I have a colleague in the writing business named Tim, who once had mentioned that his mother had gotten remarried — to a famous sports writer. He probably told me it was Ira Berkow of the New York Times (and other literary places), but I must have been on the phone or on deadline. I had sort of forgotten it.
Then one day Tim said I should come to the break room, there was someone he wanted me to meet. It was Ira Berkow.
Ira Berkow won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about a white quarterback at Southern University, a historically black college. (You can read it here: http://tinyurl.com/kxsam2u.) He also was a Pulitzer finalist another year. In the newspaper business, the Pulitzer is as good as it gets, way better than Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in the movies.
It’s like winning the Heisman Trophy. It’s like winning two Heismans. It would be like a college football enthusiast walking to where the vending machines were at his workplace and meeting Bo Jackson or Barry Sanders or Archie Griffin, who, in fact, did win two Heismans.
I received Ira Berkow’s latest book in the mail the other day. From the man himself. With his return address on the envelope and everything. It’s called “Summers at Shea: Tom Seaver Loses His Overcoat and Other Mets Stories.”
I mention this now because the 51s have begun the second half of the Pacific Coast League season, at home, and it can’t always be $1 beer night, though it is tonight, against Reno. And I mention this because a lot of fans you encounter at Cashman Field talk as if they are experts on the Mets — this is especially true of any lout who refers to the players as “dem guys,” or the group from your office as “youse guys,” or the batboys as “the two utes” — and now you, too, can become an expert on the parent club, if you read Ira Berkow’s book.
If you read the book, you can bet the lout a Yoo-hoo chocolate soda over how Tom Seaver lost his overcoat, because guys who talk like Ralph Macchio’s cousin Vinny generally do not read books, and so you are practically guaranteed to win.
(Spoiler alert: Tom Seaver lost his overcoat on his way to catch a train — a train! — from New York to Rochester to receive the Hickok belt for being the best athlete of 1969. The pitcher and the writer shared a tiny sleeping berth. Try as I might, I just cannot imagine Derek Jeter sharing a sleeping berth with a sportswriter nowadays, unless the sportswriter resembled a supermodel or that actress from “Friday Night Lights.”)
Do not, however, bet the Cashman lout over Ed Kranepool’s lifetime batting average, Jerry Koosman’s ERA in Pittsburgh, or something like that. Ira Berkow wrote about the Mets for 40 of their 45 years at Shea Stadium but he does not write about statistics, because statistics are boring. Unless, of course, they are used to describe Derek Jeter’s latest girlfriend.
Ira Berkow tells stories, and he uses wonderful words to tell his stories, and he always puts the wonderful words in their proper order. Except when he’s writing about Casey Stengel, because it’s impossible to put words in their proper order when the ol’ Perfessor is speaking.
Otherwise, reading Berkow is like watching Gil Hodges make out his lineup card during the summer of ’69.
Here is the first paragraph of Tom Seaver Loses His Overcoat:
“For an individual to be talented, famous, youthful, facial features all in order, prospering, coordinated, bright and a New York Met is one thing, but to be humble, too, is a combination as near to impossible as to be sacrilege.”
Here are the last two:
“Outside it was raining in the dark before dawn and Seaver and the others waited for the chartered bus with the bad memory. Blefary gave Seaver his coat, to keep the shoulder warm.
“And there for all time, etched in memory like a daguerreotype, was Tom Seaver in the dark and chill-rain, and thinking that tomorrow morning he must again be up at 6 a.m. to catch a plane. His wife, Nance, expected him back early to their new home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was to finish painting the pantry.”
Ira Berkow sent along his best wishes to “a fellow scribe” on the inscription page.
I was honored and thrilled, like a Met fan watching Tommie Agee run down those deep Oriole drives in the World Series, the ball hanging from the webbing but not falling out.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.