“WHERE’S THE BEEF?”

Many of you will recognize the above phrase as the signature slogan of Walter Mondale’s campaign during his ill-fated run for the 1984 presidency. Despite that catchy slogan, which was derived from a popular tv commercial in the early 1980s, Mondale suffered an historic defeat. More on that later.

Walter Frederick (“Fritz”) Mondale was a politician, lawyer, diplomat and statesman. He served in the US Senate representing the State of Minnesota from 1964-1976. He was US vice president from 1977-1980 under President Jimmy Carter, and he ran for President in 1984, losing to Ronald Reagan. More on that later too.

Mondale was born on January 5, 1928 in Ceylon, MN. His father was a Methodist minister, and his mother worked as a part-time music teacher. Mondale had two brothers and a half-brother. His father’s family was primarily of Norwegian descent, and his mother was of English-Scottish ancestry. The name “Mondale” was derived from Mundal, a town in Norway. Like many immigrants, upon their arrival in the US, Mondale’s forbears chose (or were given) the surname of their home town in the “old” country. Also, like many other immigrants, at some point they anglicized the name to “fit in” better in America.

Upon graduating high school Mondale attended the University of Minnesota from which he graduated cum laude with a BA in political science in 1951. He wanted to go to law school, but money was “tight,” so he enlisted in the Army. It was during the Korean War, but, luckily, Mondale was assigned to Fort Knox. Following his honorable discharge he attended the University of Minnesota Law School on the GI Bill and, once again, graduated cum laude. Afterwards, he practiced law for four years.

Along the way, he met his future wife, Joan, on a blind date. They were married in 1955.

Mondale exhibited an interest in politics at an early age. For example, in 1948 at the tender age of 20, he helped organize Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey’s successful campaign for the US Senate. In 1952 and 1956 he worked on Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman’s campaign staff. (Freeman lost in 1952 and then won in 1956.) As a reward for his loyal service in 1960 Governor Freeman appointed Mondale to fill the recently-vacated office of MN Attorney General. Two years later Mondale won election to the office in his own right. In 1964, MN Governor Karl Rolvaag appointed him to the US Senate to replace Humphrey following his election to vice president. Subsequently, in 1966 and 1972 he was elected in his own right.

In 1976 he became VP under Jimmy Carter. However, Carter’s administration was very unpopular. There were many reasons but the main ones were (1) a bad economy, which produced double-digit inflation, (2) a severe oil shortage, which culminated in long gas lines, and (3) Iran humiliating the US by taking and holding several Americans prisoner. As a result, Carter’s and Mondale’s re-election campaign was doomed almost from the start.

Mondale is generally credited with establishing the now popular concept of being an “activist” vice president. For example, the office had generally been nothing more than that of a figurehead . The VP’s sole function was to be available to fill the role of president when, as and if needed due to illness, assassination or some other cataclysmic event. Mondale expanded the role of the office significantly. For instance, he was the first vp to establish an office in the White House; he had lunches with the president on a weekly basis; and, in general, served as an advisor and troubleshooter for Carter.

In 1984 Mondale reached the peak of his political career when he captured the Democrat Party nomination for President. His two main rivals were Colorado Senator Gary Hart and political activist Jesse Jackson. Mondale considered Hart’s policies to be misleading and shallow. In order to hammer home this point he denigrated them with the phrase “where’s the beef,” which was very familiar to most voters as the tag line of a popular TV commercial. He used this phrase repeatedly at all his campaign rallies, and the crowds loved it. It became one of those memorable lines that still resonates today. (Most of us remember the line, but can you name the company and the product? See the answer below.)

After winning the nomination aides said Mondale was determined to make an “historic choice ” as his vp nominee. He considered women, such as San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, African Americans, such as LA Mayor Tom Bradley, and Hispanics, such as San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Ultimately, he selected Geraldine Ferraro , a US Representative from NY. It didn’t matter. The incumbent, Ronald Reagan, was very popular and the economy was very strong. Mondale was generally perceived as too liberal, and he suffered the worst electoral defeat in history by a Democrat, 525-13. He only won Washington, D.C. and his home state of MN.

In retrospect I and many other observers believe Reagan won the election at the beginning of the second debate, which is very rare. Most people don’t remember that Reagan had “lost” the first debate, and at the time the issue was in doubt. It was akin to winning a baseball game in the first inning or an NBA game in the first quarter. At the time, Reagan was, at 73, was the oldest person to serve as president. Mondale, at 56, was perceived as being significantly younger. His age was the voters’ primary concern. Reagan destroyed that issue with the following quip: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” It was, in my view, one of the most memorable and effective statements in presidential debate history. Everyone laughed, even Mondale. Just like that, Reagan had negated his primary liability.

CONCLUSION

I always considered Mondale to be a genuinely nice guy, even though I didn’t agree with most of his political views. He was not disingenuous, nasty or mean-spirited as so many politicians are today. He was a consensus-builder, not a divider as seems to be the norm today.

After the election Mondale essentially lived a quiet life away from the national spotlight, although he did serve as ambassador to Japan and as chairman of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In addition, he maintained a close relationship with his alma mater and with his Norwegian heritage. He enjoyed a variety of hobbies such as skiing, fishing, reading and tennis.

He passed away quietly in his sleep of natural causes on April 19. At the time of his death he held the distinction of being the oldest living former US VP. Unfortunately, his passing was underreported by the national media considering his contributions and accomplishments to the country. Most of the media and the public seemed to be more interested in the Derek Chauvin trial, other police shootings, and the crisis at the southern border, among other things.

Rest in peace Fritz. You served this country well, and you will be sorely missed.

Quiz answer: Wendy’s hamburgers.

JACKIE ROBINSON

Number 42. Does that have any special meaning for you, or is it just another number? Baseball fans, civil rights advocates, and students of history will recognize it as the uniform number worn by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It should be noted that that uniform number has two other major significances:

1. It is the only number to have been retired by every major league baseball team (in 1997); and
2. since 2004, every year on April 15 on what is known as “Jackie Robinson Day,” every player wears that number in tribute to Jackie Robinson in recognition of the anniversary of his debut in the major leagues in 1947.  On that historic date Jackie became the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 1880s.

Unfortunately, last year fans were deprived of said tribute due to COVID, which delayed the start of the baseball season. This year things will return to normal. Celebrations will take place tomorrow, April 15 (Friday, April 16 for those teams that don’t play the 15th).

In order to put this in its proper perspective one must realize the racial situation in 1947. Life was radically different, a reality that few of us who live in the PC era can appreciate.  Much has changed in the intervening 73 years.

For example:

1. Segregation was the law of the land. “Jim Crow” was alive and well.
The “Brown” Supreme Court decision integrating public schools would not come until 1954.
2. Even though many AAs had distinguished themselves during WWII the armed forces would not be integrated until 1948.
3. A disproportionate percentage of MLB players were from the South and espoused all the values, attitudes and experiences of the region regarding AAs.  Most of them had never played ball with an AA.  Many had rarely even associated with one as peers.
4. The prevailing attitude among players, sports writers, and fans was that AAs were not good enough and did not have the “temperament” to succeed in MLB.

Very few of us lived through that era, and consequently, we cannot imagine the circumstances Jackie had to overcome.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia.  His parents chose his middle name in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt, who had recently died.  He was the youngest of five children.  One of his older brothers, Mack, would later earn some notoriety by winning the silver medal in the 100 meter dash in the 1936 Olympics, (the Games held in Berlin at which Jesse Owens embarrassed Adolph Hitler and the Nazis by winning four gold medals).

Jackie’s parents were sharecroppers and barely scraping by, so in 1920 they moved to Pasadena, California seeking a better life.  In high school and college Jackie excelled in five sports – baseball, basketball, football, track and tennis.  Basically, he was an all-around athlete who excelled in any sport he tried.  At UCLA he became the school’s first athlete to “letter” in four sports (all of the above except tennis).  One of his teammates on the 1939 UCLA football team was the future actor, Woody Strode.  Ironically, statistically, at least, baseball was his worst sport of the four.

In 1941 Jackie left UCLA just shy of graduating to play semi-pro football, but in early 1942 he was drafted and stationed at Fort Riley in Texas.  He applied for admission to OCS. Initially, his application was rejected as few blacks were accepted at the time, but following a personal appeal from Joe Louis, the reigning heavyweight boxing champ, he was accepted.

Jackie’s tenure in the army was marred by one unfortunate incident in which his fiery temperament got him in trouble.  While riding an Army bus one day the driver told him to move to the back.  Jackie refused.  As a result he was nearly court-martialed for insubordination and other “trumped up” offenses.  A conviction would have changed the course of his life and, possibly, the country’s as well, but he was acquitted.

In 1945 Jackie signed to play for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Unbeknownst to him, Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was looking for a Negro to break the major leagues’ “color barrier,” which had been in place since the 1880s.  He had compiled a list of the best players in the Negro leagues and was evaluating them for suitability.  There were many players better than Jackie, notably Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, but due to age, temperament and other factors, they were all eliminated in favor of Jackie.

Rickey knew the first AA player would have to “turn the other cheek” to a great deal of verbal, physical and emotional abuse.  Otherwise, it might be many more years before the next one got a chance.  When he told Jackie this, Jackie was shocked and replied: “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey’s famous reply was that he was seeking a Negro “with guts enough not to fight back.”

To make a long story short, Rickey signed Jackie.  He played for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers AAA minor league affiliate in the International League, in 1946.  He “tore up” the league, winning the MVP award.  The next year he made his debut in the major leagues.

To me, his debut was one of the most significant events not only in baseball history, but also in the country’s history.  There was tremendous resistance not only from other Dodgers, but from players on other teams as well.

Again, it is very hard for us to appreciate the level of abuse to which Jackie was subjected. Breaking into the major leagues is hard enough, physically. The added mental and emotional pressures Jackie and other AAs had to overcome was mind-boggling. Jackie had to endure a tremendous amount of prejudice and abuse both on and off the field (name calling, spiking, “beanings,” separate lodgings and restaurants on the road, etc.  Eventually, other AAs would join him in the majors. They had to overcome many of the same obstacles.  Some were unable to survive, but many more did.

Luckily, Dodger management was behind Jackie 100%.  When some Dodgers players threatened to quit, strike or demand a trade, the team’s manager, Leo Durocher, a fiery, no nonsense person himself, nipped the rebellion in the bud.  He declared: “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f****** zebra.  I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.”  Players on other teams also threatened to strike, but MLB Commissioner “Happy” Chandler quelled that rebellion quickly as well.

CONCLUSION

Rickey chose well with Jackie.  In baseball parlance, he “knocked it out of the park.”  Attendance soared and not just in Brooklyn but in every other city as well. Black people came in droves to see their hero, Jackie Robinson, play.  In those days, attendance was the primary source of ball clubs’ revenue, so Jackie made money for everyone.

Not only did Jackie “take” all the abuse without incident, he starred on the field and became an integral part of one of the most storied teams in baseball history, the “Boys of Summer.”  In a ten-year period from 1947-1956 that team dominated the National League.

It won six pennants, lost another in a playoff and lost another by one game.

Among Jackie’s many MLB accomplishments:

1. Rookie of the year in 1947 (the first one).
2. National League MVP in 1949.
3. Appeared in six World Series.
4. World champion in 1955.
5. First ballot hall of famer in 1962.
6. Member of the MLB All-Century team.

Jackie was extremely versatile,  Although he came up as a second baseman, he also played first, third and the outfield.  Many times, he was among the league leaders in fielding at his position.  He was one of the best “clutch” players I have ever observed.  He could beat you with the bat, the glove or on the bases.  I have never seen a better baserunner or a tougher competitor.  When on base, he would drive the opposing pitcher crazy with his antics.  He was always a threat to steal a base.  I saw him steal home in the 1955 World Series.  When caught in a rundown he often escaped, which, generally, was a rarity.  His aggressive style of play was unique for the 1940s and 1950s.

As an example of his extremely competitive nature, one story will suffice.  In the decisive third game of the 1951 playoff with the NY Giants, when the Giants’ Bobby Thompson hit the game winning home run, all the Dodgers left the field immediately with their heads down in defeat.  All except for Jackie.  He watched and made sure that Thompson touched all the bases on his home run trot.  He would not accept defeat until Thompson had completed his circuit.

Jackie retired from baseball after the 1956 season worn down by age and diabetes, but he did not retire from life.  For example, he became very active in the civil rights movement; he became the first black to serve as vp of a major corporation (Chock Full O’Nuts); he went into broadcasting; and he acted in a movie of his own life story.

Ultimately, however, his fierce competitiveness could not overcome ill health.  Jackie died on October 24, 1972 at the relatively young age of 53 from complications of heart disease and diabetes.  I’m sure that all the stress he had to endure on the playing field also contributed to his early demise.

Jackie’s legacy, however, lives on.  There are countless statues, schools, parks and roads named in his honor.  Moreover, every time a black or other minority takes the field in the major leagues, the NFL or the NBA, he owes a debt to the pioneer who made it all possible.

So, tomorrow, while watching your favorite team in action take a moment to appreciate the special achievement of one Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

PRINCE PHILIP – DUKE OF EDINBURGH

Prince Philip had the distinction of having the longest tenure as consort to a reigning monarch in the long history of Great Britain’s monarchy. At the time of his retirement from royal duties in August 2017 at the age of 96 he had completed 22,219 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. Additionally, at his death at the age of 99 years and 10 months he was the third-most enduring member and most enduring male of any British royal household. By any measure, Philip had lived a long and eventful life.

Philip was born on the dining room table of the family home on Corfu, one of the Greek Islands, on June 10, 1921. He was a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria (as is Queen Elizabeth). As a descendent of both Greek and Danish kings he was an heir of both thrones. This situation could only occur in Europe where members of royal families had intermarried among themselves for centuries. The interlocking familial relationships among Europe’s royalty is both bewildering and uninteresting to all but the most ardent royal scholars, which does not include me, so I will not discuss it further.

When Philip was but 18 months old, as a result of losing a civil war, King Constantin I, Philip’s uncle, was forced to abdicate his throne, and the family was exiled by the victorious military leaders. Philip and his mother settled in France. As a youth he was educated in France, Germany and the UK. Although he became fluent in German, French and English, he never did learn Greek. He always said he considered himself to be Danish.

Philip and Elizabeth met in 1939 when he was 18 and a naval cadet at Dartmouth Naval College about to “ship out,” and she was but 13. While King George, Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, were touring the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, the Queen arranged for Philip to escort the two girls. Afterwards, according to a royal biographer, Philip was “flattered” to ascertain that both Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, had developed “crushes” on him.

In 1946 Philip formally asked the king for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. The king approved his request on the condition that the marriage be delayed until after April 1947 when Elizabeth would turn 21. In the meantime, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish royal titles, became a naturalized British subject, and adopted his mother’s family surname of Mountbatten. They were married in November 1947.

Upon the sudden death of her father Elizabeth became Queen. At the time the couple was on a tour of Africa, and, communication being relatively primitive there, it took some time before they could be located, notified and returned home. Following Elizabeth’s ascension a question arose as to the official name of the monarchy. Normally, Elizabeth , as wife, would have taken Philip’s family name, which would have meant a name change to the House of Mountbatten. This was favored by the Mountbatten branch of Philip’s family. Philip proposed the House of Edinburgh consistent with his ducal title. Ultimately, Prime Minister Winston Churchill prevailed upon the queen to retain the House of Windsor name. Another oddity was that Elizabeth now outranked and was the boss over both her mother and grandmother, who, themselves, were former queens

At first, Philip struggled to adjust to his new role as consort to the queen. There was no defined role for the husband of the queen. At times, he was described as “irascible,” “tough-minded,” and “out of touch.” He often chafed at the restrictions of his role. He was known for making politically incorrect, or even racist remarks. On the other hand, many found his candor, especially for a royal, to be “refreshing.”

Simply put, as consort, Philip’s role was to support his wife in her duties as sovereign. As observers of the royal family know, that was both simple and complicated. The couple had to separate their relationship as husband and wife from that of monarch and consort. It was difficult for both of them, perhaps more so for Philip who as the husband viewed himself as head of the household. In his official role, for example, he was required to walk three steps behind Elizabeth as a sign of deference. Moreover, he was outranked not only by his wife, but also by his son, Charles. Elizabeth was sympathetic to his situation, and tried her best to accommodate him. It was difficult for both of them, but eventually, they figured it out. Elizabeth often referred to Philip as “her rock.” In turn, his pet name for her was “Lilibet.” It helped matters when, in 1957, Elizabeth granted Philip the title of “Prince of the United Kingdom by Letters Patent.”

CONCLUSION

Philip’s hobbies included polo, flying and yachting. In his later years Philip was plagued by various ailments. For example, in April 2018 he had a hip replacement; in January 2019 he was involved in a car accident; in December 2019 he was hospitalized for what was termed “a preexisting condition; and finally, on February 16, 2021 he was hospitalized as a “precautionary measure” as a result of “feeling unwell.”

Philip passed away on April 9, 2021 at the age of 99, just two months short of his 100th birthday. The official cause of death has not been disclosed. Queen Elizabeth characterized Philip’s death as “having left a huge void in my life.”

Philip had often said that he really had no interest in living a really long life. In 2000 when he was 79 he told an interviewer that he had “no desire whatsoever” to live to be 100 as “bits of me are falling off already.”

Rest in peace Prince Philip. You served your country and your queen with distinction, and you will be sorely missed.

THE FUROR OVER VOTER ID IN GEORGIA’S NEW VOTING LAW

You really can’t make this up. The furor over Georgia’s revised voting law has been blown way out of proportion. What has occurred is not logical and defies common sense. It is a microcosm of what is happening in this country. It exemplifies the political and racial divisions in America at the present time. Criticisms of the new law are rife with lies, misconceptions and exaggerations, all with the intent to deceive the uninformed and score political points. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad and frightening.

Briefly, the situation is as follows:

  1. The State of Georgia has amended its voting law as it is authorized to do by that pesky document called the Constitution. The amended law was written, debated and approved by a clear majority of both houses of the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Kemp. Unlike most laws nowadays it was passed with bipartisan support.
  2. It has various features that liberalize voting procedures. For example, it increases the number of drop boxes; it expands early voting; and it increases the hours in which polls are to be open.
  3. All of the above are designed to enable more eligible voters to get to the polls.
  4. Collectively, these changes made the state’s voting laws more open and liberal than those of many, if not most, states, including President Biden’s home state of Delaware.
  5. The problem for some people is that it also requires voters to present a valid ID. This feature is an anathema to Dems. Apparently it is serious enough to cause them to vehemently oppose the law. Perhaps, critics are ignorant of the fact that (according to Ballotpedia) presently 36 states require voters to present some form of ID (or, perhaps, they choose to ignore it for the sake of politics). To these critics, the requirement of an ID signals a return to the “Jim Crow” laws of yesteryear. In condemning the law President Biden, other prominent Dems, and their allies in the fake news media have characterized it in just that manner. Their new catchphrase for it is “Jim Crow on steroids.” I say, they all need a history lesson. Anyone the least bit knowledgeable of the “Jim Crow” period knows there is no comparison, and to make one is a huge insult to those who suffered through it.

According to polls conducted by both Gallup and the AP some 80% of respondents support voter ID. They see it as a mechanism to safeguard what I feel is among our most cherished rights – free and fair elections, where only those eligible to vote may do so. Think about that! 80% of Americans do not normally agree on anything! Clearly, the Dems are on the wrong side of this issue.

Those who object to IDs claim it is racist and a tool for voter suppression. I think that is a ludicrous argument. They would have you believe that many Blacks, Hispanics and other poor, disadvantaged minorities are somehow going through life without valid IDs and are incapable of obtaining them. According to many Blacks, notably journalists Lawrence Jones, Candace Owens and Leo Terrell, among many others, that argument, in and of itself, is racist. It implies that these groups, for lack of intelligence or other faults, are incapable of figuring out how to obtain an ID. As we all know, IDs are easy to obtain. Just go on-line or visit the DMV. Of course, one would need to be able to document one is in the US legally. Everyone knows that is the real reason for the Dems’ objection.

In reality, it is virtually impossible to live in the US nowadays without a valid ID. Some of the things that require a valid ID are:

  1. Purchase alcohol.
  2. Purchase tobacco.
  3. Open a bank account.
  4. Apply for welfare.
  5. Apply for Medicaid
  6. Apply for social security.
  7. Apply for unemployment.
  8. Apply for a job.
  9. Apply for a mortgage.
  10. Rent a house or apartment.
  11. Drive, buy or rent a car.
  12. Board an airplane or a cruise ship.
  13. Get married.
  14. Purchase a firearm.
  15. Apply for a hunting license.
  16. Apply for a fishing license.
  17. Buy a cell phone.
  18. Enter a casino.
  19. Donate blood.
  20. Rent a hotel room
  21. Buy certain over-the-counter medicines such as Sudafed.

In other words, it is virtually impossible to live in a modern-day society without an ID. Almost everyone who is living in the US legally has one. I don’t know anyone without one. Do you?

CONCLUSION

Predictably, several institutions have hopped on the cancel culture bandwagon with respect to this issue. For example, MLB has moved its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. (More on that later.) In addition, other corporations, such as Coca Cola and Delta Airlines have gone on record condemning this law. Maybe, we should all take a page out of the Dem playbook and boycott MLB, Coca Cola, Delta, and these other companies.

As I said above, these people have absolutely no conception of how degrading and horrific life was really like for people of color under “Jim Crow” laws. Simply put, they are ignorant and scared, ignorant of history, and scared of the cancel culture/twitter crowd. I don’t have the time, space or inclination to educate them. Perhaps, they could ask their grandparents what it was like. Furthermore, I would wager that their decision-makers have not read the law and don’t have the foggiest conception of what it contains.

The irony of this entire fiasco regarding MLB is that moving the All-Star festivities from Atlanta to Denver will severely hurt the very people it claims it is trying to support. The population of Cobb and Fulton Counties, which are located in and around the Atlanta area are heavily minority and working class. These people were relying on the economic boost the All-Star festivities would have brought to the city and the state. Moreover, in the 2021 run-off senatorial elections it was those areas that were primarily responsible for electing the two Dem candidates that have given the Dems control of the Senate. On the other hand, Denver is heavily white.

To be consistent, perhaps, MLB should cease business relations with China, which has one of the worst records of human rights. Don’t hold your breath for that.

So, were MLB’s hasty, ill-advised actions racist? One might argue that they were. In contrast, kudos to the PGA for not cancelling or relocating the Masters golf tournament.

As for Biden, in my mind he has no credibility on this issue. First of all, maybe he doesn’t know or has forgotten that Delaware’s election laws are more restrictive than Georgia’s. As the late Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “you could look it up.” Secondly, Biden was one of those who supported the late Senator Robert Byrd, a senior member of the KKK back in the day. He even eulogized Byrd at his funeral. Throughout his long political career he has been like a “chameleon on steroids” regarding race. Just listen to his old speeches. It’s time someone called him out on it, but I don’t anticipate anyone doing so. To put it kindly, Biden is being disingenuous on this issue to score political points. Even the liberal Washington Post, in evaluating his comments, gave him “four Pinocchios.” In view of the strong political bias of the Post that is bad, really bad. As I said, the Dems are on the wrong side of this issue, one more thing that figures to hurt them in the 2022 elections.

LOVE IN THE MIDST OF THE HOLOCAUST

They say that love is a very powerful emotion, perhaps, the most powerful of all. People in love will do virtually anything, suffer any pain, surmount any obstacles to be together. Many of you are familiar with the popular saying “love conquers all.” The following is an apt example of that. It is an account of two individuals whose love survived and, indeed, flourished amid the horror of the Holocaust.

Julian Noga was born on July 31, 1921 in a small village near Tarnow, Poland. His family was Catholic. His parents had emigrated to the US before WWI, but his mother had returned to Poland before Julian was born. They settled in Skrzynka, a small, nondescript village in southern Poland near Krakow. At the age of 16 Julian witnessed the shocking mass murder of some 27 Jews in the village, most of whom Julian knew and many of whom were his friends. The Nazis forced them to dig their own graves and then summarily shot them. Horrified, Julian took an abandoned rifle, fled into the woods, and joined a resistance group. Eventually, he was caught and deported to Austria to labor for a family that owned a large farm and was short of workers. By happenstance, the farm was owned by the family of Frieda Greinegger.

The two fell in love, but that presented a seemingly insurmountable problem. According to Nazi dogma Germans were “forbidden to be “friendly” toward Poles. I’m not sure of the extent of the Nazis’ definition of “friendly,” but it certainly included love and marriage. Frieda’s father forbid them to have any relationship. In an effort to separate them Julian was reassigned to work at another farm, but that didn’t stop them. Finally, they were betrayed to the Gestapo, which arrested them. Frieda was sent to Ravensbrueck; Julian was sent to Flossenburg, to labor in a quarry.

That should have been the end of the story, but not so fast. In 1942 Frieda was freed and sent home. She continued to try to ascertain Julian’s fate. Finally, she learned where he was being imprisoned from another Polish laborer. She bribed the laborer to mail a letter and box of fruit to Julian. “It was a big chance to take,” she later admitted,. We all know what would have been her fate if the Nazis had found out, but she did not hesitate to take the risk.

In April, 1945 fate again intervened in their favor. Julian was on a “death march” to Dachau when he was liberated by some US soldiers. Shortly after Germany’s surrender he traveled to Frieda’s home by bicycle to search for her. When he found her he simply said, “Frieda, I’m still alive, and I still love you.”

CONCLUSION

And, now the happy ending. With the Nazis defeated Frieda’s father gave his blessing. Frieda and Julian were married and emigrated to the US, settling in the Utica, NY area. Julian became a successful businessman. They were married for 68 years until Frieda’s death in 2012. Julian passed away in 2014.

Julian and Frieda got the best revenge against the Nazis. They survived, raised a big family, and enjoyed a long, happy life. Mazel Tov!

OPENING DAY

It’s April 1, and today, after a long winter of cold, rain and COVID restrictions, is the start of the 2021 baseball season, aka OPENING DAY. All 30 teams are scheduled, although inclement weather may force some postponements.

In some years MLB has scheduled “pre-opening” games before the official OD. The initial pre-opener was in 1999 in Monterey, Mexico. Other pre-openers have been played in San Juan, Sydney and, most recently, in Tokyo. Opening in these distant locales may be inconvenient for the players, but MLB does it to broaden the exposure and appeal of the game. Indeed, MLB rosters are chock full of players from countries in places such as the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Asia. Nearly 30% of MLB players are foreign-born.

MLB does not consider these pre-openers to mark the official start of the season. It has always considered OD to be the first date when a full slate of games was scheduled. Got it?

As you know, last year MLB was forced to limit the length of the season to 60 games due to restrictions resulting from COVID, but this year it plans to play a full slate of 162 games. Let’s hope and pray it will be able to do so. Most ballparks will permit a limited amount of fans depending on local COVID policies. Expect requirements to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but, to me, such restrictions are a small price to pay to be able to attend the games.

Usually, the early games are plagued by inclement weather – cold, rain, even snow – especially in the northeast. Not an ideal scenario for MLB and its fans, but that’s the price we pay in order for the World Series to be completed before November.

For many years, MLB had scheduled the very first game of the season in Cincinnati, usually on the first Monday in April, with a full slate of games the next day. This was in recognition of the fact that the Reds were the first professional baseball team. In fact, the Reds are the only team that has always been scheduled to play its first game at home. There have only been two years when they opened on the road – 1966, when the home opener was rained out and 1990 when the season was delayed due to the lockout. The team was formed in 1869 as the Red Stockings. The team has undergone various name changes and is now known as the “Reds.” Incidentally, for you trivia buffs, they went 65-0 that first year, the only perfect season in baseball history.

The National League was organized in 1876, and the American League in 1901. For many years there were 16 teams – eight teams in each league, all in the northeast, with no team being located west of St. Louis. With the advent of air travel in the late 1950s it became feasible to add franchises in other sectors of the country. Presently, there are 30 teams – 15 in each league.

Despite the often inclement weather, OD holds a special meaning. 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.
Most fans will acknowledge that baseball is no longer the most popular sport. In fact, according to TV ratings, betting interest and most fan polls, football has superseded baseball. Perhaps, basketball has as well, particularly among younger fans. 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. For most boys it is a “rite of passage” as uniquely American as the flag. 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. None has lost a game yet. Every team still has a chance to make the playoffs, and as we have seen in recent years, once you make the playoffs anything can happen. For example, in 2016 the Chicago Cubs won it all for the first time since 1908. Think about that for a minute. That means that no present Cubs fan, and virtually none of their fathers, were even born the previous time the Cubs had won. In 2017 the Houston Astros won their first WS after having languished near the bottom of the league for many years. Several wild card teams have actually won the World Series, most recently, the Washington Nationals, in 2019.

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 games. To many fans, a win OD means the season will be outstanding; a loss means the team “stinks.”

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. Over the years nearly every president has done so, and the practice has evolved from a perfunctory toss from the stands to a more elaborate ceremonial toss from the mound. Will we see President Biden follow tradition this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but I doubt it. Can you imagine him doing the “wave?”
3. In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, known as “Rapid Robert” because of his high velocity fast ball, 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 motorcycle.
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 for a rain-out. The reason? Money, of course.
8. In 1946 Boston Braves fans attending the game got an unpleasant surprise. It seems that the Braves’ management had had the stands freshly painted, and the paint had not completely dried. Many fans got red paint all over their clothes. The embarrassed management issued a public apology and paid the fans’ cleaning bills.
9. Tom Seaver started the most openers – 16. Walter Johnson pitched the most OD shutouts – nine, including a 1-0 victory in which he pitched 15 innings. No chance of that happening today.
10. In 1974 Henry Aaron clouted his 714th homerun tying Babe Ruth’s all-time record for career homers.
11. In 1968 minor leaguer Greg Washburn became the only pitcher to appear in two OD games in the same year. (He won both 2-0).

12. Some of the individual OD records we may see broken today are most home runs (3), most hits (5) most RBIs (7) and most strikeouts (15). Maybe, we will see another no-hitter, although the way the game is played today any no-hitter would be a group effort.

CONCLUSION

As I said, weather is often an issue on OD, especially in the northern cities where it is not unusual to have cold, damp, rainy weather in early April that is more suitable to football than baseball. It reminds me of one of the major criticisms of baseball, that the season is too long. We all know the reason – tv money. The owners like it, because it makes them rich and less dependent on attendance for revenues. The players tolerate it, because it fuels their astronomic salaries. As for the fans, well, they will just have to grin and bear it.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Early Wynn summed up the essence of OD thusly: “An opener is not like any other game. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one you can’t lose them all.” Joe DiMaggio, always looked forward to OD. He felt “you think something wonderful is going to happen.” Finally, I am reminded of that renowned philosopher Yogi Berra, who could turn a phrase with the best of them, who is reputed to have said: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

My hope and prediction is for a Yankees-Dodgers World Series. They used to meet on what seemed like a regular basis, but they have not met since 1981. I think fans around the country would be “all-in,” and I know the media would love it. Last year, the Dodgers won the WS for the first time since 1988, and I’m hoping for a repeat.

What is your favorite OD memory? Please share.

PLAY BALL!