Coming home from 17 days in East Africa last month, jazzed by how fascinating our visit had been and conscious of how little I know about Africa, I scooped up Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Shadow of the Sun while wandering around the Arusha (Tanzania) Airport. What a stroke of luck!
I’m delighted to be among the first to proclaim the 225th anniversary of the ratification of America’s Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Those amendments protect individual liberties that Americans hold most dear, and became central to our national character after the Fourteenth Amendment (adopted in 1868) applied them against state governments as well as the federal government.
Though my Babe Ruth book’s a novel — as in FICTION — one of the fun consequences of writing about the Babe has come when people share with me their Babe memorabilia. Because the Babe was way more than just a great ballplayer. He was and remains a huge cultural figure. I offer a couple of exhibits.
At the semi-famous Dan Moldea Writers’ Dinner this week night (we writers have to dine together because few others want to eat with us), none other than Mr. Moldea, who you know as the relentless pursuer of the Jimmy Hoffa killer and other mysterious evildoers, shared with me some souvenir baseball cards he acquired . . . sometime or other. They’re not from Ruth’s era, but they have some great photos of the Babe.
It seems to have happened again. This makes four.
The American people just voted for president. The candidate who won the largest number of votes — Hillary Clinton, this year — will not become president. As of now, she is more than 200,000 votes ahead of her leading opponent, Donald Trump. But through the weird alchemy of the elector system, Trump will become president.
It happened in 1876, when Rutherford Hayes “won” the election against Samuel Tilden. And in 1888, when Benjamin Harrison “defeated” Grover Cleveland. And in 2000, when George W. Bush “triumphed” over Al Gore.
When Babe Ruth led the New York Yankees into their first World Series ever in 1921 — 95 years ago — he had just finished what may have been the best season a hitter has ever had: 59 home runs, 161 RBIs, a .378 batting average. He scored 177 runs. Opposing teams hated to pitch to him; he impatiently endured 145 bases on balls.
Babe Ruth was a great pitcher before he was a great hitter. Doesn’t it seem likely that one of the reasons he was a great hitter was because he had been a great pitcher?
Playing for the Boston Red Sox from 1915 to 1918, the Babe was probably the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. He won 78 games and lost only 40, racking up an E.R.A. of 2.28 for his entire pitching career. He was fabulous in clutch situations, setting a record that stood for decades by pitching 29 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series games.
With less than three weeks to go until my novel concerning Babe Ruth debuts, The Babe Ruth Deception, I find myself wondering why Babe Ruth movies are so bad. In fairness, though, not all of them are terrible, at least not when he wasn’t the focus of the film.
He played himself in The Pride of the Yankees, which starred Gary Cooper as the doomed teammate, Lou Gerhig. Babe portrayed himself pretty well in a solid tear-jerker.
Partly because he loved to play baseball, partly because he loved to spend money, Babe Ruth played lots of exhibition games in the offseason across the country and in the Caribbean. After his astonishing 1921 season, the formed the Babe Ruth All Stars, which played against multiple Negro League teams, including the Kansas City Monarchs and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.
It’s completely weird.
They can go on forever, the only time Southern California TV stations never break for commercials. The first one on Monday morning lasted more than two hours. Later in the day, a second one lasted two hours.
It sounds mind-numbing. Helicopter cameras track a single car speeding down interstates and freeways while a reporter estimates the speed of the vehicle, the nature of the roads coming up, the risks the driver is running, the time elapsed in the pursuit, and any other drivel he or she can dream up to fill the time.
Now that he’s won the Pulitzer Prize for it, maybe we’ll pay attention to the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the genre-smashing Broadway hit that costs a monthly car payment to attend. When we listen to the words – really listen – we can appreciate his achievement.
Magic can happen when story and words and music meet, when a single artistic vision commands eye and ear and imagination. That’s the secret of opera’s survival despite its preposterous qualities, and also of Hamilton. But there’s more to Miranda’s creation.