Zingers and more from “unfiltered” sportswriter Stan Hochman’s posthumous book

This week in North Philly Notes, Gloria Hochman, editor of Stan Hochman Unfiltered, writes about compiling 100 of her late husband’s columns.

As I read through Stan’s 7,000 columns to come up with the 100 or so chosen for Stan Hochman Unfiltered: 50 Years of Wit and Wisdom from the Groundbreaking Sportswriter I smiled, then I cried. All the facets of Stan’s extraordinary life and interests  were reflected in his wit, his knowledge and his way with words. He was the quintessential Renaissance man who loved cool jazz and soulful singers, chilled Chardonnay and sizzling lamb ragout, Shakespeare in the round and theater with Mark Rylance. He was passionate about social justice and harmonious race relations, a society where drugs meant antibiotics, not heroin. His sometimes gruff exterior concealed a cushy niche for the well-being of children whom he believed thrived on praise and unconditional love.  His passionate love for his family-his daughter, his daughter-in-law, his granddaughter and for me—were no secret. Anyone who read his columns or heard his broadcasts knew what was in his expansive heart and on his brilliant mind.

The book features a Foreword from WIP sports host Angelo Cataldi and a message from Governor Edward G. Rendell. The chapters are arranged by sport: Baseball, Horse Racing, Boxing,  Football, Hockey,  and Basketball (pro and college), plus one entitled, “Stan’s World:  Outside the Lines,” which features popular columns on tennis and golf, restaurant reviews, helping kids with disabilities through sports and, even Elizabeth Taylor. Each section is introduced by a sports colleague—Garry Maddox, Larry Merchant, Ray Didinger, Bernie Parent, Dick Jerardi, Pat McLoone, Weatta Frazier Collins (Joe’s daughter) and Jim Lynam.

And throughout Stan Hochman Unfiltered are his many “zingers.” Here are a few of my favorites:

  • After Temple’s Jim Williams scored 30 points in a rousing win, Penn coach Jack McCloskey looked like a guy who had wrestled a case of TNT… and lost.
  • Doug Sanders swings a golf club like a man trying to kill a rattlesnake with a garden hoe.
  • George Foreman has a heart like a lion and a head like a cantaloupe.
  • Leonard Toes loves the heat in the kitchen.  Thrives on it.  Bring on the divorce attorneys. Bring on the tough-talking truck drivers.  Leonard Tose has a vocabulary that will melt their transmissions.
  • Louise’s banana cream pie is still the most fun you can have in Atlantic City with your clothes on.

In addition to his more than 50 years as a Daily News columnist, Hochman, was well-known for his stint on WIP radio as the Grand Imperial Poobah, where he would settle callers’ most pressing sports debates.

Stan Hochman Unfiltered_smStan lived with his family in Wynnewood, PA until his death in 2015. He appeared frequently on television, wrote three books, and was featured as a grumpy sportswriter in the movie Rocky V.  The book’s cover photo of Stan is taken from that film.

My favorite columns in a remarkable field: Jackie Robinson and his struggle to become the first black baseball player in the big leagues; the tragic 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, where thirteen Israelis were killed in a chilling blot on the world’s showcase for sports excellence; his graphic description of the fight of the century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (and the reactions of the ‘guys and dolls’ who were privileged to see it).

There were hundreds of columns that didn’t make it into the book. They sit in a corner in my bedroom with a big label: heartbreakingly discarded. Maybe another book!

I’ve won 23 journalism awards and had a book on the New York Times bestseller list for three months. But this one is my labor of love—a tribute to the most remarkable wordsmith, husband, father, grandfather and mentor to countless friends and colleagues who continue to carry into the world what we learned from him.

Announcing the University Press Fantasy League

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor for Temple University Press’s sports and sociology lists, writes about the University Press Fantasy Football League he began in honor of our forthcoming book on fantasy sports.

In March 2020, Temple University Press will be publishing a book on the sociology of Fantasy Sports, entitled Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, by Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The topic is sociologically interesting because unlike most sports cultures, Fantasy Sports are online games where players should be on relatively equal competitive standing regardless of gender or other embodied inequalities. But, in fact, the authors argue, many male participants in fantasy sports leagues invest their participation with a lot of meaning because it serves them as a place to enact a hegemonic masculinity they feel is denied to them in other aspects of their life, one often bound up with boyhood ideals. This investment leads them to make the online interactive spaces less than welcoming to competitors who do not resemble the identity they are trying to perform. It can also lead them to concentrate on their Fantasy Sports teams at the expense of other priorities in their lives.

Kissane approved_061319My coworkers at Temple are excited about this book, but they are newcomers to the idea of Fantasy Sports. As we launched the forthcoming book into production, we decided one good way to learn about its subject and become better advocates for the project would be to start our own TUP Fantasy Football Team. And as long as we were starting a Press team, we thought it might be fun to compete against our fellow university presses, in a University Press Fantasy League, or UPFL if you will. Hopefully, it would prove a more fun and welcoming environment than some of those described in the forthcoming book and allow us to build some friendly ties with our fellow university presses.

Fantasy Football is an online game in which teams score points each week based on the achievements of real-life players in NFL games throughout the season. Each team maintains a roster of players by drafting, trading, and starting virtual analogs of real players, who earn points each week based on the performance of the real player. In our league, each participating press will maintain one team throughout the season and go up against a different press each week.

FantasyLast week, 13 teams representing our colleagues at different university presses joined Temple University Press in our UPFL. My colleague Ann-Marie Anderson and I crafted an invitation that we sent out to the Association of University Presses e-mail listserv. I was, frankly, taken aback by how much interest there was immediately, with many responses coming in within minutes with the general gist of, “I don’t know how I’m going to work this out with my colleagues but yes, I want to be a part of this.” I had not been sure that there would be enough interested presses for a respectable eight-team league, but we ended up with a fourteen-team league and had to turn people away. Reading Whose Game?, though, I should have expected the interest: many people find fantasy sports a particularly accessible way to compete and connect with others in a sporting culture, even if they may not be athletic themselves. In fact, many nerdy men in particular, turn to fantasy sports as a way of investing their nerdier instincts with associations with hegemonic masculinity from not only sporting cultures, but also from the performance of analytic decisiveness and managerial power. Knowing this, I was glad to see that the fantasy players we’d recruited included a number of female managers.

Screenshot 2019-09-04 17.03.39In my opinion, all participants acquitted themselves well at the League’s draft on Wednesday September 4, on the eve of the NFL season opener, with the arguable exception of Yahoo’s draft servers, which were slow, a feature that consequently stifled in-draft conversation between teams. My colleague Ashley, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was pleased to see Temple select Steelers running back James Conner with the Press’s first round pick, the ninth of the draft. She was disappointed to see Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster go to Trinity University Press’s team, so she suggested we offer a copy of Temple University Press’s book, The Steelers Encyclopedia, in exchange for Smith-Schuster. After several attempts thwarted by the aforementioned busy Yahoo servers, I threw the offer into the in-draft chat window. Daniel Griffin of Duke University Press astutely pointed out that the fairness of this offer would have been easier to evaluate if I’d included the specifics of the Encyclopedia’s binding and illustration program. At the end of the draft, Temple’s team looked respectable, if skewed somewhat towards players with connections to the Philadelphia Eagles, including Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles (the last of whom was unfortunately injured in the season’s first week of action). Colleagues crowded around the computer to see what this game looked like and how players think about it, which will hopefully help as we pitch the book to its audience. I’d like to thank all the fantasy players and presses who are participating, listed below, as well as the players we had to turn away when the league filled up for their interest.

Wishing all a happy season, in publishing and in fantasy.

Participants:

Columbia University Press

Duke University Press

Longleaf Services/UNC Press

LSU Press

Purdue University Press

Temple University Press

Texas Review Press

Trinity University Press

University of Illinois Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of South Carolina Press

University Press of Colorado

UP of Mississippi

Wayne State University Press


Update on our team–1st week’s results: 
Temple University Press won our matchup this past weekend against Duke University Press by a score of 112.14 to 91.76. (Scores in fantasy football with a lineup of this size and standard scoring are typically around 100 points.) Our team saw excellent performances from Indiana running back Marlon Mack (25.4 points) and Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker (17.5 points) and was further aided by our move to take advantage of the Jets matchup against the Bills and start the Jets defense for a week. You may have heard that the Eagles’ wide receiver Desean Jackson also had an excellent week (27.4 fantasy points) but unfortunately I left him on the bench this week, so those points did not contribute to our total. Depending on how he and our other wide receivers do next week, I’ll have to consider moving him into our starting lineup on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, former Eagle and current Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, who we’ve rostered as a backup quarterback, broke his collarbone on Sunday. So I’ve gone ahead and replaced him with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. I also added San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert, who has an opportunity since San Francisco’s starting running back was hurt last week. He gets the Jets’ roster spot and we’ll go back to our default defense of Houston this week, facing the Foles-less Jaguars.
This week we face off against J Bruce Fuller, managing editor of Texas Review Press. Yahoo projects a close game.

All-Star Baseball Books to celebrate the All-Star Break

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight nine of Temple University Press’s All-Star baseball books to celebrate baseball’s All-Star Break.

The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennantby Robin Roberts and C. Paul Rogers

The 1950 Phillies unexpectedly captured the hearts and imaginations of Philadelphians. A young upstart team—in fact, the youngest major league baseball team ever fielded—they capped a Cinderella season by winning the pennant from the heavily favored Brooklyn Dodgers in Ebbets Field on the last day of the season. It was the first National League pennant for the team since 1915. With that dramatic victory the 1950 Phillies went into the history books, known forever as the Whiz Kids.

This inspiring era in Phillies history comes alive with the personal reflections of Robin Roberts, a Hall of Famer and arguably the best right-handed pitcher in Phillies history.  Rich with anecdotes never before published from players like Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn, Bubba Church, Andy Seminick, Curt Simmons, Del Ennis, Dick Sisler, Russ Meyer, and many others, this book relives the success of the Whiz Kids in all their glory.

Bill Giles and Baseballby John B. Lord

Bill Giles oversaw one of the greatest eras of winning that the Philadelphia Phillies ever enjoyed and helped guide major league baseball through the most turbulent era in its history. In Bill Giles and Baseball, John Lord deftly chronicles Giles’ remarkable career—which includes 44 years with the Phillies—to provide an insider’s view of the business of the sport. He addresses the often controversial, sometimes ill-advised, moves by baseball’s hierarchy that have nonetheless propelled the game to unimagined economic growth.

The Phillies Reader Edited by Richard Orodenker

The Phillies Reader features essays on the athletic achievements of such legendary players as Chuck Klein, Richie Ashburn, Dick Allen, and Mike Schmidt; the political turmoil surrounding the “ok” from manager Ben Chapman to “ride” Jackie Robinson about the color of his skin; the bizarre shooting of Eddie Waitkus; the heroics of the Whiz Kids; the heartbreak of ’64; and the occasional triumphs and frequent travails of controversial managers Gene Mauch, Frank Lucchesi, and Danny Ozark. It asks why fans boo great players such as Del Ennis, but forgave Pat Burrell for his horrendous 2003 slump.

Featuring essays by Red Smith, Pete Dexter, Roger Angell, and James Michener, among others, The Phillies Reader presents a compendium of Phillies literature that reveals what it is that makes legends.

Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice by Alan Klein

Outstanding Book Award from the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, 2015

In his incisive and engaging book, Dominican Baseball, Alan Klein examines the history of MLB’s presence and influence in the Dominican Republic, the development of the booming industry and academies, and the dependence on Dominican player developers, known as buscones. He also addresses issues of identity fraud and the use of performance-enhancing drugs as hopefuls seek to play professionally.

Dominican Baseball charts the trajectory of the economic flows of this transnational exchange, and the pride Dominicans feel in their growing influence in the sport. Klein also uncovers the prejudice that prompts MLB to diminish Dominican claims on legitimacy. This sharp, smartly argued book deftly chronicles the uneasy and often contested relations of the contemporary Dominican game and industry.

Will Big League Baseball Survive?: Globalization, the End of Television, Youth Sports, and the Future of Major League Baseball by Lincoln A. Mitchell

Major League Baseball is a beloved American institution that has been a product of the economic, social, and media structures that have evolved in the United States over the last century. In his shrewd analysis, Will Big League Baseball Survive?, Lincoln Mitchell asks whether the sport will continue in its current form as a huge, lucrative global business that offers a monopoly in North America—and whether those structures are sustainable.

Mitchell places baseball in the context of the larger, evolving American and global entertainment sector. He examines how both changes directly related to baseball—including youth sports and the increased globalization of the game—as well as broader societal trends such as developments in media consumption and celebrity culture will impact big league baseball over the next few decades.

Suicide Squeeze: Taylor Hooton, Rob Garibaldi, and the Fight against Teenage Steroid Abuseby William C. Kashatus

In his urgent book Suicide Squeeze, William Kashatus chronicles the experiences of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi, two promising high school baseball players who abused anabolic steroids (APEDs) in the hopes of attracting professional scouts and Division I recruiters. However, as a result of their steroid abuse, they ended up taking their own lives.

In Suicide Squeeze—named for the high-risk play in baseball to steal home—Kashatus identifies the symptoms and dangers of steroid use among teens. Using archival research and interviews with the Hooton and Garibaldi families, he explores the lives and deaths of these two troubled young men, the impact of their suicides on Major League Baseball, and the ongoing fight against adolescent APED use that their parents have been waging.

A passionate appeal to prevent additional senseless deaths by athletes, Suicide Squeeze makes an important contribution to debates on youth and sports and on public policy.

Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law, by Roger I. Abrams

In Legal Bases, Roger I. Abrams has assembled an all-star baseball law team whose stories illuminate the sometimes uproarious, sometimes ignominious relationship between law and baseball that has made the business of baseball a truly American institution. Along the way, Abrams also examines such issues as drug use and gambling, enforcement of contracts, and the rights of owners and managers. He does not limit himself to the history of baseball and the legal process but also speculates on the implications of the 1996 collective bargaining agreement and those other issues—like intellectual property, eminent domain, and gender equity—that may provide the all-star baseball law stories of the future.

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcherby Rich Westcott

National Baseball Hall of Fame catcher James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey’s professional career spanned nearly three decades in the Negro Leagues and elsewhere. He distinguished himself as a defensive catcher who also had an impressive batting average and later worked as a manager of the Newark Eagles and the Baltimore Elite Giants.

Using archival materials and interviews with former Negro League players, baseball historian Rich Westcott chronicles the catcher’s life and remarkable career in Biz Mackey as well as providing an in-depth look at Philadelphia Negro League history. Mackey also mentored famed catcher Roy Campanella and had an unlikely role in the story of baseball’s development in Japan.

Rookies of the Year by Bob Bloss

Baseball players only have one opportunity to be named “Rookie of the Year” by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Although some recipients of this prestigious award such as Orlando Cepeda have become league MVPs, or Hall of Fame honorees, others, like Joe Charboneau, failed to live up to their initial promise. Rookies of the Year profiles 116 winners-from Jackie Robinson (the first Rookie of the Year in 1947), to Rod Carew, Derek Jeter, and the 2004 honorees. Each player’s initial major league season and subsequent career achievements are included. Featuring interviews with dozens of baseball stars, this is the most comprehensive book ever written on Rookies of the Year. It provides indispensable information on some of baseball’s greatest athletes.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read and receive this holiday season. 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marking Director

Give: This year I’d give Nelson Diaz’s memoir Not from Here, Not from There because of its uplifting story as the first of many things—from first Latino to graduate from the Temple Law School to the first Latino judge in the state of Pennsylvania, and on and on.  This is a book for all of us who have dual status—American but also “other”—and a dare to dream of life’s many possibilities.

Get: It’s a bit late to give me a book that I’d want to read because I already have it.  Michelle Obama’s Becoming is another inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. Besides, I still haven’t gotten the book I asked Santa for last year—Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a survey of African American art from 1963-83.

Karen Baker, Financial Manager

Give: The Eagles Encyclopedia Champions Edition by Ray Didinger with Robert S. Lyons, all my family—Mom, Dad, brothers, and kids who are all die-hard Philly fans.

Get: I would like to receive Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire because it looks so funny.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Give: This year, I’ll be giving Rebecca Yamin’s Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution to the history buffs in my life. It tells the story of 300 years of Philadelphia history through artifacts found in privies on the site of the Museum of the American Revolution through tons of gorgeous full color images. It’s also short which makes it an easy read and an affordable gift.

Get: I’m getting ready to move, so I hope that no one give me any holiday presents this year (just more to pack). Once I get settled, I’m hoping to read Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (I just read a great chapter on it by one of my authors) and Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto.

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give:  Color Me… Cherry & White. What better way to unwind than with a coloring book?  A great gift for kids and kids-at-heart.

Get: Becoming by Michelle Obama, an eagerly awaited memoir of a truly inspirational woman.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief

Give: I’m so thrilled to have Steven Davis’s In Defense of Public Lands on the list. This is an academically rigorous and powerfully written book that’s not afraid to take a stand. Davis offers the privatizers’ best arguments in a fair-minded way, then systematically dismantles them. This is engaged scholarship at its best, and there’s simply nothing else like ityou won’t find a more comprehensive and keenly argued overview of this vital and terrifyingly timely debate anywhere.

Get: I hope someone gives me Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. I believe this book is still understood to have been the most prescient work on political conditions which would eventually give us President Donald Trump. Maybe I’m not the only one still trying to figure this out?

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give:  Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City circa 1968edited by Mark Shiel. This book has all my Venn Diagrams overlapping—it’s about film, it’s about cities, and it’s about 1968. It’s also about protests and architecture. It’s the perfect gift for my cinephile friends, my urbanist friends, my activist friends, and anyone else who turned 50 in 1968 (or like the press will in 2019).

Get: Jonathan Coe’s Middle England. This is the third of Coe’s books about four friends that began with The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle. The only problem with getting this book is that it will make me want to re-read the first two!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and to me, that was never truer than in the alliance of Evangelicals with Republican candidate and now President Donald Trump.  How people dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity could support a man who is at best morally ambiguous seems incongruous. If you, too, are perplexed, as are many of my friends and family, the contributors to Paul Djupe and Ryan Claassen’s book The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition explain how and why this came to pass.

Get: Technically, I already got this (as a gift to myself), but I’m looking forward to sitting down with a pot of tea and Circe, by Madeline Miller. I love Greek mythology, and books about strong, independent, intelligent woman are always on my wish list. Circe has both covered.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America 50 Years After the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission’s warning that the United States was headed toward two societies, “separate and unequal” and that “To continue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” As Americans struggle more and more to find common ground, the keepers of the Kerner flame Fred Harris and Alan Curtis compile the top authorities on the most pressing urban issues and assemble a comprehensible compendium of what we know works: as reasonable a place to start as any in an unreasonable time.

Get: The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, by Merve Emre. I’m a millennial, and if there’s one thing millennials like, it’s taking quizzes to better label, sort, and categorize ourselves, proudly declaring the insights that we’d only discovered moments ago must now be immutably true. Luckily, if there are two things millennials like, the other is reading about how all our habits and values are harmful and wrong. This book tells how the mother-daughter team of Myers and Briggs created our national obsession with slapping four letters on who we are and how we operate and asks what it is we think we’re getting out of it?

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

Give: Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic StudiesThis isn’t a first-time choice for me. Published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research, Kalfou addresses the many issues and critical concerns that increasingly are plaguing our communities and institutions. The journal gives me a measure of hope in this very crazy time. As per the inscriptions in the beginning: kal ´fü—a Haitian Kreyòl word meaning “crossroads”“This means that one must cultivate the art of recognizing significant communications, knowing what is truth and what is falsehood, or else the lessons of the crossroads—the point where doors open or close, where persons have to make decisions that may forever after affect their lives—will be lost.”—Robert Farris Thompson.

Get: Educated by Tara Westover. I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

Ashley Petrucci, Rights and Contracts Coordinator

Give: Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin. Who Will Speak for America? draws upon the current political climate to advocate for change, which makes it a very timely piece that I think is important for everyone to read.  This would definitely be a book of great interest to several of my friends, who would enjoy reading about the various perspectives and reading through the various styles of the contributors to this edited collection.

Get: The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History edited by Dennis Waskul and Marc Eaton. I may be a bit biased, since aspects of the supernatural were key components to my senior thesis on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but this would be the book that I would most like to receive.  I’ve always enjoyed horror movies and studying the supernatural elements of folktales and stories (particularly from the Middle Ages), so I would love to sit down and read this book over the holidays.  A nightmare before Christmas, if you will.

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Manager

Give: Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, by Jamie Longazel. To quote the Preface, “This book contributes to an understanding of U.S. immi­gration politics in this tumultuous first decade and a half of the twenty-first century.” 

Get: Dreams and Nightmares: I Fled Alone to the United States When I Was Fourteen, by Liliana Velásquez.

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Manager

Give: Policing in Natural Disasters, by Terri M. Adams and Leigh R. Anderson, is inspired by the personal accounts of triumph and tragedy shared by first responders. The short- and long-term effects of these events on first responders—the very people society relies upon in the midst of a catastrophe—are often overlooked. This book opened my mind about the strength of these responders and the challenges they face while responding during times of crisis. I find it fascinating to weigh the dilemma: How do they take care of their own families first and risk neglecting their needs when the responders are required to place the needs of the people they serve first.

 

 

 

 

Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Alas, poor Luka, alas.

This week in North Philly North, Grant Farred writes about the unlikely connection between Jackie Robinson and Croatian footballer Luka Modrić.

Only sport can properly bring home to us the true meaning of the event. If, that is, we understand the event as a specific happening that completely changes everything. At the very least, the event as such radically alters how we see the world. Over the course of three books on sport and philosophy, of which The Burden of Over-representation, is the most recent, this is the argument I have tried to make.

In its most basic form, the event might be understood as a dramatic last minute touchdown, a penalty opportunity denied, a spectacular catch that saves a game, or, maybe it preserves a World Series win. All these are memorable occasions, ones that change our outlook on the world. Think about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 after more than a century of futility, or the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. For a Cubbies fan, or an Eagles fan, this alters how the world works; no more “wait until next year.”

Burden of Over-rep_smIn The Burden of Over-representation, however, I concentrate on something else. Often, this book recognizes, the event turns on a singular individual, whether or not that individual accepts these terms or not. The fate of a team, for example. Or, as I argue in The Burden of Over-representation, the future of race relations in post-War America depended – or, so it seemed – on baseball’s “great experiment:” the “Negro” player Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball in April, 1947.

Not only in that moment, April 15th, 1947, but for many seasons after, every move Jackie Robinson made, on or off the field, during the season or before it (or, after it, for that matter), assumed a disproportionate importance. Jackie Robinson represented not only himself, but his entire race. What a burden Robinson bore, and how he bore it. With fierceness, with anger, with bitterness, all of which was grounded in a singular determination to win.

I was reminded of how much this notion of the burden is with us this summer, this summer of the World Cup. I was reminded of it because I watched the round of 16 games as well as the quarter-finals in Croatia. The round of 16 games in Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, and the quarter-finals in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

In truth, the enormity of the burden born by the exceptional individual could not have been brought home more forcefully than in Zadar. For those who don’t follow football (soccer), and who don’t know the finer points about the Croatian national team, Zadar is the home of the Croatian captain, Luka Modrić. It would have been enough to know that Modrić grew up poor as a child on the outskirts of Zadar. It would have been a heartwarming tale of local boy makes good, because Modrić is now not only among the most highly regarded players in the name but he is also the captain of his national team. Football has made him a very wealthy man. It would have enough, but also much more disturbing, to have known that Modrić survived the violence of the war that wracked havoc with life in the Balkans in the 1990s. In that war, in which the old Yugoslavia fell apart, splintering into so many competing nationalisms, ethnic Serb fighting ethnic Bosnian, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbians and Bosnian Muslims at each other’s throats. Modrić’s grandfather was killed in, and by, that violence.

Now 32 years old, in what is surely his final World Cup, Modrić bears the burden Croatian over-representation. He has been a massively successful player for his club, Real Madrid, winning a number of trophies – 3 times a Champions League winner, just for starters. In their turn, the Croatians expect him to now bring a much greater glory to “Hvartska.”

Much is expected of his team-mates as well, but, when all is said and done, it is Modrić who will have to shoulder the bulk of the burden.

In the round of 16 game, with the game knotted at a goal apiece, Modrić had a chance to seal the game with a penalty late in the match against Denmark. Uncharacteristically, he seemed a little unsure of himself. He missed, his face a study in disappointment. He had let the team down. His miss might cost Croatia the chance to advance to the quarter-finals. The match went to extra-time, which yielded nothing, and then to a penalty shootout.

Up stepped Modrić, and he converted his penalty this time. Croatia went on to win.

Next up, Russia, in the quarter-finals. Again, the score was tied (1-1) at the end of regulation, and in the extra period the two sides each added a goal. 2-2. Once more the game would be decided by penalties.

Again, Modrić stroked his penalty home.

Croatia won. On Wednesday, it will play England in the semi-finals.

What struck me while watching in Zadar was how revered Modrić is, how he is being made to stand for his nation. This local boy, who is physically small but huge in stature, who has endured so much and achieved even more, he incarnates all Croatia’s (footballing) hopes, he is a bulwark against its fears. His, Modrić’s, failure, will not be his. At least not his alone. No, the entire nation will stand or fall with Luka.

He is not allowed the luxury of a mistake. The nation can’t afford it and so he must perform to perfection.

Croatia, on the football field, for what remains of Croatia’s games this World Cup, is Luka Modrić.

Surrounded by Croatians in Zadar, in Zagreb, watching the crowds in Pula on TV, I suddenly, when I least expected it, got a glimpse, one for which I was not at all prepared, into what life must have been like for Jackie Robinson.

“Football is not a matter of life or death,” the famous Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly remarked, “it is much more important than that.”

Luka Modrić, in Croatia if nowhere else, knows what such expectation – the life or death of a nation, life or death as both metaphor and far more than a metaphor – feels like.

Playing Major League baseball in a moment when blacks were being, were still being, lynched and subjected to Jim Crow laws (as much, if differently, in the North as well as in the South), I suspect that Jackie Robinson, much more than Modrić or Shankly, knew just how much was riding on his every performance. Robinson knew how much depended upon his every hit, his every stolen base, his every routine throw to first base; his every interview with a reporter, his every off-hand comment. No rest for the wicked, or, the just; or, the over-burdened.

Across sports codes, football to baseball, across an ocean that separates the continents of North America and Europe, across the decades that separate Robinson from Modrić, across that contentious divided that is race (and religion, ethnicity, and geo-politics), for just a single moment, my writing seemed to me possessed of a truth.

Not only is sport exceptional in its ability to bring home to us the significance of the event, but it is only through sport that I, at any rate, could glimpse upon Modrić . Or, maybe I should say I could sense, surrounded by expectant, hopeful, fearful, Croatians, the utter viscerality of this truth. Ironically, it was impressed upon me by people who have probably never heard of Jackie Robinson. In victory, so far, Modrić has borne that burden with a smile that is at once joyous and anxious. No wonder, how I wonder. In defeat, especially if he is the one to “fail,” just once (more), I can only imagine the look that followed his penalty miss against Denmark will once again overwhelm his face. In defeat, that is when the onerousness of the burden, perhaps the unjustness of it all, will, I suspect, make itself felt.

For Luka Modrić’s sake, I muttered to myself after Croatia disposed of Russia, I hope he knows who Jackie Robinson is.

Such knowledge, such acquired familiarity, might, if not dispense with the burden, but, in the moment of truth, which is, one way or the other, coming, it might help to lighten the burden. It might even help him to understand why so much is being asked of him. In order to lighten

the burden of over-representation I would want to make a historic, phantasmatic introduction: “Luka Modrić, meet Jackie Robinson.”

In a matter of hours, Wednesday will be upon us.

In that moment, which could well be decisive, I do not want to wax Shakespearean. I do not want to see a Croatian reenactment of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet.

I do not want to utter those fateful words, “Alas, poor Luka, alas.”

 

 

When Brazil Hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, provides his account of being in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and Germany.

In June and July 2014, Brazil hosted the twentieth edition of the FIFA World Cup. The championship match was played in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 when Germany defeated Argentina 1 to 0 in double overtime.

These recollections were written in Rio de Janeiro immediately following the German victory.

My wife Regina and I watched the game on TV, thought it a good one with both teams giving their all though showing signs of exhaustion by the second overtime period which was to be expected. The play by play announcers and expert commentators agreed that the game rose to the level of a World Cup championship game. Of course, we were cheering for Argentina, or los hermanos (the Argentine brothers) as they are called here. But it appeared a majority of Brazilians perversely preferred Germany. One local sports writer called this a variation of the Stockholm syndrome. That is, following the unprecedented 7 to 1 massacre of the Brazilian team by the pitiless Germans in the semi-finals, the Brazilians went over to the side of their executioners. They cheered for the German, not the Argentine team. I even heard this from a neighborhood street kid or menino da rua. He told me he was glad Germany won, and asked what I thought. I said to the contrary, I wanted Argentina to win. His response: “Mas eles [the Argentines] são muito bagunceiros!” Bagunceiro is a word used frequently meaning messy, or having a penchant for disorder, that can also mean ready to fight, quarrel. Dona Maria, my 99 year old mother-in-law, uses it when talking about someone who allows things to be out of place, as for example, a shirt, or pair of socks when you want the item. Even worse according to Dona Maria: Bagunceiros are not bothered by the disorder or mess. They need to be called out. Seems our street kid was calling out the Argentines on his street.

GAME DAY. I went to a Zona Sul supermarket Sunday morning to ask if it would reopen after the championship game. This supermarket and most commerce except for bars and restaurants closed during games played in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium, and of course during all matches involving the Brazilian team no matter where they were played. The answer I got: “No, we’re not closing at all. Brazil lost. Nobody’s interested in today’s game. We’ll stay open.” Of course, it’s not true that Brazilians had no interest in the championship game Argentina vs. Germany. They had been watching all the games, and held definite opinions about the qualities of different national teams. They certainly watched this one. But that Argentina, not Brazil, was playing in the final game, with a chance to win it all in Rio de Janeiro’s almost mythical Maracanã stadium (though the original stadium had been more or less demolished and rebuilt for the World Cup) seemed to have struck a tribal nerve. It was hard to accept. Argentina had been the great soccer rival for so many years. And rivals not only in soccer, but in South American politics, economics, even cultural production, though leaders in both countries have striven to damp down rivalry since the creation of Mercosul, a common market bloc of South American countries including Brazil and Argentina created in 1991. There were a few fights after the game in Copacabana which police had to break up. The fights apparently were caused by Brazilians who couldn’t resist taunting Argentines after the their team lost the game, perhaps in retaliation for the way Argentines were coloring seven fingers on their hands for the seven German goals. Some Brazilians made a point of celebrating with Germans in the presence of Argentines.

THE FAN FEST ON COPACABANA BEACH. The media estimate on Saturday was that 100,000 Argentines would be in Rio for the Sunday game. Copacabana was crowded with these visitors. They drove through the streets blowing horns, waving and shouting. Copacabana was the destination for Argentine soccer fans and anyone else who didn’t have a ticket for the game at Maracanã stadium. They could now watch it on a big screen mounted in the Fan Fest “stadium,” an enclosed area on the Copacabana beach stretching the length of a couple of blocks with the giant screen at one end. From what I could see, the space seemed large enough to accommodate as many fans as Maracanã itself, which is 78,000. Admission was free. The game started at 4, but large crowds were already arriving on the underground metro 3 or 4 hours earlier. I know because I went to the Cardeal Arcoverde station to take the metro shortly after noon. To get into the station, I had to pass through a cordon of police checking all bags and backpacks—both for people like myself entering the station, and for anyone leaving and presumably on their way to the beach Fan Fest. The train platforms at this station are deep underground and reached by three sets of escalators and stairs. Getting to them requires a long descent below ground level and the mountains that tower up in the city, which are among its famous identifying features. I arrived at the platform just as a train arrived. An enormous crowd mostly of Argentines exited singing, shouting, and chanting. It was Olé, Olé, Olé, Va! Va! Va! and much more that I couldn’t hear above the roar, comparable to the noise in a packed stadium. The Argentines seemed overwhelmingly greater in number than the Germans, though planes full of Germans had arrived Friday, Saturday and even Sunday morning. The atmosphere struck me as altogether friendly. I even saw Argentines and German posing together for group pictures and photographing each other. Some donned the others national flag. Flags are part of World Cup costumes, often draped over the shoulders rather like capes. Enterprising Brazilians were on street corners hawking Argentine and German jerseys and flags.

Layout 1PUBLIC SECURITY. There were reportedly 26,000 uniformed security workers on duty in Rio de Janeiro on championship game day. These included the heavily armed soldiers of the National Security Force, Rio state police, the Rio de Janeiro Guarda Municipal, the Metro police, and finally unarmed employees of private security companies. The ugliest confrontation was near the Maracanã stadium where manifestantes (protestors) were protesting the World Cup. Nationwide anti-World Cup protests in principal cities began months before the first game and continued into the last game, but they were small by the standards of the June 2013 mass protests in Brazilian cities that numbered millions. This protest counted only 300, but the anti-World Cup protests continually rattled authorities and almost always took place in an atmosphere of police intimidation and violence. Sunday’s championship game was no exception as the Rio state police including a cavalry unit moved against the protesters and journalists covering the protest. Police broke or destroyed some of their equipment. At least 10 people were injured with some taken to hospital. In one example of police overreaction, an entire middle class neighborhood was sealed off for a few hours when residents were not allowed to return to their homes.

AT THE END OF THE DAY. I took a final walk around my neighborhood in Copacabana around 9pm. The many Argentines I saw now made a subdued group. A large number were waiting on Avenida Princesa Isabel for buses and the return trip to Argentina. Like other Latin Americans who came for the games, many were duro or hard up. They couldn’t afford the hotels which in any event were fully booked. They camped wherever they could, many on the Copacabana beach, in tents, in vans or cars in parking areas made available to them. They surely spent less in Brazil than the estimated $2,500 average for visitors to the World Cup. Still they were valued visitors, and Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, said his campaign for the coming 2016 Rio Olympics will aim first at attracting South Americans. The hotels have already made an agreement among themselves to hold down rates for the Olympics, though they likely will still be higher than anything poor Argentines, Chileans or other South Americans might be able to pay. And not only Latin Americans from South America. Thirty thousand Mexicans were reported having come for the games.

FINAL THOUGHTS. On Saturday afternoon a demoralized, lifeless Brazilian team played Holland in the third place consolation match and lost badly 3 to 0. Walking past my local newsstand, the jornaleiro (newsstand owner) gave a thumbs down gesture, and said: “Brasil já era. Temos que reformar tudo. Primeiro, saude e educação. Tambem tira os mendigos da rua, MAS PARA RECUPERAR. Depois futebol.” Translation: “Brazil is finished. We have to reform everything. First, health and education. Also, remove the homeless beggars from the streets, BUT IN ORDER TO REHABILITATE THEM. After this, soccer.” The phrase to remove homeless beggars and rehabilitate them stated so emphatically was perhaps in memory of poor, homeless Brazilians swept off the streets, and in the worst cases, disappeared by death squads largely comprised of police or former police officers. Significantly, soccer came last in the list of reforms.

POSTSCRIPT, JUNE, 2018. Brazil’s international soccer fortunes have risen dramatically since the historic 7 to 1 defeat. It was a matter of selecting the new coach Tite in June 2016. The national team won the 2016 Olympic gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro games defeating Germany 5 to 4 in a penalty shootout. There followed 8 consecutive victories over South American rivals as Brazil became the first nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. On the eve of the 2018 competition in Russia, Brazil occupies its usual place as one of the nations favored to win the Cup.

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