Posts Tagged ‘Garden State’

Baseball, New Jersey, and “The Sopranos”

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Lou Costello appeared in two episodes of HBO’s The Sopranos.  Sort of.

New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano of the DiMeo crime family used Paterson’s statue of the comedian as a meeting spot in two episodes; Paterson is Costello’s home town.  In “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Tony saw the recent import of Furio from Italy as an ignition to rearrange his familial paradigm.  Costello’s statue, a New Jersey landmark, offered symbolism to a confab between Tony and Paul, a mobster who once worked for Tony’s father.

In his 2002 book The Sopranos on the Couch:  The Ultimate Guide, Maurice Yacowar explained, “Furio’s arrival creates some possible problems for Tony.  He coaxes Artie into providing a job front for Furio’s immigration, as master cheesemaker.  Only later, meeting outside The Lou Costello Memorial, does Tony inform Paul.  The site suggests the comical sidekick that Paulie fears he is becoming.  Lou’s statue stands parallel behind Paulie in one shot, and looms over him, hat befouled, in another.  But that is rather Pussy’s fate, as Tony promotes Paulie and Silvio and leaves Pussy to report to them.”

Tony met with rival boss Phil Leotardo at the Costello statue in “Cold Stones” to discuss the storm surrounding Vito Spatafore’s homosexuality.  While this presented a problem for Tony and his old school associates, the issue went deeper for Phil—Vito is a cousin, hence, a betrayer of bloodline.  Ultimately, two underlings beat Vito to death while Phil watches.

Costello’s statue portrays the rotund funnyman—one half of the comedy team Abbott & Costello, the duo responsible for “Who’s on First,” perhaps the greatest comedy routine ever—bearing a grin, wearing a derby, and casually resting a bat on his left shoulder.  “Who’s on First” contains Costello feverishly trying to deduce the names of the players on a ball club, with Abbott trying to explain that Who’s on first, What’s on second, etc.

Another baseball reference appeared in the episode “Down Neck” during a flashback scene set in 1967, when Tony discovered that his uncle and his father—Corrado “Junior” Soprano and John “Johnny Boy” Soprano—operate in a criminal sphere of society.  As Junior picks up Johnny Boy to begin their daily duties, he lauds a certain Yankee to his nephew:  “Hey! Did ya hear the game last night?  Joey Pepitone!  Three RBI’s!”

In addition to the Paterson site, New Jersey filming locations for The Sopranos included the Pulaski Skyway, the Asbury Park boardwalk, and Newark Penn Station.

The Sopranos burst onto television screens on January 10, 1999 with James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano, a Garden State mafia don prone to panic attacks.  In Variety, Phil Gallo wrote, “Gandolfini does a lot with body language, and his mood is nicely limned in virtually every scene; it can be summed up as a midlife crisis, yet it feels like so much more; life will never be the same.  Eventually, Tony Soprano’s only comfortable with a handful of friends and his psychiatrist.”

Upon HBO’s rerunning the first season in the summer of 1999, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote, “‘The Sopranos,’ more than any American television in memory, looks, feels and sounds like real life.  Watch any episode and you’re likely to come away with the queasy feeling of having consumed a greasy slice of late-90’s America with its surreal mature of prosperity and brutishness.  Tony, a northern New Jersey mob boss in his early 40’s, isn’t an exotic evil king holed up in a fortified stone castle.  He is a middle-class family man who, except for his occupation, is pretty much like the rest of us.”

The Sopranos finished its run in 2007.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 20, 2016.

New Jersey’s Major League Teams

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

New Jersey, sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, divides its baseball loyalties, typically, with the top half of the state rooting for the former’s teams and the bottom half for the latter’s.  Briefly, on two occasions, the Garden State had a major league team of its own.

In 1873, the Elizabeth Resolutes played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which existed from 1871 to 1875.  Also known as the National Association, it was a precursor to the National League, which débuted in 1876.  Disputes concerning the NA’s status as a “major league” continue amongst historians, scholars, and enthusiasts.  But for the purpose the Elizabeth squad’s story here, it shall be considered a “major league.”

Playing home games in Waverly Fairgrounds—a product of the imagination, expertise, and dedication of agriculturalist James Jay Mapes—the Resolutes compiled a 2-21 record, failing to draw crowds necessary to sustain appeal.  In the June 21, 1873 edition of the New York Times, an article highlighted a deficit in marketing efforts as the culprit:  “The game between the Mutuals, of this City, and the Resolutes, of Elizabeth, N.J., which was played on the Union Grounds yesterday afternoon, was very poorly advertised, and consequently poorly attended, there not being more than 500 persons present.”  The Mutuals pounded the Resolutes, winning the game 9-1.

Hugh Campbell pitched both victories for the Resolutes in 1873.  Compiled and edited by David Nemec, the book Major League Profiles: 187-1900, Volume 1, The Ballplayers Who Built the Game, highlights Hugh Campbell’s major league genesis:  “In several 1872 exhibition games against NA teams Campbell had fared reasonably well.  These outings gave the Resolutes confidence that they could compete in the 1873 NA, but it was illusory.”

Campbell’s brother Mike played first base on the 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes; the Campbell brothers had also played together on amateur teams.

The Newark Pepper occupied a slot in the short-lived tenure of the Federal League, a third major league, which existed for two seasons—1914 and 1915.  The team originated in Indianapolis as the Hoosiers in 1914, won the Federal League championship, and migrated to Newark for the 1915 season under the auspices of team owner Harry F. Sinclair, an oil and banking magnate.  Sinclair had been a principal owner in Indianapolis.  He bought the remainder of the team after the 1914 season concluded.

Future Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie played third base for Newark and managed the team for part of the season, achieving a 54-45 record.  He was 27 years old.  McKechnie’s managerial career included pennants with the Pirates, the Cardinals, and the Reds—he is the only manager to win pennants on three different National League teams.  With World Series titles for the ’25 Pirates and the ’40 Reds, McKechnie became the first manager to win a World Series championship with two teams.

Edd Roush, another Hall of Famer, played outfield for the 1915 Pepper.  In 1962, the Hall of Fame inducted McKechnie and Roush, along with Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 9, 2015.

“The Sopranos” and Food

Friday, July 26th, 2013

After James Gandolfini died last month, HBO announced that it will make The Sopranos available on demand.  I just finished screening Season 1.

Being a native of northern New Jersey, I get a kick out of seeing or hearing places mentioned that I know.  Los Angeles can take that kind of thing for granted.  Garden Staters, not so much.

(more…)

Arrividerci, Tony Soprano

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Earlier this week, the world lost an icon of television.  And New Jersey lost one of its own.

James Gandolfini died from a heart attack during a trip to Italy.  His portrayal of Tony Soprano, indelible in our memories, changed television.

(more…)