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Added: 1 January 2000

The Incomprehensible Sportswriting of Jimmy Bannon

One evening years ago I was slouched over the bar of Jakey and Wanda's on 45th when Miss Perkins came in alone. She wore a real mink coat over her rehearsal slacks and explained she had dropped by for a fast one during a break in the routine. That was fine with me. It flattered a young cub reporter not yet twenty years old and a face covered in pimples that she recognized him and he bought her a drink. When it came time for the second round, Miss Perkins, who was then a star, whispered to me to take my money off the bar. It was no come on.

Go ahead. Walk the streets of the Village if you knew them as a child, and you are now a stranger there. The horse players grumble a lot and now the trotters make them crazy, just plain crazy. The old ones are decent hardworking people. They'll tell you about Jimmy Biggles, who ran the joint on Gilbert Street when he was a pug. We yearned to be baseball players or pugs when I was a kid.

The big storms turned me back into the lonely winters of my boyhood. It was the plague of the tenements. We'd eat dinner in overcoats and steal wooden breadbaskets and write with a piece of chalk with a string on it. I can remember liniment and kerosene and old socks and I still have a bump on my nose.

I never met John Fitzgerald Kennedy and I was never in Sandusky Ohio. I'll tell you something else, too, about the chiseled granite of statesmen's speeches: They don't move me. Never did. But I remember him kidding with Casey Stengel and the pair of them laughed it up. Now I sit in my room and the years stir and rustle like leaves and whispering crowds at the flyweight championship, and Red LaRocca. Pitcher. Semipro club from the neighborhood. Thanksgiving was always a good night for the lush rollers.

It ended in 1931. "He's half a ballplayer," Mack said. "I don't want half a ballplayer." I imagine I know as much about him as most people and more than many. Pepper Martin, Frankie Frisch, Jim Botomley, Chick Hafey, Jimmy Wilson. You're Ted Williams who never wanted partners. You're Roger Maris who isn't Babe Ruth. You're Don Drysdale and it should have been a big year. You're Joe Namath who has it all. Things would happen just because Mays, the centerfielder, was in there. They just did.

Kearney was a fight manager who wouldn't be in a fight to save his mother. He has never participated in a crime of violence but he lives by the code. The code of the underworld. It's too bad Doc didn't make it; the joints never fold in Vegas. The lonesome man is often inarticulate, a bogus mystery with Graziano in Pompton Lakes. They had both beaten him but all they wanted to talk about was how they thought he was a real game guy. His son, "Bumby," a second lieutenant with the OSS, was captured as he guided a German spy back to the enemy lines. Snipers and grenades and strangling on phlegm and it was the brandy that got him through. They talk about what Bill Veeck can do but Werblin used every angle to turn Smolinski into a Boog Powell parody of Billie Holiday with a Cantonese accent and a Chaplin moustache on tiptoes.

There are those who say the war doesn't belong in the sports pages and I'm not here to argue with them but it's Korea again and this time the buzzer of my apartment went dat, datter, de dat, dat dat. I opened the door stinking of towels and dressed only in a fine Cuban. He was tall and fleshy and on the verge of middle age, thick and mussed, like a photograph out of focus. According to the bitter theme of countless first novels the bookmaker is forced to be stingy and cruel. All I found were horseplayers trying to cash a bet. "Take a chick out tomorrow," said Two Head Charlie. Overseas, every chick is Raquel Welch. Babe chuckled, but his laugh became a cough.

I admit all managers ain't bible salesmen, and maybe it can be patched up. I hope so, anyway. Because nobody asked me.