The day before Thanksgiving 1971 was a snowy one in the hills of Western Pennsylvania (about 4" fell). I was in the 9th grade at the time and my dad had gotten four tickets at work to tonight's Penguins hockey game at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena. I went with my older sister Linda, older brother Darrell (home for the holiday during his freshman year at Indiana University of PA) and a neighbor from down the street. The Penguins lost to Toronto 2-1 but it was an enjoyable outing nonetheless.
Walking home after getting off the bus we were playing around in the snow and throwing an occasional snowball. At one point I jerked my head to avoid one being thrown and my glasses flew off. After looking for them for some time with no luck I ran home to get a flashlight (Mom joined us). Finally, in the midst of our search a neighbor approached in his car and stopped when he saw our search party in the middle of the street. He stayed so we could look in the light cast by his high beams and shortly thereafter we found my glasses. We had been out in the cold for close to an hour.
Meanwhile, while we conducted our search another was about to unfold in the Pacific Northwest. A passenger named DB Cooper had hijacked a plane, demanded parachutes and $200,000 (about $1 million in today's $) and then jumped from the plane during a rainstorm into the wilderness north of Portland, Oregon. Although hijackings had become a hazard of air travel since the late 60's, the way this one was carried out made it unique. And although a bundle of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills was discovered in 1980, and traced back to those given him, Cooper himself was never found.
(The book D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive? provides the full story of this mysterious man and his curious caper.) The following clip goes into greater detail about Cooper.
The assassination of President Kennedy is the first vivid memory I have of any historical event. In the fall of 1963 I was six years old and in the First Grade at Fenton Elementary School in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks. Nov. 22 was a Friday and early that afternoon I had just returned to school after having lunch at home. My classmates and I waited for our teacher, Mrs. Foley, to arrive but for some unknown reason we waited an unusually long time for her (this was too good to be true!). Finally, she walked in and told us the news that the president had been shot and that we could go home.
It seemed fitting that the afternoon was overcast, which added to the somberness of my walk home (and Saturday would be dreary and rainy). Although I was aware this was an awful event I don't recall feeling any strong emotions. While waiting for my father to return from work I sat on the sofa in the living room and paged through my mother's December issue of Good Housekeeping that arrived in the mail earlier that afternoon (pictured). On the cover was a little girl holding a large Santa lollipop. Although its festive nature was incongruous with that day's tragedy, it was a nice escape for a young child. And the next day my brother and I spent much of that rainy Saturday afternoon at the movies.
Another thing I remember about this day was my surprise at the word "assassination", which I had never heard before. Although I quickly learned its meaning, I found it somewhat amusing/shocking because it had the word "ass" in it - twice - yet everyone was saying it, which my six-year-old self found curious and amusing. After all, back then words like that weren't spoken in polite company.
Just two days later the nation witnessed the shooting death of accused assassin, 25-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. It was just past noon and my family was eating Sunday lunch. The TV was on in the background in the living room because my father, a football fanatic, insisted on watching the NFL game that was being broadcast. The telecast was interrupted by coverage of Oswald being brought into police headquarters in Dallas. As he was being walked in, surrounded by detectives, a man named Jack Ruby jumped out of the crowd and shot Oswald in the stomach. I didn’t see the shooting because my seat at the dinner table was obstructed by a wall that blocked my view. But I heard the commotion and saw the reaction of my parents. This was very likely the most shocking event ever seen on live TV until 9/11 when millions saw the second plane (United Flight 175) crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Because of these events, for a long time I viewed Dallas (and Texas in general) as an evil place, not unlike enemy territory such as Red China, and it took a long time for me to shake this feeling.
In 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, journalists Guy Russo and Harry Moses asked a cross-section of Americans to share their memories of that tragic day, and turned it into a book titled Where Were You?
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A few weeks ago I wrote about ten hurricanes and the memories I associated with each of them. In this post I've chosen to write of memories I connect with ten post-season baseball games over the past 45 years (not including the 1986 World Series, which I've written about in a previous post).
1969 World Series
Game 5/Mets vs. Baltimore (Oct. 16)
I was home from school (7th Grade) with a cold so I was able to watch the entire game. I wasn't rooting for the Mets because, despite winning 100 games in the regular season, in my eyes their rise was a fluke. (I felt the same when expansion teams like Florida, Arizona and Tampa Bay played in the World Series.) And I certainly didn't think they'd be able to prevail over the mighty Orioles (who had won 109 games), but not only did the Mets do it - but in just five games.
1971 World Series
Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)
It was a Sunday afternoon when the Pirates won a 2-1 nail-biter over the Orioles to win the World Series. My mother and I waited for the game to end before we drove my grandmother home, honking the car horn the entire way. (My dad, never a big Pirates fan watched the day's football games on our other TV.) We also put a big "Bucs Fever" sign in the living room window. Since I was too young to celebrate the Pirates' 1960 World Series victory over the Yankees this one was very sweet. The '71 Series was the first to have a game played at night, a novelty that eventually became the norm by the mid-1980s.
1972 National League Playoffs
Game 5/Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 11)
The game was still being played when I headed out to my weekly Junior Achievement meeting in downtown Pittsburgh, so I brought my transistor radio with me to listen to the closing innings. As the bus I was riding approached the City on the Ft. Pitt Bridge I heard the Reds score the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning on a wild pitch to advance to the World Series. A similar crushing loss in the bottom of the 9th happened to the Pirates 20 years later when they lost Game 7 of the NL Championship Series to Atlanta. (Then they went 21 years before their next winning season.)
1973 National League Playoffs
Game 3/Mets vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 8)
I had just come home from school and turned on the game. As I was changing clothes Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson got into a scuffle after Rose slid hard into Harrelson at 2nd base. However, the Mets got the last laugh by advancing to the World Series. Like 1969, I wasn't a Mets fan, especially since they barely had a winning record (82-79) and had passed my Pirates in the final week of the season to win the NL East. Two big news events occurred during that post-season: 1) VP Spiro Agnew resigned due to tax problems and 2) Egypt attacked Israel on the eve of Yom Kippur during the weekend the World Series began.
1975 World Series
Game 6/Cincinnati vs. Boston (Oct. 21)
I was in my freshman year at Penn State and watched the game in a friend's dorm room when it went into extra innings, so I saw the Red Sox' Carlton Fisk hit his famous game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning. This game was such a good one that almost forgotten is the fact that Cincinnati won the next day to win the World Series.
1978 AL Tie-Breaker
Yankees vs. Red Sox (Oct. 2)
The Yankees had stormed back in August and September to tie the Red Sox for the AL East crown and played a one-game tie-breaker. I watched the first seven innings in my dorm's TV room. I left for dinner after seeing the Yankees' Bucky Dent(pictured with Reggie Jackson) hit his memorable 3-run homer over the Green Monster at Fenway to erase Boston's 2-0 lead. The Yankees won the game and went to the World Series - which they won over the Dodgers for the second year in a row.
1979 World Series
Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)
The "We Are Family" Pirates defeated the Orioles in a carbon copy of their 1971 World Series championship over them, i.e. after falling behind 3 games to 1, they swept the next three games. But it was a bittersweet victory for me because I was living in northern New Jersey and there was no celebrating crowd. I called my brother who lived down the street and then my parents back in Pittsburgh to share the good news.
1989 World Series
Game 3/Oakland vs San Francisco (Oct. 17)
This World Series is forever known for the earthquake that struck minutes before Game 3 was about to start - and captured on live TV. I had turned on the game about five minutes after the quake hit. Since the Series involved two teams from the Bay Area it was delayed for 10 days.
2003 NL Championship Series
Game 6/Marlins vs. Cubs/Oct. 14
As was my usual habit I went to the gym late after taking a nap (around 9:30). The game was on one of the TV monitors above the treadmills and Stairmasters, and when I left it appeared the game was in hand with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the top of the 8th inning. If they won they'd advance to the World Series and get a chance to break their 95-year streak without a World Series championship. However, between the time I left and got back to my apartment, about 10 minutes, the game had turned around completely and the Marlins had taken an 8-3 lead! It turned out that an overzealous fan (the infamous Steve Bartman) had leaned over and deflected a fly ball that the Cubs outfielder was about to catch. After that the floodgates opened. (This was was somewhat similar to what happened in the 1996 AL League Championship between the Orioles and Yankees when 12-year old Jeffrey Maier reached out to grab a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter that was about to be caught. It was called a home run and the Yankees won the game because of it.)
2009 World Series
Philadelphia vs. Yankees
A novel experience was having someone to watch the games with as my boyfriend David was also a baseball fan. However, we had different ways of enjoying the games. For instance, David was more a student of pitching while I liked high-scoring games. Furthermore, he found it peculiar that I often commented about the appearance of each player as they came to bat (which I thought was normal, especially for a gay man). Lastly, I found it nerve wracking to sit through an entire game, especially if the Yankees had a lead, while David enjoyed watching the entire nine innings. However, one thing we had in common was rooting for the Yankees, who beat the Phillies in six games.
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Growing up in Pittsburgh, one of the proudest moments in the city's history, a story passed down through the generations, was the Pirates' World Series championship in 1960 over the mighty New York Yankees. In the most dramatic ending in World Series history, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win Game 7. It seemed fitting that the title came to Pittsburgh because the "Steel City" was going through its "Renaissance" at the time, a massive civic campaign to clean the air/water, create parks and rebuild parts of downtown.
In the first six games of the Series the Yankees had scored twice as many runs as Pittsburgh, yet the Pirates managed to win three games. In the games won by the Yanks, they crushed the Pirates (by scores of 16-3, 10-0, 12-0) while the Pirates wins were games in which its pitchers shined (6-4, 3-2, 5-2). Then in Game 7 the Pirates ramped up its offense. It was a see-saw game and after the Yankees scored two runes in the top of the 9th the game was tied 9-9.
"Maz" was the first batter in the bottom of the 9th and he hit his famous home run a little past 3:30. My mother was watching the game with my older brother and sister who were already home from school (2nd and 5th Grades, respectively). As for me, I was just 3 years old so I have no recollection. Since my father had bet against the Pirates, when he came home from work at 4:30 Mom and my brother Darrell met him on the sidewalk waving a "crying towel". His bet was with a neighbor from across the street for a case of beer (Iron City, of course). Mr. Zamanski magnanimously didn't want Dad to pay-up but Dad insisted and they drank a bottle together.
Fast forward 50 years. As the anniversary of Game 7 approached word came that a kinescope of the game had been found in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby's home outside of San Francisco. Crosby had been a partial owner of the Pirates back in 1960 and was too nervous to watch the game so he arranged to have a tape made of the game being shown on the TV screen that he could watch later. It's the only recording of the entire that exists.
The Pirates also had dramatic World Series triumphs in 1971 and 1979, both times coming from 3-games-to-1 deficits to prevail (defeating Baltimore each time). However, neither matched the adrenaline rush of that late afternoon home run over the scoreboard in beloved Forbes Field. (The book The Best Game Ever: Pirates 10 Yankees 9 offers an in-depth, inning-by-inning account of Game 7.) Happily, "Maz" is still with us (at age 77) and to honor him a statue outside Heinz Field was unveiled three summers ago.
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It was a particularly pleasant evening in Western Pennsylvania when USAir Flight 427 from Chicago crashed minutes before it was to land at Pittsburgh's new airport (it opened two years earlier). All 132 passengers and crew on board were killed, making it the deadliest U.S. plane crash in seven years. It was also the first air disaster to occur in Pittsburgh. I heard the news shortly after I arrived home from work from my job at New York ad agency NWAyer.
Although every deadly plane crash is distressing, what made this one particularly troubling for me was the fact that Pittsburgh is my hometown. (I tried to reach my mother that night but the phone lines were tied up for well over an hour.) The field where Flight 427 crashed was in Hopewell Township, where my godparents lived. I'd flown USAir numerous times to visit my parents - and I'd be flying there a few weeks later to visit my mother. (She lives in the town of McKees Rocks, 20 mies south of the airport.) What was also sobering was the fact that Flight 471 crashed in good weather with no warning of trouble. It would be five years before the FAA determined the exact cause of the crash. And although I try not to, it's difficult for me not to think about that every time I fly to Pittsburgh in good weather.
I had been working in New York for just four months and had yet to develop an allegiance to any New York team so perhaps that's why I don't recall what I was doing when I heard of Thurman Munson's death. However, a number of years earlier I experienced the same shock and utter disbelief as Yankees fans when Pittsburgh Pirate great Roberto Clemente was killed - also in a plane crash. I was getting ready to deliver the morning paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, at 6AM on Jan. 1, 1973 when I heard the news on the kitchen radio. What an awful way to begin a new year. I tried to console myself with the memory of Clemente getting his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat of the 1972 regular season.
To pay proper tribute to Munson I've asked a friend and devoted Yankee fan, Sam Belil, to fill in for me and provide his memories and reflections. Sam, thanks for your heartfelt tribute.
Thursday, Aug. 2, 1979 - I'll never forget that day, the day we lost ourCaptain, the heart and soul of the New York Yankees - Thurman Munson. He was my first baseball hero and is STILL my favorite Yankee of all-time (Jeter is #2). I remember it as if it were 30 seconds ago and not 30+ years. I was watching General Hospital on WABC-Channel 7 when a "Special Report" came on and (pardon the pun) a VERY grim looking Roger Grimsby reported that "New York Yankee star catcher Thurman Munson has been killed in the crash of the plane he was piloting". As I write this I feel the same exact pain in my gut that I felt that afternoon. For those of us who were alive back then losing Thurman is something we'll probably never get over - a part of my heart was forever broken. (In less than a year's time Yankee fans had gone from the exhilaration of Bucky Dent's game-winning home run in their one-game playoff against the Red Sox to take us to a third straight World Series, to this crushing blow.)
Not surprisingly, the next few days were emotionally draining. Before the start of the game on the day following his death (and with home plate left unoccupied), Munson received a 10-minute standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd. Then on Monday, August 6, the day of Munson's funeral, the Yankees flew to Canton, Ohio for the morning funeral and flew back for that evening's nationally televised game - which MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn wouldn't allow the Yankees to postpone. Fittingly, the Yankees came from behind to win in the bottom of the 9th on a 2-run walk-off home run by Munson's close friend Bobby Murcer.
As a teenager, besides my girlfriend at the time, Thurman Munson was MY EVERYTHING. My favorite memories of him come from his extraordinary 1976 post-season - he batted .435 against the Kansas City Royals and .529 against the great Cincinnati Reds, including six consecutive hits. He was the only Yankee not to be intimidated by the Big Red Machine, the only Yankee whose body language said, "Yes, I belong here and I will make the most of it!" Whenever I watch highlights of that World Series I always listen to the meeting at the pitcher's mound between the Reds' Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and manager Sparky Anderson as they talked about Munson ... "Man that guy can flat out HIT!" It still brings tears to my eyes.
Although he played shortstop in high school and college Thurman looked so natural in his catcher's gear. Statistically speaking he may not have been the greatest Yankee ever, but his leadership, grit, genuine concern for his teammates and clutch hitting make him, to me, the greatest Yankee Captain of all time. (And he holds the distinction of being the only Yankee to win a Rookie of the Year and MVP award.)
When his autobiography was published in 1979 (and I've already bought and read the new biography about him, Munson: Life & Death of a Yankee Captain) what touched me most about Munson was his dedication to his family and the importance he placed on being a good father. Ironically, it was his desire to be in close contact with his family in Ohio that motivated him to take up piloting. From Thurman I learned the importance of family and being close to them. I have a 19-year-old son (and just celebrated 21 years of marriage). Coincidentally, his name is Michael, the same as Munson's son. I cherish every day with him as if it were my last on this planet. Thurman Munson was my role model in more ways than one.
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My summer job in 1976, which was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year at Penn State, was working at Roy Rogers restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh. And that's where I spent the 4th of July - the day the nation was celebrating the Bicentennial. (Our distinctive salutation to customers was "Howdy Pardner", and after giving back their change, "Happy Trails".) Roy's was the only fast-food restaurant open that day in the vicinity of Point State Park and Gateway Center, where Bicentennial festivities were taking place, so the line of customers was non-stop and it went out the door. Sunny and mild weather ensured that the celebratory crowds would be quite large.
Because of the large number of customers that day the roast beef we served was unusually rare because there wasn't enough time to cook it completely (under orders from our manager). Rather than come off in full slices the beef came off the slicer in drippy clumps. Burgers were a bit rare as well, but that was the cooking instruction on any day (the district manager would make spot visits during lunch and slice open a burger to see if it was pink in the middle.) At least we didn't get any complaints from customers. On a typical day I put in 4-5 hours but that Sunday it was a 12-hour day. When I punched out it was nearly 10:00 and the fireworks were over. On the bright side, at least I didn't have to work on the day before or after the holiday.
Because of its inland location Pittsburgh isn't susceptible to the furies of a full-blown hurricane (and its hilly topography largely protects it from tornadoes.) However, the city's famed three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio) make it susceptible to flooding. Fortunately, the neighborhood I grew up in sat protected on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River about 10 miles down river from Pittsburgh's renowned Golden Triangle.
Hurricane Agnes was a rare June hurricane, but when it crossed the Florida panhandle on June 19, 1972 it was a weak storm that caused little damage. However, once it was downgraded to a tropical storm it turned into a prodigious rainmaker as it moved up the Eastern Seaboard. The storm became known for the loop it made over New York state and Pennsylvania where it stalled and caused catastrophic flooding that extended into Maryland and Virginia as well.
Although our neighborhood was out of harm's way from flooding my family was nevertheless impacted by the storm. My dad was a foreman at a steel fabricating plant on Neville Island, situated in the middle of the Ohio River, and it closed that Friday (June 23) when water began covering the main highway.
Meanwhile my sister Linda's job at Joseph Horne department store, where she was an assistant buyer, was interrupted for a few days when the waters of the Allegheny River overran its banks. To protect the store special floodgates were wrapped around the building. Linda's plans to see Alice Cooper in concert at Three Rivers Stadium on Friday were scuttled when the waters of the three rivers made their way into the stadium. And my brother Darrell, who was home from college after his freshman year had a summer job as an usher at the Roxian Theater in our hometown of McKees Rocks and helped bail water from the theater.
Although rainfall in Pittsburgh itself wasn't excessive (2.50" fell on Thursday and Friday) the watershed areas for its rivers and creeks received over six inches and caused the city's most serious flooding since 1936 (e.g., the Monongahela River crested 11-feet above flood stage). However, flooding in Wilkes-Barre (below), the state capitol of Harrisburg and Elmira, NY was much more destructive. These areas had in excess of 10 inches of rain. And despite the fact that summer had just begun temperatures in Pittsburgh got no higher than the mid-50s for three consecutive days (25 degrees cooler than normal).
Fortunately the hurricane season of 1972 was one of the least active on record which allowed the Mid-Atlantic to dry out. The U.S. mainland wouldn't be ravaged by such a destructive hurricane until 1983 when Alicia hit Houston. (For those fascinated by hurricanes a book to consider is Hurricanes & the Mid-Atlantic States.)
The June 19, 1953 execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were members of the Communist party convicted of passing plans about the A-bomb to the Russians, coincided with a milestone for my parents - the purchase of their first home. At the time my sister Linda was 2-1/2 years old and my mother was a month away from giving birth to my brother Darrell. Mom and Dad were understandably anxious to move because they wanted to be settled in by the time my brother arrived.
The new house on Roosevelt Ave. was in McKees Rocks, seven miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh and overlooking the Ohio River. It was part of a new development, Hanover Heights, that was very near to the small farm where my father grew up. Ours was one of the first homes completed and after a string of delays our fledgling family moved in on June 30. My brother was born a few weeks later and I came along four years after him. And it's where my mother still lives (as of June 2020).
The early 1950s was rife with paranoia about Russia's plans to overtake the U.S. Thus, the Rosenberg's actions were portrayed as having seriously comprised the nation's security. Still, as a young mother, Mom felt some uneasiness over their execution since they had two young sons, Michael and Robert (pictured below), who were orphaned. The execution of their parents in the electric chair took place at Sing-Sing prison in New York State.
My mother was 19 years old in the spring of 1945 and had a war-related job in downtown Pittsburgh working for the American Bureau of Shipping. The Bureau was located on the 32nd floor of the Grant Building, the second tallest building in Pittsburgh (it had been the tallest until the 44-story Gulf Building opened in 1933). Mom's job, her first out of high school, was as a typist who prepared shipping certificates that were attached to crates of munitions being shipped to various European destinations (she was under strict orders not to discuss her work). In smoky Pittsburgh of the 1940s this was a great place to be working, and the Grant Building was one of the city's premiere business addresses.
April 12 of that year was a Thursday and she and her friend/co-worker, Willa, left work and walked down to Joseph Horne department store where they got on the streetcar for the 20-30 minute trip to their neighborhood of Chartiers City. Shortly after arriving at their stop they bumped into a neighbor, Mrs. Frankel, who told them the news that President Roosevelt had died a short time ago. FDR died of a stroke in the middle of the afternoon while having his portrait painted in Warms Springs, Georgia. The president was only 63 and just three months into his unprecedented fourth term.
Shortly after the news was reported on the radio paperboys were out on the streets selling an "extra" edition of the paper with the breaking news. Mom said it was difficult to imagine life without him; after all, her formative years had been lived entirely under FDR's presidency. And Harry Truman's countrified persona couldn't have been more different from that of the more worldly FDR with his trademark monocle, cigarette holder and patrician accent.
One month later the war ended in Europe and Mom was without a job. However, she said it was all done in a very nice way and everyone who was let go was given a bonus. With part of hers Mom bought a pair of earrings she had been admiring for some time at a jewelry store in the lobby of the Grant Building. They had three small clusters, each with a different colored gemstone surrounded by rhinestones. They cost $5 (about $65 in today's dollars). And she still has them.