April 24: The Spanish-American War

world-2-17-1898The Spanish-American War began on date in 1898, fanned by Joseph Pulitzer, among other newspaper publishers, two months after the unexplained sinking of the USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. Fifteen Jews were among the drowned on that battleship, on which Adolph Marix, later a vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, served as an executive officer; Marix would chair a board of inquiry into the sinking. Out of 280,000 American soldiers in the war, 5,000 were Jews, of whom twenty-nine were killed in battle, twenty-eight more by disease, and forty-seven wounded. A 16-year-old Jew named Jacob Wilbusky was also the first of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders killed in action in Cuba. The war lasted for ten weeks, brought about American imperial control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and effectively ended the Spanish Empire.

“How do you like the Journal’s war?” —Joseph Pulitzer headline


April 23: Howard Cosell

628x471Sportscaster Howard Cosell (Cohen), who brought elements of journalistic inquiry, skepticism, and intelligent opinion that transformed the cheerleading nature of his profession, died at 77 on this date in 1995. Before becoming a broadcaster, Cosell practiced law and represented Willie Mays, among other athletes, but then took to the airwaves and rose to prominence by reporting on the career of Cassius Clay, soon to rename himself Muhammad Ali. Unlike most other sportscasters, Cosell treated the controversial Ali with respect, called him by his name of choice, and supported his refusal to be inducted into the military. Cosell also supported other black athletes in their efforts to support the black liberation struggle, including the Olympic medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who gave a “black power salute” at the 1968 Olympics. While Cosell made his reputation as a boxing commentator, he ultimately was revolted by the sport and stopped reporting on any but Olympic matches. He was  a key commentator during the 1972 Munich Olympics, as Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and then murdered Israeli athletes. In 1993, Cosell was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1994 into the Television Hall of Fame. To see him interviewing Muhammad Ali in 1974, look below.

“The importance that our society attaches to sport is incredible. After all, is football a game or a religion? The people of this country have allowed sports to get completely out of hand.” —Howard Cosell


April 22: This Guy’s In Love with You

fe37d46077def774f1ba2170feefe5aeTrumpet player Herb Alpert sang a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, “This Guy’s In Love with You,” to his wife Lani Hall on a CBS television special on this date in 1968. A deluge of calls from fans to the television station convinced Alpert to release the song as a single two days later, and it became a number 1 hit for for four weeks. Alpert’s father was a mandolin-playing tailor from the Ukraine; Alpert’s mother, from Romania, was a violinist. He was already a hitmaker, with six Grammy Awards with his Tijuana Brass band, by the time he released “This Guy’s . . .” — and although the band had no Hispanic musicians, it did create a broad popular taste for Latin-flavored band music. Today Alpert is a recording industry executive with A&M Records (“A” for Alpert, “M” for Jerry Moss), a painter and sculptor, and a philanthropist through the Herb Alpert Foundation. To see the music video in which he introduced the song, look below.

“There was a point with the Tijuana Brass where we were playing for such huge crowds that I kind of lost contact. At one point, the only connection I had with the audience was with people out there lighting cigarettes.” —Herb Alpert


April 21: The Strangest Man in Baseball

chronology5_clip_image002Moe (Morris) Berg (1902-1972), the only Major League Baseball player whose baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, played in his 117th consecutive game without committing an error, a record for an American League catcher, on this date in 1934. Described by Casey Stengel as “the strangest man ever to play baseball,” Berg was a Princeton graduate among rural farmboys in the big leagues, and worked as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, assigned to evaluate Yugoslavian anti-Nazi resistance forces and to find out if Germany was developing nuclear weapons. Berg read ten newspapers each day and was a linguist of whom it was said that he could speak twelve languages but couldn’t hit in any of them. A strong defensive catcher, he was a weak hitter (and slow runner) who batted .243 over the course of his career, which spanned sixteen years to 1939. After his spying career also ended, in the 1950s, he spent two decades as a drifter, living with family members and friends.

“As early as 1934, Berg toured Japan with a group of major league all-stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. During the trip, Moe was invited to lecture at Meiji University, where he delivered an eloquent speech in Japanese. Few Americans at this time spoke the language, and the lecture made Berg a beloved figure among the Japanese people. It seems, however, that before the trip the U.S. government had recruited Berg as a spy, supplying him with a motion picture camera despite the fact that it was forbidden for foreigners to film in Japan. In Tokyo, ostensibly on a visit to the daughter of the American ambassador to Japan who had just given birth, Berg snuck onto the hospital roof and filmed Tokyo harbor. Berg then snuck the film out of Japan. He later bragged that the Air Force used his films to plan their retaliatory raids on Tokyo after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor . . .” —Michael Feldberg, American Jewish Historical Society


April 20: Morris Chafetz and the Nature of Alcoholism

dt.common.streams.StreamServerDr. Morris Chafetz, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who headed the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and was a key figure in redefining alcoholism in the public’s perception from a personal sin to a disease, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to immigrant parents on this date in 1924. Chafetz entered the field of alcoholism treatment simply because it offered him a job after his graduation from medical school, but after a “few months of listening to these patients,” he said in a 1995, he “recognize[d] my prejudices and the prejudices of others. I realized that this issue reflected every social health policy problem being faced by the country. . . . Having experienced the extent of my own prejudices and my own ignorance of the issue, I was bound and determined to turn the country around and to treat alcoholics as ill human beings who needed treatment, not as bad people who should be ignored and neglected.” Between 1970 and ’75, Chafetz founded the NIAAA and built its budget from $6.5 million to $214 million. He wrote and coauthored many books, included Alcoholism and Society (1962), The Alcoholic Patient: Diagnosis and Management (1983) and The Encyclopedia of Alcoholism (1982). Chafetz died by his own hand at age 87 in 2011, one day after his wife of sixty years passed away.

“Alcohol is here to stay, and people must learn to develop a healthy attitude toward it.” —Morris Chafetz