Its about storytelling.Its about old wild men. But not the kind of tales told by the old beaks over a coffee at the mall, dangling worry beads like imaginary large fish they never caught. Old men and the sea who never left the wharf. No its about an older conception of the storyteller, variations on an oral tradition where experience is handed down and shared.
One of my first jobs was to run a small company, fifty employees, that was basically going down the toilet. The pay was kind of scabby and the owners could be quite miserable or worse, but not terrible. but I liked the challenge and better still, there would be almost no supervision,and they just wanted to see a red hole get resolved progressively. To help me for the first six months they hired an old hand, half way to seed who had been retired, or put out to pasture by a fairly big company that was based in Western Canada ; that had humbly began by selling war scrap and moved to respectability. Norm Radan was from the old old school. He might have been born in the Ukraine and he was of mixed and likely dubious origins as they say. He could have been a protagonist in an Isaac Babel novel.
Back in the days of yore Winnipeg was no picnic. As bitter as the weather on a January morning with wind howling through the corner of Portage and Main. A generation before his time, the Mounties and cops had beaten the bejeezus out of strikers, commies and various shades of red and pink out there. According to Norm his adolescence involved getting into fights there between the various immigrant groups on a daily basis. ten rounders. bare knuckles affairs until they realized what Malcolm X was to deliver years later: they were all field negroes.Piss poor.
Norm I think was booted out of the army before being shipped out because of bedding all the nurses. He eventually found work with some cigar chomping maniac and character wise, Norm could be described as somewhat like a Billy Martin; getting into a wicked scrap with the boss, suffering dismissal with a flip of the bird, and then being back at work two days later.But he was bigger than the Yankees manager and probably as nasty.Or worse. If you ever see the movie Little Odessa, you know that the reputation of the rough and tough type from that city is not to be underestimated. And he knew and visited a fair number of gentleman who were or had spent time in school- the word they used for prison. Defiant and hard headed, but with a gift of the gab, something of what Herman Melville would call the “untrustworthy narrator.”
I kind of liked the guy by being able to not take him overly seriously. I admired the grit and the toughness and the disdain for the yuppie mentality. Norm was also known in the argot of the day as a stick man. It killed the marriage, but he just loved the dames. I was trying to get one girlfriend and he was making out like Tony Curtis. One day, near the end of the contract, he asks me if I had ever heard of Leo Durocher? I vaguely remembered he was called Leo the Lip, a smallish but compact man always verbally ripping the head off the baseball umpires. Well I want you to remember one thing to keep in mind, and that is what Leo Durocher said. He said “Nice Guys Finish Last!” I was pretty well in Leo’s camp already , but Norm’s final bit of counsel pushed me deeply over the precipice never to climb up or even try again. Leo Durocher? …
Some excerpts from Durocher’s book. To me, him and Yogi Berra are the best. Throw Nietzsche, and Hegel, and Kant, and Plato, and the whole lot of thinking about thinking mongers into the dugout and put Leo on the on-deck circle. Sure he’s a wacko. But who cares.Just win baby as Al Davis said. I’d follow this guy into battle anytime:
Leo Durocher: My baseball career spanned almost five decades—from 1925 to 1973, count them—and in all that time I never had a boss call me upstairs so that he could congratulate me for losing like a gentleman. “How you play the game” is for college boys. When you’re playing for money, winning is the only thing that matters. Show me a good loser in professional sports, and I’ll show you an idiot. Show me a sportsman, and I’ll show you a player I’m looking to trade to Oakland so that he can discuss his salary with that other great sportsman, Charley Finley.
I believe in rules. (Sure I do. If there weren’t any rules, how c
you break them?) I also believe I have a right to test the rules by seeing how far they can be bent. If a man is sliding into second base and the ball goes into center field, what’s the matter with falling on him accidentally so that he can’t get up and go to third? If you get away with it, fine. If you don’t, what have you lost? I don’t call that cheating; I call that heads-up baseball. Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it….
…the Nice Guys Finish Last line came about because of Eddie Stanky too. And wholly by accident. I’m not going to back away from it though. It has got me into Bartlett’s Quotations— page 1059, between John Betjeman and Wystan Hugh Auden—and will be remembered long after I have been forgotten. Just who the hell were Betjeman and Auden anyway?
It came about during batting practice at the Polo Grounds, while I was managing the Dodgers. I was sitting in the dugout with Frank Graham of the old Journal-American, and several other newspapermen, having one of those freewheeling bull sessions. Frankie pointed to Eddie Stanky in the batting cage and said, very quietly, “Leo, what makes you like this fellow so much? Why are you so crazy about this fellow?”
I started by quoting the famous Rickey statement: “He can’t hit, he can’t run, he can’t field, he can’t throw. He can’t do a goddamn thing, Frank—but beat you.” He might not have as much ability as some of the other players, I said, but every day you got 100 percent from him and he was trying to give you 125 percent. “Sure, they call him the Brat and the Mobile Muskrat and all of that,” I was saying, and just at that point, the Giants, led by Mel Ott, began to come out of their dugout to take their warm-up. Without missing a beat, I said, “Take a look at that Number Four there. A nicer guy never drew breath than that man there.” I called off his players’ names as they came marching up the steps behind him, “Walker Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thomson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.”
I said, “They lose a ball game, they go home, they have a nice dinner, they put their heads down on the pillow and go to sleep. Poor Mel Ott, he can’t sleep at night. He wants to win, he’s got a job to do for the owner of the ball club. But that doesn’t concern the players, they’re all getting good money.” I said, “you surround yourself with this type of player, they’re real nice guys, sure—‘Howarya, Howarya’ and you’re going to finish down in the cellar with them. Because they think they’re giving you one hundred percent on the ball field and they’re not. Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you. Now, Stanky’s the nicest gentleman who ever drew breath, but when the bell rings you’re his mortal enemy. That’s the kind of a guy I want playing for me.” … Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/173887.html