Saturday, July 12, 2008

Today's Tune: Bob Dylan and The Band - Forever Young

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Until the very end, Bobby Murcer showed 'heart of a champion'

Updated Saturday, July 12th 2008, 6:37 PM

Bobby Murcer, shown acknowledging Stadium crowd at 2007 Old-Timer's Day, built legacy as beloved Yankee player and broadcaster.

Bobby Murcer lost his gallant and determined fight with brain cancer Saturday at Oklahoma City Hospital with his wife, Kay, his daughter, Tori, and his son, Todd, by his side, a little more than a year-and-half after first being diagnosed with the most aggressive form of tumors. He was 62, and while most of those last 19 months of a life-too-short were spent enduring exhaustive, often-agonizing after-effects of intense chemotherapy and radiation, Murcer, true to his upbeat nature, regarded them as a blessing rather than a curse.

"I feel especially blessed," he told me a few months ago, "to have been able to hear from and see all these wonderful people who have been my fans. Through this entire ordeal, their prayers and support have been so gratifying. You have no idea what a strength the fans have been for me."

According to his literary agent, Rob Wilson, Murcer was especially grateful to have been able to write his book, "Yankee For Life," in which he shared his life's experiences, from the trial of how he and his wife, Kay, dealt with the devastating news of his malignant brain tumor on Christmas Eve 2006, to the joy of his 44 years in the game as a player and broadcaster. During his last appearance in New York, May 27-29, Murcer, though frail and physically weakened, pushed himself to accommodate nearly 2,000 fans in three separate book signings.

"He displayed the heart of a champion throughout all those signings," said Wilson. "I don't know how he was able to get through them. No matter how weak he felt, he just kept signing. I told him at one point, 'We can cut this short, Bobby,' but he insisted on going the full nine innings. There was so much love on those lines, all those people who wanted to share their stories with him, and I think that was what motivated him to keep on going. He wanted them to know he loved them as much as they loved him."

Murcer signs autographs for young Yankees fans holding souvenir bats at the Stadium on June 6, 1971.
Credits: Requena/Getty

He first came to us in 1966 out the same rolling hills of Oklahoma as his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle, and with the same lofty expectations. But while that, too, might have been considered a curse for most any other ballplayer, Murcer - who like Mantle was signed by the legendary Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, and began his professional career as a shortstop before shifting to center field - felt honored to be compared with the great Yankee slugger.

"My answer to that was always the same: It never bothered me being compared to Mickey," Murcer said. "What bothered me was how Mickey felt about me being compared to him."

Such was Murcer's wry and self-effacing humor. But he was proud of all he accomplished as a player; especially proud of what he'd meant to a generation of Yankee fans in the mid-'60s and early '70s, who never knew the championship Yankee tradition. For a lot of those years, he was about all the Yankees had, a lonely pinstriped All-Star who came back from a two-year stint in military service to hit 129 homers in his first five full seasons. He would finish his career with a .277 average, 252 homers, 1,862 hits and a .445 slugging percentage - maybe not Mantle-esque, but more than enough to stamp him as a pretty fair country ballplayer. And, combined with his 22 years in the broadcasting booth, he earned Yankee icon status as one of the last to be introduced on Old-Timer's Day.

That's all he ever wanted to be - a respected Yankee. It was his fate, however, to never play on a Yankee world championship team. He arrived on the scene just after the 1949-64 Yankee dynasty had come to an end, and was traded - to the San Francisco Giants on Oct. 21, 1974, for Bobby Bonds - right before George Steinbrenner restored the team to a new championship era. Many years later, Murcer still called the trade to the Giants "the worst day of my life" but always blamed Yankee general manager Gabe Paul rather than Steinbrenner, who was serving his first suspension from baseball.

Murcer loses his cap as he makes a spectacular snare of a foul ball hit by Sal Bando during a game against the A's on Aug. 10, 1969.
Credits: News

"Gabe and I always had a personality conflict," he once told me. "I was not a pro-Gabe Paul person. Gabe was only interested, in my opinion, in a team looking good and the budget being held down. He was satisfied with mediocrity."

Nevertheless, the Murcer-for-Bonds deal later became regarded as the pivotal transaction in the building of a new championship Yankee legacy when, a year later, Paul traded Bonds to the California Angels for pitcher Ed Figueroa and center fielder Mickey Rivers, both of whom were key components on the teams that won three straight American League pennants from 1976-78, and back-to-back World Series in '77 and '78. In the year prior to the trade, Murcer was dealt a double-barreled blow to his pride and his status as the premier Yankee: With Yankee Stadium undergoing its renovation, the team moved to Shea Stadium in 1974 and Murcer, who had the perfect lefthanded power stroke for Yankee Stadium, suffered accordingly, his home run output dropping to 10, with only two of them hit at home. At the same time, Yankee manager Bill Virdon determined that Elliott Maddox, whom the Yankees had purchased for $35,000 from the Texas Rangers in spring training '74, was a more adept center fielder, and Murcer was moved to right, never to return.

Murcer would go on to spend the next 41/2 years in Yankee exile, watching with envy from second-division outposts - Candlestick Park and Wrigley Field - as his old team, fortified with Hall-of-Fame-bound free agents Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage, along with his best friend, Thurman Munson, made regular trips to the World Series.

It wasn't until late June of 1979 that Steinbrenner reunited the 33-year-old Murcer with the Yankees, as the Cubs, who were just looking to dump his $320,000 contract, sent him back to the Bronx for a non-prospect minor league pitcher named Paul Semall. At the time of the deal, the Yankees, who had lost their closer, Gossage, to a thumb injury (the result of a shower room fight with teammate Cliff Johnson) were already falling out of the AL East pennant race. Then, on Aug. 2, an off-day, the Yankees and the rest of baseball were shocked by the news that Munson had been killed in the crash of his single engine private jet as he was practicing landings at the Canton, Ohio, airport.

No one in baseball was closer to Munson than Murcer, who, only the night before, had watched from his car at the end of the runway of a small Chicago airport as Munson took off on his solo flight home to Canton. Four days later, after delivering the eulogy at the Munson funeral in Canton, Murcer, despite having gotten no sleep, implored Yankee manager Billy Martin to let him play in the game that night at the Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles. It would be his finest hour as a Yankee as he honored Munson's memory by driving in all five runs, with a three-run homer and two-run single, in their emotional 5-4 win.

Murcer chats with ex-Yank Paul O'Neill prior to the '07 Old-Timers' Day festivities.
Credits: Keivom/News

"He loved the game, his fans, his friends, and most of all his family," Murcer had said in the eulogy for Munson. "He is lost, but not gone. He will be missed, but not forgotten."

Now they are both lost.

Bobby Murcer was a pal and I will always choose to remember him, not so much for his exploits on the ballfield, but rather for his humor and humanity off it. A prime example of that latter quality was his service as president of the Baseball Assistance Team, the organization that raises money for indigent former players and baseball front office personnel. "Bobby lending his presence to our organization was so important in raising the awareness among the current players of what we do," said BAT executive director Jim Martin. "With him, it was never about Bobby and all about helping people in need."

One of my everlasting memories was a night in Boston in 1982. Bobby was at the tail-end of his career - on "scholarship" as I would tell him, in reference to the three-year "thanks for the memories" contract Steinbrenner bestowed upon him - and we were walking back to the hotel after having a few postgame cocktails at one of Boston's popular saloons. This was also when he was a spokesman for Skoal chewing tobacco and had actually recorded a goofy song, "Skoal Dippin' Man", for them. Regretfully, he also really chewed the stuff for a few years.

"I've always wanted to write my life story," Bobby said to me, "but I may need your help. Do you want to hear it?"

"Now?" I said.

"Well, yeah. When we get back to the room, I'll tell you everything."

Murcer leaves behind his wife, Kay, and two children, Todd and Tori

Sure enough, when we got back to the hotel, Bobby doggedly followed me up to my room and as I stretched out on the bed, he pulled up a chair and a waste basket for which to deposit his "chew" spittle. I don't remember much of his monologue, other than feeling myself dozing off when, a half hour into his life story, he was only at Greensboro of the Carolina League.

The next day at the ballpark, he approached me in consternation.

"I can't believe you fell asleep in the middle of my life story!" he exclaimed.

"I can't believe you left that mess in my waste basket and that I'm probably gonna get charged for it!" I countered.

It turned out Bobby Murcer did have quite a life story. It was actually a love story that began and ended with the beautiful Kay, his high school sweetheart, and their two kids, Todd and Tori, who all survive him. And in between were all the rest of us, his friends, teammates and just plain fans, who will miss him and never forget him.

My Murcer Memory

Murcer was a fan favorite, former All-Star and announcer

By John Valenti
New York Newsday
July 12, 2008

Bobby Murcer #1 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York circa 1969-1974. (Louis Requena, MLB Photos via Getty Images / July 12, 2008)

I never collected autographs. Baseball cards, yes. But not autographs.

Don't get me wrong. I loved sports. I even grew up to spend almost 20 years as a sportswriter. But I was never star-struck like that, enough to seek out the autograph of a star.

Except for once.

That player was Bobby Murcer.

This was back in the 1970s. At Shea Stadium. Murcer was with the Chicago Cubs then, playing a game against the Mets. I was a teenager. I saw him down on the third-base lining, fans gathered around. I took a piece of paper. And a pen. And graciously, as he was with everything he did, Bobby Murcer signed his name.

Mickey Mantle (right) with Bobby Murcer in 1973. (TSN Archives, ZUMA Press / July 12, 2008)

I asked because Bobby Murcer was one of the heroes of my youth, flawed as he might have been -- never becoming the next Mickey Mantle, as everyone had said he would. I liked him because of how he played the game of baseball. Because of how much he cared. Because, often, he seemed to be the one bright shining light on a team that had become one saddest in sports.

A dynasty once, suddenly a dismal failure -- doomed to the second-tier of the American League as if there had never been a dynasty at all. These were the Yankees of my youth. Jake Gibbs. Horace Clarke. Bobby Murcer.

His presence, somehow, made the rest of it all palatable. Even the losing. Because of how he carried himself.

Of course, as fans we all have perceptions of how athletes perform in the real world. We equate their success on the field with their success as people. As human beings. As I would later find out in adulthood, the two are often mutually exclusive.

Bobby Murcer smiles and shakes hands with Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry as it is announced that he is being given the cowboy hat, guitar and a horse. (Photo by Karen Wiles, Newsday / July 12, 2008)

With Bobby Murcer, it wasn't. What you saw was what you got -- something most Yankees fans were later fortunate to learn when Murcer retired and became a Yankees announcer. Something, I was fortunate enough to find out first hand.

I was a 20-something-year-old kid, sent to Yankee Stadium for the first time ever on an assignment to cover the Yankees. This was in the 80s. I had no idea where I was going: From the press gate to the press room to the locker room to the press box. I found myself running for an elevator -- one with a door I could hear closing fast.

I was still 15 or 20 feet away, when suddenly a hand reached out -- and stopped the door. I continued to run. And in a few moments I found myself turning into the elevator, almost out of breath. I looked up to find one other person in the elevator. I was shocked to see it was Bobby Murcer. I thanked him profusely. He said your welcome -- and gave me that infamous Bobby Murcer smile. The rest of the ride was quiet.

But since that day I have often thought of how Bobby Murcer could have simply let the elevator door close -- and gone on his way. No one would have ever known any different.

Former New York Yankee Bobby Murcer, center, who announced his retirement from baseball has a laugh with fellow Yankees broadcast member Phil Rizuto as they prepare for the pre-game show. (AP Laserphoto, Associated Press / July 12, 2008)

I never told Bobby Murcer about the autograph, though I would always see him around the Yankees media dining room or press box during the times I was assigned to cover the team in the years to come. I guess I felt he might think it was stupid. Or dumb.

I thought about that autograph -- and the elevator story -- Saturday afternoon, hearing that Bobby Murcer had died. And somehow, amid the tears, all I could think of was how I wished I had told him. Told him that the moment when he held that elevator door made me realize that some folks are just the genuine article. Are just good people.

No matter how much is lauded on them. No matter if someone is watching them. Or they aren't.

Against all odds, Bobby Murcer taught us to keep believing

By Bob Raismann
New York Daily News
Updated Saturday, July 12th 2008, 6:36 PM

Murcer is survived by his wife, Kay, and their two children, Todd and Tori.
Credits: Slocum/AP

Near the end of the 1995 season, the seismic shift in Yankees history did not escape Bobby Murcer.

On Aug. 13, Mickey Mantle died. Nine days later, Aug. 22, Phil Rizzuto packed up his microphone and retired. Now, it was late September and clear Don Mattingly was nearing the end of his career.

Murcer sat talking to a reporter. He smiled while reminiscing about Rizzuto, even hinting - with a wink and a nod - that Scooter, who spent 54 years as a player and broadcaster, could still make a comeback. Murcer's admiration for Mattingly, as a player and person, was evident. His tone of voice was reverential.

The Mantle part of this conversation was tough. Shortstops who were discovered by the same scout, Mantle and Murcer eventually set up shop in the outfield, outside those monuments in the Bronx. Two Okies who never lost their twang. Murcer didn't ever quite fill The Mick's shoes, but with heart and hustle he earned as much love.

Murcer had even more love for Mantle.

So, on this late September afternoon, the words did not come easy. Murcer choked back tears. He paused to compose himself as he recounted the day Mantle died. He woke up to hear the news on the radio. Then he and his wife, Kay, placed a call to Merlyn Mantle.

"She told us Mickey had gone peacefully," Murcer said. "We all know we are going to die someday and as much as we prepare for it we're never really ready when the actual event happens."

That's where we all are today.

On Opening Day, 1966, a 19-year-old Bobby Murcer chats with his father, Bobby Murcer Sr., in the dugout at Yankee Stadium.
Credits: Clarity/News

In 2006, on Christmas Eve, the diagnosis the doctor gave Murcer was grave - a brain tumor. In the darkness of winter, faced with his own mortality, it was Murcer who comforted. It was Murcer who made you feel everything was going to be all right, no matter how long the odds were.

We all believed Murcer. We also believed in him. Murcer, who succumbed in that fight Saturday at the age of 62, was not just a player. For 22 years, in your living room talking baseball, he shared his summer nights. He was a friend. For Murcer, it wasn't only about pitch counts, swinging through the zone, or first-guessing every managerial decision.

Murcer was genuine. A baseball conversationalist. A storyteller with no pretense. A guy who liked to laugh, mostly at himself. Look into our baseball broadcast booths. With the exception of .Ralph Kiner, who has been relegated to cameo status by SNY, there is no one in the Bronx or Queens with the same one-on-one connection Murcer had with fans.

Rizzuto had it. So did Bob Murphy. Now they are all gone, replaced by technocrats big on strategy and ego, but so very small when it comes to sincerity and likability - qualities that cannot be taught.

Or readily recognized by various suits. Beginning in the early 1990s, February would roll around and Murcer still would not have been offered a Yankees broadcasting contract. That fact would find its way into the newspapers. Suddenly, George Steinbrenner would start "encouraging" someone to sign Murcer.

Murcer shares a laugh with Mickey Mantle (r.) and Yogi Berra in 1980.
Credits: UPI

Even when the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network was created, it seemed Murcer was never a priority to the people running it. That was reflected by the number of games he worked.

Other voices, including some who never played for the Yankees or were part-time Bombers, may have been blessed with more assignments, but not with the special bond Murcer had with Yankee fans.

Murcer never, ever, acknowledged any perceived slight. In a business full of insecurity, he was secure in himself. When he was forced to confront this crisis in his health, those very same fans who saw him as family uncapped a reservoir of love. They fueled Murcer for the fight of his life.

After six hours of surgery to have the tumor removed, and after a January 2007 pathology report revealed the tumor was malignant, Murcer kept on pushing. Kept on pushing all the way to the 2007 Yankee Stadium opener. Tampa Bay. Top of the third inning. There Murcer stood - bald, beautiful and smiling.

With his YES boothmates Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, and Joe Girardi at his side, Murcer surveyed the scene and waved to the fans. Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" sounded from the PA. The crowd of 56,035 stood and cheered. Yankee players did the same. Some even pointed up to the broadcast booth.

Murcer dried his eyes.

"If anyone can get well because of that," Murcer said, "I'm well already."

News' Bill Gallo presents Murcer with 2003 "Pride of the Yankees" award.
Credits: Roberts for News

This was the last visible tribute to Murcer, but not the most important one. That tribute was delivered to others, some who never even saw him hit a home run or make a great catch, by Murcer himself. The way he kept on living, smiling, spreading optimism, gave so many others fighting cancer renewed faith and hope.

This was Bobby Murcer's last gift.

A reason to believe.

Beloved Yankee Remembered as an Example

The New York Times
July 13, 2008

TORONTO — Bobby Murcer never played for a championship Yankees team. But like Don Mattingly, it made no difference to his legacy. Murcer was beloved by players for his good nature and revered as an embodiment of what the Yankees try to represent. He was competitive and classy, tough and tender, all at once.

“The way he handled himself,” Mariano Rivera said, “he was the best example we could have.”

The Yankees learned of Murcer’s death Saturday in the clubhouse at Rogers Centre, minutes after a victory. Suddenly the music stopped thumping through the speakers, and a celebration turned somber. One by one, players shared their memories of Murcer, who died of complications from brain cancer at age 62.

“Bobby always went out of his way to be nice,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s one of the most positive people you’d ever meet. Ever since I first came up, you always looked forward to seeing him.”

Jorge Posada would hang on Murcer’s stories about Mickey Mantle, a switch-hitter like Posada. He would ask Murcer about Thurman Munson, a predecessor as the team’s catcher. Murcer would talk — Oklahoma roots ever clear in his voice — and Posada understood his sincerity.

“A lot of stories from the heart,” Posada said. “He really meant everything he said. He was a big part of a great organization. He did a lot of good things for this team, and it’s a really sad day.”

Posada’s voice cracked, and he was not the only one who was emotional.
Jason Latimer, a Yankees’ media relations representative, learned the news from a cellphone call while Manager Joe Girardi was addressing reporters after the game. Girardi’s session ended, reporters left the manager’s office, and Latimer stayed behind to tell Girardi.

Girardi broadcast games with Murcer on YES last season and rooted for him in the 1970s, when Murcer played for the Chicago Cubs. When the door opened, Girardi sat hunched over at his desk chair, eyes red, nose sniffling. His voice broke as he called Murcer a great Yankee and a great friend.

“He was an inspiration to all of us,” Girardi said. “And I know he’s in heaven with the good Lord and he’s peaceful, but it’s hard when you lose somebody so special.”

Murcer, who was diagnosed as having cancer in 2006, was treated at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Andy Pettitte, who lives in Houston, met him once for lunch. Like most of the players, Pettitte was aware of Murcer’s condition, but he was unprepared for Saturday’s news.

Bobby Murcer in 2007

“Most of us are kind of blind-sided by it,” Pettitte said. “We didn’t know he was in such bad shape. He was just here — what, a month and a half ago? — and did a few games. I know he battled it for a long time. What a spirit he had.”

Pettitte and Jason Giambi remembered how Murcer would pat them on the back when they struggled. Murcer clowned with Giambi at Old-Timer’s Day, once showing up with a fake tattoo.

“He had that aura about him,” Giambi said. “He was always happy. You enjoyed being around him, because he was that type of guy that never seemed to have a bad day.”

Murcer also loved to talk about hitting, and as a fellow left-hander, he would tell Giambi about the adjustments needed to take advantage of the close right-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

Alex Rodriguez said Murcer often shared his simple philosophy — get a good pitch to hit — while making him feel at home.

“From the time I came over from Texas, he just treated me like I was a lifelong Yankee,” Rodriguez said.

In the clubhouse, the dean of the Yankees’ family is the trainer Gene Monahan. He started with the team as a spring-training intern in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1960s, when Murcer was also starting his career.
Monahan knew of the pressure on Murcer as an Oklahoma-born center fielder like Mantle. But Murcer carried himself with grace, Monahan said, learning how to act from the veterans and passing on the lessons.

“What stands out mostly is he was a gutty player with a lot of determination and strong will and a lot of love for his teammates,” Monahan said. “He was very kind and considerate, and he knew — because Mickey and all those guys took such great care of him in the ’60s when he came along and was highly touted — he knew that was the way to go with the young guys when they were coming up, even if you were the athletic trainer.

“He was always that way with the young kids, always took time out with them, always put his arm around them and explained things to them, even things as simple as how to dress, how to act on road trips, how to treat the clubhouse guys, how to be kind to the cab drivers and bus drivers, people who were out there to serve you, what it meant to be a big leaguer.”

Monahan was there for the ultimate example of Murcer as a teammate: his stirring eulogy at Munson’s funeral in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 1979. Murcer played for the Yankees that night in New York, driving in five runs, including the game-winner in an emotional ninth inning.

“There’s no words for that,” Monahan said, but the Yankee Stadium scoreboard operators found some. For years, whenever they showed highlights of that game, they played a song that seemed to fit Bobby Murcer: “Forever Young.”

Bobby Murcer, 62, Yankee on Field and Air, Dies

The New York Times
Published: July 13, 2008

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
Bobby Murcer in the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium before the Yankees played the Seattle Mariners on May 2.

Bobby Murcer, the Yankees’ All-Star outfielder and longtime broadcaster who never became another Mickey Mantle but endeared himself to Yankee fans in a baseball career of more than four decades, died Saturday in Oklahoma City. He was 62.

Murcer’s death, at Mercy Hospital, was announced by the Yankees, who said the cause was complications from brain cancer.

Murcer had surgery for a cancerous brain tumor at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in December 2006 and had received an experimental vaccine in a clinical trial there.

He returned as a Yankee broadcaster in May 2007 and broadcast some games this season. His memoir, “Yankee for Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes,” written with Glen Waggoner, was published in May, on his 62nd birthday.

When he made his Yankee debut in September 1965 as a teenage shortstop, Murcer evoked images in the press of a young Mantle. Murcer batted left-handed while Mantle was a switch-hitter, but both were Oklahomans, both had been signed by the Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, both possessed speed on the bases, and both had played at shortstop in the minor leagues.

But Murcer, at 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds, had a slighter build than Mantle. “Both of us were power hitters, the only difference being that Mickey’s power took the ball over the fence a lot more often than mine did,” Murcer said in his memoir.

Murcer eventually succeeded Mantle, his boyhood hero, in center field. He never approached a Hall of Fame career, but he proved an outstanding hitter and a fine fielder in his 17 major league seasons.

Playing mostly for the Yankees, Murcer hit 252 home runs and had 1,862 hits and a .277 career batting average. In 1971, he hit a career-high .331 and was the runner-up for the American League batting title, and he became adept at bunting. The next year, Murcer won a Gold Glove award.

He was named to five All-Star teams, from 1971 to 1974 while with the Yankees and in 1975 while with the San Francisco Giants. A memorable career moment came on June 24, 1970, when he hit four consecutive home runs in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians.

Murcer moved to the Yankee broadcast booth, as a commentator, the night of June 20, 1983, hours after George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, offered him the job during his second stint with the Yankees, when he was playing infrequently. He teamed at the outset with Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer and Bill White and remained a Yankee broadcaster most of the time after that until his death.

Murcer recalled how he mangled syntax and offered a few baseball clichés as he learned his craft and how “one critic sniffed that my Oklahoma accent sounded a bit incongruous.” But, as he put it, “I’d spent almost four decades perfecting that accent, and I sure wasn’t going to change now.”

As for those early comparisons to Mantle, Murcer once told The New York Times that he did not feel overburdened. “I was too young and too dumb to realize what they were trying to do in the first place,” he said, “and by the time I realized it, I had already established myself.”

Bobby Ray Murcer was born May 20, 1946, in Oklahoma City. His father, Robert, owned several small jewelry stores. Murcer was signed out of high school, and spent two years in the minors before joining a Yankee team that had entered a long decline.

After playing briefly with the Yankees for two seasons, then marrying his high school sweetheart, Diana Kay Rhodes (known as Kay), Murcer spent two years in the Army. He became a regular in 1969, when Mantle retired.

In 1973, Murcer became the third Yankee, after Joe DiMaggio and Mantle, to receive a $100,000 salary. A year later he became the highest-paid player in Yankee history, with a $120,000 contract.

Murcer once recalled that after Steinbrenner gained control of the Yankees in 1973, “he told me that I was a big part of the Yankee tradition, and always would be.”

But after the 1974 season, the Yankees traded Murcer to the Giants for Bobby Bonds. Murcer spent two seasons in San Francisco and two and a half seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

“What hurt the most was that in the years I was with the Giants and the Cubs, the Yankees won three straight pennants and back-to-back world championships,” Murcer wrote in his memoir. “It just ripped my heart out not to have been part of that.”

Murcer was traded back to the Yankees in late June 1979 and emerged as a team spokesman six weeks later when the Yankees’ star catcher and captain, his longtime friend Thurman Munson, died in the crash of his small plane. Murcer and his wife stayed up all night with Munson’s widow, Diana, in the hours before Munson’s funeral — attended by the Yankees, who flew to Canton, Ohio, from New York — and Murcer delivered a eulogy.

“We all flew back to Yankee Stadium for a game against Baltimore,” Murcer recalled in a 1983 article for The Times. “None of us wanted to play, but we did, and I batted in all five runs and we won, 5-4. I never used that bat again. I sent it to Diana.”

Murcer finally made it to the postseason in 1980, and he played on a World Series team for the first time in 1981, when the Yankees were beaten by the Dodgers. But he had only a part-time role in his second Yankee stint.

In addition to his wife, Murcer is survived by a son, Todd; a daughter, Tori Witherspoon; his brother Randy and five grandchildren.

In August 1993, Mantle presented Murcer for induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame at ceremonies in Oklahoma City.

Mantle, who died in 1995, struck an irreverent note at the ceremony. “The first time I ever heard of Bobby Murcer,” The Saturday Oklahoman quoted him as saying, “they said a kid from Oklahoma was gonna be the next Mickey Mantle. They were right. Sure enough, he couldn’t play shortstop either.”

Tony Snow Dead at 53, A Tribute to a Catholic Journalist

By Deacon Keith Fournier
Catholic Online (

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snows waves goodbye as he departs the White House in Washington, on his final day at the office, September 14, 2007. Snow, 53, who had been a conservative radio and television commentator, resigned in August 2007 as Bush's spokesman after taking the job the previous year. Snow died early July 12, 2008 of cancer. REUTERS/Chris Greenberg/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES).

"It’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly. That’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one."

President George W. Bush (L) and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow return from an event at the Quantico Marine Base to the White House in Washington, September 14, 2007. Snow, who battled colon cancer, has died.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) – Tony Snow, whose Catholic faith, superb communication skills, and work ethic propelled him to prominence in the world of media, journalism and communications, has died after his courageous battle with colon cancer.

Honored by the Catholic University of America in May of 2007, Tony Snow gave the crowd which gathered for the 118th Annual Commencement Address: "Reason, Faith, and Vocation" much to ponder.

The title summed up his efforts to integrate his faith, his commitment to marriage and family, his political and policy convictions and a career of communications.

It was also characteristically blunt and practical while rising at times to the level of inspired insight. That was Tony Snow’s gift of communications. He used it throughout a career which was accompanied by earning the respect of his peers, even if they disagreed with his positions.

Robert Anthony “Tony” Snow was born on June 1, 1955. He earned a bachelors degree in philosophy and taught in Kenya before deciding on a career as a journalist. He married his beloved wife, Jill Ellen Walker in 1987 and they have three children, Robbie, Kendell and Christie.

Probably known most nationally for the last assignment of a memorable journalistic career, his brief stint as White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow has been a fixture in “conservative” politics and policy circles for many years.

He was a very popular syndicated columnist, an editor, one of the most popular personalities on the Fox television network, where he anchored “Fox News Sunday” and a radio host. His career spanned thirty years.

The President of the United States, George Bush, released a statement on Snow’s death in which he said: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow. The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character."

As tributes to this fine man pour in from all over the world, Catholic Online offers our prayers to his family and our deepest condolences on their loss. Tony Snow’s heroism in fighting cancer was another sign of the character which informed his stellar career as well as his commitment to family.

In his address to the graduates of Catholic University he spoke these words:

“Heed the counsel of your elders, including your parents. I guarantee you, they have made some howling mistakes if, like me, they were in college in the ’70s and ’80s. They probably haven’t owned up to them, but they might now, because they want to protect you. You see, they know that you are leaving the nest. And now that you’re leaving the nest, predators soon will begin to circle."

"Some are going to try to take your money, but the really clever ones are going to tempt you to throw your life away. They’ll appeal to your pride and vanity – or worse, to your moral ambition. After all, there’s nothing more subversive than the offer to become a saint. So think things through."

"Be patient. If somebody tries to give you a hard sell, you know they’re peddling snake oil; don’t buy it. If something’s not worth pondering, it is certainly not worth doing. And if your gut tells you something’s fishy, trust your gut."

"You know, hucksters perform an unintended service. Like everybody here, I’m sure you’ve all been conned. I am such a sucker that I get conned all the time. What happens is they make you look in the mirror and assess honestly the person on the other side."

"Now all of us love to delude ourselves, making excuses. But you know, the more we resist being honest and doing an honest evaluation, the sillier we behave. If you don’t believe it, think of any swinger you have ever seen in your life. Socrates was right: Know thyself."

"But see, there’s more. Once you’ve gotten past the mirror phase, then things begin to get really interesting. You begin to confront the truly overwhelming question: Why am I here? And that begins to open up the whole universe, because it impels you to think like the child staring out at the starry night: “Who put the lights in the sky? Who put me here? Why?”

"And pretty soon you are thinking about God. Don’t shrink from pondering God’s role in the universe or Christ’s. You see, it’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly. That’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one. ..."

"Think not only of what it means to love but what it means to be loved. I have a lot of experience with that. Since the news that I have cancer again, I have heard from thousands and thousands of people and I have been the subject of untold prayers. I’m telling you right now: You’re young [and you feel] bullet-proof and invincible."

"[But] never underestimate the power of other people’s love and prayer. They have incredible power. It’s as if I’ve been carried on the shoulders of an entire army. And they had made me weightless. The soldiers in the army just wanted to do a nice thing for somebody. As I mentioned, a lot of people — everybody out here — wants to do that same thing.”

The manner and the message showed the mettle of the man.

In that address he also spoke of his sincere faith:

“When it comes to faith, I’ve taken my own journey. You will have to take your own. But here’s what I know. Faith is as natural as the air we breathe. Religion is not an opiate, just the opposite. It is the introduction to the ultimate extreme sport. There is nothing that you can imagine that God cannot trump.

As Paul said “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And once you realize that there is something greater than you out there, and then you have to decide, “Do I acknowledge it and do I act upon it?” You have to at some point surrender yourself. And there is nothing worthwhile in your life that will not at some point require an act of submission.”

We join our prayers to those of his family, friends and colleagues the world over:

“Eternal Rest grant unto him Oh Lord, and may his soul and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, Amen”

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow Dies at 53

By Peter Baker
The Washington Post
Saturday, July 12, 2008; 12:27 PM

White House spokesman Tony Snow conducts his first press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington Tuesday, May 16, 2006. Fox News is reporting Saturday July 12, 2008 that conservative commentator and former White House press secretary Tony Snow has died of cancer. He was 53.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Tony Snow, 53, the former television and radio talk show host who became President Bush's chief spokesman and redefined the role of White House press secretary with his lively banter with reporters, died early this morning after losing a high-profile battle with cancer.

Snow was first diagnosed with colon cancer and treated in 2005, a year before joining the White House staff. But he discovered it had returned after an operation in March 2007 to remove what doctors thought was a benign growth in his lower abdomen. The cancer had spread to his liver, forcing Snow off the podium for treatment. Snow vowed to fight the disease and return to the briefing room but announced six months later that he was leaving his $168,000 job because he needed to recoup the income he lost when he left his job as a radio and television host. He later joined CNN as a commentator.

In as statement issued by the White House this morning, President Bush said, "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow. . . . Tony was one of our Nation's finest writers and commentators. He earned a loyal following with incisive radio and television broadcasts. He was a gifted speechwriter who served in my father's Administration. And I was thrilled when he agreed to return to the White House to serve as my Press Secretary. It was a joy to watch Tony at the podium each day. He brought wit, grace, and a great love of country to his work. . . .

"All of us here at the White House will miss Tony, as will the millions of Americans he inspired with his brave struggle against cancer."

In his brief tenure as the president's public advocate, Snow became perhaps the best-known face of the Bush administration after the president, vice president and secretary of state. Parlaying skills honed during years at Fox News, Snow offered a daily televised defense of the embattled president that was robust and at times even combative while still repairing strained relations with a press corps frustrated by years of rote talking points.

He was lively and entertaining, he could be disarmingly candid when ducking a question and he did not hesitate to retreat when it became clear he had gone too far. He could tell reporters to "zip it" one minute while defusing tension the next by admitting that he knew so little on a topic that he was "not going to fake it." He enjoyed the give-and-take of a tough briefing, but his smile, upbeat energy and glib repartee seemed to take the edge off sometimes rough rhetoric on behalf of a unpopular leader and unpopular policies.

When Bob Woodward of The Washington Post disclosed internal White House maneuvering to push out then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Snow tried to dismiss the account with a memorable putdown. "The book is sort of like cotton candy: It kind of melts on contact," he said. When a flamboyant radio reporter demanded to know whether Snow was going to evade a typically offbeat question, Snow chuckled. "No," he said, "I'm going to laugh at it."

In short, his was the first briefing for the talk show era, and he played the role with gusto. He loved nothing more than jousting with reporters at a televised briefing and expressed disappointment on days when they did not challenge him enough. To him, the job was the "Disney World of communications," as he once termed it. But at times, it seemed more about the theater than the information. He demonstrated little interest in the nitty-gritty of policy and delegated most off-camera reporter inquiries to his deputies. Precision was not his strong suit; translating difficult decisions into easily digestible explanations was.

Joining the White House as part of a staff shakeup in spring 2006, Snow quickly became a star among dispirited Republicans thirsty for an aggressive champion, the only press secretary in years routinely asked to sign autographs and pose for pictures while on the road. In a break with tradition -- and to some crossing a line too far into open partisanship -- the White House used him to headline Republican fundraisers. He also made the rounds of talk shows, hit the lecture circuit and even answered questions on a conservative Internet blog.

This three-picture combo shows White House Press Secretary Tony Snow reacting to a question during his daily briefing at the White House in Washington, in this Thursday, May 3, 2007 file photo.(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, FILE)

Snow's freewheeling style took him too far on occasion. At one point, he said Bush believed that destroying embryonic stem cells was "murder." He later had to retract that, saying that he "overstepped my brief" and that the president would not use that term. Snow also apologized after initially seeming to brush off the seriousness of sexually explicit messages sent by then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to underage House pages by referring to them as "naughty e-mail."

And he occasionally let his passion draw him into personal exchanges with some reporters, such as when he accused NBC's David Gregory of expressing the "Democratic point of view" and "being rude." Gregory retorted: "Don't point your finger at me." Snow later called Gregory to apologize.

Snow leavened his tense tenure with humor and music. He made friends with the members of Jethro Tull and played flute, saxophone and backup guitar for his own band, called Beats Workin'. He appeared on National Public Radio's weekly humor show, "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!"

From the beginning, Snow was open about his battles with cancer. His mother had died of colon cancer when he was in high school, and he suffered from colitis for 28 years. He frequently said he felt that he had been "stalked by cancer," and it finally struck him in February 2005 when a checkup found he had the same cancer that killed his mother.

Then a Fox News talk radio host, Snow opted for aggressive treatment, enduring two operations, six months of chemotherapy and the removal of his colon. When White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten asked him to replace Scott McClellan as press secretary in April 2006, Snow first got the endorsement of his doctor.

Cancer, Snow later said, was "the best thing that ever happened to me" because it brought him closer to his wife, Jill, and their three school-age children and made him appreciate what was really important in life. He became an evangelist for positive attitude and not letting cancer take over one's life. He constantly wore a yellow LiveStrong wristband popularized by Lance Armstrong and choked up at his first televised White House briefing when discussing his experiences, an emotional display he later jokingly called his "Ed Muskie moment."

Snow underwent frequent scans and checkups, and doctors found a growth in his abdomen in the winter of 2007. When they operated in March, they discovered that the cancer had returned and spread to his liver. Snow's deputy, Dana M. Perino, broke into tears as she announced the news. Snow returned to the White House podium five weeks later.

Robert Anthony Snow was born in Berea, Ky., and grew up in Cincinnati. His father was a teacher and assistant principal, and his mother an inner-city nurse. By Snow's description, his was a liberal, idealistic family that cared about poverty and race relations. In high school, Snow was president of the National Honor Society, a varsity tennis player and, not surprisingly, a member of the debate team.

He headed south to North Carolina to attend Davidson College, where he sported a beard and ponytail and was a self-described Marxist. But he grew disaffected with American liberalism before graduating with a philosophy degree in 1977. "We both came pretty much as McGovernites and left kind of Reaganites," a roommate said later.

Snow shuffled from job to job, first as a caseworker for the mentally ill in North Carolina, then as a teacher in Cincinnati and Kenya before doing some graduate work in economics and philosophy at the University of Chicago.

In 1979, he discovered journalism and never looked back. He started as an editorial writer for conservative editor Terry Eastland at the Greensboro Record in North Carolina, then followed Eastland to the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and eventually moved to the Daily Press of Newport News. In 1984, Snow became deputy editorial editor for the Detroit News, where he met and married the editor's secretary, Jill Walker. In 1987, the same year as the wedding, he became editorial page editor at the Washington Times.

President George H.W. Bush recruited him to the White House as a speechwriter, although infighting later relegated him to a backwater job in the media affairs office. After that, Snow wrote a syndicated column, as well as columns for USA Today and the Detroit News. He also branched out to broadcast, filling in for radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Diane Rehm and doing commentary on National Public Radio, ABC's "Good Morning America" and CNN's "Late Edition."

Roger Ailes, who met Snow in the Bush White House, hired him in 1996 to launch a Sunday show for the upstart Fox News Network. Snow made a national name for himself during the next seven years at the helm of "Fox News Sunday." He also played a bit part in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that nearly felled President Bill Clinton; he introduced a friend from the first Bush White House named Linda Tripp to book publisher Lucianne Goldberg, helping set in motion a chain of events that resulted in an investigation and impeachment.

After Snow was replaced at "Fox News Sunday" in 2003 by Chris Wallace, he launched his own Fox radio talk show, heard on 125 stations nationwide, and was sometimes tough on the second President Bush. In columns and on the air, Snow lambasted Bush as an "impotent" president with a "listless domestic policy" who had "lost control of the federal budget." At one point, Snow said, "George Bush has become something of an embarrassment."

When Bush announced Snow's appointment as press secretary, the president made reference to the past criticism. "I asked him about those comments," Bush told reporters, "and he said, 'You should have heard what I said about the other guy.' "

Yet as he laughed it off, Bush broke from his own pattern by inviting an outsider into what had been an unusually insular White House.

Snow is survived by his wife, Jill, and their three children, Kendall, Robbie, and Kristi.

Baker is a former Washington Post staff writer who covered the White House.

Book Review: The Shack

"The Shack": What God Should Have Said?
Walter Henegar, Issue Number 20, June 2008

If no one has handed you a tear-stained copy yet, The Shack is a work of Christian fiction penned by first-time novelist William P. Young. The story centers on family man Mack Phillips, whose seven-year-old daughter is kidnapped and murdered in the opening chapters. After three and a half years of understandably “Great Sadness,” a mysterious note invites Mack to the site of her murder, a shack in the woods. There he spends a healing weekend with the three persons of the Trinity, who manifest primarily as an African-American woman called Papa, a middle-aged Jewish Jesus, and a wispy Asian woman named Sarayu. Literary criticism aside, give the brother credit for guts: Young attempts to answer the problem of evil and the nature of the Trinity in 248 pages.

Sales of The Shack have skyrocketed since it was first published in May 2007, garnering rapturous praise from readers (“life-changing,” “joyfully giving away copies by the case”) and glowing endorsements by the likes of Eugene Peterson—who, inexplicably, compares it to Pilgrim’s Progress.

Writing an unfavorable review of The Shack, then, is like criticizing your Aunt Martha’s macaroni casserole. Sure, it’s fattening, but everyone else in the family loves it, so why not just shut up and eat your Waldorf salad? Any critic risks stumbling directly into the book’s own well-worn stereotype: a strident religious nitpick. God the Father, as portrayed in The Shack, oughta cluck her tongue and give you a talkin’ to.

Of course, not every detail is worth dissecting; a novel is not systematic theology. Yet it’s clearly more than just fiction. Mack’s conversations with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu make up the bulk of the book, with his questions serving as little more than prompts for their extended divine speeches. Though never citing Scripture directly, the characters make enough allusions to biblical content to imply fidelity to orthodox Christianity. Combined with chapter-heading quotes by thoughtful Christians like C.S. Lewis and Marilynne Robinson, the effect is prophet-like: not quite “Thus saith the Lord,” but not far from it.

And therein hides the book’s gravest, and most subtle, problem. Though some parts roughly align with biblical teaching (and many others explicitly contradict it), the book’s overall attitude toward Scripture is persistently dismissive. Mack’s own disdain is conveyed early on: “God’s voice had been reduced to paper. … Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (p. 65-67).

More significant, when Mack mentions biblical events or concepts (often in gross caricature), “God” promptly brushes them off and glibly explains how it really is. Unlike the biblical Jesus, who constantly quoted the Old Testament and spent many post-resurrection hours “opening their minds to understand the scriptures,” The Shack’s Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu turn Mack’s attention away from Scripture, coaxing him to trust instead their simplistic lessons set in idyllic, Thomas Kinkade-like scenes and delivered in the familiar therapeutic language of our age.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. Positively, The Shack’s God-figures emphasize the full divinity of each person of the Trinity, the superiority of divine wisdom over human understanding, and the absolute necessity of grace over the illusion of human merit. Those are great points to emphasize, and there are a few pithy insights on lesser matters as well.

Negatively, however—that is, in clear opposition to Scripture—they explicitly teach that there is no authority or hierarchy within the Trinity, and that God is never willing to violate human free will. There’s also a paragraph that seems to imply universal salvation, and a chapter about judgment that stubbornly avoids pronouncement about the fate of the wicked. In fact, there’s little reason to believe that The Shack’s God ever judges anyone. By the end of the book, even the daughter’s serial killer appears to be, conveniently, on the road to redemption.

Despite regular jabs at organized religion, there is something systematic about Young’s theology. Apparently, the essence of sin is our fearful desire to control God’s messy-by-design world, and thus all rules, expectations, hierarchies, or positions of authority are merely human inventions servicing this vain desire. Salvation, then—or healing, at least—is found by surrendering these misguided ideas and embracing the mystery of relationship. As Papa explains to Mack: “Submission is not about authority and it is not about obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way… we want you to join us in our circle of relationship” (p. 145-146).

Young’s diagnosis of sin as “control” has some merit, but his prescription of an entirely flat, circular relationship between us and God ultimately violates a fundamental truth of biblical anthropology: God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. Even after we have been redeemed by Christ, our relationship to God is rightly characterized by obedience and one-way submission to Him.

The result? To the extent that you trust The Shack, you will distrust your Bible—including huge chunks of the Old Testament and at least half of the red letters. Few errors are more corrosive to vigorous Christian faith. Some will plead that there is enough meat for careful readers to spit out the bones, but sadly, this yeast leavens the whole loaf.

In the end, The Shack is spiritual comfort food loaded with theological trans fat. Though not without some nutritional value, its effect on the body of Christ is more harmful than healthy. Even if you love it, and even if it makes you cry. Junk food and bad movies can do the same.

Good fiction has the potential to illuminate biblical truth, but not when it effectively supplants it. We need the Bible, not The Shack. The true Word takes more work to understand, and it won’t always tell us what we want to hear, but we can trust it to reveal a greater, wiser, more loving, and more gloriously Triune God than any novelist could conceive.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Today's Tune: The Band - I Shall Be Released

Bob Dylan & The Band, Woodie Guthrie Memorial Concert, Carnegie Hall, NYC, 1968.

(Click on title to play video)

The Authentic Jesse Helms

The Authenic Jesse Helms (The one I knew and loved)
By Jane Chastain

Heritage President Ed Feulner (pictured at right with Helms and his wife Dorothy) presented Helms in 2002 with the Clare Boothe Luce Award, Heritage’s highest honor, calling him a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle.”

Jesse Helms was astute, kind, witty and one of the most polite and fair-minded individuals I have ever known, nothing like the caricature often painted by the media.

I met him in 1967, when I presented myself as a candidate for employment at WRAL-TV. I had broken a lot of barriers for women as a sportscaster in progressive Atlanta, but when I decided to marry Roger Chastain, an industrial designer in Raleigh, I was quite sure my career had come to an end.

The television station in nearby Durham – the only other station in the area – had offered me a job as a weather girl. WRAL was my last hope.
My knees were shaking as I stood in the office of Fred Fletcher, the president of Capitol Broadcasting. Fletcher said, “Sports? You just can’t do sports for us.” That’s when Jesse Helms, his executive vice president in charge of programing, spoke up and said, “Oh, yes she can!” Mr. Fletcher, relented and I was hired on the spot.

At that time, I had no way of knowing what an influence Jesse would have on my life. He did the station’s editorials and he instilled in me – and countless others – a love of country, a sense of personal responsibility and the importance of individual liberty, a strong national defense, the free enterprise system, limited government and strong moral values.

In those days, there were very few women in television outside of secretarial positions and very few minorities. WRAL-TV had more than its share of both. When Jesse Helms was in the United States Senate, the hair on the back of my neck would stand up when I would read that he was a “racist” and “against women.”

I discovered that when liberals have no argument against conservative logic, they call you names. If those names are repeated often enough, some stick.

Jesse Helms not only paved the way for Ronald Reagan to become president, he was his point man in the Senate. He was far to busy working to defend his country from enemies here and abroad to worry about what the newspapers said about him and wouldn’t allow his staff to spend time defending his public image. He wouldn’t go on the popular Sunday morning political shows. He went to church instead.

Like most southern politicians of his era, his views on segregation evolved. However, he was never against equal opportunity or civil rights, only set asides and quotas. He felt they were unfair and demeaning to those they reported to serve, as do many thoughtful black conservatives.

On one of my visits to Jesse Helms’ Washington office, I met James Meredith, the courageous African-American who integrated the University of Mississippi. He was one of Helms’ legislative assistants. I’ll bet you never read that. The media tends to shun black heroes like Meredith, when they refuse to march to the beat of radical leaders.

On another of my visits, Senator Helms expressed exasperation when he told me about a meeting he had just had with a well-known feminist. He had graciously granted her 30 minutes on his schedule. He said, “Jane, she spent the first 25 minutes just berating me for my pro-life views. She never once took a breath!

“When I realized that our time together was almost up, I said, ‘Don’t you have a question for me? Isn’t there something you’d like to know about my stand?’

“She replied, ‘How many unwanted children have you adopted?’
“I said, ‘I regret to say only one,’ explaining that he just couldn’t help myself. ‘It just rolled out!’”

Yes, Senator Helms was reluctant to talk about the fact that he and his beloved wife Dot adopted their son, Charles, at the age of nine, who was suffering from cerebral palsy, after reading in the newspaper that he wanted a mother and father for Christmas.

Conservatism was popular in the 80s because Jesse Helms did the heavy lifting. He laid the groundwork and made the case for it. He was not afraid to confront a president – even one from his own party. He also held the feet of weak-kneed Republicans in the Senate to the fire.

In 1994, he was distressed when Oliver North lost his Senate race in Virginia. He was looking forward to passing the baton to him. When Jesse Helms retired in 2002, it was with trepidation. There was no one to take his place.

Jesse Helms died on the 4th of July, the birthday of our country as did John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. May the selfless – often lonely — battles he waged on our behalf not be in vane.

The article has 10 responses

Written by Jane Chastain
July 10th, 2008 at 12:00 am

How Hostages, And Nations, Get Liberated

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
July 11, 2008

Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt appears before the public at Paris Town Hall July 4, 2008.
(Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

WASHINGTON -- On the day the Colombian military freed Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other long-held hostages, the Italian Parliament passed yet another resolution demanding her release. Europe had long ago adopted this French-Colombian politician as a cause celebre. France had made her an honorary citizen of Paris, passed numerous resolutions and held many vigils.

Unfortunately, karma does not easily cross the Atlantic. Betancourt languished for six years in cruel captivity until freed by a brilliant operation conducted by the Colombian military, intelligence agencies and special forces -- an operation so well executed that the captors were overpowered without a shot being fired.

This in foreign policy establishment circles is called "hard power." In the Bush years, hard power is terribly out of fashion, seen as a mere obsession of cowboys and neocons. Both in Europe and America, the sophisticates worship at the altar of "soft power" -- the use of diplomatic and moral resources to achieve one's ends.

Europe luxuriates in soft power, nowhere more than in l'affaire Betancourt in which Europe's repeated gestures of solidarity hovered somewhere between the fatuous and the destructive. Europe had been pressing the Colombian government to negotiate for the hostages. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez offered to mediate.

Of course, we know from documents captured in a daring Colombian army raid into Ecuador in March -- your standard hard-power operation duly denounced by that perfect repository of soft power, the Organization of American States -- that Chavez had been secretly funding and pulling the strings of the FARC. These negotiations would have been Chavez's opportunity to gain recognition and legitimacy for his terrorist client.

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, a conservative and close ally of President Bush, went instead for the hard stuff. He has for years. As a result, he has brought to its knees the longest running and once-strongest guerrilla force on the continent by means of "an intense military campaign (that) weakened the FARC, killing seasoned commanders and prompting 1,500 fighters and urban operatives to desert" (Washington Post). In the end, it was that campaign -- and its agent, the Colombian military -- that freed Betancourt.

She was, however, only one of the high-minded West's many causes. Solemn condemnations have been issued from every forum of soft-power fecklessness -- the EU, the U.N., the G-8 foreign ministers -- demanding that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe stop butchering his opponents and step down. Before that, the cause du jour was Burma, where a vicious dictatorship allowed thousands of cyclone victims to die by denying them independently delivered foreign aid lest it weaken the junta's grip on power.

And then there is Darfur, a perennial for which myriad diplomats and foreign policy experts have devoted uncountable hours at the finest five-star hotels to deplore the genocide and urgently urge relief.

What is done to free these people? Nothing. Everyone knows it will take the hardest of hard power to remove the oppressors in Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan and other godforsaken places where the bad guys have the guns and use them. Indeed, as the Zimbabwean opposition leader suggested (before quickly retracting) from his hideout in the Dutch embassy -- Europe specializes in providing haven for those fleeing the evil that Europe does nothing about -- the only solution is foreign intervention.

And who's going to intervene? The only country that could is the country that in the last two decades led coalitions that liberated Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Having sacrificed much blood and treasure in its latest endeavor -- the liberation of 25 million Iraqis from the most barbarous tyranny of all, and its replacement with what is beginning to emerge as the Arab world's first democracy -- and having earned near-universal condemnation for its pains, America has absolutely no appetite for such missions.

And so the innocent languish, as did Betancourt, until some local power, inexplicably under the sway of the Bush notion of hard power, gets it done -- often with the support of the American military. "Behind the rescue in a jungle clearing stood years of clandestine American work," explained The Washington Post. "It included the deployment of elite U.S. Special Forces ... a vast intelligence-gathering operation ... and training programs for Colombian troops."

Upon her liberation, Betancourt offered profuse thanks to God and the Virgin Mary, to her supporters and the media, to France and Colombia and just about everybody else. As of this writing, none to the United States.

Wrote 28; Accumulated Many More

The New York Times
July 11, 2008

Books: A Memoir
By Larry McMurtry
259 pages. Simon & Schuster. $24.

Larry McMurtry’s fragmentary “Books: A Memoir” has little to say about the matter of writing them, other than that by the mid-1970s this process ceased to engage him as much as buying, selling and collecting them and, ultimately, creating what he calls a book town in Archer City, Tex., modeled on the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye. This is, he concedes, a passion that may separate him from some of his readers.

“Here I am,” he writes, “34 chapters into a book that I hope will interest the general or common reader — and yet why should these readers be interested in the fact that in 1958 or so I paid Ted Brown $7.50 for a nice copy of ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy?’ How many are going to care that I visited the great Seven Gables Bookshop, or dealt with the wily L.A. dealer Max Hunley, whose little store at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica in Beverly Hills is now a yogurt shop? Why should they even care that there exists a possibly unique copy of the dust wrapper of ‘Anne of Green Gables?’ ”

The answer, never quite spelled out in this book’s 109 short chapters, is that the colorful characters and frontiers Mr. McMurtry has encountered during his four decades in the antiquarian book trade are disappearing from the American landscape just as much as the vernacular cultures that have occupied his 28 novels. From his Booked Up store, which now occupies six buildings in Archer, he notes that his trade has become a fringe one that makes his neighbors uneasy. Many of the booksellers and scouts he wrangled with and admired are now dead, out of business or marginalized. Their collections now fill Booked Up. The habit they served, reading, is no longer a driving passion for many Americans.

“How,” he asks, writing about used-book stores, “did one of the pillars of civilization come, in only 50 years, to be mostly unwanted?”

Besides trotting out the usual villains — the Internet, the iPod, television, maybe the superstore — Mr. McMurtry does not much engage this question. Change happens. Instead he offers what he calls fish stories about the big ones he caught or lost, and about the anglers he encountered along the way.

These form an odd fraternity, often willing to squander fortunes or marriages in pursuit of a rare, unblemished dust cover or catalog of ancient erotica. Book collecting, like any private obsession, has its own legends and rumors, all energized by the occasional big score, as when Mr. McMurtry’s business partner, Marcia Carter, sold a copy of Winston Churchill’s “Marlborough” for $100,000.

Mr. McMurtry’s peregrinations cross those of fellow obsessives like Gershon Legman, whose unfinished dirty autobiography, “Peregrine Penis,” Mr. McMurtry agreed to subsidize; Bryan Perkins, in Fort Worth, who hid his good books from customers; and Dorman David, a millionaire whose free-spending habits left dealers intrigued, “but not so intrigued that they forgot how to work the cash register.” (“Here,” he adds, “was a young man who made selling fun.”)

Novelists all decline over time, Mr. McMurtry writes (ignoring the obvious exception of Philip Roth), but booksellers, through the accumulation of arcane and miscellaneous knowledge, get better.

The nature of their trade involves going to great lengths to find things almost no one has or wants, then to connect with the few who do want. Though all sellers hit it big now and then, more often they sell a book to another dealer for a modest profit, then watch him flip it for hundreds or thousands of dollars. The prospect of finding such underpriced books, Mr. McMurtry notes, is one thing that keeps people coming to his shop. So booksellers must themselves be gulled to survive.

A purpose of this memoir, Mr. McMurtry writes, is to “raise ghosts” of booksellers past, in the same way that Booked Up has become an “anthology” of their wares. In 1950, when Fourth Avenue was bookstore row, Manhattan had 175 bookstores. The online business that replaced them, Mr. McMurtry laments, is precise and efficient but lacks the human contact and serendipity of poring through shelves of dust in search of treasure.

“Books: A Memoir” echoes some of this random discursiveness. The short, scattershot chapters drift or meander and allow little room for extended storytelling. This puts a damper on the fun factor. Characters appear for a sentence or two, and every store remains its own fortress, unknowable except by spending hours among its secrets. Mr. McMurtry does not try to teach the love of books.

But the fetish is surely universal, at least among readers, and the occasional goodie pops up as an unexpected payoff for sticking around.

Toward the end of the book Mr. McMurtry describes finding a rare copy of “The Whale,” as “Moby-Dick” was called in England, apparently the working copy given to a writer named Charles Reade to abridge to a more manageable length. Reade, a contemporary of Melville’s, “was not a man to be intimidated by a mere American classic.” His first stroke is through the opening line: “Call me Ishmael.”

This copy of “The Whale” got away from Mr. McMurtry, but in “Books: A Memoir” the fish story remains.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Today's Tune: Drive-By Truckers - The Righteous Path

(Click on title to play video)


I got a brand new car that drinks a bunch of gas
I got a house in a neighborhood that's fading fast
I got a dog and a cat that don't fight too much
I got a few hundred channels to keep me in touch
I got a beautiful wife and three tow-headed kids
I got a couple of big secrets I'd kill to keep hid
I don't know God but I fear his wrath
I'm trying to stay focused on the righteous path

I got a couple of opinions that I hold dear
A whole lot of debt and a whole lot of fear
I got an itch that needs scratching but it feels alright
I got the need to blow it out on Saturday night
I got a grill in the backyard and a case of beers
I got a boat that ain't seen the water in years
More bills than money, I can do the math
I'm trying to keep focused on the righteous path

I'm trying to keep focused as I drive down the road
On the ditches and the curves and the heavy load
Ain't bitching bout things that aren't in my grasp
Just trying to hold steady on the righteous path

There's this friend of mine I've known all my life
Who can't get it right no matter how hard he tries
He's got kids he don't see and several ex-wives
And a list of bad decisions bout eight miles wide
Trouble with the law and the IRS
And where he'll get the money's anybody's guess
He's a long way off but if you was to ask
He'd say he's trying to stay focused on the righteous path

Trying to keep focused as we drive down the road
Like we did back in High School before the world turned cold
Now the brakes are thin and the curves are fast
We're trying to hold steady on the righteous path

We're hanging out and we're hanging on
We're trying the best we can to keep keeping on
We got messed up minds for these messed up times
And it's a thin thin line separating his from mine

Trying to hold steady on the righteous path
80 miles and hour with a worn out map
No time for self-pity or self-righteous crap
Trying to stay focused on the righteous path

Jackson's Cutting Remark May Be Helpful To Obama

By John Kass
Chicago Tribune
July 10, 2008

Barack Obama with Jesse Jackson in March, 2007.

So what part of Barack Obama will Rev. Al Sharpton want to chop off now?

Barack's pinkie toe? A nose hair? The vast Barackian ego?

Sharpton's got to find something, now that his fellow racial crisis broker, Rev. Jesse Jackson, said something not even Don Imus would dare utter.Speaking into a microphone on Fox News, Jackson whispered he was tired of Obama talking down to black people. And he said he wanted to cut off Obama's special purpose. Both of them.

Both of what?

"Manhood, er, genitals," muttered a flustered CNN reporter, obviously unnerved that Jackson made his comments exclusively on the rival Fox News network. "Uh, male private parts."

Then CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who said he couldn't be specific for reasons of taste (though the real reason was that he didn't have Fox's tape) uttered one of the greatest lines in the history of American broadcasting. It should be carved into stone, with a bust of Blitzer illuminated by an eternal flame.

"Male private parts?" shrieked Blitzer. "The suggestion really was CASTRATION, IF YOU WILL!"

The tape was on the Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," and host Bill O'Reilly offered it with glee at the top of his show, with Jackson muttering about Obama's desire to carry on the Bush White House policy of funding faith-based programs.

"See, Barack's been talking down to black people on this faith-based—," Jackson says during a break in taping. "I want to cut his nuts out."

The national media was stunned, as if they'd just found out Obama is a Chicago politician rather than a mythic hero of Kennedyesque proportions, who drew the great sword Axelrod from the cornerstone of Chicago's City Hall.

So stunned, they missed the truly freaky part, Jackson twisting his right wrist, as if he held a curved blade, giving a little pull, grunting for emphasis, like a butcher of the old school, if you will.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Here in Chicago we're not shocked. Chicago was once the hog butcher for the world, so our politics is stuffed with meat metaphors and references to animal reproductive parts.

Our Machine Democrats who back Obama are constantly preoccupied with nuts of all kinds. When our first king, Richard I, was elected, the hacks went around saying that "Daley is the dog with the big nuts," though they wouldn't dare say so in the presence of mob boss Paul Ricca.

And when Daley's son, Richard Shortshanks, began the restoration, his anatomy was also favorably described by trembling politicians who still act like puppies in his presence. Our own Machine-backed governor, Rod "The Unreformer" Blagojevich, once made news by bragging he had "testicular virility" to make tough decisions, although now everyone's patiently waiting for him to get indicted without making a mess.

Rather than listen to Washington talking heads explain our town's politics, I called a friend, a prominent African-American activist of the far left persuasion. He considers me his token conservative buddy.

"All I want to know," he said, "is how much David Axelrod paid Jesse to say that @#$%! [rhymes with "it"].

He was speaking rhetorically, knowing that Obama/Daley strategist Axelrod wouldn't pay Jackson for such nonsense when he could get it for free. Jackson's rhetorical castration—and the grunting—helps Obama with white voters. Even those Hillary Clinton voters who, in Obama's mind, cling to their guns and religion can see it.

"Jesse's got an ego. He can't stand it. He couldn't stand it when Harold ran things. He can't stand it now, watching Barack climb up the Daleys into the White House," said my friend.

He was talking about Chicago's first black mayor, the late Harold Washington. I covered Washington's opening announcement of his historic campaign. The platform at the Hyde Park Hilton was ringed with large, tough, black police officers in plain clothes, their arms locked, letting no one up there with Washington.

The reason?

Washington didn't want Jackson up there. He knew the Rev. would try to grab the limelight. Once Washington was elected, Jackson was politically invited to leave Chicago for Washington, where he ultimately ran for the presidency.

That's what Chicago does with politicians who could threaten the mayor.

We get them to run for the White House.

Of course he's got to be green-eyed, when Jackson sees white liberals in the news media all but hug Barack's trouser leg, seeking affirmation and expiation of guilt. Barack knows the game. He's already suffered worse insults by other aging black leaders of the civil rights generation, as when Sharpton and others publicly entertained whether Obama was "black enough."

His ascendancy threatens their positions as exclusive brokers of white guilt. Naturally, they're terrified, and for good reason.

Actually, two of them.


How the East Was Won: The Romance Of Genghis Khan

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008; Page C01

Tadanobu Asano as the conqueror, a warrior with heart in Sergei Bodrov's epic "Mongol." (Stv Via Associated Press)

Perhaps the most reliable modern empirical gauge of a movie's effectiveness is this: How fast does it send you to Wikipedia? The faster, the better, because that means you've got to know more.

In the case of "Mongol," the answer was: very fast, close to a new record. It was about nine minutes from theater to computer. Add another two minutes as I tried to figure out the random distribution of h's in the name Ghenghis Khanh, or possibly Hgenghis Khhhhan or even Genghis Kahn (it turns out to be Genghis Khan), and I learned that "Mongol," while a hell of a good time at the movies in its chronicle of the first 30 years of the man who went from slave to conqueror, is more romantic and less squalid than the reality.

This is because the Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov -- his big international hit was "Prisoner of the Mountains" in 1997 -- has clearly followed John Ford's advice from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," which was something like, "When confused by the legend or the facts, make the movie about the legend. That's where the box office is."
The result is a wallow in old movie pleasures, full of battles, flying dust, thousands of men on horseback, beautiful women, treachery, slaughter, really cool hats, and even more slaughter. Moreover, it has a kind of morphic connection to the American imagination, in that, while watching the comings and goings of these fleet, horse-borne, extremely handsome warrior-archers and warrior-archer women across undulating grassy infinity, it's hard not to see the Lakota Sioux or the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers or the Mescalero Apache in the mind's eye. When you consider that Temudjin (played by Japanese heartthrob Tadanobu Asano), as the man who would become Genghis was once known, controlled the world from China to Bulgaria, you think: Okay, that's one for the Indians.

But when the big-budget, cast o' thousands Russian epic begins, he's a pudgy-faced, imperious 9-year-old kid (the excellent Odnyam Odsuren) on his way to pick out a bride, accompanied by his father, a minor lord. The place is central Mongolia in the 12th century, which is to say, really, no place, nowhere. It's grasslands forever and a day, and human presence is marked only occasionally by the appearance of a cluster of yurts. One can see a hunter-gatherer existence in full flower as everything is built of leather and bone and nothing is permanent because at any moment the clan may have to up and follow the -- er, not buffalo, the yak, I'm guessing. Yet it's far from primitive: A complex society of clan networks and obligations has sprung up, and the marriage being set up has more political purpose than social. Love's got nothing to do with it.

But immediately young Temudjin, who knows his own mind, shows his emperor's will, demanding of his father that the selection take place now, that is, at a way-station among a minor clan rather than at a more powerful, politically appropriate camp. Temudjin has seen Börte, and that's enough for him.

It's somewhat akin to believing that the Trojan War was fought for Helen to believe, as the movie theorizes, that Temudjin conquered the world for Börte, but both Diane Kruger, who played Helen in "Troy," and Khulan Chuluun, who plays Börte in "Mongol," make you believe it. Beautiful, talented actresses, the two have that little something extra that makes us boys say: You know, I'd raze a few cities and execute a few prisoners for a date with this one.

So that core of love, lust and touchy-feely-more-touchy- lots-of-touchy is what drives "Mongol," more than politics or land-lust, and the surprise is that the movie is as much about Börte's cunning and relentlessness in dealing with the obstacles between her and Temudjin (such as five mythical years in a Chinese prison) as about conquest. In fact, a better title might have been: "Genghis Khan: A Love Story.

Still, there's a lot of guy stuff. When the young man's father is poisoned, his clan is dispersed, prey to stronger clans. For the first of several times he is captured and imprisoned. Instead of wilting under the challenge of slavery, he grows stronger, more cunning and more virile (he's a little like the proto-Conan, which is perhaps a way of saying that Robert E. Howard, Conan's creator, modeled his hero on Temudjin, not the other way around). He escapes several times, each time returning to Börte, each time recaptured. At one point he makes an alliance with another noble youth, Jamukha, who becomes his "brother," thus setting up a famous Genghis legend.

They ride, they fight, they ride some more, they fight some more. Bodrov loves to watch as thousands of horsemen clash on the plains, not a smokepole in sight (it's 1207, after all) so the heavy lifting is done with blade and spear. Whoever was on the electronic blood spurt machine probably got overtime or at least a bonus, for there's a lot of arterial spray and some wet loogies of plasma that look like jellyfish sailing through the air.

In the end, we're about a third of the way through the great Khan's life; he hasn't even begun to take down the cities of Cathay or spread his seed (his genetic traces are found in about 8 percent of Central Asia and 0.5 percent of the male population today, according to some researchers, meaning the guy did even better than Warren Beatty!). That suggests two sequels. I, for one, can't wait.

Mongol (124 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence and sequences of bloody warfare. In Mongolian with subtitles.

The Wall Street Journal
June 6, 2008; Page W1

'Mongol' Brings Style and Sumptuous Scale to Genghis Khan Saga

If the Genghis Khan of "Mongol" were running for president, he'd give Hillary, Obama or McCain a gallop for their money. Sergei Bodrov's thrilling steppe epic upgrades the brutal head of those bloodthirsty hordes to the status of visionary. This Mongol of all Mongols is a modern, merciful leader ahead of his time -- 800 years ahead of his time. He's so cool and self-contained in his sense of personal destiny that it's no wonder scads of nomads follow him.

The director, who wrote the script with Arif Aliyef, might have called it "Temudgin," though that doesn't quite sing as a selling title. Genghis Khan was born with that name, in 1162, and Temudgin's emergence from boyhood into full and fearless manhood is the subject of the movie, the first part of a projected trilogy. The production was Kazakhstan's entry for a best-foreign-film Oscar in the most recent Academy Awards, but it's a huge, and hugely impressive, international enterprise.

Mr. Bodrov is the Russian filmmaker best known to American audiences for the superb 1997 drama "Prisoner of the Mountain." The adult Temudgin is played -- with remarkable intensity -- by the Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. Honglei Sun, who's Chinese, is the hero's blood brother and mortal enemy, the mercurial, funny and frightening Jamukha. Temudgin's wife, a beautiful woman named Borte, is played by the movie's only Mongolian star, Khulan Chuluunn, and it's her first time in front of a camera. She's a great argument for native talent, and against acting classes.

I don't know the Mongolian word for panache, but "Mongol's" got plenty of it. The battle scenes are as notable for their clarity as their intensity; we can follow the strategies, get a sense of who's losing and who's winning. The physical production is sumptuous. (The film was shot by Sergey Trofimov, who is Russian, and Rogier Stoffers, who is Dutch.) And through all of Temudgin's extravagant trials and hard-won triumphs, there's a sense of a singular child serving as father to a powerful man whose power flows from his instinctive devotion to justice, and to his wife. It's an austere epic that turns the stuff of pulp adventure into a persuasive take on ancient history.

Empire Magazine
Reviewer: Will Lawrence


An epic account of the rise of Genghis Khan (Asano), charting his journey from his ninth birthday, in 1172 AD, through to 1206 AD, the moment he unites the Steppe tribes and embarks on his staggering journey of conquest.


Drawn from the one extant piece of original source material - The Secret History Of The Mongols, a curious blend of myth, legend and apparent fact - Sergei Bodrov’s Oscar-nominated Mongol is an impressive piece of epic filmmaking. The ancient manuscript, like many sagas, is somewhat repetitive, moving swiftly from a mythical ‘origin’ story into the early life of Genghis Khan (Tadanobu Asano) - or Temudzhin as he was originally known – which unfolds in a seemingly endless cycle of triumph and loss. Life on the ancient steppe was dominated by tribal warfare, as horsemen constantly battered one another in a bid to capture livestock, women, and good grazing for their herds.

For Bodrov, this presents a challenge. He conceived the film as the first part of a trilogy, and it extends no further than the moment when Temudzhin vanquishes Jamucha (Honglei Sun), his former blood brother, to position himself on the cusp of greatness. The director sifts through the multiple layers of betrayal and revenge that lead to that point, a sequence that could disintegrate into a bloody, martial monotony.

Thankfully, the Secret History contains an intriguing chapter in which a rival clan kidnaps Temudzhin’s intended spouse, Borte (Khulan Chuluun), and the director develops her role to the point where she plays a pivotal part in her husband’s political and spiritual evolution. Mongol offers a considered portrait of Genghis, with Borte’s presence adding depth to the warlord’s emotional makeup; if there is simplicity in his and his brethren’s actions, they are simple folk. Bodrov also benefits immeasurably from his leading man’s performance, with Japanese actor Asano Tadanobu bringing a confidence and quietude to the part, which in turn adds gravitas to his epic journey. Like many sagas, Mongol carries its principal player through a period of shadow, when he is imprisoned by the Tangut kingdom. He endures his privations with grace and dignity. When he emerges, freed by Borte’s cunning, his goes on to fulfil his destiny, his journey painted on a truly epic canvas. The cinematography, rendering the stark, unworldly beauty of the Central Asian Steppe, is astounding.


With its breathtaking landscapes, bloody battles, bitter betrayals and an aching love story, Mongol is a sumptuously crafted epic.