Saturday, August 13, 2005

After The Boys, And Girls, Of Summer Have Gone



Except for the work she did as Myrna Turner in the TV version of the Odd Couple, I'm no great fan of Penny Marshall's.

But there was one part in 'A League of Their Own' that I really dug.

And it wasn't the scene where the male manager browbeats the female outfielder and then after a tear emerges, tells her, emphatically, that, 'There's no crying in baseball!'.

Instead it was a Tom Hanks scene of a very different kind, one where he isn't mugging for the camera.

Hanks is at the ballpark alone, at night, and he's in the batting cage. There's a pitching machine on the mound serving him up a steady diet of gopher balls.

And the swings come slow, steady and methodically.

In other words, the real thing. Hanks is not acting. He is hitting. Like when he was a kid.

Muscle memory and real memories.

Then he pulls one hard, on the ground, into the hole.

'Awwww, come' on.....double-play ball!' he shouts, even as he's rolling his wrists and cocking the bat so that he can snap off an impercetibly different swing that drives the ball deep into the gap in right centerfield.

And then, if you're paying attention, you realize that even the great Jimmy Foxx, who Hanks is loosely portraying, did the same thing a million times for real and likely a million times more in his dreams.


Jimmy Foxx, Double X, could knock the crap out of the ball. He once hit 58 homeruns for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932. And despite being well-liked by everybody, he had his own demons, which included the regret of not quite catching Babe Ruth, and worse, alcohol. Foxx died, broke and broken, at the age of 59 when choked on a piece of meat cooked by his brother.

And as for Josh Gibson.

He might have been the best power hitter of them all.

In 1934 he hit 69 homeruns for Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Crawdads that is.

Gibson played his entire career in the Negro Leagues. He never got to play against Ruth or Foxx.

He died at age 35, despondent and depressed, in the dead of winter, 1947.

Three months later, in spring's full bloom, Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier.


When I lived in the States, not so long ago, we lived on the northern edge of Oakland.

Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland that 'There's no there, there.'

By the time I got there I would beg to differ.


Because it is one of the few cities in the United States where there is at least some measure of true integration.

Sure, there are still ghettoes in Oakland where a whiteboy in a Homestead Greys cap from Ebbets Field Flannels has to watch his step.

But there are also bars and cars and amusement parks and diners and schools and hospitals and theaters and entire neighborhoods where everybody gets along.

Put another way, when the Rodney King riots flashed across the the US, and particularly the inner cities of California, a few years ago nobody torched Oakland.

Hell, even Tom Hanks grew up in Oakland. And he did so at about the same time as Dave 'Hendu' Henderson was emerging as a highschool star in Northern California.

Maybe that's where the actor got his swing.


I came of age in early 70's Canuckistan.

Many would call that time a golden age.

I would call that a crock.

Because the world, at least our world, is a much better place now.

And most of that has to do with the tearing down of ghettoes.

Social, not physical, ones.

And this great dismantling has come our way by way of a few of my favorite things....

Things like 60% acceptance rates for women in medical school.

Things like wheelchair access for all.

Things like public school access for kids of all abilities and ailments.

Things like open access to information for anybody that wants it.

Things like the freedom of choice for anybody to be whoever or whatever they want, be that lifestyle, or baseball player, or whatever.

And maybe most importantly, for us Canuckistanis at least, that multicultural thing.


You're not sure about that multicultural thing?

Been listening to talk radio? Been reading the National Post? Been watching Mike Duffy on TV? Been busy buying property in gated communities?

Well, forget all about that for a moment and just take a look at Vancouver.

Or, better yet, buy yourself a Sunday transit pass and travel all over the City of Vancouver.

It's an amazing place.

In fact, I would go far as to suggest that it is the world.

Heck, I would even go one step further and suggest that my neighborhood is the world.

Last week we had a block party. We closed the street. And while we didn't sod it, we sat in the middle of it, we ate in the middle of it, we drank a little in the middle of it, we played badminton and skipped rope in the middle of it, and we told each other our stories in the middle of it.

I am new to the street.

But now I know my neighbour, T's, story.

'T' came to Canada from Hong Kong in the '50's and worked some of the same tugboats my Dad did but only as a cook because, at that time, they wouldn't let him use his engineering ticket.

T's youngest kid just finished University. His oldest got his degree a few years go. His house is a gaudy yellow but he has a great garden.

And now I know that 'G' is from Kansas and still coaches Little League baseball even though his kids are all grown up. 'G', who was the flipper of the beef at the party, once saw Buck Leonard play for the Kansas City Monarchs when he was a kid. 'G's wife 'B' is from Germany and their next door neighbour 'H' is from Austria. 'H' is slowed by Parkinson's; his son is a not-quite famous former punk rocker that I once idolized a little when I was a kid. Everybody on the street watches out for 'H'. 'S' and 'R' are from New Delhi. 'S' flipped the veggie burgers on his barbeque right next to 'G's beef on his. 'S's wife 'R' organized the whole thing with 'B'. My immediate neighbors, 'F' and 'S' brought sate. They are Thai and both their husbands are far away for months at a time; it's a long commute from the old home to the new home. 'J' escaped Poland in 1982. He is a master craftsman and he likes my old VW (not-so)Microbus; 'H' and 'C' are Quebecois; my youngest immediately ran off to play with their youngest, both of them were babbling in French. I sort of learned the language, an hour at a time, during that so-called golden age; my kids have really learned it at immersion school; earlier this Spring my oldest kid also learned the culture when she went and lived with a Quebecois family on an immersion-assisted exchange program.

See what I mean.


So why did I decide to get up and write all this ramble-tamble of endless pre-amble on a late summer Saturday morning when so many big things are going on in the world and I've got a million little things to do (including getting yet another repair done on that cursed VW)?

Well, last night, just as I was falling asleep, I read Ted Radcliffe's obituary.

Radcliffe was a catcher with a cannon arm who liked to scawl 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' on his chest protector.

And he may have been the best of them all, a six tool talent who could run, throw, catch, hit, and hit with power.

I know, that's only five.

But Radcliffe could also pitch, and because of that Damon Runyan dubbed him 'Double Duty'

Mr. Radcliffe, whose Negro League career spanned more than two decades, was 44 when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time in 1947.

As such, the closest he ever got to the major leagues was a stint as a scout, beating the bushes below the Mason-Dixon line for the Cleveland Indians in the 1960's.

There's a vignette in Ken Burns' 18 hour documentary on the history of Baseball in America where two old Negro Leaguers sit in a present tense diner. They are done reminiscing and Burns somehow cojoles them into singing 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame'.

The singing is unremarkable, made even more so by the fact that one of them momentarily forgets the words. But what is remarkable is the thing you can see in their eyes as they leave the present and move back into the past towards those things they did so well.

Things that everybody did separately in the 'good' old days.

Luckily for so many of us, we do them together now.

I have seen a few of the modern day's best play, up close and personal. But my all time favorite is not one of them. That would be Hendu. I have never seen anyone play the game, before or since, with such pure joy. Was he shuckin' and jivin' sometimes for the fans in the bleachers of Oakland's former Alameda County Coliseum when he patrolled centerfield for the A's? Maybe. But who the hell cares. I sure don't. He was the perfect foil for Rickey in left and the outlaw, Jose Wales, in right (and hitting second behind Rickey and ahead of the Outlaw and the Andro-Gobbler, Big Mac, didn't hurt his BA either given all those fastballs that position in that batting order dropped in his lap; for those of you with a Great White North hockey handicap, think Blair MacDonald playing on a line with Gretzky before a sleek young Finn named Jari Kurri came along).


No comments: