Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sports Edition: Pettitte vs. Clemens; Glickman—A Giant Voice; Midget Football

What’s in a Name? Were the Houston Astros playing with Andy Pettitte’s head Saturday? How weird was it that the starting pitcher for the home team Astros in Pettitte’s final game of his career was Clemens? No, not Roger Clemens, Pettitte’s one-time friend and teammate, both with the NY Yankees and the Astros, who is now his legal adversary in Clemens’ alleged use of anabolic steroids. Paul Clemens pitched for Houston. No relation to Roger, as far as I can research, but clearly a weird confluence of names too eerie for anyone in the Astros organization not to be cognizant of. Perhaps it was added motivation that enabled Pettitte to end his career, some might argue, a Hall of Fame career, with a full game 2-1victory. 

How fitting that two teams that have struggled all year to score runs could not end the season in nine innings Sunday. Today, the Yankees and Astros took a 1-1 tie into the 14th inning. In the top of 14th, Yankees TV announcer Michael Kay said, "For those who didn't want the Yankees season to end, you're getting your wish." You could hear the frustration in his voice as the futility of the play on the field permeated the play-by-play booth. On the next pitch, however, Mark Reynolds hit a tie-breaking home run. And then the Yanks added three more runs, giving the team a 5-1 victory, their 85th against 77 losses, not good enough to make the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons. 

Sunday’s finale took so long that Reynolds was shown gathering his equipment and leaving the dugout before the end of the game to seemingly rush to catch a plane home as players dispersed at the conclusion of the last game of the season. It’s been that type of season. Not even a dignified goodbye could be mustered.

A Giant Voice:  Today being a Sunday in the last third of the year, I did what I have done for more than half a century. I experienced a NY Giants football game. I say “experienced” because in the years before the National Football League lifted its television broadcast ban on home games, even those that were sold out, the only way I could indulge my fix was to listen to WNEW AM, the radio home of the Giants. Listening to Marty Glickman call the games became an addiction. Even when Giants games were telecast I would turn off the sound (sorry Jim Whitaker or Chris Schenkel) and supplant it with Glickman’s play-by-play from a radio atop the TV console. Even fans who attended Giants games at Yankee Stadium brought their transistor radios with them to listen to Glickman. 

If you’re a sports fan, sure you root for a team and feel a special alliance with individual players, especially those who played during your youth. Y.A. Tittle of the NY Football Giants (with his balding head he looked a little like my father, though one would never confuse my father’s athletic prowess with that of Tittle). Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Willie Mays of the NY Giants. Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics. Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Yet, as powerful as those associations were, perhaps even more deep-rooted were the impressions made by the sportscasters of their time—Mel Allen who called Yankees games, Lindsey Nelson of the NY Mets, Vince Scully of the Dodgers, Ernie Harwell of the Detroit Tigers. The list can go on and on, but it begins with Marty Glickman.

I’m nostalgic for the rich tones of Glickman’s play-by-play reportage after watching an HBO documentary of his life. I knew Glickman as the announcer of the Giants during my formative years of appreciation of football. Like many, I also knew he had been denied participation in the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin because of anti-Semitism and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s cowardly acquiescence to Nazi intimidation. Glickman and another Jewish runner, Sam Stoller, were removed from the 4x100 meter relay team the morning of the race, which the U.S. easily won. There was lots about Glickman’s life I did not know, including his crafting many of the terms we take for granted when listening to broadcasts of basketball games, such as “swish” and “top of the key.” 

Viewing Glickman should be mandatory for anyone who cares about sports, and for anyone who cares how one man can help shape an industry, for Glickman truly pioneered many of the broadcasting standards currently enjoyed in numerous sports. It wasn’t in the film, but my favorite story about Glickman happened one season in the 1960s when the down-in-the-luck Giants needed a win to gain some respectability. Late in a game, Glickman exhorted his listeners, wherever they were, at home, in their car, at the Stadium, to show their support by chanting out loud, “Let’s Go Giants, Let’s Go Giants.”

I’m not too proud to admit that as I listened to Glickman in the basement bedroom of my parents’ home, I cheered along. But what really made the moment special was hearing from my brother’s friend Jerry who was attending a NY Jets game at Shea Stadium. All of a sudden, he later related to us, Shea Stadium erupted in a “Let’s Go Giants” cheer. Jets players and their opponents wondered if they had been transported to another arena. Back then, many attending Jets games were Giants fans who simultaneously listened to the Giants radio broadcasts. 

I always thought Glickman had improvised that call-to-cheer but it turns out the idea originated with Wellington Mara, the owner of the Giants. He suggested the cheer as an in-your-face gesture to the upstart Jets organization, a way of showing which team New York fans truly loved and followed. Of course, the Jets earned a Super Bowl ring before the Giants, in 1969, but since then the Giants have won four titles and the Jets have yet to play again in the penultimate game of the year.

Midget Football: I keep calling them Giants. So far this year they are playing like midgets. They lost their fourth straight game today. They are 0-4 after another shellacking, this time by the Kansas City Chiefs. Though they played better than last week, when they lost 38-0 to the Carolina Panthers, they still managed to be embarrassed, 31-7. 

Why, I wondered, with two minutes to go and the game clearly beyond redemption, why did the coaches risk injury to their best players by keeping Eli Manning and Victor Cruz in the game? It's not as if they needed more experience at their positions. Could it be that the coaches were just as dumbstruck as the players have been? 

It’s going to be a loooong season, one that even a “Let’s Go Giants” chant from Marty Glickman could not hasten to a positive conclusion. 

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