Scores, if not hundreds of people have helped me along the way as I have hacked my way through the jungle of life. But there are three who come especially to mind this week. I own each of them, big time.
I owe Jerry Remy. The iconic Red Sox broadcaster and all-star second baseman (people forget how good he was when he played) revealed last week that he has suffered a recurrence of the lung cancer for which he was first treated in 2008. He was soon back at his position behind the microphone at Red Sox games, too soon, as it turned out.
He had to take more time off because depression had set in. One of the things that those of us lucky enough to recover from it learn about cancer is that it can take a long, long time after treatments are completed to start feeling better. It gets discouraging, even depressing.
Jerry spoke openly about his depression and I remember thinking to myself how much fortitude that must have taken. He’s an old jock, after all, and the culture in locker rooms and clubhouses, while understanding about charley horses and broken bones is dismissive of emotional problems. Those places are populated by young, macho men and they don’t identify with emotional injuries. Depression? What did you do, get up on the wrong side of bed this morning? Suck it up! Stop feeling sorry for yourself!
Jerry earned my respect for the open way in which he dealt with his depression. A year later that respect morphed into gratitude.
That’s when I, too, was diagnosed with cancer. Mine was in the throat, not the lungs. I went through all the treatments, chemotherapy, radiation and several operations. None of it was fun, but I knew what to expect. Then began the long, winding road to recovery, with more than a few bumps along the way. But, thanks to Jerry, I knew what to expect then, too. He had provided me with a roadmap. Looking back on it, I could easily have fallen victim to depression if he had not sounded the alarm.
I’m one of the lucky ones; I eventually recovered and the way I look at, I’ve been playing with house money ever since.
But I owe Jerry Remy, and now I’m trying to repay the debt by praying for him.
I owe Dan Shaughnessy. In an age when newspapers, those that are not dying, are shrinking in terms of circulation, size and influence, he remains the most dominant sports media figure in New England. You want to know what the radio sports talk show will be talking about on any given day? Read what Shaughnessy wrote in the Globe that morning. He sets the agenda. The respect his colleagues have for him is best exemplified by his election to the Writers Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame last year by the Baseball Writers of America.
Dan and I appeared last week before the Red Sox Nation chapter in The Villages in central Florida. I was just the opening act; he was the headliner. In preparing his introduction I was reminded of a time when he was responsible for a huge laugh I got at a hot stove league banquet about fifteen or twenty years ago. Laughs are important to me, they are like nougats of gold, and I’ve spent a life time mining for them. That’s why I owe Dan.
When I arrived at the banquet that night there was Dan, sitting at the head table next to former Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman. Lou, who was a wonderful man, was for years a favorite target of Dan’s. He was remarkably open and guileless for a veteran baseball executive and that made him low hanging fruit for Shaughnessy, who as a columnist, has opinions, many of them controversial. Lou didn’t particularly like Dan’s criticism but he never took it personally. He also realized that if he were the lightning rod for Dan it deflected criticism of the players on the field and the owners in the suites. Dan and Lou were chatting amiably with one another at the banquet but when it came my turn to speak I could not resist the temptation to cause a little mischief.
“There’s Lou Gorman over there, sitting next to Dan Shaughnessy,” I began. “Lou is a wonderful fellow. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for a friend. Last Christmas he had guests visiting from out of town and he told them, ‘Anything you want to do or see while you’re in Boston, just let me know and I’ll set it up for you.’ They said, ‘Gee, thanks. We’d love to see The Nutcracker.’
“So Lou drove them over to Shaughnessy’s house.”
No one laughed harder than Lou, but Dan was a close second.
I owe Adlai Stevenson. Donald Trump did not invent the practice of political figures finding fault with the news media, though he has managed to, as Emeril Lagassse would say, “Kick it up a notch.” Politicians of all stripes have found reason to be critical of reporters, whose job it is to be critical of them. Stevenson, who had the good fortune to be nominated for president twice back in the nineteen fifties and the bad fortune to run against Dwight Eisenhower both times, was no exception.
He had an inventive sense of humor, and he once commented on the old adage that accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a lady. It provided me with material for a short verse. The rhyme is mine but the punch line belongs to Adlai Stevenson.
To a newspaper, accuracy is a must.
It’s the only way it can build any trust.
It’s as important as virtue is to a lady,
Though here’s where that parallel become shady,
If a lady sins, she must live with her action.
But a paper can always print a retraction.
I owe those three guys. And if you’ve had the patience to read this far, I owe you, too.