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D-Day, Midway and a Nation at War: Thoughts on History as the Greatest Generation Passes Away

d-day-orderDwight Eisenhower speaking with men of the 101st Airborne Division before they jumped into Normandy

“At the end of the twentieth century the contributions of this generation would be in bold print in any review of this turbulent and earth-altering time. It may be historically premature to judge the greatness of a whole generation, but indisputably, there are common traits that cannot be denied. It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices. It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order. They know how many of the best of their generation didn’t make it to their early twenties, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war the world has seen.” Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation

I was born in 1960 and thankfully for whatever reason I developed a love of history and heritage. I began reading history books as early as second and third grade. The American Heritage Publishing Company had a Junior Library series that I could not get enough of awhile another publisher (it may have also been American Heritage) had a series of biographies which drew me into the lives of many famous people. From 3rd grade on I spent every spare moment at school in the library, even frequently cutting geometry class in 10th grade to explore the history reference books that I could not check out and take home.

tumblr_lahyzakLSB1qbjz0go1_500Marine Colonel Francis I. Fenton, kneeling prays at the foot of his son’s grave on Okinawa 1945

I think that anyone that knew me then could probably associate me with a big stack of books that I lugged to and from class and back and forth from home to school. The ironic thing is that as I pack for work or to come home every day at the Staff College my back pack from my tour in Iraq is filled with the books that I am reading or using for research. Maybe it is not ironic, maybe it is the fact that some things never change. For me the quest for knowledge and historical, philosophical, or scientific truth is something that I cannot get enough of, nor be content to think that I know everything on any given subject.

This little introduction takes me into today’s subject. For those that don’t know we are coming up on the anniversaries of two of the most amazing historical events of the past 100 years next week. They are the battles of Midway, June 4th through June 6th 1942 and the the invasion of France, or D-Day, June 6th 1944.

ts8The pilots of Torpedo 8, only one survived Midway

I have always been amazed by the men who faced the Japanese at Midway, a battle that by any reasonable means should have resulted in a Japanese victory as well as them men that stormed the beaches at Normandy just two years later. When I first started reading about these battles many of the veterans were still alive, many not much older than I am today. However today not many are left, and the few that remain generally served as junior officers or enlisted personnel, none in high command.

Both battles are remarkable because an American or Allied loss could have changed the course of history. Had the United States Navy been defeated at Midway it could have brought about a Japanese victory, or more likely made the ultimate American victory much more costly and drawn out. Had the Allies been repulsed at Normandy it could have split the allied coalition or given the Germans the chance to renew their fight against the Soviet Union and possibly change history.

Thus when I look at these two events, battles that for most are now ancient history I am in awe of the men who fought them. They are not academic exercises for me, but as someone who has served at sea and on land in war I feel a certain camaraderie with these men.

I remember reading Cornelius Ryan’s classic book “The Longest Day” and seeing the movie of the same name in grade school, and reading Walter Lord’s classic on Midway “Incredible Victory” when I was in 7th grade. Both are excellent books which have stood the test of time and though I have read and done much more research and writing on both battles I still keep a copy of each book and probably re-read each every few years and consult them for any new projects. Likewise have been fortunate enough to meet some of the men who served in both of these battles, and even in my time as an Army chaplain be with them in their declining years. Men like Frank Smoker and Henry Boyd, both Normandy vets who have since passed away mean much to me.

442ndRCTThe 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Today when I see a World War Two veteran, no matter where I encounter them, I make sure that I thank them for their service. They are part of an amazing generation of Americans who bequeathed those of us who live today so much, both during the war and after the war. Many millions served in the military, while many more served in war industries. All contributed to war bond drives, victory gardens and yes even increased taxes and decreased civil liberties to win the war.

The fact that Japanese Americans served in the most highly decorated Army units of the war despite their families being incarcerated in American versions of concentration camps is a testimony to sacrifice.

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Likewise the efforts of African Americans who went to war despite being second class citizens and discriminated against under the Jim Crow Laws, which even Nazis like Hermann Goering recognized were only different from the the Nazi anti-Semitic laws and persecution in manner of degree.

That was an amazing an unique generation of Citizen Soldiers. With few exceptions they were not the professional career soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who serve today. Most would not have considered themselves “warriors.” They were there to do a job, win a war and go home. It was part of who they were as Americans.

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How many today would do any of those things? Today we have well under one percent of the population who have served in the wars of the past 13 years, fewer who have served in combat or in a combat zone. Likewise the population in general and in particular the bankers, businesses, lobbyists and defense contractors are not asked to sacrifice anything, instead when the country was attacked the President and others decried the fact that war might prevent people from doing business, shopping or living a normal life. For God’s sake, were at war and that attitude would have been incomprehensible to those of the Greatest Generation who for the most part either went to war, or supported the war effort with their work and other contributions. For them patriotism was not a bumper sticker.

Rachel Maddow said it well in her book Drift The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“When civilians are not asked to pay any price, it’s easy to be at war – not just to intervene in a foreign land in the first place, but to keep on fighting there. The justifications for staying at war don’t have to be particularly rational or cogently argued when so few Americans are making the sacrifice that it takes to stay.”

scan002411-483x600Jimmy Stewart and his Bomber Crew

Because of the sacrifice of people of the Greatest Generation I am grateful for them. I believe that we can learn so much from them. Even A-List Hollywood stars and professional sport heroes left their careers to serve their country. Clarke Gable, Audie Murphy, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Feller, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio just to name a few sacrificed major portions of their careers to serve. With the exception of Pat Tillman who died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan which was covered up by the Army and Bush administration, how many of the 1%, the A-List or professional athletes can you name that have left sacrificed their fortunes to serve in the front lines? I can’t name any others, but in the Second World War even the 1% had skin in the game so to speak, the Kennedy’s, Roosevelt’s and the Bush’s to name just a few.

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I think that is why I am in awe of those of the Greatest Generation and why as the anniversaries of Midway and D-Day approach I am extra thoughtful, quite reflective and very thankful for those who through their sacrifice made so much of what we have today possible. What bothers me today is how few, especially of those who either advocate for war, lobby for it or profit from it no matter what their political, economic or religious persuasion is, offers to serve or pay for the cost of war.

Today those costs are borne by a tiny minority of Americans, military professionals of the all-volunteer military, both active duty and reserve who have endured deployment after deployment as the bulk of the nation stood by, mostly cheering them on. Of course as one who had his father serve in Vietnam and entered the military not long after had to endure the jeers of Americans, cheers are nice. They are much better than being called a “Nazi” for wearing your uniform to class. However, sometimes I think that many that cheer us on are able to due so because vicarious patriotism is easy. Vicarious patriotism anything, someone else serves, and someone else dies while they “support the troops” without actually doing anything.

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Now please don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good people who have never served in the military and who do care. Men and women who take action to support the troops, both those serving and the veterans, including those disabled in some way by war. For them I am grateful, they donate time, money and personal effort to care, and I do not care if the are conservatives or liberals, Republicans, Democrats or Independents, religious or atheist. They are Americans who are doing something. Likewise I do not disparage those who take the time to learn the issues that the nation faces and the domestic policies that impact the country and in a healthy body politic it doesn’t mean that we have to completely agree with each other to be patriots. Such an understanding would have been unthinkable to our founders much less most of the Greatest Generation. Veterans issues are important but national security also involves so much more, everything from the infrastructure that the Greatest Generation had the vision and wherewithal to build to the environment.

I have been to Normandy as well as other World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific. I can only agree with Tom Brokaw who wrote: “there on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness.”

So, when you read anything I write or re-publish during the next couple of weeks, be it about D-Day, Midway or even Gettysburg, please read what I write though those lenses. It is not that I am bitter. I have chosen my life in the military, but I wonder why so few of us bear the burden. It is a question that every citizen must ask themselves and their political representatives.

Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn, a Navy Chaplain serving with the Marines gave a eulogy at the dedication of a cemetery on Iwo Jima that puts it all in perspective.

“Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.

Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor . . .together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many men of each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price. .

We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.”

Since the last members of the Greatest Generation are passing away at an ever increasing rate and few will remain among us; I will ask you to ask yourself the question posed by the World War II veteran and hero John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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Cheating in Baseball: The Case of Barry Bonds and it’s Relationship to Modern America

Barry Bonds was convicted of one count of Obstruction of Justice in his trial on perjury charges. The obstruction count came as a result of Bonds’ 2003 Grand Jury testimony.  The three perjury charges were deadlocked and the judge has the option of retrying them.  Bonds’ defense team asked for the verdict to be set aside and the judge did not immediately rule on the request.  The Bonds legal saga is not over as a decision to retry the deadlocked perjury charges, the judge acting on the defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict and the outcome sentencing and any appeals are still to come.

Meanwhile the steroids era just will not go away as Roger Clemons is soon to stand trial for lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use and Manny Ramirez ended his already tarnished career with yet another positive steroid sample.  Ramirez should have known better. He was on the list of 103 players that tested positive in 2003 and he was suspended for 50 games last year for a positive test while playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fact that he was caught once again suggests that he was either incredibly arrogant or stupid or possibly both.

Unfortunately they are not alone. In fact 6 of the top 14 home run leaders (in italics) of all time are tainted by steroids only one of whom is still active.  Jim Thome who is also active has not been implicated in the steroids scandals but will still likely be scrutinized simply because he hit a lot of home runs during the era.  The sad thing is that the use of steroids according to some was so prevalent that almost anyone who set records during the era tainted or not will be viewed with suspicion.  As for Bonds people made up their minds about him years ago and there is little middle ground when it comes to him. The only thing now is how baseball will deal with the records of Bonds and the other players of the steroid era and admit him or any of them into the Hall of Fame.

1              Barry Bonds           762

2              Hank Aaron            755

3              Babe Ruth               714

4              Willie Mays             660

5              Ken Griffey, Jr.      630

6              Alex Rodriguez      617

7              Sammy Sosa          609

8              Jim Thome              590

9              Frank Robinson     586

10           Mark McGwire      583

11           Harmon Killebrew 573

12           Rafael Palmeiro                    569

13           Reggie Jackson      563

14           Manny Ramírez                    555

Now some like Palmeiro went and shook their fingers at Congress and then popped positive, not smart but so many others could very well have done steroids that have not been caught that we will never know.  There are numerous reports which implicate others most of whom will never be prosecuted or banned from baseball.  But thanks to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitsky who transferred to the FDA to pursue elite athletes Bonds, Clemons and other legends of various sports have been singled out for prosecution in what amounts to a witch hunt designed to bring down the biggest names in sports.  In the case of Bonds this has cost the taxpayer over 50 million dollars.  In an era of massive deficits is this a good way to spend our money to get a guilty verdict on just one charge after almost 8 years of work?  To me it seems that Novitsky and his team have made a special effort including violating court prescribed limitations of search and seizure at the BALCO labs and to ensure that the case was tried in the media before Bonds ever went to court.  Do the math: 1 player, 8 years, 50 million dollars and 1 guilty verdict on one count of 5 that went to trial and 4 that went to the jury.

That being said I believe that Bonds knowingly took steroids as did so many of the players of his era and though Bonds has not admitted anything I imagine that he started to take steroids because of the wild success of those that were taking such as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa neither of who had all of the natural talent and ability of Bonds who was on course to be a Hall of Famer before he started using.  I wish that he had admitted that he did back in 2003 it probably would have done much to help end the era as well as put others on notice and it is likely that instead of being ever in our face the Steroid era would be in the past.  The conviction even on the one count of obstruction says much in how he is perceived in court and in public. While Bonds has many supporters he also has many detractors.

I think as does Bob Costas that Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame, not on the first ballot for sure because unlike McGuire and Sosa he was heading to hall of fame well before his numbers became inflated after the 1997 season.  Despite the fact that steroids undoubtedly had some impact there were many others that took steroids and still couldn’t hit, many that couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. To quote Minnesota Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart who was interviewed by Minneapolis Star Tribune sports writer Paul Reusse:

“The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn’t hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids….If Bonds was doing all of this … you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids.”

Zach Moore compiled an interesting and enlightening portrait of Bonds’ performance before he began allegedly using steroids in 1998. I post it here with the link because with or without steroids Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame based on his pre-1998 statistics.  True he may not have topped Aaron or Ruth in Home Runs but the numbers and the company they put him in are impressive.

“Bonds’ stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.

He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds’ desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.

In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”

The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.

On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”

We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.

I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.

His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.

He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.

Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.

Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.

He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.

Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.

Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.

Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.

Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.

The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.

After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/40505-were-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-hall-of-famers-before-steroids

Additionally Bonds before 1998 was a 7 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time MVP and 6 time Silver Slugger Award winner. For a complete list of Bonds accolades see the Baseball Almanac page at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/awards.php?p=bondsba01  Even after he was alleged to use steroids he won the 2004 Hank Aaron Award, the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, 2004 Players Choice Outstanding Player of the Year Award, 2004 Players Choice Player of the Year Award, 2004 National League Silver Slugger Award and 2004 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.  In a sense despite a widespread suspicion that he was using steroids the players and media recognized him as the best in the game. Then they didn’t seem very concerned about the possibility that he might have cheated. Now many in the media who made their money promoting Bonds condemn him as do many fans that have since abandoned him.  To me it is hypocritical.  Yes I think that he cheated but that takes little away from his pre-steroid accomplishments.

Because of the alleged steroid use and the subsequent investigation, trial and conviction he will be remembered as a cheater. However morally he is no different than all the players of the Steroid eras who abused PEDs but who were nowhere close to his skills and performance.  Bonds was certainly was an amazing player. His overall numbers would very well be lower without steroids especially the home runs, but he very well may have been the greatest overall player since his Godfather Willie Mays even without them.  Not many players can say that.

Bonds biggest problem was that he displayed a sense of arrogance toward the game and the law, the same arrogance that made him such a fearsome hitter even before steroids. The same is true with Roger Clemons, quite probably the greatest pitcher of the modern era. Like Bonds before him Clemons’ refusal to deal with the issue of his alleged steroid use forthrightly before Congress; will likely end in some kind of criminal conviction and Clemons in his first 14 seasons was certainly a Hall of Famer. I won’t go into his statistics here but they are also covered in Zack Moore’s article.

Are there men that cheated in the Hall of Fame? Yes one of the most flagrant being Gaylord Perry who admitted after his retirement and before his election to the Hall of Fame that he threw the “spit ball” which was illegal his entire career.  Players who “corked” bats were common but most were never caught because unlike today their bats were never inspected.  Pitchers used the spit ball, emery boards, diamond rings and sandpaper to alter the baseball to give it extra movement.  Since all ballplayers are human beings I have no doubt that had the technology to produce PEDs been available between the end of the Dead Ball era in 1919 and the late 1980s when they arrived on the scene that players would have abused them in order to increase their performance, win games and extend their careers.  Likewise they would have been cheered as much as the home run leaders of the 1990s were until they were exposed.  All one has to do is take a look at those who are known to have cheated as documented in this ESPN article http://espn.go.com/page2/s/list/cheaters/ballplayers.html  a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

My contention in this article is not that Bonds did not cheat the evidence certainly looks like he used steroids which were banned when he allegedly started using. Instead I would say that Bonds has been unfairly singled out by people in the government, the media and even in the game that would rather tear down a man than to place his actions in the broader context of the game, the era, human nature and history.  This will happens to Clemons too but not many others.

Meanwhile the government bails out financial institutions and industries that have defrauded the American public and helped impoverish the nation. We excuse the illegal and unethical lives of politicians and Presidential Candidates so long as they our on our side of the politic spectrum or failing that against the party that we oppose and we give churches and clergy who harm innocents a pass and say that the accusers are persecuting the Church. We worship celebrity and idolize people with talent or looks but not much else but we will do our best to destroy athletes who break the rules of their game.  Isn’t that somewhat hypocritical.

To put things in context I am 51 years old and coming up on 30 years in the military between the Army and Navy. In order to get the highest category of score on my Physical Fitness Test I have to perform at almost the same level as I did as a young Army enlisted man, ROTC Cadet and Officer. Likewise I have to meet almost identical height, weight and body fat standards.  On the physical side I can still outperform many young men 20-30 years younger than me. I deal with nagging injuries to my knees, shoulders and have a very fragile ankle that I have sprained or broken so many times that it is not even funny.  I suffer chronic pain. If someone had a way other than Icy Hot and 800mg Motrin to ease the pain and help my performance I cannot say that I wouldn’t take it, I probably wouldn’t break the law if it was illegal to use but if it wasn’t illegal but merely questionable I might use it.  I have another 5-7 years left before I expect to retire and like Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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You Win a Few, You Lose a Few. Some Get Rained Out. But You Got to Dress for All of Them

“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” Satchel Paige

Paige_Satchel1942Satchel Paige on the Kansas City Monarchs

Negro League and Cleveland Indian’s Hall of Fame legend Satchel Paige was one of the most remarkable men who ever played the game of baseball.  He came along after Jackie Robinson and others had broken the color barrier having played 22 years in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Puerto Rican League, where in the winter of 1939 he went 19-3 with a 1.93 ERA. While with the Kansas City Monarchs Paige helped lead the team to four consecutive Negro League World Series titles from 1939-1942 and again in 1946.  During his time in the Negro Leagues played in numerous exhibition games against major league stars and future stars including Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio who went 1-4 against Paige. During this time he would pitch in the summer with the Negro League team and winters in the various Winter Leagues.  It could be said that Satchel Paige not only played baseball but lived it.  In the Negro Leagues Paige often pitched twice a day, sometimes in two different cities.  Record keeping in these leagues was almost universally lax so the feats of men like Paige, Jackie Robinson, Cool Papa Bell and Buck O’Neil will never be fully appreciated by modern statistically absorbed fans.

When he was signed by Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians he was either 42 or 44 years old depending on what documents you use…talk about a birth certificate controversy.  Paige pitched 5 seasons in the Majors with Cleveland and the St. Louis Browns mainly in a relief role and pitched in the 1948 World Series and the 1953 All-Star Game after having been chosen for the 1952 game but not getting the chance play.  He was signed by the Kansas City Athletics for a one game contract in 1965.  He pitched his last game at the age of 59 or 61 on August 25th 1965 throwing three shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox, the only hit coming from Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski who doubled.  Paige set the next 7 batters down in order.  In between his years in the majors Paige continued to pitch in the minors.  He played his last game of organized baseball in 1966 for the Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League in Hampton Virginia. The Pilots, now of the Independent Coastal Plain League, still play in Hampton’s War Memorial Stadium in which the legendary great pitched his last game.

Paige was recognized by many as perhaps the best pitcher to ever play the game.  Bob Feller called him “the best pitcher I ever saw.”  Ted Williams said “Satch (Paige) was the greatest pitcher in baseball.” Joe DiMaggio called him “The best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced” while Bill Veeck who brought Paige to the majors said he was “The best right hander baseball has ever known.”

The biggest thing in my mind about Paige was his love for the game and his determination to play as long as he could.  In the Negro Leagues he pretty much played year round for 22 years.  After his major league career was over he continued to play the game that he loved.  He did all of this in a segregated and “Jim Crow” America.  It was due primarily to Paige and others like him that black players got the chance to come to the Major Leagues.  Most expected that Paige would be the first black player called up but this honor went to Jackie Robinson.  In 1971 in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech he said “The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second class citizen to a second class immortal.”

I like Paige a lot.  I remember reading Bob Feller’s book in grade school and his comments about Paige, especially the time he switched a bar of soap for the ice cream in a an ice cream sandwich.  When Paige took a bit his false teeth came out with the sandwich.  Now that I am 49 years old I like him even more.  He took 22 years to get in the big leagues and didn’t quit and even after his major league career continued to play.  He endured Spartan living conditions on low pay in a segregated and often hostile America did not deter him.  Neither did his age, many men in their 40s would have quit before realizing their dream.  That is the lesson of Satchel Paige for me.  He was the oldest “rookie” ever to play Major League ball.  I kind of understand what Paige went through.  I started my Navy career after nearly a full Army career.  In fact I was within 2 ½ years of Reserve retirement when I got the chance to serve in the Navy in February 1989.

Satchel Paige was an example to me that if you have the heart and talent you can achieve your dream even if it takes a long time. My advice for people who still dream dreams is to be persistent and don’t give up.  Sometimes, not always, but sometimes by hanging in there, making the sacrifices to achieve the dream it comes true.  After a very difficult 5 years following leaving the Army to go to seminary which included long term sickness to Judy, losing almost everything that we owned, and having to work menial jobs for unappreciative people to get through seminary, Additionally there were times when I was sure that it was over, that my best efforts had failed, something would break my way and I would be able to continue.  It was remarkable.  While I give appropriate credit to God I do not fail to give credit to all the people that believed in me and wouldn’t let me fail.  The way that I figure is if you don’t try or you quit too soon you will always wonder if you could have made it.  There will always be doubt and often regret.  My Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, Dr. Steve Ivy at Parkland Memorial Hospital told me once, “Steve, you make your own future, stop living in the pain of the past.”  That was an “Wow I could have had a V-8 moment” for me.  It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been great.  His advice was on target.

Satchel once said: “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”  The comment is way too true, but for me even more important is this: “You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.”

I think the Deity Herself would agree with both statements and I’m sure that Satchel is still pitching for the New Jerusalem Saints of the Pearly Gates League.

Peace, Steve+

satchel paige

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Filed under Baseball, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion

Memorial Day 2009- Thoughts and Musings

I am again at the Medical Center on duty, but this not a bad thing.   Before I begin my post I want to direct you to the post of the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and her thoughts on this Memorial Day.  Her post is linked here: http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/memorial-day-musings/

I Have also posted several links in this article. Peace, Steve+

ports hosp cemetary 2Conaway Cemetery Portsmouth Naval Medical Center

I have been thinking a lot about the significance of Memorial Day the past week.  I think about it more now than I used to.  Now I have always thought a lot of it and observed it the best that I could.  Yet having now been “boots on the ground” in Iraq travelling about the battlefield to take care of the spiritual needs of American Marines and Soldiers serving as advisers with the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces it has more meaning.  I am now a combat veteran.  Last year I joined the VFW.  I came back from the war different, PTSD kind of goons you up sometimes.  I spent most of the past 15 months dealing with this, not sleeping and being in chronic pain.  I’m now doing much better.  In part this is due to the support I have at home and a work and the fact that I am no longer isolated.  Being on staff at our Naval Medical Center has been good for me and I do not resent being the Duty Chaplain on this Memorial Day.  I have far too many wonderful people I work with here to think anything like that.  It is an honor to serve here with such fine people, Physicians, Nurses, Chaplains and other medical and support staff.

ports hospt cemetary 1Another View Conaway Cemetery

Today has been really good no matter how the night goes.  I participated in the annual Memorial Day observance at the historic Naval Cemetery on our grounds.  It is but a mere two acres of land and dates to 1838 when it was established to allow the remains of those who died far from their homes repose. It has Navy Sailors, Marines and their families.  It also holds the remains of Sailors from Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan and Brazil who died in the Norfolk area.  Additionally the remains of Sailors of the Confederate States Navy are buried here.  The service was organized by the Local Chapters of the Fleet Reserve Association, supported by the local Boy Scout troops and attended by veterans, active duty members and dignitaries from the City of Portsmouth City Council and a State Senator.   It was a simple yet moving ceremony which involved a wreath-laying as well as Amazing Grace played on the Bagpipes and Taps.  Our Color Guard presented the colors and our Commanding Officer, Rear Admiral Kiser was the guest speaker.  Local news services were on hand to televise it, just as they televised others services throughout the region.  One of these was on the Battleship USS Wisconsin which is the centerpiece of the local maritime museum at Norfolk’s Nauticus venue.

Our hospital is interesting.  It dates to 1826 and is the first Naval and for that matter military hospital in our country.  The motto here is First and Finest. Building One is the original hospital.  It has a glass dome which at one time lighted the operating theater.   It now is our command building with other administrative offices.  The hospital has served in peace and war and was instrumental in the 1850s in caring for the victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic.  It is now a teaching hospital and multi-faceted medical center with a national reputation.

The time at the service was neat as I mixed with our veterans of World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the current wars.  Many proudly displayed their medals, ribbons and badges.  When the National Anthem was played these men and women saluted as smartly as when they were on active duty.  Many are involved with local veterans groups and some are volunteers at our hospital taking time to care for the needs of our patients and families.  Among the dignitaries was Councilman Charles Whitehurst who is a member of the small historically black Episcopal Church where I worship.  Mr. Whitehurst enlisted in the Marines in 1955 and rose through the enlisted ranks to Sergeant, was appointed as a Warrant Officer and the Commissioned as an Officer.  He retired as a Major after Vietnam.   Afterward Admiral Kiser was the Grand Marshal of the Portsmouth Memorial Day Parade, which is the oldest and longest running in the nation.   A link to a local station’s coverage of this event is here: http://www.wvec.com/video/index.html?nvid=364992&shu=1

I was able to catch a glimpse of President Obama’s wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery where in in short and solemn remarks he noted: “Why in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of narrowest self-interest have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others,” he said. “Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden?”

“Whatever it is, they felt some tug. They answered a call. They said ‘I’ll go.’ That is why they are the best of America,” Obama said. “That is what separates them from those who have not served in uniform, their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.”

I think that his remarks were perfect and honored those who serve now and those have gone before us.

The last service of this type that I attended was at the US Cemetery at Belleau Wood, France. It is the site of the battle in which the Marines in their first battle of World War One turned back the assault of the German Army which was advancing on Paris and launched a counter-attack.  I was with Marines of the Marine Security Forces who were conducting a joint memorial service with French Marines.  The next day I visited Normandy with the Marines and taught classes to them on the battle, looking at it from the German perspective.  The day prior to the service I taught parts of the “staff-ride” of the battlefield discussing various aspects of World War one tactics, weaponry and equipment.

me at normandyWith Marines at Normandy

This is also most likely the last Memorial Day that my father will be alive.  He served as a Navy Chief Petty Officer and retired in 1974.  In 1972 he served “boots on the ground” at the city of An Loc which was surrounded for 80 days by the North Vietnamese Army.  He was my inspiration to serve in the military.  There are many veterans of World War Two, Korea and Vietnam who like him are in the twilight of their lives.  I do pray that all will be remembered this Memorial Day.  I was able to be with him the week before last.  I expect it will be the last time that I see him.

McCains Special BaseballTed Williams as USMC Aviator

One interesting thing that I want to mention before I close was the effort that many professional ball players made back in World Wars One, Two and Korea.  Some of the top players of all time gave up some of their prime playing years to serve.  Christy Matthewson served in the Army in France during World War One. He was gassed and developed Tuberculosis and died at the age of 45 in 1925 never playing again.  Yogi Berra served as a Navy Gunners Mate at D-Day.  Ted Williams served in both WWII and Korea as a Marine Corps fighter pilot.  He lost nearly 5 seasons to his service. One who studies statistics in baseball might want to extrapolate the numbers that Williams might have had if he had played on instead of serving.  Hank Greenberg the first Jewish Major League superstar was drafted in 1940 and released just before Pearl Harbor when Congress voted to send men over 28 home. He then re-enlisted, was commissioned and served in the China-Burma-India Theater.  Joe Dimaggio enlisted in the Army Air Force and served 2 ½ years from 1943-1945. Bob Feller volunteered for the Navy on December 8th 1941 and spent 4 seasons on the USS Alabama as a gun captain. Pee Wee Reese served in the Navy in the Pacific while Jackie Robinson served as an Army Officer and Larry Doby served in the Navy before breaking the color barrier to play Major League baseball.  Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Eddie Matthews and Ernie Banks were all called up for Korea along with Williams.  Roy Gleason of the Dodgers was the last player to earn the Purple Heart as an Army Sergeant in Vietnam. Of course the world has changed.  We have an all volunteer military no current Major League players, or for that matter NBA, NFL or NHL players serve in the military but many donate time and money to support military members and their families including Giant’s pitcher Barry Zito and Orioles pitcher Jamie Walker.  Working with USAA these men have founded a non-profit group called “Strikeouts for Troops.  A link to that organization is here:  http://video.yahoo.com/watch/3462236/9644105

Pat Tillman a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals enlisted after 9-11 and was killed during a “friendly fire” incident while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.  He has been the only NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA player to volunteer for active duty in the current war.

Here are a few links to some baseball and veteran stories:

Link to video of Baseball Hall of Fame Player Monte Irvin talking about his service in World War Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKERxyAbg1w and link to Indians and A’s player Lou Brissie’s WWII experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFwAXNR9q-k Jerry Coleman on his Marine Corps time as a dive bomber pilot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUlBgBxaWoY

Bob Feller’s, Buck O’Neal and Phil Rizzuto’s WWII memories:  http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=bob+feller+american+veterans+&n=21&ei=utf-8&js=1&fr=yfp-t-105&tnr=20&vid=0001463818096 and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRyILkx_c2U

Link to Rick Monday’s saving the flag at Dodger Stadium in April 1976:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrV8QPQAhxo&feature=related

goldstar

Let us remember our veterans, especially those who gave the last full measure to serve our country. Support the Honor and Remember flag campaign as well as the “Blue Star” and “Gold Star” families whose loved ones currently serve or have died on active duty in this time of war.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, vietnam