A Father’s Day Story of Love & Betrayal.

Since my father died on May 27, 1993 — my wedding anniversary–Father’s Day has always been painful. I watched him die a difficult, drawn-out death from a carnivorous cancer which started in his prostate and spread to his spine, paralyzing him. I read him the sports section everyday for the last two weeks of his life, quoting every line of each Yankee box score, and telling him the horse-racing results from race-tracks around the country. Baseball and horse-racing were my father’s passions. He had watched Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio & Mantle play ball in the Bronx, and had winning tickets on other thoroughbreds named Affirmed, Secretariat, Native Dancer, and Seattle Slew.

A few weeks after my father’s death, my friend Jim Morgo invited me to join him at Yankee Stadium on Father’s Day. He had prime box seats behind the Yankee dugout for a Yankees/Red Sox game. Jim knew I loved the Yankees as much as he adored his beloved Red Sox, especially watching them play at the Stadium. What better way to feel closer to my father, I thought, than to be in the surroundings where we spent our sweetest hours together.

At least once a year, every August since I was 10 years old, my father was given use of the field box owned by the Pershing Square Building Corporation, his employer. Six days a week, every week, for 35 years, my father labored in the bowels of their building at 100 East 42nd Street, operating the old steam boilers, to make sure the lawyers and accountants who worked on the upper floors were comfortable.

My father knew I loved watching double-headers, and that none of the corporate executives who had first dibs on the tickets, wanted to sit in the sweltering sun on an August Sunday to watch two baseball games. For me, six solid hours of baseball was a double treat. The world consisted of nothing but baseball all day, and I had my father all to myself.

The seats I sat in on that first Father’s Day I was fatherless, were only a few rows behind where my father and I sat, year after year, inning after inning. I looked around the Stadium imagining I saw him everywhere. There he was, getting a beer, or mopping the sweat off his brow with a clean, white handkerchief. Each time I spotted an old guy with a beer belly, I thought of my father hauling his paunch up and down those flattened Stadium steps to “hit the ‘head,” as he said.

Maybe coming to Yankee Stadium so soon after my father’s death was not such a good idea, after all. I was grieving him deeply, quietly. Being there, so close to where he and I shared so many perfect moments, made me melancholy. I was in the final months of my work in Mario Cuomo’s Administration, and was depressed over conversations I knew were going on between Cuomo, George Steinbrenner, Rupert Murdoch and NYS’ Commissioner of Economic Development Vincent Tese, to move the Stadium out of the Bronx and put it on the site of the West Side Rail Yards, in mid-town Manhattan. How dare they even think about doing that, I thought. My father is here.

I sat there, drinking in the Stadium’s atmosphere, memories swirling around me like one of those tiny dust tornadoes that swept across the infield every so often. I looked at the majestic white facades towering over right field and realized what a place of peace this was for us from an otherwise chaotic life. To remain silent while the old Stadium’s future was being decided would have been to commit a sacrilege against the memory of my father.

I knew how forcefully committed the Governor was to economic development, and how the sinister George Steinbrenner was threatening to move the Yankees to New Jersey if he didn’t get a brand new ballpark in Manhattan, where he could build high-priced skyboxes for corporate oligarchs. I knew that Rupert Murdoch was exploring the possibility of building a sprawling entertainment center, including TV studios, on the site of the new Stadium. And I knew that somehow, I had to find a way to stop this from happening.

That “way” came within days of my Father’s Day visit to Yankee Stadium. I came across a copy of a scheduled secret meeting between the Governor, Steinbrenner, Murdoch and Tese with a two-word topic: “Yankee Stadium.” I knew I had to act quickly to create a public outcry to save the old Ballpark. With the forces of money and political power in New York aligned against the House that Ruth Built, I took the only route left open: I leaked the information about the “secret” Yankee Stadium meeting to New York TimesSportswriter, Richard Sandomir.

The following day, June 30, 1993, a front page story by the Times’ Ian Fisher carried a headline announcing: “Fearing Move by Yankees, Cuomo Explores Idea for a NewStadium.” The Governor was livid, and was convinced that Sandy Frucher, a former top official in the Administrations of both Gov. Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, was the source of the leak because Frucher worked for Olympia-York, a company with an interest in the Rail Yards. Sandy insisted it wasn’t him, and he was right. I was the “source close to the Governor” the New York Times quoted throughout the story.

The uproar caused by the Times story stopped the proposed move of Yankee Stadium to Manhattan, literally, in its tracks. And it bought the old Ballpark a reprieve of another 15 years, and kept the Bronx Bombers in the Bronx.

For me, I wasn’t proud of causing Mario Cuomo and Sandy Frucher some agita, but I also wasn’t about to let my pride, or anything else for that matter, get in the way of fulfilling a promise to my father: to keep the old Ballpark alive, long after he was gone.

Invisible No Longer.

We knew George Floyd before he was suffocated to death under a White cop’s knee.

We’ve seen him dozens of times on television in the faces of the Black men, and women, who were killed because of the color of their skin. 

We’ve seen him thousands of times in books, newspapers and photographs of Black men hanging from trees, or telephone polls or scaffolds; thousands upon thousands of Black men, invisible to the law.

The great writer, Ralph Ellison, saw George Floyd clearly, long before George Floyd was born, and murdered.

In his remarkable book, Invisible Man (Random House, NY, NY, 1952), Ellison chillingly depicted how White people looked right through Black men, and saw only what they wanted to see, for whatever purpose they found gratifying.   

Ellison describes it through the eyes of a college-bound, young Black man, herded into a wealthy, elite White club, to provide the inebriated rich, powerful men of a small community with some entertainment:

“  All of the town’s big shots were there in their tuxedos, wolfing down buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars.  It was a large room with a high ceiling.  Chairs were arranged in neat rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring.  The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of polished floor.”

Ellison’s educated main character was invited to the elite gathering by the White Superintendant of Schools to be honored for his scholarship, and was told he would be able to deliver a speech.  But, first, he, and nine other young Black men had to perform.

“In those pre-invisible days, I visualized myself as a potential Booker T. Washington…I suspected the fighting might detract from the dignity of my speech.  We were led out of the elevator through a rococo hall into an anteroom and told to get into our fighting togs.  Each of us was issued a pair of boxing gloves and ushered into the big mirrored hall…”

“We were a small tight group, clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with anticipatory sweat, while up front the big shots were becoming increasingly excited…  Suddenly, I heard the School Superintendent, who told me to come, yell, ‘Bring up the shines, gentlemen!  ‘Bring up the little shines!”

“We were ordered to get into the ring…All 10 of us climbed under the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded, with broad bands of white cloth…I felt a sudden fit of blind terror …I stood against the ropes trembling… it seemed as if all nine of the boys had turned upon me at once. Blows pounded me from all sides…A glove connected with my head, filling my mouth with warm blood…”

 “Everybody fought everybody else…I heard one boy scream in pain as he smashed his hand against a ring post…The (White) men kept yelling: ‘Slug him, black boy! Knock his guts out!  Uppercut him!  Kill him!  Kill that big boy!’  When the bell sounded, two men in tuxedos lept into the ring and removed the blindfolds…”

The White men—bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants and pastors—all dressed in tuxedos, now arranged for the second act of the evening’s entertainment:  two Black “boys” would fight it out, before all would get some money.

I saw the howling of red faces crouching tense beneath the cloud of blue-grey smoke…I wanted to deliver my speech more than anything because I felt that only these men could judge truly my ability…A blow to my head as I danced about sent my right eye popping like a Jack-in-the-Box and settled my dilemma…I wondered if I would now be allowed to speak…”

The tuxedoed White men stopped the fight, but only because they wanted to see one more show.  They rolled away the portable boxing ring, and set up a small square rug in the vacant space surrounded by chairs.  An emcee gave the signal for the young, Black men to “come and get your money,” a collection of gold, coins and a few crumpled bills tossed in the middle of the rug.

As told, we got around the square rug on our knees.  ‘Ready, Go!’ the emcee said. I lunged for a yellow coin lying on a blue design of the carpet, touching it …A hot, violent force tore through my body, shaking me like a wet rat.  The rug was electrified…my muscles jumped, my nerves jangled, writhed…Suddenly, I saw a boy lifted in the air, glistening with sweat like a circus seal, and dropped, his wet back landing flush upon the charged rug, heard him yell, and saw him literally dance upon his back, his elbows beating a frenzied tattoo upon the floor, his muscles twitching like the flesh of a horse stung by too many flies… his face was gray and no one stopped him when he ran from the floor, amid booming laughter.”

To ground himself against the electric shock, the young, college-bound Black man, grabbed the wooden leg of a chair being stradled by a laughing, corpulent, drunken White man and tried to topple his tormentor onto the electrified carpet.  The fat, rich, White man kicked him viciously in the chest and back onto the charged rug.

“ The chair flew out of my hand, and I felt myself going…  It was as though I had rolled through a bed of hot coals.  It seemed a whole century would pass before I would roll free, a century in which I was seared trough the deepest levels of my body to the fearful breath within me, and the breath seared and heated to the point of explosion.  It’ll all be over in a flash, I thought…  It’ll all be over in a flash.”

Life was over in a flash for George Floyd, and it seems as if several centuries of hate and abuse have exploded before our eyes, no longer invisible.  And, Black men and women are demanding to be seen.