Nobody Asked Me, But . . .
Some years back, when I first set my hand to writing a column, I sought the advice of a friend who had been at it for a while. "Write about what interests you," he said, "and the rest will fall into place." It was a good piece of advice, one that stuck to me through the years and kept me on course.
One of my interests, then as now, has been sports, especially baseball and the people who write, and write well, about it. Columnists like the splendid Red Smith, and Damon Runyon and Runyon's protege, Jimmy Cannon.
Cannon was a man after my own heart, a newspaperman from the day he started at New York's Daily News as a 17-year-old copy boy until his premature death in 1973. Along the way he wrote for the New York Post and the New York Journal American and gained national exposure and the admiration of Ernest Hemingway when he wrote for King Features Syndicate. Early on he recognized the importance of the black athlete, and he once famously wrote of boxer Joe Louis, "He's a credit to his race, the human race."
Jimmy Cannon was reliably tough, opinionated, colorful and cranky--never more so than when he collected fragments of information and opinion from his notebooks that he otherwise had no home for, under the banner "Nobody asked me, but. . ."
With apologies to Jimmy's ghost and to his heirs, here's my insurance take on that.
Nobody asked me but . . .how come the big brokers don't participate in the naming rites of Major League Baseball? Companies do. There's Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners; Great American Ballpark, where the ancient Cincinnati Reds play; and Comerica Park, where the newly invigorated Detroit Tigers prowl.
Maybe the brokers are too smart for this, like Ralph Lauren, who declined to spend big bucks for the naming rights to the San Francisco Giants' then-new park. "Ralph Lauren's Polo Grounds" they proposed calling it, after the Lauren brand and after the Giants' ancestral home atop Coogan's Bluff in New York.
Maybe the brokers figure, as I do, that no one's going to go out and buy their products and services just because their name adorns a stadium fašade in Ohio. Maybe they see it as a fruitless, forgettable and way-too-expensive fancy. The San Francisco facility began life as Pacific Bell Park, which became SBC Park, and is now AT&T Park. What do the natives call it today? "Pac Bell." And then there's the case of Enron Field . . . well, I rest my case.
Nobody asked me, but . . . the 1944 film "Double Indemnity," with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, was flat out the best "insurance" movie ever made. Name me a better one.
Nobody asked me, but . . . go figure: Two broker heavyweights, Aon and Marsh, have eyeballs glazing over as they roll out serious statistics to resolve their who-cares debate on the "issue" of who's bigger. Meanwhile, in a triumph of style over substance, a charming and roguish lizard with a cockney accent delivers many a memorable line, one of which is, "'Course I'll baby-sit the kids. You're like a brother to me," on behalf of the automobile insurer Geico. In doing so, he's winning hearts and minds everywhere. Who says it's not easy being green?
Nobody asked me, but . . . isn't insurance a shining jewel in the history of ideas? Isn't it the cornerstone of a secure society? So how come it's loathed by so many?
These are a few of the many things nobody asked me about this year. I guess there'll be more in time, though I'll never understand why.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY,
a veteran editor and writer on industry affairs for more than 40 years, is also the managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
October 15, 2006
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