I’m still pretty full from a four-day weekend of orgy-like eating and drinking, but man was it fun. So much seems to have happened since my last blog on Wednesday; want to share thoughts about the long-awaited “Gilmore Girls” reunion movie and a deep thought I had watching children of many races swimming together at our hotel pool in Baltimore.
But that will have to wait until Wednesday’s post.
Today, while trying hard to be surprised by the Jets losing to the Patriots again on Sunday (what? this Tom Brady fellow is decent at 4th-quarter comebacks?) I wanted to write about the trio of celebrity deaths last week that each deserve thinking about.
The first and by far the most consequential to the world was Fidel Castro. So much has been written since he died on Friday, so much of it outstanding, but reading this NYT obit really struck me. There was a thing I read about years ago, I can’t remember where, about assessing each person’s life by asking what their “between the commas” moment would be.
As in, when you’re reading someone’s obit, what’s the major event or accomplishment that would be in-between the commas in the first paragraph of their death story. You know, like “Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, died at 68.” Or “Harry Truman, who as U.S. President dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, died at …”
You get the idea. It’s your signature you’ve left on the world. Well, I’ve been reading obits for more than 30 years, and I’ve never quite read a “between the commas” like this one for Fidel: “Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died on Friday. He was 90.”
I mean… damn. That’s one hell of legacy. Castro was a dictator, a showman, an absolutely brutal human being who somehow charmed and frightened five decades’ worth of rival world leaders.
He survived something like 600 assassination attempts, a total matched only by Batman and James Bond. He nearly, of course, brought the world to an end (or at least, to the brink of a nuclear war) in 1962, and somehow held on to power for nearly five decades, despite starving his people and isolating Cuba from the world.
Castro was a medical marvel, and there’s also the famous story that in the 1950s he had a baseball tryout with the Washington Senators. Can you imagine how the world would have changed if he’d made the team?
There has, frighteningly, been a lot of praise for Castro since his passing, including a wildly tone-deaf statement from Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. But this man should be remembered for being evil, for fomenting hatred wherever he went, and for the pain and suffering he caused millions and millions of Cubans.
I hope one of those cigars he loved are currently roasting him in the afterlife.
**Florence Henderson was, and always will be, remembered as Carol Brady. If you’re like me, one of the millions of people who loved “The Brady Bunch” through reruns, she has lived on all these years later as a loving and gentle mother to six sometimes-unruly children.
Of course we made fun of “The Brady Bunch” for its preachiness, it’s wholesomeness, and its complete detachment from reality. But dammit, Mrs. Brady’s warm smile could melt any cynicism.
Henderson later went on to be the famous Wesson Oil spokesperson and more recently, she founded a company that helped older people learn to use electronic devices like DVD players, iPhones and DVR.
She was an iconic American actress, and she will be missed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play ball in the house, even though Mom always said not to.
**Finally, a few words about someone you might not be as familiar with. For every great sports moment in history, there’s someone or some team on the other end of it, whose failure made it happen. Ralph Branca was a very good pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, but like Bill Buckner after him and Fred Merkle before him, all most people remember about Branca is that he gave up one of the most famous homers in baseball history, to Bobby Thomson on Oct. 3, 1951 that won the pennant for the Giants and lost it for Brooklyn.
But Branca was so much more than that one moment. I got to interview him several times over the years and found him to be unfailingly polite, charming and always willing to talk about the one awful pitch he threw that made him famous.
Branca was incredibly accepting of Jackie Robinson when he came to the Dodgers, and had a reputation of being all class.
I hope he’s remembered for more than just one pitch.