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A Letter from Harold
Historical and Hilarious Correspondence of a Brash New York 20th Century Sports Writer
By Harold Rosenthal (William N. Wallace)
Reviewer: Marc Maturo, MarcMyWords.net; Lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and writer for The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.
This wonderful collection of letters -- chiefly written in the 1990s from comfortable retirement communities in New Jersey, Florida and finally, Colorado Springs -- easily serves as the official obit Rosenthal never received from the New York Times.
William N. Wallace put these correspondences together, in no particular order, and his introduction recollects Rosenthal's beginnings in the Bronx, N.Y. From the Depression years with the now-defunct Herald Tribune, when Harold covered like no one else Gaelic hurling at Croke Park, to his days covering the Brooklyn Dodgers and, ultimately, to 20-plus years as a freelance writer. Wallace notes that Rosenthal had an autobiographical anthology at work, first entitled "Bumper to Bumper in the Big Leagues," which metamorphosed to "Upon Further Review..." This project never came to fruition, but many of Rosenthal's entertaining and mostly-uncensored musings are brought to life in this "Grand Slam" effort.
Wallace -- whom Rosenthal affectionately called Wallach because he, Rosenthal, felt Wallace should have been Jewish; Wallace quickly agreed, saying, "Fine. Let's make me Wallach." -- anyway, Wallach, apologizes for not bringing this work to bear until several years after Rosenthal's death. But no apologies are necessary; if anything, we should thank Wallach for bringing Rosenthal back to life, so to speak, and in his own words, too.
Rosenthal, something of a cynic, pulls no punches in his epistolary remembrances, many of which are personal -- such as his Morris High School reunion -- but most of which seems to bring one well-known personality or another into the mix. In these 358 difficult-to-put-down pages, Rosenthal has something to opine about everyone and anyone from Dick Vidmer's son, to Preacher Roe, to Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays (DiMag and Mays were bad guys), to Marty Appel (a good guy), to David Remnick, to Lamar Hunt, to Branch Rickey, to Roger Kahn. Rosenthal's opinions are pointed, his memory filled with unvarnished truths, and they are always pithy, always interesting, sometimes making you pine for the days of yore -- before 24-hour sports programming, on the tube and on the radio, brought sports coverage down to the lowest common denominator despite all the high-tech graphics.
Rosenthal, as you might suspect, has a way with words. As amusing as he is, Harold can also be poignant, as in recalling the final days of the legendary scribe Grantland Rice with a byline thusly: By Grantland Rice, Special to the Winnipeg Star, the last outpost of his far-flung empire. Rosenthal digresses with pieces on the Academy Awards, the naming of the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, musical appreciation, and the night that Ike (Eisenhower) didn't die.
Speaking of death, Rosenthal incorporates many varieties of euphemisms for meeting the Grim Reaper, none ever duplicated, for instance: Harold Weissman Departs, Gil Hodges went at 48, Bob Grim's point of departure. Rosenthal's vignettes and anecdotes are priceless.
All we can say is:
Dear Wallach: Thank you.