After Joe DiMaggio’s Gone

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999), the Yankee Clipper, was the
hard-hitting center fielder for the New York Yankees who epitomized grace and
style before Mickey Mantle took his place. For my generation of New Yorkers,
Mantle was the Yankees, but for those a bit older, it was DiMaggio. To this
day, he still holds the record for consecutive games with at least one hit  hitting at 56 set in
1941. No one has really come close.

Paul
Simon is older than I and, like me, a boyhood and now adult Yankees fan. When
he needed a hero to insert into a little ditty he was writing for a film that
would be coming out while I was in college, he used his childhood hero and
wrote:

Where
have you gone, Joe DiMaggio

A
nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)

What’s
that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Joltin’
Joe has left and gone away

(Hey,
hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)

The
song was “Mrs. Robinson”, often the lead number on the Simon and Garfunkel set
list in 1968, (it was for the concert I ran for them at Duke that year). It was
part of the soundtrack to Mike Nichol’s The Graduate, the film that made Dustin
Hoffman a star and Anne Bancroft’s black stockinged leg framing Hoffman a
college dorm pin-up.

The
Graduate was a quirky film that resonated with my generation. We were after all
both privileged and alienated, Kennedy optimistic and Vietnam petrified,
anxious to seek our destiny but confused about where exactly it was. The advice
for our future we got in the Graduate was one word—“Plastics”.

Joe
DiMaggio, at that point selling Mr. Coffee devices on television, was the bridge
between the America returning in triumph from World War II and its children
(us, the Baby Boomers) who were exploding with economic confidence, yet
partially reeling from the Kennedy assassination, the loss of so many of our
brothers in southeast Asia (with thousands more yet to die) and the Cold War
with our former ally that we had not anticipated. The cocky America of 1945 to
1963 was morphing to the new America of angst and acid, fighting in the streets
and stoned on Yasgur’s farm, where Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets”
and Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” could both be Top Ten hits.

The
Yankees had found Mantle to take Joltin’ Joe’s place once he “left and gone
away”. America had become wealthy, but we had lost our youthful exuberance and
forgot where we left it. The closest we came to regaining it was Reagan and
that was all smoke and mirrors. Too late, in 2008, we learned that greed is NOT
good.

I
hope I am not stretching the metaphor too far by thinking that MD Anderson is
in the same place as America was then in the late 1960’s. After a long stretch
of clear superiority (dare I use the word, exceptionalism?) that began with
Anderson’s inception and stretched through the Clark, LeMaistre and early
Mendelsohn years, MD Anderson got fat, happy and lost. Bigness subverted
greatness. Size supplanted ingenuity. High tech science rushed into the vacuum
created by a marginalization of clinical care and the Viagra-resistant
impotence of the Division Heads who lead that activity. Once we went over
Niagara Falls in a barrel at the end of 2001 and retained the crew that
directed us to the edge of the rapids and then, even when we finally had the
chance to change that crew in 2011, the new captain chose to rehire them, we
had done more than head down the slippery slope.  Niagara is far steeper than that.

When
the current MD Anderson leadership is gone, whether that is tomorrow as it
ought to be or years from now as I fear it will be, some good soul will need to
put the pieces back together again. Let’s hope that when DePinho follows
DiMaggio to the showers, there’s a Mantle waiting at the dugout steps. We had
hoped DePinho was that Mantle to Mendelsohn’s DiMaggio, but alas he has neither
the bat, the glove nor the legs. Let’s hope that the new person has better legs
than Mantle had or DePinho has and knows his or her way around a stethoscope.

Here’s
to you MD Anderson…..

Woo-woo-woo!

Hey-hey-hey!

Here’s
a link to my op-ed in Houston Chronicle Dec 15:

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Zwelling-Reform-efforts-will-fail-when-decisions-5064904.php

Leonard Zwelling