The Boys of Summer Get Ready for Fall

On the day that Brooklyn Dodger legend Pee Wee Reese died, both the Yankees and the Mets were in first place, with Labor Day on the horizon. Reese’s death prompted an outpouring of memories of the glorious 1950′s, when he was captain of the Dodgers and this city dominated the national pastime. We’ve had plenty of glory in the intervening years–the Yankees of the early 1960′s, the late 1970′s and today; the Mets of 1969 and 1986. But not since the days when Reese patrolled shortstop at Ebbets Field and the city’s center fielders were named Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider have two New York baseball teams been in first place so late into the season.

Barring a collapse, the Mets and Yankees figure to make September a thrilling antidote to the end-of-summer, back-to-school blues. They already have made the summer of 1999 as memorable as many of those famous years when the World Series nearly always featured a team from the Bronx, Manhattan or Brooklyn. New York baseball fans have not seen such excellence in two boroughs in several generations.

The Yankees have been defending their World Series title with the same style and grace they exhibited last year, and while they may not win 125 games like they did in 1998, they have duplicated David Wells’ perfect game of last year with one by the remarkable David Cone. Shortstop Derek Jeter is enjoying a season for the ages, and Bernie Williams is proving that he is a natural successor to a position once held by Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

At Shea Stadium in Queens, the Mets have put together what is probably the best batting order in their nearly 40-year history. With the speed of Rickey Henderson and Roger Cedeno, the power of Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura and the craftsmanship of John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo, the once-moribund Met lineup has become the stuff of pitchers’ nightmares. And, as Met fans know, the team’s bullpen-by-committee has been a lifesaver.

Credit both front offices with putting together teams with that rare and refreshing combination of talent and character. And the next time some old-timer waxes nostalgic for the good old days of New York baseball, remind him or her that these are, in fact, the good old days.

Million Youth March Minus 994,000 Marchers

When we left Khalid Muhammad last week, we noted that the city’s foremost anti-Semite was thinking about running for City Council from Brooklyn–an appalling prospect. Now comes word that he is planning to reprise his hate crime of last year by organizing another youth rally in Harlem over the Labor Day weekend. Like the rally that ended in violence last year, this one will be called a Million Youth March.

A million youths, indeed. Mr. Muhammad would consider himself lucky to draw more than a few thousand fellow travelers in hate. As Mayor Giuliani pointed out with such delightful disdain, last year’s so-called Million Youth March drew 6,000 people. “And it wasn’t a youth anything,” the Mayor said. “It was a hate march.”

So it was. The next one will be more of the same. Hate, after all, is the only cause Mr. Muhammad believes in.

The coming spectacle should be treated with the same contempt that New Yorkers and the New York media would display for a neo-Nazi rally or a white supremacist convention. Mr. Muhammad is no different from the other merchants of hate who command more attention than they do followers. The problem, of course, is that while the white supremacists seem at home in Idaho and the neo-Nazis prowl parts of the American heartland, Mr. Muhammad is here, in New York. He is our problem. He calls on his pathetic followers to attack our police officers. And the hate he speaks is directed at New Yorkers of many races and creeds.

Publicity is Mr. Muhammad’s oxygen. Without it, he becomes nothing more than a gasping little man with big hatred in his heart. The New York media should treat him not as an object of curiosity or a voice of misguided outrage. They should ignore him. And if they do, he will most certainly go away.

Let’s leave this preacher of hate with no congregation.

Don’t Block the Box

It’s the middle of summer, and a good portion of New York’s work force is on vacation. And yet, a walk down Fifth Avenue through the heart of the city’s midtown business district on any weekday will show that congestion never takes a holiday. It doesn’t seem to matter how many people are out at the beach or up in the country. The intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street is a nightmare, as are other key intersections throughout Manhattan.

That’s why Mayor Giuliani’s recently announced crackdown on bad drivers is welcome. The Mayor is warning motorists who block the box, that is, who try to force their way through an intersection but get caught in the middle when the light changes, that they face stiff fines and two points on their license.

There’s a reason why the city has painted certain key intersections with great white boxes. While New York’s traffic compares favorably with other world-class cities like Rome, London, Chicago and Los Angeles, we are the city that gave gridlock its name. Drivers should venture into busy intersections only if they know they can cross without getting trapped by congestion. That’s the law. The Mayor is right to enforce it.

Nobody expects New York traffic to threaten any speed records. But as long as we can keep moving, we’re happy.