Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Major, The Navy, and a Simple Word

The celebration of the late George M. Steinbrenner III continues, with some of his admirers advocating his immediate election to the Baseball Hall of Fame rather than making the legendary, controversial owner of the NY Yankees wait several years as other mortals must.

The last two weeks have been particularly sad for Yankee fans. Aside from Boss George, we lost Bob Sheppard, the longtime “voice of the Yankees.”

Equally poignant was the death of Ralph Houk, the Major, a true World War II decorated hero, who managed the pinstriped boys in The Bronx for 11 years, winning three straight pennants (1961-63) and two consecutive World Series (1961-62). Houk’s first three years as Yankee skipper spanned the last glory years of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris. He returned for a second stint as manager during the nadir of the franchise, taking over in 1966 and staying until the end of 1973, Steinbrenner’s first year as owner. It’s no coincidence Houk left the Yankee dugout when he did. His managerial philosophy could not have been more diametrically different than Steinbrenner’s.

“I don’t think you can humiliate a player and expect him to perform,” Houk was quoted as saying.

The bottom line is this: when Houk was given great players, the team won. When his roster had aging or mediocre talent, like Horace Clarke, the team failed. The same can be said for Steinbrenner’s bullying manners. When he paid for the right players, they won. When he bought the wrong players, they failed to win.

Ask Not...: It’s a very simple word. Only three letters. A-S-K. But this word is among the most mispronounced in the English language. Listen, not even too carefully, and too often you will hear someone say “aks” instead of “ask.” Education or socio-economic environment or race doesn’t typecast offenders. One of my former staffers made this egregious mistake, and believe me, when a reporter/editor says in an interview, “May I aks you a question?” it doesn’t reflect favorably on the publication or the writer.

The Navy in Afghanistan: It’s upsetting to learn two U.S. sailors ventured into harm’s way in Afghanistan, with one killed and the other taken prisoner by Taliban forces. First question that came to mind—why is the Navy represented in a landlocked country? Second question—why would these sailors voluntarily travel into a danger zone?

The NY Times tried to answer the first question with the following sentence in a Sunday article: “Although soldiers make up the lion’s share of American forces in Afghanistan, which is landlocked, most bases have a mix of service members, including from the Navy.”

My hypothesis for the second question is these sailors were part of a Special Operations unit. Otherwise, I can’t figure out why any sailors are there.

The frantic efforts to find and retrieve the captured serviceman will give Americans a greater appreciation for what Israelis are going through the last four-plus years, since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas and taken to the Gaza Strip.