Ballplayer uncensored and unzipped

Forty years ago today, while in Milwaukee covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Sun, I witnessed an incident that would get Toronto outfielder Rick Bosetti fined. My story in the next day’s paper would be a turning point in my relationship with the players.  

Here, in an excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, is what happened:

Earlier in the season, I could have been mistaken for Bosetti’s press agent. In my setup story for opening day in Toronto I wrote: Bosetti is a truly free and refreshing spirit. A flamboyant dresser – the other day he was wearing a rabbit-skin fur coat and shiny knee-length boots – Bosetti seems to cheer up a room with his chatter.

But, as the season went on, I couldn’t help noticing Bosetti was a serial sleaze. We all know ballplayers play with themselves on the field, in front of thirty-thousand spectators and TV cameras. But at least most keep their privates in their pants.

Bosetti bragged that he regularly unzipped during a game, that his quest was to piss in every outfield in the American League. I was also told by a flight attendant on a Jays’ charter that Bosetti – she pointed him out – was fondling himself on the darkened DC-9 as she passed him in the aisle.

I didn’t write these stories, since I didn’t know them to be true and believed a player’s conduct out of uniform, unless criminal, was probably his own business. But that summer at County Stadium, I witnessed something shameful and wrote about it.

MILWAUKEE – Rick Bosetti proved yesterday that he can be just as rude and vulgar on the road as he can be at home.

Bosetti, who earlier this year at Exhibition Stadium cursed and made an obscene gesture at an adult, yesterday made an equally disgusting remark to a group of kids seeking autographs.

Seated in the visitors’ dugout before the Blue Jays-Milwaukee game, Bosetti was asked: “Sir, could I have your autograph please.”

Apparently unaccustomed to a polite request, Bosetti responded in his usual manner: “There ain’t no fucking sirs in here, kid.”

After word of my story got back to the team the next morning, (manager Roy) Hartsfield phoned my hotel room and said he wanted to talk to me when we got to the ballpark. I didn’t have to ask what it was about.

We had moved on to Minneapolis, billeted at the rundown Leamington hotel, which I recognized from some night shots on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I was to meet Hartsfield in the visitors’ clubhouse at ugly old Metropolitan Stadium. But I first ran into some angry players. When I entered the locker room, and Bosetti saw me, he let loose with a stream of expletives and charged toward me. He was tackled and held back by a couple of other players, notably Roy Howell, the red-headed third baseman.

When things calmed down, Howell cornered me. “You showed some guts walking in here,” he said. “But nobody in here trusts you any more.”

The code of the clubhouse says that a writer who criticizes a player in the paper is required to stand up to that player and his teammates before the next game. I really didn’t care what Bosetti thought, but I hadn’t expected his teammates to condone his behavior. I was wrong. “You can’t take money out of a player’s pocket,” Howell went on. “You’re messing with people’s careers – their lives – when you write stuff like that.”

Hartsfield and I huddled in the tunnel between the clubhouse and the dugout. “Are you sure you got it right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I wrote exactly what he said.”

“Okay,” Hartsfield said.

“Did he get fined?” I asked.

“Yup – two-fifty,” Hartsfield said.

In 1978, the minimum salary for players was $21,000. While the Reggie Jacksons were raking in about a half-million a season, players like Bosetti were making about the same salary as a newspaper reporter.

* * *

Postscript: Bosetti, who turned 25 that August, was never much of a ballplayer. Within four years, he was out of baseball. He returned to his hometown of Redding, California, where he became a Republican politician and mayor of the small city about 200 miles north of San Francisco.  

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Advertisements

Rogue cop

Forty-six years ago today, as a young reporter for UPI, I was in a courtroom in New York covering the final act of a sensational murder trial. (The defendant is pictured above, under arrest.)

From the beginning, as I recount in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, the show’s stars lived up to their billing:

Bill Phillips, a New York City police detective, was charged with killing a pimp and a prostitute, and wounding her john, in a posh East Side apartment on Christmas Eve 1968.

A cop charged with such a crime would have been big news under any circumstances. But Phillips was also a celebrity of sorts, having been the star witness at the Knapp Commission hearings into corruption in the NYPD.

Phillips - Knapp

For days during the fall of 1971, Phillips testified, live on television, about his fourteen years on the force pursuing payoffs and perks to support his playboy lifestyle. He bragged of owning five airplanes, driving a fancy foreign sportscar, frequenting the hot nightspots and fine dining establishments on Manhattan’s East Side, jetting off with stewardess girlfriends to ski weekends in Colorado and golf vacations in Palm Springs – all either on the house or on the proceeds of the graft he took from mobsters and other criminals – while his clueless wife in Queens thought he was out making cases as a police detective.

Happy Hooker

He admitted he would have still been shoveling in the cash if he hadn’t been caught on tape trying to take protection money from an East Side madam – Xaviera Hollander, The Happy Hooker – and turned into an informant for the commission in exchange for immunity from prosecution and round-the-clock protection by U.S. Marshals.

Phillips said being charged with an old unsolved murder was a frame-up to get back at him for informing on other cops and to discredit testimony he was scheduled to give against them. He hired F. Lee Bailey, probably the best known and most flamboyant lawyer in the country, to defend him.

Considering the players and the case – rogue cop, celebrity lawyer, pimp and hooker shot in the head, on Christmas Eve, no less – it was a dream for my first murder trial.

It began in late June 1972 in a large, stately courtroom on the thirteenth-floor of the Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street in downtown Manhattan. Behind the bench was State Supreme Court Justice John Murtagh, silver-haired and square-jawed, right out of Central Casting.

For the prosecution was Assistant District Attorney John Kennan, wiry, combative, in an off-the-rack suit, looking every bit the honest and overworked civil servant.

Bailey, appearing older than his thirty-nine years, led the defense team, his ruddy complexion well scrubbed after a night of scotches and manly bravado, his chunky build packed into a well-tailored three-piece suit.

F. Lee Bailey

And then there was the defendant, forty-two-year-old William R. Phillips, every hair in place, fashionably long sideburns, conservative suit, Windsor knot in his silk tie, fresh shine on his Gucci loafers …

The prosecution’s case was based primarily on eyewitness testimony. Four prostitutes, who the courthouse wags christened “Hogan’s Hookers” – Frank Hogan was the longtime Manhattan district attorney – each testified that Phillips had been a frequent visitor to the apartment of their pimp, Jimmy Smith, also known as James Goldberg. (Only in New York would someone named Smith use Goldberg as an alias.)

They didn’t say they saw Phillips on the night of the murders but that he’d come by occasionally – not for sex – that they knew he was a cop, and they assumed Jimmy was paying him protection money.

The doorman and another employee identified Phillips as the man who entered the building at 157 East 57thStreet and went to Smith’s apartment, 11-F.

Then Charles Gonzales took the stand. He was the forty-year-old john who had just finished having sex with nineteen-year-old Sharon Stango when the killer arrived.

Gonzales said he was sitting on a living room couch with Smith and Stango when the visitor pulled a .38 from his coat pocket, shot Smith once and Stango twice – both in the head – and fired a bullet through Gonzales’s arm, into his gut, before walking out of the apartment.

Gonzales was a pathetic excuse for a man, a father of four who had spent Christmas Eve drinking with his buddies before going to have sex with a teenager. But, though Bailey at times seemed to shake the sweaty witness, Gonzales insisted that Phillips was the shooter.

The prosecution alleged Phillips killed Smith because the pimp was holding out on a $1,000 payoff. Why did it take three years to identify Phillips as the shooter? The prosecution said it was a lucky break, that the homicide detective on the case was watching Phillips on TV, testifying before the Knapp Commission, when he realized Phillips fit the description of the suspect in the Smith-Stango murders.

The defense countered that the detective was angry at Phillips for portraying the NYPD as institutionally corrupt, and fit Phillips for the frame. Bailey relied mainly on alibi witnesses – Phillips’s wife and other family members – who said he spent Christmas Eve with them.

The main event came when Keenan cross-examined the defendant. Phillips freely admitted he’d been a crook with a badge, that he’d lied and cheated and abused his authority at every turn to feed his greed. But he never flinched when it came to the murders.

Didn’t do it. Wasn’t there.

It was an impressive performance by a truly repulsive man. I believed him.

But, in the end, on August 9, 1972, after 22 hours of deliberations over two days, the jury announced it could not reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.

I interviewed Phillips the next day in his motel room, guarded by U.S. Marshals, and again seven years later, in Attica, after he was convicted at a second trial. He served 32 years in prison before being paroled in 2007 at the age of 77.

I recently corresponded with a filmmaker who made a documentary on the case called Patrolman P. and remains in touch with Phillips.

There is much more on the trial and my experiences with the main characters – including a sexy blonde who was my seatmate at the press table – as well as other cops and crooks, in The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Bringing up Brady

My dog Brady is supposedly eight years old this month. I say supposedly because I’m not sure of his birthday. I’ll explain later.

He’s our third dog, probably our third standard poodle – “probably” will be explained as well – after Yaz (1978-1991) and Jasper (1991-2004).

Yaz was named for Carl Yastrzemski, who helped me get over the loss of the Dodgers from New York and turned me into a Red Sox fan. Jasper was named for my favorite Canadian national park.

Brady was named for Brady Coyne – not Tom Brady – the  fictional Boston lawyer in William Tapply’s fine series of mystery novels.

Brady, the dog, was born the year after Tapply died at the age of sixty-nine. I sent his widow an email, told her how much I’d enjoyed Tapply’s books and that I’d named my dog after Brady Coyne. She said that pleased her and would have pleased her husband.

But, as I wrote in The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, bringing up Brady has been a trial.

Brady2

Brady was a surprise Christmas gift from the kids in 2010. He’s a standard poodle, we think. He’s nothing like Yaz or Jasper. For one thing, he’s white. For another, he’s nuts.

I still have the pedigree papers for Yaz and Jasper. Know who their parents were. With Brady, I’m just guessing. Son of Rain Man and Sybil?

He arrived at about four months old – again, just guessing, no papers. He was scared of everything. Flinched when I raised my hand to pet him. Obviously abused. Probably the inbred spawn of an outlaw puppy mill or the House of Windsor.

A crack of thunder still leaves him shaking with fear. He also is spooked by bicycles, kids on skateboards, most men, and people with Eastern European accents.

While Linda goes to her real estate office or elsewhere, Brady follows me from room to room. Never out of sight. I talk to him constantly. He never argues or contradicts.

Brady:Book1

Brady concedes the Rain Man reference. He’s a big fan of Dustin Hoffman, especially in Wag the Dog.

He’s less keen on the suggestion he’s the son of Sybil, with her sixteen personalities. Brady is loath to recognize his multiple personalities. He figures it’s up to the rest of us to adapt and accept.

In the year since I wrote about Brady in the last chapter of my book – and since I briefed him on the content – he has worked to overcome some his phobias.

While thunder still leaves him trembling uncontrollably, he is less afraid of bicycles and skateboards. He no longer growls at the chattering of the Eastern Europeans down the street.

On the flip side, his outbursts of barking and growling have increased along with his list of canine enemies.

From his second-story lookout at the sliding glass door in our kitchen, he has always barked hysterically at the sight of a neighborhood husky and others his own size.

But, lately, he also goes berserk when certain little dust-mop-looking dogs come into view. When I tell him to cut it out, he runs into the living room to wind down. But it takes him a while to switch off his barking engine.

When Yaz or Jasper misbehaved, which wasn’t often, I’d command: “Give yourself a shake and change your disposition.”

It usually worked.

I’ve tried it with Brady, who responds to “give yourself a shake” but pretends not to hear or know what “disposition” means.

It’s the same when I tell him to “stop obsessing” – which he does often when catching a scent on a walk or staring at a closet where he suspects a tennis ball is hiding.

I just checked OCD on PET MD.

Whew! No clear internet diagnosis.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Brady.

In his quiet time, after I take him for a nightly walk, he is a wonderful companion.

As I type this, he is under the desk, resting his head on my right foot. Later, when I move to the couch, he’ll snuggle at my side.

When I go upstairs to bed, he’ll follow, and assume his place, his head beside my pillow.

If I’m lucky, after Linda feeds him an early breakfast in the kitchen, Brady won’t get a whiff of one of his enemies and wake me up.

I write a lot more about my dogs in The Expat Files, available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

China: Where everything hot is cool

On the day the Russian bear and his American pussycat were performing an act of bestiality in Finland, the home page of the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party featured a large photo (above) of a chimp eating frozen watermelon at a zoo in Chongqing.

It was one of 11 pictures the English edition of the People’s Daily assembled for a slide show under the headline Animals relieve from summer heat, including this shot of a VIP snoozing in its air-conditioned residence.

Panda snoozing

As expected from state media, every aspect of the country’s government and society are presented with Trumpian superlatives.

And that includes the travel section – the source of all that follows – where everything hot is cool.

Thermometer - China
ACTUAL CAPTION: A huge thermometer shows ground surface temperature at 83 C in a scenic area in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, June 25, 2018.

The two-paragraph story:

More than 2,500 tourists flocked to Northwest China’s Turpan to enjoy the extreme heat as temperature rose to 83 C at 16:00 on Monday, Xinjiang Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

It was the highest ground surface temperature recorded this year, the newspaper citing an official in Turpan said.

Turpan - Map

The World Meteorological Organization says the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere was 56.7 Celsius (134 Fahrenheit) at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California, on July 10, 1913.

I don’t know the temperature in hell – I’m waiting for theologians and meteorologists to come to a consensus – but 83 degrees Celsius (181.4 Fahrenheit) seems as good a guess as any.

I’ve been checking the People’s Daily daily for a followup, maybe streeters from some of those 2,500-plus “tourists,” or quotes from their next-of-kin … Nothing yet.

Meanwhile …

China beach
ACTUAL CAPTION: People play in a seaside resort in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province, July 1, 2018. Six seaside resorts in the coastal city opened to the public Sunday after safety inspection.

There was no mention of what the safety inspectors were inspecting. Or, if “play” is a rough translation of:  Mostly stand around under umbrellas.

Qingdao, about 400 miles southeast of Beijing on the Yellow Sea, is another of those Chinese cities I’ve never heard of with a population in the millions – either four million or nine million, depending on the source.

(Remember Chongqing, the place where the chimp lives? It used to be called Chungking – named for a once-popular brand of canned chow mein – and has a population of either 8.2 million or 30 million, depending on who’s counting.)

Headline: It’s not a joke! Chinese tourists are heading to Africa to avoid the summer heat

This was followed by a great example of modern journalism, Chinese-style.

The lead: Africa is fast becoming one of China’s hottest tourist destinations, as the scorching summer heat burns up cities across the country.

Skip down to the two sources:

A man from Changsha in central China’s Hunan province, who has to keep his AC on for almost 24 hours a day, is planning to go to Africa with his child to avoid the heat.

Another Chinese tourist, Yang Fan, recently went to Africa to avoid the summer heat. He explained, “Many people think Africa is very hot at this time, but we were amazed by its coolness when we arrived in Kenya.”

The story was accompanied by a photo, without a caption or credit, which appears to have been taken in the shade of a gazebo somewhere.

Africa

Since the Chinese and their media are obviously obsessed with the weather – News flash: It’s hot in the summer – it’s not surprising that their TV forecasters are stars.

Headline: Chinese weather girl stuns internet with her incredibly youthful looks after hosting the show for 22 YEARS

Chinese weather girl

The story of the ‘ageless goddess’:

A Chinese TV presenter has become an internet sensation as she hasn’t seemed to age a day despite having been on screen for more than two decades.

Yang Dan, a weather girl from China’s state broadcaster, looks no different today than her 22-year-old self in her first show in 1996.

Incredibly youthful Ms Yang, who is now 44 years old, has been hailed as an ‘ageless goddess’ after a compilation video of her was shared online by the China Central Television Station.

I’ve never been to China, but many of my travel adventures are recounted in The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The other ‘N-word’

Before I went to St. John’s several years ago, I picked up a copy of a weighty book called the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, a scholarly work that runs 770 pages and was first published in 1982.

I’d been to the island province before, to the west coast, and often had a hard time understanding the local lingo.

So, as a part-time freelance travel writer always looking for an offbeat angle, I pitched a story I described as “talking Newfie” and got the assignment from the National Post.

After a flight from Toronto, leafing through the dictionary in my hotel room on my first night in St. John’s, I looked up the word Newfie.

I’d been in Canada long enough to know that people told Newfie jokes, the same way Americans told Polish jokes and, I’d discovered from my daughter who grew up in Bern, the Swiss told Fribourger jokes.

(I’ve been to the canton of Fribourg and didn’t find the Fribourgers particularly joke-worthy. Of course, I don’t speak French, or German, or Schweizerdeutsch.)

In any case, when I read the Newfoundland dictionary definition of Newfie, I was surprised to discover it was not a slur or slang, but simply: “A native born inhabitant of Newfoundland.”

There was a second entry that remains puzzling: “Sometimes used locally in imitation of Americans and mainland Canadians.”

Did that mean Newfoundlanders would hear my American-Ontario accent and call me a Newfie?

I got my answer a couple of nights later at O’Reilly’s Pub on George Street, the booziest block in Canada.

O'Reilly's Pub

“I’m doing a story about ‘talking Newfie,’” I told the pub’s proprietors, Brenda O’Reilly and Craig Flynn. This was greeted by silence before Craig admonished, “We don’t use the N-word.”

They told me it’s okay for Newfoundlanders to use the word but not acceptable for folks from “away.”

That settled – I did not bring up the dictionary definition – Craig got down to the business of Screeching me into Newfoundland society.

He put on a floppy fisherman’s hat and administered the initiation oath. It took me several tries before I got the script straight.

“Is you a Newfoundlander Screecher?” he asked.

“Indeed I is, me ol’ cock,” I recited. “Long may your big jib draw.”

Then, as required, I ate a small hunk of baloney, tossed back a shot of Screech and, to seal the deal, kissed a cod – it was frozen, obviously preserved for such occasions.

“Now you are an honorary Newfoundlander,” Craig proclaimed.

Back in reporter mode, I asked: “Does everybody kiss the same cod?”

“Yeah,” Craig said, “but we wash it occasionally.”

Later, he informed me of a Screech-in he would be performing soon with another visitor from away, Ron Jeremy.

I was grateful I preceded the porn star in kissing the fish.

For other stories of my travels – and the rest of my story – pick up The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

 

Understand Newfoundland

Thirty-six years ago today, my wife Linda and I, our standard poodle, Yaz, and my daughter Kate, visiting from Switzerland, set sail for a place we’d never been before.

We’d been traveling in Atlantic Canada for a while, camping in our little motorhome, seeking some distance from the tragedy of our son Sean’s death in Maine.

Here, we pick up the story in an excerpt from The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism:

On Bastille Day, we took the 11:45 a.m. ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Seven hours on the high seas. Sat on deck as the sunshine turned to fog and back again.

Breaching pilot whales welcomed us to The Rock. As did a fisherman in a fast skiff, showing off his catch, hoisting a large cod with a smile – the smile was on the fisherman, not the cod.

Fisherman w:cod
I shot this with Kodachrome and converted the slide to digital with a little gizmo that produces less than satisfactory images.  

The next day, driving up the west coast of the island province, we passed the town of Stephenville and its abandoned U.S. air base, opened during the Second World War, when Newfoundland was still a British colony. It did not become Canada’s youngest province until 1949.

Outside of Corner Brook, we stopped at a visitor center where I added a lasting lesson in my continuing Canadian education. “How do you pronounce the name of your province?” I asked the nice lady behind the counter.

She smiled. This was obviously not the first time the question was asked. “It rhymes with understand,” she said. “So the trick is – understand, Newfoundland.”

I understood. And never forgot it.

I also quickly understood that this was like no place I’d ever been in Canada, or anywhere else. It was rocky and mountainous, bleak and barren. There were peaceful fjords in one direction, wild ocean in the other. Little pastel-colored houses perched on hillsides.

Some of the people were as alien as the place, spoke with an accent difficult to understand. Understand, NewfoundlandSure. Understand Newfoundlanders? Not so much.

And, it seemed, they found us odd as well – the Canadian-American couple with the Swiss-American girl, the giant black poodle and the little motorhome with New York plates.

Mini-Cruiser
This is not our camper, which we called Fenway, but the same year and model.

One day, we stopped at a picnic ground in a village off the highway to have lunch. Dozens of children, from tots to teens, came out of their houses to watch us eat ham and cheese sandwiches. When I tried talking to them, asked if they wanted to pet Yaz, their faces went blank. Maybe they didn’t understand New Yorkese.

We made our way up the coast to Gros Morne National Park, with its mountains rising out of the sea and picture-postcard fjords.

Gros Morne
Another one of my Kodachrome slides washed through the gizmo. 

Our neighbors in the Shallow Bay campground were a couple from California, roughing it in a motorhome the size of a Greyhound bus.

On Saturday night, we all went into the nearby metropolis of Cow Head for a drink at the only tavern in town. When a rock band started to play, and the noise became unbearable, we moved into an adjoining restaurant, which was closed. The manager, however, assigned a waiter to our beck and call after the Californian flashed a wad of Yankee greenbacks. Eventually, a bottle of scotch was left on the table.

On July 23, two months after Sean was born, we took the overnight ferry, sailing from Port aux Basques back to North Sydney. We gained back the half-hour we lost on the first crossing, since Newfoundland has its own, weird time zone.

For the rest of road trip – and the rest of my story – pick up The Expat Files, available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The hitmen, the Chicken, the cad and the underwear model

Forty years ago today, I covered the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego. I know I was there. It’s right here in my scorebook.

Scorebook

But I don’t remember a thing about the game. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember much about any of the games I covered – except the last one, the Sox-Yanks playoff – during my one year as a newspaper baseball writer.

Still, there are thousands of words in my memoir about baseball and baseball players.

I recount in great detail covering Jackie Robinson’s funeral in New York in 1972 and an awkward interview with another of my boyhood Brooklyn Dodger heroes, Duke Snider, in Montreal in 1975.

I write a lot about life on the baseball beat and relationships with those who resided within that world. About drinking and talking with Billy Martin and Joe Torre, Tony Kubek and Early Wynn; about friendships and clashes with the 1978 Blue Jays I saw nearly every day from spring to fall as a reporter for the Toronto Sun.

I was thirty-one years old that season. By then, as a journalist, I’d already gone through the holy-shit-I’m-standing-next-to-Willie-Mays phase – at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.

And, as a fan and a man, I’d survived the awakening that I was older than many of my favorite players, like Fisk and Lynn and Rice on the Red Sox, who had replaced the carpetbagger Dodgers as my team.

So, when I showed up at that all-star game in San Diego, it was just another day at the office.

Yet, through the lens of history, it looks a lot more interesting than it was at the time. From the distance of decades, I have a greater appreciation of some of the players on the field that day.

The best of the best were the hitmen: Rod Carew, perhaps the most talented batsman I ever saw; George Brett, who evoked memories of Ted Williams at the plate; Pete Rose, brimming with menace and fury.

The starting pitcher for the American League was Jim Palmer, the brilliant right-hander and budding underwear model.

Jim Palmer

Palmer, Carew and Brett were among seventeen future Hall of Famers on the rosters. (We’ll leave the question of Rose’s absence from Cooperstown for another time.)

The featured attraction, if you watched the game on ABC with Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Drysdale in the broadcast booth, was Ted Giannoulas, the pride of London, Ontario, making his U.S. national television debut as the San Diego Chicken.

chicken

But, like I said, I don’t remember much about that day.

Not Captain & Tennille singing The Star Spangled Banner. (Or if anyone performed O Canada in recognition of the teams from north of the border, the Blue Jays and Expos.)

Not Ray Kroc, the hamburger man who owned the hometown Padres, throwing out the first pitch.

Not Dave Winfield, the young Padres outfielder, getting the loudest ovation when the players were introduced.

winfield

Not Carew’s two triples. Not Steve Garvey’s leadoff triple – three triples in one game! – in the bottom of the eighth. Or Garvey’s dash home on a wild pitch by Goose Gossage to score the go-ahead run.

What I now most recall about Garvey, of the Dodgers, is that he was nicknamed Mr. Clean and had a Hollywood marriage with TV personality Cyndy Garvey …

Garveys

… until he was caught as a big league philanderer.

Meanwhile, the National League won, 7-3, its seventh all-star game victory in a row. It would win four more to run the streak to 11. (From 1959 to 1982, the American League won only twice.)

The game was played in two hours and thirty-two minutes – the modern equivalent of about four innings of a Yanks-Sox game at Fenway Park.

Ten runs were scored and no home runs were hit – the modern equivalent of a total eclipse of the sun.

I’m getting all this – the stats, not the equivalencies – from my scorebook and online sources.

I don’t have a copy of my story from the next day’s Sun, but I bet it included a line on the only Blue Jay in the game, Roy Howell, batting against Steve Rogers of the Expos, grounding out to first.

Canadian content.

Now that I think of it, I do remember the hotel bar, outside, on a marina, and having lunch on an aircraft carrier the day before the game.

Thirteen years later, I covered another all-star game, at the SkyDome in Toronto in 1991, as a feature writer for Canadian Press.

I don’t remember a thing about it.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Not a banner year

On this Fourth of July I’m having second thoughts about putting the American flag on the cover of my book, The Expat Files, in the time of Trump.

It seemed like a good idea when I conceived the design, the Stars and Stripes commingling with the Maple Leaf above a photo of me as a young American in Canada.

Book Cover

This was the cover when the book was published about six months ago. But then a well-meaning friend spotted a distortion in the reproduction of the photo and volunteered to fix it.

He succeeded in sharpening my visage but futzed with the flags, the U.S. banner all but obscuring the Maple Leaf.

U.S. flag cover

During the time the publisher was changing the cover, the book was not for sale. And, I was told, changing it again would make the book unavailable for up to another three weeks.

So, I decided to live with the new cover, while thinking it might as well be an image of a bald eagle devouring a beaver.

One consistency on my Amazon page since the book appeared is this ad: Customers who bought this item also bought … Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff … #1 New York Times Bestseller.

Which has had me thinking that although I mention Trump only a couple of times in the last chapter, I should have titled my book The Origin of the Species and put that priceless combo the Orange One and an orangutan on the cover.

trumpape300

My conundrum with the cover and disgust with the current occupant of the White House does not mean I am ashamed of being an American. It’s who I am and will always be.

I’m happy I was born in the United States – not Bangladesh or Bulgaria or Britain.

I love New York, my hometown, and San Francisco and Boston, the coast of Maine and the Everglades, the canyons of Utah and the high country of Montana, the Sonoran Desert and the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

But, at times, I’ve despised my government’s policies – on race, the Vietnam and Iraq wars, its token commitment to heath care and education while providing welfare for the wealthy at the expense of the needy.

And I’ve despised some of its leaders – Nixon and Kissinger, Nancy Reagan, Dick Cheney.

But I’ve never before feared the death of American democracy, my country in mortal peril.

I knew when Trump was elected that he was stupid, nuts, a liar, narcissistic, bigoted, boorish, sexist, immoral, unethical, childish, petty, mostly incoherent, barely literate, probably a criminal …

And I knew that most of the Republicans in Congress shared his ignorance, malevolence and soullessness.

But the speed with which their governance, their tyranny, is taking the USA back to its darkest ages is disorienting and frightening.

James Comey was not far off when he likened the president to a crime boss. But he failed to note how many Republicans in government serve as Trump’s lieutenants, soldiers and button men.

These are the Goodfellas cheering as the Scofflaw in Chief aligns with murderous dictators, allows the kidnapping of children at the border, and prepares to plant another right-wing cultist on the Supreme Court.

And they all follow the timeworn Republican playbook of wrapping themselves in the flag.

“Sinclair Lewis said, ‘When fascism arrives in America it will come wrapped in a flag, carrying a cross,’” actor Bradley Whitford, forever playing Josh from The West Wing, said on the Bill Maher show last week.

“Trump literally hugs the flag,” added Maher.

“Yeah,” said Whitford, “he’s humping it, he’s assaulting it.”

Me too, said the flag.

When I was in elementary school in New York City, we started the day saying, “I pledge allegiance to the flag …”

We sang the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, a song about a flag.

But I would learn that it’s the same flag American Nazis carried alongside a swastika when the first America First crusade gave allegiance to Hitler in the 1930s.

Hardy_A_IC2

That the KKK has waved throughout its homicidal history in the name of racism.

KKK - American Flag

That the John Birch Society displayed during its campaign to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican, because his Supreme Court mandated school integration in the 1950s.

Impeach Earl Warren - B&W

That hard-hatted Nixon supporters weaponized when they attacked kids rallying for peace in New York after the Kent State massacre in 1970.

Hardhat riot

That white supremacists paraded with in Charlottesville last summer.

Charlottesville - Flags

If a flag is only a symbol, too many times its been attached to dangerous politics and deranged leaders.

Trump&Kim - flags

Maybe the cover of my book should be illustrated with the Empire State Building beside the CN Tower, or a saguaro cactus in a snowbank, or a pastrami on rye smothered in poutine.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Nightmare on Bouverie Street

Forty-nine years ago today, I flew across the Atlantic at my own expense to begin a job that didn’t exist.

Other players in this episode were: Franz Cyrus, the bureau chief for United Press International in Zurich; Danny Gilmore, UPI’s European news manager; my Swiss-born first wife, Anita, and our daughter.

Here’s what happened during two memorable days in 1969, as recounted in an excerpt from The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism:

 

On July 1, Anita and I and baby Kate, now nearly seven months old, took off from Kennedy Airport – and came down for refueling in Bangor, Maine, in a thunderstorm. As the plane wobbled and bounced through the clouds, I screamed and puked. Once on the ground, I told Anita we were getting off.

“We can’t get off here,” she said.

“Why not? We’ll take a boat or something. There’s no way I’m going up again in this plane.”

“I didn’t know you were afraid to fly,” she said.

“I wasn’t – until about twenty minutes ago.”

She went off to talk to a stewardess. I stayed with Kate and began gathering our carry-on.

Anita returned with a cup filled with scotch. “Drink this,” she said. “You’ll calm down.”

I gulped some scotch and looked around the cabin. A few passengers were staring at me. Some had been screaming and puking too, as the plane rocked and rolled. But they didn’t seem ready to get off.  I felt embarrassed enough to settle back into my seat with my family and my scotch.

We landed at Gatwick airport just before midnight. The tourist bureau in the terminal sent us to the nearby Russ Hill Hotel, in Surrey.

Russ Hill Hotel
Found this postcard from 1969.

The night clerk opened the bar for us, illegally poured us a couple of beers – I never did figure out England’s drinking hours – and fixed some thick-cut ham sandwiches on pumpernickel. I was starving after having my appetite arrested by fear.

The next morning, we took a taxi to Heathrow where Anita and Kate caught a flight to Zurich. Her father would pick them up and drive them to her parents’ home in Bern.

I went into London, after the tourism bureau at the airport got me a reservation at the Cadogan Hotel, near Sloane Square.

Cadogan Hotel

 

I checked in, left my bag with the porter, had the doorman hail a cab and rode to Bouverie Street, off Fleet.

I took a rickety lift to the UPI office and asked for Mr. Gilmore. He invited me to his office and asked, “Who are you again?”

“Ken Becker. From New York. Franz Cyrus told me to see you on my way to Zurich. He offered me a job there.”

“I know nothing about this,” Gilmore said.

He asked me to wait in the newsroom while he phoned Cyrus. I stood alone, amid the clatter of the teletype machines. Men in white shirts and ties, their sleeves rolled up, pounded on typewriters, cigarettes dangling from their lips. A London fog of smoke rose and settled near the high ceiling. I loved it. I couldn’t wait to start working here, to be back in the news biz.

Gilmore came out and led me into his office. “I’m afraid there is some misunderstanding. There is no job for you with UPI in Zurich. All we have in Zurich is an inner-Swiss service – in German, for Swiss papers. There is no UPI correspondent there. And there can’t be one there unless I hire one.” He paused.

“And, if I wanted a correspondent in Zurich – which I don’t – I wouldn’t hire you because such a plum position – if there was one – would be for a seasoned reporter transferred from another bureau.”

“But,” I pleaded, “Mr. Cyrus told me to stop and see you, that I would get some training here and then start working in Zurich.”

“That’s not what he says. He says he has been in touch with you but never offered you a job.”

“But I packed up my wife and baby in New York and we came here – she’s on her way to Switzerland now. What do you suggest I do?”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I found a cab on Fleet Street and told the driver to take me back to the Cadogan.

That was far from the end of my story with UPI, or my adventure in Europe. Pick up a copy of The Expat Files, available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Habla usted Inglés?

People were freaking out recently when they learned the U.S. border patrol set up a roadblock on Interstate-95 in Maine to check the citizenship of drivers and their passengers.

One of those expressing bafflement bordering on outrage was Senator Angus King of Maine, on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday: “Do we stop American citizens in the middle of a highway and ask for their papers?”

Yes, senator. Been going on for a very long time. Legal within 100 miles of the border.

I’ve run into one of those checkpoints in Arizona – I’ll tell you about it later – where it’s commonplace and seems acceptable to use any means to snare people who don’t habla Inglés.

But the practice inside the northern border was alien to many who reasonably assumed it was an extension of the Provocateur in Chief’s anti-immigrant hysteria.

And hundreds took to the Twitter barricades to protest.

“This is outrageous,” began one of the more cogent tweets. “Essentially this out of control agency is harassing US citizens with a demand of ‘Papers please!’”

The checkpoint in Maine was up for about eleven hours last week in the southbound lanes of I-95 near the town of Lincoln, about 90 miles from the Canadian border.

Border-agents-Maine

“We need to know what … country you’re a citizen of,” a border patrol agent told a reporter for the Bangor Daily News who was questioned.

I’ve had my share of hassles at the U.S.-Canada border. But in my forty-plus years of living in Canada and crossing over – from coast to coast – I’ve never encountered the border patrol, much less been stopped at a checkpoint.

Yet, all the times I’ve visited my daughter Kate in southern Arizona since she moved to Tucson in 2002, I’ve found border patrol vehicles as ubiquitous as cop cars in downtown Toronto.

The only time we ventured to Mexico, I ran into the border patrol going down and coming back.

We took the long way south, pausing in the tiny hamlet of Arivaca before entering Ruby Road, 35 miles of dirt and rock through the Coronado National Forest.

Ruby Road

The road rose and fell and twisted around tall craggy mountains. Driving at about 15 mph, I nearly collided with a speeding border patrol vehicle coming at me on a hairpin turn.

When we finally arrived in Nogales, Arizona, we left my rental car in a parking lot and walked two blocks, through unattended turnstiles, into Nogales, Mexico.

Nogales - Turnstiles

No federales in sight. The only Mexican to note my entrance was a teenager hawking pharmaceuticals. “You need Viagra, mister?”

We did some shopping, haggling in the local languages of commerce – English and U.S. dollars.

Nogales - Me

After dinner, we walked out of Mexico, stopping momentarily at a desk where a U.S. Customs’ agent was chatting with a friend.  “U.S.A.?” she asked, barely looking up.

We nodded – and walked into the United States.

Heading back to Tucson on I-19 after dark, about 20 miles from the border, we ran into a roadblock – the northbound freeway closed off, vehicles forced onto an exit ramp.

San Diego CBP Patrols California -Mexico Border

At the top of the ramp were border patrol agents with guns and dogs. They’d planted a U.S. flag, an eerie Iwo Jima tableau in the Arizona desert.

The agent took one look at me, a middle-aged white guy in a baseball cap, and waved me through with a shout: “Colorado, go!”

I went.

It took me a while to figure out what he meant, recall that my car had Colorado plates.

There’s more on my visit to Nogales – “I give you two blankets and a bottle of tequila for your daughter” – and many other adventures in my memoir, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.