For most of my 1984 interview, a subdued Duke Snider, appeared distant. Like he was just going through the motions. Yet the baseball legend was quite cordial. He played for one team his entire career: The Brooklyn Dodgers, which moved to Los Angeles while Snider was still a Dodger.
As a former San Diego-based newspaper reporter, I decided to write a book about the legendary ballplayer. Access to the Duke was surprisingly easy. A Los Angeles native, Snider spent his final years living in Escondido, just 30 miles north of San Diego, where I live.
For the interview, Duke wore Dodger blue slacks. Once he relaxed, Snider talked about the past as if it was the present. Of course, I asked about the team’s move from Brooklyn to L.A.
He mentioned that a “young woman” who was a neighbor who had “already written two chapters” of a book on him. He asked me for my opinion on the chapters. I was not enamored of the draft chapters, but then again it was only a draft. Of course, I was careful not to be negative. Also, he did not divulge her name.
At the time of my interview, Snider was a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos. He spent 1973 to 1986 as the club’s broadcaster. His first gig in Montreal played briefly on the minor league Montreal Royals for a year (1944). At the time, he was 17. Shortly after, he joined the Newport News Dodgers.
And right after the briminor league stints, Snider served
On May 28, 1957, National League owners voted unanimously to allow the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers to move to San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, at the mid-season owner’s meeting in Chicago, Illinois. General Manager Buzzie “Bavasi’s never been quoted” about the move, Snider pointed out.
Snider supported teammate Jackie Robinson, the first person of color to make the Majors, Duke stated, he and Jackie “never talked about it.” Yet Snider made clear that he supported Jackie’s move to the Majors.
Four years before my treasured time with Duke, he had been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. Why? Check out just a few of his incredible stats.
Near the end of our phone conversation, Bennett said I should come backstage after the show. I did. He was his gracious self. Did not act impatient with the amount of time we chatted (an hour).
Always polite, attentive, he promised to send me his latest CD released the day of his San Diego gig. Turned out to be a four-CD set containing 87 songs, complete with a large booklet with rare photos of him with others. He pointed out he would have his paintings on exhibit in La Jolla, coinciding with his San Diego concert For his art exhibits, he goes by his given name, Anthony Benedetto.
Forever humble, Bennett would be the last to suggest he had anything to do with bridging the generation gap. He credits son Danny, his manager. At the time, Tony was referring to the Baby Boomers. He told me that “Danny is responsible for bringing in the younger audience…the Beatles crowd…And now I’m into the Rolling Stones. And he got me on Letterman and Second City TV.”
Born in 1926, he was raised in Queens, New York. He’s the son of grocer John Benedetto and seamstress Anna Suraci.
1949 – Performing with Pearl Bailey at a New York City club, he’s discovered by Bob Hope. Hope suggests that he adopt the stage name Tony Bennett.
1950 – Signs with Columbia Records. Has a string of hits including chart-toppers “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches” in the Fifties.
1963 – Wins Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male for “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.”
Bennett’s legend lives on. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was his original recording. He resides in a mansion in the city. Just last May 2018, the City of San Francisco named a street Tony Bennett Way.
His resume is never ending. It pays to be a good guy lots of talent.
After 15 years as a newspaper and magazine reporter, I went into college and university public relations. My last PR gig was my alma mater, Mesa.
Once I learned that Bening was raised in San Diego and studied drama at Mesa College, I pursued her, via phone and online, to be the keynote speaker at a future Mesa commencement.
And did I blow it? After an exhausting day of working with press and weeks of pre-commencement publicity.
After graduation ceremonies, the college’s president, vice president, and yours truly escorted her out the backstage exit, as a courtesy to the famous movie star. Outside, a Mesa College police officer awaited to drive her around front to meet her parents, I kindly rejected the offer.
Annette turned to me and asked, “You’re coming with me?”
I respectfully declined, despite the anxious look on her face. (yes, even big-time stars are human). My pathetic excuse that I did not share with her. I was exhausted. Pretty lame, right?
On the night before Annette’s latest film was recently nationwide release, Life Itself, the movie star was in San Diego busy raising money for the local community college district. She told San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell, “When I went to Mesa College, it was basically free. That is no longer the case. There are a lot of of people who want to go to college who can’t afford it.”
Bening serves as co-chair with Mayor Kevin Falconer to provide annual scholarships to those aspiring, needy students.
Since that time, the actress has become quite the philanthropist, giving to several other causes.
Later, spent performed on San Francisco and New York stages before working in film. She received raves for her role as a con artist in The Grifters and went on to co-star in husband Warren Beatty’sBugsy. The two wed in 1992.
Bening has earned four Oscar nominations: The Grifters, Being Julia, American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right. And was awarded Golden Globes for Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right.
Never met a celebrity that intimidated me, and I’ve interviewed plenty of powerful people during my newspaper reporting and media relations years, including presidents, governors, movie and TV stars, authors, and Major League ballplayers.
Full disclosure: There was one superstar who left met speechless. Ted Williams. My childhood hero. As a Massachusetts native, I grew up watching Ted and the Boston Red Sox on television throughout the 1950s. Listened to Curt Gowdy call the games, and Ted often being the game’s hero.
When my folks moved us to San Diego in the Sixties, little did I know that my Major League hero was born and raised in San Diego. He grew up living in a small, modest North Park house with his Salvation Army mother, May Williams. His father, photographer Samuel Williams frequently left home for long stretches of time.
Ted’s childhood home on Utah Street in North Park still stands, but there is no plaque or signage to commemorate MLB’s best-ever hitter.)
Like a rock star, the long retired legend was driven onto the field. As he approached the outdoor stage, I was changing lenses on my 35-millimeter camera. Actually, more like fumbling with lenses. Someone in the crowd shouted out to Ted. He stopped to look toward the voice -– right in front of me. So close I could reach out and touch my childhood hero.
Suddenly I was seven years old again. All I could do was look up and stare at the ballplayer I’d worshipped. Pretty sure my mouth was open, never uttering a word. Williams wore his signature fisherman’s jacket. He did not seem to notice me, and resumed his walk to the stage.
During the program, I shot the photo of Ted with Assemblyman Gotch from about 25 feet away, thankful, I was using a telephoto lens.
At San Diego’s Hoover High School, Williams began playing in his sophomore year, batting a whopping .583 one season. He also pitched and managed to find time to play American Legion baseball.
Fresh out of high school, The Splendid Splinter played one season with the Double A Minneapolis Millers and two years with the AAA Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. The Red Sox acquired him from the Padres for $35,000. At the time, the six-foot-two kid weighed only about 140. In other words, lanky. Nicknamed the Splendid Splinter as well as The Kid, he went on to have the most extraordinarily successful career with the BoSox.
During his 21-year Major League career (1939 – 1960), Williams racked up mind-boggling Major League statistics…
Record-breaking batting average of .406
. 344 lifetime batting average
.482 on base percentage
.634 slugging percentage
1950’s Player of the Decade
Played in 18 All-Star Games
AL MVP 1946 and 1949
Ted’s career was interrupted twice by war. First World War II, followed by the Korean War. He was a pilot in both conflicts.
God awful ending to his long, historic life: Theodore Samuel Williams died at age 83. Supposedly, when Ted died, he wanted his body frozen in a cryogenics facility in Arizona. A couple of years later, cryogenics staff decided to relocate his body. That’s when Ted’s head was lopped off from the rest of his tall body.
Reportedly, two of Ted’s three children wanted their bodies frozen after death, in order to be with their father. Bizarre, controversial, difficult to believe.
Back in ’85, I landed a freelance gig with Sport Magazine. Assignment: San Diego Padres catcher Terry Kennedy Drove three hours to the Padres spring training camp in Yuma, AZ to interview T.K. and his teammates.
The angle: Kennedy’s moonlighting as a newspaper columnist for the Escondido Times-Advocate. Ironically, the scuttlebutt was that Kennedy was not thrilled with the press in general. That was the story Sport Magazine wanted me to probe.
Not surprisingly, Padres interviewed were careful to not offend their valued catcher. From what I gleaned, it was clear that Kennedy liked to write.
Teammate Tim Flannery told me, “I had a radio commentary last year. It was a great outlet for me, and writing is a great outlet for Terry. Writing is something to do while on the road instead of having a couple of drinks.”
Loved Gossage’s remarks. He toyed with me, quickly realizing I was not a baseball beat reporter. Also, Goose dissed Sport Magazine, which had a reputation of sensationalizing. To my amusement, he nicknamed me ‘Sport Magazine.’ Towering over me, the lights out closer said, “I know what you’re trying to do, Sport Magazine. Trying to stir up some shit.
Templeton: “It’s a good experience for T.K., as long as he doesn’t write anything bad about me.” Said it with a smile. While with Templeton at his locker, I watched him pour an airplane bottle of Kahlua into his can of tobacco. Reading my surprise, the stud shortstop explained, “This is the only way I can stomach chewing this shit.” Point well taken.
Garvey: “I haven’t given it much thought…It’s a personal opportunity to develop his writing skills.”
Third baseman Graig Nettles: “It’s been done before. I don’t think it will cause any problems.”
Kennedy: As a Times-Advocate columnist, he pointed out that he always asked T-A editors to critique his work. Although serious about the craft of writing, T.K. added, “I don’t need the newspaper’s money.”
1984 marked the first of only two times the 49-year-old Padre franchise made it to a World Series. In 1998, the Yankees swept the Pads four straight.
NOTE: When Terry had an RBI in the 1984 World Series, it marked the first time that both a father and son had World Series RBIs.
NOTE: I attended the 1984 and 1998 World Series games held in San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium (Now San Diego County Credit Union).
Also was at the legendary Game 5 of the 1984 National League Conference Series that sent the Pads to the World Series against Detroit (35-5 record for the Tigers first 40 games of that season). At Game 5 of the NLCS, the gal sitting next to me poured beer on my head. I gladly reciprocated. First and only beer pouring I’ve been involved in.
If ever the Padres ever make the World Series again in my lifetime, I’ll hesitate about pouring suds on a nearby fellow fan. After all, beer costs a helluva’ lot more in 2018.
In 1998, I was at the single World Series game held in against the Yankees. The ’98 Bronx Bombers were considered, and probably still is, the best Yankee team in its storied history.
NOTE: Eventually, Padres moved spring training headquarters to Peoria, AZ, where the ball club shares the facility with the Seattle Mariners.
NOTE: Sport Magazine, based in New York City, was launched in 1946 and shut down in 2000.
Spent the day with notorious Watergate felon John Ehrlichman back in the 1980s. Not my choice. It was my job to chauffeur, arrange publicity, and lunch with the man who perhaps was President Nixon’s closest advisor.
At the time, I happened to be News Bureau Director for the University of San Diego. My primary goal was to acquire positive publicity for the university. Among other duties as assigned, I often “handled” celebrities and elected officials invited to speak on campus.
Picked up Ehrlichman at Lindbergh Field and drove him directly to USD. Introduced him to the university’s top administrators. Then we left for San Diego State University’s public broadcast TV station, KPBS, where he was interviewed by long-time KPBS-TV’s popular political correspondent Gloria Penner.
Interview over, we headed to my car. He carried a gift from Gloria: a commemorative KPBS-TV coffee cup. As we were about to drive off, Ehrlichman flashed his temper. He ordered me to stop driving while he suddenly jumped out of the car to grab the coffee mug that he’d left on the top of my sedan’s roof.
Ehrlichman was most comfortable that day while we lunched at an Italian restaurant in Hillcrest. In addition to an entrée, he ordered a side of pasta. I resisted the urge to ask him about the Watergate break-in. To this day, I regret not discussing this infamous subject with Ehrlichman.
When I returned him to the university to prepare for his law school speech, was the first time he seemed relaxed. Maybe his testiness was due to his handler for the day.
NOTE: On Feb. 21, 1975, Ehrlichman, counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, and Attorney General John Mitchell were sentenced to at least two-and-a-half to eight years in prison for their role in the cover-up of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Months earlier, the scandal drove Nixon from office. Mitchell, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman were the most powerful people in the Nixon administration. Although Nixon was identified as a key figure in the cover-up, he was not prosecuted in the federal court trial because President Ford had granted the disgraced president a pardon.
Convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury, Ehrlichman served 18 months in a Tucson prison camp. Ehrlichman’s conviction arose from his false testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee and through his involvement in the burglary of the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist who treated Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was the Defense Department official who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
As for the Nixon’s Administration’s so-called war on drugs, Ehrlichman later admitted it was “really about the anti-war left and black people.”
Journalists and public relations pros often interact with a variety of famous and notorious types. Actors, U.S. presidents, Congressmen, state and local legislators, murderers, robbers, white collar criminals, and…
You see them on stage and off. Frequently makes one cynical, yet sometimes it fills you with optimism. Trust me, I know firsthand.
*Jimmy, Dutch, Moonbeam. Spent time with all of them. In chronological order:
Actually, met Ford in 1972 when he was House Minority Leader, serving his 13th term in Congress. At the time, I was a college intern for KFMB-TV8’s late-night broadcast. Ford was keynote speaker at the function and was in the middle of eating dinner when I interrupted him with a couple of questions. (Deadlines make journalists behave rudely.) Ford was beyond accommodating. A true gentleman.
Two years later, he was sworn in as president in August 974, the day after “Tricky Dick “I am not a crook” Nixon resigned.
Encountered Brown on a couple of occasions in the Seventies during his first go-round has California’s governor. That’s when he was affectionately nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam” and dated singer Linda Ronstadt and was seen socializing with other showbiz types throughout his early years in office.
I first met Brown in 1975, when he came to Imperial Valley in support of the United Farm Workers during its contentious, and occasionally violent, battle with the Teamsters Union to represent California’s farm workers. The violence did not escape Imperial Valley. Tragically, one lettuce picker was shot and killed.
Brown came to the Valley and marched through the streets of Calexico, about ten miles south of El Centro and along the Mexican border.
In 1975, Brown signed into law the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, empowering the UFW and Teamsters.
Our next meeting came when he campaigned to become the Democratic Party’s nominee in the 1976 presidential election. Carter defeated him in the primary. It was his first of three failed attempts to become the Democrats presidential candidate, losing again to Carter (1980) and later to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Generally speaking, Brown came across as a bit arrogant. Definitely not a warm personality. At least not with news media.
The Hollywood star-turned-politician came to the Imperial Valley desert while President. As a 24-year-old reporter for the Imperial Valley Press, I was charged with covering his brief visit.
Reagan held an outdoor press conference scheduled at the small airport in the town of Imperial, immediately north of El Centro. I was the first reporter to show up, positioning myself right in front of the mike stand where the president was to speak. A primo spot, or so I thought.
Covering a United States president was a first for me. My first surprise: the national and statewide news media arrived in their own plane just minutes in advance of the aircraft carrying Reagan. Once the president arrived, microphones were quickly thrust under my arms and over my shoulders, making my front row seat a moot point. Tough to take notes.
Thankfully, President Reagan quickly sized me up as a local reporter and allowed me to ask the first question. I asked him if he would support a nationwide Agricultural Labor Relations Act. He smiled broadly and said he would.
I was thrilled but managed to keep my emotions in check.
Later, Reagan had a poolside lunch in the backyard of a wealthy grower. I was able to approach him and ask a question while he was eating lunch. Secret Service quickly shooed me away before the smiling Reagan could respond. Heavy sigh.
Met Burger in 1987 at the University of San Diego, about a year after he retired from the U.S. Supreme Court as its chief justice. He came to USD as chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. At the time, I was the university’s news bureau director. Among the commission’s 23 members were Senator Ted Kennedy and Phyllis Schlafly, a Constitutional lawyer and conservative activist.
I staged a press conference for Burger on campus. By far the biggest press conference I’d facilitated. National, state, and local media turned out in force. The New York Times described Burger “at his smoothest and most affable.”
So true. The former chief justice exuded warmth and effortlessly commanded the attention of a gaggle of state, national, and local reporters. At the same time, he treated me with respect and allowed me to do my job as his handler.
Has anyone out there ever been the only person to greet a presidential candidate at an airport? I own that unusual distinction. We’re talking Jimmy Carter in 1974. Back then, he was known as Jimmy Who? As we know, the Georgia peanut farmer went on to become president two years later.
Some 43 years ago, he was flown in a small private plane piloted by wealthy Brawley, CA grower Bob Meyer. That morning, they landed at Brawley’s tiny airport. At the time, Brawley’s population was 22,000, some 14 miles north of El Centro. All part of the Imperial Valley, a huge prosperous farming area two hours east of San Diego. Turned out I spent most of the day with Carter.
Meyer’s SUV-like vehicle was waiting for the farmer and Carter. I rode in the back seat, notepad and pen at the ready.
Driving by sugar beet fields, Carter asked Meyer to stop. The presidential candidate jumped out, waded into the field, without trepidation. He reached in his jeans pocket, pulled out his pocket knife, and expertly sliced open a beet. “It’s ready,” he announced with confidence.
Meyer proceeded to chauffeur him around to meet a few of the Imperial Valley’s wealthiest, including Ed Rutherford, the area’s largest cattle rancher and owner of the Planters Hotel in downtown Brawley, considered the best hotel in the Valley back then.
Later that afternoon, when I had the chance to speak alone with Meyer, I asked him why did he take Democrat Carter to meet Rutherford, a well-known Republican. Without hesitation, Meyer said, “Ed gives to both parties.”
Lesson learned. Those who can afford it, hedge their bets and give to both major parties. I was 23 and with my first newspaper as a reporter – the Imperial Valley.
That afternoon Carter held a press conference at the Imperial Valley Press, by far the number one news media outlet in the Valley. Attended by IVP Managing Editor Bob Liggett, IVP publisher Dick Fitch, a local radio station (KXO), yours truly, and a few others.
For most of the evening Carter took center stage. Bags of peanuts were the dinner table centerpieces. Like a wise political candidate, he was a good sport, posing for many pics. Imperial Valley Presschief photog Paul Noden. Noden asked Carter to pose being fed a peanut. It ran on the front page the next day.
J.C. was the first U.S. presidential candidate to launch a campaign so far in advance.
During his presidency (1977-1981), Carter’s mediation played a critical role in the success of the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt, a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize. At a time when the cold war between East and West was still predominant, he placed renewed emphasis on the place of human rights in international politics.
In 2002, Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote social and economic development.
Carter will turn 93 on October 1. He has been battling cancer over the past few years. Immunotherapy reportedly has kept him cancer free, but he continues to have routine treatments. Earlier, he had part of his liver removed.
What does legendary folk singer Joan Baez and 1980s draft registration resister Ben Saswayhave in common?
Prison, political activism, punk rock’s The Clash, and a 1984 Baez concert in San Diego that benefited Sasway’s legal defense fund.
In 1980, the San Diego area resident refused to register for the draft and explained why in a candid, four-page letter to then President Carter.
“… I am obligated to protest even simple registration since I feel the spirit of this mandate, like actual conscription, is immoral and incompatible with a truly free society…
“…I love my country and would defend it in a time of crisis. Under the current circumstances, however … it seems equally important to the Pentagon that military forces also defend business interests abroad, an antiquated Soviet containment policy, the mythical American honor, and just generally the military status quo…”
After the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Carter reinstituted draft registration in 1980. Six months later, Sasway, then 21, was indicted for failing to register. The legal battle ensued.
As a San Diego newspaper reporter, I was all over this story.
Enter Baez, 43 at the time, who committed her first act of civil disobedience while in high school. Fast forward to ’84. She granted me a telephone interview about two weeks before the singer’s scheduled performance for young Ben at downtown San Diego’s Golden Hall.
When I told her that Sasway said to me that he preferred The Clashperform instead of her, she was a bit ticked off. Understandable, from my point of view.
During her concert for Sasway, she informed the audience that “a reporter told me Ben wanted The Clash instead of me…I’ll have to talk to Ben about that.”
Fortunately, I was sitting far enough from the stage that it was difficult for Baez to spot me. And Sasway was not on stage at the time. Nevertheless, I slinked down in my seat, eliciting a wide grin from my date.
Perhaps Sasway would have felt differently about Baez if the Humboldt State political science major had a clue about her decades of public protests and anti-war activism. In 1966, Baez was arrested twice for blocking an Armed Forces induction center in Oakland. This led to a month in prison.
Her résumé for demonstrating for social causes is extensive. From marching with Martin Luther King to delivering gifts to American POWs in Hanoi to recording an album at Sing Sing penitentiary.
Plus she married an anti-war activist – David Harris who did two years in prison for draft resistance during Vietnam.
Returning to the 1980s: Sasway ended up serving six months in a minimum-security California prison. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years and fined $10,000.
He was one of a half-million young men who decided to defy Carter’s registration policies, while about 7.5 million 19-and 20-year-olds complied with the order. Maybe none of the other guys wrote the President.