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Dutch Leonard’s knuckleball is legendary. He racked up 20 years in Major League Baseball throwing his signature pitch, which he developed only as the result of a shoulder injury he suffered during a high school basketball game. His fast ball was never the same again, but oh, his knuckleball…
“It comes up, makes a face at you, then runs away.” – Jackie Robinson, describing “Dutch” Leonard’s knuckleball The Sporting News, 11/12/1947
Dutch Leonard was the son of a coal miner. After high school, he worked odd jobs as he played for various industrial leagues, both digging ditches and pitching baseballs for his employers. He worked his way up to the Majors, but in the early years his stats were unimpressive. He complained that the catchers weren’t calling for his knuckleball, which left him only his more hittable pitches. He was used in relief or as a “mop up” man, then sent back down to the minors. The press had already made up its mind about Leonard, describing him as a “fat bald man.” A “castoff” at the age of 29.
But my father, growing up in Philadephia in the 1940s and early 50s, remembers Leonard as a “good guy and a gentleman.” What changed?
Dutch Leonard credits his turnaround to 2 things.
Catcher Paul Richards: Most of the players in the minors had seen better days, but catcher Paul Richards made it his mission to catch Leonard’s knuckleball. Paul Richards “put me back in the big leagues,” said Leonard. (Washington Post, April 6, 1940). Once Richards started calling for the knuckleball, Leonard started winning, and he was given another chance in the majors.
Clean living: When Leonard signed with the Phillies in 1947, he was pushing forty and he knew he would have to clean up his act if he was to extend his career much further.
“No white bread, no starches, no midnight snacks, no beer, no anything except hard work…
I’m never going to let myself get fat again.”
— Dutch Leonard The Sporting News, May 28, 1947
It worked. Leonard’s knuckleball took National League batters by surprise and his clean living regimen allowed him to pitch seven more seasons, until he was 44 years old.
So, at what point in his career did “Dutch” Leonard sign this autograph? At what point did my father have the face-to-face exchange that gave him such a good impression of the guy? Consider not just his commitment to clean living, but also who he was with when he signed the page. Tommy Brown.
The only time Dutch Leonard and Tommy Brown ever shared a spot in the same roster was in the twilight of Dutch Leonard’s storied 20 year career. They both played for the Chicago Cubs in 1952. They played in Philadelphia against the Phillies at Shibe Park 11 times over eight days that season. I’m convinced that it was on one of those days that my father obtained those two signatures.
In 1952, Dutch Leonard was the oldest player in the National League and one year shy of retirement. Tommy Brown, although already seven years into his MLB career, was still considered a “perennial prospect” because of his extreme youth. A boy of 16 when spotted by the Dodgers scouts and just 17 when he hit his first major league home run (the youngest player ever), Tommy was still only 25 years old in 1952. He had just been traded to the Cubs with an unacceptable batting average of .160.
“Dutch” Leonard was now the old veteran, the role model with sage advice… and it worked again. During his single season with “Dutch” Leonard, Tommy Brown’s batting average shot up from .160 to .320. Perhaps the “kind” impression my father received from Dutch Leonard while getting his autograph was also part of the education of young Tommy Brown.
“I’d like to throw you out with the trash.” –MARTY “Mr. Shortstop” MARION , to the young autograph seeker, 1948
Of course he had bigger things on his mind than signing autographs.
By 1948, Marty “Mr. Shortstop” Marion was in the middle of what would become eight All-Star years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had already been voted MVP and won three World Series championships. Also by 1948, Marion was suffering from the knee and back problems that would shorten his career. Worried about his future and those of his fellow ballplayers, Marion put his blunt temperament and crackerjack business mind to use, leading the successful fight for Major League Baseball’s first ever Players Pension Plan.
“I was very outspoken in my opinions,” said Marion.
When he was on the team, Marty Marion always put the players first, but it was a different story after he retired. At his posthumous 2014 induction onto the Cardinals Hall of Fame, Marion’s daughter Martina Dill made a revealing comment about his relationship to his fans. “Since his playing days,” she said, “he always had time to answer fan mail and autographs, and even add a little extra postage if necessary.”
“Since” his playing days he had time for his fans. Perhaps he went a little overboard after that, trying to repent for how he may have treated them when he was on the roster.
There are Marty Marion autographs aplenty on eBay written in his shaky, elderly script. These autographs had to have been written slowly. Marion would have had to take some time and concentration. He would have had to care. Even if he had started showing up to baseball card shows primarily out of financial need, Marty Marion could not have remained as “outspoken” anymore.
Marion attended a baseball card show with his old double-play partner, second baseman Red Schoendienst, about six months before he died. Imagine Marty Marion, over 90 years old, with a pen in one hand and a brand new baseball in the other. Watch him slowly placing his signature within the ball’s laces, wobbling a big open circle to dot in the “i” in Marion, then carefully scrawling “ ’44 M.V.P.” under that. How could he have been dismissive with these signatures or his fans? He could not. In the time it took for him to sign each ball, each fan at the baseball show would have ample opportunity to snap a few pictures and plenty of time to ask “Mr. Shortstop” a long unanswered question.
Then, perhaps somewhere between gawking at his famously long, “Octopus” arms and the now old, gnarled hands that could once turn a double-play in the blink of an eye, you stop wondering about the motivations behind Marion’s late-in-life fan appreciation, and you start liking that he barked at you back in 1948.
When my dad was a kid growing up in 1940s Philadelphia, he was an avid sports fan who positioned himself at stadiums, train stations and hotel lobbies in order to get autographs of famous athletes.
He also sent requests by mail on self-addressed, stamped postcards.
His collection grew to contain dozens upon dozens of legendary signatures, including Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Also among the pages of his autograph books are the signatures of names that are lesser know today, but giants of their time.
The Ox Next Door: Al Wistert
While playing for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, tackle Al “Ox” Wistert lived in my father’s neighborhood. He was known and loved not just for his feats on the football field, but for his generous Halloween hijinks. My father remembers Wistert having fun with the kids by heating up a pile of half dollar coins in his oven, then tossing them out his window to the children gathering below, delighting in their scrambling attempts to pick up and hang on to the piping hot treasures.
“Pro football’s a great game as long as you’re able to give more than you receive. – Al Wistert, upon retiring in 1951
My father remembers Al Wistert throwing money to children on Halloween, but he also went much further out of his way to help kids. Although he did not own a car in 1945, Al accepted a job as head coach for a New Jersey High School football team over 50 miles away. For several seasons Eagles Head Coach Greasy Neale lent Wistert his car so Al could teach the high school kids.
Although all three Wistert brothers played football for the University of Michigan, and all three are in the college Hall of Fame, Al was the only Wistert who made it to the NFL, and the first Philadelphia Eagles player to have his number retired. His initial contract was for the 1943 “Steagles,” a temporary merging of the Steelers and Eagles made necessary by the lack of manpower left by the WWII draft.
The wrist bone ailment that exempted Wistert from military service also forced him to develop an innovative form of blocking, in which he rammed a defender with his shoulder, then headed downfield looking for another victim. He was the smallest tackle in the league, but Al Wistert played both sides of the ball in every game and made All-Pro for eight straight years.
Wistert was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. His father, Kazimer Vistartas, arrived in the U.S. from Lithuania in 1895. He fought in the Spanish American War, then served as a Chicago policeman for 20 years until he was shot, dying of complications when Al was only six years old.
The tragic details of Kazimer’s injuries and long, unsuccessful attempt at recovery are well documented. Thankfully, so is evidence of his kindness, which gives some insight into the source of Al’s own generosity. Kazimer was known as a helpful “do it all” guy who served as family barber and shoemaker, and often let the neighborhood children ride around on his police horse.
At Al Wistert’s memorial in 2016, his handicapped daughter Kathy got up to give a tribute to her dad. “Anything I was doing, he took an interest in,” she said. Perhaps fittingly, Kathy’s passion was horses. When Al retired from his post NFL insurance business, he moved the family to a farm by Oregon’s Rogue River so they could adopt and care for neglected horses.
Collections to Connections I have also been a sports fan since I was a kid, and have a vast collection of trading cards of my own. When my son was young and started showing an interest in the hobby, I accompanied him to autograph signings.
One day, 1970s Dodgers All-Star 3rd Baseman Ron Cey showed up on the autograph schedule. I dug my own, “vintage” card out of a box in the garage so my kid would have something to sign.
My father, collecting autographs at fourteen, did not imagine he would one day share them with his daughter. Just as I, at twelve, did not think I’d one day find myself happily standing in a long line with my own son to get a brand new autograph from “The Penguin” himself.
Sharing Stories Behind the Signatures turns collections into connections that tie generations together.
I got to Trader Joe’s before 8am. People were already lining up outside, each grabbing a shopping cart and placing it in front of their bodies, between themselves and the next person. The joys of social distancing.
I had just taken a cart for myself when a young, bearded man approached the area. We met each other’s eyes and smiled. I was impressed by how genuine this stranger’s smile was. We each said “Good morning,” and he proceeded with getting his cart and moving to a place in line.
When a senior patron was declined a request to be admitted inside early, I learned the store would not be opening for another hour, so I decided to come back some other time. I sanitized my hands, got back in my car, turned the key in the ignition and checked my rear view mirror.
It was then that I noticed the young bearded man in the distance behind me. His cart was along the wall with the others in line, his fellow customers standing, slumping, looking at their phones, but he had stepped out in front of them and was standing, straight backed, head slightly down, with his arms out from his sides, palms up and rising, as if he was welcoming, embracing and gathering the sun and the world, all at the same time.
From my rear view mirror vantage point, I watched him repeat an exercise in which his arms slowly kept rising until they were over his head, then came down in an equal meeting with each other just in front of his face, like he was pushing gently down onto slowly sinking, level water.
His arms continued the gentle push down until they were at his sides, and he flicked his wrists at the last moment, as if to dispose of any stray, unnecessary droplets of energy.
He slowly repeated this exercise at least four or five times. I admired the lack of self consciousness that allowed him to do this in public almost as much as I admired the exercise itself, his patience and presence in the midst of pandemic and parking lot.
There is not much room on our minds right now for anything but the virus. The world is shutting and hunkering down, waiting for an invisible monster wave to crash. We feel sadness, anxiety and fear. Tom and Rita tweet from quarantine. We try to amass enough toilet paper and granola bars to wait it out on the high ground of home.
I didn’t get my groceries or even a chance at a pack of toilet paper at this particular trip to Trader Joe’s, but I did witness that calm. In these days, in this moment, it felt important.
A February visit to Clement Restaurant revealed many good signs,
starting with — a new sign!
All too often we hear about old San Francisco favorites closing, like Ambassador Toys in West portal, where generations perused everything from handcrafted puzzles to science kits and stuffed animals. Or the historic Clay Theater, a neighborhood art house that screened the kinds of films that launched a thousand coffeehouse conversations, and midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which spilled throngs of laughing youth onto the late night sidewalks, toast crumbs falling from their pants as they danced the Time Warp down Fillmore street.
After five long years since their kitchen fire and closing, a clean, bright and welcoming new sign for Clement Restaurant has been installed. Also looks like the awning for Clement BBQ next door has been scrubbed of a layer or two of city grime.
More Gleaming appliances have been installed.
How soon is the big day? “We are just waiting for the government to say OK,” says the employee at Clement BBQ ringing up my order.
What makes Clement Restaurant so special? Certainly there are other Dim Sum restaurants close by that offer a tasty Pork Bun and other delicacies? Well, sure. Taste is subjective, as anyone who has ever tried to order and share a pizza with another human being can attest!
There are many wonderful pork bun experiences within mere blocks of Clement restaurant, such as the sweet crispy-topped beauties at Hong Kong Lounge (above).
Hong Kong Lounge’s baked buns are a little smaller, but they are delicious! Saucier and more delicate than those that come out of the oven at Clement Restaurant. You get the sense that they are made carefully, and eating them in a grand, carpeted room at a cloth covered table under twinkling chandeliers just feels right.
Unlike Clement Restaurant, where the few rickety tables jammed against the wall were covered only in the sticky remains of the last customer’s order, and you have to ask for a napkin to wipe down the table before popping open a plastic container to consume your food.
But I don’t care!
Taste rules, but you cannot overestimate the power of personal association and the sixth sense of memory.
Ever since I can remember (and long before), a walk down Clement street has been dominated by Asian grocers and houseware supply stores, dim sum restaurants, and doubled parked delivery trucks unloading boxes of live, smelly crabs and other assorted seafood down wet floors into back kitchens and loud, fish markets.
Origins “Around the turn of the 20th Century, new cable and electric streetcar lines formed to deliver passengers to the Golden Gate Park, to the beach, and Adolph Sutro’s new Cliff House, Sutro Heights, and Sutro Baths.” Read more: A Short History of the Richmond District
The first sprinklings of bougeious yuppie-dom, like the sweet ‘n cutsie coffee and ice cream shop, the Toy Boat Café, didn’t come on the scene until the 1980s. That’s when I moved away to college, then to chase a career, marry and raise a son.
Yes, I have always come back every few months to visit my family, and stopping by Clement Restaurant is an engraved tradition that I passed into the next generation. I thought I was appreciative, but realized I had taken it all for granted when I returned in 2015 to find the place all boarded up.
A 2015 kitchen fire shut down operations at the address… but since the owner of Clement Restaurant also owns the two eateries on either side,the buns kept rising!
Assorted pastries were shouldered by the kitchen at Clement BBQ, the restaurant next door to the east, and the steamed offerings continued at Xiao Long Bao, located just next door to the west.
It was a great relief to continue to enjoy the unique and sumptuous blend of sweet/savory BBQ pork in Char Siu sauce recipe made only at Clement Restaurant.
The Long Road Back (a timeline in pictures)
Michael Flores, energetic and knowledgeable Superintendent for Bali Construction, welcomes the challenge of every new job, but admits progress has been stalled many times in the past four years. Insurance issues, PG&E issues. They had to reconfigure the sequencing of the entire power system, so it is properly shared between three establishments. Peering through the taped up windows revealed little. At first there was no progress. Just the locked door and the lingering scent of smoke.
The place was cleared and gutted on the inside and then spent some time as a storage unit. Stacks of supplies would appear. A ladder leaning against a wall. Boxes and boxes of To-Go containers, tumbled over each other. The front windows wore dirty, peeling stickers and long expired ads for city events.
Stepping inside in July 2019, the long narrow place is bright white, except on the right wall, where the original brick has been exposed..
CHANGING BACK IS STILL A CHANGE
I have a tendency to be nervous about change. And I haven now grown accustomed to going to Clement BBQ next door.
While waiting in line, I may take in the state of a whole roast pig, dressed for consumption or hanging from a hook suspended over a worn, round butcher’s block.
I may watch as steam table orders are filled. Scoops of chow mein slopped into takeout containers.
I can lean against the sacks of bleach piled high against the mirrored wall. And I always look next door for a peek at the progress…
Superintendant Flores points out that I am not the only one who has stopped by the open door of the re-construction of Clement Restaurant to share my longstanding personal fondness for the place and the taste that takes me back.
I tell him that I am excited for the reopening, and grateful to the owner for maintaining the baked delights for his customers. He knows the value is beyond taste — it’s time travel.
When he hints that the owner maybe “expanding the menu,” a shiver runs through me and I quickly exclaim, “Don’t change the recipe!”
Jason Berlin, a continually smiling Tom Hanks type in bright blue t-shirt and jeans, is an organizer with Field Team 6. He said he was warmed by the great turnout and the opportunity to be “bathing in liberals.” Big applause and big laughs from the crowd were a reflection of the solidarity of the assembled for the cause at hand.
Before charging forth with the strategies and hard work ahead for the 2020 election, Jason took the time to recognize the irrefutable success of November 2018, when the Wave we all worked for crashed into the House and turned it Blue by a margin far exceeding our goal. “Thank you for saving the world,” said Jason, “We won our survival.”
Everyone who marched, who called, who wrote postcards, registered voters, knocked on doors, “It all mattered.” Many of the elections were so close they were won by what’s called “field margins,” said Berlin. Margins attributed to work done in the field. That’s us. All of us. “Talking to strangers changes the world.”
The Plan: From now until the primaries, the push is going to be voter registration. Canvassing for particular candidates will ramp up after that. Not only do we have to vote Trump out, we have to protect the House Democrats we voted into office November 2018 and flip the Senate as well! There is no taller order, but no work more necessary considering the circumstances of our Democracy. It’s not lost on any of us.
Berlin covers the nuts and bolts, like how to fill out the registration form, plus proper body language (stand with an open posture and don’t hold your clipboard up to your chest like a shield), the importance of eye contact and a little smile. “So they have to break your heart to walk past you.”
But – what if you do wind up talking to a Republican? “Try not to let them see the light die in your eyes.” Another big laugh.
Don’t try to change anyone’s political view, he instructs. You will be trying to register people who already lean Democrat. Berlin is always clear about where he is coming from so he attracts like-minded people. He wears an Obama campaign shirt, and to passersby he calls, “Excuse me, can you help me save the world from Trump?”
Spend a few hours at a community college, farmer’s market or even outside the DMV registering voters, and “You leave with a force-field of self-esteem,” he exclaims.
OnBoarded at Last: into the Live TV Stream-O-Sphere
I am happy to report that I have just ditched my satellite service and signed up for Live TV streaming. I realize I am not exactly ahead of the curve on this, but just in case you still have cable or satellite and feel like you are paying too much, here’s one way you can break free and enter the Stream-O-Sphere.
Telling DirecTV to take a hike: Priceless
I didn’t know if I was tech savvy enough to switch from satellite to streaming, but I did know I was fed up with the cost! After a recent fruitless call to DirecTV to see if I could work out some kind of reduction in my bill (I couldn’t), I knew it was finally time dive into the stream.
Did you see the ads for Youtube TV during the last Super Bowl? I went to the website (after the game was over, of course!) and signed up for the free trial.
Television Combatibility Questions?
If your Television set, like mine, is a few years old and not automatically compatible with YouTubeTV, a basic Roku will get those two talking. As long as your TV has an HDMI port, you can use a Roku. The basic Roku model is about $30 and the Roku hook up is simple. You just need to have your smartphone or computer handy so you can activate your Roku online and connect it to your devices.
You can skip this step if you already have a TV with the Roku technology built in. (Good for you!) Of course you might have paid a ton of money for a huge, fancy Ultra 4k TV, but if you are just setting up in a small room, you can snag a 32″ 1080p Roku TV for under $200!
After you activate your Roku, you can move on to YouTube TV. Come prepared with a Gmail account, keep your smart phone or computer handy to activate your free trial and follow the onscreen prompts.
Top 3 Reasons YouTube TV is a Better Choice than Hulu Live
We can’t step into the same river twice, but it’s never too late to enter the Stream.