I’ll start with a Yogi-ism. “If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”
This quote is from the 1960s, and Yogi was referring to the sagging attendance of the Kansas City A’s caused by Charlie Finley’s persistent efforts to relocate the A’s. Charlie got his wish and moved the team to Oakland in 1968.
I don’t mean to equate Charlie Finley to COVID-19, but attendance at MLB games this year has sagged…to zero.
This has set the stage for an interesting contrast. Last week, Sporting KC played soccer in front of about 2,300 fans (14% of the stadium). For their season opener in September, the Chiefs will have socially-distanced pods that add up to about 16,000 fans (22% of capacity). A Yogi-ism that is not applicable to this: “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.”
I’m sure MLB is closely monitoring soccer and football. In the meantime, Royals fans are limited to an occasional glimpse of one super-fan at Kauffman Stadium. Sluggerr!
Sluggerr is shown working the crowd of cardboard cutouts. A similar crowd of cutouts in Chicago recently watched Lucas Giolito pitch a no-hitter for the White Sox. A tweeter quipped “There may be only 1,000 cardboard cutouts at Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter, but 20 years from now every cardboard cutout in Chicago will say he was there.”
The Royals and the Playoffs: The Royals have had their share of highlights and good performances. But many close games have been lost because of their failure to hit with men on base. They are something like 2 for 20 with the bases loaded. As Yogi would say, “We made too many wrong mistakes.”
The Royals have now played 34 games in this 60-game season. Their record as of this morning is 13-21, leaving them just 1.5 games above the worst record in the American League. But in this oddball short season with expanded playoffs, they are still within 6.5 games of a wild-card slot. And 12 of their last 15 games are against other losing teams. Maybe an end of the season winning streak? Remember what Yogi said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Mookie Betts and Jackie Robinson: As part of Jackie Robinson Day this year, MLB released a trailer for an upcoming short film about Jackie as a player and activist. In the trailer, Mookie Betts recites quotes from Jackie (e.g., “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstands just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.”). Mookie taped his narrative early last week and on Wednesday put those words into action. He elected to not play the game that day in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. His Dodger teammates and the opposing Giants joined him. Just watch this moving piece (click here; 1:28).
Book Review – Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask: Earlier this summer, Hot Stove reader (and Townsend Place neighbor) Jill Shurin purchased two copies of the new Yogi Berra biography by Jon Pessah. One for her husband Leland, the other for me. Leland immediately read the book. Jill has not, although she feels like she has because Leland fed her a play-by-play as he sped through it. Leland gave me this capsule review: “It’s a fun, interesting and easy read. But I paraphrase Yogi that if people don’t want to read it, no one is stopping them.”
I was slower to get to the book. Too many distractions. Hot Stoves to write. Crazy politics to follow. But last week, I concentrated and finished the 507-page book. I echo Leland’s review. It is a terrific book, and it also brought back a lot of childhood memories.
I was a Yankee fan when I was in grade school. The reason: the Yankees were the parent team of our local minor league team, the Kansas City Blues. I specifically remember the 1950 season because my first baseball idol, Phil Rizzuto, was the AL MVP. I was nine years old. Yogi was the MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955. Mickey Mantle in 1956 and 1957. During the 1950s, most years ended with the Yankees in the World Series and a Yankee MVP. To quote Yogi, “It’s Déjà vu all over again.”
Below, Casey Stengel, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra (1952).
One of my favorite anecdotes in the book starts with this passage:
“It’s another hot and humid St. Louis summer in July 1941. But that’s not what 16-year-old Lawdie Berra is thinking about right now. He’s sitting in the back seat of Cardinal General Manager Branch Rickey’s big black Lincoln on his way to Forest Park with his friend Joe Garagiola up front and some kid named Schoendienst fidgeting in the seat next to him.”
I stopped reading so I could put this in perspective. Yogi is 16. Joe is 15. Red Schoendienst is 18. The driver Branch Rickey is already a baseball legend, but still six years away from integrating baseball. ALL FOUR will end up in the Hall of Fame. Yogi and Red as players. Rickey as an executive. And Joe in the broadcasting wing. That’s some car pool.
The Cardinals were having open tryouts, and almost 500 had shown up the first day. The field had narrowed to less than 10, and three were in Rickey’s car. Joe and Red were ultimately signed by the Cards. Yogi did not get what he believed was a fair offer and was discouraged when Rickey told him “I don’t think you are going to make it to the majors.” The man often described as the best judge of baseball talent whiffed on this one. And Yogi and the Yankees would get to show that to Rickey many times over the years.
Below, Yogi (left), Joe (center) and Red (right) playing together on a barnstorming team after the 1948 season. They had all reached the majors by 1946, just five years after that car ride with Branch Rickey. Joe is in his Columbus uniform because the Cards had sent him to the minors for part of the season. Garagiola and Berra were lifelong friends, and Joe boosted his broadcasting career by telling humorous stories from his times with Yogi. Some were true, some apocryphal. Berra had the perfect Yogi-ism for this – “I didn’t really say everything I said.”
After Yogi’s playing days, he managed and coached for many years. But it is his Steinbrenner years that are most remembered. After the 1983 season, Yankee manager Billy Martin was fired. He was replaced by Yogi for the 1984 season. Yogi was also on board in 1985, but after only 16 games, he was fired and replaced by…Billy Martin. There is a great Seinfeld bit on this (click here).
For Yogi, getting fired was not the bad part. That went with the territory. But Steinbrenner did not fire Berra personally. He instead dispatched GM Clyde King to deliver the message. Yogi was so hurt by the slight that he said he would never again set foot in Yankee Stadium. And that was how it went for the next 14 years.
In February of 1999, after many earlier attempts had failed, Yogi finally agreed to accept George Steinbrenner’s apology. So Yogi started going to games again. On July 18, 1999, the Yankees held Yogi Berra Day. For the ceremonial first pitch (click here for video), Yogi stood behind home plate to catch the pitch from Don Larsen, setting up the battery from the only perfect game in World Series history (1956). The other person in the photo is David Cone (#36) who was the Yankee starter that day.
Some of you know what happened next. David Cone pitched a perfect game. While Yogi Berra and Don Larsen watched. On Yogi Berra Day.
Yogi became a regular at the games, arriving early so he could go to the clubhouse and hold court with the players, coaches and manager. He watched the games from the suite of his new friend, George Steinbrenner. Quoting from the book: “Celebrities invariably filled the suite – Billy Crystal, Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw, Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others – all but Trump wanting time with Yogi Berra, unfailingly polite, shakes hands and chats but soon finds a corner where he can watch the game.”
Movies – Yogi Reviews: In a normal world, Rita and I would be heading to the Colorado mountains this week. It would have been our 10th consecutive year at the Telluride Film Festival. COVID-19 intervened, and the festival was cancelled. So there will be no Telluride movie reviews in Hot Stove this year. So how about some reviews from Yogi?
Until I read Pessah’s book, I did not know that Yogi was a movie aficionado. He often attended afternoon showings before going to the ballpark, and upon arrival at the clubhouse would give capsule reviews of what he had seen. Yogi’s friend Tom Villante, a former Yankee batboy, was intrigued by how much Yogi’s teammates enjoyed his reviews – and relied on his judgement. Apparently the Yogi-ism was true – “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
Villante, a sports marketing agent, convinced Stroh Brewing Company to pair some beer ads with 30-second movie critiques from Yogi. Each ad ended with “Yogi’s Scoreboard” to rate the film a single, double, triple or home run. If it was a clunker, Yogi called it a strikeout. The ads ran in 64 markets for two years. Some sample reviews:
Moonstruck: On Cher, “She did a good job. She got the Golden Glove Award.” That is not a typo. Click here to see the full clip.
Above the Law: On Steven Seagal, “He could be another Cliff Eastwick,” conflating Clint Eastwood with former pitcher Rawly Eastwick and someone named Cliff.
Biloxi Blues: “It reminded me of being in the Army – even though I was in the Navy.”
Three Men and a Baby: “Proves three men can be just as good as one woman.”
Casual Sex: “No sex is safe, unless you’re over 85.”
Fatal Attraction: “I didn’t get scared, you know, until it came to the part where you get scared.” In the first take, Yogi repeatedly referred to star Glenn Close as Glen Cove, a Long Island suburb near Whitey Ford’s house (that footage was cut).
Good Morning Vietnam: “I’ve always been a fan of Roger Williams.” He of course meant Robin.
When Rita and I return to Telluride next year, we will no doubt follow Yogi’s rule: “I love movies if I like them.”
Chadwick Boseman (1976-2020): Last Friday, August 28, was Jackie Robinson Day in the major leagues. All players wore Jackie’s #42. That same day, actor Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer at the age of 43. He will always be remembered by baseball fans for his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in the movie 42.
All players wearing #42 was also a suggestion back in 1947, but in a serious/joking way. Robinson was getting death threats, and teammate Gene Hermanski suggested everyone wear #42 so the racists would not know which one was Robinson. Pee Wee Reese was an early defender of Robinson, and the movie takes some license in attributing the remark to Reese. It makes for a good scene. Check out this clip.
42 premiered in Los Angeles on April 9, 2013. Two days later, Boseman and Harrison Ford (who played Branch Rickey) attended a second premiere in Kansas City, the home of Robinson’s first professional team, the Monarchs. Below, President Bob Kendrick giving the two actors a tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Other icons Boseman played in the movies include James Brown (Get On Up), Thurgood Marshall (Marshall) and T’Challa (Black Panther). He recently appeared in Spike Lee’s Da Five Bloods.
Boseman was a social justice advocate, and his final tweet reflected that part of his life. The hashtags were #WhenWeAllVote and #Vote2020 (sent on August 11; click here).
RIP Black Panther.
John Donaldson Day: Negro Leagues star John Donaldson was born in Glasgow, Missouri, in 1891. This coming Friday, his hometown will honor him with the dedication of a statue and the new John Donaldson Field. In the 1910s, Donaldson played for the All Nations team in Kansas City. The team was sponsored by Schmelzer Arms, a local sporting goods company. In 1920, Donaldson joined the Kansas City Monarchs, a new team in the first organized Negro League. For more info, click here.
Greg Echlin of KCUR has posted a story about Donaldson that echoes today’s troubles. In 1923, Donaldson’s father was killed by a local constable in Glasgow. Within days, it was ruled a justifiable homicide.
Below, Donaldson in his Schmelzer’s jersey when playing for All Nations. Hot Stove readers Chip and Jonathon Schmelzer are descendants of the family that owned Schmelzer Arms.
Lonnie’s Jukebox: The Political Campaigns: Every four years, we get our presidential campaigns. At the rallies and conventions, popular music is played to pump up the crowds. The playlist is essential. And sometimes controversial.
[Note: If you want to listen to any selection, click on the song title in bold.]
Artists often lend their music and support to candidates. But there have also been strong objections when the artist and candidate are not politically aligned. For example, Bruce Springsteen asked Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan to not play his songs, especially “Born in the USA.” With most music artists favoring Democrats, the Republican candidates have received the bulk of these objections. But some Democrats have also had to trim their playlists.
The legal right to play the songs is sometimes protected with a blanket license from ASCAP or BMI. There are exceptions, and it is not uncommon for artists to issue cease and desist letters and file lawsuits. Most candidates do not want to be in the position of playing a song, legal or not, if the artist might publicly object and embarrass the candidate. Playing the “shame” card. But the times they are a changin’.
Tom Petty objected when “I Won’t Back Down” was played at a George W. Bush rally during the 2000 campaign. After stopping Bush with a cease and desist order, Petty played the song at Al Gore’s home after Gore conceded the election to Bush. That history did not stop Donald Trump. At his Tulsa rally this year, the song was played and drew a strong statement from the late singer’s family. “Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind. Tom wrote this song for the underdog, for the common man and for EVERYONE…We would hate for fans that are marginalized by the administration to think we were complicit in this usage.”
Alex Weingarten, an entertainment attorney representing the Petty family, said “The concept of shame, or a respect for intellectual property rights or artistic integrity – those concepts don’t apply to this president. Trump doesn’t care.” Others have made similar claims.
R.E.M. sent a cease and desist letter after “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” was played at a Trump event. Frontman Michael Stipe tweeted “Go f— yourselves, the lot of you – you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”
Neil Young objected when “Rockin’ in the Free World” played during Trump’s 2015 announcement that he was running. Trump continued to use the song for rallies, prompting Young to file a lawsuit saying his work should not be used “for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
In 2018, Prince’s “Purple Rain” was played at a Trump rally. Prince’s estate objected and received a letter from Trump’s attorneys agreeing to no longer use the song. A year later, the song was played at a Trump event in Minneapolis (Prince’s home town). The estate again lodged a complaint and tweeted “The Prince Estate will never give permission to President Trump to use Prince’s songs.”
Pharrell Williams sent a cease and desist letter after Trump used “Happy” at a rally held a few hours after the mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
This tension came into play for at least three songs played during the 2016 Republican Convention:
1. “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Trump used the song at a rally in the primaries. The band asked him to stop. Trump responded by using the song for his walk-in music on the first night of the convention. Queen again complained, but this did not stop Trump from using “We Will Rock You” at a rally in 2019. Trump even posted that one on Twitter, but the band was successful in getting the tweet removed.
2. “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. I love this song, and it is especially timely with the month starting tomorrow. The band tweeted, “Another unauthorized use (September) at the Republican Convention, against our wishes.”
3. “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. Written by George Harrison. Tweet from the late singer’s estate: “The unauthorized use of Here Comes the Sun at the RNC is offensive and against the wishes of the George Harrison Estate.”
So how did all this play out at the 2020 conventions? “It was déjà vu all over again.”
The 2020 Democratic Convention: The Democrats welcomed a sterling group of friendly artists.
“The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen. The convention opened with a powerful video (“Rise Up”) that uses Springsteen’s seminal song as the soundtrack. Bruce and his wife Patty Scialfa make an appearance in the video.
“Star Spangled Banner” by the Chicks. The trio remotely performed from three locations and delivered exquisite harmonies. In 2003, still known as the Dixie Chicks, the trio gave what is considered one of the best versions of the anthem at a Super Bowl. Six weeks later, the Chicks were blacklisted from country music stations for criticizing President Bush and the Iraq War.
“Glory” by John Legend and Common. In a moving tribute to John Lewis, the artists sang their Academy Award winning song from the movie Selma.
“A Change is Gonna Come” by Jennifer Hudson. The civil rights anthem, written and first performed by Sam Cooke.
Billie Eilish, Stephen Stills, Billy Porter, Leon Bridges, Prince Royce and Maggie Rogers also performed.
The 2020 Republican Convention: In rallies leading up to the convention, Trump’s exit music had been “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. The Stones have complained about Trump’s use of their songs in the past, but this time added a legal threat. They gave notice that a suit would be filed if the campaign did not cease and desist. This seems to have worked as Trump has changed his exit music to…
“Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People (video from Monday of the convention). This clip shows Trump speaking to the North Carolina delegation and then exiting to “Y.M.C.A.” The crowd joined in to form letters, sing and dance to the beloved gay anthem. Go figure. The campaign is playing the song over the objection of the Village People who were offended when protesters were forcibly cleared for the Bible photo op. To see the Village People perform the full song, click here.
“Ave Maria” by Christopher Macchio. I believe Macchio is the only artist who performed in the prime time sessions of the RNC. On Thursday night after Trump’s speech, the opera tenor sang a medley of songs from a White House balcony, and one of them was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” During the fireworks finale, Tori Kelly’s recorded version of “Hallelujah” was played.
And that lit up social media. Not in a positive way. Cohen fans were up in arms over the appropriation of the classic song. Here is a sample tweet: “Leonard Cohen wrote 80 verses in the original composition of ‘Hallelujah.’ He couldn’t stop writing. The song grew into a reflection about love and loss and spirituality and empathy. Above all, it has space for countless views on what it means to be human. The opposite of Trump.”
As it turned out, the RNC had sought permission to use the song and the request was denied. From the song’s publisher Sony, “On the eve of the finale of the convention, representatives from the Republican National Committee contacted us regarding obtaining permission for a live performance of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ We declined their request.”
Michelle Rice, representing the Cohen Estate, “We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC’s use request, and their brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner ‘Hallelujah,’ one of the most important songs in the Cohen catalogue. We are exploring our legal options. Had the RNC requested another song, ‘You Want It Darker,’ for which Leonard won a posthumous Grammy in 2017, we might have considered approval of that song.”
The worldviews of Trump and Cohen do not match up. For example, on income inequality, a Cohen song that comes to mind is “Everybody Knows”…
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
I’m going to link a version of “Hallelujah,” but it won’t be from the convention. I’ll go with one of my favorite covers, and I know Leonard would approve. He was in the front row of the audience.
“Hallelujah” by k d lang.
I’ll now select some exit music for this Hot Stove.
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen.
As always Leonard, thank you.