Tag Archives: Don Mattingly

James Gandolfini, gone too soon. CNN, sinking lower and lower. And Donnie Baseball, back in the Bronx

What an incredible hockey game Wednesday night. 6-5, Blackhawks over Bruins in OT, in a game with more twists and turns than Space Mountain. The last 2 nights of sports is why we watch. So good…

“The Sopranos” was a television show that was like an epic movie in a lot of ways; every week there was so much drama and plot twists and brilliant acting that you were sometimes exhausted on Sunday nights, from all the concentration required and subtext searching.

At the center of it all was a heavyset character actor who was pretty unknown to most of the world before 2000. But James Gandolfini quickly became a huge star, and man, could he act.
Tony Soprano commanded every single scene he was in. You couldn’t take your eyes off him, particularly when he sat smoldering at some perceived (or real) slight.

Gandolfini was good in other roles, too; he was a brilliant villian in a small role in “True Romance,” and I really liked him in an HBO movie a few years ago.

But just like Carroll O’Connor will always be Archie Bunker and Sherman Helmsley will always be George Jefferson, Gandolfini will always be Tony, philandering husband of Carmela, and father to screwed-up kids Meadow and A.J. You rooted for him against your will, because you knew he wasn’t someone worth emulating. But still, you ended up rooting for him/.

The news Wednesday that Gandolfini had died at 51 just seemed so wrong. From all accounts his death came out of nowhere; he wasn’t sick or anything.
Rest in peace, James.

For a terrific piece about Gandolfini, check out TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s wonderful tribute here.

CNNgraphic

**I really don’t like making fun of CNN so often, since I used to really love the channel.
But when they do stuff like this (above), how can I NOT make fun of them?
Somewhere, Bernard Shaw is violently shaking in anger.

DonMattingly.SwingingBat

**Had a very fun Wednesday afternoon; went to Yankee Stadium with my father-in-law to see, for the first time in 32 years, Yankees-Dodgers in the Bronx.
And oh yeah, my childhood hero was managing the visiting team in the other dugout.
It was beyond strange for me seeing Donald Arthur Mattingly of Evansville, Ind. wearing the iconic blue and white of the Dodgers. I know he’s been manager there for three years and hasn’t played for the Yankees since 1995, but to be in Yankee Stadium and see my idol on the other side… just really surreal.

Happily, everything worked out well. Donnie Baseball got a big ovation from  the crowd when he came out with the lineup card before the game, and the Yanks did the right thing by showing a video tribute to Mattingly’s career during the game.

After both, Mattingly tipped his cap and waved to the fans.
It’s hard for Yankees fans under 25 to appreciate this, but for Bombers fans like me who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mattingly was all we had. The team was horrendous, and there was little hope for the future.

But we had sweet-swinging No. 23, and he was a reason to watch.
So glad to see him back at the Stadium. I’d rather see him managing the Yankeees, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

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“Raising Hope” and the joy of guilty pleasure TV. Sandy Koufax makes Dodgers Opening Day memorable. And my new favorite commercial

We all have guilty pleasure TV shows. After much hiding in the closet about it, I’m ready to admit that against my better judgment, I find “Raising Hope” pretty damn hysterical most times.

I tried to avoid laughing at it, because it’s just so stupid. The adventures of the wildly dysfunctional Chance family, complete with two idiot parents, a son who is raising a little girl he had with a serial killer, and some bumbling grocery store clerks that are their friends, is about as dumb as it gets.

But the wonderful fiance watches it all the time and I slowly but surely fell in love with it, because even though it’s occasionally moronic, it’s also sometimes brilliant. And usually hilarious. I was moved to finally write about it after last week’s fabulous episode featuring Burt Chance’s “conversion” to Judaism and the wonderful song and dance numbers (above) the people in town use to teach him and the family about Jews.

If you already watch “Raising Hope” you know it’s great. No need to be ashamed, I tell myself; sometimes we need some stupid comedy in our lives.

**I rarely watch commercials, especially since with DVR’s you really don’t need to. But watching so much NCAA Tournament basketball on multiple TV’s the last few weeks, I found myself loving the new Volkswagen Beetle ad, featuring the guys in ski masks, and a wardrobe malfunction that leads to confusion at the convenience store.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty great (above).

**Finally, Monday was Opening Day in major league baseball, where everyone starts undefeated and with so much optimism, and after one game the fans of a winning team start dreaming of the playoffs, and the fans of the losing teams start calling sports talk radio shows and declare disaster.

My Yankees were drubbed by the Red Sox, the Mets won on Opening Day, and apparently Bryce Harper hit 11 home runs (OK, only 2) for the Nationals.

But the best thing that happened was definitely at Dodgers Stadium. New owner Magic Johnson was ready to throw out the first pitch, when manager Don Mattingly (and yes, he was my childhood hero and it’s still weird to see him in anything but Yankee pinstripes) came out and called for a reliever.

And out came the greatest pitcher in team history, and one of the best in the history of the sport, the great Sandy Koufax.

He’s been estranged from the Dodgers for years; hoping this is a first step back in. Baseball’s better when someone like Koufax is involved (and during Passover, no less!)

Dreaming of a $500 million jackpot. A dog rescue story that may have you crying. And a really ambitious “News Mob” project

I have to start Good News Friday with this. I warn you, you might want to get a Kleenex or seven. This is the beautiful story of a blind, abandoned dog named Fiona, who was discovered in terrible shape in Los Angeles by the Hope for Paws organization. Fiona is very scared when she’s found, but watch her transformation as Hope for Paws takes her home, gives her a great bath and lots of hugs, and finds her a new home.
Just beautiful…

**And now, how about some thoughts about becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams?

Like many of you, I’m sure, I bought a ticket for the MegaMillions lottery jackpot tonight. I purchased $10 worth of numbers for a chance to win 540 million dollars.
I can’t even conceive of that number: 540 million. It’s beyond anyone’s conception. Even if you shared that much money with nine other winners, that’s still 54 million dollars each.

I used to play the lottery a lot when I was younger; I remember how excited I was when I turned 18 and could finally play the New York Lottery. I played birthdays and favorite Yankee and Ranger numbers (Mark Messier’s No. 11 and Don Mattingly’s No. 23 were always among my six digits picked).

Nobody I know has ever won, but when I was a kid my great-uncle, Al Horowitz, once got five of six numbers right, and missed the winning combo by one digit. As in, the last number may have been 15, and he picked 16. I can’t imagine the agony of coming that close.

They say you have a 1 in 176 million chance of winning. Hasn’t stopped me from fantasizing about what I’d do if I won. The best “what I’d do with the money” story I’ve heard this week comes from a teacher in the NYC middle school I’m student-teaching at. She doesn’t want to retire right away if she wins, she said. No, here’s what she wants.
“I want to buy this school, make myself principal for one year, and run this place exactly how I want to run it, just to see what happens.”
Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

**Finally, this last story qualifies as good news if you love the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, or if you still love newspapers who take some chances and try something new.

The Orange County Register newspaper has noticed a major uptick in interest in the Angels this offseason, thanks to the signing of some dude named Pujols. So for 24 hours on Opening Day, they’re creating the world’s first “news mob” at the game.

They’re assigning 100 reporters, photographers, videographers, etc. to constantly upload video, post on Facebook, Tweet, and write blogs and stories about the Angels and the first game of the year.

It’s either brilliant or an incredible waste of resources (hope there’s no major crime in L.A. that day, because the O.C. Register won’t be there to cover it!)

Still, I love the outside-the-box thinking here.

My new hero

lanceallred 

So my heroes used to be Don Mattingly, John McEnroe, Wesley Walker and Mark Messier.

I’d say with the exception of McEnroe, I chose pretty wisely as a kid. I thought Johnny Mac was so cool for the way he blew up at umpires and humiliated them, until I grew up and learned that for all his remarkable talent, he was just a big baby and remarkably immature. I outgrew McEnroe and was sort of ashamed that I used to love him.

But I’ve got a new hero now, and he’s kinda different from any other role model I’ve ever liked.

His name is Lance Allred, and he’s a 6-foot-11, deaf, OCD sufferer who’s a former Fundamentalist Mormon and grew up on polygamous compounds in Montana and Utah. He’s been battling in basketball his whole life, and for three shining games in 2008, finally made the NBA.

He just wrote an astonishingly honest, hilarious, forthcoming and tragic book about his life called “Longshot,” and I finished reading it last night.

To say it’s one of the best sports books I’ve ever read would be an insult, like calling Rembrandt just one of the 17th century’s best painters. Allred’s book is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in my life.

Unlikely, you say? Wait till you hear his story. He was an awkward, gangly child who was seen as a bit of an outcast since his father “only” had one wife. He became deaf immediately after being born but was undiagnosed for years.  He was told by a Sunday School teacher that he couldn’t hear because of sins he’d committed in a previous life (I hope that teacher got fired immediately, but I’m sure he didn’t.)

Eventually, his parents broke away from the compound and moved to Utah, before another family split made them homeless for a short while.

As a kid, Allred struggled to find his place (you know how kind kids can be to children who are different), and he finally did on the basketball court. Of course, that only brought more suffering. A much-beloved coach at the University of Utah named Rick Majerus treated Allred unconscionably while he was there, humiliating and destroying Allred’s confidence and once telling him he “was a disgrace to cripples.” (Majerus was eventually investigated for his behavior, and resigned from Utah shortly after Allred transferred).

Allred became a star at a smaller school, but then found himself battling through the bizarre and highly unpredictable world of minor league basketball in Turkey, France, and the United States (if for no other reason, buy the book to hear Allred’s wickedly funny description of travel life in the NBA Developmental League). 

There were so many times Allred wanted to quit, and so many times coaches and others gave up on him. But he finally made it to the NBA, if only for a few days, and when you get to that point in the book, you almost feel like cheering.

In his beautiful writing style, Allred weaves metaphors about life and basketball together with meditations on religion, the monotony of practice, and too many other topics to count. He refused to blame others for his failures, and is quick to credit others for his success. He’s funny, smart and had me looking at some things in a whole new light.

I got to meet Allred last month at an NBA summer league camp, after having heard about him on this NPR podcast, “Only A Game“. I wrote this column about him for my newspaper, and I was so impressed with his intelligence and humility that I knew I had to read his book. It blew me away.

Lance Allred will not become a major superstar, of  that I’m pretty certain. But he’s why I love sports; proof that beyond the reprehensible reputations of Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Barry Bonds there are good guys with amazing stories to tell of will and determination.

I defy you to read this book and not become a fan of Lance Allred. If money’s tight and you’re not able to buy “Longshot,” you can probably find it at your local library.

“I do not care about the money, or the fame,” Allred writes in a letter to God in the book. “I just want to say that I set an “unreachable” goal and I made it.”

He certainly did.