Monday, July 28, 2008

Jackie Robinson

I had a few thoughts inspired by what is likely to be my last visit to Shea Stadium. I went with my wife and daughter on Sunday to see the Mets beat the Cardinals, 9-1. The victory ran my daughter's lifetime record at Shea to 5-0.

Rising next to the stadium is the Mets' new park, Citi Field, a mostly brick edifice meant to replicate Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Inside the new park is a space that will be called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It will celebrate the life and career of the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

I allude to Robinson's impending arrival with the Dodgers several times in "Blood Alley," which is set in the winter of 1946-47. The book's protagonist, Patrick Grimes, has the "enlightened" attitude that Robinson should play in the majors if he has the ability. Seems like an uncontroversial opinion now, but back then it was radical. The misty eye of nostalgia makes it seem as if only a few die-hard reactionaries and bigots were opposed to Robinson's playing in the majors. In fact, just about the entire baseball establishment was against it, as were more than 80 percent of the fans. In "Blood Alley," several of the more unsympathetic characters take potshots at Robinson and the "radical" idea of integrating the majors. To modern eyes, those ideas seem malevolent, if not borderline insane. For that time, they were mainstream opinion.

In the end, the benefits all accrued to the Dodgers. Branch Rickey, the team's general manager, is regarded as a civil rights pioneer. (He was, but he was incredibly cheap toward his players. In fairness, so were all the other baseball executives of that era.)

Perhaps more important, by doing right, the Dodgers did well. The pipeline they established with African-American players enabled them to dominate the National League from the late 1940s into the mid 1960s.

And I'm looking forward to entering the Mets' new park through Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and talking to my daughter about him.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Site I Like

As I've talked to people about "Blood Alley," both on my book tour and in casual settings, I've found a considerable amount of interest in New York City history, and in finding links to the ever-vanishing past. Despite the efforts of preservationists, the force of change in New York is relentless.

For anyone interested in getting a good, long glimpse of long-gone parts of New York, please check out the Forgotten New York web site, which can be linked at

One of the best things about this site is its refusal to indulge the obvious. There's a lot of stuff from the boroughs outside Manhattan, and from neighborhoods that never make the tourist guides.

I'm tempted to say that I've wasted plenty of time at this site, but that would be inaccurate, since I always find stuff that's offbeat and interesting. But I will say this: it's an easy site to be distracted by, and then to get lost in.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hero Editor

Early Wednesday morning, a 29-year-old man protesting something climbed partway up the New York Times building, where I work in the sports department. I had gone home by then ... but my wife, Jill, one of the night editors at the Daily News, received a call from the climber. She talked to the man long enough to develop a rapport with him, eventually came over to the Times building to talk to the dude in person, and wound up playing a big role in helping the NYPD get the climber safely off the facade of the building.

The full story, told by Jill in a much more entertaining manner, can be found at

Some media attention has come our way as a result of all this. Like most journalists, Jill and I are much comfortable being on the newsgathering, and not newsmaking, side of the business. But, for the record, I'll state that I think my wife displayed a lot of moxie Wednesday morning, and I'm awfully proud of her. One of my colleagues at The Times, Carlos Ygartua, summed it up best: "It's like you're married to Nancy Drew."