A Conversation with Rick Crane

My publisher, Stay Thirsty, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Finding Mary CoverI was honored to be asked to provide a piece for its Fall magazine. A fictional conversation with the main character of my noir thrillers, Upstate New York Private Eye Rick Crane.

 

MARK YOST: So who is Rick Crane?

RICK CRANE: He’s a drunkard. [laughs] Sorry, that’s one of my favorite Bogart lines from Casablanca.

 

MARK YOST: If the Rick Crane books were made into a movie, would Bogart play you?

RICK CRANE: That’s an interesting question, because Rick Crane really is a combination of great characters from throughout noir history. There’s a little bit of Orson Welles in him from The Third Man. There’s a little bit of Burt Lancaster in him from The Killers, a great movie that was based on a short story by Hemingway. And, yes, there’s a lot of Bogart in him.

If I had to narrow it down, I’d say he’s sort of a mash up between Sam Spade, Bogart’s wise-talking private eye who’s always one step ahead of everyone else in the story, and Jim Rockford, the innocent con-turned-private-eye who likes to drive fast, classic muscle cars…although some might quibble with Rockford’s Firebird being a “muscle car.” But it was what was left of muscle cars in the mid-1970s, when America was just starting to drive Datsuns and Toyotas.

 

MARK YOST: It’s interesting that you pick Spade and Rockford because they’re both California private eyes. Spade is in San Francisco of the 1940s, perhaps the greatest noir locale in literary history, and Rockford’s what’s left of Sam Spade in the 1970s, relocated to Malibu. But you’re nowhere near California, are you?

RICK CRANE: No, I’m in Upstate New York, which I would argue is maybe the second-greatest noir locale in literary history, even though Rick is the first character to be based there. At least that I know of.

 

MARK YOST: Why is it a great noir locale?

RICK CRANE: Think about the noir genre. It’s shady characters, operating in the shadows of an already dark and sinister place. Can you think of a darker place in early 21st-century America than the Rust Belt, that swath of unemployment and despair that basically stretches from Buffalo to Detroit? This was once the real industrial heartland of America, where, in the 1950s, most of the cars, locomotives and steel was made. Now, it’s a shadow of its former self. And amid those shadows are long-forgotten people, with faded dreams, living in long-forgotten towns, with faded town squares, rough dive bars, and boarded up businesses. It’s the perfect place for the mob or bikers to move in and exploit what little cash and hope people have left.

 

MARK YOST: And for private eyes?

RICK CRANE: And for private eyes, because when people are poor and desperate, they’ll do anything to scratch out a living. Sometimes, that living is made outside the law.

 

MARK YOST: You often operate outside the law?

RICK CRANE: I do. Once, I did it simply to get by, like many of my clients. I worked for a mob boss, collecting debts and “taking care of things” as they say. I also worked for myself on the side. Cheating spouse cases, that sort of thing.

 

MARK YOST: So you’re not such a likable character yourself sometimes?

RICK CRANE: There are times when everyone’s not such a likable character. That’s life. But that’s just one side of me. As you learn over the five books, Rick is a real person, with real demons that he has to wrestle with outside of the alleys and strip clubs of Upstate New York.

 

MARK YOST: Tell us more about that.

RICK CRANE: Well, like the people he sometimes works with, Rick is a creature of his environment. He’s old enough to remember when Upstate New York was a place where you could make a decent living and raise a family. He’s seen that slowly decay over time, and it has affected him just like it has impacted a lot of the other characters in the book.

 

MARK YOST: How so?

RICK CRANE: Well, at times, Rick is desperate. He’s desperate to make a living, he’s desperate to figure out his life.

 

MARK YOST: But I’m guessing that you would argue that like all great noir characters, deep down, Rick, despite his environment and the people he rubs elbows with, is a good guy?

RICK CRANE: I think so. Rick operates in a bad world, and sometimes has to deal with bad people. But, often, his motives are good. For instance, in Cooper’s Daughter, Rick has nothing whatsoever to gain by helping out this old drunk, Bill Cooper. But Rick sees something in Cooper. Something that’s reflective of the life here now, and of Rick’s life. He sees a guy who just wants to know “Why?” Why was his daughter murdered? Rick can empathize with that. The wanting to know “Why?” Why did this happen to me?

 

MARK YOST: And like Cooper, Rick’s tormented as well?

RICK CRANE: I wouldn’t say “tormented.” Like a lot of people, Rick occasionally looks back on the past 20 years and wonders, “How did I get here?”

 

MARK YOST: But there is a woman in your past?

RICK CRANE: More than a few. But one in particular. Mary. My high school sweetheart.

 

MARK YOST: What happened with her?

RICK CRANE: Things didn’t quite work out, as my mother would say.

 

MARK YOST: You quote your mother a lot.

RICK CRANE: She’s smart. She knows a lot about life.

 

MARK YOST:  Does she go to Church every morning, like you?

RICK CRANE: Not anymore. She lost her faith awhile back. At least most of it.

 

MARK YOST: And what about Rick?

RICK CRANE: I’m trying to find it.

Trouble Along the Way in College Football

Here’s my latest piece in the Stay Thirsty Winter magazine.

Something to think about as the nation tries to crown a national college football champion.

By Mark Yost

Before you get into your next argument over whether or not college athletics is really corrupt, and how long it has been that way, you might want to watch Trouble Along the Way. This little-known, film masterpiece from 1953 is usually shown about the same time as the college bowl games, and is a cautionary tale about the conflict – then as much as now – between big-time college sports, academic integrity, and an all-mighty dollar that has been made even mightier thanks to lucrative television contracts. One viewing and you’ll realize that there never was a golden age of college football when it was all about team spirit.

TroubleThe movie stars Johns Wayne in one of his least-known roles as Steve Williams, a disgraced college football coach who was fired for doctoring too many high school transcripts and recruiting too many lumberjacks from Saskatchewan. The film opens with the Duke hustling quarters (“75 cents a ball”) in a New York City pool hall when Father Burke, played by likable character actor Charles Coburn, walks in. Burke is the headmaster at tiny St. Anthony’s College, a thinly veiled carbon copy of St. Peter’s in Jersey City. He’s just been told by the diocese that the Catholic college has to close due to financial problems. Father Burke’s solution is to hire Williams to resurrect the school’s football program and get the college the money it needs.

“I’ve been kicked out of the Big 10, the Ivy League and the Southern Conference,” Wayne says. “They wouldn’t let me coach at Alcatraz.”

But Father Burke knows he’s found his man when Wayne gives him a quick history of football that’s also a bit of clever foreshadowing.

“It’s a fine game, football,” Wayne says. “A noble game. Originated in England in 1823 when an enterprising young man named William Webb Ellis, who studied for the ministry by the way, found his team behind in a soccer game. So he picked up the ball and ran through the amazed opponents for a thoroughly illegal touchdown. And that’s how football was born: illegitimately.”

Wayne, one eye on the pool table, goes on to explain how football came to America and the NCAA came to be: “Someone invented a little formation called the Flying Wedge. So many young men we’re maimed and killed by this clever maneuver that President Roosevelt – Theodore Roosevelt – had to call the colleges together and ask them to make the game less brutal. He was, of course, defeated in the next election.”

And then there’s Wayne’s soliloquy on the economics of college football, as relevant today as it was then: “Football became an industry. The price of a good running back often surpassed the salary of a professor. And when some righteous committee unearthed this well-known fact, it was always the coach who took it on the chin.”

That, of course, isn’t the case anymore. Just ask any number of college coaches – Pete Carroll, John Calipari – who have had the amazingly good timing to leave their schools just ahead of the always-late NCAA posse.

Of course, Wayne agrees to coach St. Anthony’s, but only after Father Burke assures him of “an absolutely free hand” to make the team his own. This Faustian bargain sets up the tale – well-told by director Michael Curtiz  – of a small, private Catholic college and its sometimes comedic, but ultimately tragic foray into what was already by the 1950s big-time, corrupt college football.

DukeSome of the best dialogue comes when Wayne rounds up his old coaching staff, including a young Chuck Connors before he became more well known as “The Rifleman.” When Wayne asks how many of the best high school recruits are still available, Connors says they’re already committed to other schools.

“They’ll get lose when they hear my offer,” Wayne quips with the kind of oversized hubris that portends a big fall.

When pressed for details, Wayne tells his old cronies, “At my new alma mater, they don’t even know what time it is. All they’re after are gate receipts.”

“So?” Connors asks.

“So, we’re going to cut up all the side angles for ourselves,” Wayne says. “Parking, programs, advertising, pennants, and the paid washrooms. Everybody’s gonna be a member of the firm. This’ll be the first cooperative football team in history.”

Of course, there is no cooperative college football today (unless you count conference revenue-sharing). The schools keep all the money and those players that stay for four years – a minority – get a free education in no-show classes in Geography, Graphic Arts and African-American Studies.

Looking at recruiting film, Connors says of one prospect: “All state tackle. Of course, he didn’t graduate.”

“We’ll print him a diploma,” Wayne says.

That business is a little more sophisticated today; instead of forging transcripts, players go to so-called “prep academies,” which are often nothing more than strip-mall “school” that specializes in math for dummies and lots of practice time.

When Wayne asks, “What happened to that kid from Scranton?” Connors says he was recruited by a school in California. “I think they made his old man vice president of a bank.”

That bit of dialogue was 50 years ahead of its time. In 2006, USC’s Reggie Bush became the only player in NCAA history to return his Heisman Trophy after it was learned that his agent – he wasn’t even supposed to have an agent by NCAA rules – had bought a house for Bush’s parents in Southern California.

Once he has the team he wants, Wayne says they’ll have to win big and early if they’re going to pull in the kind of money that Father Burke needs to save St. Anthony’s. Wayne’s answer: “Summer school.”

“Our own brand. Eight classes a day, all football. Santa Carla, Notre Dame and Holy Cross can’t practice in summer time; conference rules. That gives us a three-month jump. By September, we oughta be able to take on the Chicago Bears, even if they use real bears.”

While there are still rules dictating how much a team can practice, including in the offseason, literally every school has spring football and summer school now. And violations are self-reported.

“What happens if our fellas don’t want to give up their summer for training?” Connors asks.

“They’ll train all right,” Wayne says. “Remember, their stockholders, not college boys.”

Wayne does rack up that first big win, but because this tight, entertaining movie runs a quick hour and 10 minutes, the glory fades fast.

“The day of reckoning has arrived?” Wayne asks all too knowingly when he’s called into Father Burke’s office. Turns out Wayne’s ex-wife, the classic shrew from central casting, called the school and clued the priests in on his winning ways.

“What made you believe that you could save Saint Anthony’s by destroying the very things it stands for?” says Father Burke, asking a question not heard on a college campus in 30 years. And Wayne’s retort makes it clear that the fix was in long before training tables, tutors and ESPN.

“What’s the difference if the kids make the money for the hamburgers and the parking, or some alumnus gets the concession?” Wayne asks. “Father, I’ve been through this so many times that it’s like old home week.”

Yes, we have.

And while all of this is old news to anyone who’s paid attention to college athletics the past 30 years, it begs the question, “Why isn’t this film a part of the standard Wayne classics?”

I asked Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend. “It’s OK,” he says. “Not on anybody’s list of Wayne’s best or most memorable, but a stab at a pretty commonplace part. His audience liked to see him in larger than life parts, and Trouble Along the Way is just life-sized.”

Maybe that’s because it was too much like real life college sports, even in 1953. Toward the end, as Wayne’s leaving Father Burke’s office, dismissed in disgrace yet again, he turns and says as only the Duke can, “I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done.”

That was true for Wayne’s fictitious Steve Williams, and of almost every college coach caught cheating today.

Jimmy’s Nephew Is Free This Weekend

Jimmy's NephewTo prime the pump for the release of my fourth Rick Crane Noir later this year, my publisher Stay Thirsty is offering “Jimmy’s  Nephew,” the second book in the series, free this weekend.

Here’s the jacket blurb:

When mob boss Jimmy Ricchiati’s nephew, the up-and-coming middleweight boxer – Joey “Boom Boom” Bonadeo – winds up dead along with several local priests, Rick Crane is called into action. Set in Upstate New York, the second book in the Rick Crane Series is filled with the twists and turns that fans of author Mark Yost have come to expect as his private investigator hero looks under the hood of the Catholic Church and uncovers its decades of misdeeds and cover-ups as he searches to discover who killed Jimmy’s nephew in this non-stop noir thriller.

And here are a few of the 5-star reviews:

— Just finished reading Jimmy’s Nephew for the second time and liked it even more this time around. It’s not often you can find something that’s keeps you interested….twice,

— A double thumbs up for Mark Yost’s second book in the Rick Crane series, Jimmy’s Nephew. Yost is at his best in the upstate NY detective thriller.

—  I was a little on edge with the subject matter but could not put the book down. Highly recommended.

October: The Month of Noir, The Month of Yost

October was quite a month: For film noir and for me.

Bogart momFirst off, I had my Stay Thirsty interview with Stephen Bogart, son of the famous actor, ahead of the 3rd annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo. Here’s a snippet:

MARK YOST: I imagine there have been many times in your life when you wish you could have asked him for his advice.

STEPHEN BOGART: Not really. What I wonder most is what it would have been like to have a father around. Because father’s are different than mothers.

It’s not so much what I would have asked, what we would have talked about, but what it would have been like.

MARK YOST: Sadly, you lost your mother earlier this year. She was a heavyweight actor and persona in her own right. Talk about her.

STEPHEN BOGART: She did not suffer fools gladly. She was my mother and she brought us up to be certain types of people and live a certain life. She never told me what to do. I got married when I was 20, had a kid when I was 21. I wanted to get away from that [Hollywood] as quickly as possible. I wanted to find out who I was, over and above being the son of Humphrey Bogart.

I ended up in a small town in Northwestern Connecticut, made my own friends, and found out who I really was. They didn’t really care who I was.

doubleNext up, was my Wall Street Journal review of the outstanding new exhibit, “Light & Noir,” which tells the story of the European emigres who fled the Nazis and made some of Hollywood’s most memorable film noirs.

“Every ship that left Europe in those months of the year 1942 was an ark,” wrote German novelist Erich Maria Remarque. “Mount Ararat was America, and the flood waters were rising higher by the day.” Remarque also noted that Portugal was the great embarkation point. And if you didn’t make it there, “you were lost, condemned to bleed away in a jungle of consulates, police stations and government offices, where visas were refused and work and residence permits unobtainable.” This, of course, is a nice plot summary of “Casablanca,” the best refugee film of the war years and a noir yarn in its own right.

The film is given its own gallery, complete with set pieces, costumes and the letters of transit that would guarantee anyone who had them passage to Lisbon, and a clipper to America. But the broader point of the gallery and the exhibit is that the creative geniuses behind “Casablanca”—director Michael Curtiz (born Manó Kertész Kaminer in Budapest), actor Conrad Veidt and composer Max Steiner—were the lucky immigrants, telling the stories of the less fortunate.

The second half of the exhibit explains how, after the war, these artists made the transition to the golden age of film noir. It wasn’t difficult, as many came from the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s that pioneered the shadows and uneven camera angles that gave American noir its signature feel. Among the films featured here are such noir classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Killers,” all helmed in some way by prominent Jewish émigrés like Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of my summer interview in Stay Thirsty magazine with Film Noir Czar Eddie Muller:

MARK YOST: Who do you think are the greatest male and female film noir stars and why?

Eddie MullerEDDIE MULLER: Bogart is the essential male star. Whatever your personal preference may be, you have to accept Bogart as the pre-eminent icon of noir. His rise as an actor, moving from a second-string heavy to the leading man antihero, directly parallels the prevalence and popularity of film noir. Directors and cinematographers gave noir its look, but Bogart provided the attitude. His performance as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon is seminal. It’s the cultural touchstone for the wisecracking, cynical, and steadfastly existential philosophy that would become the underlying attraction of noir for so many people. There are other contenders—Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, John Garfield, Richard Widmark—but it was Bogart who lit the fuse.

It’s tougher to cite a single actress. I’m tempted to say Barbara Stanwyck, but that might somehow diminish the fact that she’s the greatest actress in the history of movies. Her range exceeded the boundaries of noir; she was great in everything. I also have great respect for Joan Crawford, who resurrected her career via film noir, starting with Mildred Pierce and going right through a series of exceptional dark melodramas of which she was the actual auteur. But there were so many wonderful actresses who did their most vivid work in this genre—Claire Trevor, Gloria Grahame, Ella Raines, Marie Windsor, Audrey Totter—it’s impossible to single out one.

In short, I’m lucky I get to do what I do and write about what I love.

 

 

 

 

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival starts today in Key Largo, Florida. I was lucky enough to sit down with his son and festival founder, Stephen Bogart, for an interview for the Fall 2015 Stay Thirsty magazine:

If you ever meet Stephen Bogart, the only son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, you’ll notice the physical resemblance to his father immediately. But any comparisons to his late father, who died when Stephen was just 8, end there. He has spent most of his life trying to be more than just Humphrey Bogart’s son, and he has succeeded quite well at it.

But try as he might, his father casts a long shadow, even today, nearly 60 years after his passing. For example, the New York Times write up of Stephen Bogart’s marriage to his lifelong friend, Carla Soviero, in November 2014, was headlined: More Plot Twists Than ‘The Maltese Falcon.’

The younger Mr. Bogart has also thrust himself back into the limelight of sorts with the creation of the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, now in its 3rd season in Key Largo, Florida, a famous location for his parents.

Mr. Bogart sat down with me for Stay Thirsty Magazine recently “to answer a few questions,” as one of his father’s characters might have said.

MARK YOST: The first question, I’m sure, that everyone has is: What is it like to be Humphrey Bogart’s son?

Bogart and dadSTEPHEN BOGART: He’s been dead for a long time. But it’s not really that different than being anyone else’s son. Your father just happens to be in the movies. As a kid, you don’t focus on that. What I remember is that he didn’t want me to go on the boat until I knew how to swim.

He certainly wasn’t a bad dad, but I really didn’t know him. Just as we were getting to know each other – he got sick when I was 7 and died when I was 8 – he went out of my life.

I think about him almost every day, but that was 60 years ago.

MARK YOST: I imagine there have been many times in your life when you wish you could have asked him for his advice.

STEPHEN BOGART: Not really. What I wonder most is what it would have been like to have a father around. Because father’s are different than mothers.

It’s not so much what I would have asked, what we would have talked about, but what it would have been like.  

MARK YOST: Did it get harder to be “Humphrey Bogart’s son” as you got older?

STEPHEN BOGART: I think within myself there was a handicap. I never got “in the business,” as they say. My mom never said, “You should be an actor.”

I was in a couple of plays in high school. I was a lousy actor. It’s definitely a talent, it’s an art. If anything, he probably would have pushed me away from being an actor. There’s no upside.

Kids, as they’re growing older, want to fly below the radar, and I couldn’t do that. There was really no anonymity until I got older.

Now, I think whether by accident or by genealogy, I am like him in certain ways. He was a needler and a kidder. I can be like that. I think he was pretty cynical; I’m pretty cynical.

But I would say the overall characteristic I have from growing up is that we believe in treating people correctly, but that’s probably a family thing as well. My mother taught me that.

MARK YOST: How are you like Humphrey Bogart, and how are you different?

STEPHEN BOGART: Normally you’d be like someone because you grew up around them. I think you’re like someone because of the environment you grow up in. That wasn’t the case for me.

MARK YOST: You also had a fairly famous stepfather, Jason Robards. What kind of influence did he have on you?

STEPHEN BOGART: It’s funny, because so many people focus on my father, but Jason was probably the best American stage actor we’ve ever had. Especially when he was doing Eugene O’Neill. You can’t beat that. And he was a nice guy.

Unfortunately, he had an issue. He was an alcoholic. It really didn’t affect me. I was away at school. They got married in 1961, I went away to boarding school in 1963.

He played ball with me. He had a son, Jason, with whom I’m close. We grew up together. But I never thought of Jason Robards as my dad. I liked him as a person, and he was married to my mother, but that’s it. 

Bogart momMARK YOST: Sadly, you lost your mother earlier this year. She was a heavyweight actor and persona in her own right. Talk about her.

STEPHEN BOGART: She did not suffer fools gladly. She was my mother and she brought us up to be certain types of people and live a certain life. She never told me what to do. I got married when I was 20, had a kid when I was 21. I wanted to get away from that [Hollywood] as quickly as possible. I wanted to find out who I was, over and above being the son of Humphrey Bogart.

MARK YOST: But you’ve sort of crept back in – slowly – to that life. You’ve worked in television and the movies most of your life, as a writer and producer. You wrote a book in 2010, Bogart: In Search of My Father, and now you have the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, set in Key Largo, a memorable filming location for your parents. Talk about the foundation and its purpose.

STEPHEN BOGART: It was time. Frankly, many of us who are involved in putting on the festival were surprised it hadn’t been done. Key Largo was the place to do it. The town has been fantastic. Supportive of the whole thing. This is our third year. It’s a great marriage and a perfect place to do it.

 

MARK YOST: What books – outside of your own – about your parents do you like best?

STEPHEN BOGART: I really don’t read them. Because they’re basically the same as mine. I actually interviewed people who were my father’s friends. Most books don’t do that.

 

MARK YOST: What’s your favorite Humphrey Bogart film and why?

STEPHEN BOGART: I knew you were going to ask that. I like Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s such a great movie, and was such a great part for my dad.

He didn’t know if he was going to do it, so he went to his agent, Sam Jaffe, and asked, “Should I do it?” Jaffe said “John (Huston) wants you to do it. He won’t do it without you. You should do it because he’s your best friend.”

The result was John Huston earned two Oscars, one for directing and one for writing. Walter Huston won for best supporting actor.

It was one of the first movies shot totally on location. My father had a great part. And it was the first time since he became a really big star that he died in the film.

Bogie and BacallMARK YOST: What’s your favorite Lauren Bacall film, without your dad?

STEPHEN BOGART: Probably How to Marry a Millionaire. She was so good. The cast was so great. It was a great time in her life. The movie was well received.

Growing up, I was really more immersed in the theater, because of my mom, who was inGoodbye Charlie, The Cactus Flower. And, again, because of Jason Robards, who was such a great stage actor.

I also lived in London for a year. I saw Camelot with Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, The Music Man, My Fair Lady.

It was really a great time.

 

MARK YOST: What are you doing with the intellectual property rights for your mother and father?

STEPHEN BOGART: The Humphrey Bogart Estate exists to honor and promote the legacy of Humphrey Bogart. Part of fulfilling that mission includes entering into partnerships and licensing agreements. We like to do deals that either keep Bogie’s films in the spotlight (the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo), that relate to products he enjoyed during his life (he was a client of our current partner S.T. Dupont, and he enjoyed gin, hence our partnership with Patron Tequila co-founder John Paul Dejoria for Bogart’s Gin), or that expose his image to large and/or new audiences (like our current partnership with AT&T and DirecTV).

As far as my mother is concerned, my brother Sam and my sister Leslie along with myself control those rights. At this time we are exploring a number of opportunities and have licensed a few things in the fashion and book world, to name two.

I ended up in a small town in Northwestern Connecticut, made my own friends, and found out who I really was. They didn’t really care who I was.

The Yost Baseball Pilgrimage

As you watch the rest of the MLB playoffs, remember this: George and I have been to every stadium you’ll see.

Here’s my piece from the Fall issue of Stay Thirsty magazine detailing our quest.

yost-010By the time this column goes to print, my son George and I will have visited 26 of Major League Baseball’s 30 ballparks. Our goal, started when he was about 8 years old, was to visit them all by the time he graduated from high school. He’s 17 and entering his senior year. Barring some disaster, we should complete our quest next spring.

The final tally will actually be 32 ballparks. We’ve been to both old and new Yankee Stadium, as well as the Metrodome, the old home of the Minnesota Twins, and Target Field, their new facility.

We didn’t start out to do this. It just sort of happened.

We live in Chicago, and I’m originally from New York. So when we’d drive home during the summer to see family and friends, we’d stop along the way. Detroit. Cleveland. Pittsburgh.

But before all that, our first stop was the old Yankee Stadium. I’d grown up going there as a kid. For most of my friends, those childhood memories are still our fondest and most cherished. So I wanted George to have some of those same experiences and memories.

Coming up out of the subway tunnel on the 4 train and suddenly seeing that monument of sports architecture rise up on the left side of the train. Meeting friends at “The Bat,” a 100-foot tall replica outside The Stadium. Eating the dirty-water hot dogs that were sold at the old Yankee Stadium by special dispensation from the NYC Health Department.

George and I have had all those quintessential Bronx experiences, but it is clear to me, looking back on our journeys to the Bronx and beyond, that George’s memories will be uniquely his own. And that’s as it should be. But they’re also different because baseball has changed so much since the 1970s.

Baseball is much more of a business today. And I’m not just talking about the price of the tickets, which are sometimes downright obscene. It’s the stratification of the ballpark experience, dictated by how much your seats costs.

George and I have rarely sat on the lower concourse of most ballparks. That’s because it costs a small fortune to sit close to the action. Sure, there are exceptions. On Aug. 24, 2015, George and I went to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Marlins in Miami. We sat about 20 rows off the field, behind the Pirate dugout, for $20 a seat. But those deals are rare. Sitting that close, more often than not, costs hundreds of dollars.

That’s a shame because baseball stadiums used to be egalitarian enclaves where everyone was just a fan. Lawyers sat next to bricklayers. Today, entire sections of some stadiums are off limits to fans who aren’t in the 1% tax bracket or have corporate seats.

The worst examples of this are found in places like U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, home of the White Sox. If you have an upper-deck ticket, you can’t even walk on the main concourse. There is a special escalator that whisks you to the top of the stadium. Exit ramp doors have been locked so that you can’t walk down and, say, watch batting practice or get something to eat at some of the more upscale concession stands. I’m sorry, but that is just wrong.

The Yankees are even worse, designating the area between first and third bases, where tickets cost up to $1,500 a game, “a suite.” Because of the team’s historic over-the-top greed that was aggrandized with the new stadium, I’m no longer a Yankees fan. George bleeds Yankees blue, something I always wanted, but here’s the irony of the story:

When I gave up on the New York Yankees, I switched to the Los Angeles Dodgers, partly because they were an historic franchise; partly because their lone World Series victory while in Brooklyn came in Game 7 in 1955 in a no-hit gem pitched by a mediocre pitcher from Upstate New York named Johnny Podres, who proceeded to get drunk at the after-party and hit on the general manager’s daughter. But mostly, I switched to the Dodgers because, like me, they once called Brooklyn “home.”

So I fled the ostentatious greed of the New York Yankees only to run into the arms of the Los Angeles Dodgers, now owned by a management group that includes former L.A. Laker Magic Johnson. In 2015, the team formerly known as “Dem Bums,” had the biggest payroll in all of baseball, an estimated $270 million. Adding insult to injury, their games can only be seen on upper-tier, pay cable packages.

The lesson here is that it’s not just the Yankees that have jacked up prices; it has happened all over the league, including Spring Training, where in 2015 the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants charged upwards of $100 for games that meant absolutely nothing.

Despite all the economic obscenities of modern-day baseball, I wouldn’t trade the memories that George and I have for anything. These trips will be something we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives.

Many of these memories are special because we share them with friends. For instance, George’s first Yankee game was with Erich Eichman, the books editor at The Wall Street Journal. We have a priceless picture of little George, probably about 7, sitting in the upper deck of the old Yankee stadium, munching on a hot dog, next to Erich in shirtsleeves.

We also have a lot of memories with my best friend, Angelo Kalogiannis, a lifelong Yankees fan from Astoria, Queens. I went to a lot of games with Angelo and his dad over the years. In fact, I immortalized them in a piece I wrote for The Wall Street Journal in 2009 when the old Yankee Stadium closed.

yost-032George has heard all the stories of the iconic games that Angelo and I have been to, including the 2000 Subway Series between the Mets and the Yankees when we left early, with the game tied, to beat traffic. It was during that series that Mets catcher Mike Piazza shattered his bat, and a big chunk of the barrel went hurtling toward the pitcher’s mound and Yankees ace Roger Clemens promptly hurled it back at Piazza in a fit of anger that emptied both benches.

Fast-forward a few years to Yankees at the Tigers at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Nice stadium, paid for by the taxpayers, smack dab in the middle of the rotting urban decay that is modern-day Detroit. As we walked around the main concourse, we stopped out in center field and watched pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre hit bunts to Clemens. Thinking quickly, Angelo yelled down to the field, “Hey Mel, see how he does fielding bats!”

Angelo has been with us on countless visits to both old and new Yankee Stadium, as well as probably a half-dozen Brooklyn Cyclones games in Coney Island. He also went with us on our first visit to Citi Field, the New York Mets’ new stadium in Flushing, Queens. Although we were all Yankee fans then, we liked the stadium’s wide concourses and upscale food. In fact, George continues to have a soft spot for Citi Field because the centerfield food court has a Shake Shack, celebrity chef Danny Meyer’s upscale burger joint. But I think George’s lasting memory from that trip will be Angelo trying to buy him a cocktail at one of the centerfield bars. George was 15.

Another memorable trip for George and me was to see the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. We sat on top of the Cardinals dugout, courtesy of my good friend Tony Mattera, who snagged us the Wells Fargo corporate seats.

About halfway through the second inning, we all noticed a guy standing in a separate dugout just behind home plate. Every time a ball was fouled off, the ball boy would toss it to him, he’d mark the ball with a Sharpie, and throw it into a bucket. During one of the between-inning breaks, I asked the usher what he was doing. He said he was marking them as “game-used balls” that they sold in the gift shop for $75.

Tony also went with us on our first visit to the new Yankee Stadium. We ate at Grimaldi’s, the formerly great pizzeria under the Brooklyn Bridge, walked across the bridge, and then took the No. 4 train up to the Bronx. I have memorable pictures of George walking on the Brooklyn Bridge in his Derek Jeter Yankees jersey, as well as photos of all of us in Monument Park, including a photo of Tony and me standing next to Phil Rizzuto’s plaque in Monument Park.

George never heard “The Scooter” call a Yankees game, but he knows all of his signature phrases because they were burned into my brain and Tony’s from watching countless hours of Yankees games on WPIX in New York as kids. Tony and I often repeat Rizzuto’s signature phrases at games we go to today. So long after we’re dead and gone, if George is at a baseball game and hears the organist play “the Tarantella,” only one thing will go through his head: Rizzuto commenting to his broadcasting sidekick: “Ya know White, [catcher Rick] Cerrone usually gets a hit when they play that Italian music.”

We also met our friend Ben Koster at a midweek day game at Target Field in August 2015. Ben is a diehard Twins fans and one of the architects who helped design the new stadium. So in addition to spending some quality time with a good friend and baseball aficionado, Ben walked us around the stadium and showed us its design flaws.

But without a doubt the most moving baseball trip for George and me was in August 2014 when we went to Southern California. We went to Dodger Stadium, saw the Angels in Anaheim, and went to Petco Park in San Diego.

It was an emotional trip for us because we had planned it with my good friend, Capt. Joe Woyjeck of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and his son, Kevin. Our plan had been to go see the Dodgers one night, the Angels the next. Great father-son time for the four of us.

Kevin 3Kevin, following in his dad’s footsteps, was one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in June 2013. It was a tragedy that rocked us as firefighters, and as close friends with the Woyjecks. So when summer 2014 came around, a little over a year after Kevin had been killed, I said to Joe, “Hey, you don’t have to go to these games.”

“Kevin would want us to go,” he insisted.

So Joe and his wife, Anna, met us at the Dodgers game, where we saw legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera come into the game in the 9th inning to his signature song, “Enter Sandman.” The next night, we all went to Anaheim for a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Kevin was a huge Angels fans and always wore a cap with “KW” written in black magic marker near the brim. George and I both bought Angels caps before the game and put our own “KW” initials on the hats. I still wear mine to nearly every game. It’s my quiet way of remembering Kevin and his sacrifice.

Needless to say, it was an emotional night. Especially so because none of us had remembered that the Angels play “Calling All Angels” before every home game. When the song came on, Anna, understandably, started crying and buried her head in my shoulder. Joe was up at the concession stand and met another firehouse buddy who said, “I thought I saw Anna in the stands, but some guy has his arm around her.” Joe laughed and said, “That’s my good friend, Mark. He’s a firefighter from Chicago.”

While not nearly as emotional as our trip to Anaheim, George and I both had mixed feelings when we went to Fenway Park in Boston. The Red Sox are, of course, the Yankees’ hated rivals. But my mom grew up in Boston, never lost her thick Boston accent, and was a huge Red Sox fan (she once told Boston slugger Jim Rice, near the end of his career, that he needed glasses but was too vain to get them). She was a major force in my life, and George’s as well.

My mom had passed away not long before we went to Fenway, so it was a special trip for us. In addition to going to the game, George and I spent a few days travelling around Boston, visiting some of the sites that were special to my mom: Revere Beach, where she spent most of her summers; Kelly’s Roast Beef, one of the iconic beachside restaurants my mother liked; and, my Aunt Nell’s Chelsea apartment house where I spent many summers when I was a kid, and my mom spent most of her time after my dad died. Because of that trip, George has an even stronger connection to my mom.

As for the stadium, George and I both really liked Fenway Park. It’s one of the last of the old-school ballparks. It’s an urban park, nestled into Allston, where my family lived before moving to New York.

Yawkey Way, the open-air street market outside the stadium, has one of the best atmospheres in all of baseball – and some of the best Italian sausage we’ve tasted anywhere. Yankee fans or not, we both agree that Fenway Park is one of America’s great ballparks.

yost-Thomas-JeffersonIn August 2015, we knocked off four more teams and ballparks: the Washington Nationals in D.C., the Orioles in Baltimore, the Marlins in Miami, and the Rays in Tampa Bay.

Nationals Park was nothing to write home about. We ate half smoke sausages topped with Ben’s Chili, a Washington, D.C., gastronomic landmark.

We liked Miami’s brand new, state-of-the-art stadium, but it was empty. I’m not sure who in the MLB offices thought Miami’s Hispanic and Latino population would unwaveringly support a Major League franchise, but they’ve been proven wrong almost every season.

There were maybe 10,000 people at the game we went to, about half of them Pittsburgh Pirates fans. But the Cuban pulled pork nachos were one of the best ballpark foods we’ve had anywhere.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, was the rundown dump we expected it to be. At 25 years old, it has none of the charm of the retro ballparks that have been built over the past two decades. And we weren’t impressed with the food.

As for Camden Yards in Baltimore, we liked it. Liked. Not loved.

George and I had both been anticipating our trip there because Camden Yards was the first of the modern, retro ballparks that opened to rave reviews in 1992. We were also interested to go to Baltimore because, so far, our favorite ballpark was PNC Park in Pittsburgh. We both wondered how Baltimore would compare to Pittsburgh. Our consensus is “a close second.”

Camden Yards has aged well. In fact, I expected the concourses and amenities to feel a lot more dated. The one big disappointment was Boog’s BBQ, the legendary centerfield concession stand run by former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell. I’d heard about Boog’s for years from other baseball fans, but George and I were both quite disappointed. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by BBQ in Texas, but Boog’s wasn’t BBQ to us. It was nothing more than a dry roast beef sandwich.

Having said that, with 26 of 32 ballparks under our belt at the end of Summer 2015, PNC Park in Pittsburgh remains our favorite place to watch a game. It is the quintessential retro ballpark, with a great view of the Sixth Street Bridge and Pittsburgh’s small but attractive skyline just beyond centerfield. It has great sightlines, good concessions, including Primanti Brothers signature sandwiches. And even with the Pirates vying for the NL Wild Card, tickets remain reasonable and available.

Of course, that could all change when we go to San Francisco at the end of September 2015. We’ve heard great things about AT&T Park, both in terms of the architecture and the food, which is supposed to be out of this world. We’ll also visit the A’s in Oakland, a stadium that never was much to talk about. I don’t expect it to be any better.

That leaves us with four ballparks left for 2016: Seattle, Arizona, Atlanta and the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark at Arlington. Four more opportunities to add to the treasure trove of memories that George and I have now…and will have for the rest of our lives.

 

The Yosts’ Top 5 Ballparks

PNC Park, Pittsburgh
Yankee Stadium, Bronx
Citi Field, Flushing, Queens
Camden Yards, Baltimore
Fenway Park, Boston

The Yosts’ Favorite Ballpark Foods

Cuban pulled pork nachos at Marlins Park, Miami
Italian Sausage at Yawkey Way, outside Fenway Park, Boston
Shake Shake at Citi Field, Flushing, Queens
Garlic Fries, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
Half Smoke All The Way (with Ben’s Chili), Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

‘You Can’t Help Liking Rick Crane’

Mary's FateThat’s the latest 5-star review for “Mary’s Fate,” the third book in the Rick Crane Noir series from Stay Thirsty Press.

Wow, I wouldn’t want to be on Rick Crane’s bad side…but you can’t help liking him anyway. This book is full of dark twists and turns and leaves you eager to see what’s looming for Rick & Mary in book #4.

If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the jacket copy:

Legendary Upstate New York private eye Rick Crane returns in MARY’S FATE, the third book in Mark Yost’s acclaimed noir thriller series. Crane, an old-school fixer, is drawn into a turf war of bikers and drugs in this non-stop story of revenge and murder. At the center of Crane’s universe is mob boss, Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., and his iron-fisted control of his territory; a control that spills over into unspeakable violence that forever changes the fate of Mary Rooney, Rick Crane’s true love. Yost’s taut, well-told story grabs the reader right from the start in true noir fashion and doesn’t let go through all the twists and turns that Rick Crane fans have come to expect.

Here’s what other reviewers are saying:

— The story is fast paced and an easy read.

— “Mary’s Fate” is all about fate and the danger that dangerous people find themselves in.

— The book was done and I just wished I had the next book in the series.

 

‘This Can Be Addictive’

Mary's FateThat’s the latest 5-star review of “Mary’s Fate,” the third book in the Rick Crane Noir Series, just out from Stay Thirsty Press.

First rate addition to a great series for fans of noir thrillers. Strong characters, fast paced plot, twists and turns. Be warned. This can be addictive.

Here’s what other reviewers had to say:

–The story is fast paced and an easy read. The plot is well organized and keeps your interest.

–I’ve read all three Rick Crane books and really think “Mary’s Fate” is the best.

–Rick Crane, that blood-spattered mob enforcer who occasionally moonlights as a private detective, still roams the back alleys of all-too-real upstate New York.

–Yost does not disappoint in this third book in the series.

–I just wished I had the next book in the series

Remembering Ed Beyea

Ed BeyeaThis is a piece I originally wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press back in 2006. 

I reprint it here every Sept. 11 to remember Ed Beyea, and everyone who was there on Sept. 11, 2001.

Why We’re Firefighters

By Mark Yost

Shortly after I joined the Lake Elmo (Minn.) Fire Department, Chief Greg Malmquist
asked me if I’d think about writing a piece for the local paper about my
training.

“You’re a writer,” he said. “Maybe you can help us with
recruiting.”

It’s been a year and I’ve been through Firefighter I and II and Hazardous
Materials Operations, and took the extra step of getting my EMT
certification (most volunteer fire departments require only First
Responder). After all that, I was still struggling with what to write. Then
on June 20, a letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal caught my
attention.

Ed BeyeaIt was written by Michael Burke of the Bronx. His brother, FDNY Capt. Billy
Burke of Engine Co. 21, was inside Tower 1 of the World Trade Center when it
came crashing down on Sept. 11, 2001. Why was Billy Burke there, even though
the order to evacuate had been given and most who weren’t trapped on the top
floors had already escaped? Because he refused to leave the side of Ed
Beyea, a quadriplegic trapped on the 27th floor. I grew up with Ed Beyea in
New York and know all too well how he died that morning.

Ed was paralyzed in a swimming pool accident three years after he graduated
from high school in 1978. He eventually moved into an assisted living
apartment complex on Roosevelt Island, which sits in the East River between
Manhattan and Queens. Never one to sit around and let life pass him by, Ed
became proficient enough with his oral joystick to land a data-entry job at
Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the World Trade Center.

The trip from Roosevelt Island to midtown Manhattan, then to the Financial District, was
taxing enough for regular commuters; it was doubly so for a guy in an
electric wheelchair. But one of Ed’s co-workers, Abe Zelmanowitz,
volunteered to help him get to and from work each day. It was a commitment
that he would not abandon, even under the most dire circumstances.

Shortly after the second plane hit Tower 1, workers were told to evacuate.
This was obviously a problem for Ed, who couldn’t get down the stairwell
easily. It wasn’t long before Ed had difficulty breathing.

Abe could have easily left Ed there and made it out alone, but he refused to leave Ed
behind. They were soon joined by Billy Burke, who also refused to abandon
Ed. All three were killed – together – when Tower 1 collapsed. (Their
stories can be read in the New York Times’ Portraits of Grief and at
memorial sites on the Internet.)

The inscription on the Marine Corps’ Iwo Jima Memorial reads, “Uncommon
valor was a common virtue.” I think the same can be said of Sept. 11 in general, and of Billy Burke and Abe Zelmanowitz specifically.

Reading Michael Burke’s letter and remembering the details of Ed’s tragic
death crystallized for me why I’m a firefighter. I think I speak for a lot
of firefighters when I say that I do it mostly because it’s a commitment to
something more important than myself. Yes, we all love the camaraderie and
the trucks and the thrill of the call (90 percent of which turn out to be
routine). But it goes deeper than that.

We don’t talk about it much, but we all know that one day we might be asked
to do for our neighbors what Billy Burke and Abe did for Ed. We hope that if
that time comes, we’ll have the courage to answer the call. The fact that
we’re willing to even try is what makes us respect and care for each other.

This selfless commitment is certainly what motivated Billy Burke and Abe.
Thanks to them, Ed didn’t die alone. As terrible as that scene was, I’m sure
Ed was comforted by their presence.

As firefighters, we hope we give similar hope and comfort to the victims we
treat in the communities we serve. Working in Lake Elmo and other small
town and cities across the country, we certainly don’t expect to be part of
a mass-casualty incident like Sept. 11. And even if we never do get “the
call,” we know that in our own small way we make a difference in peoples’
lives every day.

We’re often a calm voice, a reassuring pat on the hand, welcome relief in
their hour of need. And while these victims may not be at the center of the
most devastating terrorist attack in history, the world they know and love
is often crumbling around them. In many ways, it’s just as tragic and
devastating for them as it was for Ed Beyea.

I’m not sure if this is the piece that Chief Malmquist was looking for, but
I now know that this is why we’re firefighters.

“I am hooked” on Rick Crane

Mary's FateAnother 5-star review (not from my mother) for “Mary’s Fate,” the third installment in my Rick Crane Noir Series from Stay Thirsty Press.

So far, “MARY’S FATE” is the best of Mr Yoste’s, “Rick Crane Noir” series. Having read and enjoyed all three, I am hooked and looking forward to the next offering. The story is fast paced and an easy read. The plot is well organized and keeps your interest. Too bad my favorite character was killed-off in the previous book.
This series will be very interesting as it more fully develops. As an aside, I can’t help but wonder if Mr Yoste is inching his lead character, “Rick Crane” from the dark and sleazy pages of a noir into a novelette. What do you think?

I’m not sure to think, considering they spelled my name wrong. But it was 5 stars, what am I complaining about.

If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the jacket copy:

Legendary Upstate New York private eye Rick Crane returns in MARY’S FATE, the third book in Mark Yost’s acclaimed noir thriller series. Crane, an old-school fixer, is drawn into a turf war of bikers and drugs in this non-stop story of revenge and murder. At the center of Crane’s universe is mob boss, Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., and his iron-fisted control of his territory; a control that spills over into unspeakable violence that forever changes the fate of Mary Rooney, Rick Crane’s true love. Yost’s taut, well-told story grabs the reader right from the start in true noir fashion and doesn’t let go through all the twists and turns that Rick Crane fans have come to expect.