One summer night a long time ago, when I was 11, my father drove me down into Philly to see a baseball game. Dad had zero interest in baseball. I loved it. So it was up to me, riding shotgun down Roosevelt Boulevard from Morrisville, to conjure: the grass more perfect than any grass anywhere. The Reds! Skinny Frank Robinson, part of the first wave of great black players allowed into the majors, who stood almost on top of home plate, as if daring the pitcher to hit him.
Standing in the sanctuary of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where blue bloods go to worship, John Middleton begins to cry. He has just looked up at a stained-glass window near the back, a small purple triangle with his father’s initials, too small to really be visible. Something else in the window is clear, though: a red P, perhaps three inches high — the logo of the Philadelphia Phillies. John’s father, Herbert, bought 15 percent of the team in 1993, for $18 million. Herb didn’t get to enjoy his Phils for very long — he dropped dead of a heart attack in 1998. Over the years, John chipped away as other team owners wanted to sell their stakes, and now he owns just shy of a majority of the Phillies, about 48 percent. His share is worth better than half a billion dollars. But none of that has anything to do with why John tears up.
At the time, it seemed that a punch in Boston was the end of The Process.
Sam Hinkie, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, had devised the bold, open-ended plan to build the team into an NBA champion — which was quickly dubbed The Process, as if it might go on for many years, perhaps forever. But when the Sixers’ young star, Jahlil Okafor, got into an ugly street fight, everything quickly changed. Read more »
All Pat Smiley wants is a chance to meet with him, to make her case, to be heard — that’s all any of them want, really. But Archbishop Charles Chaput, the head of Philadelphia’s Catholic Church, can be a difficult man to pin down. There have been dozens of closings of Philadelphia Catholic churches since 2010. Some of these churches haven’t been well-attended for many years, and Church coffers have been in steep decline; no one disputes that the local archdiocese has serious financial problems, though no one except Church bean counters knows all the numbers. There are also other problems, of course: the sexual-abuse scandal of the last decade, on top of a Church that operates more and more at odds with contemporary culture — especially concerning the “pelvic issues,” meaning acceptance of gays and birth control and women priests and allowing male priests to marry. There is great doubt and unrest even among the remaining faithful.
Pat Smiley’s church — St. Joachim, the oldest Catholic church in the Northeast — closed two years ago. She still doesn’t really know why. Read more »
I am in pursuit. It’s late May, and I’m spending a few days driving all over the southeastern corner of New Hampshire, that plug of land that gives the Live Free or Die state a right-of-way to the sea. Random inlets of crystalline water lap small towns built around proper squares and painted white. Many are older than America itself.
This is where I’m searching for Chip Kelly — a revolutionary masquerading as a football coach — even though I’m sure he’s in Philadelphia, with his team. Read more »
Ruth Lenahan remembers the feeling she had when she sat down with her friend Kathleen Kane in a political operative’s office in downtown Scranton back in 2011. Kane had been a prosecutor for Lackawanna County for a dozen years, but left in ’07 to raise her two young sons. Now she was restless, and thinking of running for some office. The year before, in 2010, she’d promised to take on a corrupt state senator, Bob Mellow, but was pressured not to by her husband’s family, which owns a large trucking company — taking on Mellow meant risking the loss of a huge state liquor-hauling contract. So she backed out. But now there was a new office to run for, one that seemed to fit her: state attorney general, which, after governor, is the most important elected position in Pennsylvania. And Ruth Lenahan’s feeling about her friend was profound: She was awestruck. Read more »
It seems an unlikely thing to be doing with Lynne Abraham.
On a cool, breezy Friday in New York in December, we’re at the Frick, looking at paintings. Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid is a favorite of hers, and we gaze intently; it depicts a servant handing her lady a letter. Abraham points out the lady’s ambiguous expression, either worry or hope over the letter’s contents, and perhaps the servant has already read it — we don’t know. “Vermeer was a great master of light,” Abraham notes. Sunlight floods the lady’s writing desk and picks out her pearl earring, bathing the moment’s tension. “What’s the message she’s getting?” Read more »
One April morning in 2006, I left a note for Bill Cosby at the back gate of his mansion that commands a five-acre spread in Elkins Park. It was an act of desperation. I was writing a profile of him, and I couldn’t get Cosby to respond to me. Sticking the note in his fence — I didn’t venture past the stern NO TRESPASSING warning to walk down his long driveway and knock on his door — is one of those silly moves writers make so they can say to their editors, “Hey, I tried.”
Then, a couple days later, I got a call.
I’m searching for the good Johnny Doc, the one he wants me to find. The new one.
And here he is, in plain sight, on a cool, partly cloudy morning in early October, sitting quietly on a folding chair near the corner of 12th and Market streets in downtown Philadelphia.
She kept Don inside. His mother wanted him to study. She wouldn’t let him be like them, those other kids who got into trouble. Don rarely saw his father — his parents had separated. So the boy would spend hours in his bedroom in San Francisco, playing endless games with his baseball cards: Dodgers-Giants, over and over. He’d go out into the tiny backyard of their small house near Lake Merced and re-create the ’60 Olympics. With string, he’d make a high jump. A broad jump. A track around the perimeter. That’s how he spent his childhood. In fantasy. Alone.
He did what he was told, and he earned the A’s his mother demanded. She taught piano, at the Conservatory. Sometimes, on her days off, they’d go for drives down the Peninsula together. His brother Arthur was 10 years older, and had gotten into Stanford. Arthur was gone, just like Don’s father. Don was student body president of his high school. He was accepted at Stanford, just like his brother, at 16. He was sure he could make his mother proud.
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