Daily Sketch

Today’s sketch is of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, one of my favorite basketball players of all time.  On this day in 1979 he led the Michigan State Spartans to a victory over Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.

© 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Fuck the Redskins (A Song)

This is an instrumental song I recorded using MAGIX Music Studio, and a DM-30 Dynamic Microphone. I used a Rogue acoustic guitar, a CB drum set, and Aspire congas in this recording. It is dedicated to the movement to change the name of the Washington Redskins mascot. We are Native Americans…not Redskins!

© 2013

42-The Jackie Robinson Movie

42 is the story of how Jackie Roosevelt Robinson went from an obscure baseball player for the Kansas City Monarchs to the most celebrated personality in all of Major League Baseball.  Robinson wore the number 42 when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, hence the film’s title, and that number was retired once his career came to an end.  No one will ever wear 42 on the baseball field again, except for today, April 15, when MLB annually recognizes the legacy of Jackie Robinson by having all major leaguers wear the number on their uniforms.

If you are a sports fan, or a history buff, then you already know the story of how Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play baseball in the majors.  So if you see this movie, you already know the gist.  A black man is denied access to the “whites only” world of professional baseball until a god-like figure materializes to open the door.  This god-like figure isn’t omnipotent in the sense that he can demonstrate supernatural feats of force.  His omniscience proves his divinity.  And the one thing he knows better than anyone is that money isn’t black or white-it’s green.

When Branch Rickey (the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers played by Harrison Ford) defends his decision to integrate American baseball in 1946, he tells his office staff that there are a lot of black people in Brooklyn who love baseball.  That translates to ticket sales.  The only missing component is a black player.  But not just any black player.  Rickey needs a black player who can not only perform superbly on the field, but equally superb off the field in the torrent of 20th century American segregation.

Rickey and his staff do their homework.  They start analyzing statistics of ballplayers in the Negro Leagues.  Some players have the stats but not the temperament for the job and vice versa.  Some players are too nice and likely “chum” for the sharks in the crowd who will no doubt show their disapproval of a black player with biting barbs.  But after studying Jackie Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) profile, Rickey has found his man.  Robinson is perfect.  He attended UCLA.  He’s a former U.S. Army lieutenant.  He was once court-martialed because he refused to sit in the back of a bus, but he was later cleared and given an honorable discharge.  His batting average is .350 (.387 in 47 games with the Monarchs according to the book Heroes of the Negro Leagues by Mark Chiarello and Jack Morelli).  He’s even a Christian.  In fact, he’s a Methodist like Rickey.  So far so good.  The only question is whether or not Robinson can stand up to the test of being jeered mercilessly by racist fans.  As it turned out, Robinson would also have to withstand death threats made to himself, his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) and their infant son.

In the first meeting between Rickey and Robinson, the Dodger owner initiates a role play in his office to gage his soon to be star’s temper.  Only Robinson doesn’t know that Rickey is testing him.  Harrison Ford summons the scoundrel as only he can do from his acting repertoire and calls Boseman’s Robinson a “black son of a bitch.”  Boseman is a monument of restrained, intense furry in his response, standing at attention to face the challenge he’s just been invited to.  He asks Rickey if he wants to see if he’s got the guts to fight back.  Rickey tells him no.  Instead he wants to know if he’s got the guts not to fight back.  The guts not to fight back like their savior Jesus Christ, and instead turn the other cheek.  Later Rickey will be telling him to “run bases like the devil” on the playing field  (Robinson had a penchant for stealing bases and stole home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series).  But for now, he needs to be reassured that Robinson won’t “mess up all of his plans” to present the first black ballplayer in the big leagues as a decent, amicable guy that won’t sour white America by brawling with the first person who calls him a nigger.

Rickey assigns Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier as Robinson’s guide.  He acts as Robinson’s mentor, prepping him on how he should give interviews to the press and respond to hecklers.  Robinson is dismissive of Smith when the sportswriter asks him how it feels to be trying out for the Montreal Royals (the Brooklyn farm team) en route to becoming a Dodger.  Robinson largely ignores Smith’s question, until the same question is asked of him by a throng of white reporters, to whom he gives the reply that Smith coached him to deliver.  The irony is palpable-a black ballplayer considered insignificant by white ballplayers writing off a black sportswriter.

Robinson gets his first opportunity to not “mess up” Rickey’s plans in a series against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947.  As Robinson steps up to the plate to bat, Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) pesters him with a vicious string of obscenities.  He ridicules Robinson in a good ole boy twang, calling him “nigger, nigger, nigger.”  His verbal onslaught is unbearable.  It is unceasing.  Tudyk’s repetitive pronunciation of the epithet, and the adjoining chuckle at Robinson’s displeasure was more than enough to unnerve all of the theatergoers in attendance.  It set the stage for the most powerful scene in the movie, (Oscar worthy in my opinion) when Boseman articulates Robinson’s anguish by exploding in the tunnel he walks off into after failing to get on base.  Boseman destroys a bat by swinging it into the walls, fueled by a deafening roar he lets loose from the pit of his soul.  His scream stops time.  It divides Robinson’s existence into two halves.  Before it, he was a black ballplayer in the company of other black ballplayers on the field, collectively struggling against a racist society.  After it, he was the only black ballplayer on the field, expected to war against it all alone.  This wasn’t his first game in the majors.  But it was the first game in which that tension of being the only black ballplayer on the field overcame him.

He collapses onto the floor, surrounded by splintered fragments of his bat.  He is in tears.  This giant of a man is sobbing, almost to the point of being inconsolable.  Rickey finds his way into the tunnel to see Robinson destroyed.  He tells Robinson that he must go back out on the field because he is “medicine.”  By going back out on the field, he is going to heal the wounds that racism has inflicted on the consciousness of everyone watching.  He is America’s panacea.  And by some miracle, Robinson gets up and makes his way out of the tunnel and back onto the field.

The baseball action in 42 was riveting- enough to engage the crowd seated in the showing I sat in to clap and cheer in approval whenever Robinson stole a base or scored a run in the movie.  They clapped just as enthusiastically at the epilogue, some of whom were maybe only 9 or 10 years old.  The fact that those of the younger generation were moved to such a degree is the true testament of 42’s effectiveness.  If the film can emotionally connect with children whose parents weren’t even alive when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball, then its message is enduring.  That, along with a sensational 1940’s era set and costume design (love those throwback jerseys), makes 42 a home run.

© 2013

Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers

Ray Negron’s Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers, arrives just in time for Major League Baseball’s post season.  A former batboy who now serves as a community advisor for the New York Yankees, Negron narrates the story of how an unlikely set of circumstances led to his initial unfavorable meeting of George Steinbrenner (Owner of the New York Yankees) and his efforts to ingratiate himself with the Boss.  How these two individuals are able to forge a life-long lasting friendship is miraculous in and of itself, considering one was a multimillionaire businessman, and the other a teenager growing up on the hard streets of Brooklyn enduring poverty and crime.  Yet the miracles written about in this book are in no short supply after Negron’s first chapter.

Soon the reader finds themself on board of Negron’s journey of self discovery.  Along the way we experience the ups and downs of an aspiring baseball player as the author shares his experience of trying to break into the big leagues.  We also tune into the plight of so many youths in our society who were born, like Negron, into adverse situations involving abuse, neglect, single parent homes and communities where alcohol and drug addiction are rampant, as he likewise shares experiences from his own childhood.  We see how he is able to find common ground with the Yankee players we have come to recognize as legends of the game, based on troubled beginnings in life and opportunities to make a difference in their neighborhoods.

As a Yankee fan who admittedly only became loyal to the Bronx Bombers when my childhood heroes Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden joined them (up until then I was a Mets fan), I was fascinated by the stories written in this book about all the great Yankee legends that have worn the pinstripes over the years.  These were stories about Yankee greats like Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Catfish Hunter, Elston Howard, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and others.  Some of these players I had heard of and some I had not heard of before I read this book.  And, of course, there were great stories to read about of more familiar names to me like Reggie Jackson, Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and more.

If you’re a baseball fan, you will enjoy this book.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you will treasure this book.  And if you are a fan of the underdog, you will be inspired by this book.  In a world where second chances are sparse, it is refreshing to read a story about a kid who got the mother of all second chances and made the most out of that opportunity; to, in turn, serve his community and offer second chances to others.  And what better time to read it than in October, the month where baseball fans around the world are hoping for miracles both on and off the field.

© 2012

Wolverines, Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish: A Lifetime of Football Memories

As a kid, I grew up a Michigan fan.  My father is from Ypsilanti, MI, which is just about 10 miles east of Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is located.  When I was a teenager, my dad along with my older cousin Jim took me, my brother Wes, and my younger cousin Brad to Michigan Stadium one afternoon and we walked onto the field, the five of us, by ourselves.  There was no one else in the stadium, except for a few university staff members.  It was such an exhilarating feeling to be on the same field that I had seen countless times over the course of my young life, watching all the great Michigan players of the day; like Jamie Morris, my favorite running back of all time, and Jim Harbaugh, my favorite quarterback.  I remember running on that field from one end zone to the other, and nearly passing out afterwards, not realizing just how gigantic it really was.  That was one of the most memorable days of my life as a kid.  So Saturday when Michigan edged rival Notre Dame in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium 35-31, on a 16 yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left on the clock, I couldn’t help but reminisce.  Sportscaster Brent Musburger called Saturday’s game “an instant classic,” and it was, in every since of the word.  The only thing missing was Keith Jackson.

However, my fellow sports fans, you’ve only heard part of the story.  You see my mother was born in Columbus, OH, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Poor mom.  She lived in a home with three wolverines.  She cooked for her little wolverines, fed them, bathed them, cleaned up after them, read to them, nurtured them, and then every year in November they turned on her, and devoured her.  At least some Novembers they devoured her, when Michigan beat Ohio State.  Those late fall Saturday afternoons when the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, she had the last laugh, turning into her version of Brutus Buckeye (The official mascot of OSU), and rubbing her victory into our faces.  It takes a strong woman to stand up to the constant harassment and torture we boys inflicted on  her because of her allegiance to the Scarlet and Gray; her only allies being her sister Theresa and nephew P.J. who were also Buckeye fans.  But they lived in Virginia.  As far as us men were concerned, the homestead was Maize and Blue territory.  Trespassers beware!

I vowed to stay a Michigan fan, despite my mother giving birth to me in that hospital 34 years ago in Columbus, and I was successful in doing so until I attended Eastern Michigan University; my father’s alma mater.  When the other college kids found out I was from Ohio, they engaged in a smear campaign to defame my reputation, calling me every foul name they could think of, and hurling insults and jokes at me unrepentantly.  I was an outcast.  So I decided to fight back.  For the first time ever in my life, at the age of 22, I purchased my very first piece of Ohio State apparel; a scarlet baseball cap with a gray O on the front.  From then on, I would be proud of my Buckeye heritage.  I even rooted for the Bucks on occasion that season, despite feeling a slight sting of guilt, never having before gone against my beloved Wolverines.  What anguish!  What torment!  The remorse was overpowering and I soon found myself in a confused state, much like leaving a lover for another woman, only to wonder in the midnight hours of my solitude if I  had made the right decision?

And then there was that other team in the Midwest that I had not yet sorted out my feelings about.  Of course, as a youth I hated Notre Dame.  How can you blame me after Raghib “The Rocket” Ismail broke my heart in 1989 with those two kick off returns for touchdowns?  How could he do that to me?  Didn’t he know I was only 12 years old and psychologically unable to process such bitter disappointment?  I didn’t heal from that heartbreak until two years later when Desmond Howard struck his foreshadowing Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone after returning a kick for a touchdown against Ohio State.  Two long years later!  Nevertheless, something deep down inside me always admired those Fighting Irish guys from Indiana.  Maybe it was their fight song, which, along with OSU and U of M’s, certainly rank at the top of the list in all of collegiate sports.  Maybe it was the cartoon like Leprechaun mascot?  Maybe it was the Irish roots on my mother’s side beckoning me to root for the Blue and Gold?  Whatever it was, it’s still inside me, daring me to give in to the taboo.

So this season, I’m going to commit the unthinkable; root for Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame at the same time.  After all, I’m an American.  And what is America I ask you?  America is a melting pot.  So why shouldn’t my interest in football reflect the diversity of this great nation.  I’m going to sing “Hang on Sloopy” from the depths of my guts when the Buckeyes take the field.  I’m going to Hail the Victors when the Wolverines prevail.  And I’m going to do my best to “win one for the Gipper” while sitting on my couch in front of the television, and cheer for the Fighting Irish.  I’m just a little worried that things could get rather expensive when I visit the Sports Fan-Attic store in the mall…and that I might get beat up for saying this.

© 2011

Derek Jeter Hits Home Run for 3,000th Hit!

On Saturday, Derek Jeter joined Major League Baseball’s  exclusive 3,000 hit club passing Roberto Clemente by 3 hits.  For those of you who don’t know, I am a Yankees fan.  My home town of Columbus, OH is where the AAA team of the New York Yankees organization used to be located – The Columbus Clippers.  Darryl Strawberry who was my all-time favorite player as a kid was a Clipper, as was Dwight Gooden, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter.  Since then, the Columbus Clippers have become the Cleveland Indians’ Minor League team, but my love for the Yankees has not wavered.

I had been following Jeter’s quest for 3,000 hits and all seemed to be moving smoothly until he came up with a strained right calf in a game against Cleveland.  Lost in the hectic week that followed, I found myself searching the program guide of my cable provider looking for the next Yankees televised game, hoping I could watch the game in which Jeter would get his 3,000th hit.  I couldn’t miss it!  I didn’t want to have to see history played out on a Sports Center highlight reel.  So when I saw that the Yankees were scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday at 1pm I knew this would be my best chance to see history, with Jeter only 2 hits off his mark.  What I did not know was how special that game would be.

Derek Jeter ended up with 5 at bats and 5 hits.  He also scored 2 runs and 2 RBI’s.  When he stepped up to home plate for his second at bat with 2,999 hits, I sat in my apartment anticipating the crack of  his bat.  David Price delivered the pitch and Jeter hit a solo home run shot into the stands.  The only other MLB player to hit a home run for their 3,000th hit was Wade Boggs on August 7, 1999, ironically as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

In my mind, Derek Jeter has now not only solidified his legacy as one of the greatest Yankees of all time, having already become the Yankees all time hits leader when he passed Lou Gehrig, but also his legacy as one of the greatest MLB players of all time by passing the 3,000 mark.  (Jeter is also the only player in MLB history to earn all 3,000 hits while wearing a Yankee uniform)  When Pete Rose (AKA Charlie Hustle) bulldozed his way to 3,000 hits playing for the Big Red Machine, he was 37 – the same age as Derek Jeter.  Barring injury, will Jeter surpass the great Pete Rose and become MLB’s all-time hits leader?  If so, I hope that I will have the opportunity to hear the crack of his bat in that game as well.  But going 5 for 5 in Yankee Stadium and getting your 3,000th hit on a homerun will be tough to top as an encore if he finds himself 2-3 hits out of 4,000.  That’s why these are the games baseball fans will be talking about for as long as baseball is played.  These are the games in which legends are born.  The only thing better would have been to actually have been at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, with my dog and beer in hand, to witness it in person – mustard and relish…hold the ketchup please!

© 2011