Sad to say, three cultural touchstones of my youth died over the few days. The first was actor Martin Milner, who died on Sept. 6. Milner made all the boys in my generation want to hit the road when he starred In "Route '66" and then made us all want to be cops when he followed that up by starring in "Adam 12."
But despite his successful TV career, the critics were less kind when he tried the big screen. When he played a reporter in the 1959 film "Compulsion" (based on the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case), the acerbic critic Pauline Kael said of his acting, "If the killers really had been aesthetes, he would have been the victim."
Two days later, pitcher Joaquin Andujar also died. Andujar is best remembered for pitching the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in the last game of the1982 World Series, but his finest moment came in the locker room after the game.
After answering interviewer Bob Costas’ question about a leg injury he had suffered, Andujar politely asked Costas to excuse him a moment and then addressed the international audience in Spanish, expressing his pride as a Dominican and saluting the Dominican people, his family, and the country’s president.
It was a moment that made every Latino kid in this country swell with pride, just as every Jewish kid kvelled in 1965 when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch the first game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
Don Drysdale got the assignment in Koufax's place and was shelled unmercifully, giving up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings. When manager Walter Alston came out of the dugout to pull him from the game, Drysdale said, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too!"
Andujar is also remembered for uttering the best baseball quote not said by Yogi Berra - "Baseball can be summed up in one word: 'You never know.'"
Three days after Andujar, Moses Malone, the Hall of Fame basketball player who teamed with Dr. J to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983, also died. He was one of the first players to go straight from high school to the pros.
Back in the 1980s, when the Cold War was at its height, the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jewry in San Francisco, whose mission was to support the Jewish "refuseniks" who were defying the Communist regime, regularly contacted local Jews who were planning to visit the USSR and asked them to smuggle messages and/or money to the dissidents.
One of those they contacted was a local rabbi, who agreed to smuggle a note to refusenik leader Anatoly Scharansky. But before he could deliver the message he was busted by the KGB, clapped into the Lubyanka prison, and ruthlessly interrogated for more than a week.
"Tell us the name of your spymaster!" they kept demanding over and over. He realized that they probably knew nothing about American sports, so he finally cried, "OK, OK! I'll tell you! It's Rabbi Moses Malone!"
And it worked. They released him and deported him back to the U.S. And sure enough, six weeks later Pravda ran a front-page story exposing the evil machinations of the CIA and its nefarious spymaster, Rabbi Moses Malone.