Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Long It's Been: I Wasn't Here

I'm not really in the mood to celebrate my birthday.  Especially now that Number 40 is in the rearview mirror.

When I was born, there was an American League team in Washington, and they had a winning season -- the only one for a Major League Baseball team in that city between 1945 and 2012.  There was also one in Seattle, but it wasn't the Mariners.  It was the Pilots, who would, before the next season dawned, fill a 4-year void (save for a few "home games" in 1968 and '69 by the Chicago White Sox) and become the Milwaukee Brewers.  There were still minor-league teams in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Miami and the Tampa Bay area.

There were black players and Hispanic players, but no Asian players, and no designated hitter.  Only the Astrodome in Houston had a roof, and it was not retractable.  There was no regular-season Interleague Play.  The Pilots/Brewers, the Kansas City Royals, the Montreal Expos, and the San Diego Padres had all just debuted, and, between them, lost 411 games.  The Baltimore Orioles won 109 games, a match for the most games won between 1954 and 1998... and still lost the World Series.

Every major league ballpark had lights except Wrigley Field in Chicago, but only one, the Astrodome, had artificial turf.  That would soon change, as, the following season, multipurpose stadiums would open in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with the plastic stuff, and in Philadelphia a year after that, while St. Louis, San Francisco and, strangely, Comiskey Park in Chicago would all put it down for a few years before tearing it back up and replacing it with real grass.  But, for the moment, there were still 11 of the 24 teams playing in ballparks built before World War II, and 7 of them built in 1912 or earlier.  Indeed, there were still  3 ballparks standing -- Comiskey, Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia (formerly Shibe Park) and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh -- that had hosted not just Cy Young Award winners, but Cy Young himself.

Of the 24 ballparks used by MLB teams that year, only 9 still stand, and only 5 are still in use by the teams then using them: Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in the Los Angeles area, and the Oakland Coliseum.  Still standing but no longer being used by an MLB team: Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, San Diego Stadium (now Qualcomm Stadium and still the home of the NFL’s Chargers), Candlestick (still the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers through 2013) and the Astrodome (dormant, its future uncertain).

The only NFL teams still in the same stadiums they were in for the 1969 season are the Chargers, the 49ers, the Raiders (who left Oakland and returned), and the Green Bay Packers (Lambeau Field).  From the NBA and the NHL combined, only one arena remains from the season that was being played: Madison Square Garden in New York, then billed as “the New Madison Square Garden Center,” but now older than the “Old Garden” that it replaced.
 
Major League Baseball celebrated the 100th Anniversary of professional baseball, with an all-time team that proclaimed Babe Ruth “Baseball’s Greatest Player Ever” and Joe DiMaggio “Baseball’s Greatest Living Player.” Also on their list of greatest living players, but like Joe D no longer living today, were George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Joe Cronin, Pie Traynor, Ted Williams, Bill Dickey, Lefty Grove and Bob Feller.  The only ones still alive from that team are Stan Musial and Willie Mays – Mays still being active at that time.

The National Football League celebrated its 50th season (the next year would be its 50th Anniversary) with an all-time team, with members like Johnny Unitas, Marion Motley, Don Hutson, Leo Nomellini and Emlen Tunnell – then all still alive (Unitas still active), now all dead.

The NFL, in the process of being merged with the AFL, and had a combined total of 26 teams.  There was a team in Baltimore, but it wasn’t the Ravens. There was one in St. Louis, but it wasn’t the Rams. There was one in Houston, but it wasn’t the Texans. The Boston Patriots had yet to move out to the suburbs and became “the New England Patriots.” The Patriots, 49ers, Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers had yet to win any World Championships. Between them, they have now won 24. 

Some of the NFL’s founding fathers were not only still alive, but still involved: George Halas with the Chicago Bears, Art Rooney with the Steelers, and Dan Reeves with the Los Angeles Rams – no relation to the Cowboys running back of the same name, later to be head coach of the Broncos, Giants and Atlanta Falcons. 

The defending World Champions in the 4 major sports were the Mets, the Jets, the Boston Celtics and the Montreal Canadiens.  Yes, the Mets and the Jets were both World Champions, and the Knicks were about to be.  Stop laughing.  The Jets had actually won a title before the Knicks, who were now -- if you didn't count the American Basketball Association's New York Nets, out on Long Island -- the only New York team without a World Championship.  But that would soon change.

What were the defining baseball players of my childhood doing at this time? Reggie Jackson had just finished his second full season, in which he hit 47 home runs.  Thurman Munson had recently made his big-league debut.  Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan had helped the Mets to their Miracle – but, at this point, if you had bet then that neither one would ever win another World Championship, people would have laughed at you.  (Of course, at that point, they also would have laughed if you had then bet that Ryan would win more games in the majors than Seaver.
 

Pete Rose won his 2nd straight NL batting title, and his Cincinnati Reds teammate Johnny Bench had a pretty good season, but they hadn’t yet won their first Pennant, Cincinnati's first since 1961 – that would come the next season.  Carl Yastrzemski hit 40 home runs and drove in 111 runs, but his Red Sox had already changed significantly from their “Impossible Dream” Pennant team of 2 years earlier.  Mike Schmidt was still playing at Ohio University (not to be confused with The… Ohio State University), and had yet to face a professional pitch.  George Brett was still at El Segundo High School in Los Angeles County.

Richard Nixon was President of the United States. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. So was the widow of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had died earlier in the year.  Gerald Ford was the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was a former State Senator in Georgia, about to run his second, much more successful, campaign for Governor. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as Governor of California. 

George Herbert Walker Bush was a Congressman from Texas, and his son George had entered the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently, it was okay for him and his father to support the Vietnam War even if he didn’t have to actually fight in it. Bill Clinton was at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Hillary Rodham was about to be named valedictorian at Wellesley College. Al Gore was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, while Dan Quayle was in the Indiana National Guard. Guess which one supported the war, and which one didn’t. Joe Biden was about to be admitted to the Delaware bar, and was too old to be drafted.  Mitt Romney had just gotten married, and had gotten a draft deferment as a Mormon missionary.  His father, George Romney, was President Nixon’s Secretary of Housing & Urban Development.  Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich both had teaching deferments. Rudy Giuliani got a deferment as a law clerk. John McCain did not have a deferment, and the Navy pilot was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. John Boehner enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but was later discharged for medical reasons, and was now going to college. Jon Corzine was a new college graduate and about to enlist in the Marine Corps. 

The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, having made 3 unsuccessful runs for President. The Mayor of New York City was John Lindsay, who had just been denied renomination by the City’s Republican Party because of his poor handling of snow removal during the blizzard earlier in the year.  But he ran as a third-party nominee and won a second term anyway.  The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes, about to wrap up his second term. Former Governor Robert B. Meyner had tried to get the office back, but lost to South Jersey Congressman William T. Cahill, who became the State's first Republican Governor in 16 years (8 of Meyner, 8 of Hughes).
 Hugh Carey was in Congress. Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo were practicing law. Brendan Byrne was Essex County Prosecutor. Tom Kean was in the New Jersey Assembly, Harry Reid in Nevada’s. Michael Bloomberg was a young stockbroker.  Nancy Pelosi was about to move to San Francisco, where her brother-in-law was on the Board of Supervisors (what major cities in California call a city council).

Jim Florio was the assistant city attorney for Camden. Mitch McConnell was an assistant to the man whose job he would later hold, Senator Marlow Cook of Kentucky. George Pataki and Donald DiFrancesco were in law school.  Christine Todd was about to join the Nixon Administration, working in the Office of Economic Opportunity. (There’s a laugh: The future Christie Whitman working in the War On Poverty? That’s like Jim McGreevey becoming a priest! Wait a minute... ) Richard Codey was in the family business: He was a funeral director. David Paterson was in high school. Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson (Obama), Eliot Spitzer, Andrew Cuomo, Jim McGreevey and Chris Christie were in grade school. Sarah Palin was in kindergarten –- unless she quit. Paul Ryan was not born yet.

There were no portable telephones, unless you count car phones.  Only about half of American homes had color television sets.  There were no video games -- there were arcades, but they were still based on pinball machines, as told in The Who's rock opera of that year, Tommy.  There were no tabletop, let alone desktop or laptop, computers.  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were all 14 years old.  But at least then, we could legitimately say, "We can put a man on the Moon, so why can't we... ?"

Hippies were all the rage, although they would have been shocked that it would take until 2012 for recreational marijuana use to be legal in any State.  The gay rights movement had really kicked off in June, but at the time, I don't think anyone involved expected that gay marriage would be legal in their lifetimes, in even a few States.

The films On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby's debut, and farewell, as James Bond) and Anne of the Thousand Days (starring Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn and Richard Burton as King Henry VIII) were released on the exact day that I was born.  Other films out at the time were the film version of Hello, Dolly! with Barbra Streisand; They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; The Undefeated, a Western starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson; and Change of Habit, with Elvis Presley playing an inner-city doctor (seriously) who unintentionally tempts a nun played by Mary Tyler Moore.  It was Elvis' last feature film, and it's one of his better ones.  It was also the first time that Mary worked with Ed Asner, with The Mary Tyler Moore Show yet to come.  Michael Douglas was 25 years old and filming Adam at Six A.M.  His future wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, was almost 3 months old.
 
Major novels of the year included The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, Portnoy’s Complaint by my fellow native of Essex Count, New Jersey, Philip Roth, Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw, The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace (about a novel, of the same title, that was “the most banned book in history,” containing a woman’s thoughts during 7 minutes of sex), and Naked Came the Stranger by Peneleope Ashe.  This was a name used for a composite of 24 authors, conspiring to see if a novel could be really, really bad, but still sell big if it had a lot of sex scenes in it.  This was a truly late-Sixties kind of experiment – and it worked.

Major non-fiction books included the career-launching memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and the career-launching historical work Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. 

Television shows that debuted in that season included Room 222Marcus Welby, M.D., Medical CenterThe Brady Bunch, and kids’ shows Sesame StreetH.R. Pufnstuf and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? From Britain came the debuts of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Benny Hill ShowStar Trek aired its last first-run episode 6 months earlier.  As series star William Shatner put it, "We all thought it was over!" As series creator Gene Roddenberry put it, "Six weeks later, man landed on the Moon.  Suddenly, traveling to space didn't seem all that strange anymore." The original show was a victim of timing.  Or was it? It was soon picked up in syndication, and, like The Honeymooners before it and The Odd Couple after it, also shown on New York's WPIX-Channel 11, it gained a massive following that it never got on its original network.

The Number 1 song in America on the day I was born was "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam.  They were not a real group, just a bunch of studio musicians, and the song is better known by its chorus: "Na na NA na... Na na NA na... HEY hey hey, Goodbye!"

The month before, and it's the only month that it would ever be true, both Elvis and the Beatles had Number 1 hits: Elvis had "Suspicious Minds" and the Beatles had the double-sided hit "Come Together" (written by John Lennon) and "Something" (which Frank Sinatra would call "the greatest love song of the last 50 years" after hailing Lennon and Paul McCartney as great songwriters, even though it was written by George Harrison).  The Supremes also had their last hit with Diana Ross, and it would become their last Number 1: "Someday We'll Be Together." Led Zeppelin had their highest-charting single (in the U.S., anyway), "Whole Lotta Love."

Canada's Prime Minister was Pierre Trudeau. He was young (51), dashing and charismatic. It was as if John F. Kennedy was singing lead for the Beatles – in French. Canada, as I said, now had its first Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos. And a group called The Guess Who had just become Canada’s biggest rock band ever (to that point). For the first time ever, Canada was hip. Especially if you were an American worrying about being drafted. 

Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 43 years old, the same age I am now.  (That fact shocks me.) Britain’s Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. The English Football League season that was underway would be won by Everton, the “other club” in Liverpool, and the FA Cup, for the first time, would be won by London’s Chelsea.  In the season that ended earlier in the year, the League was won by Leeds United, and the FA Cup was won by Manchester City, the defending League Champions, beating Leicester City 1-0 on a goal by Neil Young – no, not that Neil Young.  AC Milan, led by perhaps Italy’s greatest player ever, Gianni Rivera, won their 2nd European Cup by beating Ajax Amsterdam, led by 21-year-old wunderkind Johan Cruijff. Ajax and their “Total Football” would be back, big-time.  The current season's European Cup would be won by the other major Dutch team of the time, Rotterdam's Feyenoord.

The University of Texas had just beaten the University of Arkansas to win yet another college football "Game of the Century," and would beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl to win the National Championship.  It was the first time Notre Dame had accepted a bowl bid since their "Four Horsemen" went to the 1925 Rose Bowl.  The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) was about to win its 4th straight National Championship in college basketball, their 6th overall, and this time without a dominant center.

UCLA's recently-graduated dominating center, Lew Alcindor, was winning NBA Rookie of the Year with the Milwaukee Bucks, who got him because they finished tied with the Phoenix Suns with the worst record in the NBA the season before (each club’s first season), and the tie was broken when… the Bucks won a coin toss.  Unfair? Perhaps: The Bucks did get a title out of it, in 1971, but haven’t won one since; the Suns have never won one, although, like the Bucks, they’ve usually been good.  Soon after that title, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Toward the end of 1969, the first draft lottery of the Vietnam War era was held.  The first Boeing 747 made its maiden flight, from Seattle to New York.  Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by Chicago police officers.  Labor leader Jock Yablonski was assassinated on the order of a rival.  And 2 people were murdered at a rock concert at the Altamont Speedway in California's East Bay region, while the Rolling Stones sang "Gimme Shelter," thus providing both a stark contrast to Woodstock 4 months earlier and a painful end to the 1960s for rock and roll fans.

Joseph Kennedy Sr., and Josef von Sternberg, and Ruth White, an actress from Perth Amboy, New Jersey who had recently appeared in Midnight Cowboy, died.  (She was 55 and had cancer, the others were much older.) Shawn Carter (a.k.a. Jay-Z), and Kristy Swanson (the first Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Julie Delpy were born.  And, on the exact same day that I was born, so was a Major League Baseball player, Joe Randa, a 3rd baseman who played from 1995 to 2006, mostly for the Royals.

That's what life was like when I was born.  It was a different time.

Aren't they all?

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