Recently I spent a fun afternoon having lunch with a bunch of old farts. To be more precise, a bunch of old fart jocks. The lunch took place at Athens Burger in Dublin. It was a scene out of a Grant Wood's painting. The old farts were Dave Newhouse, the great sports writer with the Oakland Tribune, Bobby Wendell, a guard on Cal's NCAA championship basketball team, Dennis Williams, an ex basketball coach at UOP, our host George Baljevich, and me. Bill McClintock of the Cal Bears NCAA champs was also supposed to be there but was in Milwaukee running Pete Newell's Big Mens and Womens Camp. For those who might not know what that means, it's a basketball camp for players destined to be centers and are having trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. Drop step, first, fall-back jumper last, right, Bill?
I'm not sure about ex advertising execs or retired plumbers, but when old athletes get together, they manage to take sentiment to a new level. Notice I did not say sentimentality, which connotes an entirely more maudlin state of mind.. I won't mention our ages, but when someone uses the phrase, bye-gone days, you can probably make an educated guess. Names came up as they should since sports is really about people not events. Fred LaCour, for example. We all agreed he was the best SF high school hoopster ever to play the game - overall honors in that category going to Jason Kidd at Saint Joe's. Someone said that Rene Herrerias, assistant coach at Cal under Pete Newell and later head coach, retried from coaching, is now a San Francisco historian extraordinaire. I think that was me. Bob Hagler, St Mary's College undefeated freshman team's coach was mentioned and praised, so was Joe Gardere, of McClymonds High and briefly of St. Mary's - lots of amazing stories of Joe at 5'7" and his precocious jumping ability. We argued over who was the best Bay Area basketball player ever. Newhouse insisted it was Frank Lusetti of Stanford. Maybe, but how does one slight Bill Russell? I found out a bit about Jack Molinas, the ball player and gambler who fixed games. I had no idea he was that good a player.
You get the picture? Old farts dropping names from their past. I loved every minute of it. It is healthy every once in awhile to honor those names.
When we stopped talking about players, we talked about the great playground system that flourished in San Francisco, run by the Parks and Recreation Department (Is there such a thing anymore?) that gave youngsters the space to hone their skills and compete without a lot of rigid structure. If you grew up in San Francisco, there was Lawton gym, Julius Kahn playground, Booker T, St. Monicas, St. Vincint de Paul's and Selesian's in the Northbeach. Every night of the week, players knew which gym to go to for the best competition. And on the weekends, the incomparable Marin Town and Country Club where Saturdays and Sundays the best of the Bay Area basketball players played shirtless and sweating on the club's sunny outdoor courts. Losers out. The beer, the games of Pedro, the Saturday night dances, ah!
Back to the names. How many people out there remember Willy Wo Wo Wong? How many people remember that two of the leading politicians in California George Mosconi and Johnny Burton were excellent college hoopsters. And I'll bet not too many folks know that Johnny Mathis played basketball for Washington High and San Francisco State and at 5'7" could dunk the ball. Remember the great guard Cappy Lavin? Remember Ron Tomsic? Remember the great Olympic Club basketball teams?
We talked about Bill McClintock and Pete Newell and that fabulous 1958-59 NCAA Championship team. Bernie Simpson, Bobby Wendell threw your name out on the table for discussion, and I countered with your St. Ignatius High teammate Ray Paxton, one heck of a deep shooter. We tossed around a lot more names. We laughed a lot. From his briefcase Baljevich brought forth old programs and player cards from his amazing collection of over 30,000 pieces of memorabilia. Can you imagine his house? He has to rent storage space for the overflow.
We talked until we began picking the crumbs off our plates and the sun began to set. Not really, but it seemed that way as our words shortened the afternoon to dusk. On my drive home I imagined Old Farts from all over America spending similar afternoons doing what we did, sitting around reminiscing, throwing out the names of ball players that make up the history of their regions.
Old Farts never die, you know, they just keep talking, and talking.
Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959 by William Matthews
The less we paid, the more we climbed. Tendrils
of smoke lazed just as high and hung there, blue,
particulate, the opposite of dew.
We saw the whole court from up there. Few girls
had come, few wives, numerous boys in molt
like me. Our heroes leapt and surged and looped
and two nights out of three, like us, they'd lose.
But "like us" is wrong: we had no result
three nights out of three: so we had heroes.
And "we" is wrong, for I knew none by name
among that hazy company unless
I brought her with me. This was loneliness
with noise, unlike the kind I had at home
with no clock running down, and mirrors.
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.