‘ That’s why I’m the President.’
By Malcolm P. Ganz
In the late ‘70s, I was working as the PR guy for the American Airlines catering subsidiary, Sky Chefs. I know, I know, how the hell does anyone PR airline food? Nonetheless, we had a test kitchen, where world-class chefs labored day in and day out, eventually destroying any chance to return to the elite gourmet universe with their reputations intact. But they had benefits that allowed them to grab empty seats on flights to isolated islands in the Pacific where they could vacation incognito and bitch about the food. We were definitely the stepchildren of our counterparts, who worked the more glamorous jobs on the jet-setting airline side. Not surprisingly, however, we did have one helluva company picnic each summer, with near-gourmet food prepared by our chefs, who, at least for that one day, could escape the frustration of creating food on plastic dishes for flight attendant carts.
What transpired during one moment in time on one of those sunny summer days was a life lesson about how, at least sometimes, I may not be as smart as I think I am. Or, to put it another way, my considered analysis of a situation turned out to be not as good as an opposing point of view that I thought was, well, ridiculous. It all involved the company softball game. Of course it would.
I was chosen by the team that was captained by the company’s president, Al Ferrari. Ferrari was one of those executives who had taken years to work his way through the ranks to the top spot and now was going enjoy whatever limelight went with that, even if it were just within the borders of his less-than-glamorous company subdivision. Ergo, he always made sure he was the center of attention.
For the purposes of the softball game, he determined to showcase his rifle arm and therefore named himself our third baseman. I had spent most of my baseball-playing youth, long gone, in the New York City Police Athletic League as a first baseman (I loved the shape of the first baseman’s mitt) but for that day’s game could not find my now-ancient glove, so I had to settle for second base in deference to a first baseman who remembered where he had put his mitt. I’d always considered second base a kind of weenie position, where you could practically hand the ball to the first baseman, except if you were the second baseman on our junior league precinct team, who threw everything my way either in the dirt or one of those tweener hops that are virtually impossible to catch and almost always hit you in the crotch and had you pondering in an age of little-published sexuality research, whether you would ever be able to have children. Alas, I digress. Back to our game.
We took the field and the other team promptly put their first two batters on first and second, which was not surprising since these games were generally 32-31 affairs. That sort of predictable outcome notwithstanding, Ferrari was not pleased with the way the game had begun and trotted over from third to call for a conference on the pitcher’s mound.
After exhorting us to, “hold ‘em down,” he turned to me and said, “if the ball is hit to me, you know to cover second, right?”
“Sure,” I answered. I wanted to add, I am the second-baseman, ain’t I? But of course I didn’t say that. I had a more serious issue to contemplate: my analysis of how we should handle a hot shot to the third-baseman differently.
As the conference adjourned and we trotted back to our positions, I was wondering where our captain’s brains had wandered off to. Was he thinking double play? Double Plaaaay? I mean this is company picnic softball, we don’t know from double plays. We don’t even know from catching the damn thing and throwing it in the general direction of first base. Here we had the wonderful, force-at-any-base scenario staring us in the face, which meant that any of us infielders who somehow managed to field the ball cleanly – including, dare I say, third-baseman Ferrari – didn’t have to throw the ball anywhere. We’d merely to run to the nearest base and stomp on it. You got that, chief? This is the stuff of dreams for company-picnic infielders.
Of course, as I might well have predicted, the next batter whistled a one-hopper right at Ferrari, who fielded it two steps from the bag. But does he take the two steps to the right and record the easy out of the lead runner? Nope. He has to demonstrate his rifle arm, remember? And that means he expects me, a displaced first-baseman, to perform as a real second-baseman.
Dutifully, I had begun to move toward second base, just in case he did do something predictably foolish. In an instant, the ball was winging my way, belt-high, just as I was reaching the bag. Miraculously, I handled the throw smoothly, stepped balletically on the bag and, in a continuation of the same fluid motion, made what could have passed for a gold medal figure skater’s perfect ten axel, while redirecting the ball toward first. The first-baseman received the relay with the batter a full three steps from the base for an easy completion of the double play.
But hold on, wait a second. Our first baseman realized the runner who had been on second – the guy big Al should have killed off by stepping on third – was still very much alive, had rounded third and was headed for home. Our first baseman turned and fired to our catcher who executed the perfect swipe tag.
The first time we handled the ball.
We trotted off the field with an air of nonchalance that said we executed this sort of play routinely. As my path converged with Ferrari’s, a few steps from home plate, he said, out of the side of his mouth and without turning his head, “that’s why I’m the president.” He continued on toward the bench, where he took a swig of his drink, then sat down.
OK, Al, point conceded. That’s why you are the president, while I’m flacking for your product line that has our creative team members refusing to come out of the test kitchen unless they can hold newspapers in front of their faces when anyone points a camera in their direction.
The final score was 32-31. Unless maybe the kid from the mailroom had simply no more room on his official scorecard. Around the water cooler on Monday morning, no one could remember which team had won. Son of a bitch, I thought, that first inning was something. But reality intercedes. I went back to my office to fend off newspaper food writers, forever hounding me about visiting our JFK flight kitchen, where prepping food for five 747s a day, headed for San Juan, was like a SAC base on alert with Russian bombers on the way. And an airline catering PR flack had to make sure no one ever saw the mayhem there.
Al Ferrari died Oct. 10, 2016 at the age of 96. I only found that out when I Googled him many years after that softball game, wherein my elitist attitude had suffered the effects of whatever karma he was channeling that summer day long ago when he provided me a memory I still drag from the depths of my age-related brain fog and wonder . . . did that really happen?