Tag Archives: Ralph Branca

After a great Thanksgiving weekend, thoughts on three notable deaths: Castro, Henderson, and Branca

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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.

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**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.

Aaron Krickstein and the wrong side of sports history; also Max Baucus’ bill stinks

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Every year, as sure as the leaves fall off the trees in New Hampshire, Aaron Krickstein shows up on CBS’ U.S. Open coverage during a rain delay.

 

 

He’s forever frozen in time in our eyes on that day in September, 1991,when as a 24-year-old he played Jimmy Connors in a fourth round match at the U.S. Open.

Every year, we get to see Krickstein battle Connors, with just about the entire crowd against the Jewish kid from Michigan, and for his 39-year-old, fists-pumping, expletive-spewing opponent (If you think what Serena Williams said last week was bad, you should’ve heard Jimbo during this match).

Every year I watch, Krickstein loses in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Still, I kind of root for him each time. It’s like watching an old movie where you know the bad guy loses at the end but you think, well, maybe this time he won’t run into that alley into the line of police cars waiting for him.

Watching a little of the Krickstein-Connors match last weekend, I got to thinking about how unfair sports is to some people, when their entire careers are remembered for one moment, or one game.

Aaron Krickstein was once No. 6 in the world tennis rankings, but all anyone remembers about him is that he lost that epic match to Connors. Ralph Branca, (a hell of a nice man, by the way) won 88 games in the major leagues, but he’s known to history as the guy who gave up the pennant-winning home run to Bobby Thomson in 1951.

Bill Buckner had over 2,500 hits in a great career, but now he’s just the bad fielding old first baseman  who let Mookie Wilson’s grounder get through his legs in the ’86 World Series. Scott Norwood was a solid NFL field goal kicker, but because he missed a game-winning field goal for the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl, his name is mud to many.

There are so many examples of these guys in sports; Nick Anderson, Jackie Smith, Fred Merkle … and I wonder, how do they handle it? How do they walk around and go to the supermarket and the dry cleaners and the mall, knowing they might get recognized and all people want to talk about is the worst moment of their career? How do they feel every time someone blows a big game and ESPN puts them on a list of “biggest sports chokers” or something like that?

I hope Aaron Krickstein is happy today in 2009, wherever he is. I hope he can appreciate his place in history for what it is, and realize that some guys don’t even get remembered at all.

Couple other quick Thursday thoughts:

— Max Baucus’ health care plan: No public option, covers only 30 million uninsured, and not even the Republicans he completely caved in to like it. Yeah, I’ll pass, thanks. God, you know a proposed bill is bad when EVERYONE agrees it’s terrible and starts lobbing grenades at it.

Rachel Maddow, who continues to be brilliant, said it best and I’ll say it again: Why the hell is Baucus caving to Republicans on this, when Dems are so clearly in the majority? Do the right thing, push a truly universal plan through, and let’s move on the 27 million other F’ed up things that need fixing after 8 years of W.

–Finally, this is another one of those stories that could only happen in the South. A South Carolina high school cheerleader killed a 350-pound alligator the other day. God I love stories like this. I’m wondering, though, do you think the next time her school plays a team named the “Gators” she might get flashbacks? Will Tim Tebow haunt her dreams? And more importantly, this is what teenagers in South Carolina do for a good time?

I’m just brimming with questions right now.