How to Think: Book Review and Reflection

November 17, 2017

Alan Jacobs

Well, I guess that a book with such a title would strive to be that most-clichéd of written works: one that is “thought-provoking.”

Okay, mission accomplished, Alan Jacobs.  But for me, the book is better described as “introspection-inspiring.”

The book’s subtitle is “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.” I read a Wall Street Journal review of it a few weeks ago and was intrigued. The review didn’t lead me to believe that it was a self-help book. Rather, it held out the promise that How to Think would give the reader a measured and sober understanding of the causes and cures for the vast chasm that divides the left and the right in America’s body politic.

You can get a good deal of that understanding from this compact (156 pages) book by Jacobs, a professor of humanities at Baylor University. You’ll probably recognize attitudes and tactics from both your side of the political divide and the other side. You might even acknowledge the existence of your side’s version of the “RCO” — the “Repugnant Cultural Other” who inhabits the far shore (but who actually might be your next-door neighbor or long-time friend.)

Corollary to that will likely be a realization that you and those on your side are somebody else’s RCOs. It is, as he puts it, a “profoundly unhealthy situation.” Duh.

So, why is it this way nowadays? And is there anything we, as individuals, can do about it? If not to change the world (we can’t), then at least to chart a course through calmer waters and steer between the Scylla of the alt-left and the Charybdis of the alt-right? That we can do, and this book is a helpful guide.

Groupthink

Early in the book, Jacobs gives the example of people’s attitudes towards “The Puritans.” For the most part, to be called “puritanical” is to be insulted. Puritans are rigid, authoritarian, judgmental—right? Jacobs cites writer Marilynne Robinson, who states that this easy characterization is a “great example of our collective eagerness to disparage without the knowledge or information about the thing being disparaged, when the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.”

Emphasis mine in that last sentence. I think Jacobs gets it about something, a phenomenon that’s common in these days of social media, the era of the knee-jerk retweet and the forwarded-without-thinking disparagement.

We all want to belong to a group or a community, and that’s usually a positive thing. No man is an island, and so on. But a problem crops up when the group exists primarily to exclude and denigrate others. Those who belong get their comfort and feelings of safety and power from belonging. But that belonging exacts a price, both from the individual person and from the wider society.

Jacobs mentions the case of Megan Phelps-Roper, who was a card-carrying, insult-hurling member of the Westboro Baptist Church. She goes through a gradual and wrenching transformation when she encounters and is willing to talk to one of those RCOs. In the case of the Westboro crowd, the RCO is a gay guy – and she eventually sees his humanity and leaves the Westboro cocoon and her old comrades-in-arms behind.

This is an unusual example, but it’s proof that the battle lines in today’s culture wars aren’t permanent, that there’s hope. Jodi Picoult tells a story of such a transformation in her novel Small Great Things.  In that fictional account, the convert is a pickup-driving, tobacco-chawing racist who eventually come to see the loving decency and professional competence of a black nurse who has cared for his child. The guy sees the light; his wife remains behind.

Both the real person and the fictional person cited here experienced a loss: of group security, of friends, and of family members. Whether it was truly a net loss, in either case, seems unlikely, because new affiliations await those who are willing to change their minds and evolve.

These experiences also both predict the final words of Jacobs’s book, Item 12 on his “Thinking Person’s Checklist.” He writes, “Be Brave. “

Yes, it does take more than a little courage to be open to the possibility of modifying your views at the risk of distancing yourself from your fellow travelers. Not everybody is up to it. Jacobs says as much near the end of the book:

“You have to be a certain kind of person to make this book work for you: the kind of person who, at least some of the time, cares more about working toward the truth than about one’s current social position.”

There are many pithy examples and light-bulb-inducing “Oh, of course” explanations sprinkled throughout the book.  I’d like to cite just a couple that struck me as particularly relevant.

C.S. Lewis and the Inner Ring

It’s not surprising that Jacobs turns to C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and many other works of Christian humanism, for an erudite and prescient look at what’s become of much of our society. Lewis delivered a lecture titled The Inner Ring at King’s College, London, in 1944. I remember reading and re-reading it a few years ago, and I thought it was spot-on even then.

“…you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring… And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings—what Tolstoy calls the second or unwritten systems,” Lewis told students more than 70 years ago.

And he continued,

“And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world…I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. ..of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

In applying the notion of the Inner Ring to present-day social affiliations and communities of interest, Jacobs offers the following observations and advice:

“…once we’re part of an Inner Ring, we maintain our status in part by coming up with those post-hoc rationalizations that confirm our identity and, equally important, confirm the nastiness of those Outside…Smart people have a problem, especially (though not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize anything.”

But he does offer some hope to those who try to do better, suggesting,

“You can know whether your social environment is healthy for thinking by its attitude toward ideas from the outgroup…If you have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness, or else lose your status in your community, then you should realize that it’s not a community but rather an Inner Ring.”

And Now for Some of my Most-Admired Friends

As for the “introspection-inspiring” that I mentioned up front, I‘ll give this last example because I can relate entirely to Prof. Jacobs’s feelings.  I, like him, hold rather passionately to a set of beliefs and attitudes. Not all of those who are dear to me and whose friendship I treasure share those beliefs. In fact, we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum on some important cultural and political matters.

Of his friends, Jacobs writes,

“Over the years, I’ve had to acknowledge that some of the people whose views on education appall me are more devoted to their students than I am to mine; and that some of the people whose theological positions strike me as immensely damaging to the health of the church are nevertheless more prayerful and charitable, more Christian, than I will ever be. This is immensely disconcerting…Being around those people forces me to confront certain truths about myself that I would rather avoid; and that alone is the reason to seek every means possible to constrain the energies of animus.”

Bingo there, Alan. I’m glad you brought that up, and put it as you did. It’s nice to know that someone else feels as I do.

I can think of several people whom I respect and admire greatly, for things like their love for others, their worldly wisdom, and their just plain personal class. I wish I were more like them. But I know I’ll not be voting like them either, or trying to bring them around to my points of view. Not long ago, I was reminiscing with one of them about our many years of friendship. She remarked that it was good that we never tried to make it as a couple because we’d probably have ended up trying to kill each other.

Anyway, I liked this book. And perhaps I’m flattering myself, but I also like to think that I’m the type of person for whom the book will work. If you do decide to read it, please let me know if you think the same way.

Book Review and Reflection: The Book of Separation

October 25, 2017

I’m not Jewish.  I’ve never been through a divorce. And I’m not a woman.  But I can certainly relate to author Tova Mirvis and her life story, as told in her latest work, The Book of Separation.

The book, Mirvis’s fourth, tells of her journey toward ending both her first marriage and her life in Orthodox Judaism. That all-encompassing religious community both enfolded and protected her even as it constricted and repressed her throughout her youth and early adulthood.  Many of us, I’m sure, have felt and grappled with fears, misgivings, and doubts similar to those that Mirvis recounts.

As the book begins, she is standing alone, before the panel of bearded, black-garbed Orthodox rabbis who will rule upon the legitimacy of the get, the divorce document that, by Jewish law, can only be issued by the husband. It’s a dramatic scene. As one who was brought up in old-time, fire-and-brimstone Catholicism, I can only imagine how I would have felt if I’d stood before a phalanx of black cassocks and Roman collars to take my leave of my own Church.

I probably would have chickened out. She didn’t. But she must have considered it many times. As she stated in those first few pages, “If you left, you were in danger of losing everyone you had loved. If you left, you were in danger of losing yourself.”

Mirvis did leave, and she did lose a lot. But she gained and learned much too. I daresay she will bring to mind, in many readers, a raft of similar emotions and memories and should-have-dones – particularly if religion was a defining factor in their lives.

Did you ever feel, for instance, as she did one Rosh Hashanah when, as she remembers looking at the hats of the ladies in synagogue,

“I tried to pray, but my mind kept wandering. Under all these brims and bows, what were people really thinking? Did any of these women ever worry, as I did, that too much thinking might unravel their lives? You were supposed to believe that this way of life was the only true one…Yet along with the actual rules, there was another set of laws, equally stringent yet more unforgiving, enforced not by a belief in God but by communal eyes that were just as all-seeing and all knowing. Inside my head, a voice constantly whispered, What will they think?”

Well, I had learned that my religion was the one true faith as well.  My mind also used to wander as I sat through all those masses and novenas and parish missions and Stations of the Cross. And back then, I would have dreaded the mere thought of facing the opprobrium of parents, clergy, and my Catholic community if I’d voiced my own growing doubts.  I do have a few friends who did boldly voice their own doubts, early in their adult years, and in hindsight I wish I’d had their courage.

I also once lived in fear of the same God about Whom Mirvis expressed her nagging doubts: “”Did I believe in a God who cared about the smallest details of what I ate and what I wore – God the Scorekeeper, God the Punisher, God the King?”

With such passages, Tova Mirvis surely touches some raw nerves and long-buried feelings. Her readers who have ever struggled to strike a balance between God’s message and God’s earthly, self-designated messengers will probably nod in agreement and recognition.

Much of the book chronicles Mirvis’s passage through everyday life: education, marriage and family, friendships, religious practices, and eventually the harsh realities of drifting further away from spouse and community. Along the way she also explains many of the reasons behind Jewish rituals, the rich tapestry of tradition that has distinguished that remarkable people for millennia and will continue to do so.

One of the story’s turning points calls to mind another famous Jewish author – another who was divorced and remarried – Midge Decter. She once said, “Nerve is one thing all writers need.” Mirvis showed the requisite nerve when she spoke, and stood her ground, at a cultural conference run by a large group of Orthodox rabbis.

That occasion was, she noted “the last time I considered myself still inside.” She would not make her writing conform to their rules and demands.  “I didn’t believe their rules contained the ultimate truth…it wasn’t just about writing honestly and freely, it was about living honestly and freely…I was no longer willing to pretend in order to belong.”

Stepping to the outside of the Orthodox community did, as expected, sever friendships and bring rejection and avoidance. The author missed being inside that old community, especially on occasions like Shabbat. One consolation was her knowing “there are other kinds of communities that I can eventually build for myself – smaller maybe, less all encompassing, ones in which I won’t have to cede my independence in order to belong.

There is a telling observation Mirvis makes near the end of the book. Her children have come for the weekend. Her son Noam, who has remained Orthodox, asks her to unscrew the refrigerator’s light bulb so that it won’t go on – one of many Shabbat practices that Mirvis no longer follows.

She gladly agrees to honor his request, noting “I’m doing this, and other actions like it, to help Noam be part of this world that he is choosing. And doing so comes not only in the broad strokes and large proclamations about love and respect but in each of the minute actions – not just God, not just sin, lay in the details, but love lived there too.”

Yes, it is the little things. God and love both are to be found in the details of our everyday lives.

Another heartening passage comes late in the book when Mirvis returns to the scene at the beginning. She’s alone with that formidable panel of senior rabbis. They’ve examined the get, the divorce document whose official name is sefer kritut, a book of termination, of rending, of separation.

The document, written in Aramaic and dated 5772 from the creation of the world, is in order.  In keeping with ancient rite, the senior rabbi folds it up tight and drops it into her cupped hands. She must signify acceptance – clasp the get to her bosom, turn, and walk from the room. When the door closes behind her, the divorce takes effect.

They summon her back into the room, where one of the rabbis takes the document, draws an X on it, then tears it up so that no one could ever examine it and find an error. It’s over.  After the rabbis recount some of her future obligations and she’s about to leave, the head of the court looks her in the eye.

She says, at that point, that she was steeling herself for rebuke. That’s another thing I can imagine doing. In fact, I’d be expecting to hear that I’m bound for the outer darkness, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No such rebuke happened. Instead, the man tells her a story. The Talmud, he explains, said that the Temple altar weeps when a man divorces his wife. There was once a rabbi who went through a divorce; his students were confused and puzzled that it could even happen.

“Better the altar should weep than should I,” came that divorced rabbi’s reply.

With that, the senior rabbi tells Mirvis, “It’s a new beginning. Go forth, become the person you need to be.”

That’s wise counsel for anyone, of any age, of any religious faith. And this is a book I’d recommend for anyone of any age, gender, or faith as well.

Remembering the American Football League

October 20, 2017

On October 18, 2017, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Larry Eisenhauer of the Boston Patriots as its Man of the Year. Larry was a superb defensive end for the Pats; he played from 1961 to 1969 and retired just before the American Football League merged with the National Football League.

I served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. My welcoming remarks follow.

Joe Foss, American Football League Commissioner

Good evening, and welcome to the 22nd annual “Legends Night” of the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

We usually call this “NFL Legends Night,” but that’s not true this evening. We’re honoring a hero of the American Football League, so welcome to AFL Legends Night for 2017.

The AFL, born in 1960. With commissioner Joe Foss. Let me tell you about Joe Foss.

He was governor of South Dakota at the time he was asked to be AFL Commissioner.  Joe was a Greatest Generation member. In World War II, he was Marine fighter pilot in the Guadalcanal campaign.  He was launched off an aircraft carrier, by catapult, and flew 350 miles to that island in the South Pacific.

The Marines had already landed there. They were in desperate straits, surrounded by the Japanese, hemmed into a small perimeter that fortunately had an airfield.

Joe Foss became head of what they called the Cactus Air Force. Guadalcanal was code named Cactus.

The fight for that island, and in fact the fight for the Pacific, was decided largely in the skies. The Japanese fought with Mitsubishi Zero fighters; there were 72 of them shot down in the skies over the Solomon Islands. Joe Foss shot down 26 of them.  He received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. Joe Foss’s total victories matched those of Eddie Rickenbacker, the “Ace of Aces,” in World War One.

What better guy to lead the American Football League – to lead a revolution against the establishment National Football league – than Joe Foss?

Joe Foss receiving the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as his wife and mother look on.

He would have been a great president of the United States of America.

Joe came to mind when I was thinking about how we might begin this evening’s program. But something else that kept coming up was a television show about early America.  I’m sure some of you remember it.  The HBO series about John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti, back in 2008.

Now, John Adams is a guy I’ve always felt a little sorry for. He was a one term president, between Washington and Jefferson, and the history books have always given him short shrift. The HBO series and the biography by David McCullough changed that. That’s a good thing.

Adams made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of enemies. But he was a true patriot, devoted to his country and his cause, and he was right on all the big questions.

What brought the series to mind, as I was thinking about tonight, was an interview with the producer. He talked about how they did not sugarcoat the portrayal of colonial times.  There was hardship always – worried about money – violence, brutality and unfairness. It was hard, just to survive. They wanted to show just how hard it was.

Boston Patriots’ founding owner Billy Sullivan

Well, it wasn’t easy for the American Football League to survive, back in those early days. In fact, it was pretty darn hard. The money? Well, let’s just say that an AFL salary might pay for a couple of practice sessions of NFL players today. The playing and practice conditions? Maybe we’ll hear something of them later in the program.

But like John Adams as president, the AFL with Joe Foss at the head, got one thing right. One very big thing, that the NFL did not get right.

When President Kennedy was assassinated on that Friday afternoon, Foss and the guys he worked for, Billy Sullivan and his fellow owners, cancelled the games for that coming Sunday. Billy, if memory serves, was the league owners’ representative at JFK’s funeral.

Pete Rozelle ordered that the NFL play its games anyway. And to Pete’s everlasting credit, he always maintained thereafter that the decision was the biggest mistake he made in his illustrious career as NFL commissioner.

But the AFL got it right the first time.

The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston’s 2017 Man of the Year, Larry Eisenhauer.

In drawing analogies between the birth of the American football league with the American nation – I really don’t mean to say that they are remotely comparable in importance. Pro sports are society’s toy department, and the AFL owners were building another section of that department. Our Founding Fathers were building a new country.

And it was a whole lot harder for General Washington, John Adams, and all of the founders of that day, to take on the British Redcoats than it was for Billy Sullivan and his motley band of revolutionaries to take on the mighty National Football League.

But take on the NFL they did. They prevailed. And unlike the Founding Fathers and the people of those colonies that became the United States of America, they had one helluva lot of fun along the way.

And so did we who watched them and cheered for them.

Let’s hear about those days now, and begin our speaking program.

 

A Long-Delayed Honor: Henry Woronicz is Inducted to the Boston College Hall of Fame

September 29, 2017

When the Boston College Varsity Club established its athletic Hall of Fame 48 years ago, the first class of 20 inductees included seven members of the 1940 football squad that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.  That was fitting. It had been BC’s greatest achievement in intercollegiate sports, the highlight of the school’s first golden era in the last golden days before World War II.

The man who did the most to make that bowl victory possible, other than perhaps “Chuckin’” Charlie O’Rourke, was Henry Woronicz.  

Henry was not included in that first class of inductees. Nor was he named over the course of many years as, finally, all of the starting lineup of that team had been enshrined. All but Henry Woronicz.

Decades passed. Memories faded. Nominating and selection committees came and went. Henry’s name came up from time to time, but he never received enough support in the voting.  Until this year.  Kudos to the selection committee, and especially to Varsity Club president Richard Schoenfeld, for their commitment to reviewing the merits of “old-timers” who, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.

One of my most enjoyable assignments each year is compiling the biographies of the inductees for the 2017 induction ceremony, which is on October 6. Henry’s story follows. He and his wife Marian both died 25 years ago. It’s a shame they won’t be there in person, but we know they’ll be there in spirit, and watching from the Second Balcony.

Henry Woronicz ’42: A Big-Play Guy

Big plays decide championships. Henry Bronislaw Woronicz was a big-play guy.

With the exception of quarterback Charlie O’Rourke, Henry Woronicz made more critical, tide-turning plays, in the most important games, than any of his teammates during Boston College’s glorious, undefeated 1940 season.  That season ended with a 19-13 win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Now he joins all of the other starters from that team in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

“Henry Woronicz Paves Way to Boston College Victory” trumpeted the newspaper headline. The story’s subhead read “Triumph Over Mighty Men of Tennessee Real Lift for New England Football – Henry Woronicz Blocks Kick to Turn Tide.”

As one writer described it, “the breakaway plays, snap passes, and vicious line play kept the record throng at Tulane Stadium in a uproar.” At left end on both offense and defense, Henry Woronicz was right in the thick of that vicious line play for almost the entire contest.

Woronicz suffered a cracked cheekbone in the first quarter when he was smashed by an offensive lineman while rushing the passer. But he played almost every down anyway.

Henry Woronicz (right) with, from left, Mickey Connolly, Mike Holovak, and Ted Williams.

Tennessee led 7-0 at halftime.   On the Vols’ first possession of the third quarter, Woronicz broke through and smothered Bob Foxx’s punt.  It was the first block of a Tennessee kick in three years. Joe Zabilski recovered, and a few plays later the Eagles tied the score.

But it wasn’t just a blocked kick by the farm kid from Bridgewater that led to the Eagles’ victory. On the “glory play, the lace curtain clincher” in the words of the Boston Globe’s Jerry Nason, Woronicz made it happen.

The score was tied at 13, and the clock was winding down. O’Rourke passes of 19, 24, and seven yards brought the ball to the Tennessee 24. With the Vols all thinking pass, Chuckin’ Charlie faded back and cocked his arm.  But then he tucked it and ran around Woronicz’s left end. Henry mowed down the tacklers and Charlie dashed into the end zone.

But perhaps none of those Sugar Bowl exploits would have been possible had Henry not also turned the tide against Georgetown earlier in the season. He was one of three Eagles who played the entire 60 minutes of that 19-18 triumph, called by revered sportswriter Grantland Rice, “The greatest football game ever played by colleges or pros.”

The weather was so cold and rainy that week that Boston College had to practice indoors, at the Boston Latin School gymnasium. Georgetown raced to a 10-0 lead so effortlessly that, as the book “Honor on the Line” describes, it “left Eagle fans with their collective countenance dark as the leaden sky.”

But with the situation becoming desperate, coach Frank Leahy called a play that was “..the great unveiling. O’Rourke lateraled to Lou Montgomery who rolled to his right and, while in the grasp of Augie Lio, crossed up the defense by passing the ball downfield.  It grazed the fingertips of defender Allen Matuza before falling into the arms of Henry Woronicz at the three yard line, and Woronicz walked in for the first Eagle touchdown.”

Yes, Henry Woronicz was a big-play man. For both the “great unveiling” and the “lace curtain clincher,” he was Leahy’s go-to guy. But he was a hard-luck guy too. That cracked cheekbone against Tennessee was the least of his woes. A severe knee injury two years before almost ended his football days.

After a stellar career at Brockton High, Henry played on an undefeated BC freshman team and cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore. But in spring practice in 1938, he took a hit from the future Monsignor George Kerr and tore up the knee. He withdrew from school and went home to work.

Boston College didn’t forget him. A year later, down to Bridgewater came a delegation from the school – athletic director John Curley, Father “Red” Collins, and backfield coach Ed McKeever – to ask Henry to return to the Heights.  They were persuasive, as was Henry’s future wife Marian Mitchell, about completing his education. So in January of 1940, he re-enrolled.

After the Sugar Bowl season, Leahy moved on and Woronicz played for Denny Myers. In the second game of 1941, a Tulane blocker chopped him from behind and sidelined him for seven games.  Henry played the final game, against Holy Cross at Fenway Park, wearing a big knee brace.

Woronicz was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and got a look from the Philadelphia Eagles. He served four years in the Navy before returning to a career of teaching and coaching. His high school stops included head coaching Bridgewater High for two years and assisting at Waltham High for two. He was also head coach of the Bridgewater Rams and the Randolph Rams, both semi-pro teams.

At the college level, Henry assisted old BC mates O’Rourke and Zabilski. He worked for Chuckin’ Charlie at UMass Amherst in the late 1950s. His last stop was a five-year stint with Joe, from 1964 to 1968, at Northeastern.

In 1985, when he retired from 25 years of teaching physical education at Waltham, the evening’s program read “Henry was Waltham’s answer to Vince Lombardi; he taught by example that effort and perseverance equal success.”

Henry and Marian, who were married in November 1942, had five children: Elizabeth, Janet, Sheila, Stephen and Henry M. They also had seven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. In retirement, they made several cross-country treks by car. Both Henry and Marian passed away in 1992.

Let’s let Charlie O’Rourke have the last word about the guy who did so much to make his own pigskin heroics possible:

“Henry was a helluva player. He was a good, rough tough kid who played both ways for us. He was equally good at both positions.  At defensive end, nobody got around him and he was always putting pressure on the passer. As a tight end, he could block with the best. He could block and catch the football. He could also demonstrate very well as a coach and was well-liked by the players.”

Remembering “Red” Martin, Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Great Defenseman

July 28, 2017

Tom “Red” Martin, one of Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Greats, Passed Away on July 27, 2017. I’ve known Tom for many years and have frequently interviewed him for articles and books.  This blog post has two pieces I wrote about him: a profile in the 2014 Beanpot Tournament program, and a chapter section from Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room.

Rest in peace, Tom. They’ve broken the mold. We won’t see your like again.

From the Beanpot Program

Tom Martin: Just a Hard-Working Kid from North Cambridge

By Tom Burke

Tom Martin, c. 2012

In the Land of Beanpot, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Tom “Red” Martin played the entire 60 minutes of Boston College’s 4-2 championship win over Harvard in 1961. True, though Martin sat out two minutes of action for a minor penalty.

That feat wasn’t such a big deal for Tom. After all, he usually logged more than 50 minutes per game anyway. He’s prouder that he scored the winning goal, taking Billy Hogan’s faceoff draw at the point and letting fly a slap shot that caught the inside of the far post.

Defeating Harvard in that Beanpot final was the last big triumph for BC in Martin’s college career, which included two All-America accolades and the Walter Brown Award. But maybe it shouldn’t have ended that way.  Watson Rink at Harvard was Tom Martin’s early hockey home, and he probably should have gone to play for Cooney Weiland. He initially decided to do so, but Eagle coach John ‘Snooks” Kelley won him over with “Your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Tom’s mother Anne was a marvelous, hard-working lady who waited tables in and around Harvard Square.  Widowed when Tom was two years old, she moved into a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish and frequently needed “Mother’s Aid” charitable payments to make ends meet.  One time, when Tom had sneaked out for a football practice before he’d done his chores, Mrs. Martin walked to the field and marched her son off the gridiron and back home.

That never happened again, and Tom had already developed his own work ethic anyway. From age eight through college, he sold papers at the Sunday masses at St. Peter’s.  He would help Tom Sheehy, the manager of Watson Rink, scrape the ice and wet it down with water from wooden barrels.

Mr. Sheehy let Tom skate there frequently. Sometimes he’d go one-on-one with Billy Cleary. On other occasions he scrimmaged with the Harvard varsity at practices. When he had Watson’s ice sheet to himself, he’d practice skating backwards. Then he would run the two miles to home backwards, pivoting sharply each side as he went.

Tom played baseball and football in high school and states that learning to take and deliver hits in football was an invaluable preparation for hockey.  Jimmy Fitzgerald, who scored the winning goal for BC in its 1949 NCAA championship win over Dartmouth, was his high school coach and first hockey mentor.

“I learned the fundamentals of hockey from Jimmy,” said Tom. “Things like getting out of the zone, head-manning the puck and breaking out yourself after you’ve passed it. That way you create an opportunity for yourself. He also taught me the basics of passing.”

After college, Martin started out at Boston University Law School. He left after a semester, however, because he wanted to join the U.S. National Hockey Team and eventually play in the Olympics.  He made the 1962 team that took a bronze medal in the World Tournament in Colorado Springs.

Back home, Martin needed to work before Olympic tryouts. He took the suggestion of BC accounting professor Jim Dunn that he join one of the Big Eight accounting firms, known as “Ulcer Outfits” for the  pressures they put on workers.

Tom landed a job at Arthur Andersen and was assigned audit work at Perini Construction in Framingham.  Tom got the leeway to work on his hockey game in the mornings and come in to work around noon.  He was the only “cake eater,” as western-based players called eastern boys, to make the final cut. He became assistant captain of the team and roomed with Herb Brooks for the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Boston College fans of that era fondly recall Martin’s long floater-play passes to classmate Billy Daley that frequently resulted in scores.  Daley would win a defensive zone faceoff and bolt straight up ice. Martin would swing the net, wait for opposing defenders to yield a passing lane, and hit Daley in full stride near the center circle.

Coach Tom with head coach Snooks Kelley and classmate Billy Daley

When opponents adjusted, Tom found a different gap in the coverage or banked the puck off the boards.  He got the same results – from assessing the situation, taking advantage of openings, exploiting opportunities, and making adjustments.

That modus operandi might well be the story of Tom Martin’s business life.  On several occasions he has recognized business opportunities or detected developing trends in the marketplace, and he’s moved to take advantage of them – just as he did with pinpoint passes through gaps in hockey defenses.

Tom’s Norwood-based company, Cramer Productions, is one of the most highly respected integrated marketing communications organizations in the country. Cramer employs over 100 people in event planning and executions, video and digital production, interactive media, web casting, and print and direct marketing.  The company’s revenue tops $30 million per year. Its client roster includes EMC, Fidelity, Jordan’s Furniture, Raytheon, Reebok, Ocean Spray, Michelin, Motorola, and many other big names of the business world.

Tom went back to Andersen after the Olympics and stayed there for five years. He also made time to serve as Snooks Kelley’s assistant at BC for three years, earning a whopping $500 salary. He then accepted an offer from his greatest career mentor, Tim Cronin, who ran Cramer Electronics.  Like Cronin, who was fifteen years his senior, Tom was trained as a numbers guy.  But he learned all about management and leadership from watching Cronin deal with people.

Cramer grew to national size and more than $100 million in sales. Tom was put in charge of the Northeast region. After Arrow Electronics purchased Cramer in 1979, Tom saw an opportunity and took out a loan to buy the company’s small video equipment division. He’d noticed that Japanese companies had been promoting video, then a new business technology, for businesses communications. Arrow wasn’t interested in video.

Tom kept the Cramer name and launched Cramer Productions.  After a few years, he noticed that many of his clients weren’t getting full benefit from the video equipment.  At meetings, they still used boring slides and overheads.

“I thought  ‘Hey, we should be in the production business’ and our clients liked the idea. So we set up a studio in our building in 1982 and did a few automobile commercials. Car commercials were all produced locally in those days,” he said.

Somewhere along the way, Barry and Elliott Tatelman of Jordan’s Furniture came calling. Cramer began producing all of the popular “Barry and Elliott” commercials. Word got around, and Cramer Productions outgrew its Newton location. They moved to bigger quarters in Braintree.

The high inflation of the mid ‘80s nearly put the Cramer under as the prime rate soared from five percent to near 20 percent.  Technology kept changing in the capital-intensive production business, requiring smaller film, more compact cameras, and differently configured editing suites. “We were hanging on by our thumbs,” says Tom.

But he saw another opportunity amid the difficulties. The company meeting planners needed video for their events.  Cramer began renting out its equipment and added creative services and event staging to the product line.  Business flourished again, and soon Cramer needed bigger space.

Tom got another loan, this time for a million dollars, and bought a 70,000 square-foot building in Norwood. Cramer worked hard to build up the meeting planning and event production business while burnishing their reputation in film production.

Sports fans will recognize several Cramer film oeuvres: “Banner Years,” the Boston Garden farewell; “Boston Red Sox: 100 Years of Baseball History;” “The Story of Golf,” an Emmy-winning PBS feature; and “The Beanpot: The First 50 Years.”

About ten years ago came another sea change. The digital marketplace was taking off. Information would be transmitted digitally – over the Web and on CDs – and Crammer staffed up to get in on the action.  Martin went out and hired, and digital is now a big segment of Cramer’s business.

Tom keeps a financial information binder in his office.  Not everybody gets to see its color-coded graphs and charts that tell the Cramer business score and standings from every conceivable angle. His accounting background at Andersen drilled fiscal discipline into him.  He had seen many businesses and some competitors close up shop after neglecting to manage the balance sheet.

There’s another binder that every visitor to the company can see, however. It bulges with dozens of thank-you letters from charitable organizations that Cramer has helped over the years, either gratis or for cost.  The senders include Big Brother/Big Sister, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Easter Seals, Franciscan Children’s Hospital, Greater Boston Food Bank, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, March of Dimes, Mother Caroline Academy, Sisters of Saint Joseph. Rosie’s Place, and Second Helping.  Cramer dispenses at least a million dollars’ worth of professional services to non-profits each year.

Tom and his wife June celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012. Six of their seven children are on the Cramer Productions team.  Tom is company chairman and the face of Cramer, but much more active on the golf links nowadays. And he’s good at that too. He has won the senior division of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship.

A favorite quote from Danny Thomas in Tom’s office gives a visitor yet another clue to Tom “Red” Martin’s career. “Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”

 

Excerpted from the Beanpot chapter in Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Eagles Hockey Stories Ever Told by Tom Burke and Reid Oslin

Tom Martin in his BC playing days

One old and familiar bit of Beanpot lore is defenseman Tom “Red” Martin’s playing the entire game of the 1961 championship final and taking home the Most Valuable Player Award. True, but with an asterisk. Martin had a minor penalty in the game, so he skated for 58 minutes, not 60.

Tom was a three sport athlete who always kept himself in fine shape. He also played first base for the Eagles’ baseball team that made it to the College World Series in 1960 and 1961.  He routinely played 50 minutes a game anyway. It was more difficult in the packed and hot Boston Garden than in chilly little college rinks, but hardly a superhuman feat for Red Martin.

Tom is prouder of scoring the winning goal than he was of playing at much as he did that evening.

“Billy Hogan drew back a faceoff to me. I was a right-handed shot. A kid from Harvard came out to block it, and my shot caught the left inside post,” said Tom.

That was BC’s third goal, scored at 10:06 of the third period. The Crimson got one back to narrow the margin to a single goal again. Martin’s classmate Billy Daley scored on a wraparound to clinch the win with 2:29 to play. Hogan had opened the scoring in the first period and assisted on Jack Leetch’s second period goal. Jim Logue made 30 saves in the BC net to just 17 for Harvard goalie Bob Bland.

It was the first time that attendance in the old Boston Garden hit the magic number of 13,909, a capacity crowd and the largest to witness a college game there since 1931.

Snooks Kelley waxed particularly eloquent after the game.  He said afterwards,

“I’ve said I thought we were the best team in New England, even when we lost a couple.  But now I know we are the best in the East. Of that I feel positive.  That Jimmy Logue is the best goalie in the business. Look what he did tonight.  Red Martin is as good a defenseman as anybody will ever find. Billy Daley is terrific.  Those sophomores – Billy Hogan, Ed Sullivan, Jack Callahan, Jack Leetch, Ken Giles and the rest. Tonight they were wonderful. They wouldn’t be denied.

The 1960-61 Eagles. Tom is at center of first row.

“You can stop a Daley two times. He’ll get in the third time.  You knew Red Martin would come through. Men like these can’t be stopped forever. And they weren’t.”

Snooks might have gotten a little carried away in his euphoria. Harvard had beaten the Eagles twice already and was missing three of its regulars in the Beanpot.  They didn’t lose another game and finished 18-4-2 to BC’s 19-5-1. Tom Martin, looking back on it all, says simply “It was a great rivalry.”

Few people of that era appreciated the BC-Harvard rivalry as did Tom Martin. He grew up in North Cambridge and spent many hours skating and scrimmaging one on one with a student named Bill Cleary on the near-perfect ice surface at the Crimson’s Watson Rink.  He played high school hockey at Cambridge Latin under Jimmy Fitzgerald, scorer of the winning goal in BC’s 1949 NCAA championship game against Dartmouth.

Martin initially decided to play his college hockey for Cooney Weiland at Harvard. He informed Fitzgerald, who asked him to go and let Mr. Kelley know. That Mr. Kelley was Snooks, who taught in the school. Young Martin dutifully told Mr. Kelley, who promptly summoned a substitute to monitor his class. He brought Martin to the teacher’s lounge and laid the full Catholic trip on the lad, finishing his pitch with, “And your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Whether Tom’s mother Anne ever had a preference for Tom’s post-secondary schooling, we’ll never know.  But the Catholic angle hit home with Tom. Anne, widowed when Tom was two, lived in a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish. Tom sold newspapers at Sunday masses from the time he was in the third grade until after college. Even though he lived about a mile from Harvard, he was going to BC.

He and Daley made the floater play a staple of the BC attack. They liked to pull it late in the game, to “send ‘em home happy” as the wisecracking center Daley would say in calling for the floater. Daley would win a defensive zone draw back to Martin. Tom would retreat behind the net and watch as the opposing defensemen moved laterally out on the blue line. Daley would then sprint up the ice, his diagonal path taking him through the gap between the defensemen. Martin, emerging from the other side of the cage, would then hit the streaking Daley with a long pass and send him in alone for the score.

The floater play worked many times, with Billy Daley getting the goal and Tom Martin the assist. But in the 1961 Beanpot it was Tom Martin who scored the crucial goal. He never came off the ice, save for the two minutes of his penalty, and  the 13,909 who were there that evening saw a feat of endurance that has never since been duplicated, and almost certainly never will.

 

Eulogy for My Brother Jimmy

July 27, 2017

Youth hoop hopeful

My brother Jimmy, three years my junior, died on July 17, 2017 at the age of 65. His funeral mass was celebrated today, July 27, at St. John’s Church in Winthrop.  I delivered this eulogy at the conclusion of the mass.

Thank you all for being with us today.  I speak for Peter, Peggy, Mary, and all of the members of the extended Burke family. Your presence means a great deal to us.

Today’s reading from Ecclesiastes is especially appropriate as we bid farewell to Jimmy Burke. To everything there is a season. It is familiar to all of us in the liturgy. It is also the source of one of the great hit songs of the 1960s, “Turn Turn Turn.”

It don’t know if that song was in Jimmy’s personal repertoire, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.  It was his style. And as for the season – well, this is summertime. I’m sure than some of the happiest times of Jimmy’s life were the summers of his youth and young adulthood…sitting on the wall at the beach, surrounded by his friends, playing guitar, singing and harmonizing.  So if ever he had to leave us, perhaps it’s best that it be in summer. This is Jimmy’s time.

Jimmy was the fourth of six children in our family. He was different from all of us in so many ways. He had a real gift for music. None of his siblings had that gift. Jimmy had no formal musical training, as far as I know, anyway. But he made himself a superb guitarist. He liked folk and rhythm and blues, and I‘m told that he sounded a bit like Crosby Stills and Nash.

You can see clips of Jimmy on the internet. Five years or so ago he went to some open mic nights at the Artists’ Coffee House.  On their Facebook page, you can see him performing “Captain Jack” by Billy Joel. He’s also doing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” by Bob Dylan.

Meeting Rin Tin Tin, around 1958, at Boston Garden rodeo.

That is something else that’s especially fitting as we lay him to rest today. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Jimmy also loved to sing karaoke.  He was just a fun guy to be around.

He wasn’t just musical. Jimmy also had quite a talent for art. He could draw very realistic pictures and cartoons and caricatures. I remember one time when he took an empty Table Talk Pie box – one with the clear plastic top still intact – he reached in and drew perfect likeness of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble on the inside. It was his Flintstone Theater.

Another time he drew a picture of two steam shovels, a big one and an identical-looking smaller one. But instead of the claw scoop on the front of each one, he drew a rotary sandpaper attachment.  And he put an explanatory caption on it for us.

“It’s a combination derrick and sander. The little one is the son of the big one. It’s Derrick Sander’s Son.”

What kind of a mind would make a creative and imaginative leap like that? Certainly not one that any of his brothers or sisters possessed.  Jimmy was exceptional, all right. If he’d ever gone into advertising, he could have been a creative star.

He also had a talent for getting under everyone’s skin. Particularly with his nicknames. In one of the children’s books we had around the house, there was a story that had a cranky old billygoat. The story said, “My, but he was a crosspatch.”

Jimmy First Communion, with me (being a jerk) and our sister Mary.

That became Jimmy’s nickname for Peter: Crosspatch. Needless to say, big brother Peter didn’t like it at all. Nor did he like it when Jimmy taught the name to Jackie, who was two years old and just learning to talk. He’d say “Co-Pat! Co-Pat!” and burst into gales of laughter. And there wasn’t a blessed thing Peter could do about it.

I know also that a very proud moment of Jimmy’s young life came when he made the Little League A Division at age ten. He made the same team I had been on – the Braves. For the previous three years he had come to most of my games with our mother. My Braves teams had one great year and two terrible ones.  Jimmy’s teams were better and more consistent over his Little League career than my teams were. And he was so happy to be a Brave like me.

Jimmy graduated from Saint John’s School in 1966 and from Dominic Savio High in 1970. And that was the extent of his education. He had no desire to go further. He had a few jobs along the way but nothing you could call a career. He was a homebody. And he had his guitar. He stayed with our parents in the house on Pleasant Street all the way to the end of their lives.

Along the way he became a star of another sort. He was a fixture on radio talk shows: Jordan Rich, Steve Levellie late at night, Bob Raleigh during the day.  He was one of their regulars. It was a hard to beat Jimmy at radio trivia. Those guys came to refer to him as our good friend Jim from Winthrop.

Dad died in 1994 and Mom passed away in 1999. The house had to be sold. He was on his own, and the years since then were very difficult on him. But there were many people who knew Jimmy and did all they could to help him get by.  I want to thank Peg Lyons of the Winthrop Housing Authority, and Nancy Williams and Kathy Dixon of the Senior Center. They knew what Jimmy was all about, they cut him slack when he needed it, and he knew that they cared.

Chillin’ with our dad in the man cave.

Peter, our oldest brother, became Jimmy’s surrogate parent. He handled Jimmy’s finances and went to bat for him and advocated for him with any authorities that Jimmy encountered. What Peter — and Monica, inviting Jimmy over for countless meals — did for Jimmy over the past 15 years or so has been nothing short of heroic.  Their daughter Katie also, always had a soft spot for her uncle Jimmy, and she let him know it. That’s important.

I would like to conclude with Jimmy’s own words. These were written on papers that Peter found in his apartment.  Jimmy knew. Death did not come as a surprise to him.

Life’s Lesson Learned

To whoever finds me lifeless, remember me fondly in your hearts.

Be a giver, not a taker. To give another love and to make them smile and laugh is life’s greatest reward.

Live each day as if it were your last day, with love and kindness towards all.

Thank you for all your kindness, and to you all who made me laugh, I thank you.

And to you all who made me cry, I thank you too.

After tears, laughter feels so much better, like a sunny day after endless rain.

I ask all of you to pray for me, and God speed to all until we meet again.

JCB

Jimmy and Mom.

Back at you, Jimmy. We thank you too.

You made a few of us cry along the way. But you made many more of us smile and laugh. So thank you.

You’re now with Mom and Dad and Jackie. Half of the Burke family of Winthrop has crossed the river.

Soon and very soon the rest of us will cross that river.  And we’ll all be together again.

Until then, may God bless and keep you, little brother.

You’re free at last. Free at last.

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell to The “Sweet Kentucky Babe”

July 16, 2017

Vito “Babe” Parilli, the first of the truly great quarterbacks to play professional football for the Boston/New England Patriots,  lost his battle with cancer and passed away on July 14, 2017 at the age of 87.  The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Babe as its Man of the Year in 2006.  I was Master of Ceremonies and program editor for the Man of the Year Dinner. Before the dinner, I spent some time with Babe and learned the story of his life in football, which is appears below.  If you’re a fan of football, especially of Patriots football, you’ll enjoy getting to know Babe. He was one of a kind. 

By Tom Burke

Vito “Babe” Parilli, Boston Patriots’ quarterback

Back when he was in college, lunch hour was always a singular experience for Vito Parilli.

Rather than sipping sarsaparilla and munching burgoo with fellow students on the campus green at Lexington, Kentucky, Vito would report to the office of the university’s head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. They would sit across from each other and engage in a nerve-wracking board game of the Bear’s personal design, a daily test that made organic chemistry look like basket weaving.

“It was a simulated football game. He’d say ‘I’ll give you a down and distance. What play do you call?’ Then after I answered, he’d say, ‘Okay, you gained three yards. Now what do you call?’” explained Babe recently.

“Sometimes I’d even stay over to his house and play it. The Bear programmed me.  He never sent in the plays, but I always knew what he wanted. In every situation. In four years there, I don’t think I ever got a delay of game penalty either,” he adds proudly.

 

Babe led the Wildcats to the most successful three-year stretch in the school’s football history.  They rolled up a 28-8 record and appeared in the 1950 Orange Bowl, the 1951 Cotton Bowl, and the 1952 Sugar Bowl. In the Wildcats’ 13-7 Cotton Bowl upset of mighty Oklahoma, Babe completed nine of 12 passes for 105 yards and was named the game’s top offensive player. In the Sugar Bowl his senior year, Babe had two TD passes and was MVP in a 20-7 win over TCU.

The Rochester Rifle

Babe in action at Kentucky

Parilli’s father August emigrated to America early in the 20th century, just in time to don an American army uniform and head back to Europe to fight the Kaiser. He was wounded in the Argonne Forest but made it home and went to work for the Phoenix Glass Company in Rochester, Pennsylvania just north of Pittsburgh.

Vito was the youngest of three kids in the Parilli family. There was no television in those days, and every high school boy lived for Friday nights and football. Vito was a fullback in a single-wing backfield. Bryant did not recruit him, but he had always wanted to be a Wildcat. He tagged along on a couple of campus visits to Kentucky with a high school friend who eventually enrolled in a Big Ten school.

After seeing Parilli in a high school all-star game, though, the Kentucky coaches got interested and invited him back down to Lexington for a workout.  They decided that he could become the quarterback to follow George Blanda.

Babe worked out all summer long in Lexington before enrolling, taking in strategy sessions in the morning, field drills in the afternoon, and practicing faking and ball handling in front of a mirror at night. By the time sophomore year rolled around, he was more than ready.

Babe as a Kentucky Wildcat

Known as the “Rochester Rifle” after his home steel country, Parilli set four NCAA passing records – for touchdown passes in a season and a career, and most passes competed and passing yards in three varsity seasons. He was twice a first team All-America selection and finished third and fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Bryant called Parilli the best fake-and-throw passer he’d ever seen, with hand strength so formidable that he could pump three times before releasing the ball.  One sportswriter said “Parilli could take an elephant out on the field and, told it was a football, hide it.”  Another opined, “He handled the ball with the skill of a trans-Atlantic card shark, and can dot a receiver’s eye (right or left as the occasion demands) at 80 yards.”

Parilli was in Army ROTC at college, but he did not have to go into the service upon graduation. Drafted by Green Bay and its new coach Vince Lombardi, he split the quarterbacking with Tobin Rote for two years. Then came the call to military duty.

“I think we were called up because of Senator Joe McCarthy. One of the things kept saying was that the country was not going to give any special privileges to professional athletes,” said Parilli.

Babe spent an uneventful two years in Rabat, Morocco as a traffic controller at an air defense command center. He was able to cross the Mediterranean while on leave and see his grandmother for the first time at her little village near Naples. One poignant memory of that visit was a sign that simply read “October 17,” commemorating a day late in World War II when Nazis bent on retribution stormed into the village and killed all the young men they could find.

Babe returned to pro football in 1956, but his full brilliance as a passer and field general did not emerge until 1962, the third year of the American Football League and Babe’s second campaign with the Boston Patriots. It was a lengthy and sometimes painful route to stardom for the kid from Beaver County.

The first stop was Cleveland, who had traded for his rights when Babe was in the service, hoping that Parilli would take the mantle of the retiring Otto Graham. Five games into the 1955 season, however, Colts’ defensive end Gino Marchetti blindsided Parilli and battered his throwing shoulder so badly that Babe could hardly move the arm.  Six months of convalescence and little response followed.

“I went to a doctor in Kentucky who gave me a cortisone shot and just said to go out there and throw as hard as I could.  That was the way to break it up,” said Parilli.

The straightforward remedy worked, and 1957 found Parilli back in Green Bay. He shared the quarterback job with Bart Starr for two years. The 1959 season rolled around, and Parilli got word that he’d been traded to Philadelphia to be Norm van Brocklin’s understudy. Sick of playing second fiddle, Babe went to Canada instead where he put in a season with the Ottawa Roughriders.

In 1960, the American Football League was born, and Parilli went to Oakland where he and Tom Flores divided the qb duties. Traded from Oakland to Boston after the 1960 season along with Billy Lott for Dick Christy and Hal Smith, Babe shared the quarterbacking duties with Butch Songin in 1961.

Holovak Puts Babe in Charge – at Last

Babe in action as a Boston Patriot

The Pats sent Butch to the New York Titans for 1962, and Babe took over the number one slot. Ably backed up by Tom Yewcic, Babe at last had a team he could call entirely his own.

“It was really the first time in my career that I didn’t have to split the top job with someone.  Mike Holovak was the first coach who gave me that opportunity, and I’ll always be grateful to Mike for that,” said Babe recently.

For the next six seasons, Parilli’s schooling under Bryant paid back all the accrued dividends that Babe’s previous coaches in Green Bay, Cleveland, Oakland, and Ottawa might have collected for their respective teams.  With a talented receiving corps that included Gino Cappelletti, Jim Colclough, Artie Graham, Tony Romeo, and Larry Garron out of the backfield, Babe directed an exciting offensive show in virtually every game.

Parilli set every passing record in the young club’s history during over seven seasons, and his stats have endured in the Pats’ record books where he is now fourth all-time behind Drew Bledsoe, Steve Grogan, and Tom Brady. Babe threw 2,410 times as a Patriot and completed 1,140 passes for 16,747 yards and 132 touchdowns.  His 31 TD tosses in 1964 was the team’s single-season record until Tom Brady surpassed it with 50 in 2007.

The Patriots had a winning record in five of Parilli’s seven seasons and posted an overall mark of went 50-39-9. Babe was a three-time league all-star and the comeback player of they year in 1966 when he led the team to a record of 8-4-2 after a 4-8-2 campaign the previous season.

“He was just a very smart quarterback. Not a scrambler. It was the way he conducted himself out there, and way he called the games,” said Gerry Philbin, a defensive tackle and member of the AFL all-time team who played against Parilli as a member of the New York Jets. The two became teammates for 1968 and 1969, the final two years of Babe’s career when he served as backup and mentor to the Jets’ young quarterback, another Bear Bryant protégé from Pennsylvania named Joe Namath.

“Babe was a tremendous athlete. He ought to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a good punter, and he was the holder for Don Maynard, our kicker. It was very comforting to us, knowing that Babe was there if we needed him,” said Philbin.

The Jets, of course, made football history by upsetting the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in the 1969 AFL-NFL championship game, the first such contest to be dubbed “Super Bowl.” Namath’s brash guarantee of an upset was the most memorable episode of Joe Willie’s entire career. But the prediction and outcome of the game did not surprise Parilli.

“We were lucky to beat Oakland [27-23] in the AFL championship game. But I remember watching films of the Colts along with Joe. We turned to each other and agreed, “Hey, the Raiders are better than these guys. We can beat ‘em,’” recalls Babe.

One other title game in Parilli’s career is not such a good memory for long-time Pats’ fans. The San Diego Chargers won the 1963 AFL West division outright. The Pats and Bills tied atop the East and had a playoff game in snowy Buffalo. The Patriots won 26-8, but then had only three days to prepare and fly cross-country to meet a well-rested foe. San Diego had had two close wins over Boston, 17-13 and 7-6, during the season. It should have been a good match up, but the Patriots were at a hopeless disadvantage and lost 51-10.

Babe and Gridiron Club of Greater Boston president Dave O’Brien in 2006

After his playing days ended, Parilli remained with his beloved game as a coach and front office executive. Babe tutored Terry Bradshaw for three years as a member of the Steelers’ staff.  He also put in three years at Denver and one with the Patriots before casting his lot with the World Football League.

Gridiron Club historian Ned Cully points out that Parilli is the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first coach of the Charlotte Hornets?” The Hornets were a reincarnation of the New York Stars of the short-lived WFL. Babe was coach of the Boston Bulls, Stars, Hornets, and Chicago Fire of that league. Later on, he got into arena football in venues that included New England, Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim, and Palm Beach.  He has also worked in real estate, public relations, and as owner of a golf course. He now resides in Denver.

“I really liked working with the arena ball players. They’d play for $500 a game, and they were looking to make their mark. It was just like us, back in the old days,” he smiles.

 

A Boston Baseball Story

June 9, 2017
Piersall2

Jimmy Piersall

The recent passing of Jimmy Piersall brought back a load of memories. If you’re a New Englander of my generation, you automatically think “Piersall” when somebody says “center fielder.” He patrolled that sector of Fenway Park all through my childhood, from 1952 to 1958. I was shocked and confused when the Red Sox traded him for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger in December of ’58. How could they do that?

Jimmy’s personal problems with a bipolar disorder, which were depicted in the film “Fear Strikes Out,” were well documented. When he came up to the Sox in 1952, he dubbed himself the “Waterbury Wizard,” a reference to his home town in Connecticut. His teammates didn’t care for that one.

The Red Sox were decent all through the 1950s. They usually had a winning record but never finished higher than third place. Their outfield was pretty damn good, with Piersall between Ted Williams in left and Jackie Jensen in right. Piersall was twice an All-Star – which meant a lot more then than it does now – and won three Gold Gloves.

I met Jimmy once, in 1964. He was playing for the Los Angeles Angels at the time. He stopped by Waterman’s Funeral Home in Kenmore Square for the wake for my uncle Walter. My father was there with me, and he asked Jimmy to come over and shake my hand. That was a thrill.

DON GILE HEADSHOT

Don Gile

But now to my Boston baseball story. Jimmy Piersall is a supporting actor in this one. The star of the story is a journeyman player named Don Gile (pronounced Jee-lee.)

Several years ago, my company had a luxury box at Fenway Park. I went there one night when the “legend” host happened to be Dick Radatz. Contemporaries will remember Dick, the unhittable – for a few years – closer whom Mickey Mantle once dubbed “The Monster.” Dick was perfect as a host – nice guy, erudite (he went to Michigan State and was, as he told us that night, only the 25th major leaguer to have attended college at the time he was playing.)

Dick Radatz

Dick Radatz

Dick told me a great tale about the 1963 All-Star Game, which I wrote up here. I happened to mention that one time I’d met, among other Red Sox of that era, Don Gile. It was at the Cottage Park Yacht Club one Sunday evening in the summer of 1962. We had heard that a bunch of Red Sox were around, and we went out to the floats to get their autographs.

The players put down the cases of adult beverages that they were loading onto the docked cabin cruiser and signed, obligingly. Yes, things were different back then. I still have those autographs. One of them is Gile’s. When Radatz heard this he said,

“Ah, Don Gile. Let me tell you about Don Gile.”

It was September 30, 1962, the second game of a doubleheader (remember them?) and the final game of the year. Gile, a reserve catcher and first baseman, was in the lineup. In 17 previous games, he’d not had a hit. He was rather down on himself.

Autographs

1962 Red Sox autographs: Don Gile, Mike Fornieles, Bob Tillman

During pregame warmups, a bunch of the players from the two teams were chatting on the sidelines. The opponents were the Washington Senators. Piersall was their center fielder.

Jimmy listened sympathetically to Gile’s story of frustration. He said, “Hit one to me in center. I’ll short-leg it for you and we’ll get you a hit.”

Sure enough, that happened. Gile hit a soft fly ball that Piersall pretended mightily to chase and catch.  But the ball fell in, and Gile had his first hit of the season. Thank you, Jimmy Piersall.

Came the last of the ninth. The score was tied. There were two runners on base. Gile came up. He swung hard. The air was shattered by the force of his blow.

Shattered too was the baseball. It flew high over the nets in left field for a walk-off home run.

Gile circled the bases, kept his head down, crossed home plate, and made a beeline for the dugout.

“By the time we got into the clubhouse, he was gone,” said Radatz. “We never spoke to him and never saw him again. He never played another game in the majors.”

I have no reason to doubt any of this story. Gile’s final year in the majors was that season of 1962, when he was 27 years of age.  He had two hits in 41 at-bats: a single, a homer, and three runs batted in.

Gile became the second Red Sox player of all time to hit a home run in his final at-bat. Two years earlier, Williams had done it on that day, famously chronicled by John Updike in The New Yorker,  that “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” It was Williams’s 521st career homer; it was Gile’s third.

Other than Don Gile, who’s 82, they’re all gone now: Piersall, Radatz, Williams. May they rest in peace. And thanks to all of them for those baseball memories.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Book Review and Reflection: Disturbance of the Inner Ear

June 6, 2017

disturbanceWhen a best-selling author recommends someone else’s book, you listen. That’s what happened to me recently, and I’m glad it did.

The book is Disturbance of the Inner Ear by Joyce Hackett. I was surprised to learn that it was Hackett’s first book; it’s so beautifully written and masterfully crafted. I enjoyed Hackett’s writing style and learned a great deal about music, about human nature, and about a subject that’s of particular interest to me, The Holocaust. Hackett is both a gifted writer and a thorough, meticulous researcher.  This book won her the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize when it appeared in 2002.

The author who made the recommendation to me was Jacky Collis Harvey, whose smashing debut book Red: A History of the Redhead, came out two years ago. My review of that book is here. Jacky, with whom I’m connected on Facebook, made the suggestion after learning of my interest in The Holocaust.

Jacky didn’t know that I’ve also been trying to learn a little bit more about music – its history, its techniques, its people. I’m totally ignorant about all things musical, but even I know how important that music has always been and will always be to humanity. Disturbance gives deep and informed insight into the motivations and mindset of the musically gifted and into the instruments that they play.

Joyce Hackett

Author Joyce Hackett

The protagonist of Disturbance is Isabel Masurovsky, daughter of Yuri, who was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. That camp was smaller and somewhat less well known than the giant complexes like Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald. It was a Potemkin Village, a “model ghetto” that the Nazis spiffed up on the surface for visits by the International Red Cross. The Nazis had promoted the place as a resort or spa; they even conned many elderly Jews into paying large sums of money for “lakefront” locations that did not exist. Yuri’s parents were among those that paid up in this manner.

Yuri makes it out of the camp, aided by his musical talent and by the several favorable twists and turns of fate that we hear in many survivors’ stories.  He settles in Brooklyn, where Isabella is born. She becomes a child prodigy on the cello, making her debut at Carnegie Hall at age 14. But her parents get killed in a car accident and she gives up playing.

Ten years later, she’s adrift in Milan, Italy.  The elderly Signor Perso, her teacher, guardian, and the last person on earth who knows her story, suddenly dies.  Isabel takes up with the smooth and seductive Giulio Salvagente, a surgeon and a part-time male prostitute who is carrying his own heavy load of emotional baggage.  She also gets a gig teaching the viola to the American teenager Clayton Pettyward, whose father happens to own a priceless cello that she calls The Savant.

In an article in Bella Online, Hackett said that she interviewed about 400 cellists before writing.  She also visited the city of Terezin, where Theresiendstadt is located, and spoke with many Holocaust survivors. That’s the type of research that I imagine is done by another of my favorite fiction writers, Jodi Picoult. An author who works that hard obviously has great respect for her readers as well as for her subject.  Hackett, who doesn’t play an instrument, stated

“I think research is mostly about, not being ‘right,’ but about being ‘not wrong.’ So often it introduces a vocabulary for a life and a set of concerns and a way of perceiving, but once a writer knows everything, she is able to write very little on a topic.

“…While I was doing my research, at a certain point a cellist I was interviewing, Gary Hoffman, quoted a sentence to me almost word for word that I had written the week before in the voice of my narrator. He said: ‘When you are playing in that perfect zone, the notes come in slow motion, like a series of home run pitches you can smack–one after the other.’ Well, my narrator knew nothing about baseball, but I’d written in a line about how in a perfect performance the notes come in slow motion, and time stops.”

Giulio and Isabel need each other, but it takes a while for them and us to realize it. Hackett’s descriptions of their erotic encounters are alone worth the price of the book. They’re refresher courses in the facts of life, imparting new insights into lovemaking while giving the reader palmar hyperhidrosis and tachycardia.

Isabel neatly links Giulio’s sexual performances with her own musical performances, musing, “I wondered about the sex he had with the women he hung around with. Having to sweep away one rich, dead-bored woman after another seemed to me like having to perform the same program, over and over, to one tone-deaf music hater at a time.”

She brings in another musician-analogy when she jumps into the driver’s seat of Giulio’s new standard-shift automobile and teaches herself, on the spot, to drive it so that she can make a climactic escape to Theresienstadt with the precious cello:

“But I was not about to hand myself over to Giulio. Driving a car, I told myself, could hardly be more difficult than playing the Rococo Variations. I occurred to me to listen for the sound I wanted, the smooth, rhythmic groan from the groin of the engine that Giulio had made, and work back toward the movements. This was the secret: in second, my limbs had molded themselves to the needs of the machine. I managed to circle the parking lot without chugging, and then I was coasting up the exit ramp as if I’d always known how.”

We see more of Hackett’s elegant descriptions in Isabel’s climactic escape. She steals Giulio’s car and dashes from Italy through Austria and Germany into Czechoslovakia. She has no papers or passport, but manages to get through the border crossings with luck and guile. With the tension of the chase building, she approaches the Brenner Pass into Austria and says

“I was approaching the border with no passport but Clayton’s…There was no break in the rail, no exit to make a U-turn.  The slopes beside the highway were thickly covered with sharp, spiky evergreens that looked as if they’d impale you if you pulled over and jumped. “

But she makes it to Czechoslovakia. In the grimy town of Litomerice, adjacent to Terezin, she muses,

“I wandered around the won for what seemed like hours. Litomerice looked as if it had aspired to charm for fifteen minutes during the Hapsburg reign, then gotten drunk and let its face go to hell. Most of the buildings were decrepit and peeling: a few had been refaced in gooey apricot. There was not one tree in town.”

This is great writing. It not only paints pictures; it evokes strong, visceral reactions. You’re there, and you feel what she must have felt.  Hackett’s style here reminded me of Catherine Marenghi’s elegant yet gripping descriptions of everyday phenomena in her superb 2016 memoir Glad Farm – which, like Disturbance of the Inner Ear, was also its author’s first book.

Isabel and Giulio do exorcise their respective demons. She makes peace with her past. As she does so, Hackett gives the reader much food for thought about The Holocaust, about the people who survived it, and about their descendants who keep memories alive.

Of her own experience in the research and writing of the book, Hackett later wrote in Boston Review,

“More than anything else my book turned out to be about the task of living after trauma, about accepting that there is no mastery of the past, or another’s experience, while also facing the stark ethical imperative that is adulthood: to extricate ourselves from the warped narratives we inherit in order to avoid doing damage to others in the present. I wrote my way out of a past that was not my own by hurling myself back into its reality…”

She cites Holocaust survivor/author Imre Kertesz’s writing of the prisoners’ greatest fear, that the truth of history would not be told and recorded.  She also points out that when she took her trip to Terezin, “Still, all over Europe, the battle for the story was still being waged.”

That would have been close to 20 years ago, and I’m afraid that the battle for the story of The Holocaust is still being waged. Maybe the battle will never be over. That’s why books like this will always be important.

Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Fireman on International Firefighters’ Day

May 4, 2017

Jack Kirrane, 1960 Olympic Team captain and toughest defenseman

Today the world honors the brave first responders who every day put their lives on the line in service to those whose own lives must be preserved and protected when fires break out – at home, at work, on the road, anywhere.

It’s fitting that we do this – thank you to all firefighters for your service.

No better day than today to remember one special man was not only a lifelong member of the firefighting profession. He also served his country on the battlefields of Korea, and he led an unlikely contingent of his countrymen to an improbable and storied triumph in the world of sport.

Jack Kirrane of Brookline, Massachusetts is that man. He was captain of the 1960 United States Olympic Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley, California.

With all due respect to Mike Eruzione and his merry band from the 1980 games at Lake Placid, the 1960 Olympic victory was the real Miracle on Ice. The Americans ran up a 7-0 record in those games. They went 4-0 against the three best teams in the world: 7-5 vs the Czechs, 3-2 vs, Russia, 2-1 vs. Canada, and then 9-4 vs. the Czechs again for the Gold Medal.

Mitt Romney and his Salt Lake City Olympics organization took the easy way out in 2002 when they had the 1980 team members light the Olympic Flame. They should have given that honor to the 1960 team. Kirrane and coach Jack Riley were both still alive at that point, and they were both in Salt Lake City along with several other team members.

It was a minor miracle that the 1960 team held together and even made it to Squaw Valley in one piece. Just before the games, Riley got the OK from USA Hockey president Walter Brown to add the Cleary brothers, Bill and Bob, to the squad. The team desperately needed more scoring and playmaking. The Clearys had not gone through the pre-Olympics grind with the rest of the team, and some of the players threatened a boycott.

Jack Kirrane would have none of that, telling everyone that if he had to go to California alone to represent America, he’d do it.

As it turned out, that last-minute personnel move made all the difference. The Clearys played brilliantly. There would have been no Gold Medal, and probably no medal at all, without them.   The last man cut to make room for them was Herbie Brooks, who coached the team to Gold 20 years later.

Kirrane had been playing on the international stage as far back as 1948 at St. Moritz. He was the youngest player on his team then. He was the oldest player in 1960.

After the 1948 games he played for the Boston Olympics, which was a feeder team for National Hockey League players. Fernie Flaman, among others, played for the Pics. Kirrane never got an NHL shot, however. He was drafted into the army and shipped off to Korea.

Brookline honors Olympic hockey captain Jack Kirrane.

After serving in Korea, Jack joined the Brookline Fire Department and kept playing high-level amateur hockey. When the tryouts for the 1960 team came along, he took a four-month unpaid leave of absence. He also sold his pickup truck to pay his own way to the tryouts. When he returned to work, he had lost his seniority and had to start at the bottom.

Jack worked as a firefighter for 38 years and retired as a lieutenant. He also managed Harvard’s hockey rink for 15 years. He’s a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and there’s a rink named for him at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.

I never knew Jack Kirrane. Everyone who knows and loves Boston sports and ice hockey ought to know who he was and what he did.

I wish that I’d had, at least, the honor of shaking Jack Kirrane’s hand. So today, on International Firefighters’ Day, I’d like to given him a special thank-you, as we all express our gratitude to his teammates on those hook-and-ladder trucks all over the world.