooklyn Bar Association in order that Abel, heinous as his crimes were, could receive the “due process” guaranteed by the US Constitution.  Abel, an extremely successful Soviet spy, had been found guilty of espionage and “failing to register as a foreign agent.”  (In the movie, the Abel character responds to that absurd charge by asking facetiously how many foreign agents actually bother to register?)  Even though Abel was convicted, Donovan managed to save him from being executed.  In a remarkable piece of foresight Donovan had argued successfully that by keeping Abel in prison the US could possibly use him prospectively in exchange for a valuable American held by the Soviets.

That opportunity arose when the Soviets captured Powers in 1960.  Powers had been flying a U-2 spy plane, equipped with the latest and most sensitive surveillance equipment over Russian soil.  The Russians tried and convicted Powers of espionage and sentenced him to ten years. The government (CIA?) convinced Donovan, whom Abel trusted, to negotiate unofficially.  They were not really interested in securing Pryor’s release, but Donovan was.  He had to travel to East Berlin as a private citizen without diplomatic “cover” and negotiate with shadowy people who were likely connected to Soviet  and East German espionage agencies.  At the time, East Berlin was a very dangerous and lawless place.  The Berlin Wall had just been constructed.  Donovan had to deal not only with the East German police, who often acted as they pleased, but also gangs of thieves who roamed wild and unfettered.  Additionally, the obvious risk was that if things were to go “sideways,” he was on his own.

Another complication was that even though the USSR had some degree of control over East Germany the latter had its own agenda, which did not necessarily coincide with that of the former.  There were many twists and turns, but ultimately Donovan not only pulled it off, but he also managed to secure Pryor’s release.  On February 10, 1962 Abel and Powers were exchanged at the Glienicke Bridge, which separated East and West Berlin, and Pryor was released through “Checkpoint Charlie.”  This was a tremendous feat accomplished under the most trying circumstances.

CONCLUSION

So what became of Donovan, Powers and Pryor?  A few years later, Donovan successfully negotiated the release of 1,100 survivors of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and 8,500 political prisoners from Cuba. Later, he became vice president of the NYC Board of Education and president of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  He ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1962.  He died in 1970.

Powers was not exactly received as a conquering hero upon his return.  Many thought he should have destroyed the plane and the sensitive equipment onboard rather than permit it to fall into Soviet hands and/or taken the “optional” suicide pill provided by the CIA.  He was called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Select Committee (whose members included Barry Goldwater and Prescott Bush – George’s father and W’s grandfather).  Eventually, it was determined that he had followed orders and had not divulged any crucial information to his captors.  Powers worked as a test pilot for Lockheed Aviation and then as a helicopter reporter for a news station in Los Angeles where he died in 1977 in a tragic helicopter crash while on the job.

Pryor achieved success as an academic at various well-known universities as both a professor and researcher.  In addition, he has written over a dozen books primarily dealing with the economy in communist countries.  Currently, he lives in the Philadelphia area.

DANCING WITH THE ENEMY

I just read a truly amazing book about the Holocaust. The story is even more compelling because it is true. I know there have been many novels, movies and plays dealing with this horrible subject, but this one stands out, and I recommend it heartily. It is called “Dancing with the Enemy: My Family’s Holocaust Secret” by Paul Glaser.

Briefly, so as not to give away too much of the plot, it is about a Catholic man living in the Netherlands in the 1970s who, by happenstance, discovers his Jewish heritage. Along the way, he discovers a long-lost aunt named Rosie, who was imprisoned in various camps during WWII and is the heroine of the story. It is told as two simultaneous stories – Rosie and her desperate struggle to survive and Paul and his tale of discovery.

Rosie proves to be a remarkably resourceful person who does whatever is necessary to survive as she is thrust into one horrendous situation after another. She is betrayed to the Nazis, in turn, by her husband, brother-in-law, lover and friends. She survives by inventing ways to be useful to her captors. Since she speaks German fluently she becomes an interpreter, at times even befriending lonely German soldiers and prison guards who miss their families and loved ones. She has administrative skills, so she becomes an administrator. She has skills as a dancer and song writer, so she writes songs and poems, plays the piano, and dances for them (hence the title). And, yes, being attractive, she becomes a lover to a couple of them. Rightly or wrongly, she does whatever is necessary to survive.

This raises the moral question concerning Jewish prisoners and concentration camp victims who cooperated with the Nazis guards in order
to survive. It has been well documented that many prisoners did so and were hated by the other prisoners for it. It is easy to criticize their actions after the fact, but you have to ask yourself what you would do in their situation. Would you cling to your principles regardless of the consequences, or do whatever is necessary to survive? Not an easy dilemma to solve. Personally, I cannot condemn Rosie for what she did. It appears she was not an informant against other prisoners, which would have been a different story in my mind.

One of the surprising and disturbing subplots of the story is the considerable degree to which the non-Jewish Dutch cooperated with the Nazis. According to the author his research disclosed that the Dutch police and even ordinary citizens, rather than resisting the Nazis, were willing and sometimes enthusiastic participants in enforcing the anti-Jewish laws and practices. Frequently, they would turn Jews in for a reward. Some of them even stole property that had been entrusted to them. Others were indifferent to the plight of the Jews, particularly if their economic and personal situation was stable. For them, life under the Nazi occupation went on relatively normally; therefore, they didn’t really care about the plight of the Jews. Reading the story, I couldn’t help but contrast their actions and inactions with those of the Danes and Swedes, for example. Approximately, 72% of the Dutch Jews perished during the War. 72%!

As if the foregoing were not enough, after the War the Dutch government, in many cases, refused to return property and in some cases pursued the surviving Jews for “back taxes.” According to the author most of the non-Jewish Dutch didn’t seem to oppose these policies. Consequently, many Jews who had escaped to other countries, including Rosie, resisted returning. Many emigrated to Israel, or other more welcoming countries, such as the US or Canada. Others simply remained where they were. Rosie remained in Sweden even though the Dutch government tried to coerce her to return. She married and made a life for herself there.

CONCLUSION

This personalized account provides a perspective of life in the Netherlands under the Nazis of which I had not been aware. You will not be able to put the book down!