TONY CASTRO is a Harvard and Baylor University-educated historian, Napoleonic scholar and author of several books, including the landmark civil rights history Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America, which Publishers Weekly acclaimed as “brilliant… a valuable contribution to the understanding of our time.”
The book, due out in April from Triumph Books, is being highly acclaimed in pre-publication reviews. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ira Berkow said of Gehrig & The Babe: "Gracefully written, deeply researched, full of passion, insights and surprising twists. A triumph."
He was interviewed by Ashley Chase.
How did you come up with the idea for Gehrig & The Babe, and why did you decide to focus on their feud?
My late friend and agent Mike Hamilburg loved to say that every book has its own godfather. In the case of Gehrig & The Babe, there were two. My longtime writer pal Dave Thomas used to spend too much time for his own good on the basketball courts and at Los Angeles Lakers games. Like a lot of Lakers fans, for years he lamented the feud between stars Kobie Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal that broke apart their brief dynasty, possibly while they still had a few more NBA championships in their future. I had just written Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son, and one day Dave pulls me aside and says: “Kobie and Shaq were the modern day Ruth and Gehrig. Their feud ruined those great Yankee team of that era, and who knows how many more pennants and World Series championship they could have won.”
Tony Castro’s Mantle: The Best There Ever Was, a book featuring the last interview with Mickey Mantle's widow and previously unpublished interviews with the New York Yankee legend, uses baseball’s growing science of ‘sabermetrics,' a re-analysis of his statistics and a reassessment of his career to maintain — with growing agreement among expects — that The Mick was the greatest ballplayer not only of his era but also of all-time... to Christen Karniski at Rowman and Littlefield, for publication in the spring of 2019, in a nice deal by Leticia Gomez of Savvy Literary Services (World Rights).
This column was originally published May 4, 2007 in the Los Angeles Daily News
SIMI VALLEY – While every candidate at the first Republican presidential debate Thursday night jockeyed to become the political heir to President Reagan’s legacy, John McCain showed why he may be the spiritual heir in Nancy Reagan’s heart.
Moments after the debate, as he removed his wireless microphone from inside his suit jacket behind the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Arizona senator noticed a shiny dime on the floor. He bent down for a closer look, then kept walking past the coin.
The dime was lying heads down, and picking up coins that are tails up is a no-no for McCain.
“Am I superstitious? I’m that,” McCain said, walking with his wife, Cindy, and entourage to the candidates’ reception. “But I don’t think I’m alone there.
At the Reagan Library, McCain, who says he has been superstitious since he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had come to the right place.
In his 1965 autobiography, Reagan admitted he was superstitious and read syndicated horoscopes, and Nancy said she did, too. The former president observed such superstitions as always putting a lucky coin and gold charm in his pocket each morning, knocking on wood, never walking under ladders and tossing salt over his left shoulder when he spilled some.
Not surprisingly, Reagan cast a long shadow in the debate where his name and character were mentioned often by each candidate – and the shadow loomed just as big afterward in the “Spin Room” where high-profile supporters of each candidate sought to “spin” the debate in their favor.
Bill Simon, the one-time California gubernatorial candidate, stumped for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and how he typified the traits of Reagan.
“Mayor Giuliani demonstrated that he has the strength to lead the country in the best tradition of Ronald Reagan,” said Simon, speaking to reporters in a noisy large room packed with spin-meisters of each candidate surrounded by microphones, recorders and cameras.
In almost every instance, it was not just one spin-meister for a candidate but several of them. Some, such as Simon, were politicians.
But others were political consultants and advisers working for those candidates.
Each of the spinners was shadowed by an anonymous staffer holding up high a printed poster identifying the spinner and his affiliation.
In some instances, you had the candidates themselves selling how well they had done, as in the case of Texas congressman Ron Paul doing every local television interview he could to heighten his name recognition, which undoubtedly took a big jump with the debate.
For his part, Giuliani looked like a prizefighter proclaiming victory immediately after a bout. In the men’s room behind the stage, Giuliani smiled as he received pats on the back and words of congratulations.
“I did well, if I say so myself,” he said.
Giuliani and the other candidates were all headed after the debate to a celebratory dinner hosted by Nancy Reagan, who was escorted there – as she was into the debate hall – by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Several invited guests said that while they had been pleased with the debate, the show-stopper may have been the Reagan Library itself.
With its presidential history and its hilltop views of the Ventura County mountainsides, it symbolized Ronald Reagan Country and the hold it has on the locals.
Steve Grindley, 31, of Simi Valley has been an executive chef with the food company that caters all events at the library, and he has been a regular at these functions since its opening.
“They’ve all been great, but the best event, without a doubt, was President Reagan’s funeral,” Grindley said. “There were senators and heads of other countries, and you were seeing an American president laid to rest.
“It was part of history.”
Back in the Spin Room, the selling of the candidates went on.
Most spin-meisters acknowledged that in a debate with so many candidates, declaring a true winner was impossible. No candidate had made a monumental goof, and they all defended the hard-line positions the candidates took on such issues as Roe v. Wade and immigration.
Spin-meisters for the top-tier candidates – Giuliani, McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – said their respective men had handled themselves well.
“The governor showed himself to be not only knowledgeable but specific on the issues, especially on foreign affairs,” Missouri Sen. Jim Talent said.
McCain’s handlers were even more enthusiastic in talking about the former POW and his own passionate vow to chase after Osama bin Laden.
“John McCain has committed to leaving no stone unturned in fighting terrorism,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the country’s first Homeland Security secretary. “As he said in the debate, he will follow bin Laden to the gates of hell.”
The only awkward moment in the Spin Room came when the sensitive issue close to Nancy Reagan’s heart – support of embryonic stem cell research – came up. Moderator Chris Mathews had raised the subject with each candidate during the debate.
Only McCain pledged his unqualified support.
“Will that come back to haunt the other candidates?” spin-meister Simon said rhetorically to the question in the Spin Room. “I wouldn’t think so.”
Meanwhile, away in the dining area, guess who Nancy Reagan saved the biggest hug for.
Antonio Villaraigosa with California kingmakers Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown
Forget about the gubernatorial election loss having been Antonio's swan song. This is what no fewer than three Villaraigosa's insiders have called to tell me since my post earlier today. They point out this indisputable fact:
Dianne Feinstein, California's senior senator who will undoubtedly win re-election in November to another six-year term, turns 85 June 22. She will be nearing 91 if she serves out that term.
Consider, too, I was told, that the next likely governor, Gavin Newsom, will have in his powers this unique state constitutional power:
"... the governor makes an appointment to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, and the appointee serves until the next regularly-scheduled, statewide general election. The person elected at that next regularly-held general election serves for the remainder of the unexpired term, if any..." Fill in the blanks, I was told... and those blanks don't include State Senato Kevin DeLeon, Feinstein's runoff opponent in November.
DID ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA make a horrendous political mistake when he chose not to run for California's open U.S. Senate seat two years ago when the presidential election voter turnout was certainly greater than it was Tuesday?
Then Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris may have been the rising star of California politics, but chances might have been stronger for Antonio securing a spot in the general election ballot in 2016 than the disappointing third place finish Tuesday that may have ended his political career.
Villaraigosa's public reasoning was that he wanted to be governor of California, not a U.S. senator.
But many in Antonio's camp were ready for that senate race and had long plotted a not very-private scenario in which he might wind up succeeding either of California's two aging incumbent senators -- Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein -- be it by their retirement or death.
Villaraigosa, though, wanted it all. He claimed to being practically broke when he stepped down as mayor of Los Angeles, and he had set out with the help of some rich friends to be financially independent when he sought office again.
Antonio also privately told insiders he thought Gavin Newsom, even as lieutenant governor, would be an easier opponent than Kamala Harris, the darling of California Democrats, especially in a mano a mano faceoff in the 2018 general election.
"Antonio didn't have any doubt he would finish No. 1 or No. 2 in the primary -- who wouldn't have put money on that?" a longtime Villaraigosa insider told me in the early Wednesday morning after their candidate finished out of the runoff in the gubernatorial primary. "He's shocked. This is a more bitter disappointment for Antonio than when he lost the (2001) mayoral runoff to Jimmy Hahn.
"He thought he had all his ducks in line -- the campaign's financial backers, his political base in L.A., and growing support up and down the state. This was the race. This was the time. A place in the runoff was his."
Blog description: Tony Castro's America is author Tony Castro's loose cannon podcast in which he and his guests swing from the heels about everything -- from baseball to Hollywood, politics to pop culture, Americana to the Third World. Tony is...
Ashton Kutcher was among more than 400 who attended Tony's 'Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son' book signing at Lucy's El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood. People often ask me which is my favorite out of all the books I’ve written, and...