Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln"

Best I can tell, we’ve never had a Ford or a Lincoln on the Mets.

But we’ve had a Washington (Claudell), a Jefferson (Stan), five Taylors (Billy, Chuck, Hawk, Ron and Sammy), five Wilsons (Mookie, Paul, Preston, Tom and Vance), five Johnsons (Two Bobs, Lance, Howard, and Mark), and a Carter (Gary).

It’s been a pretty emotional day here in Grand Rapids, where former President Gerald R. Ford grew up and is to be buried next week.

We get Associated Press bulletins that scroll across the top of our computer screens, and when we want to startle an editor, we say out loud “Dateline: Rancho Mirage, Calif.” which is where the president has lived since leaving the White House.

But no one was joking when the scroll we all dreaded came just before midnight on Tuesday.

Given the president’s advanced age and recent health problems, the newspaper was well prepared with a special section ready to go. But there were a lot of other stories that needed to be told. I was called to work about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, worked until about 8 a.m. before heading home for a shower and short nap and returning again.

I think it’s an honor to tell these stories. We take the first-draft-of-history stuff seriously.

I’ve been in Grand Rapids only since 1999, but some of the veterans here have a long history of interviewing the former president, who represented the city in Congress for 25 years.

They said Ford’s famous “not a Lincoln” line is pretty reflective of the person the president actually was: A middle class guy who plugged away at his job, ended up in an office he never sought and sacrificed it by making a decision he knew was right – and took many people 30 years to come to the same conclusion.

One of my jobs today was to talk to people stopping by the Ford Museum to sign the condolence book, light a candle or leave a note. They started arriving within an hour of the news and came steadily through the cold night.

Some, wiping tears from their cheeks, told me of their admiration or acts of kindness.

I’ve had the opportunity to see President Ford him up close just twice, once at the opening of a shopping mall and the other at a community celebration of his 90th birthday three years ago.

I brought my son to the celebration, and he’s in a group photo with the president that I assured the then-11-year-old that he’d appreciate much more in time.

Tonight, after work, I was able to take the reporter hat off and bring my children down to the museum where we stood on line to sign the condolence book then walk past the growing makeshift memorial to read the notes. I’m not sure about bringing them back next week when the president is to lie in repose, which might be a little heavy for them.

I was 10 when Ford became president, but was a little political junkie even then and I remember closely following the transition. But that’s ancient history to my kids. So on the way down we spoke about doing the right thing even though everyone else tells you it is wrong and there might be a penalty for doing so.

I don’t know if that’s the legacy Gerald Ford sought, but it’s a pretty good one to have.

President Ford and baseball.

Ford is remembered as a football guy, but he here are some interesting baseball facts.

Ford took his future-wife Betty on dates to All-American Girls Professional Baseball League games in Grand Rapids.

In December 1974, Ford signed a bill allowing girls to play in the Little League.

As vice president, Ford attended the game where Hank Aaron hitting career home run number 714 on April 4, 1974.


Metstradamus said...

Here's another baseball connection...

Former Tigers pitcher Elden Auker organized a PGA event in Boston in the mid 70's where Ford, as VP, flew to play in that tourney's pro-am. Auker was originally scheduled to be paired with Ford, but at the last minute, Tip O'Neill pulled rank and got himself paired with Ford.

Ford sent along a letter to Auker on Vice Presidential stationery apologizing for not being paired with him, and enclosed a pair of Vice Presidential cufflinks. The letter was dated August 8th, day before Ford became president.

Auker replied to Ford, telling him not to worry about the golf game...but he wondered about the "outdated cufflinks".

Ford wrote back...this time on Presidential stationery, and yes he enclosed presidential cufflinks. They remained friends ever since.

G-Fafif said...

I seem to recall President Ford revived the moribund tradition of the presidential opener at Arlington Stadium in 1976. I'd like to report he threw out the first ball there because that's where the Washington Senators -- gone since '71, having taken with them the ceremonial flourish of chief executives starting the season -- had alighted, but there was a little thing called the Texas primary coming up.

Didn't help. Reagan stomped him. Rangers fans apparently liked players who could range far to their right.

G-Fafif said...

Re: Presidential Mets...

Honorable mention to Tyler (Yates), too?

Front office fixture Arthur Richman? (The Chester was silent.)

How about Hayes? You know, all the times you heard "HEY! YOU SUCK BONILLA!"