Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farewell to Arthur George... and Other Thoughts


Art Rust Jr. has died. "Arthur George," as he so often called himself, using his middle name, was a hero of mine going back a long, long way. Well, as long as I go back, anyway.

He was one of the first black sportscasters, starting in 1954 on New York's legendary rhythm-and-blues station WWRL. He would talk about sports, and interview athletes, and also some entertainers with an interest in sports, such as James Brown (a former Golden Gloves boxer) and Miles Davis.

If James Brown were an athlete, he'd have been Frank Robinson: Controversial in some ways, but pioneering, understanding who to put up with, and how far to let them go, and no farther; and, ultimately, a unifying figure: Just as James unified Boston with that concert at the Boston Garden after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, so, too, did Frank bring together not just black and white teammates but black and white fans in Baltimore, which was a very tense place in 1966, when he arrived and led the Orioles to their first Pennant and first World Championship. It was a mark of respect that the O's named him their team captain almost immediately. James would have settled for nothing less.

If Miles Davis were an athlete, he would have been Bob Gibson: An intimidating, uncompromising genius. Gibson pitched in St. Louis, not far from Miles' home town of Alton, Illinois.

Arthur George later worked on WNBC-Channel 4, WMCA and WINS, before starting his influential talk show on WABC in 1981. It was this show, as well as shows by his white contemporaries Bill Mazer and Marty Glickman, that made all-sports stations such as New York's WFAN possible.

It was through his WABC show -- often on prior to Yankee broadcasts at the time -- that I got to know of him. It quickly became apparent that this man was what I already thought I was, but was far from: Somebody who knew everything about sports. He knew everybody. He wrote a few books, including Recollections of a Baseball Junkie. (Speaking of junkies, in the 1980s, he said, "If cocaine were helium, the NBA would float away.)

I've often thought about writing a book titled Confessions of a Sports NUT! If I ever do get around to writing it, I should definitely mention Arthur George in the acknowledgments. And Marty. (That's Glickman -- not Brodeur. Well, maybe him, too.) And "The Amazin'." (That's Mazer -- not the Mets.)

The last time I saw Rust was in 1996, on an ESPN Classic program called Fights of the Century. He and Jack Newfield, the great New York Post columnist who was one of the world's biggest experts on boxing, were interviewed by Al Trautwig on the subject of the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight, at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938. Newfield was born that year, but Rust was 11 and remembered the situation very well. He knew Louis, and told the story of how Louis told a friend of his, on the morning of the fight, "I'm scared." What are you scared of, Joe? "I'm scared that I'm gonna kill Schmeling tonight." He didn't kill Schmeling, but he did knock him out in 2 minutes. Not rounds: Minutes.

Arthur George was 82. Now, of the three -- Rust, Glickman, and Mazer -- Mazer is the only one still alive. He turns 90 this year.

Bert Sugar is still alive, at 73, but while he's in the category of pundit of voluminous sports knowledge, he wasn't a New York sports radio (or TV) icon from the old days. His milieu was print. It wasn't until ESPN Classic came along in 1995 that I started seeing him regularly. I love Bert, but I haven't loved him since I was a kid. Actually, that's also the case with Glickman: I didn't really discover him until I was older. But Mazer and Rust were, as far as I'm concerned, the guys who invented sports-talk radio.

We should thank them.

I think...

Hey, it's not their fault that quite a few people have corrupted their invention. Right, Dog?

*

Two nights ago, the Devils played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Counting regulation and overtime combined, there were 96 shots between the two teams -- and no goals. It went to a shootout, and even that couldn't find a winner in the three regulation rounds. They had to go to a fourth round, before Patrik Elias (whom Devils broadcaster Matt Loughlin calls "the Ranger Killer") finally put one past Henrik Lundqvist (whom Ranger fans call "King Henrik" and "the King of Shootouts," and Devils fans call "Queen Henrietta"). So the 104th shot of the game is what won it.

My mother said she couldn't have taken all of that. I probably couldn't have, either. Especially as I would have been stuck in the same building with 17,000 Ranger cunts (and maybe 1,000 Devils fans).

It was one hell of a battle, and the Rangers certainly did not stink. But they still suck!

The Devils have the best record in the Eastern Conference, with 65 points. In the entire NHL, only the Chicago Blackhawks, continuing their renaissance, have more, 66, but the Devils have 3 games in hand on them.

*

Devils Captain Jamie Langenbrunner has been named Captain of the U.S. hockey team at the Olympics, next month in Vancouver. Zach Parise and former Devil Brian Rafalski have been named Alternate Captains.

Paul Martin (if he's healthy) will also play for Team USA. The Rangers will sent their Captain Chris Drury (hero of the 1993 Little League World Series, I wish he'd stuck with baseball instead of hockey like Tom Glavine did) and Ryan Callahan to Team USA. No other "locals" -- New York Islanders or Philadelphia Flyers -- are on the roster.

Martin Brodeur and former Devils Captain Scott Niedermayer are on Team Canada, which will be Captained by Calgary's Jarome Iginla. No Rangers, no Islanders, and only one Flyer, new Philly Captain (but hardly a new star) Chris Pronger.

Former Devils Captain Elias will Captain the Czech Republic, where he'll be the only local. The Rangers' Marian Gaborik is Captain of Slovakia. Lundqvist backstops Sweden, where the Devils' Johnny Oduya will be a teammate. Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers will play for Finland, and his Philly teammates Oskar Bartulis will play for Latvia and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen for Norway. Mark Streit is the only Islander in the Olympics, and he'll play for Switzerland. No locals on Russia, although with Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin, they are loaded, and will probably battle it out with Canada for the Gold Medal. No locals for the other two teams to qualify, Germany and Belarus.

*

Carlos Beltran had surgery for a longstanding injury, and will likely miss Opening Day. He went to his own doctor in Colorado, without even telling Met management or Met medical staff.

This is ridiculous. It's bad enough that the Mets are making Arsenal look positively healthful by comparison. But now, the Met players don't trust their own team's doctors? Come on. Fred Wilpon is becoming more and more of a Charles Dolan, raking in the bucks from his sports operations (son James Dolan runs the Madison Square Garden Corporation and thus the Knicks and Rangers -- runs them into the ground).

Fred needs to do what Big Ed McCaskey, son-in-law of George Halas, did with the Chicago Bears when his son Mike was frittering away the talent from the 1985-86 Super Bowl season: Admit that Sonny Boy is screwing up the franchise, take it back, and give it to someone who has a clue. Someone who will restore organizational credibility. Someone who will make sure that not only will money be thrown out there to potential free agents, but that the organization is committed to winning, not just to profits from cable-TV and marketing the new ballpark.

*

This morning, Mets John Maine and Daniel Murphy -- and Mr. Met -- were on ABC's Good Morning America, promoting the team's annual winter coat drive. Certainly, a worthy cause. GMA news anchor Juju Chang, who admitting to being a big Yankee Fan, told them to "throw those coats in there." Juju, if you're really a Yankee Fan, you'd know: If they could throw, they wouldn't be Mets!

Juju also mentioned that it was only a month until those magical words: "Pitchers and catchers report to spring training." Mr. Met rubbed his hands in anticipation. On that, Ol' Big Head, we agree completely. (If English soccer fans don't mind me using the nickname of the late, great manager Brian Clough -- known, in the H-dropping accent, as "Old Big 'Ead.")

*

Ashley walks up to me and says, "I want to see Yankees!" She means the panoramic 8 x 12 photo I have of the old Stadium in my room, that Mommy (my sister) got me a couple of Christmases ago.

I finally figured it out: She doesn't want to see the Yankees, she just wants to go in my room. Hey, if the devious little girl (she just turned two and a half) wants to come in my room and see stuff (and, more likely, touch stuff), she should just say so. Like her sister Rachel does.

I am very upset at Palmer. Not Jim. Not Arnold. Not even Violet. Hap. Hap Palmer is a singer of children's songs, and he has one titled "Touch Your Toes to Your Nose," to the tune of "Turkey In the Straw." Ashley keeps jumping on the bed and touching her toes to my nose. She's not yet old enough to have stinky feet, but that's not the point. Besides, her feet are usually cold.

Palmer also has a song titled "Daddy Be a Horsie." Ashley doesn't seem to grasp the facts that I am not Daddy, and I am not a horsie. Daddy, my sister's ex, also has a problem with his legs, although not the same as mine, so he can't "be a horsie," either. And both grandfathers, while still alive and somewhat active, are too old to do that sort of thing. (At least they have both grandfathers: By the time I was their age, one of mine was dead, and the other was an invalid due to decades of torrential smoking.)

I'm not really mad at Hap Palmer. After all, somebody has to play those CDs and DVDs for the girls. Thanks a lot, Mom/Nana!




*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 5, next Monday, a matinee on Martin Luther King Day, against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 30. One month.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 48, on Tuesday, March 2.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 82. Less than 12 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 87, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 90. Just 3 months.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 150. Just 5 months.

Days until the World Cup Final: 181. Just 6 months.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 205.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 224, presumably on Saturday, September 4. I can't find an official schedule anywhere. They know they're playing Army at Yankee Stadium on November 12, 2011 (that's Army, not Notre Dame, as I said in yesterday's "Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame" post), but a simple schedule for the calendar year we are now in, isn't available? Only 3 games are fully set (including playing Army in the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium), and even then not completely, as the times could be changed for TV purposes.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 240 (presumably), on Friday, September 10.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 316. (Yes, I'm counting it down already.)

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 486 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 668.

1 comment:

"Nutball Gazette" said...

Good Tribute to Art Rusk Jr. I missed it when you posted it, I would be able to pick up WABC down here in Florida during the evenings and listen to him, Always enjoyed hearing him. Also glad to see the love for Marty Glickman and Bill Mazer who did a Sports Show on WNBC in the 60s, My Mom was not a sports fan except baseball but she was the one who got me to listen to Bill Mazer and she would listen with me, Great Job as usual